Heroes are usually larger than life, but sometimes it’s the person standing next to them that casts the bigger shadow. While main heroes usually get top-billing, but they can often be too boring, too troubled, or even too dumb to save the day. Thankfully, here are 11 sidekicks that pick up the slack — often doing a better job than the heroes ever could.
1) Kato, The Green Hornet
Let’s begin with the sidekick who best epitomizes this list, Kato. Over the course of his career as the Green Hornet’s sidekick in radio serials, comics, the TV show and the movie, Kato is a phenomenal driver, as well as brilliant inventor and mechanic, designing the Hornet’s Black Beauty car and his sleeping gun. Of course, what he’s best known for is his phenomenal martial arts skills, thanks to being portrayed by the legendary Bruce Lee in the ‘60s TV series. In fact, Lee’s Kato overshadowed the Hornet then, and Lee’s enduring popularity cemented Kato as the force to be feared between the two heroes, which was of the course the main conceit of the recent Green Hornet movie starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou. For all intents and purposes, the Green Hornet is just a dude with a sleeping gun; Kato is a force to be reckoned with.
2) Penny and Brain, Inspector Gadget
Inspector Gadget is a combination of a Swiss Army Knife and Robocop, but all those gadgets don’t leave much room for brains. So you have Gadget’s niece Penny and her dog Brain to thank for keeping you from being enslaved by Dr. Claw and M.A.D. on numerous occasions. While Gadget is out bumbling around, breathing through his mouth, Penny is actually solving the crime, albeit it with a shocking disregard for her own safety, which gets her captured by M.A.D. almost constantly. This is where Brain the dog comes in, as its somehow fallen to him to rescue Penny, manipulate the situation so Gadget accidentally thwarts the evil plot, and somehow keep this little family alive. To be fair, Penny and Brain frequently get in trouble that only Gadget can get them out of, although he saves them invariably through chance and dumb luck. On the other hand, without Penny and Brain, Gadget’s case closing rate would be 0%.
3) Willow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
While Buffy was busy moping and making terrible romantic partner decisions in the last four or so seasons of BtVS, Willow was busy becoming a much more powerful — and interesting — character than her friend. Sure, Buffy’s a Slayer, but Willow becomes a witch with enough power to destroy the world (or flay people alive, as the case may be). Sure this — along with the murder of her partner Tara — leads her down a dark path to evil and becoming season 6’s Big Bad, but it’s a much more legitimate and compelling story than all of Buffy’s nonsense. Also, Willow casts the spell that activates all the Slayers at the end of season 7, making her more responsible for saving the world than Buffy in that instance. Also, Alyson Hannigan’s Willow is fun, funny, lovably nerdy, smart, a computer whiz, and again, the most powerful witch in the world. Who would you rather hang with, her, or Buffy? I thought so.
4) Robin, Batman and Robin
First of all, let me assure you that I don’t mean the Batman and Robin movie. And rest assured I don’t mean all Robins. I specifically mean Damian Wayne in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin comic, written during that period when Bruce Wayne was dead/sent hurtling through the past and Dick Grayson was wearing the cowl as Batman. Honestly, by omitting Bruce Wayne, Morrison created the most interesting Dynamic Duo possibly ever — Damian was stern, humorless terrifyingly proficient and always in danger of going too far. Dick Grayson’s Batman was obviously super-competent, but brought the same light-hearted disposition he did as Robin; what resulted was a team where Robin was effectively Batman and Batman was effectively Robin. Adding Grayson’s history as Robin and Damian’s jealousy of the life Dick had with his father made it even more fascinating. At any rate, what Damian lacked in experience to his Batman he more than made up for in a willingness to break the rules to get the job done, even if that job involved kicking the asses of all the Robins that preceded him. Without any question, he’s the most interesting Robin ever.
5) Wang, Big Trouble in Little China
The brilliance of Big Trouble in Little China — okay, one of the many, many brilliant things about it — is that the protagonist, Jack Burton, has no clue he’s not actually the hero. Neither do audience members that on’t pay close attention, either. He’s actually the sidekick to Wang, his buddy who sets off into the Chinese underworld to rescue his green-eye fiancée from demons with his ridiculous trucker buddy. But since the movie wants to present Wang as the sidekick — and most people think he is — he’s a shoo-in for this list. Jack has no idea what’s going on, is obsessed with his truck, and manages to knock himself unconscious by shooting the ceiling and having a chunk of it fall on his head during the climatic battle. Wang is a skilled fighter, determined to rescue his damsel in distress, and isn’t a moron. Case closed.
