Sunday, August 20, 2006

Elementary, My Dear Diana

When I chose "ettacandy" as my blog address, I did it for largely three reasons. The first is, of course, because I am a rabid Wonder Woman fan; I collect All Things Amazonian, from action figures to daily planners to, yes, Dear Reader, drink coasters. I had underoos as a kid, watched the television show while growing up, and fought off imaginary Nazis with my bullet-deflecting yellow terrycloth armbands. Wonder Woman was *the* role model for The GOP (The Girl of the [Seventies/Eighties] Period). And I never got over it.

As far as I can tell, Wonder Woman is the only female superhero with her own sidekick(s). We have Cassie now, an intelligent young woman who fulfills her role as Wonder Girl not as a justice-blinded warrior, but rather as any teenaged girl would: in amusing, terrifying, emotional, conflicted, Amazonian ways. We had Donna Troy/Troia/the original Wonder Girl, who grew up to have A Name Of Her Own. But before the blonde daughter of Zeus, before the mirror image of young Princess Diana, we had Etta Candy.

Which brings me to the remaining two reasons:
Sidekicks are more human than their heroes.
Etta Candy is the first True Fangirl.

Let's start not with the superhero sidekick, but rather, her more literary predecessor: the detective's sidekick. We could go farther back, all the way to The Beginning Of Literature As We Know It, but really, why be pretentious? Instead, we start with Edgar Allan Poe, "Murders in the Rue Morgue," and Dupin's nameless sidekick who narrates the story.
Dupin is what some would call an "armchair detective." He has extensive knowledge he's culled from the thousands of books he's read, and he stumbles upon the Murders down on old Rue Morgue because he reads the papers. He pokes and prods and clinically analyzes every detail of the case, and our anonymous narrator, and we, the Reading Public, sit back and awe at his massive brainpower as he solves, yes, *solves* the case without ever really doing any hard detecting work. Yes, of course, this is before the days of real detecting, long before fingerprinting and DNA testing and other sorts of things we see nowadays. But he's *smart*, Ladies and Gentlemen, very very smart. And if the story were written from his point of view, we would have stopped reading after the first paragraph.

See, that's what makes the sidekick so darn useful. Dupin's brain probably isn't a very fun place to be. But the sidekick, oh, the sidekick's a hoot and a half. Why? Because he's *just like us*. He gets some parts of the puzzle, but mainly, he's caught in Dupin's wake, trying to tread water, just as the reader is doing the same. He can crack sly jokes to the reader about Dupin, he can revere, he can be astonished, but most importantly, he can tell a story.

Let's shift forward a few years on the Literary Timeline, and look at the most famous of detecting partners, Holmes and Watson. These stories, too, are told from Watson's point of view. Holmes is quite out there, after all, with his violin, his chemistry experiments/tea servings, and Watson, Dear Watson, gives it to us straight.

The secret here is very simple: Holmes would never explain how he got from point A to point B, but Watson gives us Holmes's every step, every one of his own missteps, and we end up liking a guy we probably wouldn't like very much at all, if the story were all in his point of view.

Moving farther and faster, we have Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (although I hesitate to call her a sidekick!), Nancy Drew and Bess and George, Joe and Frank Hardy (partners, sure, but Joe's always struggling to catch up), Buffy and the Scooby Gang, and, of course, Batman and Robin.

While we don't get many stories from Robin's point of view, outside of his own book or Teen Titans, of course, we do see a different side of Batman because of Robin. We see the man struggling to form a family. We see loss and pain and hope, especially hope in the recent runs (how This Author melted into a puddle when Bruce asked Tim The Big Question a few issues back!). We see the human side of a hard, clinical man.

Of course, like any theory, this doesn't always work, and can't be proven definitively. But when faced with a hero and her sidekick, more often than not we are presented with the hero's human side through the people with whom she interacts. Not only do the sidekicks present the human face of the sometimes inhuman hero, they also critique, speculate, support, and judge as needed. Buffy was never so weak as when separated from the Scooby Gang. Batman is never so broken as when losing a Robin. Angel chooses Cordelia as a sidekick specifically because she is his connection to humanity. Holmes needs Watson to point out those ordinary details that he, as a somewhat extraordinary person, overlooks.

Even Nancy Drew, Girl Detective, forgets to fill her gas tank unless Bess and George remind her and that, Dear Reader, is quite an interesting thing.

Which brings me back to Wonder Woman and Etta Candy.

Etta has utter faith in Wonder Woman. In fact, she knows that Diana will save the day, and more importantly, she knows that Diana relies on her. That means something. Two things, in fact: 1) that she trusts in Diana as a hero, and 2) that she respects her for it.

