This post will compare sidekicks of the DC and Marvel universes. Which universe has the best sidekicks? First of all, what is a sidekick? Wikipedia provides the following definition “A sidekick is a close companion who is generally regarded as subordinate to the one he accompanies”. Wikipedia in the same article expands on the functions of a sidekick “Sidekicks can provide one or multiple functions, such as a counterpoint to the hero, an alternate point of view, or knowledge, skills, or anything else the hero doesn’t have. They often function as comic relief, and/or the straight man to the hero’s comedic actions. A sidekick can also act as someone more relatable to the audience than the hero, or whom the audience can imagine themselves as being (such as teen sidekicks). And by asking questions of the hero, or giving the hero someone to talk to, the sidekick provides an opportunity for the author to provide exposition, thereby filling the same role as a Greek chorus”. A sidekick is not a villain’s henchmen or the romantic interest of a hero which is generally referred to as a companion.
The picture above got me thinking about sidekicks. The picture is from page 199 of the graphic novel Bizzaro Comics (2001). Bizzaro Comics is a hilarious collection of indie writers and artist’s parodies of DC comic titles. This picture is from the story titled Without You I’m Nothing and follows the travails of obscure discarded sidekicks. I am a comic book historian and do get a kick out of stories that use obscure characters like this story does. I was not able to identify all the side kicks in the picture but have a partial answer key at the end of this post. This post also attempts to provide definitive lists of sidekicks in the DC and Marvel universes and the Wikipedia definition was strictly adhered to. Many obscure characters that have not been included in prior lists of this nature have been included in this post. Below is a definitive list of DC sidekicks that will be discussed later.
List of DC Sidekicks
Aquagirl 1 (Lisa Morel)
Adventure Comics #266 (November, 1959)
Aquagirl 2 (Tula)
Aquaman (vol. 1) #33 (May-June 1967)
Adventure Comics #269 (February 1960)
Adventure Comics #229 (October 1956)
Aquaman (vol. 1) #1 (January-February 1962)
Ace the Bat Hound
Batman #92, June 1955
Alfred Pennyworth (Butler)
Batman #16 (April-May 1943
Bat-Girl (Bette Kane)
Batman #139 (April 1961)
Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)
Detective Comics #359 (January 1967)
Batgirl (Cassandra Cain)
Legends of the Dark Knight # 120 (August 1999)
Robin 1 (Dick Grayson)
Detective Comics #38 (April 1940)
Robin 2 (Jason Todd)
Batman #357 (March 1983)
Robin 3 (Tim Drake)
Batman #436 (August 1989)
Robin 4, Spoiler, Batgirl (Stephanie Brown)
Detective Comics #647 (August 1992)
Robin 5 (Damian Wayne)
Batman #655 (September 2006)
Robin Earth II (Richard Grayson)
Detective Comics #38 (April, 1940)
Lady Blackhawk (Zinda)
Blackhawk # 133 (February 1959)
Blue Devil #14 (July 1985)
Lobo #5 (May ’94)
Booster Gold (vol. 1) #1 (1986)
Captain Marvel Jr.
Whiz Comics #25 (December 1941)
Whiz Comics #21 (1941)
Mr. Tawky Tawny (Anthropomorphic Tiger)
Captain Marvel Adventures #79
Wow Comics #18 (October 1943)
Hooty the Owl
All-American Comics #25 (April, 1941)
Adventure Comics #308 (May 1963)
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #72 (October 1963)
Detective Comics #20 (October 1938)
Impulse (Bart Allen)
Flash (vol. 2) #92 (June 1994)
Kid Flash I (Wally West)
The Flash (vol. 1) #110 (December 1959)
Kid Flash II (Iris West)
Kingdom Come #3 (July 1996)
Kid Flash III (Bart Allen)
Teen Titans (vol. 3) #4 (December 2003)
Flash vol 2 #235 (February, 2008)
Ernie the Battling Boy
Justice League America # 46 (January 1991)
Amber Archer (Connor Hawke)
Green Arrow vol 2 #0 (October, 1994)
World’s Finest Comics #113 (November 1960)
Speedy I (Roy Harper)
More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)
Speedy II (Mia Dearden)
Green Arrow (vol. 3) #44 (January 2005)
Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #6
All-American Comics #27 (June 1941)
Green Lantern (vol. 3) #129 (October 2000)
Thomas Kalmaku (Pieface)
Green Lantern (Vol. 2) #2 (September-October 1960)
Icon #1 (May 1993)
Black Lightning the Horse
Flash Comics #1 (January 1940)
The Batman Adventures #12 (September 1993)
Justice League of America
The Brave and the Bold #28 (February-March 1960)
Justice League International
G’nort (Green Lantern, Humanoid Dog)
Justice League International#10 (February, 1988)
Batman #62,(December 1950)
Little Boy Blue
Sensation Comics #1 (January, 1942)
Detective Comics #311 (January, 1963).
Pinky the Whiz Kid
Wow Comics #4 (1940)
Teen Titans vol. 3 #38 (September 2006)
Police Comics #13 (November 1942)
Flamebird (Mary Elizabeth Kane)
Teen Titans #50 (October, 1977)
Star-Spangled Comics #69 (June 1947)
The Sandman #1 (May 1974)
The Sandman #1 (May 1974)
Sandy the Golden Boy (Sandy Hawkins)
Adventure Comics # 69 (December 1941)
Showcase #15, (July 1958)
Strange Adventures #114 (March 1960)
Stripsey (Pat Dugan)
Action Comics #40 (September, 1941).
Superboy #86 (January 1961)
Comet the Super-Horse (Biron)
Action Comics #292 (1962)
Streaky the Super-Cat
Action Comics #292 (1962)
Bo “Bibbo” Bibbowski
Adventures of Superman #428 (May 1987)
Action Comics #6 (November 1938)
Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955)
Superman #123 (August 1958)
Dan the Dyna-Mite (Daniel Dunbar)
World’s Finest Comics #5 (Spring 1942)
Stuff the Chinatown Kid
Action Comics #45 (February 1942)
Sensation Comics #2 (Feb. 1942)
Wonder Girl 1 (Wonder Woman as a teenager)
All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941),
Wonder Girl 2 (Donna Troy)
The Brave and the Bold vol. 1 #60 (July 1965)
Wonder Woman #105 (April, 1959)
Robin wins the best DC sidekick prize easily. Robin is the first teenage super hero sidekick and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Robin has been flattered to death. DC went ahead and created an army of teenage sidekicks. Eventually the teenage sidekicks of the major superheroes founded a teenage sidekick version of the Justice League called the Teen Titans. The original Teen Titans included Aqualad, Kid Flash, Robin and Wondergirl. Later still, Young Justice is created. The Teen Titans and Young Justice meet in a giant sidekick crossover between their two groups.
The obvious absurdity of Robin is that crime fighting is dangerous work even for an adult like Batman and introducing a minor to crime fighting makes no sense whatsoever except as a plot device. Batman’s villains were obviously very aware that Robin was the weak link and Two-Face even referred to Robin as the boy hostage. The psychologist Fredric Wertham decided there was a homosexual subtext in the Batman and Robin relationship and wrote about this in Seduction of the Innocent. Batman goes through a whole slew of Robins and eventually one gets killed brutally by the Joker with a crow bar in a Death in the Family. Jason Todd is the lucky Robin to suffer death and the best part is that readers entered a poll to decide if he lived or died. Truly a low point in comic book history but a lot of Batman issues were sold so all in all the project was a success. Later Robin 4 (Stephanie Brown) in the identity of the Spoiler is even more brutally killed by the Black Mask with a power drill.
