As we watch or read about our favorite superheroes we tend to overlook key contributions to their character. We tend to ignore the importance of supporting characters. I’m not saying we all do it, but they sometimes don’t get as much credit as they should. It is these characters that can help a hero in a difficult situation, guide them to overcome their greatest challenges or even contribute to the start of their superhero career. They can be the foundation and backbone of a superhero’s entire persona and they should never, ever be taken for granted. To effectively examine contributing casts of characters I have chosen to look at the supporters of arguably the three most recognizable heroes in comics: Superman, Batman and Spiderman.
The last son of Krypton and the most powerful being in the DC Universe. Superman is the “All-American”, perfect superhero; he’s friendly to the people, well mannered and does not see failure as an option. Hell, he’s even risked his own life to save villains who wouldn’t have returned the favor, but he wouldn’t be this way if it weren’t for his supporting cast of family and friends. There have been several “What If” stories involving the Man of Steel, mostly revolving around where his spaceship could have landed on the planet. This is a great theory because if you change where he grew up then you change his entire personality, but more importantly, if he didn’t grow up under the loving parenting of Ma and Pa Kent then he wouldn’t be the “perfect” superhero he is today.
Lois Lane, on the other hand, has nothing to do with his evolution into super-heroism, but acts as his inspiration to continue it. It seems that every battle, dangerous risk or world-saving act has always come back to the overall safety of Lois, proving that without her presence in his life, Superman’s constant need to save humanity may not have been as strong.
If not for the large supporting cast of the Caped Crusader, Batman would have become a murdering madman, unable to tell the difference between vengeance and justice. Luckily, his fellow crime fighters, assumed father figure and long-time friend have all been able to keep him from crossing the line that “once you cross there’s no going back”. After the death of Bruce’s parents, Alfred was thrust into the role of his father. He gave Bruce the confidence and the positive influence, surrounding that great tragedy, to become a masked hero to fight for justice, not revenge. But Alfred cant always be there for Batman, especially when out on patrol, which is why Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and even Commissioner Gordon are able to comfort and assist him out on the streets and help take some of the weight of Gotham’s future off his shoulders.
Friends and family can only do so much though, sometimes it is a hero’s greatest enemy that can unknowingly support the hero and help him realize why he puts on a mask every night. The Joker, the greatest villain in the Dark Knight’s roster, has murdered innocent victims time and time again, but has also helped Batman see his parent’s death more clearly, fueling his desire to avenge them and bring murderous villains like the Joker to justice. Thanks Joker…?
When we think of old Webhead we see a fun-loving, wise-cracking teenager, having a blast and saving the city while doing it, but the story of Spiderman is very tragic, probably even more so then Batman’s. Right from the beginning, Peter learned the hard lesson of having great responsibility along with his great powers after the death of his Uncle Ben. And exactly 121 issues later, Gwen Stacy is killed by the Green Goblin or Spidey’s web (we’re not 100% sure about that one). Two eventful deaths, both of which shaped Spiderman’s character and, again, helped him understand why he has to stop villains like the Green Goblin and that with great power really does come an even greater responsibility, which is to use those powers to protect the ones he loves; his Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy were the ones who taught him that.
Aunt May seemed as though she was just nagging all the time, but she was just generally concerned for Peter’s well being as well as being a big inspiration to him. It was, after all, her and Uncle Ben that raised him into the “responsible” man he is today. Peter had many friends and co-workers who were there for him throughout his entire comic career like Betty Brant, Robbie Robertson or even Harry Osborn (when he wasn’t the Green Goblin). But none stood out as much as Mary Jane Watson, literally, Peter couldn’t take his eyes off her. If there was anyone who inspired Peter to continue being Spiderman, even in his doubts, it was her. She has always been there for him and has given him the confidence to maintain his crime fighting, as have all the close characters in Peter’s life.
If you still don’t believe that supporting characters are a contributing factor to a superhero’s greatness then just pick up a comic book and start reading. These supporters are everywhere; half the comic will be about our hero, and the other will be about the ones closest to them, those who inspire and believe in them. That should tell you something.