Thursday, May 10, 2012

Following the Cowl

Batman is an imposing dark figure of the night, designed to inspire fear into the superstitious and cowardly lot, so then why does it seem that the Bat Cave is full of impressionable youth doing everything they can to follow in his footsteps? Let’s take a look at some of these little praised, often criticized or even sometimes disliked sidekicks of the Dark Knight.
Due to several factors, Robin is the most controversial and probably most disliked of all the sidekicks, no matter the incarnation. The problem is Robin was first created to lighten Batman and make him more approachable to kids. The result was a campy cheesy Batman with pedophilia and homosexual undertones towards his kid sidekick in bright green briefs.
What a lot of people don’t know though is that this lightening was later written into the Batman story. When Tim Drake, the third Robin, noticed news stories showing that Batman was becoming more dark and violent, he decided that Batman needs a Robin to keep him balanced. Drake brought this to the Dark Knight’s attention, as well as the fact that he had singlehandedly figured out his secret identity, and Batman made him his new Robin.
Tim Drake is probably the best Robin in my opinion. Untainted by the “make Batman lighter” campagn, he’s not dark but just cool. With his detective skills he’s probably the closest sidekick to actually being able to succeed Batman permanently one day.  Plus, unlike his previous Robins and the one that followed him, Drake is the most mature, and seems to be the best at his job, since he frequently went on solo missions without Batman looking over his shoulders. Don’t let the histories fool you, just because one Robin was a wuss doesn’t mean they all were.
I think my favorite sidekick Batman has ever had is Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. She’s such a unique character, even among Batman’s flavorful life. Barbara isn’t haunted by some terrible tragedy, she doesn’t have a dark agenda, she saw what fighting the scum of Gotham did to her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, and she just wants to help. She’s a fun, light-hearted character that even Batman couldn’t help but brighten to be around.
What’s really interesting is what happened to her. One morning, the Joker decides he’s going to try and drive the Commissioner to madness, so he shows up at Barbara’s apartment and shoots her in the spine. Batman rounds him up but it leaves Barbara paralyzed from the waist down, thus unable to be Batgirl anymore. Rather than disappear into obscurity, she reinvents herself as the computer savvy Oracle, and helps heroes with intel and computer hacking skills. She even gets a cool little base in Gotham clock tower, where she forms her own girl super hero team to go run missions for her. Barbara has probably the most coherent, as well as realistic, story arch of anybody in DC.
Now I should mention the other Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. She’s from the time when DC wanted everything to get darker, and is evidence that it didn’t really make for good storytelling. Cain was raised by her assassin father to be a ruthless killing machine, but was then taken in by Batman and Oracle for some reason, where she learned how to not kill and put her talents to good use. It was hinted early on that she may have some kind of super power where she could see her opponents next move, but it never was explored very well. They never really did a whole lot with her, she almost never worked with Batman and whenever she would team up with another sidekick or hero it always seemed like she was trying to find a way to kill them. Her costume with the all black and mouth cover was cool, but in the end she was flash without substance.
A grown up version of the first Robin, it’s hard to classify Nightwing as a sidekick, but with as much as he hangs out with Batman some days it’s hard to call him anything else. Once upon a time Dick Grayson got sick of being Robin and wanted a job where he could wear pants and not dress like a human target, so he became Nightwing and at first dressed like a male stripper. Once the artists figured out a decent costume for him, Nightwing became one of the coolest heroes to jump around Gotham.
Nightwing is the conclusion I would’ve loved to see Batgirl reach. I know we have a Batwoman running around, but she’s a whole other thing. I like the idea of the sidekicks eventually growing up and taking on their own legacies, like Nightwing. It’s interesting to note that he seems to be a combination of both Batman and Robin, between the acrobatics and black-and-blue look he’s got going on.
With most other heroes the sidekicks either have to endure the same freak accident they went through or be from the same planet or whatever, with Batman’s though all they have to do is be people who for one reason or another want to improve their world, and were inspired by someone who already took it upon themselves to do just that. As bad as the mistakes were in the past, I still think Batman’s sidekicks have plenty of redeeming qualities, and shoudn’t be discarded as quickly as they have been.

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