The Golden Age, part 4
Men, Women, and Children?!?
by Jonathan Bogart
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where it began, even though it
is a tradition that continues even today among the metahuman community.
Perhaps it began--a rather unsettling thought--in the realm of sensational
fiction and in the comics. After all, Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson;
Dick Tracy had Junior. Even the Green Hornet, whose similarity to
real-life costumed mystery-men is startling, had Kayo. So perhaps
it seemed natural for the young men who gained fantastic powers to
recruit children and young teenagers to be their sidekicks.
Today, the child-sidekick tradition still continues, with more obvious examples being Batman's Robin and the Flash's Impulse. Some years ago, it was even fashionable, with teenagers and young people springing up all over the country as either sidekicks or homages of older heroes. The existence of the Teen Titans and Infinity, Inc. amply demonstrate this trend.1
Many scholars believe that the first child sidekick was Wing, partner to the Crimson Avenger, although there is some evidence to indicate that the Sandman had a sidekick as well. However, since the Sandman, though definitely identified as a member of the JSA, also had a comic book published about his exploits, one cannot be certain how much of the "evidence" compiled about him is true.
But whenever the first one appeared, and whoever he was, in subsequent years child sidekicks followed fast and furious, almost to the point where it might be considered a form of sexual deviance to dress a boy in tights and fight crime. Nearly half of the membership of the Law's Legionnaires (known more popularly as the Seven Soldiers of Victory) was underage: Wing, the Star-Spangled Kid, and (a reminder that the "good old days" were not always so innocent) Stuff, the Chinatown Kid. There were even times when young people banded together, imitating the JSA and All-Star Squadron, and prefiguring the Teen Titans. The most notable of these groups was a group who called themselves the Young All-Stars, of whom very little has been heard since. None of them seemed to bear any relation to the other heroes of the time, and perhaps because they were interracial (Tsunami and the Flying Fox were among the first non-Caucasian heroes), they were unpopular at the time.2
In light of recent events in Metropolis, perhaps the most famous of all the "kid sidekicks" of the war years was the Newsboy Legion, a rather motley crew of urchins who fought crime in the slums of Metropolis with their mentor, the Guardian.3 And, of course, no catalogue of the "Golden-Age" child-heroes would be complete without a mention of the Boy Commandos, a group of young teens who were trained in military service and, in fact, performed valiantly in both theatres of the Second World War. Though recent psychologists have deplored the formation of this group on the basis of the army's "corruption of the innocent," it must be noted that they were privately trained, and that five boys from boarding school became heroes in a world which was soon to be dominated solely by the super-powered.
There were, of course, other child-heroes who were not sidekicks. Merry, Girl of 1000 Gimmicks, Little Boy Blue, and the Star-Spangled Kid spring to mind (the last a curious variation on a familiar theme--his sidekick, Stripesy, was an adult).
Psychologists are divided on the issue of how taxing the heroic life is for children and adolescents. The recent case involving a girl with the codename Arrowette has brought the issue to the forefront of popular consciousness, but it does not seem as though the issue will be settled for a long time, if ever. Would it even be an issue if the Crimson Avenger had not (as the popular story goes) given into a young man's plea to let him be a hero too? It is intriguing to think what a different society we might have if superheroics, like alcohol, tobacco, and driving, had an age statute. Of course, the very nature of superheroism requires its practitioners to operate outside the law. Where children are concerned, however, the law always tends to be a little stricter.
1 For further study on this subject, see my "The Superhero Explosion of the '80s: Second-Generation Heroes."
2 As has been stated in the landmark study "Descent Patterns among Superhero Figures", the Young All-Stars are also remarkable for another reason: each of their members seems to prefigure, in some way, a modern hero who is much more well-recognized than his or her career time would suggest. Parallels have been drawn between "Iron" Munro and Superman, Flying Fox and the Batman, Fury and Wonder Woman, and Neptune Perkins and Aquaman. A reading of this study is highly recommended.
3 The recent reappearance of the Newsboy Legion, not to mention the Guardian, has caused some confusion. It has been positively proven, however, that these are clones of the child heroes, not the heroes themselves, and are thus considered a modern version of the Newsboy Legion.
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This piece is © 1997 by Jonathan Bogart.
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