“The sidekick business has been good to me.” –Sean Astin.
Who needs superpowers? Despite the massive size of superhero universes these days, most people in those worlds are not superheroes. In fact, our favorite heroes be would be lost without the powerless but nonetheless empowered folk who inhabit their world. Not exactly sidekicks, and sometimes not exactly “friends,” the not-supers lend a much-needed dimension to the rich realm of superhero lore. And with 70+ years of comics history under their belt, these dimensions can get freaky.
For example, which hero helper has penned fanfiction about his own charge? Who has a Pulitzer Prize but still works freelance wages with Superman? Who is unwittingly related to Spiderman via marriage? Read on to find out with 42 super facts about the humans behind our favorite superheroes.
1. Full House: Gotham Edition
Thanks to Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, it’s hard to imagine Lucius Fox as having a life beyond tech and business. That’s not the case, as Lucius and his wife Tanya have at least three kids: his eldest daughter Tam (who is sometimes the superheroine Foxy Lady), his youngest daughter Tiffany (who has trained under Barbara Gordon and sometimes Batgirl), and his son Timothy (who is named “Luke” in the New-52 universe and trained there to be Nightwing). Props to Fox for handling that busy family and Bruce Wayne—he seems like a very demanding boss.
2. It Happened to Me: Iron Man Broke Up My Parents
In the early comics, Tony Stark was embroiled in an awkward love triangle with his friends, Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan. Pepper chose Happy and they adopted two children together. Unfortunately, the stress of constant kidnappings, battles, and awkward tension involved in being friends with Tony Stark slowly destroyed their marriage. Good thing they didn’t include any of this in the movies, because it’s not like Tony is short on family-related guilt.
3. Entry Level Prize Winner
Jimmy Olsen has a Pulitzer Prize for taking the first-ever picture of Superman. And yet he’s still a junior photojournalist at The Daily Planet. I guess journalism is a tough industry to break through in.
4. Fate in Diapers
To the surprise of many, Lois Lane actually encountered Superman when they were toddlers. Little Lois was exploring the woods, where a snake came across the vulnerable girl. At the same time, “Kal-El” was also exploring his dad’s spaceship; he projected a model rocket at her direction, scaring the snake away, and saving Lois before they even met.
5. Made With Love
In several comics, it was Martha Kent who made her son’s iconic Superman costume.
6. Ma and Pa Kent’s Extreme Makeover
Older stories that depict Superman’s parents shows them as much more elderly than they’re usually presented as today. This shift happened after Superboy (1968), when an alien serum gave them a sci-fi facelift back to middle age. While the serum backstory isn’t exactly addressed by every iteration after, we’ve noticed they’ve stayed with this younger model.
7. There Were a Few Hints
Right down to having the same initials and career trajectory, Lana Lang in the teenaged-years Superboy comics often felt like just a teen reboot of Lois Lane. Well, with one difference: Lana spent all of her journalism efforts into proving “Superboy” and Clark Kent were the same dude. Someone had their priorities straight.
8. Mad World
In the Superboy comics, Clark Kent’s teenaged best friend is Pete Ross—as he is in the Smallville TV series. As an adult, Pete’s son is kidnapped by aliens and he implores Clark’s help. When his son can’t be saved, Pete ends up committed to a mental institution until Superman can return him.
9. The Best Service is a Good Imagination
Alfred Pennyworth writes Batman fanfiction. In Batman #135, Bruce Wayne walks in on his butler in the midst of typing another literary masterpiece, featuring the caped crusader himself. Alfred isn’t even ashamed, just regretful that no one will else will ever read it. Don’t worry, thanks to the Internet, fan fiction has come back with a vengeance! Just wait 50 years.
10. It Skips a Generation
Commissioner Gordon is the biological father of the Peter Pan Killer. Taken as a child to live with Gordon’s ex-wife in Chicago, James Gordon Jr. was already a budding killer as a child. Medication is used to remedy his violent predilections, which seemed to work until it didn’t, transforming him into a Batman villain.
11. Bringing Work Home With Him
Jay Jonah Jameson is actually Peter Parker’s cousin by marriage. The Daily Bugle editor’s father got married to Peter’s Aunt May. While Jameson was happy for his father and offered to pay for the wedding, he was less enthusiastic about having to see Peter at family reunions from now on.
12. Howard Stark?
In the original comics, Tony Stark is not his father’s natural child. The tech billionaire adopted the future Iron Man.
