And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

— Ecclesiastes 4:12, ESV

When we think about heroic characters like Batman, Green Lantern, and Harry Potter, they are seldom the stories of loners. Each superhero has an assistant, friend, organized helper, added muscle — a sidekick. The term sidekick leaves the immediate impression of an undistinguished ‘also-ran’ character, not nearly as important as the lead. Upon closer examination, the steadfast partner-in-crime is absolutely key to the plot and the playing out of the tale, occupying a necessary role in balancing out the eccentricities of the lead hero.

Batman had Alfred as his quiet and supportive helper who managed the details at home, never once missing the opportunity to offer a well-timed piece of advice. Sherlock Holmes had Watson, also a steadying personality to bring Sherlock’s larger-than-life personality back down to earth. Watson is a humanizing force in the Holmes mysteries, jotting notes, mentioning possible connections, or patiently listening to Sherlock’s theories and ramblings. But there is more to each pair than what we first observe. There is brain to balance out the brawn, a calm presence to soothe the stormy mind, and even a little added muscle to get the heroic job done.

What brings about the first meeting of the two? C.S. Lewis suggests that “friendship arises out of a mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).”[1] The hero feels the burden of righting a wrong, saving the weak, or rescuing society. The sidekick joins the fray. They are both, as Lewis describes, “about something” together, and this is the basis of friendship.

Teamwork and a common vision for setting things right is the very core of this relationship, a friendship between the two that is quite like what Lewis wrote about in his book, The Four Loves. Lewis describes that friendship “is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd.”[2] Superheroes and their sidekicks are definitely set apart from the herd; honestly, they are in the business of saving the herd from itself.

Two are Better Than One

Adventure calls for a loyal sidekick

Bestowed with the most inclusive of names.

Backup to heroes whom the fates may pick.

Stout-hearted champion of noble aims,

Destiny of service, at times a saving grace.

Equal in import, cohort in the game.

Stalwart companion, but not to replace.

The vision is grander than top billing.

A shared goal, adding courage to the race.

For rescue and redemption, both winning,

As two merged shadows, essential in league.

Zeal for justice, defense in the living.

To lift up his fellow, a cord not weak,

Steadfastly together, mercy they seek.

Citation Information

Annie Nardone, “Just a Sidekick?,” An Unexpected Journal: Superheroes 4, no. 2. (Summer 2021), 253-256.

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[1] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, 1988), 65.

[2] Lewis, 58.