Looking Back on Series that Shaped Me

I’ve had another week where there wasn’t much time for any sort of writing–even very short stories. So I thought I’d take another moment to write about some of stories that have most inspired me. This time: Favorite series. I’m only going to include series I’ve actually finished, so the list is pretty short.

My Favorite Book Series

(4) Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan

(3) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett

(2) Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

(1) Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

(Wow… only four. I think I need to actually finish some of the series I’ve started. Other great ones that are still “in progress:” Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.)

What are your favorite series? I’d love to hear them!

Words of Advice

I’ve not had much time this week for writing, so instead of a story (even a short one), I thought I’d share some quotes on writing that either: (A) Inspired me to be a writer myself, or (B) Have helped me figure out what kind of writer I want to be.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” — Stephen King


“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” — Neil Gaiman


“Wasn’t writing a kind of soaring, an achievable form of flight, of fancy, of the imagination?” — Ian McEwan


“To hell with facts! We need stories!” — Ken Kesey


“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” — Mark Twain


“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” — Robert Frost


“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” — Ray Bradbury


“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” — Dr. Seuss


“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London


“Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

What quotes inspire you? I’d love to hear them!

Giving Some Credit to Inspiration

I’ve been a little bit busy here lately (the aforementioned, you’re-probably-tired-of-hearing-it Summer Reading), so I don’t have a poem quite ready for this week. But I thought I’d try something a little different: Today, I’m going to share some of the words that have inspired me. For me, music plays a huge role, especially when it comes to poetry. Here are just a few lyrics from songs that helped me find the poet in me. In short: These are all moments in songs that made me go: “Whoa… words can do that.”

“You can go through motions with your magic spells/ Buy all the potions that Fifth Avenue sells/You can try to call down all the stars above/But you can’t make love.” — Don Henley, “You Can’t Make Love”


“People speak of love, don’t know what they’re thinking of/Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove/Speak in terms of a life and a living/Try to find the word for forgiving.”–Jackson Brown, “The Shape of a Heart”


“Oh, life’s a maze of doors and they all open from the side you’re on/ Just keep on pushing hard, boy, try as you may, you’re gonna wind up where you started from.”–Cat Stevens, “Sitting”


“And it comes to you how it all slips away/Youth and beauty are gone one day/No matter what you dream, or feel, or say/It ends in dust and disarray/Like wind on the plains, sand through the glass/Waves rolling in with the tide/Dreams die hard and we watch them erode/But we cannot be denied/The fire inside.”–Bob Seger, “The Fire Inside”


“Don’t you hear my call though you’re many years away?/Don’t you hear me calling you?/Write your letters in the sand for the day I take your hand in the land that our grandchildren knew.”–Queen, “’39”


“I’ve really learned a lot, I’ve really learned a lot/Love is like a flame/It burns you when it’s hot/Love hurts.”–Nazareth, “Love Hurts”


“Walked out this morning/Don’t believe what I saw/A hundred million bottles/Washed up on the shore/Seems I’m not alone in being alone/A hundred million castaways looking for a home.”–The Police, “Message in a Bottle”


“If everything is nothing, then are we anything?/Is it better to be better than to be anything?”–Counting Crows, “Einstein on a Beach”


“I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good.”–Pearl Jam, “Wish List”


“Now I think I know/What you tried to say to me/And how you suffered for your sanity/How you tried to set them free/They would not listen, they’re not listening still/Perhaps they never will.”–Don McLean, “Vincent”

Do you have any lyrics that really connect with you? I’d love to hear them!

Some Inspiration

I’m doing something a little different. I haven’t had the time to write (even one of my short 500-word flash fictions), but I thought I’d take some time share some of the stories that have most inspired me–the stories that I got completely lost within and that made me think, “Wow, I want to be able to do what this author has done.”

My Top 10 Favorite Books

(10) Atonement by Ian McEwan

(9) Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

(8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky

(7) Looking for Alaska by John Green

(6) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

(5) Recursion by Blake Crouch

(4) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

(3) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

(1) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

What are your favorite books? I’d love to hear them!

