Heroes get all the glory. Now I think it’s time to focus the spotlight on their sidekicks, those characters who sometimes are lost in the shadows of their larger than life companions, but who nevertheless are just as heroic and pivotal to the adventures.
Here are some of my favorites:
Robin – The Boy Wonder was the character who really started it all in comic books. The creators of Batman needed a character that would add some light to the otherwise bleak nature of the Dark Knight, so Dick Grayson donned the colorful red, yellow, and green costume and the Dynamic Duo was born. Other superheroes quickly followed with their own young companions, believing that kids related more to the child sidekick than the adult hero. Grayson grew up and became a hero in his own right named Nightwing, but others have taken on the mantle of Robin, including the tragic Jason Todd, the spunky Stephanie Brown, the resourceful Tim Drake, the illegitimate child Damian Wayne, and the future Robin from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Carrie Kelly.
Dr. Watson – There is no denying that Sherlock Homes was a genius crime-solver, but he was saved on a number of occasions by his faithful companion Dr. John Watson. Watson is another example of seeing the tale through the eyes of the sidekick. With Jude Law playing the role in the upcoming Robert Downey Jr. movie version, I’m sure more attention will be paid to the legendary character.
Norton – In the classic sitcom, The Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden’s best friend and foil, Ed Norton, played by Art Carney, received a lot of the laughs. There have been many comic duos throughout the years (Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, and many more), but they were often viewed as equals, or as a straight man setting up the other’s punchlines. Obviously, Jackie Gleason was the star of the show, but Norton was an integral part of the storylines. Even though he never ventured out on his own, Norton won a place in the hearts of many viewers.
Barney Rubble – The Flintstones arguably were based on The Honeymooners, a cartoon version set in prehistoric times. Nevertheless, Barney had a personality of his own as he got into misadventures with his buddy and neighbor Fred in the town of Bedrock.
Ed McMahon – Talk show hosts have depended on their sidekicks for decades, and Ed McMahon set the standard as Johnny Carson’s number two on The Tonight Show. He gave the host someone to talk to between guest appearances and was a key player in skits and comic routines, as well as serving as an announcer. McMahon branched off to other projects during his career, but he will always be remembered as one of the best second bananas in show business.
Tattoo – Remember the original Fantasy Island? Mr. Rourke played by Ricardo Montalban was suave and epitomized the role of a leading man, but Tattoo played by Herve Villechaize was arguably one of the most memorable aspects of the show.
Woodstock – For a character that never uttered a word, the yellow bird from the Peanuts comic strip and cartoons made quite an impact, even when overshadowed by the eternally cool Snoopy.
Toto – Dorothy’s little dog in The Wizard of Oz had more personality than many human actors fail to convey.
Artoo-Detoo – Although I like to think of him as an equal or even superior to his droid companion See-Threepio, the little mech-droid that looked like a cross between a trash can and a vacuum cleaner worked hard on his Star Wars missions and acted like he was subservient to his human masters, but we all loved him for his rebellious nature. Of all the sidekicks on this list, he probably has the most leadership potential, but I think he enjoys being underestimated.
Tonto – Finally, the Lone Ranger’s buddy was a great example of the values of loyalty, bravery, and friendship. And he didn’t even need to wear a mask!