It’s nice when a superhero has a support network. Saving the world all the time has got to be stressful, and shouldering the burden undoubtedly weighs heavily on a crime fighter’s mind. However, fellow superheroes and sidekicks aren’t the only people who can relieve the workload. Civilian allies, friends and lovers are also assets that benefit a hero emotionally, and strategically as well.
CBR rounded up a robust list of comic book character who have helped superheroes in myriad ways. They include love interests who brought balance and peace of mind, buddies who boost heroes’ morale and social life, government liaisons who help heroes navigate tense geopolitical waters, and even staff members whose jobs involve lightening a hero’s workload.
NOTE: This list is not a countdown. We present these partners in no particular order; they are grouped by publisher.
15 Rick Jones
Rick Jones’s glory days were probably in his early Marvel Comics adventures, though he’s been active in recent storylines. He debuted in 1962’s “Incredible Hulk” #1 and became famous for being the Hulk’s best friend and civilian sidekick. In fact, Rick became a career sidekick over the years, also buddying up with Captain America, Rom the Spaceknight and two different Captain Marvels: Mar-Vell and Genis-Vell. Jones is the only character in comics who’s partnered so extensively with so many superheroes, despite being a regular, non-powered human for most of his tenure.
Although Jones has received superpowers at various points in his life, he’s always ultimately reverted back to being a normal human. The most iconic version of him will always be as a regular guy who winds up befriending the “gods” of the Marvel Universe. Many readers would like to be a superhero’s pal, but Jones lived out that fantasy for so long that it became his identity.
Wong is the best sidekick a sorcerer could ask for. As Dr. Strange’s devoted companion, Wong assists the sorcerer supreme in thwarting evil spirits and tending to his home base, the Sanctum Santorum. He’s a skilled martial artist and an adept magic user in his own right, so he can provide backup when Strange needs it. Wong is more than prepared to handle the divine or mundane, from whooping a nefarious demon to cleaning the doctor’s study. And since Strange solves magical problems for clients, Wong can also set up appointments.
Wong comes from a long line of monks who were trained from childhood to serve powerful magic practitioners like Dr. Strange and the Ancient One. He’s been a faithful servant near-continuously in comics since his first appearance in “Strange Tales” #110 in 1963. Already well-known to Marvel readers, he’s about to be introduced to a wider audience next month when the "Doctor Strange" feature film hits United States theaters on November 4, where he’ll played by Benedict Wong. It won’t be long before the whole world knows what an asset Wong is in this reality… and beyond.
13 Foggy Nelson
In the comics, lawyer Franklin “Foggy” Nelson is best friends with fellow litigator Matt Murdock, AKA Daredevil, even though they don’t always get along. As attorneys, they’ve dealt with crooked clients, set-ups and moral dilemmas; events that have even put them on opposite sides of cases more than once. But through it all, they always ultimately wind up friends again.
Their relationship is comparable to real-life friendships where buddies fight, sometimes epically, but can still talk to each other afterward. Granted, most scuffles between friends don’t involve jail, ninjas, crime lords and corrupt politicians, but comics aren’t famous for realism. If Foggy’s an archetype for anything in real life, it would have to be that friend that you’ve overcome some deep drama with.
On Netflix’s “Daredevil” show, actor Elden Henson plays Percy “Foggy” Nelson, who’s very similar to the comic book version except for the slight name change. Foggy becomes integral to the plot when storylines feature court trials and legality, but as soon as Daredevil runs off to fight ninjas, Foggy often takes a backseat. He gets involved in dark scenarios, but because he’s a “regular” guy, the writing team limits Foggy’s involvement and largely sidelines him to the domain of briefcases and meetings.
12 Phil Coulson
Phil Coulson is a dedicated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has long assisted superheroes and government operatives. He first burst onto the pop culture scene with actor Clark Gregg’s portrayal in 2008’s “Iron Man” film, the silver screen adventure that launched the unstoppable Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Coulson made more appearances, but it wasn’t until Loki killed him in 2012’s “Avengers” film that the character achieved his biggest moment. In life, Coulson had been a loyal, patriotic soldier and Captain America fan; he was instrumental in coordinating S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury’s efforts to bring the Avengers together. His death galvanized those heroes into becoming a formidable fighting force.
Coulson became a fan-favorite character over the course of a few films, thanks to his devotion to the government and Steve Rogers endearing him to the audience. That connection is undoubtedly why Marvel Studios resurrected the character as a cast member in the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show.
11 Mary Jane Watson
Mary Jane Watson was the lively and exciting model and actress who married Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man. But marriage wasn’t easy for the Parkers, and their dramatic union demonstrated to readers that relationships are hard, especially when they’re with superheroes. Although Mary Jane supported Spider-Man at times, there were other periods when she chastised him for his dangerous lifestyle. She confronted Spider-Man many times about abandoning her to fight criminals, and often expressed the pain of being alone; a regrettable side effect of Peter's chosen lifestyle.