When Does Weird Work?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the world is weird.

We’ve faced impending doom in the form of murder hornets, carnivorous rats, thieving monkeys, and even UFOs. (I’m just now realizing how much strangeness has been animal-related….) Of course, that’s just the bizarre news… I’m not even counting all of the other headlines that has us wondering if we should invest in panic rooms. (Though the fact that all of this is happening at the same time just adds to the weird factor.)

This year has been proof that fact is stranger than fiction.

Which begs the question: When does fiction become too strange? As Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

But where does that put sci-fi and fantasy? Obviously, we extend our suspensions of disbelief, but at what point do they start to break?

The answer, of course, can be a matter of taste. Someone who prefers nonfiction and documentaries will probably think even well-loved stories like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are too “out there.” Conversely, someone who watches a lot of anime is used to being so far out of the box, they’re not even in its orbit. That dog is also a gun who shoots cannonballs? That’s just a Tuesday.

So while preference will vary from person to person, are there some general guidelines that help make “weird” a bit more accessible? What can a writer with a crazy idea do to make their audiences still love the story… and even love the idea solely for how crazy it is?

There’s no hard and fast answer, of course, but in my time diving into the weird side of stories, here are few takeaways I’ve found.

(1) Build Up To Your Ultimate Weirdness

If your story is going to walk on the weird side, chances are that you’re going to let the audience know right away. Readers/viewers like to know what to expect: What kind of world are we in? What’s normal for the characters and what’s not? However… that doesn’t mean you show you’re entire hand from episode one. It’s a shock to the system to cannonball into cool water–so, instead, you tiptoe your way in. The same is true with storytelling.

Disney’s Gravity Falls, which has gathered a nice little cult following, chronicles a summer that the protagonists Dipper and Mabel Pines spend with their Grunkle (Great-uncle) Stan in his tourist trap called the Mystery Shack. The real mystery, however, is the town Gravity Falls: Grunkle Stan may have fake mysteries in the shack, but all around them is very real weirdness–ghosts, gnomes, unicorns, zombies, etc.

Episode one sets the stage pretty quickly–I won’t give any details, because the twist at the end is pretty funny. But with each episode, the stories get stranger, but also more complex. A deeper mystery is unraveled concerning Grunkle Stan and the entire Pines family. By the end, “Manotaurs” (super manly Minotaurs) seems downright tame when the show’s maniacal, chaos-addicted villain Bill Cypher unleashes “Weirdmageddon” on the town.

But when you reach that point, it simply seems like the next logical step in the story. So instead of shaking your head at the “eye-bats,” you’re just cheering for the heroes.

(2) Stay Grounded with Relatable Characters and Situations

The anime Assassination Classroom is a prime example of weird that works. When I first came across the anime, I was certain I’d be able to count the brain cells popping out of existence as I watched it. A super-powered yellow octopus-thing with a smiley-face-head is a teacher and his students have to try to assassinate him or else he’ll destroy the world?

Okaaaay…..

Except, it doesn’t take long for me to start binging the episodes. And, by the end, I’m sobbing at its heart-rendering conclusion. (No spoilers, I promise.) So how did a show with such a crazy premise leave that much of an impact?

Easy: A complex plot with relatable characters. Koro Sensei is the ideal teacher: He cares about his students and does everything in his power to help each and every one reach their potential. He imparts lessons that reach far beyond the classroom. And he’s had to overcome his own twisted past. Each student is also as equally developed. Plus, the show itself is as much about educational theory–what helps students and what hinders them. For example, we’ve all sat through a particularly difficult test, so we can relate when the show likens it to a Colosseum battle.

In the end, you know you watched something completely insane. But what you remember isn’t how outlandish it was, but what you learned from it. (My personal favorite moment? This quote: “The difference between the novice and the master is that the master has failed more times than the novice has tried.”)