Of course no one really dies in comic books so Jason Todd return as the Red Hood and wants some payback from Batman for letting him die and secondly, and probably more importantly letting the Joker live. The five Robins all get starring roles after Batman “dies”. The ex-Robins have all become heroes in their own right. I would argue that the Red Hood is an antihero not a villain. Robin 1, Dick Grayson, has become Nightwing. Robin 3, Tim Drake, becomes Red Robin. Stephanie brown is resurrected from her power drill death and becomes Batgirl. The male Robins are all potential impersonators of the dead Batman. The Red Hood gets in the act and kind of forces Dick Grayson to become the new Batman because if he doesn’t then the Red Hood will assume the role. The potential heirs to Batman agree that the death of Batman should be hidden and one of them should pretend to be the original Batman. This is similar to the Phantom, the ghost who walks that has the son of the prior Phantom assume the role of the Phantom so as to give the illusion that the Phantom never dies. The Robins are basically sons of Batman but unfortunately there is more than one son i.e. more than one Robin and succession is not clear. This jockeying between the Robins is largely covered in the Batman miniseries Battle for the Cowl but this power struggle affected all Batman related titles of the last year. Dick Grayson does a good job impersonating Batman but doesn’t fool Commissioner Gordon. The new Batman of course needs a new Robin and gets a psychopath kid, due to being trained by the League of Assassins since childhood. This new Robin is the long lost son of Bruce Wayne and called Damian Wayne. Confused? Everyone is confused so don’t feel bad. I am sure the writers of the Batman lines have cheat cards on their desks. Will the barnacles of Batman history eventually sink the line? Maybe!
Robin and his teenage copies at DC and even Marvel have so dominated the sidekick market in comic books that readers tend not to look at the broader literary concept of a sidekick when looking at comic books. Another Batman sidekick is Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred provides an alternate point of view to the audience as well as the ability to aid Batman when he is hurt. Alfred has surgical skills gained when Alfred was an army medic. Alfred was also in the theater and can pretend to be Batman when needed. This is a rarely used skill of Alfred that is nevertheless crucial when someone is too close to discovering Batman’s identity. Robin is presumably too small to provide a similar function and anyway Robin needs to be by Batman’s side so people don’t think Robin is pretending to be Batman. Alfred Pennyworth can be extremely critical and sarcastic with Batman unlike the army of Robins. Alfred provides an “adult” perspective about Batman to the reader. Alfred has known Batman since he was a child. Alfred is aware of the how the killing of Batman’s parents made Batman a great crime fighter at the expense of a normal life. The Red Hood has argued with Batman that most of his hard core rogues gallery only fear death and the fact that Batman does not kill and the fact that the villains know this limits the effectiveness of Batman as a crime fighter. Batman may be able to instill fear in common criminals but provides more challenge than fear to the likes of the Joker. In Batman #647, Alfred actually agrees with the Red Hood mentally but does not express his views to Batman verbally.
Batman is a serial teenage sidekick mentor and there is something very creepy about this. Any “normal” person would not expose even one minor to extreme violence and certainly would not continue this behavior after the death of Jason Todd much less the subsequent death of Stephanie Brown. Alfred has expressed dismay about the use of teenage sidekicks many times to Batman. However, Alfred in the end is the dutiful butler who does what his master wishes despite any misgivings about such a course of action. Alfred’s subordination to Batman’s wishes despite sarcastic remarks is what makes Alfred a sidekick rather than an equal partner. Batman is not the only member of the Batman story line with a sidekick.
The Joker, Batman’s archenemy, has a sidekick! Villains generally do not have sidekicks but henchmen, minions or lackeys. Villains are generally egomaniacs and incapable of having long lasting meaningful relationships or so the theory goes. Villains see their henchmen as disposable cannon fodder. The Joker generally treats those around him in precisely this manner but there is one exception and that is Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn was a female psychiatrist that treated the Joker at Arkham Asylum and turned to the dark side rather than curing the Joker. Harley Quinn is in love with the Joker but the relationship has clearly never been consummated. The Joker obviously sees Harley Quinn as a capable sidekick even if Harley Quinn wants more. Harley Quinn is a near superhuman gymnast who uses her skill with great combat effectiveness. Harley Quinn wears a Jester outfit and became friends with Poison Ivy at Arkham were she ironically resided after her break down. Harley Quinn provides comic relief to Joker stories that despite the name of the Joker were not very funny before Harley Quinn showed up.
The Joker had been jealous of Batman having Robin as a sidekick in the silver age and got his own one-shot sidekick in Batman #186 called Gaggy. The main function of Gaggy was to provide comic relief to then Joker since such comic relief led to the Joker having great crime ideas. Gaggy rather simplistically hated Robin and managed to knock Robin out with a head butt to the stomach. Gaggy was never heard of after that one issue. I think an issue in which Gaggy, embittered by being discarded by the Joker, targets Harley Quinn for assassination might be interesting. Harley Quinn turns to Batman to figure out who is trying to kill her and clues are left that the culprit is a dwarf with a penchant for practical joke paraphernalia. Since not an awful lot of characters fit that description, Batman deduces that the culprit is Gaggy! Did I mention I like obscure comic book characters? Batman’s sidekicks on the whole do not provide comic relief. This is not the case of Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel also has an army of sidekicks but largely for comic relief. Mr. Tawky Tawny is an anthropomorphic tiger i.e. a funny animal that gets into all sorts of silly trouble Captain Marvel can save the tiger from. Uncle Marvel is an older bumbling version of Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was always a sillier line than his doppelganger Superman.
Flash is another serial sidekick character that has gone through three Kid Flash characters. Kid Flash was clearly inspired by Robin. Super speed is a major power that is very much underestimated in comic books. Basically you can hit the bad guy a hundred times and dodge whatever the bad guy tosses at you. “Realistically” the foes of the Flash should stand no chance against the Flash. Captain Cold has a freeze gun. The Flash should be able to dodge anything the cold gun can come up with. A teenager with super speed is still incredibly powerful despite being a teenager unlike Robin who has no super powers and even the inferior strength of someone who is younger. Maybe a Kid Flash can only punch with half the power of an adult but a hundred punches later and even the toughest boxer is going down.
Green Arrow has had two teenage sidekicks named Speedy. The first Speedy grows up to become a heroin addict, but recovers, and there is some suggestion that maybe crime fighting as a teenager might not be all that healthy psychologically and contributed to the heroin addiction.
Superman only has one teenage sidekick and that is Jimmy Olsen. In the silver age, Jimmy Olsen was officially Superman’s best pal and again very creepy if you think about it. Superman is perennially in his early thirties and if I saw some thirty year old hanging around a teen rather than a guy his own age then I would wonder exactly what function this teenager serves. Jimmy even has a watch with an ultrasonic signal that allows him to call Superman when he is in danger. Lois Lane does not have such a watch! Teenage guy gets the watch but not the gal? Maybe the silver age Superman had reasons for not marrying Lois Lane that had more to do with subconscious gender preference than any other reason.
Superman has a dog called Krypto. In the silver age, Batman got a dog called Ace but there is no comparison with Krypto and Ace in terms of importance. Superman in the silver age was Superboy and Krypto and Superboy were constant companions. This is one of the healthier sidekick relationships in comic books. Krypto cannot talk but can communicate to the reader via thought balloons that show what Krypto is thinking. Krypto’s attempts to understand Superboy’s behavior using canine logic were pretty cute and comical and one of the few things that made the otherwise lame Superboy title work.
The current Supergirl has no hyphen between “Super” and “Girl” in her name. The current Supergirl is a hot babe in a half shirt who has fled to the 31st century to avoid being a sidekick! The silver age Super-Girl, on the other hand, was very much a sidekick. She was teenager attending high school and was kept as a secret weapon for much of her silver age career. Super-Girl was Superman’s cousin so no fear of hanky-panky that would make her a companion. However, Super-Girl does try to match Superman up with an adult version of her on another planet!
Super-Girl has sidekicks in her own right! Super-Girl has a super cat named Streaky and a super horse named Comet. Somewhere in the Superman family there is a super monkey named Beppo but I am not really sure who he belongs to. All the super animals unite with Proty to create the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st century. Years later Marvel will make its own group of superhero animal sidekicks. Proty is the sidekick of Chameleon Boy who is a member of the Legion of Super Heroes of the 31st century. Proty I sacrificed himself to revive the dead Lighting Lad but a Proty II soon shows up. Proty I and II are aliens that look like blobs and can mimic just about any form.