Mary Jane was perhaps the most realistic superhero love interest because she wasn’t a perfect partner, and neither was Spider-Man. But their flawed relationship just proved that love is tough, and romantic bliss has a dark side. Mary Jane represented the pain of marriage by being written as the beleaguered spouse. Through her, readers learned that stories that end with happily ever after are just stories that haven’t finished yet. Actress Kirsten Dunst played a younger Mary Jane in three live action Spider-Man films, starting with 2002’s “Spider-Man.”
10 Nick Fury
Nick Fury is the ultimate government liaison in superhero comics, and certainly the toughest. The eye patch-wearing badass debuted in 1963’s “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos,” and he’s been a central figure in Marvel’s military and espionage adventures ever since. In fact, he’s the most famous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent -- and leader -- who’s also belonged to other government organizations.
Fury’s a battle-hardened warrior who’s fought in multiple wars and fulfilled several bureaucratic functions. He’s an expert marksman, top-notch hand-to-hand fighter and he can outmaneuver the most deceptive manipulators. If anyone can come out on top in the most nefarious “trust no one” cloak-and-dagger situations, it’s Fury. His only real match would perhaps be DC Comics’ Amanda Waller, but Fury has more field experience, and his mind is just as crafty.
In pop culture, actor Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become more popular than the original comics version. Consequently, Marvel has replaced the classic Fury with his son, Nick Fury Jr., who resembles Jackson in physical appearance. However, this new Fury will most assuredly embody the same grit and cleverness that his predecessor did.
9 Ganke Lee
Miles Morales, AKA Spider-Man, owes a lot to Ganke Lee. As a crucial member of Morales’s inner circle, Lee’s been a wealth of advice and moral support when things have gotten dicey. When Morales was first grappling with superpowers and superheroics, he confided in Lee with his biggest secret, and Lee was a sympathetic ear who even helped Morales form plans to complete dangerous missions. Behind every great man or woman is a confidante who’s been part therapist and part strategist; for Morales, that person has been Lee.
Lee’s also one of the few Korean-American characters in superhero comics, as well as one of the relatively few characters in comics who’s not super-slim or built like a fitness model. Even among “regular,” non-human supporting casts, comic book characters are often drawn with attractive body types. In contrast, Lee’s a heavyset boy and also a person of color, two rarities in the Marvel world.
8 Sue Dibny
As the wife of Ralph Dibny, the stretchable sleuth otherwise known as the Elongated Man, Sue traveled the world and assisted in his crime fighting adventures. Sue wasn’t just the hero's supportive ear, she was logistics and administration in his crime fighting operations.
A big reason why Sue and Ralph were so compatible is probably because they had so much in common. They were both members of the bourgeoisie: Sue was a privileged socialite when she met Ralph, and he was wealthy superhero who solved crimes. They had similar well-to-do backgrounds and perspectives, and they both liked adventure. They were true partners in every sense.
That’s why Sue and Ralph’s relationship represented love at its most natural. It was a true union of equals, something many other comic book couples couldn’t match, like Superman and Lois Lane or even Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Ralph Dibny, on the other hand, married a woman with whom he could embrace crimefighting together. She didn’t run from his life as a superhero; she embraced it.
7 Steve Trevor
Fighter pilot Steve Trevor is Wonder Woman’s first boyfriend and her most historically significant love interest. In the original version of her classic 1940s origin story, Steve is the first human man Wonder Woman meets, and she develops feelings for him after his plane crashes on her homeland, Paradise Island. She leaves the island to save him and learn more about the world he comes from. In the process, the rest of society meets Wonder Woman for the first time.
DC’s tinkered with Wonder Woman’s origin and Steve’s contribution to her storylines over the decades, but he’s been around so long that he’s the man people associate her with the most. He was famously played by actor Lyle Waggoner in the classic Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” TV series, and actor Chris Pine will play the first live-action Steve Trevor in 2017’s upcoming “Wonder Woman” film.
Steve has played many roles in Wonder Woman storylines in comics, TV and animation. He’s been a damsel in distress, so to speak, for her to rescue, but he’s also fought alongside her to defeat supervillains. He’s perhaps the first and most famous civilian man in comics who’s fallen in love with a powerful woman, who also happens to be one of the world’s most iconic superheroes.
6 Lois Lane
Whether it’s on the screen or the page, Lois heats up Superman stories with her personality, skills and intelligence. As an intrepid Daily Planet reporter, Lois uses cunning and toughness to hunt down stories and outwit adversaries. She’s the original gutsy journalist to set the standard in superhero comics, and Iris West, Vicky Vale and Linda Park all followed in her footsteps. Lois was a warrior who proved that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword, and she used it to slay his heart.
5 Lana Lang
Lana Lang was the first girl Superman loved when he was a teenager, a status she’s pretty much maintained since she debuted in “Superboy” #10 in 1950. Despite DC Comics’ constant reboots and relaunches, Lana’s relationship with Clark Kent in their youth has often remained in-tact. Consequently, she’s arguably the most famous teenaged significant other in superhero history.
Recently, a version of Lana was given superpowers in the DC Rebirth “Superwoman” title, but until that storyline plays out, she is still known as the girl Clark Kent loved first. The most famous live action Lana Langs have been Annette O’Toole’s version in 1983’s “Superman III” and Kristen Kreuk’s in 2001’s “Smallville” TV series.
