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Superhero Confidants


Confidentiality and superpowers are usually bedfellows—superheroes' identities are called secret, after all—requiring the superhero to solve personal crises alone, with no one to talk to. But not all superheroes are doomed to this solitary fate. Walking in and out of the lives of superheroes, lending their sympathetic ears, have been sidekicks (including Captain America's Bucky, Green Arrow's Speedy, and Plastic Man's Woozy Winks), significant others (like the Elongated Man's spouse Sue and the Fantastic Four's husband/wife duo Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman), super friends (Kitty Pryde of the X-Men touched embittered Wolverine's heart, and the Justice League's Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are the best of buds), godlike guardians (the Keeper spectrally watches over Kid Eternity, and Thor answers to his all-knowing father, Odin), kindly relatives (Billy Batson—Captain Marvel—talks to both his sister Mary and his Uncle Dudley), and stereotyped ethnic companions (the Lone Ranger's Tonto, the Green Hornet's Kato, Captain Aero's Chop Suey, and Green Lantern's Pieface, among others).

Some confidants have become crucial to their superhero's mythology. The character who defined the genre—Superman—may have lost his Kryptonian birth parents when his home planet exploded, but is adopted on Earth by Ma and Pa (Martha and Jonathan) Kent, who eagerly offer him their wisdom. In Superman's 1938 origin, the Kents instruct the young extraterrestrial to conceal his superstrength while in his guise of Clark Kent, and to wisely channel his might: Ma Kent advises, when the proper time comes, you must use it to assist humanity. This sentiment is echoed in director Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie (1978), when actor Glenn Ford as Pa Kent assures teenage Clark (Jeff East), You are here for a reason. When Superboy (The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy) was retrofitted into Superman continuity in 1945, Ma and Pa Kent appeared as supporting cast members, helping their teenage son help conceal his identity from nosey next-door neighbor Lana Lang. The Kents eventually passed away, triggering Clark's move from Smallville to Metropolis to become Superman. When the Superman mythos was rebooted with the miniseries The Man of Steel (1986), Superboy was eliminated but Ma and Pa Kent remained alive, specifically to mentor their adult super-son. In the 2000s, Superman frequently soars home to seek advice from his parents.

Lang was also altered as a result of The Man of Steel: As Clark Kent's high-school sweetheart, she anticipates marrying him after graduation. He takes her into his deepest confidence and reveals to her his superpowers, then leaves her behind to pursue his career as Superman. Lang's love for Kent remains unrequited. She weds classmate Pete Ross, who later becomes the U.S. vice president, but eventually separates from him and moves to Metropolis, presumably to be closer to Kent.

On television's live-action The Adventures of Superman (1953–1957), the public believes that the Man of Steel's confidant is Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, the perception being that Kent can contact the Man of Steel during crises. In the DC comic books of the Silver Age (1956–1969), cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is Superman's pal. The Man of Steel entrusts young Olsen with kryptonite, alien weapons, and interplanetary artifacts, but never reveals his Kent identity to the lad for his own protection against criminals who might harm him for that information. The Silver Age Superman and Batman share many secrets, including knowledge of their dual identities and access to their private headquarters, the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave, respectively. Superman's most unusual Silver Age confidant is President John F. Kennedy, who actually fills in for Kent on an occasion when Superman and his alter ego must appear simultaneously.

Lois, for the past few years I've lived a double life, confesses Kent to the woman he loves, Lois Lane, in Action Comics #662 (1991). Five years later, Kent and Lane become husband and wife. Mrs. Kent assists her husband in grappling with the enormous responsibilities of being the planet's premier superhero.

Batman, emotionally scarred since childhood after witnessing the brutal slayings of his parents, is a more introverted character than Superman. For the first year of his career, beginning in 1939, Batman is wanted by the Gotham City police and lives alone as millionaire Bruce Wayne. When his ward Dick Grayson (Robin the Boy Wonder) enters his life in 1940, the lad's joie de vivre permits some sunshine to seep into the Dark Knight's dour existence, yet Batman keeps his feelings at arm's length from his junior partner. In the 1980s, Batman's obsession divides the Dynamic Duo, but they ultimately reconcile when Wayne confesses that he regards Grayson as his son.

