Robin: You can’t get away from Batman that easy!
Batman: Good grammar is essential, Robin.
Fighting crime isn’t easy, even for our superpowered friends. Thankfully, they don’t have to go it alone. Over the years, the members of the Justice League have had many a sidekick patrolling the streets, the skies and the seas with them. And these sidekicks have been seen in many different forms, be it the “Holy Hood-winks, Batman!” early version of Robin, to the much more comedic representation in Batman The Brave And The Bold (2008-2011) of “Woozie”, sidekick of Plastic Man, who after a point can only be described as comic relief, though that allowed him to fit rather well into this role.
Many might recognize the younger generation of sidekicks from the much more recent representation of these teenage tough kids depicted in the Cartoon Network show “Young Justice” (2010).
Live Action film representations of these DC sidekicks, or rather heroes-in-training, have been largely limited to stories following Batman and the Boy Wonder, in their glory days. In Batman Begins, we got to see a different perspective on Robin, with the role played by Joseph Gordon Levitt.
There’s a lot more depth to these young characters than meets the eye, and I’m here to tell you a few things you really should know about them, so that the next time you see them, you’ve got your bases covered.
1. There have been a LOT of Robins
Damian Wayne as Robin, in Son of Batman (2014). Going with the ones that have been formally inducted into the Bat Family, there are 6 official Robins that have fought, at one point or the other, at Batman’s side. Though there has been a very clear note that Batman can only have one Robin, he’s still managed to make room for all the little birdies, over time. First, there was Dick Grayson, from an acrobatic circus family, who eventually became Nightwing. Then there was Jason Todd, whose father was a two-bit criminal, eventually murdered, and mother died of Cancer. He has a short-lived career as the Boy Wonder before later resurfacing as the Red Hood. Tim Drake is the third, with a less tragic story and a passion for crime fighting deduced the identity of the Dark Knight and patrolled on his own well into his adult years as Red Robin. Following Tim Drake was a brief period in which Stephanie Brown, first an amateur hero named Spoiler, became the Girl Wonder, before eventually resuming the identity of Batgirl. In this timeline, the last Robin to stand by the Caped Crusader was Damian Wayne, son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul. The final Batman you’ll read about is Carrie Kelley, a young girl growing up almost on her own in Gotham City, during the sequence of events occurring in the comic book The Dark Knight Returns (1986). She forces her way into the Dark Knight’s life and eventually saves it.
2. The Flash likes to keep it in the family
Jay Garrick, Barry Allen and Wally West as Flash, in Batman: The Brave and The Bold (2008-2011). Other than Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash from Earth-Two, and Jesse Chambers (Alias Jesse Quick, daughter of Johnny Chambers, Alias Johnny Quick inspired by Jay Garrick, and Libby Lawrence, Alias Liberty Belle), the remaining three Flashes have kept the name within the family. The original Flash from the current Justice League was Barry Allen, a scientist for the Central City Police Department, when one day he returned to the lab for an experiment and a lighting bolt struck through the window, knocking down a cupboard of chemicals and covering Allen with the electrified chemicals. This allowed him to tap into the speed force. He eventually went on to marry a news reporter named Iris West. Her nephew Wally West soon became Kid Flash, the Flash’s sidekick, after he recreated the conditions that allowed Barry to tap into the Speed Force. Later, when Barry retired, Wally took over as The Flash in the Justice League. Wally West is the Flash depicted in the Justice League animated series (2001-2006). Bart Allen later appears. He is the grandson of Barry Allen, who travels back in time from a dystopian future, and takes on the name Impulse, first fighting alongside Wally West, before later being mentored by Max Mercury, another speedster. Impulse takes on the mantle of Kid Flash when Wally becomes The Flash.
3. The Wonder Girls
Cassie Sandsmark as Wonder Girl, in Young Justice (2013). There have been two young starlets that have taken the name Wonder Girl. The first was Donna Troy, who, in both the New Earth and Prime Earth story-lines was created by a powerful Amazonian Sorceress in the image of Princess Diana herself. In Earth Prime, she was created as a weapon against the Princess and in New Earth, she was created as a playmate. In the new earth storyline, she was cursed by a Dark Angel so that tragedy would strike her countless lives until finally she was rescued and taken to New Cronus where she was raised and trained to be a warrior. In both stories, she would eventually join the Teen Titans (later The Titans) as Wonder Girl. She would eventually become the hero Troia before giving up her powers entirely. Enter Cassandra Sandsmark, a normal looking enough teenage girl, whose father happens to be Zeus. According to Wonder Woman Digest Issue #5 (2002), her mother was Helena Sandsmark, Professor at the Gateway City Museum For Cultural Antiquities. She possesses super strength and super speed and flies with the help of the Sandals of Hermes, and has a lasso that produces lightning bolts, both gifts from her father. She too would become a fellow hero in the Teen Titans.