What is a sidekick but The Ultimate Fan? Therefore what is Etta but a fangirl? And what is a fangirl but someone with enthusiasm for a character, a show, a person, a book? What is a fangirl but someone who trusts the character, the writers, the readers to Do The Right Thing? And what is a fangirl but someone who is confident enough to support, to criticize, to recommend, to analyze, and to have an opinion?

Fans, in general, suffer under the outsiders' mass assumption that We Do Not Criticize. Firefly's Browncoats, Buffy fans, X-Files aficionados, and yes, especially comic book fans, are painted as panting dogs, waiting for their masters to throw that plot bone. But frankly, that's simply Not True. Who is more critical than the true fan? Who has more respect for the story, the character, the writer, the vision, than the fan?

Look about at some of these great websites that list the rapidly growing comic book blogosphere (in which This Humble Author was surprised to find herself mentioned!), and we decidedly do *not* see panting, rabid fans. We see intellectual discussions, critiques of plot choices, general awe or dismay or fascination. We see *discussion*, and we see people who aren’t afraid to discuss.

That's a Sidekick.
That's a Fan.
That's a Fangirl.
That, my Friends, is Etta Candy.

The heroes learn something from the sidekicks, and not a tripe and tried Moral Lesson. No, the sidekick teaches something intrinsic, something almost primal, about the way the world works. The hero is often off in her Ivory Tower (or her Island of Paradise) and she forgets to get her hands and feet dirty. That, Dear Reader, is where the sidekick comes in.

Holmes often explained things away to his sidekick with the catchphrase, "Elementary, my Dear Watson," and that phrase has been used to mark the mentoring relationship, the near-arrogant explanation of Important Goings On. But I feel we need to reverse that and look, truly, at how the sidekick teaches the hero. Therefore, it is not Elementary, my dear Etta, but quite the reverse.

I am experiencing my own Identity Crisis at the moment (apologies, dear Mr. Meltzer) in that I did not expect an audience for this blog. I started it as an experiment, to see if I could write about my interests without writing about myself. Or perhaps I started it because, "Mom! Everyone else has a blog!" Or perhaps I felt a sense of restlessness, a desire to write thoughtfully about something other than The Dissertation. For whatever the reason, I began blogging a few weeks ago and woke up one morning to find that People Were Reading. Therefore, Dear Reader, my name may undergo a few fluctuations over the next few weeks as I struggle towards a blogging identity. But as my job is to read books, and write about said books, I plan to do a lot of that, recreationally, with this blog.

All of this to say Stay Tuned, Friends, for more installments of the Fangirl's Geekosphere Blog Index, and keep your eyes on the sidebar, as my name promises to change with the wind.

But hey, really. It can't change more times than Donna Troy's has.


At 9:38 AM, Blogger M said...

I totally agree about Dupin! I think he is among the least interesting characters in 19th-century lit, but everyone finds him so fascinating. His sidekick is totally ignored in most of the scholarship. Few people seem to realize that everything we, as readers, know about Dupin is filtered through the narrator's perspective, so we don't really know Dupin. We only know what his "sidekick" wants us to know. It's rather like Gatsby and Nick, in an odd way.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Matthew E said...

I like your list of sidekicks, but neglect not Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. If you're not familiar with it, Wolfe was the ultimate armchair detective - he was an investigative and deductive genius, but he hated to leave his home for any reason, and so he had his employee Archie Goodwin who had to go out and do all the legwork. Archie was a pretty good detective himself, extremely dashing and competent, but he didn't approach Wolfe's heights of brilliance. Archie was no Watson; he worked well as Wolfe's ambassador to the reader, but he was also snarky and could throw a punch when necessary.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Dean Trippe said...

WW isn't the only female superhero to have had a sidekick, but she certainly had the most memorable (unless you count the lackluster first attempt at "Bat-Girl").

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Dryponder,
The caffeine hasn't entered my system all the way yet, so please forgive me if I babble (!).
I'm trying to think through other female superheroes; who else has sidekicks? Catwoman and Holly, possibly. As I was writing this, I considered the new runs of Catwoman, and Holly's role in them, although now Holly's actually performing as Catwoman, so it messes up the dynamic a bit.
And I don't know the first attempt at Bat-Girl, but wouldn't she be a sidekick of Batman? Or was she a sidekick of the original Batwoman? (I plead early-Age ignorance!)
I can't think of anyone else in DC. Do you have other examples? Now, I'm not really up on my Marvel mythology, so I'm sure I missed several along the way!
Thanks for any clarification you can give!

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

I think it's exactly like Gatsby and Nick, in such great ways, especially the filter you're talking about. When we get the view of the detective/main character through the eyes of another, we really don't know what's true and what's false.
Perhaps Nella Larsen's Passing might work for this, too? We don't really know what happens at the end because the main character is dodgy about it?


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