Once Alfred Pennyworth—better known as Alfred the Butler—joins the Wayne household in 1943 as a gentleman's gentleman and stumbles across his employer's dual identity, Wayne is forced to accept Alfred into his inner circle. Over the decades, Alfred undergoes a gradual transformation from a superhero's valet—dusting the Batcave and laundering tights and cowls—to Wayne's guardian angel. Alfred reminds his resolute boss of his engagements, ensures that he eats and sleeps, and nurses his wounds, both physical and emotional. Wayne may consider Grayson his son, but privately admits that Alfred is his father.

While Batman's inhospitality may be unpalatable among his teammates in the Justice League of America, one man has called the Dark Knight friend: Gotham City police Commissioner James Gordon. They meet as adversaries, however, in Batman's very first appearance, when Gordon orders his officers to fire at the shadowy vigilante, a scene replayed over the decades in revisions of Batman's history, including Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One (1987) and Tim Burton's motion picture Batman (1989). Over time, Gordon realizes that Batman and he are playing on the same team. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Commissioner Gordon views Batman as his (dark) knight in shining armor, using the Bat-signal to summon the hero when needed—a dependency played for laughs on TV's campy Batman series (1966–1968), in which it seems that Gordon's inept police force can handle no threat without the aid of Batman and Robin. During Batman's 1970s return to his ominous roots, Gordon and Batman are allies, with the commissioner often spooked when the Caped Crusader stealthily steps out of the shadows into his office. As Batman's stories grew even grittier beginning in the mid-1980s, the rapport between he and Gordon became strained, but they maintain a mutual respect that continues in the 2000s, despite Gordon's retirement.

Gordon's daughter, former Batgirl Barbara Gordon—known among the superheroes of the DC universe as the mysterious information broker Oracle—is often a voice of reason or friendship to the street operatives who use her services, including Black Canary, the Huntress, the new Batgirl, and Nightwing. Oracle's uncanny fluency as a hacker makes her privy to virtually any data stored in computer networks, and thus she knows or has discovered the secret identities of many of DC's heroes. While she routinely offers counsel, the austere, self-reliant Oracle seeks information, not advice, from others. For most of her Bargirl career, she kept her costumed guise a secret from Commissioner Gordon (although he deduced the truth), and in the 2000s she similarly shields her covert Oracle activities from her father.

For years, lawyer Matt Murdock—Marvel Comics' blind superhero, Daredevil—shoulders the burden of his dual identity alone, but once his law partner Foggy Nelson discovers the truth, Murdock gains a trusted confidant. Daredevil has divulged his alter ego to three former girlfriends: The Black Widow guards his confidence, but an addled Karen Page sold Murdock's secret identity for drugs, and his college sweetheart—the assassin-for-hire Elektra—tried to kill him. Throughout his one-man crusade against New York City crime, Daredevil frequently crosses paths with the amazing Spider-Man. The two are now staunch allies and sometimes talk heart-to-heart on rooftops.

Two other confidants are snared within Spider-Man's personal web. Mary Jane Watson, wife of the hero's alter ego Peter Parker, dated Parker for years before walking down the aisle with him. The demands of her career as a model and his moonlighting as a crime fighter lead to their separation, but as of 2004 they remain romantically attached. Parker's sickly Aunt May doted on him during his adolescence, with the teen living in perpetual fear of his Spider-Man identity being exposed to her. His worst nightmare nearly comes true in the landmark The Amazing Spider-Man #39 (1966), when the insidious Green Goblin unearths Spidey's true identity and attacks Parker where he is most vulnerable—outside of his home, with Aunt May inside! Years later (in 2001), Aunt May inadvertently discovers her nephew's dual identity when she finds him in bed, bloodied and bruised from a supervillain tussle, a tattered Spider-Man uniform by his side. Aunt May surprises Parker by supporting his superhero career. —ME

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