(3) Add Some Humor

This scene pretty much sums up how weird comics can be. (FYI: This is from “Dark Nights Metal” (2018) by Scott Snyder–one of the best comic story arcs I’ve read in a long time!)

It’s a crazy ride. You, as the writer know that. It came from your own imagination, and even you know its crazy. You believe in the story… but how do you make your audience connect with it?

Easy. Make ’em laugh.

But humor is not only a way to form a connection; it’s also a wonderful release. If you can call yourself out on some of the weirdness and let your readers/viewers have a chuckle, then all of the “What the hecks?” that have been building up in their minds can be eased. A good laugh is like turning a valve: It lets out some steam, relieves some pressure.

Dark Nights Metal is a stellar comic arc–as much fun as it is heart-pounding. One of these days, I’ll go into the pure genius of it during one of my “nerdy” posts. But it’s also very strange. The best way I can describe it actually brings me back to a quote from Gravity Falls. The super-chill teenager Wendy describes “Weirdmageddon:” “End of the world…. Those death metal album covers got it shockingly right.”

Of course, that right there brings a chuckle. (Gravity Falls knows how to use humor, too, as does Assassination Classroom.) The same is true in comics.

Of course, weirdness works the best when all three of these elements are carefully utilized. Dark Nights Metal, Assassination Classroom, and Gravity Falls, all not only know how to use humor, but also how to create engaging characters, and how to pace the story.

When these three elements are balanced together, you get a weird story that’s a wild ride but also captivating. Rather than rolling your eyes, you end up getting lost in the strange, outrageous world.

And, let’s be honest. We all like to live in a little bit of weird now and again–if for no other reason then to escape the weirdness of the real world.

But there’s one more attraction of weird stories. They dare to ask that tantalizing question: What if?

And we love that question. Not just because it sends us on fantastic adventures in fiction, but because it reminds us of all that is possible. We might not have to fight extra-dimensional monsters (*knocks on wood because, you know… 2020*), but we do have little battles every day, little doubts. But if we can ask “what if,” then we can keep moving forward.

So never stop asking that all-too-important question. And never stopping reading and watching the stories that remind us to ask it.

Stay weird, people.

What No One is Saying About Masks

Alright… everyone has an opinion about masks. Today’s not about that.

We’ve all been wearing them for about five months now, and while there has been endless discussion and debate and everything else, there are a few things that no one is really talking about. And that’s a shame.

But today, I’m going to talk about what no one else is! Let’s get started:

(1) Fashion statement!

Love sharing who you are with your clothes? Of course you do! I have seen masks that have as much style as a bohemian dress or a t-shirt with a favorite sports team. People are decorating them in a million different ways, or choosing them from countless styles. Love dogs? Cute puppy mask! Wanna be a fashionista? Color coordinate with your outfit and jewelry! The creativity is astounding. Say who you are loud and proud!

(2) Men Can Now Understand Us, Ladies! (At least a little, tiny bit)

Alright gals… we all know how it feels when we finally take our bra off at the end of the day. That feeling of restriction evaporates and we can finally relax. I saw a meme the other day that said masks are the new bras… and guess what that means? Guys can now understand how we feel! (At least in that aspect… now if only we could get them to understand “Aunt Erma,” right?)

(3) You feel like a superhero!

I know what you’re thinking… Superheroes wear masks over their eyes. Wrong! Check out these heroes who were trendsetters and didn’t even know it!

(4) No make-up!

I’ve not worn any make-up since March. My skin feels amazing, and I feel amazing. Make-up isn’t essential for beauty–just our gorgeous positivity.

(5) Incognito!

See someone in the grocery store that you don’t want to talk to? Well, the odds of them recognizing you from a distance and waving you over have significantly DECREASED! Just duck down an aisle and go, go, go!

Listen, all humor aside (though, to be honest, I actually do really like all those mask advantages), I’ve always been one to look on the bright side. Complaining is easy. Being angry is easy. Arguing is easy.