4. Beware the power of the Tempest!
Aqualad and Aquaman, in Batman: The Brave and The Bold (2008-2011). In the show Young Justice (2010), one of the main heroes in the story is a young Atlantean by the name of Kaldur’Ahm, who, after aiding the King of Atlantis in thwarting an attack on the sea, with his friend Garth, chooses to become the first and only Aqualad, Aquaman’s faithful sidekick. Young Garth stays in Atlantis to pursue his studies in the mystic arts. In the episode, S01E08, “Downtime“, as Aqualad and Garth team up once again to save Atlantis from a sudden attack, Garth pulls together a ball of energy and strikes down the approaching goons, calling out as he does so, “I summon the power of the Tempest!”. The well-hidden fact in this phrasing being that in the original Aquaman storyline, Garth was the first Aqualad, who then takes on the mantle of Tempest. Jackson Hyde, whose birth name is Kaldur’Ahm, takes over as Aqualad soon after him.
5. A Question of Fate? Or Faith?
Kaldur’Ahm as Aqualad, with his father Black Manta, in Young Justice (2013). I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but all the heroes, and all the villains for that matter, seem to have some dark twisted past, be it nasty parents, criminal parents, dead parents, disfigurement, poverty, betrayal… the list could go on. That is why there has been some focus on the notion of choice, in the midst of all the madness. Do we accept the fates assigned to us? Or do we choose to rise above them? Both the Aqualads had this in common. A prophecy was once made about Garth, who would eventually become Tempest, by an Ancient Atlantean. The Prophecy foretold that the young man known as Garth had to be destroyed to protect the underwater kingdom. Similarly, the second Aqualad, Jackson Hyde, was the son of the Villain known as Black Manta, whose only goal is to destroy Atlantis. In fact, his true name Kaldur’Ahm, is based on the name of one henchman of Black Manta’s that betrays him, named Cal Durham. Despite the prophecy foretold about young Garth, and the numerous times Black Manta has attempted to reclaim his son, Aquaman protects and guides both young men, and for that, they have never fallen prey to the lure of evil.
6. Stars and Stripes
Courtney Whitmore as Stargirl, and her step-father Pat Dugan as S.T.R.I.P.E, in Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006). No, it’s not independence day. It’s a superheroic duo. The team first made an appearance in the Golden Age of Justice, along with the Justice Society of America, as Sylvester Pemberton as the Star Spangled Kid who teamed up with a mechanic named Pat Dugan to fight crime. Together they built a Cosmic Converter Belt and a Cosmic Staff that channel bursts of power from the sun, using designs from Starman’s Cosmic Rod. Eventually, Pemberton took up the name Skyman, and Pat Dugan settled down from crime fighting. That is, until a few years later, when Pat’s step-daughter, Courtney Whitmore discovers their old costumes and trains under Pat and Pemberton to take up the mantle of the Star-Spangled Kid. She eventually serves the Justice Society as Stargirl. Her step-father, Pat Dugan, in order to fight beside her and keep her safe, builds a robotic suit of battle armor called the Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer. Together, they are Stars and S.T.R.I.P.Es.
7. The Robin Mix
Tim Drake as Robin, in The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999). In Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), there was a heavy focus on the character of Robin. That focus is on the transformation of Dick Grayson from Robin to Nightwing. The final season of the show, which was cast as The New Adventures Of Batman (1997-1999), focusses on Tim Drake as Robin, who eventually becomes the Red Robin, and the training of Batgirl, who would eventually become The Oracle. In between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, there is supposed to be a second Robin, named Jason Todd, but by the time the series was being made, Todd had been voted out of the comics. So the character of Tim Drake in the series was created as an amalgamation of the comic books versions of the second and third Robin, a tough kid, who has been training himself for years, is taken in off the streets by Batman after his dad is murdered by Two-Face. The character of Tim Drake was written to be a young boy who happened to be at Haley’s circus when Dick Grayson’s parents are killed, and Batman tries but fails to save them. He spends the next few years training and following the escapades of the original dynamic duo until he finds out their true identities. His parents were alive but constantly traveling, and Tim spent a lot of time on his own doing detective work. Until after the death of Jason Todd, which shook Batman to his core. It was then that Tim approaches Batman, citing that Batman needs a Robin. Jason Todd’s childhood was much more tragic, being alone as a child on the streets, and fending for himself however he could. He was taken in by the Bat, who one day caught him trying to steal the wheels off the Batmobile.