13. I Works For Me
You know the trope where a superhero’s identity is almost discovered by some other party, but then they pull a super-trick at the very last minute to reset the status quo? Vicki Vale of the Batman series is one of the trope’s biggest victims. The reporter (and sometime love interest to both Bruce Wayne and Batman) was close—but no cigar—to the truth, just to be fooled again by her own caped friend with benefits.
14. Aunt May
Before she was the beloved Aunt May to Spiderman’s Peter Parker, she was a would-be mafia wife. Aunt May was engaged to Johnny Jerome, a full-blown mafia boss. She nearly married him, but the kidnapping, etc. ended up being too much. She turned to his exact opposite, kind Uncle Ben.
15. Live Like Franklin, Die Like Lincoln
The design for Benjamin “Ben” Parker (Uncle Ben to Spiderman fans) was inspired by Benjamin Franklin.
16. They Grow Up So Fast
Dr. Moira MacTaggert is an award-winning geneticist and longtime friend (and sometimes more) to Professor Charles Xavier. This human ally to the X-men herself gave birth to a secret mutant son named Kevin. When her child’s powers became destructive, Moira desperately engineered a “cure,” but had to imprison Kevin. He didn’t take it well. In the end, Kevin unleashed himself, taking over people’s bodies and draining their life force, including his own father, before being put down by Colossus. That must’ve made the next X-Men get-together awkward.
17. Too Good to Be Mine
Wade “Deadpool” Wilson had a one-night stand with a woman named Carm that resulted in his daughter, Ellie Camacho. Upon meeting Ellie, he is taken with her, but tries to give her back because she is too beautiful to possibly be his.
18. To Serve and Connect
Agent Phillip J. Coulson was created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent introduced in the entire movie series. Despite the role he would play in tying Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers together, he was not supposed to have a name beyond “Agent.”
19. The Temp of Thunder
In a 2014 comics storyline, Jane Foster is deemed “worthy” of holding Thor’s hammer Mjolnir after Thor loses the ability to do so. In effect, the scientist (sometimes portrayed as a nurse or a doctor in the comics) becomes “Thor, the Goddess of Thunder” before sacrificing herself with the Avengers.
20. Some Guys Can’t Catch a Break
Dr. Erik Selvig is best remembered as a human friend of Thor and mind-control victim of Loki in The Avengers (2012). Like many one of the characters made for film, Selvig finally got his comics debut in the 2016 Avengers: Standoff! storyline… only to promptly die after getting converted to Hydra’s side and defending one of their own from Captain America.
21. Climbing the Hill of Trust
Maria Hill has only been in the Marvel comics since 2004. She is more of an adversarial character to The Avengers than in the movies, even abducting Spiderman and Vision to interrogate them. However, she ultimately wins Iron Man’s respect when she sticks it to the President’s command to nuke an island where The Avengers are residing.
22. A Face to Remember
Spiderman’s redheaded girlfriend Mary Jane Watson was modeled after 1960s icon Ann Margaret. Ironically, this was after long-running jokes about readers never seeing Watson’s face. Early appearances always had obscured her mug—as if to highlight her as an ominous figure who was only there to threaten Peter Parker’s relationship with Gwen Stacy.
23. Gwen Stacy
In a 2004 storyline called “Sins Past,” Gwen Stacy gives birth to twins… fathered by the Green Goblin. Obviously, this is from the universe where Norman Osborn doesn’t drop Stacy to her end. She didn’t know he was the Goblin when she had the affair, but still. Comics are weird.
24. Edwin Jarvis
The Starks weren’t the only family served by Edwin Jarvis. Iron Man’s butler also moonlighted as the main babysitter to Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman son, Franklin Richards.
25. Even Evil Needs Help
Every Batman needs his Alfred; Doctor Doom has his Boris. Referred to by Doom himself as “the one man I called friend,” Boris raised Victor von Doom as his own after the passing of the boy’s father. These days, his general job is to be a pal and make his arrangements—although his old job was to protect the world from Victor getting influenced by the evil magics of his mother’s side (a job which Boris seems to have failed in).
26. Willie Lumpkin
Willie Lumpkin made the once-in-a-lifetime leap from daily comic strip star to regular in a little superhero comic called Fantastic Four. He provided comic relief to their heroic struggles and even briefly dated Peter Parker’s Aunt May.
27. Sweet Dreams Are Made of Truth
Iris West discovered her husband Barry Allen was The Flash… on their honeymoon. He revealed it while talking in his sleep, which meant Allen fully intended to just go through married life without keying his wife in on the superhero thing.
In some versions, Growling Commando Gabe Jones hooks up with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own Peggy Carter after WWI.
