The Secondary Hero: Partners in Crime Fighting

“I want a car. Chicks dig the car.”
“This is why Superman works alone.”
– Robin, Batman, Batman & Robin

Being a superhero is a difficult and dangerous profession. Many a crime fighter has been shot, stabbed, battered, and tortured in the line of duty, even those with super powers. As any cop can tell you, it’s always a good idea to have someone else with you when you decide to go after a ruthless criminal. Superheroes work in pairs and teams for the same reason. However, beyond simply being an extra pair of eyes and fists, the Secondary Hero provides a counter-example to the Hero’s method of superheroing and allows the Hero to modify and solidify his own code.
While virtually every Superhero Film has a Damsel and a Villain, and most have Mentors and Confidantes, Secondary Heroes only appear in a handful of Superhero Films. Part of the reason for this is that Secondary Heroes can take away from the Hero’s main plot and so are usually left out in the first installment of a franchise. Once the Hero’s story has been established, the Secondary Hero can emerge as the deuteragonist in a sequel, although they can still be upstaged by the Villain’s character development.
Another reason is that most of the superheroes that have been adapted to cinema don’t have traditional sidekicks. In the comics, sidekicks are “only found among older characters such as Batman and Captain America, created at a time when simpler plotting did not let the real-world irresponsibility of placing an adolescent in danger impede the story…” (Burke, 18). To date, only Batman (and, arguably, Batman imitator Big Daddy) has ever been shown to have true sidekicks (Robin in Batman Forever, joined by Batgirl in Batman & Robin). While not all Secondary Heroes are sidekicks, this is certainly a contributing factor to their scarcity.
hit girl kick assEvery Secondary Hero falls into one of three different categories, depending on when they start their superhero careers in relation to the Hero. The first group is made up of those Secondary Heroes who were fighting crime before the Hero and subsequently team up with the Hero once he emerges. Examples of this type include Lt. Gordon in Batman Begins and Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass. These characters already had established methods of fighting crime, but came to learn and respect the Hero’s code, adapting their methods to include his.
Iceman keeps his cool while the Human Torch has a more showy approach to heroics.

Iceman keeps his cool while the Human Torch has a more showy approach to heroics.

The second type of Secondary Hero is the one whose career began around the same time as the Hero. These are usually found in films about superhero teams, such as Iceman in the X-Men franchise and Johnny Storm in Fantastic 4. Even though they may become superheroes at the same time that the Hero does, their status within the film still makes them Secondary Heroes. Additionally, these characters look to the main Hero for guidance, even if they don’t have all the answers yet. These Secondary Heroes are often used to show an alternate outcome for the Hero, similar to the Villain. For instance, Johnny Storm decides to be more of a showboat with his powers while Reed just wants to help people. Johnny thus becomes a light mirror to Reed, with Dr. Doom (again, with the same origin) completing the spectrum.

Iron Man and War Machine have very similar abilities and backstories

Iron Man and War Machine have
very similar abilities and backstories

The last type of Secondary Hero is one whom the Hero finds and/or recruits well into his own career. These Secondary Heroes will have an “origin and abilities [that] parallel that of the main hero…[and] whose presence [can] reiterate the hero’s origin for late-comers to the franchise” (Burke, 19). Robin and War Machine (from Iron Man 2) would be examples of these kinds of Secondary Heroes. It is common for these Secondary Heroes to start off as Confidantes, which allows for a more equal partnership.


Secondary Heroes typically go about crime fighting in their own way. Just as the Hero eventually breaks away from the Mentor, so too do the Secondary Heroes break away from the Hero. In some cases, the Secondary Hero already has his own way of doing things, such as Gordon already being a police officer before Batman comes around. This provides a different perspective on crime fighting and makes it clear that the Hero is not infallible. In other cases, the Secondary Hero’s methods will complement the Hero’s. Gordon and Batman form a profitable partnership due mostly to the fact that Gordon works inside the system and Batman works outside of it, each doing the things that the other cannot.

The character and function of the Secondary Hero will likely change over the next few years. The inclusion of Kato in TheGreen Hornet and Bucky in Captain America: The First Avenger will provide new examples of sidekick/hero relationships, while Magneto’s function in X-Men: First Class will provide an interesting example of the Secondary Hero turning into the Villain. It will be very interesting to see how these new films change the idea of the Secondary Hero.

About the author

David Molofsky

David is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of AP2HYC.


  • That’s a good point, you mean like Whistler in Blade or Wong in Dr. Strange? And Sinestro is an especially interesting character, since he also eventually becomes a Villain, but I’m going to hold off on talking about him until after the GL movie comes out.