Apart from Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who’s in his own class, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its associated TV series have managed to eek out only a few truly memorable villains.:Jessica Jones‘ Kilgrave (David Tennant) and Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Vulture (Michael Keaton) and, maybe, Captain America: The First Avenger‘s Red Skull. Yet even as the Vulture suggests Marvel might have started to find ways to solve its villain problem, it also addresses another absence that critics, fans and lay viewers alike haven’t discussed nearly as much: Where are all the sidekicks?
These chief supporting characters have long been a part of comic book history — perhaps most famously in the form of Dick Grayson’s “Robin the Boy Wonder,” whom Detective Comics introduced in 1940. Intended to attract younger readers, Robin’s popularity inspired many copycats, including James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, introduced in 1941’s Captain America Comics #1. “But wait a minute,” you’re probably thinking. “Bucky exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His alter ego even adorns the subtitle of one of the franchise’s most popular entries!”
Sure enough, Sebastian Stan plays Bucky in all three Captain America films, and his transformation into one of HYRDRA’s top assassins in The Winter Soldier remains atop many best-of lists three years after its release. However, Stan’s Bucky is a lifelong friend and contemporary of Steve Rogers, whereas the initial 1941 incarnation was — like DC’s Robin — a younger counterpart to an older, mentor-like hero. Ultimately, their complicated relationship, and Bucky’s own development of superpowers, makes Bucky something other than a sidekick. This is also true of the Iron Man trilogy’s James Rhodes (Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle), the U.S. Air Force pilot turned War Machine/Iron Patriot, who by the time of the Shane Black-directed Iron Man 3 has become more like the other half of a buddy cop duo.
Enter Ned Leeds, the scene-stealing character played by Jacob Batalon in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Named for the Edward Leeds who once donned the criminal identity of the Hobgoblin in the original Spider-Man comics, Batalon’s Ned noticeably shares more in common with Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s Ganke Lee, best friend of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man‘s Miles Morales. For starters, Batalon’s look as Ned is the spitting image of Pichelli’s design for Ganke. Most important, however, is the fact Ned discovers Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) true identity as the “Spider-Man from YouTube” quite early in the film. Ganke also found out about Miles’ alter ego at the beginning of his newfound superhero career.