There have been many famous sidekicks or young protégés:
Batman and Robin
(Adam West and Burt Ward)
Superman and Supergirl
Wonderwoman and Wondergirl
(Linda Carter and Debra Winger)
Flash and Kid-Flash
Green Arrow and Speedy
Aquaman and Aqualad
How young is too young to let a superhero start to chase criminals? Robin is the most glaring example, since he started fighting crime in some continuities at as young as 8 years old. Most of the others were ranging from 10-15 years old and at these ages they were noticeably shorter than their mentors; so they had not fully gone through puberty most likely. Supergirl was the oldest when she started at 15, so at least she’d be old enough to have a curvy figure to distinguish her as not-a-boy in the drawings. While girls younger could have such a figure, making her any younger would make her seem somewhat overdeveloped and smutty in some minds. However original pictures of Wondergirl had her having a figure more like a boy, so she could be younger.
If a young superhero has some sort of power, this seems to be slightly more forgivable. Supergirl, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Wondergirl could physically handle an unarmed adult without a problem. However one has to wonder if someone under 16 is street smart enough to handle the sheer cruelty and experience of an adult criminal mastermind. One of two scenarios usually happened
- They handled it fine and never needed their mentor
- They needed to be rescued by their mentor and put their and their mentor’s life in jeopardy
However in the real world, other scenarios are possible
- They could be convinced by a wily criminal that the criminal activity that criminal was doing is right and be led down the wrong path
- They could be horribly tortured or killed by the criminal
- They could make an outcome even worse by their actions accidentally due to inexperience
There have been more daring story lines at times. Speedy got addicted to heroin at one point and a Robin (Jason Todd) got beaten to death by the Joker. However the mentors were just not seen as accountable at all. Nevertheless, their mentors exposed them to danger and should be held accountable. In the real world they could be charged with not protecting the child.
Speedy on Drugs
Robin beaten to death
Sexual tension between a mentor and his protégé is sometimes suggested. This has been done the most between Batman and Robin. While the Batman TV series aired, people joked about what the sexual orientation of a Millionaire that lived alone with a youthful ward and an older English and slightly effeminate sounding butler must be. The term Bruce (as in Bruce Wayne) became a nickname for a gay man. The Batman TV show introduced an Aunt Harriet into the show to combat this image by placing a matronly older woman presence in the mansion to dispel that anything could be happening behind her back. However she wasn’t clever enough to realize that Batman and Robin were living under the same roof, so imagine what else could have easily slipped past her notice.
Aunt Harriet: A lady who would inspire a gay male millionaire to turn straight?
Another glaring example was between Supergirl and Superman. They are first cousins, so while in some cultures this would be no problem, it was a problem since she wasn’t of legal age at the time and that a romantic relationship between teacher and student is forbidden. In one story Supergirl tried to find Superman a wife as if she was his daughter trying to find happiness for her beloved father. After several unsuccessful matches, Superman confessed “if I ever DID marry, it would be to someone super and lovable like ... YOU” as he touched her chin as if to kiss her and they looked into each others eyes; but he did note that cousins were not allowed to get together. The look and touch they exchanged then was less than purely innocent.
A quick thinking (and possibly creeped out) Supergirl then found an adult version of herself in Luma Lynai. She was Supergirl’s exact twin except that she was a grown adult. This gave a way for readers to see how Superman and Supergirl would have a romance if it was acceptable. However one wonders if his passion for Supergirl was merely lived vicariously through Luma Lynai and it’s lucky for them that it didn’t work out due to outside circumstances. Supergirl should have worried after that that her mentor’s feelings may not have been purely innocent.
Superman sweeps an adult Supergirl subsitute off her feet
Side note: A brief history on Luma Lynai
The Man of Steel travelled to the world in orbit around a blue sun and, defying the odds, he fell in love with Luma Lynai, the planetary heroine of Staryl. As predicted, she had the blonde hair and features of an adult Supergirl and wore a one-piece white costume broken up by a black belt. Her gloves, boots and cape were green and her chest shield featured an S-like symbol.
The whirlwind romance ended with a marriage proposal from Superman and an invitation to accompany him to his own world. As they entered Earths solar system, Luma was wracked with pain and felt her strength fade away. Bitter experience left no doubt in the Man of Steels mind as to the cause of the problem. Noting that Luma Lynai derived her powers from Staryls blue sun, Superman explained that Earths yellow sun had an alternately toxic effect on her. You can never ... live on Earth,he choked. Ill stay HERE!
Fighting back tears, Luma refused to permit it. No! Earth needs you. Go! -- forget me! Even as he complied she silently sobbed that Ill always love you.
The only famous all female mentor-protégé relationship was between Wonder Girl and Wonder Woman. There was never anything but a sisterly bond between them. However both heroes had an image problem. If a heroine has to wear a tight bustier and high heels and ties male criminals up with a magic lasso that forces them to tell the truth, then this is an S&M dream for a male reader. A weakness of hers was that if her bracelets were ever bound together by a man, the bond would not only be unbreakable by her, but she’d lose all her powers while so bound. Evidently she was a character created by a man.
Wonderwoman would not take no for an answer, but if a man tied her up she would be helpless
They both grew up on an island where there were no men, yet the women there still had female needs. Therefore who knows what the orientations of Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl were.
The most common thread here amongst all sidekicks was that they wound up getting beat a lot. In the comics, someone can be instantly healed afterwards, but one imagines that such treatment would leave noticeable bruises at least. If Commissioner Gordon noticed Robin getting smacked around a lot, it wouldn’t matter if Batman did it. Robin was being put in harms way and a court has to take the best interests of the child into account. Since Commissioner Gordon is a police official, he would have to act on this. Is it appropriate to encourage a child fight criminals the police can’t handle? In the real world, Robin would be forcibly taken away from Batman’s custody eventually.
Perhaps because Batman was a master of disguise, he was able to hide Robin’s bruises well. However, most police officials aren’t as incompetent as a Chief O’Hara and a Commissioner Gordon. They are trained to notice things and if they made it that high up in the force, then the thought must have occurred to them.
Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara only knew how to call for help
The question is, could a foster parent handle a super-powered child if he acts up? The super-powered community is quite small compared to the general population, so a foster parent would need to have a power that could keep the child in line if necessary. Only a person as fast as the Flash could handle a Kid Flash. Only someone who could survive underwater could deal with Aqualad. Only a person at least as strong and fast as Supergirl could handle her. While these teens are usually very well behaved, in the real world we have to expect a teen to act up somewhat.
Such teens would have limited options to no options for a foster home. If they started down a bad path, it would be close to impossible to stop them from becoming supervillians. These are teens who can match wily super-criminals and have grown up fighting them. Such encounters had to affect them.
So why did writers create superhero sidekicks? The average comic reader when these heroes were created was the age of the sidekicks. The writers felt readers needed characters their own age to relate to and that would help sales.
In the real world, such pairings would not be tolerated.