The Sidekick's Manifesto

Batman with his sidekick Robin. Painting by Al...
Batman with his sidekick Robin. Painting by Alex Ross, based on the cover of Batman #9 by Jack Burnley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking more about the sidekick role I’ve spent so much time playing…

When I was in my teens, I felt like adventures were something other people had. Maybe it was because I felt like I was tagging along when I read books, or because the people I looked up to seemed to be so much more experienced (even if I learned later that was not so). Maybe it was purely an issue of self-esteem, feeling like epic things happened to other, more interesting people, but not to me. For whatever reason, I felt like I was always there for other people – equipping, doing the research, interpreting, shielding. I was the back up. I was the sidekick.

For many years I tried to convince myself that this was a noble calling and a role I was satisfied with. I didn’t want to be a god-mode role-player or a Gary Stu, after all. And sometimes helping other people was, in fact, really rewarding. I even tried to write an essay, a Sidekick Manifesto, for many years. It was going to be about the value of being the secondary, the squire, the support.

But the essay never quite happened the way I wanted it to, and I think I know why. Because it’s not true, at least not the way I thought it was.

While it’s true that we each take our turns playing roles for each other, and while there’s nothing wrong with playing the tropes to someone else’s hero sometimes, if you’re not the protagonist of your own story, you’re not really living your life. You’re living someone else’s.

Maybe that works for some people. I thought it worked for me. It doesn’t, though, not really. If you’re not living your own life, you’re much too likely to put aside your own goals and feelings for the sake of the hero. That’s what sidekicks do, after all.

Eventually I figured out that just basking in the excitement of other peoples’ adventures was not really doing it for me. I wanted to have adventures of my own. And by then it was hard to break out of the role that so many people saw me in.

This is my manifesto and no one else’s. I can’t tell you how to live your life, protagonist or not. But I can tell myself how to live mine: without hesitation or regret, never shying away from my dreams because someone else has more right to the spotlight.

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