8. Good things come in small packages.
Ray Palmer, the original Atom in the back, with the Princess of the Kathartans, and Ryan Choi, the new Atom, at the front, in Batman: The Brave and The Bold (2008-2011). Some of you might know Dr. Ray Palmer. He was a physics graduate student when he one day discovered a fallen fragment of a meteorite that later came to be known as the White Dwarf star. Harvesting the radiation from the meteor fragment, the doctor soon discovered that he could channel its power to shrink and magnify objects. The only catch was that the reaction was unstable and the objects never survived the change. One day, he was forced to use the focusing lens on himself and to his surprise, his body remained stable during the process. It was then he realized that he possessed the metagene, which allowed his body to take the result of the Dwarf Stars without any damage. Over the years and numerous adventures with the Justice Society of America and the Justice League and members thereof, the Atom eventually passed down his legacy to Ryan Choi, a Professor with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics, who had been in touch with Dr. Ray Palmer since his childhood. Choi even took Dr. Palmer’s place as a professor at Ivy University, in Ivy Town, as a cover while he explored the miniverse.
9. The Greatest Marksmen. Or Markswoman
Roy Harper as Speedy, in Teen Titans (2003-2006). There will be few out there who aren’t familiar with Oliver Queen, known commonly as the hero known as The Green Arrow. Though a much lighter character than most, choosing levity over darkness in whatever situations he can (why else would he be Green), he, much like the Dark Knight, has been trained by numerous societies, including but not limited to Ra’s Al Ghul’s League of Shadows. However, he chose to take on a few apprentices of his own, without the catches that come with the cultism that he was trained with. He first protegee, the first Speedy was Roy Harper, who later goes on to become Arsenal, the hero who can turn anything into a weapon. In his adult years, he also has a child Lian Harper with Cheshire, a deadly international terrorist that is enemies with his former teammates, the Teen Titans. In the series Young Justice, Cheshire is portrayed as the sister of another one of Green Arrows apprentices, Artemis Crock. While I haven’t so far seen any hero or sidekick named Artemis Crock in the comics, there was an Archer named Artemis Crock that was once a crossbow-wielding member of the Injustice Society. The latest Speedy in the New Earth storyline is one Mia Dearden, a teenage girl who ran away from her abusive father before being picked up off the streets by Oliver Queen. She began training herself to fight alongside him, despite his protests. He finally gave in and became the Emerald Archer’s next sidekick.
10. Even villains need a little help from time to time.
Rose Wilson as the Ravager, with her father, Slade Wilson, i.e., Deathstroke, in Teen Titans (2004) Issue #9. It’s not just heroes that take on apprentices. The Bad Guys have legacies to push forward, too. For example, there’s the son of Captain Boomerang, who resurfaces after many years in the storyline Identity Crisis to learn from his father the art of being a criminal. Or Scandal, the daughter of Vandal Savage who is as vicious as her immortal and ever-crusading dictatorial father. You can even include Talia Al Ghul, who, regardless of her love for her son or Batman (her beloved), remained a faithful loyal servant to her deviant father Ra’s Al Ghul. One other story of apprenticeship is that of Deathstroke’s, also known as Slade Wilson, member of the Secret Society of Super-Villains and enemy to the Teen Titans. A former army major, he became an international assassin for hire after a secret experiment turned him into a super-soldier. He is fuelled by a potent combination of skill, ruthlessness and rage. His son, Jericho, was a member of the Teen Titans, who Deathstroke, in Teen Titans Issue #1-5 attempted to kill, believing the boy had killed his butler Wintergreen. However, Jericho was a body jumper and survived by moving his soul from person to person, including Deathstroke. Deathstroke, in a pursuit to find his sons soul and make sure he is dead, trains his daughter Rose Wilson in the skills he has learnt, and she takes on the title, “The Ravager”. Desperately trying to prove her loyalty to her father, at some point she even cuts her own eye, in an homage to his physical injury of the same nature.