You know what’s difficult? Being positive. I often say you can laugh or cry, but if 2020 has taught me anything, I think the phrase should be amended: You can laugh, you can cry, or you can shout.

For me, personally, I’ve always preferred laughter. I feel better and I’ve noticed the people around me tend to feel better, too.

We have a lot of reasons to feel terrible this year. I’d rather do something that helps to alleviate all of that rather than add to it.

So I hope this list gave you a smile, or maybe helped you look at masks a little bit differently. No one’s having much fun wearing them, but if you can maybe feel like a superhero or snidely tell your husband, “Welcome to my world,” then maybe we can have a few more smiles than groans.

Stay positive, people. We’ll get through this together. Lots of love!

It’s Good to be Bad: Why We Love Antiheroes

Earlier this week, I wrote about the most famous “Boy Scout” there is–Superman. In case you’ve never heard that descriptor before, “Boy Scouts” are characters whose moral compass always point true north. They know right from wrong and they never waver. They epitomize hope and valor, and you know that, no matter what the odds, they will manage to save the day. If literature’s main goal is to hold up a mirror to humanity, then these characters show us what we can–and should–be.

Obviously, I’m a fan of Superman and characters like him. But there’s another type of character that, while on the complete other side of the spectrum, is just as important when holding up a mirror to humanity.

I’m talking about the antihero.

As much as I love my Boy Scouts, I’m a sucker for a good antihero. Characters you hate as often as you love. Characters that leave you shaking your head over their decisions. Characters that inspire cheers when they become better and groans when they backtrack to their old ways.

But why are these characters important? Well, the mirror they hold isn’t about ideals. It’s a bit more realistic. How? Well, for starters….

Severus Snape (Harry Potter)

From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)

Snape, Snape… Severus Snape. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But where do I even begin with this character? Loved by some, hated by others, he’s everyone’s worst nightmare of a teacher. While seemingly villainous on the outside, he spent years secretly protecting Harry and fighting against Voldemort. Snape was fueled by guilt and unrequited love. Does such motivation make him a good person? Were his actions ultimately heroic, if they did in fact help lead to the defeat of the Dark Lord? Honestly, there’s a lot of debate in the “Potterhead” community, and Snape is one the most polarizing characters. But here’s one thing I do know: Whatever else he might be, from the day he realized that all of his choices had led to nothing but destruction and despair (the day that Lily Potter was murdered)–from that day forward, whatever his motivations… his actions were always better. Not always nice. Far from perfect–but better. He fought for the light, rather than dark.

In short: The choices of your past do not determine your choices in your future.

Sherlock Holmes

From “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1993)

Good old Sherlock Holmes. How many times has this character been revisited and interpreted throughout the decades. (My favorite is Benedict Cumberbatch’s “high-functioning sociopath.”) Whatever incarnation you prefer, however, one thing remains: Sherlock isn’t just a detective; he’s a mystery himself. Aloof and consciously separate from the rest of humanity, Sherlock is never quite able to relate to others. He could be a conniving mastermind, but instead… he solves mysteries. He finds justice.

Basically: You don’t have to be like everyone else to still help everyone else.

Red Hood (DC Comics)

From “Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 1: Dark Trinity” (2017)

Since I’m the one writing this blog, you know a comic book character had to be coming, right? Red Hood: Jason Todd, the second Robin who came back from the grave with revenge in his heart. Who couldn’t understand why Batman hadn’t killed the Joker–why the clown was still alive when Batman knew that there was no chance of reform within his heart–and, worse, why he was still alive when he had beaten the teenage Jason to death. Jason is one of those characters who is constantly evolving: He began as an antagonist and has grown into an antihero. While he and Batman have very different philosophies, Jason still strives to protect the innocent and punish corruption. Batman refuses to kill; Jason on the other hand…. not so much. To paraphrase what he tells Batman: He takes out the ones who aren’t afraid. That’s not to say, however, that he always goes with that option. Often, he finds a way that doesn’t involve killing–usually letting his “I’m even worse than Batman” reputation precede him. He’s even started to come back into the Bat Family fold. In short: He may be the black sheep, but he’ll still always be there for back-up.