That leaves us with Wonder Women’s sidekicks. The silver age Woman had several sidekicks. Etta Candy was a fat rather stupid college student who was supposed to be used for comic relief but was more obnoxious than funny. The silver age Wonder Woman went through a rather silly phase in which she had adventures with herself as a Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot! Wonder Woman used Amazonian technology to create films of herself that showed “what if” adventures with her younger versions. I have to tell you I was maybe seven when a lot of these adventures came out originally and I was totally confused. I assumed Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot were sisters of Wonder Woman and didn’t find out the “truth” until I was in my thirties. Wonder Woman is probably one of those silver age titles that is really hard for modern readers to digest but the title had a fantasy quality that was very different from the more sci-fi quality of most silver age stuff and appealed to my young imagination. Wonder Woman may go down in literary history as the only character that had two versions of herself as her own sidekicks. The graphic novel Bizzaro Comics (2001) does have a story with Wonder Tot and Wonder Girl racing to sit next to Wonder Woman during lunch and destroying half the Amazon city in the process. Later, a more Robin like Wonder Girl was created as a sidekick.
Below is a list of Marvel sidekicks that will be discussed at the end of this list:
List of Marvel Sidekicks
Avengers, Iron Man
Edwin Jarvis (Butler)
Tales of Suspense #59 (Nov 1964)
Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941)
Bucky II (Rick Jones)
Captain America vol. 1 #431 (September 1994)
Jack Flag (Jack Harrison)
Captain America #434, (December 1994)
The Incredible Hulk Weekly #57 (April 1980)
Falcon (Sam “Snap” Wilson)
Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969)
Daredevil v1 #1 (April 1964)
Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1 (August 1993)
Deadpool #1 (Jan. 1997)
Bob, Agent of HYDRA
Cable & Deadpool #38 (May 2007)
Captain America vol. 1 #431 (September 1994)
Strange Tales #110 (Jul 1963)
Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969)
Fantastic Four #209 (August 1979)
Incredible Hulk v1 #131 (September, 1970)
Incredible Hulk v1 #6 (March 1963)
Hulk, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Avengers
Incredible Hulk v1 #1 (May 1962)
Human Torch Comics #2 (Fall 1940)
Fantastic Four #45, (December 1965)
Zabu (Sabertooth Tiger)
X-Men #10 (Mar 1965)
Franklin Richards (Son of Reed Richards & Susan Storm)
Fantastic Four Annual #6 (November 1968)
Fantastic Four, Franklin Richards
Valeria Richards (Daughter of Reed Richards & Susan Storm)
Fantastic Four vol. 3 #54 (June 2002)
Lockjaw Puppy (Dog)
Fantastic Four vol.3 #9.
Dum Dum Dugan
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963)
Lockheed (Small Dragon)
Uncanny X-Men #166 (Feb 1983)
Niels, Hairball (Cat)
Free Comic Book Day Spider-Man: Swing Shift (May 2007)
Ms. Lion (Dog)
Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends #1
Scarlet Spider 3 (Felicity Hardy)
Spider-Girl # 46
Taskmaster, Agent X
Taskmaster Mini-Series (2002)
Thing, Captain America
Demolition Man aka D-Man
Captain America #328 (April 1987)
Uncanny X-Men #244 (May, 1989)
Young Allies Comics 1941
The first sidekick on the list is Edwin Jarvis who is a butler at Avengers Mansion that in turn is owned and operated by Tony Stark. Tony Stark is of course Iron Man. Jarvis is an obvious clone of Alfred, Batman’s butler, but is much more one dimensional and provides comic relief rather than insight into the super heroes he deals with unlike Alfred. Alfred was a medic during a time of war and may be old but is obviously tough and handles sensitive Batman impersonation missions. Alfred would beat the crap out of Jarvis in any altercation.
Bucky is probably the most famous sidekick in the Marvel universe. Bucky is Captain America’s sidekick from the golden age that was killed in the golden age. In 2010, Bucky was resurrected after more than forty years just to make sure whatever faith readers had in comic book continuity was crushed once and for all so that suspension of disbelief via continuity would be rendered impossible once and for all. Comic sales are down way down. The recession and competition with other media are to blame but decisions like the Bucky resurrection don’t help. Anyway, Captain America is put into suspended animation minutes after Bucky is “blown up” and the guilt Captain America feels upon reawakening in the silver age is a major part of the Captain America story line. Captain America over the last forty years continually demonstrated how the trauma for the death of Bucky affected him mostly in the form of nightmares. Batman has never shown this level of trauma about the deaths of his Robins.
In the first silver age appearance of Captain America (Avengers vol. 1, #1) Captain America runs into a teenager he mistakes for Bucky, Rick Jones. Rick Jones is the side kick of the Hulk but this doesn’t stop him from later becoming Bucky II. The Hulk is not too pleased with this and this leads to altercations between Captain America and the Hulk. The Hulk has a point. Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma ray radiation while saving Rick Jones and became the monster called the Hulk because of Rick Jones. Yeah, Rick Jones owes his life to the Hulk’s alter ego but heck Captain America has wavy blonde hair and also is not a monster, literally, so Rick Jones decides to become Bucky II. Rick Jones is not a very loyal sidekick and becomes Captain Marvel’s sidekick later on. I guess Captain Marvel’s wavy silver hair beat Captain America’s wavy blonde hair. Rick Jones is currently a Hulk type called A-Bomb and is really digging not being a sidekick anymore despite having Hulk monster type problems. Captain America has had other sidekicks beside Bucky I and II including Jack Flag and Jackdraw. Heroes in both the DC and Marvel universe seem to either have slews of sidekicks or no sidekicks. Are sidekicks addictive? For the records there have been several Captain Americas with their Bucky sidekicks but I am only dealing with the Steve Rogers Captain America.
Foggy Nelson is a sidekick of Daredevil. Foggy Nelson is the law partner of Matt Murdock the alter ego of Daredevil. Foggy provided a great deal of comic belief in the beginning but has matured into a more competent brilliant lawyer that is an asset to Matt Murdock. Foggy has an incredible case law memory and might even superior to Matt Murdock as a lawyer but does not have the confidence of Matt and is therefore generally not the lead lawyer. Without Foggy, the law practice of Matt Murdock would have gone down the toilet during his many, Daredevil caused, MIA stints. Foggy Nelson has a paunch and food related jokes are his comic relief contribution.
Deadpool is a hilarious anti-hero that has had several equally hilarious sidekicks including Weasel, Blind Al and Bob, Agent of Hydra. My favorite is Bob, Agent of Hydra. Bob is a parody of henchmen and the number one lesson he learned from Hydra was “hiding behind each other”. Under pressure, Bob tends to shout “Hail Hydra”.
Doctor Strange has and adult Asian manservant from Tibet named Wong. Wong may not know much magic but he is a master martial artist. Wong is fairly subservient compared to other comic book sidekicks. If you do visit Doctor Strange at his Sanctum Santorum in New York then you have to get past Wong first. His role as a literal gatekeeper gives him some power that a lesser servant would not have.
Marvel decided to transform the son Reed Richards and Susan Storm from a typical omega level angst driven mutant to a Calvin type character, as in Calvin and Hobbes, character with great success. Franklin is a side kick to the Fantastic Four that provides a child’s perspective of the Fantastic Four as well as comic relief. Franklin is also a scientific genius who can modify his dad’s super science gadgets but generally his attempts to improve dad’s gadgets lead to disaster. Franklin has his own sidekick, H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot. H.E.R.B.I.E. provides a logical to the point of absurdity perspective to the childish antics of Franklin. H.E.R.B.I.E. constantly tries to convince Franklin H.E.R.B.I.E. to leave his dad’s lab alone but he is ultimately a subordinate that is then forced to try to clean up the mess created by Franklin.
The Hulk got over the loss of Rick Jones and adopted Jim Wilson. Jim Wilson was an inner city, Black teenager that very poignantly died of cancer later. Doctor Strange has an Asian sidekick. The Hulk has an African-American sidekick. The Lone Ranger has a Native American sidekick, Tonto. Does anyone see a pattern here? My next post will be titled DC vs. Marvel: Multicultural Heroes and I will examine the issue of race in the DC and Marvel universes in detail.
