So, Stephen challenged me to come up with a good Top Ten topic for the week, and (as is my way) I tried to come up with something positive to say about the nature of the world. For various reasons, I’ve been out of sorts lately, and all I could come up with were a series of whines and complaints about the world in general, and comics in specific. Rather than try and deny my inner nature, I have decided to find a positive spin on my own negativity, by talking about characters that I love and enjoy, who don’t quite bring it home in the naming department.
Be forewarned, there will be no bashing of Matter-Eater Lad. His name is awesome. The internet is just plain wrong. That is all.
Aeon Flux (MTV, Film)
When Stephen, Otter Disaster and I were in college (and Rodrigo was five) MTV debuted a late-night series that was a thunderbolt from the blue for me, taking the cartoons of my youth and adding new concepts, edge, and maybe just a hint of nudity to create something that my early 20’s self was fascinated by. The strongest of the Liquid Television lineup, Aeon Flux was highly conceptual and striking, and the original episodes lacked dialogue (save for some gibberish here and there), giving us a mostly-visual conceptual experience. No matter how much I love Aeon, Trevor, and the stories they lived in, there’s just something completely wrong about her nom de guerre. Even now, I don’t know what it means (an eon/aeon is generally used to refer to a billion years, or at least a long time, so it could possibly be some sort of time travel or time distortion reference?), but even that doesn’t diminish Aeon’s awesomeness. Charlize Theron, on the other hand?
Banshee (X-Men, Marvel Comics)
Sean Cassidy. Tough Guy. Detective. Superhero. His powers made him one of the most versatile members of the X-Men in the pre-Phoenix days, and he eventually ended up leading an X-Men splinter team of his own in Generation X. Now, herein lies a problem: When they named him, they just came up with something that sounded vaguely Irish in nature, not knowing (or perhaps not caring) that a Banshee is a female fairy whose cry is said to foretell death. It’s easier to forgive the gender issue for me than it is the second bit, wherein we’ve named our superhero after a creature who might spirit you away for unknown nefarious purposes if you so much as picked up a comb you stumble across. Either way, Sean’s battlecry is much fiercer than his alias. (But you should hear him sing Da-Doo-Ron-Ron.)
Black Lightning (DC Comics)
Jefferson Pierce holds a very important place in comic book history, not only as DC’s first black superhero, their first African-American headliner character but most importantly, the character who made sure that the Brown Bomber never happened. (The Bomber was a concept that might have held Black Lightning’s spot in history, a white racist who transformed Shazam-style into a black hero. It was reportedly worse than it even sounds.) But for all his importance, and all the interesting stories he’s been a part of, the name Black Lightning is a clunker, an unfortunate combination of borderline racist and ridiculously obvious that is sillier than his mask/afro combo from back in the day. Forty years down the line, it’s too late to do much more than wonder at the thought processes that must have gone on at DC in the 1970s to go with this, but at least it’s better than what might have been…
Elektra (Marvel Comics)
Killer ninja with a killer bod, Elektra Natchios is one of Frank Miller’s great ideas from before everything he wrote was “WHORESWHORESWHORESWHORES” and her death is one of the strongest moments from early 80’s comics. Even after her multiple resurrections and strangenesses, Elektra is one of Marvel’s most versatile anti-heroes, a female Wolverine without all the body hair and retcons. Trouble is, her name is also referential of a Jungian theory that describes a girl’s sexual attraction to her own father, making her name a little creepy. Add to this the fact that part of her impetus to become a hero/serial killer/assassin is the murder of her father, and you’ve got a neat character who kinda squicks me out whenever I think too hard. Jennifer Garner has damaged the character’s cache as a money-maker, but that can’t last in the wild & wacky Marvel U, and soon enough she’ll be lusting after her parent and skewering bad guys again…
Grunge (Gen-13, Image Comics)
For all the guff I give 90’s Image Comics, there were some fun bits here and there. I like some of Savage Dragon, bits of Stormwatch and WildC.A.T.S., and The Authority is a big bag of awesome. Even Gen 13, the comic book that launched a thousand double entendres, had strong moments and a couple of breakout characters. Percival Edmund Chang is a fun character, a devil-may-care skater type with absorption powers that make him pretty dangerous in a fight, and as recent issues of the doomed Wildstorm Universe have shown, a pretty sharp mind as well. Too bad his battle name was already cliche at the time of his debut in 1994, referencing a music subgenre that quickly became a parody of itself as well as annoying anybody who got in my Dodge between ’91 and ’97. (In my defense, Pearl Jam’s “Ten” was a phenomenal album.)
Hardbody (John Byrne’s Next Men)
Yes, I’m aware you have no idea who she is. Round about the time Image hit it big, many other companies leapt onto the bandwagon as well, including Dark Horse Comics with their Legend imprint, where John Byrne, Mike Allred, and others set up shop. **EDIT** The Next Men predate both Legend and Image Comics **EDIT** beginning with a concept that originated with a pitch to DC, and the characters actually appeared once in a DC comic, albeit in a nearly unrecognizable prototype form. The Next Men were super-types in a real-world setting, and dealt with the ramifications of super-powers and superhero behavior in a world that approximated our reality. None of their codenames were spectacular (by design) but the invulnerable Bethany going by “Hardbody,” a name that sounds like a Porky’s-level teen explotation flick, was worst of all. A good rule of thumb to go by with characters who are the Innocent Bombshell: Be wary of double entendres.
Speaking of double-entendres, in 1975, Marvel Comics produced a run of their “Giant-Size” double-feature issues that clearly illustrated the problem with this swamp-man’s sobriquet… Next time you’re in a comic shop near a girl, don’t miss your chance to ask if she’s seen your “Giant-Size Man-Thing.” Thousands of geeks have gone before you in this rite of passage, and thousands more will follow. It is the way of our world, young grasshopper…
So, you’re the smartest man on the cinder, with amazing powers that make your body as fluid and malleable as your spectacular mind, and you’re the honcho of the premier super-team in the world. What do you call yourself? For all his genius, Reed Richards can’t fix the Amazon rainforest, cure world hunger, or even so much as wipe out the common cold, and he cannot pick himself a super-name either. His teammates’ names run the gamut from prosaic to pretty awesome, but Mr. Fantastic has the double problem of being both egotistical and not very creative, since he’d already named the team the Fantastic Four. Maybe it was something like Einstein’s choice to have multiple identical outfits to avoid wasting brain power?
Awesome look! Great powers! Swashbuckling daredevil! Interesting (if convoluted) backstory! Three fingers! Beloved icon to all!
Dude, you’re named after a worm.
YUMM! Tim Drake is a brilliant kid, figuring out who Batman is based only on a few scant clues, and is one of the few self-made heroes in the Bat-family. (Their origins tend to have a lot of gunplay, but not so much awesomeness. That doesn’t come later.) He proved himself to be a competent leader during his run as a Teen Titan, and is the one person who ever really made most of us forget the shadow of Dick Grayson as Robin. His redesigned Robin suit actually made up for years of green chainmail panties, and his tragic star turn in Identity Crisis still gives me chills. Then, he grew up, lost his mind, stole Doctor Mid-Nite’s spare costume, and named himself after a hamburger joint. It could be worse, I suppose. We could be reading the adventures of Batman, Robin, Batwoman, and the White Castle.
Actually, that might be kind of cool…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What other characters fall short in the name department? (Please be kind to the Legion of Super-Heroes in your responses… To quote Charles Foster Offdensen, that’s my bread and butter you’re $&!#ing with.)