So: There is always opportunity–and ability–to grow and change.

These, of course, are only a tiny sampling of the wonderful world of antiheroes. Other characters that force us to look at the shades of gray, both in the world and within ourselves, are: Robin Hood, Gru, Holden Caulfiled, Jay Gatsby, Captain Jack Sparrow, Han Solo, Wolverine (one of my favorites!), Artemis Fowl, Deadpool…. The list can go on and on–just like these characters! Somehow, despite their mistakes and flaws; despite the worst that the world can throw at them; despite everyone telling them “no,” again and again–they keep going and going and going….

From classic literature to television hits, from heartwarming children’s movies to edgy comics–we can’t escape antiheroes.

And why would we want to? Sure, it’s exciting when a knight in shining armor wins the day, but there’s something about watching someone fall and get back up–someone who is far from perfect but who is at least trying–that is undeniably relatable. We all have a little bit of antihero in us (and, if we’re being honest, a bit of Boy Scout, too).

So what do we do with all of this? As writers, we create characters that people can relate to: Whether because they’re what we want to be or because we understand their struggles. As readers… well, as readers we hold on tight to see what’s coming next. Life is rarely predictable… and that is especially true in any story starring an antihero.

So, buckle up, buttercup. We’re in for a wild ride.


Sources:

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. USA, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. United States of America, The Reader’s Digest Association, 1993.

Lobdell, Scott. Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 1: Dark Trinity. Burbank, CA, DC Comics, 2017.

Never Ask a Librarian This Question

My favorite part about being a librarian is helping someone find that perfect book: Whether it’s a cookbook with recipes that are just right for their dietary needs, a massive biography that will help a student write a report, or just the lastest can’t-put-down novel.

As an avid (and rather voracious) reader, the last one is my particular favorite. I love when I help someone find a story in which they can get swept away and lost in an adventure.

It’s easier, of course, when a patron gives us some guidelines: “I like John Grisham. Who can you recommend that’s similar to him?” Or: “I’m really into time travel.”

Criteria like that is a big help. However, if you want to make it harder on us (read as: if you want to see your librarian short-circuit like a robot), then ask: “What is your favorite book?”

“What is your favorite book?”

Why not just ask us what breath of air was our favorite?

You have to understand. We’re surrounded by books, and if you’re already a bookworm, then that sort of temptation is dangerous. You start reading books you don’t normally read, taking recommendations from fellow librarians even though you already have a Leaning Tower of Literature at home. You are inundated by novels and biographies; by how-to’s and comics; by literary fiction and fluffy feel-good stories.

So when you ask a librarian what his or her favorite book is… we have to do a miniature March Madness-style bracket in our head, pitting favorite books from every genre against each other, hoping to come up with that one, singular, perfect book in a matter of seconds….

And then we usually just ask, “Well, what kind of book are you looking for?”

In short: It’s nearly impossible for us to pick one favorite book. And I know that makes it hard when you’re looking for one, single recommendation.

So today, I thought I’d share some of my favorites. These are all books that captured my imagination, and–if you’re looking for a good book–I hope they will do the same for you.

Favorite “The Book Was Better Than the Movie”

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Just the concept of this book sounds absurd. So why did I read it? Well… because the concept of the book sounds absurd! I actually listened to this story on audiobook (which I would highly recommend, as it has musical interludes that match the tone of the story and provide wonderful atmosphere). I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it: As outlandish as the actual plot may have been, it was clear that Seth Grahame-Smith did a ton of research, carefully crafting his paranormal tale around real history. In comparison, the movie felt like little more than your run-of-the-mill action flick.

