Inventory: 13 sidekicks who are cooler than their heroes

1. Tonto, the Lone Ranger movies
The Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian companion debuted in the 1930s, an age not known for its enlightened attitudes toward minorities. And writers like Sherman Alexie have pointed out Tonto’s more problematic aspects, like his stereotypical broken English. But from the beginning, Tonto was depicted as a heroic figure in his own right, and not so much the Lone Ranger’s assistant as his friend. Tonto was saddled with pidgin dialogue, but he wasn’t dumb, and could track bandits and right wrongs with a skill equal to the masked man’s. Also worth noting: The similar character dynamic in the Lone Ranger spin-off The Green Hornet, between the Hornet and his Asian sidekick Kato, led to Bruce Lee’s American breakthrough role on the short-lived 1966 TV series. And few people, sidekicks or not, are cooler than Bruce Lee.

9. Dr. Pretorius, Bride Of Frankenstein
It’s so hard to find good help these days, as Dr. Henry Frankenstein found out. In the original movie, his lab assistant steals the wrong brain. In the sequel, Bride Of Frankenstein, his old teacher shows up and nearly steals the entire film. Though Henry is nominally the lead scientist in their partnership, Dr. Septimus Pretorius wins hands down in the “mad scientist” department, swanning through the movie with such gleefully macabre abandon that he makes the wet-blanket Henry instantly forgettable. Where Frankenstein is plagued by his wishy-washy conscience, Pretorius revels in his blackmails and grave robberies, and even goes tomb-looting with a sense of style, sticking around after the corpse is dragged away, and having a light supper and a smoke inside a mausoleum.

11. Marvin, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ science-fiction satire contains no shortage of characters who’d be fun to get drunk with. And even terminally bewildered protagonist Arthur Dent seems like a nice enough guy. But no character captured the hearts of Adams’ fans as much as the gloomy Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Though Marvin’s constant melancholy was a source of irritation to his shipmates on the Heart Of Gold, it was easy to sympathize with the slump-shouldered robot. Marvin may have exaggerated and obsessed over his many burdens—pain in all the diodes on his left side, or being forced to park cars for millions of years while his friends went to a fancy restaurant. But in Douglas Adams’ mixed-up and often terrifyingly random universe, Marvin’s weary resignation was one of the only sane responses to life. Besides, Marvin was more than a piece of miserable machinery, he was also the series’ stoic hero figure—often the only character smart enough to know what was actually going on, he repeatedly saved the lives of his (usually ungrateful) friends at great peril to himself. Whether it meant facing down an intelligent battle tank unarmed or staying behind on a doomed starship while the others teleported to safety, Marvin was always willing (though never eager) to put himself in harm’s way. Perhaps Marvin’s popularity also owed something to Adams’ own identification with the character—though it was inspired by a fellow writer named Andrew Marshall, Marvin’s disconsolate pessimism also came from Adams’ own bouts with depression.

Originally published on Feb. 26, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Tonto (and Kato), R2D2, Nobody, Inigo Montoya, Dr. Pretorius, Marvin, and Mouse. Read the complete article.

Inventory: 8 Songs About Sexual Mishaps

1. Ike Turner, “She Made My Blood Run Cold”
These days, Ike Turner is mainly remembered as the violent, abusive ex-husband of Tina Turner, but in the 1950s, he was on top of the R&B world with tracks like “Rocket 88,” often cited as the first true rock ‘n’ roll song. He recorded the chilly classic “She Made My Blood Run Cold” in 1957, lyrically riffing on Little Willie John’s earlier sexiness-as-sickness R&B hit “Fever.” Turner’s tune turns down the temperature with the tale of a woman whose kisses literally cause a drop in his body heat. Turner complains to his doctor of symptoms including a frozen heart and “icicles hanging from my eyes”—especially unusual since STDs typically cause a burning sensation instead. Perhaps reflective of Turner’s view of women, the frosty femme fatale doesn’t appear to have any remorse for her icy touch, even after she kills Ike’s doctor merely by flirting with him. Now that’s cold.

5. Bob Dylan, “Ballad Of A Thin Man”
In the ’60s, “Thin Man”‘s stinging refrain—”you know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”—became a widely embraced reference for a square who couldn’t see the revolution right in front of his eyes. But there’s another meaning hidden not-so-deeply in the song’s hazy identity issues, suggesting a far more personal confusion: Mr. Jones is a deeply closeted, self-loathing gay man slowly forced to confront his true sexual identity. Dylan fills the song with blatant phallic imagery and metaphors for male-on-male oral sex wrapped in the description of a hopelessly bewildered man lost in a circus sideshow, strangely compelled by visions of naked men and sword-swallowers in high heels. And then there’s the “one-eyed midget” who demands that Jones give him “milk.” Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but not here.

Originally published on Feb. 2, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Ike Turner and Bob Dylan. Read the complete article.

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