Creating a credible kid sidekick isn’t an easy task. The basic concept is always to give the younger readers a character they can personally identify with. The problems there are legion. For starters, readers want to be Batman, not Robin. Furthermore, the sidekick has to have the correct amount of competence. Too much and the character can outshine the hero and readers don’t like that. Not enough and the sidekick will need too much constant rescuing. And then there’s the issue of older writers trying to write “hip” dialogue for a character much younger than themselves, as was the disastrous case of Snapper Carr when he first arrived on the scene as the Justice League’s sidekick.
Good sidekicks and younger characters can be done. But for every successful Robin, there’s probably three or four (at least) Danny Chases.
Maybe calling Danny Chase a sidekick isn’t really fair. He wasn’t really a sidekick. He was a full member of the Teen (later just New) Titans. The Titans, by virtue of the team name, is made up of younger heroes, many of whom had started off as more successful sidekicks to various other DC heroes. Plus Donna Troy. Tossing another teenager onto the team hardly seems like the act of adding a sidekick.
But I’m thinking Danny may actually qualify there. See, one of the reasons Danny was added was due to the fact that the original Teen Titans weren’t looking much like teens anymore. As the old school Titans moved into adulthood, to keep the title legit as the “Teen” Titans, DC needed to add an actual teenager here and there. The result was Danny Chase.
So, in a way, Danny may have been the sidekick to the sidekicks.
What was Danny’s backstory? Well, he was a teenage superspy with telekinetic powers. What costume did he wear? Originally, none. Just his regular street clothes. What codename did he go by? Again, originally, none. He went by his real name.
The problem with Danny was he apparently had the sort of attitude that turned off, oh, everybody except maybe longtime Titans writer (and Danny’s co-creator) Marv Wolfman. He was a know-it-all. He was super-competent. He was condescending or he was a drooling Titans fanboy. Any one of those would by itself be a huge roadblock to readers getting into a new character.
The blog Armagideon Time made a good observation about Danny. Compare Danny to Kitty Pryde. The New Titans at the height of its popularity was DC’s biggest competition against the sales juggernaut that was Uncanny X-Men. Like the Titans, the X-Men started off as a teenage superhero team, but as the core line-up grew up or were replaced by adult mutants, Xavier’s school needed an actual student. Enter Kitty Pryde, age 13 or so, from Chicago, Illinois. Did Kitty walk in, proclaim herself the baddest badass to ever kick some bad guy ass? No. She was quiet, timid, shy, and often frightened by the weird stuff going on around here. Only gradually did she and her powers come to be of use to the team, and her acceptance both as an X-Man for the reader and the team was won through patience and character development. She, unlike Danny, wasn’t just shoehorned onto the team and treated like an equal from her first appearance. Only after months if not years of work was Kitty the baddest badass to ever kick some bad guy ass.
And she’d never really brag about that either.
As an aside, a buddy of mine believes Chris Claremont intended Jubilee to be the “anti-Kitty” when he created her, due to Jubilee being basically the opposite of Kitty in every way possible.
Likewise, DC took it slow when they introduced a third Robin. Robin #2 Jason Todd might as well have been just a more street version of Dick Grayson. He turned readers off enough to vote for him to die by phone. When DC felt it was time to bring in a new Robin, they carefully groomed the Tim Drake character, demonstrating his intellectual competence and slow, gradual development of the more physical skills a good Robin should have well before he put on the first Robin costume to come with full pants. These techniques work for a reason.
Danny didn’t have those advantages. He was the opposite of Kitty Pryde and Tim Drake. Suddenly thrust onto a popular superteam while being obnoxious to boot? No wonder the fans hated him.
Danny would eventually be removed from the team for very little discernible reason, though he’s come back with a new name and costume. Clad in ripped rags and a cheap mask, he floated (literally) around as a Titan named Phantasm before he was seemingly killed off for good.
And the fans rejoiced.