Favorite “Unexpected” Read

The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

I don’t read romance. In fact, I’m a bit like a second-grade boy when it comes to “mush.” Give me spaceships and explosions and detectives and… well, anything else! But a fellow librarian who also doesn’t like romance recommended this book to me… and, okay, I’ll admit it: The story was really cute. A modern epistolary novel (it’s written in emails), the story is a pretty basic case of mistaken identity, but Meg Cabot utilizes the email format to give each character a unique and engaging voice. The end result is a quick, fun read.

Favorite Young Adult

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I don’t reread books. I’m very much a one-and-done kind of bookworm… unless that book is Harry Potter. (I can’t even count how many times I devoured those during my childhood.) The other exception: Looking for Alaska. A heart-wrenching, but also beautiful novel that is carefully crafted around two “famous last word” quotes. This book is one of those that felt nothing short of enlightening to teenage-me. All of that, and John Green even still manages to throw in some humor. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book (but make sure you have some tissues nearby).

Favorite Graphic Novel

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb

Batman is known as the World’s Greatest Detective. As such, any good Batman story should first and foremost be a good mystery. Hush delivers just that and MORE. In addition to all the twists and turns, you also get: (1) Cameos from nearly every villain; (2) Catwoman and Bruce Wayne romance; (3) One of the best Batman v. Superman fights; (4) A returning character from Batman’s past (though I won’t say who because… spoilers!); and (5) A probing look into Bruce Wayne’s past and, ultimately, his psyche. Honestly, it seems impossible that so much could go on in one story arc without feeling cluttered, but somehow Jeph Loeb balances it all with finesse, giving the reader expert storytelling and character development alongside classic comic book action.

RUNNER-UP: Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid

Favorite Series

Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

Like almost every kid who grew up in the ’90s, I adored Harry Potter. However, when making this list, The Boy Who Lived seemed like a bit of a cop-out. So while I would still easily call that my favorite series, I wanted to highlight another page-turner that I just read: The Wayward Pines trilogy. Action, suspense, and mystery all centered on just the right amount of sci-fi and set against a backdrop of perfectly understood human nature. This series has gone through several librarians, and from there, recommended to several patrons. It’s one of those stories you don’t want to say too much about–you just have to read it for yourself.

Favorite Nonfiction

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Break-Ups in History by Jennifer Wright

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. It’s just so hard for me to pick up a “real” story when there are so many fictional worlds still unexplored. That said… with a title like It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Break-Ups in History… how could I not pick it up? This book is full of stories that range from hilarious to tragic, all while told in a very conversational style that is very accessible and entertaining. It’s a perfect book to learn some history while also not feeling like you’re learning history.

Favorite Bestseller

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I have no idea how long this book has been on the bestseller list, but it’s got to be close to two years now. It’s also a book that is nearly impossible to get your hands on at the library–the hold list continues to be staggering. With those kinds of stats, this must be one amazing book, right? The answer: Yes. From the characters to the atmosphere of the swamp setting to the questions it asks (and leaves the reader asking), this is a book that reminds us what books should be. You finish the story and immediately want to talk about it with someone else. The good news: LOTS of people have read it (and are still reading it) so it won’t be difficult to find a book-buddy to discuss Delia Owen’s tale of the Swamp Girl.

RUNNER-UP: A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

My Top 10 Favorite Superhero Sidekicks

My first foray into the sensational stories of superheroes came in the 5th grade. TV Land had just begun playing the 1960s Batman series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. My dad had called my brother (only about 5 at the time) into the room, thinking that his son would naturally fall in love with the cheesy action.

But it wasn’t his son who got hooked. It was his daughter.

I regaled my father with questions: Why does Batman fight crime? Who are his villains? And, of course: Can we watch it again tomorrow, “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel?”

But my favorite part of the show was always Robin. (I am not ashamed to say that Burt Ward was my first childhood crush. Take that, Backstreet Boys!)

For years, I didn’t realize that superheroes had their own genre. I thought that Batman was just Batman. A little later, I discovered the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and fell in love with everyone’s favorite wall-crawler.