In 2009, Marvel untied all the animal sidekicks into a team called the Pet Avengers. The Pet Avengers are a rip off of the Legion of Super Animals over at DC. The Legion of Super Pets was played straight and this was probably a bad decision given the absurdity of the concept. The Pet Avengers is a silly title with lots of comic relief and one of my favorite current titles. I am not sure how far you can go with this concept but so far so good. The members of the Pet Avengers include Redwing a hawk of Falcon, Lockjaw a giant dog that can teleport of the Inhumans, Zabu a saber tooth tiger of Ka-Zar, Lockheed a small dragon that is a sidekick of Shadowcat, Hairball a cat belonging to Speedball and Ms. Lion a dog belonging to Spider-Man. The team includes Throg is a frog with lesser versions of Thor’s powers and is not a sidekick of Thor but a hero among his frog tribe in his own right. The interplay between the animals is what really makes the team work. Krypto and Streaky were a dog and a cat in the same legion but the fact that dogs and cats don’t get along was never really explored. Hairball the cat thinks Ms. Lion is an absolute idiot and worse, a dog! Ms. Lion is the only one on the team that doesn’t have super powers is very much the pampered house dog of Spiderman’s Aunt May. Ms. Lion claims the right to membership based on her sidekick status alone.
The sidekick status of the members is highlighted in one story of Tails of the Pet Avengers: The Dogs of Summer #1. In the story titled“Garbage Grief”, Franklin Richards teams up with the Pet Avengers flanked with his own sidekicks H.E.R.B.I.E. and Puppy. Puppy is a miniature version of Lockjaw complete with his powers of teleportation. In this story Puppy does manage to teleport the Pet Avengers to deal with a giant humanoid garbage creature that Franklin created more or less accidentally. So this is a sidekick crossover albeit on a much smaller scale than the DC Teen Titans/Young Justice crossover. Another treat of this particular issue, is that the origin of Puppy is finally dealt with. Puppy has been a fixture of the Fantastic Four for a while but his origin has not been dealt with until this issue. Turns out Puppy is the grand pup of Lockjaw and is a present of Franklin’s future self to himself in the past. In another issue, Tails of the Pet Avengers #1 has an adventure with Redwing the hawk titled “Birds of a Different Feather”. Redwing the sidekick of Falcon is chased by a pigeon that wants to be a sidekick of Redwing. Redwing refuses this offer at first but the pigeon pulls a masterful guilt trip to change the mind of Redwing.
I also have to mention the Incredible Hercules that ran from 2008 to 2010. Hercules is teamed up with Amadeus Cho. Amadeus Cho is really smart, mutant level smart but Hercules is Hercules! Normally Amadeus Cho, the brainy, sixteen year old, nerdy teenager, would be the sidekick but an argument can be made that Hercules is the sidekick even if Hercules would smash anyone who suggested as much. In one issue Hercules is up against his old enemies the Amazons. Amadeus Cho is captured by the Amazonians. Amadeus Cho is referred to as the eromenos of Hercules (Incredible Hercules #121, 2008) by the Amazons during his captivity. Amadeus Cho is not happy with this appellation at all. This is one of the few issues that points out the obvious, when older men have sixteen year old guys as buddies then there is usually one sort of relationship at work going back to Greek times. This is an intelligent comic book line that turns the sidekick conventions upside down in an extremely funny manner.
The most famous teenage sidekick of Marvel is Bucky but Bucky is not nearly as important to comic book history as Robin. Probably getting killed in the golden age for plus forty years didn’t help the career of Bucky at all. Marvel has other teenage sidekicks like the golden age Toro but all and all Marvel does not have the rooster of well known teenage sidekicks that DC has. DC also wins in terms of teenage sidekick teams. DC has the aforementioned Teen Titans and Young Justice. Marvel has teenage teams including the Young Avengers and the Runaways but they are not sidekick teams but teams of teenage heroes. In many ways Marvel sidestepped the need for teenage sidekicks by making more teenage heroes than DC. Spiderman began his career in high school. The X-Men operate out of Xavier’s Academy which trains teenagers. The New Mutants are teenagers that go to Xavier’s Academy and are not sidekicks. I think overall Marvel may have been smart to make teenage heroes to fulfill many of the teen identification functions of teenage sidekicks.
DC just has a lot more sidekicks than Marvel period. DC has 71 sidekicks on their list. Marvel has 34 sidekicks on their list. Beyond numbers, DC has a rooster of more famous sidekicks especially in the teenage sidekick category. DC and Marvel have pursued different strategic approaches to the use of teenage sidekicks in their respective universes. Marvel, however, is doing great things with animal sidekicks with the Pet Avengers and funny sidekicks like Franklin Richards and H.E.R.B.I.E. Unfortunately, a two year trend does not negate the fact that DC has historically had the most and best sidekicks.
DC wins the sidekick wars!
Answer to DC Sidekick Quiz
3. Doiby Dickles
10. Mr. Twaky Tawny
12. Ace the Bat Hound
I do wonder if some of the sidekicks I can’t figure out are actual sidekicks in DC comics. Number 5 might be Streaky the Super Cat but looks more like a mouse than a cat.
This post deals with robots in the DC and Marvel universes. Robots come in three flavors: good guys, bad guys and funny. Which universe has the coolest good guy robot and which universe has the coolest bad guy robot? Which universe has the funniest robot? I refuse to make a distinction between robots and androids in this post. The terms are used haphazardly in both universes and basically in comic books the only real difference is that the androids are more human looking than the robots. This is fairly superficial distinction and even this is not a consistent factor. In more sophisticated science fiction universes there is some attempt to also distinguish between robots and androids using some quality of sentience rather than mere appearance. Below is a list of DC robots with at least their first appearance in parentheses.