29. More Where That Came From
The comics version of Eric Koenig depicts him as a proud human member of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Howling Commandos, who sometimes served in WWII. In the Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, he’s played by comedian Patton Oswalt, and is slain. Never fear: this Koenig has countless twin brothers who look and act just like him, so diehard fans will never mourn long.
30. Gone Baby Gone
Catwoman gave up her masked career after giving birth to her daughter, Helena. Despite her efforts to reform her life, their secret identities were discovered anyway. She was forced to give up Helena for adoption for their safety—but only after she faked their deaths.
31. Detective Movie Buff
In the grand halls of DC Comics history, Harvey Bullock might be considered the poor man’s Commissioner Gordon. An often corrupt, alcoholic, and borderline suicidal cop—he embodies the jaded side of Gotham’s justice system. However, Bullock softens over the years into a merely clumsy but well-meaning cop. He even bonds with Robin over their shared interest in classic movies.
32. Building Captain America Takes Work
When Dr. Abraham Erskine first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 (1941), he didn’t even have a name. That’s a shame because he invented the super serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. His original plans for a “super soldier” included a long regime of diet and exercise—not just the gamma rays and serum.
33. Mother of the Big Green Guy
These days, Helen Cho is best remembered for her role in Age of Ultron (2015), where she helps assemble Vision. In the comics, she is supporting character in the Hulk series, where is also the mother of Hulk’s own successor, Amadeus Cho.
34. Unpaid Intern
Netflix’s Jessica Jones radically expanded the role of her pal, Malcolm Ducasse. The Alias comics, upon which the series is heavily based, feature him as “Malcolm Powder”—a much younger high school student who begs his idol, the titular Jessica Jones, for a job at her PI agency. At least he achieves his dreams in the TV series.
35. Not That Big Ben
Benjamin “Big Ben” Donavan is an eight-foot-tall lawyer in the Luke Cage comics series. Sometimes he used his law skills as an ally to Luke; other times they were adversaries. Big Ben appears in the Luke Cage Netflix series, where he is still a frenemy lawyer to Luke, but—sadly—not eight feet fall.
36. Unlucky in Love
In 2014, The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series was criticized for separating the canonically gay couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Victoria Hand and mercenary Izzy Hartley. Their sexual identities were never discussed, their characters never met, nor was their status as a couple ever mentioned explicitly before they were killed off. Don’t superhero helpers deserve better?
37. Fourth Wheel
Foggy Nelson is the best friend and legal partner of Matt “Daredevil” Murdock, but he is also the third peg in a long-running love triangle between his partner and their secretary, Karen Page. For most of the comics run, Foggy is also oblivious about Matt’s superhero alter ego, although he is suspicious of the strange bruises and how he’s never in the same room as Daredevil. At one point, Matt threw Foggy off trail by getting someone else to wear the costume while Matt himself played his own “twin brother,” Mike Murdock. Page preferred “Mike” over Foggy as well. Poor Foggy.
38. Tear A Page From This Sad Book
In the comics, Karen Page is the longest-running love interest for Daredevil. Like in the show, she serves for a time as Matt Murdock’s secretary before she falls onto hard times and addiction as an actress. It gets so bad, she even sells Matt Murdock’s secret identity to Kingpin.
39. A Visit to the Doctor’s
After the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, it was Dr. Leslie Thompkins who tended to the orphaned boy and continued to act as his surrogate mother. After Bruce grew up and became Batman, he would pay a visit to Leslie—in disguise—at Park Row every year on the anniversary of his parents’ death. For some reason, Leslie never takes this hint as to who Batman might possibly be…
40. Who Are You?
The decades-long separation between Captain America and Peggy Carter wasn’t their only endgame. In some versions, Peggy falls in love with Captain America while working with the French Resistance, only to get amnesia from an exploding piece of debris, then get sent to recover with her parents in Virginia. It doesn’t take half a century for her to rediscover Captain America.
41. Forever Young
For years, Sharon Carter was the younger sister of Peggy Carter—not her grandniece. This was retconned to make the present-day setting of the comics work out with the WWII-specific backstory of Captain America.
42. Man Down
Jeri Hogarth is Jessica Jones’s lawyer and the first openly lesbian character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, in the comics, “Jeri” is “Jeryn Hogarth,” and not a woman at all. Hogarth remains a lawyer to multiple Defenders, but he is also still a bitterly divorced spouse, at one point asking Luke Cage and Iron Fist to escort his daughter to a dance just to one-up his ex-wife.