I graduated from ’60s Batman to the ’90s’ Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which aired every Saturday morning on ABC Family (which is now called Freeform, so yes, I know, I have dated myself).

Even then, I didn’t know that Spider-Man was part of a much larger superhero universe. Whenever some other crimefighter–Iron Man, Punisher, Daredevil–would guest star, I thought they were simply new characters designed for the cartoon. I didn’t know they had their own stories!

Then came college and my then-boyfriend who introduced me to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From there came all of the other ’90s cartoons I’d never watched: Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Teen Titans, etc.

And then the dizzying world of comics. Of trying to read graphic novels in just the right order to fully appreciate the massive, titles-spanning story being told. Of trying to catch-up with an industry that has been around for 80+ years. Of seeing how these timeless characters have changed with the coming decades and learning to appreciate those changes as pieces of history. (Even the ones that didn’t work out–seriously, who thought giving Superman a mullet was a good idea?)

But my favorite parts, still to this day, are the sidekicks. The mentees looking to the established heroes for guidance. The next generation.

And it’s probably all thanks to Burt Ward.

So… holy nostalgia, Batman!

It makes sense, then, for my very first comic-related blog to be a list of my top ten favorite sidekicks. And, for the nerds out there, yes, I’m going to be very specific (e.g. I won’t just say “Robin,” I’ll clarify which Robin). And to those less nerdy out there… yes, there are multiple Robins.

Buckle up. It’s time to head to Nerdville.

(10) Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)

I wondered whether or not to even include her on the list, considering that Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) has become a hero in her own right, protecting Burnside. Plus, she always kind of started out on her own. She decided to become a hero and then Batman recruited her, rather than the other way around. However, she did also help expand the Bat Family, turning the dynamic duo into a terrific trio. In that way, it only seemed right to include her. Batgirl has overcome every challenge that stands in her way–from fighting crime to overcoming trauma at the hands of the Joker–and she is equal parts brain and brawn. If you’re a villain, you don’t want to be punched by Batgirl, but you REALLY don’t want her hacking into your computer.

(9) Kid Flash (Wally West II)

For years, I was more of a Marvel fan until I came across the animated show Young Justice. From there, I started reading DC comics, and found that I was a bit more of a Bat than I was an Avenger. It’s little wonder then that a lot of my favorites come back to Young Justice. That said, I was a little uncertain when I saw they were rebooting the Kid Flash character–making him a completely different person. But I have to say… it really works. Wally West II comes with unique challenges, and now that Wally West I is back in the universe (for you non-nerds… it’s a long story), things are even better. I love watching the two Wallys interact with each other, often in a very brotherly way.

(8) Ms. Martian

Remember what I said about Young Justice? I fell in love with Ms. Martian: Her enthusiasm and energy, and then later her command and control. I loved watching her grow more and more comfortable with herself, going beyond “Hello, Megan!” to a true, Justice League-caliber hero.

(7) Robin (Tim Drake)

Tim Drake–the true detective of the Robins. The one who, in many ways, actually takes after Bruce Wayne the most. I’ve not read as much with him as I have others, but every time I do, I enjoy seeing his very analytical mind attack each situation. He’s a force to be reckoned with mentally. And while his more controlling nature gets on my nerves from time to time, he still has that “light” to Batman’s “dark” that makes him an interesting and engaging character.

(6) Speedy (Roy Harper)

I have a soft spot for those “lost” characters. And Roy Harper, who was the vessel DC used to address the drug epidemic in the landmark issue “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” (1971), is a prime example of one. Since that issue, he’s had to deal with addiction, alcoholism, and just about every obstacle writers could throw his way. Hot-headed and stubborn, he keeps pushing ahead even after he trades his sidekick days as Speedy for his adult persona Arsenal. With trucker hat and tattoos, he embodies all that is “bad boy” while still also being a hero. Whether he’s a Titan or an Outlaw, he always seems to have to prove himself–sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always relatable in his desire to rise above his own demons.

