Friday, April 4, 2014


One of my storytelling role models, Stan Lee himself, openly admits that he has never liked one particular type of character:  the super-hero's teenage sidekick.

You know, all the teenaged Buckys and Robins and Aqualads and Kid Flashes and so forth that have been running around in costumes alongside adult super-heroes since the early history of Batman--Stan never cared for them.  We know what the rationale behind all those characters was supposed to be:  they were meant to give the pre-teen boys who were supposedly the core audience of comic books a reference point, a character with whom to identify, a character they were supposed to imagine themselves as being.  (In Batman's case, Robin was also meant to lighten him up and make his stories seem a little lighter.  Of course that doesn't work any more; the accepted characterization of Batman today is "Dirty Harry in a Cape".)  But anyway, all those sidekicks started a tradition that has persisted in one form or another all the way into present-day super-hero fiction.  

Now at Marvel Comics in the 60s they did it a little differently and had the teenagers themselves be the heroes:  the Human Torch, Spider-Man, the old X-Men.  And they went at their teen characters very differently than DC did.  Over at DC, the sidekick characters--as well as the Legion of Super-Heroes, who were independent teen heroes--were smiling, scrubby-dubby, authority-respecting figures, practically Mouseketeers in costumes.  (That's not true of them any more; we're talking 1950s-60s here.)  The Marvel teens were another matter.  The Human Torch was all hormones and attitude; he ran away from the Fantastic Four at the end of the third issue and was always into cars and girls, only sometimes in that order.  Spider-Man had more teen angst and adolescent anguish than a character on the CW Network.  The X-Men, born with powers that manifested at puberty and feared and hated by common people, were teenage alienation incarnate.  That was the only way that Stan Lee could handle teenagers as super-heroes.  He never liked the idea, and in the book Origins of Marvel Comics he went so far as to call the costumed teen sidekick "a cloying, simpy extension of the hero's personality."  

Stan deemed it irresponsible for adult super-heroes to take costumed kids into battle with them; he thought they had no business putting youngsters in danger and expecting them to battle murderous villains.  No wonder that when Stan and Jack Kirby revived Captain America in The Avengers #4 they killed off Bucky in the backstory, and for years Marvel confined the character to period stories, flashbacks, and time travel stories.  (That tradition has in recent years Soldiered through its last Winter, I'm sorry to say.)  I shudder to think what might have happened if Stan had been writing DC Comics back in the day.  I have this mental image of the Justice League of America weeping over the graves of the early Teen Titans.  Fare thee well, Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl!

But still, the idea of super-heroes with youthful proteges is with us.  It's something we associate with DC a bit more than Marvel.  And it's something especially beloved of gays who read comics.  The reasons why are not hard to understand when you consider that the teen years are the usual coming-out time for young gays, and that this period of life exerts an especially powerful hold on the gay imagination.  So in building the universe of Quantum Comics I wanted to try my hand at having at least one teen sidekick.  I created him for the World Champion.  You remember him, I'm sure, from an earlier post:

Well, the Champ has a sidekick who, in the best tradition of gay comic-book-fan wish fulfillment, is rather more than a sidekick.  After a lot of tinkering with both the character and his look, here's how he came out, so to speak.  Introducing...the All-Star!  TA-DAA...!

Josh Beatty is one of those unfortunate gay youths who encounter hatred, hostility, rejection, and threats of violence where they should never have to deal with them:  in his very home!  When he overhears his own father, a construction foreman, telling Eric's mother that if he ever learned that one of his children was a homosexual, he would thrash that child within an inch of his life--or more--and toss him out like the garbage.  Newly Out but shocked, heartbroken, and fearing for his very life from own father, Josh waited for his chance to escape from a home where he would never feel safe again.  He ran away and never looked back, living in shelters for gay youth until at last finding a haven with an advocacy group that worked with teenage gays and lesbians thrown out by their families for being who they are.  With their help, Josh became an Emancipated Minor and got job training, and when he was old enough he finally got a position as a barista at a gay fitness club in West Hollywood. It was here he met and was instantly in awe of Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Travis Roykirk--just in time for Earth to be invaded by the Ardemian Rief Clan, the event that resulted in the origin of the Environauts!  It was during this upheaval that Travis used the Samson-Vega Patch on himself and became a near-superhuman to help defend Earth.

After the crisis was over and Earth was saved from the invasion, Josh and Travis met up again and Josh learned that his idol/crush was moving on to get re-trained in combat skills with his newly enhanced body.  Fearing he would never see Travis again, Josh begged the hero/athlete to take him along and let him be trained as well.  He wanted Travis to be his mentor--and more.  Travis found he didn't want to say goodbye to the young boy who so admired and so obviously wanted him, so he accepted.  So, as Travis returned to his own mentors for the battle training that would make him the costumed World Champion, Josh accompanied him and was groomed to be the Champ's partner in life and more.  And this, then, was the origin of the boy the world would come to know as the All-Star.  

Next in Quantum Comics Blog:  A little something I'm whipping up in answer to a fan's request.  And as the spring and summer roll on:  More of The Adventures of Lucky Vega!

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