Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Gems of the 90's: Sidekicks
Gold, silver, and bronze… the ages of comic books. We invoke them with fondness, nostalgia, and sometimes ridicule but always with reverence. We talk about the things that characterize each age: The odd combination of noir and jingoism of the Golden Age; the unbridled craziness and outlandish science of the Silver Age; the progressive political activism of the Bronze Age. And then we talk about the 90’s, and we tend to do so in extremes. First, there are the 90’s haters:
“The 90’s sucked.”
“I cannot believe how much X-Force I have in my long box.”
Then you have the 90’s nostalgics:
“I have EVERY issue of Hitman.”
“Kyle Rayner has a cute bottom.”
“Dude, what ever happened to Shatterstar?”
So why do we live at these extremes when it comes to one of the many decades in comics? There was most certainly a realignment in the creative energy behind comics. In the quest to be ‘not just for kids’, some comics became graphically violent to the extent that it became their main selling point. Comics became art driven, rather than writing driven, and the defection of creators to upstarts like Image and Dark Horse loosened the editorial control that, for better or worse, had at least given us our books on time. There’s a lot to be pissed about from the 90’s, and most 90’s apologists look back at X-Cutioner’s Song and The Infinity Gauntlet with fondness because, like it or not, it’s part of their youth.
But for a moment let’s set aside the view of the 90’s haters who shudder at the thought of one more X-Book and the 90’s generation who cut their teeth on Cable’s giant shoulder pads. Periodically on this blog, I’m going to give readers my two cents about the gems of the 1990’s, and why, in my opinion, it may be just as important as the silver age in influencing the comics we pull off the rack nowadays.
My first gem of the 90’s is one near and dear to my heart:
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SIDEKICK
One of the hallmarks of the 90’s was book inflation. Name a character, and chances are he or she had at least a mini during the 1990’s, and one of the few areas where this was actually successful was with sidekicks for major characters. Tim Drake took over the mantle of Robin at the end of the 1980’s, and after a few successful minis, he starred in the first ongoing Robin series. The 1990’s also saw the creation of Impulse, a new and beloved sidekick for the Flash who, after falling out of favor with his mentor, would have his own popular ongoing series. The 1990’s had some big and annoying publicity stunts, the most famous of which is the Death of Superman, but out of that overblown marketing ploy was born Conner Kent, who had a reasonably popular ongoing series and was part of a highly successful Teen Titans relaunch.
What is compelling about the 90’s generation of sidekick, which began with Tim Drake, is their independence from their mentors and their ability to capture the interest of readers in their own right. In fact, many of these 'sidekicks' spent large stretches of time in full separation from their mentors, which, in many ways, allowed them to more fully cement their positions in their respective heroic traditions. While much of the superhero genre toiled away trying to become edgy and more adult, a few characters stood out as vibrant and deeply human heroes that readers young and old could identify with and root for. It’s no coincidence that these characters have all played major parts in the big crossovers of the past several years. It’s just a shame they keep dying.
I will periodically chime in with more gems of the 90's, but for now I pose the question:
What characters, sidekick or otherwise, is your favorite from the 90's, and is he or she still with us today?