With Lana came the dawn of something powerful for Superman: the early days of first crushes, kisses and dating. Even to a god among humans, romance and hormones were weakening; and as with all magic, he wasn't immune to his feelings. As well as being a strong presence in the very foundation of his moral makeup, Lana Lang represented for Superman the beginnings of a very human connection. Even with superpowers of her own, she still represents that bridge between worlds today.
4 Commissioner Gordon
The past few years have been kind to Commissioner Jim Gordon. He was already one of the most prominent supporting characters in comic history, but he received an upgrade in pop culture relevance. In 2014, he became the main character in the “Gotham” TV series, played by Ben McKenzie, and for half of 2015 in the comics, the Gordon character donned a supersuit and became a Batman stand-in.
But despite any temporary character modifications, Gordon will probably always be best known for being a likeable leader. Saying that, he is responsible for failing to protect Gotham, the most dangerous fictional city in entertainment, where dozens of maniacs terrorize citizens constantly. Readers love Gordon because he’s Gotham’s hardened moral compass, but they know he’s always going to need Batman's help because Gordon is so powerless.
That’s why it makes sense that he’s Batman’s biggest enabler. The Caped Crusader has often enjoyed a stunningly cooperative relationship with the GCPD, largely thanks to Gordon. The leader sets the tone of a department, and since Gordon supports Batman’s efforts to clean up a city that’s run wild, that approach filters down to his subordinates. Since the character debuted in “Detective Comics” #27 in 1939, Gordon’s been Batman’s best buddy on the police force. He’s had many animated, live action and video game portrayals, and he’ll be played next by actor J. K. Simmons in 2017’s live action “Justice League” film.
On the surface, Alfred Pennyworth is the best butler a superhero could ask for, but he’s also the only father figure Bruce Wayne’s ever had. After Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder that fateful night in Gotham City, young Bruce had no parents. It was up to Alfred, the family butler, to guide Bruce as best as he could, and the dynamic between them was undoubtedly strange. Alfred taught Bruce lessons, but he also had to cater to the boy’s every whim, and technically, Bruce could fire him at any time. It was probably a weird dance of love and power. It’s no wonder that Bruce grew up to be Batman, an imposing figure who wielded fear and control like a weapon -- with the best of intentions, of course.
But Alfred, with his refined mannerisms and loving, dutiful behavior, is one of the most beloved figures in superhero entertainment, and certainly the most famous butler in comics. Otherwise the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t have turned Edwin Jarvis, Iron Man and the Avengers’ butler in the comics, into a computer program in the films. They probably didn’t want the general audience to think that Marvel was copying DC’s Alfred. But they had no choice because Alfred’s an icon, and similar characters in superhero comics can't compare.
2 Jimmy Olsen
Jimmy Olsen has been Superman’s close friend and co-worker for nearly 80 years. He’s also the oldest photojournalist in comics because he debuted in “Action Comics” #6 in 1938, more than two decades before Peter Parker, who debuted in “Amazing Fantasy” #15 in 1962. Olsen’s the third point in DC Comics’s iconic Clark-Lois-Jimmy reporting triangle, and arguably the one with the most heart.
Before Jimmy Olsen learned that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person, he was a good friend to both of the character’s personas. Jimmy was Superman’s good buddy but also a fanboy and quasi-PR guy, taking amazing pictures of the superhero for the media and backing him up in adventures. He was also writer Clark Kent’s workplace friend, someone Kent could confide in when he was pursuing a story or dealing with office drama. Thanks to his role as Superman’s friend and confidante over so many years, Jimmy Olsen is the oldest best friend character in DC or Marvel Comics, and one of the greatest. Actor Mehcad Brooks currently plays Olsen on TV’s “Supergirl.”
1 Etta Candy
In 1940s DC Comics, Candy was the first human girl from “man’s world” who Wonder Woman befriended after the Amazon warrior left her home on Paradise Island. She was essential to Wonder Woman’s education, not only about the rest of society, but also the female experience in a man's world.
Since the comics publishing landscape is dominated by male protagonists, most female supporting players have been the hero’s wife, girlfriend or mother. Candy, however, was a good friend to the most famous female superhero in comics. That made her the first civilian woman who could relate to the hero as a buddy instead of a lover or parent. Sometimes she even saved Wonder Woman’s life, and not the other way around.
Candy was a major member of Wonder Woman’s supporting cast in the golden age of comics, but she’s diminished in importance ever since. That may change, however, once 2017's upcoming "Wonder Woman" film introduces Candy to a new generation of viewers, where she'll be played by actress Lucy Davis. Beatrice Colan played Candy in the first season of the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV series, and Tracy Thoms had a turn in 2011’s failed “Wonder Woman” TV pilot.
In the comics, Candy was originally Caucasian but became African-American in the New 52 relaunch and remains that way in DC Rebirth. In recent out-of-continuity Wonder Woman stories “Wonder Woman: Earth One” and “The Legend of Wonder Woman” miniseries, she’s Caucasian once again.
Who is your favorite partner, buddy or companion in comics? Let us know in the comments!