(5) Robin (Jason Todd)

Remember what I said about those “lost” characters? Well, you don’t get more lost than Jason Todd: the Robin that fans hated. First DC retconned him, giving him a new backstory and personality (which was much better than Dick Grayson, Pt. 2–but with red hair!). The new, edgier, and angrier Robin still didn’t get much love, however, so when DC came up with the idea to have fans vote for an issue’s ending by calling one of two numbers, they decided to use Jason. At the end of a dramatic issue where Jason was beaten within an inch of his life by the Joker, an explosion destroys the building he’s in right before Batman is able to get there to save him. Fans were given the option: Call number A for Robin to live, call number B for him to die. And with that… Jason Todd became the first Robin to die. (He would not be the last.) Years later, we get a resurrected Jason Todd who is angry at Batman–not for failing to save him, but for allowing the Joker to live. Jason argues that Batman’s “no killing” philosophy doesn’t amount to much if evil men either continuously escape or circumvent the law. He claims that any lives the Joker destroys also leaves blood on Batman’s hands. From there, Jason goes from antagonist to antihero, eventually finding peace with Batman over their differing viewpoints. It’s a strange (and often strained) relationship, but it’s also one of the most interesting in the Bat Family. If you want to see a roller coaster of character evolution, then Jason Todd stories are definitely some you’ll want to check out.

(4) Robin (Damian Wayne)

Like “lost” characters, I also have a soft spot for those who are always having to strive to be better people. And Damian Wayne is a prime example. Raised by the League of Assassins until he was 10, his moral compass is more than a little bent. Once he began living with Batman (his biological father), Damian learned to value life, but… he’s still being raised by Batman. Not exactly a normal childhood. While his entitled and aggressive nature can be annoying at times, I still love watching him grow and change as he learns how to be a son, brother, and friend. (Also, he’s basically Batman-in-miniature and watching him team-up with Superman-in-miniature is equal parts amusing and adorable.) Cue transition to #3!

(3) Superboy (Jon Kent)

Superman-in-miniature. He teams up with Batman-in-miniature. And he’s beyond adorable. I’m a huge fan of familial themes, and you don’t get stronger ones than with the Kents. I love watching their family confront each challenge that comes their way, watching Jon grow, and also seeing his interactions with other heroes. (He’s Superman’s kid after all; that’s kind of a big deal.)

(2) Kid Flash (Wally West)

Wally West is always going to be my favorite Flash. I fell in love with the character in Young Justice, and since then, I have devoured everything I can read with him. He’s funny and charming, but also deals with a lot of doubt. After all, he had pretty big shoes to fill after Barry Allen was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths. I love his “bro” friendships with Dick Grayson and Roy Harper, and I even enjoy his romances. In my mind, there is only one other character who is more quintessentially “sidekick” than Wally… and he’s coming up next.

(1) Robin (Dick Grayson)

Of course my number one is Dick Grayson, the very first sidekick. As the first Robin, he set the standard for the superhero mentor/mentee relationship: (1) Be a complement to the hero he fights alongside (in his case, the “light” to Batman’s darkness); (2) “Graduate” to become a hero in his own right, separate from his mentor (specifically, Dick became Nightwing). Nearly every character on this list follows that (or a very similar) pattern, but Dick Grayson was the one who started it all. Not only does his character come with a ton of history, but his role as an optimist and “big brother” in the Bat Family just makes him even more likable, clinching his spot at number one.

And that’s it: My Top 10 Favorite Superhero Sidekicks. Obviously, a pretty DC (and Bat)-heavy list. I did look up Marvel sidekicks in case there were any that I was forgetting, but sadly those I found (Bucky, War Machine, Falcon, etc.) just didn’t make my Top 10 list. I’d also argue that DC approaches “sidekicks” in a fundamentally different way than Marvel, lending itself to a more traditional definition of the word (where the characters are more like apprentices.)

I would however love to hear other thoughts. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a fun comic book conversation!