Issue #25 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
Colors, Descriptions, and Actions in Superhero Names

Comic book writers are obsessed with color. Ever notice that how often color is incorporated into a hero or villain's name? Don't believe me? Look at this:

  • Blue Beetle
  • Red Tornado
  • The Red Skull
  • Green Lantern
  • Gold Face
  • The Purple Man
  • Green Arrow
  • The Crimson Avenger

Look at that, 8 legimate heroes and villains, off the top of my head in just over 10 seconds!

Nobody I know is named "Red Mike" or "The Silver Joel". So why this plethora of colorful names?

Let's think about this. Without the colorful part of their names, do we still have legitimate names? Well, sans color, our group from above becomes:

  • Beetle
  • Tornado
  • the Skull
  • Lantern
  • Face
  • the Man
  • Arrow
  • the Avenger.
Most of these are perfectly decent names (in comic book terms), so why add the color?

Well, comics are still sometimes referred to as the four color medium - i.e. red, blue, green, and yellow. Note the colorful names mentioned above - blue, red, red, green, gold (yellow), purple (?), green and crimson (red).

Let's take a closer look here. The Crimson Avenger first appeared in 1938, Blue Beetle in 1939, Green Lantern in 1940, the Red Skull and Green Arrow in 1941, Red Tornado in 1961, and Goldface and the Purple Man in 1964. Obviously, the heyday of the colorful names was back during the Golden and Silver Ages of comic books. ( Golden and Silver Ages? Again with the colors! )

One color not mentioned, but also very popular in the 1940's was Black. However, in the late 60's and 70's as other colorful names were tapering off, black made a resurgence.

Many of the new "Black" heroes and villains were so named due to the socio-political significance that color took on in those decades. Thus emerged: the Black Panther(2) (1966), Black Manta (1967), and Black Lightning (1977).

As mentioned above, the 60's brought about the gradual decline of colorful names. Let's look at the mainstay heroes and villains of the emerging Marvel universe of the 1960's:

  • Spider-Man
  • Beast
  • Dr. Doom
  • Captain America
  • the Hulk
  • Mr. Fantastic
  • Iron Man
  • Kang
  • Thor
  • Cyclops
  • Loki
. . . They far outnumber the colorful
  • Scarlet Witch
  • Red Ghost
  • Crimson Dynamo
  • and Black Widow.
The majority of these new names are descriptors or proper names (adjectives and nouns). The majority of these names are still serviceable, (to my mind) today.

Today colorful, adjective, and noun based names still abound. However, the most recent crop of villains and heroes now have action-oriented names.

For example, we have:

  • Impulse (because he's impulsive)
  • Damage (cause he breaks things)
  • Copycat (that's what she makes others do)
  • and Vibe (he vibrates - a real hit with the ladies.)

In the end, what's in a name? The 'green' in Green Lantern is not a necessary part of his name. Yet, to just call him 'Lantern', doesn't really work for most comic book readers, myself included. Similarly, Iron Man is fine, but 'Blue Iron Man' is just ludicrous. Hopefully, no one will decide to rename the Hulk something like 'Smash'.

This evolution of names is exactly that. It's harmless, it's natural, and eventually, the names will move on again - maybe Grant Morrison was ahead of his time with his existentially-named heroes: such as Mr. Nobody and his Brotherhood of Dada (1991).

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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