List of DC Robots
Ajax ,Wonder-Man, Superman #163
Aluminium, Metal Men #2
Amazo, The Brave and the Bold #30
Amazon Tin Queen, Metal Men #4, #5
Automan, Robot 32198, Tales of the Unexpected #91
Barium, Metal Men #2
Batman Machine, Detective Comics #224
Batman’s Robot Twin, Detective Comics #239
Batman Robot, Detective Comics #281
Black Widow Robot, Metal Men #17
Bozo the Iron Man, Smash Comics #1
Brainiac, Action Comics #242
Brainiac 12, Superman Vol. 2 #200
Brimstone, Legends #1
C.A.P.D., Computerized Automatic Patrol Dog, Weird War Tales #116
Calcium, Metal Men #2
Carbon Dioxide, Metal Men #10
Chemo, Metal Men #14, #25
Chloroform, Metal Men #10
Cobalt, Metal Men #31
Computo, Adventure Comics #340
Construct, Justice League of America #142
D.A.V.E. –Digital Advanced Villain Emulator, The Batman: Episode #039
Death Metal Men, Metal Men #2
Derek Reston, Ace of Spades, Justice League of America #203
Doctor Bedlam, Mister Miracle Vol. 1 #2
Drone, New Teen Titans Annual Vol. 2 #1
Duke of Oil, Outsiders Vol. 1 #6
Dybbuk, Suicide Squad vol, 1 #45
Electrical Warrior, Electric Warrior Vol. 1 #1
Eradicator, Action Comics Annual #2
Eterno, Action Comics #343
Female Amazon Robots, Metal Men #32
Floating Furies, Metal Men #9
Gas Gang, Metal Men #6
Giant Robot, Tales of the Unexpected #68
G.I. Robot, Star Spangled War Stories #101
Gallium, Metal Men #31
Gold, Showcase #37
Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #2
Healer, Action Comics #387
Helium, Metal Men #10
Hourman, Android, Justice League of America #12,
Ilda, Star Hawkins, Strange Adventures #114
Indigo, Titans/Young Justice Graduation #1
Kelex, The Man of Steel #1
Kid Amazo, Justice League America Classified #37
Krakko, Weird War Tales #113
Krydel-4, Green Lantern Corps Vol.2 #1
L-Ron, Justice League International #14
Lead, Showcase #37
Living Robots, Mystery in Space #99
Lord Havok, Justice League Europe #15
Man Horse of Hades, Metal Men #19
Manhunters, 1st Issue Special #5
Mechanical Masters of Rann, Mystery in Space #65
Mekanique, All Star Squadron #58
Mercury, Showcase #37
Metallo, Action Comics #252
Missile Men, Metal Men #1, #12, #54
Mister Atom, Captain Marvel Adventures #78
Osmium, Metal Men #31
Oxygen, Metal Men #10
Platinum, Showcase #37
Plutonium, Metal Men #2
Plutonium Man, Metal Men #45
Pulsar Stargrave, Superboy #223
Red Tornado, Justice League of America #64
Red Volcano, DC Universe #0
Reverse-Flash, The Flash Vol. 2 #134
Robbie the Robot Dog, Star-Spangled Comics #25
Robby Robot, House of Mystery #164
Robin, Young Justice #1000000
Robin Robot, Detective Comics #290
Robo, Superman #132
Robot Cop of Gotham City, Batman #70
Robot Eggs, Strange Adventures #197
Robot Master’s Robots, Superman #152
Robot Juggernauts, Metal Men #9
Robot Raiders, Mystery in Space #53
Robot Renegades, Metal Men #2, #3
Robot Space Ranger, Tales of the Unexpected #73
Robot Town, Strange Adventures #164
Robot Who Lost His Head, Strange Adventures #136
Robot Woman, Wonder Woman #48
Robot Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman #111
Robot Wonder Woman 2, Wonder Woman #137
Robot World of Ancient Rann, Mystery of Space #102
Robot X-1, Strange Adventures #169
Robotica, Legion Worlds #1
RRU-9-2, Guy Gardner #11
Servitor, Kobra #1
Shaggy Man, Justice League of America #45
Shaolin Robot, 52 #6
Silver, Metal Men #31
Skeets, Booster Gold Vol. 1 #1
Skyscraper Robot, Metal Men #13
Sodium, Metal Men #2
Solaris, DC One Million #1
Stel, Green Lantern Vol. 2 #11
Synthetic Men, Strange Adventures #17
Termite Robots, Metal Men #16
The Metal Mods, Metal Men #26
The Rebel Robot, Metal Men #15
Thor the Thunder Dog, Police Comics #8
Tin, Showcase #37
Tomorrow Woman, Justice League of America #5
Torgola Robot Eater of Metalis, Metal Men #29
Toyman, Action Comics #837
Urthlo, Adventure Comics #300
World Wreckers, Strange Adventures #50
Zirconium, Metal Men #2
Iridium, Metal Men #31
One robot stands out in the DC universe as the ultimate baddie and that’s Brainiac. Brainiac is so famous that the word is now derogatory slang for someone who is too brainy. Brainiac has changed from the golden age and is currently human. Brainiac also changed from being green skinned humanoid with studs in his head and wearing a pink yes pink outfit to being made of metallic silver and looking a lot more robotic. For me the classic Brainiac will always be the green guy with pink tights. This Brainiac went around shrinking cities and putting them in bottles. The guy collected cities! I collected comic books and this guy is collecting cities. How cool is that? One of the cities was Kandor which Superman confiscated and kept in his Fortress of Solitude. Kandor was the source of many, many adventures with the Superman family in the silver age which seem silly now but were great fun when I was a kid. Brainiac also had an indestructible force field that he could project around himself via a belt or around his space ship. Superman could not penetrate this force field and Brainiac was basically impervious to attack from Superman. Brainiac also teamed up with Luthor on and off and of course each one tried to prove he was more brilliant than the other. Brainiac had a twelfth level intellect which I guess is pretty smart.
I do want to mention the Metal Men. The Metal Men were a team of good robots that had their high point in the sixties. The Metal Men included the Gold, Lead, Mercury, Platinum and Tin and they premiered in Showcase #37 but soon got their own title. The one adjective I would use to describe the Metal Men is zany! They were shape shifters and had the personality traits of their respective metal. Mercury was volatile. Lead was steady and so on. Platinum was female and of course was in love with her creator Dr. Magnus. This love was not reciprocated and was an ongoing plot line.
The Metal Men mostly fought other robots which makes no sense whatsoever except that in sixties logic the robot title should have lots of other robots. The Metal Men inhabited their own little corner of DC robot land. The second most famous good robot in the DC universe is the Red Tornado. The Red Tornado is a long standing member of the Justice League of America and spent a lot of time spouting robotic angst about not being human. I really don’t like the Red Tornado at all. The name is stupid. The costume is stupid. The angst rhetoric is forced and not well done. The Metal Men win!
DC has used robots for comic relief a great deal. The Metal Men were basically a funny tile if you consider zany to be a shade of funny. DC did have at least one ongoing character that was a funny robot. Star Hawkins was bumbling private eye of the future who first appeared in Strange Adventures #114 in 1960. Ilda was his robot secretary and the brains of the team. Ilda provided consistent comic relief in a manner similar to Rosie the Robot in The Jetsons. As I have pointed out in other posts in this series, DC has a much greater willingness to mix genres for extremely silly effect. This isn’t even the silliest DC private eye title of this period. That honor belongs to Detective Chimp. These silly early silver age DC titles do not age well.
You have not one but three robot dogs: C.A.P.D. Robbie the Robot Dog and Thor the Thunder Dog. Robot Man of course has to have Robbie the Robot Dog instead of a regular dog. Why? No reason just more DC zaniness. Robbie can talk and Robot Man and Robbie had some very surreal conversations. L-Ron is a robot that works for the Justice League and is obsequious to the point of hilarity. Skeets is the side kick of Booster Gold and is not as funny as L-Ron but has his moments. L-Ron wins the funny robot category in the DC universe.
There are some pretty powerful robots in the DC universe including Amazo, who has all the powers of the original Justice League of America but can absorb more powers beyond that. The Shaggy Man is another scary robot who has vast strength and vast recuperative powers and is a mindless fighter who can take on the whole Justice League at the same time.
For sheer weirdness, G.I. Robot is probably the winner in the DC universe. G.I. Robot is a robot that runs around in standard G.I. gear. This is a mix of science fiction and the war comic genre. Not a lot of companies have the guts to mix these two genres and perhaps this is just as well.
The winner of the best DC evil robot is clearly Brainiac. The winner of best DC robot hero is not a hero but the Metal Men group as a whole. The funniest robot is L-Ron.