6) Riza Hawkeye, Fullmetal Alchemist
It’s easy for Riza Hawkeye to be more competent than her boss when her boss is so phenomenally lazy; whether Lt. Colonel Roy Mustang is investigating chimera or actively plotting a revolution, he still leaves all the planning, paperwork and pretty much everything else to Riza, making her the real savior of the country. Although Mustang’s flame alchemy is considerable, it’s not much more so than Riza’s incredible marksmanship and unlike Mustang’s alchemy, she can still fire guns in the rain. In the manga and second anime, she’s the one who discovers that the Fuhrer’s son Selim is an evil homunculus, and gets the coded news to Mustang thus saving the entire revolution, and that’s while she’s unwillingly serving the deadly Fuhrer herself. Roy mustang may be a star, but Riza Hawkeye is the real hero.
7) Kid Marvelman, Marvelman
Although Kid Miracleman man is greater than Miracleman in terms of powers and interest, rest assured he is not a better hero than his namesake. In Alan Moore’s seminal take on the classic characters in the early ‘80s, after Kid Miracleman — who has Shazam-like powers that come and go when he says the word “Miracleman” — escapes from the alien-tech-created, virtual reality program designed by the British government, he stays in his powerful superhuman form for years, not only gaining in power, but going insane. His original human persona is completely subsumed as Kid Miracleman vows vengeance on his mentor, and is willing to kill anyone on a whim, including his secretary and a young nurse that was once nice to him (just so no one would think he’d gone “soft). Although Miracleman (with the help of many, many others) is able to subdue him, countless citizens of London are horrifically murdered in the process. And when Miracleman sizes control of Earth’s governments, Kid Miracleman begins inspiring revolution as a tragic anti-hero. Kid Miracleman is as responsible for Miracleman’s fame as much as Alan Moore is.
8) Brock Sampson, The Venture Bros.
As the (former) bodyguard to Doc Venture and his sons Hank and Dean, Brock is kind of the sidekick to the entire family. He’s a terrifyingly deadly fighter, constantly on the lookout for danger, and routinely performs stunts that would make James Bond nauseous to think about — and between his love-hate relationship with the chastity-belt wearing Russian spy Molotov Cocktease and ties to the machinations of O.S.I., he arguably gets the better adventures, too. Seeing as the Venture family are pretty hilariously incompetent in all regards, it’s obvious would be dead many times over without him (although Hank and Dean still managed to die a few times on his watch). There’s a reason why Venture Bros. fans still bemoan the fact that Brock left the Venture household, even though it was two whole seasons ago.
9) Tonto, The Lone Ranger
Let’s forget about Johnny Depp and the recent movie and just look at the facts, okay? The Lone Ranger is a Texas Ranger who was supposedly killed by bandits but now wears a mask to hide his identity and fight bad guys. Simple. But Tonto? He’s the one who finds John Reid near death and nurses him back to health; he’s the one who joins this random white man on his quest for justice; he’s the chief’s son who turned his back on his people. And despite his unfortunate tendency to talk in Pidgin English in most incarnations, he’s also equal to the Ranger in both intelligence and skills. Maybe he’s not the most compelling sidekick on this list, but he’s still a hell of a lot more interesting than the Lone Ranger.
10) Sparky, Steel
Okay, it’s not like anyone in the 1997 movie based on the DC comics superhero Steel is going to come off as a masterpiece of characterization. But Annabeth Gish’s Sparky was a weapons designer who lost the use of both of her legs, and who ha to overcome that trauma to help Steel get the weapons that caused her accident off the street. It’s not to say that Steel handled this story with any sensitivity — or even much competency — but it added pathos to Gish’s character that the hero lacked. Of course, the hero was being portrayed by Shaquille O’Neal. Richard Roundtree’s character’s dog had more depth.
11) Stiles, Teen Wolf
While best known in the 1985 Teen Wolf movie for his phenomenal “What are You Looking at, Dicknose?” t-shirt, the Stiles of MTV’s Teen Wolf TV show is a genuinely helpful best friend to young werewolf Scott McCall as opposed to someone who just gets him into trouble. It’s safe to say that without Stiles, none of the show’s mysteries would be even close to being solved, even if Scott was aware enough to perceive them as mysteries. It’s Stiles who figures out that Scott was bitten by a werewolf, Stiles who is ready to cut Derek’s arm off with a saw, and Stiles who manages to deal with his werewolf best friend attacking him and macking on his crush Lydia. Meanwhile, Scott is basically spazzing out. Seriously, the only way this Stiles could be greater is if he had a “What are You Looking at, Dicknose?” t-shirt.