Or, “Exactly what it says on the tin.”
I am of course referencing yet another TvTrope. But when I think of many iconic comic book character names, especially ones named during the Golden and Silver Ages, the names pretty much tell you what they do/are. Granted, sometimes the name doesn’t exactly call out their power but often the names are pretty darn literal. So naturally, I started to imagine the kinds of conversations that must have transpired (I do this kind of thing as shown in other blog entries).
So I will start with Batman, because Batman. His own superhero name is actually one of the least literal when compared to his rogues’ gallery. He is not actually a man who is a bat (that’s Man-Bat). He does fight crime with a definite chiropteran theme, but he’s still just a very very rich man with a nocturnal mammal fetish (and I say that will all due affection). But his villains, oh, goodness…
An Imaginary Meeting at Detective Comics (circa 1930s-50s):
Chief – Wow, this Batman guy is really catching on. Detective Comics is going through the roof. So, what’s next up for our favorite Zorro knock-off? Bill, Bob, uncredited ghost artists?
Ghost artists – Uncredited? Hey!
Chief – You get paid.
Ghost artists – Fine.
Bob Kane – Can we maybe stop killing off the villains after one issue? It is really hard thinking up new ones.
Chief – Well, I guess, but you’ll have to make them interesting enough to bring back.
Bill Finger – We can do that.
Chief – So, who have you got in mind?
Bob – The Joker.
Chief – Listen, you’ve gone through so many bad guys so far I don’t remember this one. Refresh my memory.
Bill – He’s an evil clown that plays deadly practical jokes.
Chief – An evil clown? Seriously?
Bob – Yes. An evil clown called the Joker.
Chief – Bit on the nose, isn’t it?
Bill – Um, yes?
Chief – Fine, fine, moving on. Who’s next in Batman’s rogues’ gallery?
Bob – Well, he needs a femme fatale, so I was thinking of a female cat burglar.
Chief – Okay, that sounds good. What’s she called?
Bob – The Cat.
Chief – Really?
Bob – Yes, why?
Chief – Next please.
Bill – Well, I have an idea for a villain that is determined to prove he’s smarter than Batman, so he leaves all these riddles at crime scenes and Batman has to solve them to save the day.
Ghost artist – Your idea! I helped!
Bill – Shut up; most people think Bob’s the only guy running the show anyway.
Chief – Guys! We are not getting into this right now. So, what’s this riddling guy called?
Bill – The Riddler.
Chief – You guys are just messing with me. I mean, so far all these villains are named for what they are! Next you’re going to tell me you came up with some weirdo that scares people and dresses up like a scarecrow called “the Scarecrow!”
Bob – Um, actually…
Chief – Honestly! You’re the best in the business and this is as creative as you get for names? What’s next? Some waddling short English guy with a bird fetish you call the Penguin?
Bill – Um, actually…
Chief – *headdesk* Please at least tell me those aren’t their actual real names.
Bill/Bob – Oh, no no, that would be stupid.
Chief – Well, good…
Bill/Bob – We haven’t even thought of their real names yet.
Chief – Um, well, maybe it’s better that way.
Ghost Artist – Bill, you said Riddler would be named “Edward Nigma” so he could be “E. Nigma…”
Chief – What?
Bill – *kicks ghost artist* Nothing, nothing. So, we good to go?
Chief – Sure!
I can’t leave out Marvel, especially old school Marvel with Stan Lee, who legend says gave all his character alliterated names to show they were his (this also makes me wonder about the true origin of long-running X-men writer Chris Claremont…).
An imaginary Meeting Prior to the Launch of the Fantastic Four:
Chief – I have a brilliant idea for a new book! Four people are shot into space and irradiated and develop superpowers and become a team of superheroes!
Jack Kirby – Uh, Stan, won’t radiation just kill them?
Chief – Well, sure but a kid won’t know that. So yeah, four people. A brilliant scientist, a big tough guy pilot, a girl because there has to be a girl these days, and her kid brother.
Steve Ditko – Uh, Stan, why would a kid be on a space mission?
Chief – He won’t really be a kid. He’ll be a teenager.
Steve – That doesn’t change the question.
Chief – Listen, I leave it to you guys to work out these little details. So anyway, they go into space and get powers. The scientist gets all stretchy, right?
Jack/Steve – Um, sure.
Chief – And the big guy turns into a rock monster! Won’t that be swell?
Jack/Steve – Um, sure.
Chief – And the kid brother gets fire powers.
Jack/Steve – Cool!
Chief – So they just need a nemesis…
Jack – What about the girl?
Chief – What girl?
Jack – Um, the girl. The fourth person?
Chief – I forgot about the girl. Hey, that gives me an idea! Make her invisible. She’ll be the Invisible Girl!
Steve – Is that offensive?
Chief – Probably, but we’re not marketing to girls in the 1960s. So, yeah, the kid with the fire powers will be the Human Torch and the big guy…
Jack – Wait, there already was a Human Torch. It was a robot.