List of Marvel Robots
Acidroid, Earth-616, Cable #65
Adam II, What If #4
Adap-Tor, Earth-616, Iron Man #217
Agent Cheesecake,Earth-616, She-Hulk Vol. 2 #15
Air-Walker, Automaton, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #120
Albert, Earth-5211, Exiles #85
Albert, Earth-616, Wolverine Vol. 2 #37
Alchemoid, Earth-616, Captain America #187
Alex Ellis, Earth-616, Amazing Spider Man Annual #27
Alkhema, Earth-616, Avengers West Coast #90
Alpha, Earth-616, Marvel Team-Up #129
Alpha Ray, Earth-616, Storm Breaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill #1
Analyzer As Recorder Thor #132, As Analyzer Thor #422
Android Andy, Earth-238, Daredevils #7
Android Man, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #79
Aquarius, LMD, Earth-616,
Arch-E-5912, Earth-616, World War Hulk: Front Line #1
Ten-Thirtifor, Earth-616, Maximum Security Annual #8
TESS-One, Earth-616, Captain America #8
The Ham, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Presents #34
The Living Brain, Spider-Man #8
Thermal Man, Earth-616, Thor #168
Time-bot, Thor #409
Tomazooma, Robot, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #80
Tommy, Sleeper, Earth-616, Plasmer #1
Torgo, Mekkan, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #91
Tracer, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1
TransHuman ROBot, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #311
Tri-Sentinel, Earth-616, Amazing Spider-Man #329
Ultimo, Earth-616, Tales of Suspense #76
Ultron, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol. 2 #3
Ultron, Earth-1610, Ultimates Vol. 2 #6
Ultron 8, Earth-90210, Wolverine Vol. 3 #67
Unit, Earth-616, S.W.O.R.D. #1
Victor Mancha, Earth-616, Runaways Vol. 2 #1
Virgo, LMD, Earth-616,
Vision, Earth-161, X-Men Forever Vol. 2 #1
Vision, Earth-2149, Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #1
Vision, Earth-616, Avengers #57
Vision, Earth-932, Avengers #359
Vision, Gah Lak Tus, Earth-1610, Ultimate Spider-Man #86
Volton, Earth-616, Invaders Vol. 2 #1
Walkabout, Earth-616, Marvel: The Lost Generations #12
Warhawk, Earth-616, Ms. Marvel #12
Warrior Robot, Fantastic Four #85
Watchtower, Earth-616, Wolverine Vol. 2 #154
Wild Sentinels, Earth-616, New X-Men #114
X, Amazing Fantasy #4
Zero, Earth-4935, New Mutants #86
Some of the top evil robots in the Marvel universe include the Sentinels, Ultron and the Super-Adaptoid. Probably the most powerful evil robot is Super-Adaptoid. The Super-Adaptoid is a clear clone of Amazo. The Super-Adaptoid absorbs the powers of the Avengers. A common what if battle on bullentin boards is the Super-Adaptoid versus Amazo which is basically an extension of the Avengers versus JLA what if battle? The Super-Adaptoid while a lot of fun visually, due to all his super powers, doesn’t have much in the way of characterization.
Ultron does not have this problem! Henry Pym, Giant-Man, Yellow Jacket, etc. is the creator of Ultron. Ultron is one scary looking robot who is made out of adamantium, an indestructible metal, and can project massive energy bolts. Ultron may be tough looking but he is a big softie at heart and even creates his own robot mate called Jocasta. Jocasta’s mind was based on the brain patterns of the Wasp, the wife of his “father” Henry Pym. Jocasta is a robot copy of Ultron’s “mother”. Ultron is filled with Oedipal rage towards his creator. Jocasta rejects the love of Ultron because she doesn’t like meglomaniacal sociopaths who want to destroy all organic life on Earth. What a picky lady! Ultron is no quitter when it comes to the game of love and creates a second robot lover called Alkhema and was more ruthless than Jocasta but ended up turning on Ultron as well. Poor Ultron!
The Sentries are created to hunt down mutants and actually there are different models with vastly different power levels. The Sentinels often try to capture mutants so they have all sorts of gadgets for this purpose including gas, nets, cables, you name it. The Sentinels have probably appeared in more issues than all other evil Marvel robots put together. The Sentinels are an interesting plot device but have zero personality with very few exceptions. The Master Mold was kind of an individual. There was the Sentinel with a big 2 on his chest so he’s named Sentinel 2. Sentinel 2 appeared in Avengers # 104 and was mutated when he flew towards the Sun. A batch of Sentinels had decided that the source of mutation was the Sun so they attacked the Sun! No one said the Sentinels were geniuses. That mutated Sentinel was destroyed by his fellow sentries when they realized he was a mutant of sorts.
There is Nimrod who is an advanced Sentinel from an alternate future that takes on a human identity and starts to grow more human. Nimrod and Master Mold merge to create Bastion and an overly complicated plot line, the great weakness of Marvel plotlines. However, all in all the Sentinel are a mindless army that is dangerous precisely due to their simple cognitions that often lead to draconian solutions. I love the Sentinel but just find Ultron more interesting. Ultron wins the evil robot title in the Marvel universe.
The top two good guy robots in the Marvel universe are the original Human Torch and the Vision. The Human Torch was huge during the Golden Age and current comic book readers are probably not aware of this. The fist important comic book crossover was a battle between the Human Torch and Namor the Submariner in Marvel Mystery #9 back in 1940. This is of course a fire versus water theme. The android Human Torch came back in the silver age in Fantastic Four Annual #4. Despite this reappearance the android Human Torch is nowhere near as popular as he once was.
Probably the most famous robot of the current Marvel universe is the Vision who is a member of the Avengers. The Vision was probably created by the same scientist, Phineas Horton, who created the Human Torch but this plotline keeps changing. The Vision had a long running affair with the mutant the Scarlet Witch. There was lot of angst in the relationship and Quicksilver, the brother of the Scarlet Witch, and also a mutant, was extremely vocal about his opinion that the relationship was an abomination. There is of course the irony that Quicksilver is a target of anti-mutant prejudice but this does not stop him from being prejudiced against robots.
I will mention that the Human Torch and the Vision are both referred to as androids probably because they are pretty human looking especially the Human Torch. The Vision had bright red skin and currently is ghostly white so, minus make up, is not passing for a human. The Vision used to be chock full of all sorts of deep emotions and existential angst but is currently lacking in emotion much to the chagrin of the Scarlet Witch. The Vision wins the good robot title in the Marvel universe.
There aren’t as many funny and/or zany robots in the Marvel universe as in the DC universe. There is the Humanoid Experimental Robot B-Type Integrated Electronics or H.E.R.B.I.E. for short created by Reed Richards who provided some comic relief in the Fantastic Four title and that’s about it. There isn’t even one robot dog in the Marvel universe and maybe that’s a good thing. Most of the humor in the Fantastic Four title involving H.E.R.B.I.E. is slap stick rather than verbal and not that funny.
H.E.R.B.I.E. was hilarious in the title Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius. The art was cartoony and Franklin, the son of Reed Richards was a very Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, type character. H.E.R.B.I.E. plays the serious nanny trying to keep Franklin out of trouble with little success. The Awesome Android provided comic relief in volume two of the She-Hulk that was a funny title overall. However, H.E.R.B.I.E. in Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius is funnier and of course H.E.R.B.I.E. is one of the major characters in this title versus the peripheral role of the Awesome Android who changes his name to Awesome Andy. While the title She-Hulk is very funny, Awesome Andy isn’t necessarily all that funny. H.E.R.B.I.E. wins the funny robot contest in the Marvel Universe.
Brainiac is one of the top super villains of all time and clearly wins the bad robot category. A fight between Brainiac and Ultron would be a lot of fun to watch and is the subject of at least one online post (http://www.electricferret.com/fights/issue_186.htm). Who wins the good robot category? The Metal Men have a zaniness that the Vision does not but they are definitely an acquired taste and the Metal Men comic book was always a second rate title. The Vision is an important member of the Avengers. The Avengers are a first rate title. The Vision wins the good robot category.
I do want to mention that the Vision and the Red Tornado are both red and androids. The Vision belongs to the Avengers. The Red Tornado belongs to the DC equivalent of the Avengers, the Justice League. Is this a coincidence? I think not.
L-Ron is funny but H.E.R.B.I.E. is funnier. Marvel wins the good robot and funny robot contests and wins overall. DC won the weapons and transportation posts so this is a comeback for Marvel. I would make another observation about the role of robots in the DC and Marvel universes.
Marvel has a lot more robots than DC! DC has 114 robots. Marvel has 257 robots! I counted all sorts of one-shot robots from the Metal Men title and the DC count was still much lower than the Marvel count. My after the count theory is as follows. Marvel has a consistent multiverse, so many robots get double or triple counts depending on which universe in the Marvel multiverse they appeared. DC’s multiverse is a total mess! Don’t get me started.
I think the idea of multiple universes to explain away continuity lapses was a great invention that was started by DC but DC decided to use a Crisis of the Infinite Earths comic book series to get rid of the other multiverses and create one universe. That might have been ok but they then created a brand new 52 system that assumes there are only 52 universes. There is also something called Zero Hour, and something else called hypertime. I almost vowed to never ever read another DC comic book after the Crisis of Infinite Earth fiasco but let’s face it I am addicted to comic books and need overpowers reason in the long run. The way DC has handled their multiverses has led to a destruction of DC universe continuity.
Continuity leads to suspension of disbelief!
Suspension of disbelief leads to much greater reading pleasure!
Greater reading pleasure leads to greater comic book sales!
I urge all comic book writers to repeat the above three sentences at least once a day in a mantra like manner! Plus there are comic book geeks like myself that love their ability to explain the history of a comic book universe and this is a task that is largely impossible with the DC universe. I would also like to make a comparison of how DC and Marvel have treated robots in their respective universes from a historical perspective.
In the golden age robots were treated in a similar manner by both DC and Marvel. Jack Kirby created a slew of monsters in the golden age before the success of the silver age Spider-Man and many of these monsters are robots that have ended up on the list Marvel robot list. Even the one-shot robots had great names and you remembered them. The Marvel golden age monster stories often had a Twilight Zone style ironic twist at the end that stuck with you after you read the story. Marvel titles that featured monsters include Tales of the Unexpected, Strange Tales and Amazing Fantasy. Amazing Fantasy was a title that was pure monsters until Amazing Fantasy #15. Amazing Fantasy #15 is the issue in which Spider-Man premiered and this was the beginning of the end of Marvel’s golden age monster stories. Long before everything was reprinted in graphic novels, Marvel honored their golden age monsters in the silver age with the Fantasy Masterpieces title that I collected avidly having missed the golden age due to my age.
There were plenty of one-shot robots in the equivalent DC titles Strange Adventures, Tales of the Unexpected and Mystery in Space that are on the DC robot list but even their inclusion in my DC robot list did not change the numbers that much. DC and Marvel in the golden age treated robots in a similar manner. Overall, the robot stories of Marvel, especially those by Jack Kirby, were superior to those in DC in the golden age. However, in both universes in the golden age, robots were one-shot characters limited to certain omnibus titles with an ironic twist at the end but things changed in the silver age.
In the silver age, Marvel developed over reaching themes using robots that DC does not have even now. Overall, humans in the Marvel universe see robots as the equalizer in their dealings with superhumans. The Marvel universe uses robots a lot more as a tool of government. Marvel assumes that the relationship between government and superhumans will be antagonistic. Robots are a major tool of the government to combat superhumans in the Marvel Universe.
The Sentinels versus mutants storyline is a giant one in the Marvel universe that has no equivalent in the DC universe. There is even a little retcon pre-Sentinel history. TESS-One is a robot created by the US government to fight super soldiers like Captain America near the end of 1945. The right hand of the government creates super soldiers and the left hand of the government creates the robot contingency plan to destroy them if they get out of hand. . S.H.I.E.L.D uses Life Model Decoys (LMDs) to infiltrate and spy on enemies but in at least one storyline the LMDs turn on S.H.I.E.L.D because they are tools without conscious who can be controlled by others. Agent Cheesecake is a quite gorgeous LMD that goes the extra mile and seduces targets! Agent Cheesecake is probably the sexiest comic book robot and maybe the sexiest robot period.
You just have to love Marvel’s paranoid vision of the world! This use of robots by government includes alien governments. The Kree are an intergalactic empire and their use of robotic Sentries as immortal sentries at the peripheries of their empire, where a Kree humanoid base is not practical i.e. Earth, is also a major storyline that has no equivalent in the DC universe.
All in all, the Marvel universe has a more developed thematic way of dealing with robots than the DC universe. What makes robots special? Obedience and functional immortality! They are the perfect servants of the state that needs obedient servants that can mimic the functional immortality of the state. Leaders come and go but the goals of the state can be enforced in the long run via robots. Robots are also tool of state whose obedience and immortality can be the downfall of the governments that create them. The Sentries in alternate Marvel time lines often outlive the US government that created them and enforce the Mutant Registration Act in a draconian manner that is ultimately harmful to humans and not just mutants.
This idea of technology out of control is of course a major science fiction theme. I don’t think it’s just science fiction anymore. The US government seriously looked at a Star Wars ballistic system that would have had to operate at the speed of light to be practical and humans and their command, control and communications systems (C3) cannot operate at this speed. The C3 of Star Wars would have had to been relegated to computer systems. Since the Star Wars system is basically defensive that’s ok but sooner or later someone would have decided, well heck why stop there and get rid of that obsolete football the Prez carries and hand the whole shebang to the computers. I don’t worry too much about Sentries over even Skynet, of the Terminator movie series, but I do worry about a computer in the future with bad code that starts WW III due to a glitch. Our technology is moving ahead much faster than our international social systems and eventually we will go the way of the dinosaurs. Bigger computers are great but we also need wiser minds to control those computers.
I think DC is still stuck in a very fifties usage of robots where robots are a novelty and more modern themes of robots as out of control technology due to social rather than novelty reasons is absent. Individual robots go haywire in the DC universe but the idea that social systems such as the government are haywire and create haywire robots as a result is not explored. The robot as novelty was highlighted in DC’s Metal Men. I love the Metal Men! However, the Metal Men are totally dated. The way Marvel uses robots is just a lot more interesting that the way than how DC does. This is my third post comparing technology in DC and Marvel and I want to make an overall observation.
Marvel treats technology in a more consistent thematic manner. Iron Man’s armor leads to the Armor Wars. Mutants are treated with a consistent pseudo science genetic “Gene X” explanation. Adamantium, a super metal, is used consistently to create many super weapons. Robots as institutional servants and the plotlines that follow from this idea are repeated. The government continues trying to create super soldiers after the success of Captain America and the Weapon X program that creates Wolverine and many other characters is the result.
DC treats technology in a much more haphazard manner. Technologies are created for one issue and never seen again. There are far fewer overreaching storylines in the DC universe that tie the different technologies together. Technology has more continuity in the Marvel universe than the DC universe! Again!
Continuity leads to suspension of disbelief!
Suspension of disbelief leads to much greater reading pleasure!
Greater reading pleasure leads to greater comic book sales!
I think whatever the results of individual posts in this series, Marvel treats technology in a superior manner compared to DC.
This is the fourth post in a series of posts that compare DC and Marvel non-superhero genres. The first post looked at Westerns (http://foxhugh.com/2009/02/13/dc-vs-marvel-western-heroes/). The second post looked at war heroes (http://foxhugh.com/2009/03/21/dc-vs-marvel-war-heroes/). The third post looked at women’s comics (http://foxhugh.com/2009/04/11/dc-vs-marvel-working-women/). The genre is space opera and the heroes are spacemen. This genre is a little harder to differentiate from the common super hero. After all many superheroes have alien origins. The very first superhero, arguably, Superman is from the planet Krypton but anyone who knows comic books and science fiction would not argue he is a space opera hero. The main characteristic of space opera is that the action is almost entirely in space. Superman has had his share of adventures in outer space but most of his adventures happen on Earth. Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon are some early examples of the space hero in comic books.
The DC spacemen are Adam Strange, Captain Comet, Knights of the Galaxy, Space Cabby, Space Ranger, Star Hawkins, Tommy Tomorrow and Ultra the Multi-alien. All of these heroes were brought together in a three issue mini-series Twilight in 1990. Twilight brought all of DC’s space heroes and characters together in a reboot that is dystopian and very different from the optimistic and naïve tone of the Silver Age originals. Twilight is a precursor of what Vertigo Press will do on a regular basis when this press is formed in 1993.
These DC space comic books were particularly popular in the Silver Age and I would say this was my favorite non-superhero genre growing up. Westerns were ok. I didn’t really get war comics until years later. Women’s comics in the form of Romance comics were rare and far between. The space opera titles on the other hand were comics I would keep an eye out for. Adam Strange, Captain Comet, Space Ranger and Tommy Tomorrow would be the big four of the space men. The Knights of the Galaxy, Space Cabby and Star Hawkins are much more obscure characters. An ancestor of Adam Strange and Space Ranger did appear in a comic book together during the Silver Age in Mystery in Space #94. Mystery in Space was also were most of the Silver Age space men appeared. Cross-overs at DC in the early Silver Age were few and far between and their common genre identity was probably the cause.