Chief – Well, now there are two Human Torches so there. So the big guy will the Thing! And the scientist will be Mr. Fantastic.
Steve – If he’s so smart, shouldn’t he have a doctorate?
Chief – Dr. Fantastic sounds stupid.
Jack – … What are their real names?
Chief – Oh, right, real names. That’s always the hard part. Um, well, Mr. Fantastic will be Reed Richards. It’s alliteration, right? I am totally trademarking that as my thing.
Jack – I’m not sure you can do that…
Chief – Whatever. And the girl will be Susan something…no, something is a terrible last name. Something cool. Something awesome. Something that makes you think of fire or lightning or really loud noises… Ooooh, storm! She’ll be Sue Storm!
Steve – Reed and Sue? Wow, that’s so 1960s. Is her little brother named Johnny?
Chief – Sure!
Steve – I was being sarcastic. Wasn’t I?
Chief – And the big guy is very upset he’s a rock monster. He’s very grim. Yes, his last name is Grimm, but with two ‘m’s because I like that better.
Jack – What’s his first name?
Chief – Gus? No. Something down to earth. Ha!
Jack – Ben?
Chief – I like it! Ben. Good old Ben. Ben Grimm. It has a nice ring to it. So anyway, they get powers, fight a monster, it’s awesome. You guys can handle the rest, right? Okay, laters!
An Imaginary Meeting Shortly After the Launch of the Fantastic Four:
Chief – Guys, guys, I have an idea!
Jack – Oh…good…
Chief – So the Fantastic Four are awesome, right, but they need a totally awesomer villain! Like a long-term villain they can fight over and over again.
Steve – Fine by me. It’s hard coming up with a monster every issue.
Jack – Hey, we’ve got the Mole Man.
Chief – Yeah, and this mole guy is just not awesome enough. So I had an idea, right? DOOM!
Jack – I’m sorry, what?
Chief – A villain named DOOM!
Steve – That’s not a name; that’s a synonym for disaster.
Chief – I don’t see a problem with it.
Jack – Okay, well, I guess that’s a scary villain name. What’s this guy’s real name?
Chief – DOOM!
Jack – Seriously, Stan. And how do you keep doing that thing when you say ‘doom?’
Chief – His actual name is DOOM! Ooo, ooo, even better. Since it’s Mr. Fantastic, he’ll be Dr. DOOM!
Steve – Wait, so Reed has a doctorate but is mister? Does this Doom guy have a doctorate?
Jack – Steve, that’s really beside the point…
Chief – I know, right? Because Dr. DOOM sounds awesome!
Steve – Seriously, how do you do that thing when you say that word?
Chief – Yep, yep, Dr. DOOM.
Jack – That’s still not even close to a real name.
Chief – Fine, fine, how about “O’DOOM” or “MacDOOM” or, no, wait, I’ve got it! Von DOOM!
Jack – But Stan…
Chief – Yeah, that’s perfect! It sounds kind of Romanian or Transylvanian or something. Like he’s a Soviet tyrant or something. Ooo, that’s awesome too. I’ve got it! Dr. Victor Von DOOM! I’ve got the double alliteration going!
Jack – Fine, fine, Von Doom.
Chief – And he and Reed should know each other. Ooo, they’ll be ex-roommates from Empire State University. Yeah, intellectual rivals from the beginning!
Jack – Doesn’t that seem like an incredible coincidence?
Chief – And your point is?
Jack – Okay, fine. I just hope this naming villains synonyms for bad things doesn’t catch on.
An Imaginary Meeting Prior to the “Inferno” Storyline of X-men:
Chief – So, Chris, I see you have some exciting ideas for the X-men. This villain here, wow, I mean, is this one creepy guy. Who is he?
Chris – Sinister.
Chief – Yeah, yeah, I get that. I mean, what’s his name?
Chris – Sinister.
Chief – … Seriously, Chris?
Chris – Um, Mister Sinister?
Chief – …
Chris – That’s not his real name; just his villain name.
Chief – Oh, well, you can go ahead and work with that. I mean, except for Dr. Doom, who has a real last name like that?
Chris – Hahahahaha! I know, right? It’s not like I’m going to need to think of some overly elaborate backstory complete with a meaningful name now…darn it…
I’m not writing comic books, and I certainly wasn’t doing so in the era when many iconic heroes and villains were born. I’m sure the real conversations were much more serious and that no one thought the names were the least bit silly because after all, who wants to hang a silly name on their flagship character? Still, there is some snark value to looking back to those early days when readers could see the name of a new hero or villain and know exactly what this new character was all about.
Also, since it is the holidays, please please download any or all of my published works at either Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Sony (oddly Sony only has one book listed), or Apple, or any of the others Smashwords distributes to. They’re all free and it will really make my day. Thanks!