The most famous of all the space men is Adam Strange. Adam Strange has a ray gun and a jet back pack but aside from that is a normal Earthman or as normal as any comic book hero can be. Adam Strange is transported to the planet Rann on a regular basis where he has many adventures. He also has a pretty hot girl friend on that planet. Alan Moore did a really good story with Adam Strange titled “Mysteries in Space”, Swamp Thing #57, second series. The title is obviously a take off on the Mystery in Space title. The relative alien identity of Adam Strange was highlighted. Adam Strange was offered membership in the Justice League of America, a first tier DC superhero group while the other space men never ever even met first tier DC superheroes. Adam Strange was also a major player in the recent DC multi-title event the Rann-Thangar War that attempted to flesh out DC space empires in a way similar to the Marvel Kree-Skrull war had many years earlier.
Years later Captain Comet was rescued from comic book oblivion in a Vertigo title but during his original run was very obscure. Captain Comet is a variation on Superman. Captain Comet is a mutant that represents what we will evolve into in the distant future who decides Earth is boring and goes off into space. Captain Comet is nowhere near as strong and invulnerable as Superman but is a fair telepath and telepathy means you know your opponents weaknesses.
A contest between them would be kind of like Kyle XY versus Clark Kent of Smallville and be very interesting. Kyle would know all about Kryptonite and have the super intelligence to use this knowledge for maximum tactical and strategic advantage. Dime a dozen hoods get the jump on Clark with Kryptonite in Smallville so I think Clark is probably toast.
I have not read a Space Cabby story in years but to this day I remember the very interesting premise. The Space Cabby was a cabby but he had a space ship and he could jaunt around the solar system. So if you needed a quick ride from Earth to Mars then he was your man. Space Cabby emphasized humorous adventures and this is in direct contrast to the melodramatic nature of space opera in general.
Ultra the Multi-Alien is the comic book equivalent of a winner of the Rotten Tomatoes award. The comic book was so garish and over the top, obscure and just plain bad that you couldn’t help but like the title. Prez and the Geek would be two other Silver Age titles that merit the same type of award. An Earthman due to a bizarre ray gun malfunction received the body parts of four other aliens. Each body part has a different power. Kind of like the movie The Fly but instead of merging with one insect, the character merges with four insects and of course more is better. I hereby create my own superhero based on this premise!
Beware of Insectoid the Multi-Insect Man! He has the claws of a praying mantis, the wings and eyes of a fly, the stinger of a scorpion and the antennae of a ant that gives him some other super senses that insects generally don’t have. Anyone interested in this character should contact me at email@example.com. Only serious requests will be considered! So I guess that means no requests will considered.
The Marvel list is much smaller and includes Captain Jet Dixon, Captain Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Speed Carter Spaceman and the Star Jammers. I would consider myself a bit of a comic book historian and I never read or heard about Captain Jet Dixon or Speed Carter Spaceman until I did some research for this post. This is unfortunate since based on my research they are pretty classic space men in the Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon mold clearly fit the premise of this entire post.
The Galaxy Rangers and Star Jammers are Bronze Age space men. They are about a thousand times more relevant and famous than Captain Jet Dixon or Speed Carter Spaceman. The adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Star Jammers do take place almost entirely in space but are still more superheroes than spacemen. The tolerance of fans for non-superhero genres during the Bronze Age of comics was a lot lower than during the Silver Age and superhero elements had to be grafted onto heroes from other genres in order for them to survive. I mention the Punisher as hero that combines war hero and super hero elements in my war hero post and I think this is similar phenomena.
I think the Star Jammers are basically the X-Men set in space and have their origins in the X-Men titles. The Guardians of the Galaxy started more as space men but then evolved into superheroes. The premise is that in the future solar system planets have been terraformed and genetic engineering has been used to make humans that can live in these terraformed planets that are still pretty inhospitable. So you have a crystalline humanoid from Pluto and a super strong soldier from Jupiter, etc. The first issue that premiered caught my eye and they wore futuristic but non-superhero clothing and I liked the premise. Years later the costumes changed and they started hanging around the Avengers, got a ton more members and became the Avengers in space.
Something similar happened to Captain Marvel who was a Kree soldier who wore a very space man kind of costume and used a ray gun but later got one of the coolest superhero costumes ever and lost the ray gun and gained some nega bands and lot of other cool powers to boot. The Kree is a intergalactic empire consisting of thousands of worlds that often is in conflict with the Skrulls. These are very much ray gun and space ship aliens. The Skrulls even use flying saucers. Heroes like the reborn Captain Marvel even have a category in the Marvel Universe and are considered cosmic superheroes.
The adventures of cosmic superheroes take place in space but this is a cosmic space far away from anything Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon could handle. In many ways this cosmic version of space is magical and more importantly mythic. Characters like Galactus, the Watcher, the Silver Surfer, the Elders of the Universe and Thanos have adventures in the cosmos not space. They have no need for space ships or ray guns and can often alter reality through a super science that is the power cosmic. This genre transformation process seems to be a hallmark of Marvel as opposed to DC. The Skrulls may have thousands of world under their dominion but hide like ants when the Silver Surfer was the herald of Galactus in their original appearance in the Fantastic Four Galactus Trilogy that created Marvel’s cosmic space.
DC takes non-superhero heroes and lets Vertigo Press do really interesting things with them while maintaining their core genre identity. All non-superhero heroes in the Marvel universe end up becoming superheroes! Night Nurse, who I mention in my women’s comic post (http://foxhugh.com/2009/04/11/dc-vs-marvel-working-women/) ends up becoming the nurse of superheroes years after her original appearance. I guess if I have a choice of being transported to the DC or Marvel universe then I should pick the Marvel universe since I am about a hundred times more likely to become a superhero in that universe than the DC universe and that was pretty much my life goal until I was six and “grew up”. I put the phrase in quotations since someone writing these posts has arguably not grown up!
So hard choices, do I pick the famous hybrid space men/super hero men of Marvel or the pure space men of Marvel no one ever heard of? I will do a little bit of both. The Star Jammers and Guardians of the Galaxy are superhero teams that are a hundred times more powerful than guys like Adam Strange and Space Ranger and I like these guys to much due to early childhood sentiment to pit them in such an unfair contest without a little tidbit ahead of time. So Captain Jet Dixon and Speed Carter Spaceman just got drafted.
Captain Jet Dixon goes up against Adam Strange and Adam Strange easily beat him to the ray gun draw since he has had a hundred more issues to master target practice. The Knights of the Galaxy go up against the Guardians of the Galaxy because they both have galaxy in their name and the non-super powered knights are easily defeated by the Galaxy Rangers with their numerous superpowers.
The Knights of the Galaxy were space man types with ray guns and space ships that followed a knightly code. The knightly code isn’t going to do them much good against a top tier super hero group like the Guardians of the Galaxy. This mingling of medieval and science fiction is not a first for DC and the Atomic Knights come to mind. I do mention the Atomic Knights in another post on this blog (http://foxhugh.com/2008/05/25/dc-vs-valiant-universe-2-armorines-vs-the-atomic-knights/). I also mentioned in the prior war hero post that the mingling of two non-superhero genres is a hallmark of DC rather than Marvel. DC has weird westerns, weird wars and even haunted tanks, supernatural plus war comic. I love it!
Space Ranger goes up against Speed Carter Spacemen and in a low tone of voice informs him that he is the Space Ranger and nobody’s like Carter should flee and Carter does. The Guardians of the Galaxy then descend on Adam Strange and Space Ranger and give them a space whupping they will never forget.
Captain Comet fights Captain Marvel since they both have Captain in their name. This is actually a really tough fight to call. They both have super strength, invulnerability, and flight. Captain Marvel has cosmic awareness which is kind of like spider sense on steroids but is not an out and out telepath. Captain Comet reads Captain Marvel’s mind and realizes if you slam the nega bands on his wrists together then Captain Marvel is banished to the negative zone and proceeds to do just that. Captain Comet is feeling pleased for about one minute until the Guardians of the Galaxy gang up on him and beat him senseless. The Marvel, kind of, space men win!