Superheroes, like strippers, often have names based on abstractions. Instead of Liberty and Chastity in comics we have Havok and Gambit. That’s because abstract names are an easy go-to for comic creators to name their characters. For example, I just Googled Mayhem and got this.
There are countless comic characters with names based on abstract concepts, but here are 10 of ’em — some awesome, some incredibly ill-conceived.
Dishonorable Mention: Justice
“Justice” has to be the most generic name for a superhero. The Hulk suggests a big dude, Shining Knight a knight that is shining. Even Robert Kirkman’s Invincible is pretty descriptive — you know he’s probably really good at both punching things and getting punched. From the name Justice, you can assume that, like every superhero ever, he’s probably interested in righting the wrongs of the world. He may as well have named himself Good Guy. Oh, and for the record, his superpower is telekinesis.
He was originally known as Marvel Boy, making him part of a long line of Marvel Boys to adopt different monikers, most of them horribly generic. The 1950s Marvel Boy became the Crusader until he came to his senses and took the name Uranian. The 1970s Marvel Boy, the wisest of the bunch, became Quasar. The 2000s Marvel Boy clearly took some brain damage because he named himself the Protector. The Marvel Boy in question became Justice in the ’90s after being locked up in superjail. You’d think he’d have taken the time in the slammer to think of a better name.
Justice’s real name, Vance Astrovik, is a way better superhero name.
I have very little nostalgia for crap comics I read as a kid, because I grew up in the ’90s where very little was particularly good. That said, I dig the crazy 14-part Spider-Man “Maximum Carnage” event from 1993. The idea of Spider-Man teaming up with Venom (!) and fighting through a chaos-descended New York City sounds like it has all the right elements for a decent Spider-Man comic. Plus, it made for a dope 16-bit video game.
Then there’s Carnage, the centerpiece of the story. He’s essentially a more X-treme version of Venom, who in turn is a less morally obligated version of Spider-Man. So, Carnage is the evilest version of Spider-Man, whose symbiotic suit makes all sorts of stabby things. The guy under the suit, Cletus Kasady, is a crazy man turned serial killer. You can tell because his name is Cletus.
When the character was still being created, he had names like “Chaos” and “Ravage” — the latter so destructive that it was sent out to the year 2099 to protect us all — but Carnage is clearly the most evocative of the bunch. Carnage! It’s what he’s called. It’s what he does.
For some reason there are two Marvel Comics characters named Penance. One of them is a member of Generation X, a mindless body inhabited by various members of the St. Croix family. Whoever wrote her Wikipedia page explains it better than I’ll ever care to.
The more relevant, goofier Penance, however, used to be an intentionally goofy character called Speedball, who was so bummed about accidentally blowing up some kids in Civil War #1 that he changed his name and got himself a new costume. That new costume inflicted pain on his body as he wore it — the only way his own psyche would allow him to use his powers. In other words, he embodies the name better than that weird Generation X thing.
Speedball went to a lot of work to reinvent himself as Penance when all he really needed to do to seem dark and badass was wear a leather jacket.
Hank Pym is a dick. Unsatisfied with one persona, Pym has adopted many superhero identities over the years in between bouts of domestic abuse. Two of them were Giant Man and Goliath, both names for fellows that grow incredibly tall. He has thus taken up all the good giant superhero names, forcing similar characters to take race-based names like “Black Goliath” and “Apache Chief.” I’m shocked he didn’t put on a wig and a jungle girl skirt to claim “Giganta” for himself.
Young Avenger Cassandra Lang is a smart girl, because she thought of the last good giant superhero name: Stature. Sure, it just means “Height,” but it’s evocative enough to work, probably because it sounds a bit like “statue.”
It’s the best she could do, considering her only other options were Big Girl or BBW.
Mystique’s name isn’t all that descriptive — she’s a shapeshifter — but it’s appropriate, considering how, y’know, mysterious she is. How old is she? Will she betray the X-Men again this time? Was she born a weird blue person? Why does she seem to have blue skin yet her son Nightcrawler is all furry? Where’d her pupils go?
In fact, Mystique lives up to her name so much that I don’t have very much to say about her — only questions.
6. The Rumor
Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s Umbrella Academy is one of my personal faves because of clever bits like the character of Allison Hargreeves, a.k.a. the Rumor, a character who isn’t quite as striking in the book as the space ape, the ghostly guy or the talking chimp in the suit and tie. Which is a shame, because her powers are pretty novel: she can play with reality by stating lies as hearsay, causing them to become true.
Rumor gets the most play with these powers in the Free Comic Book Day story “…But the Past Ain’t Through With You,” where, among other things, she makes an entire lighting rig fall by claiming she heard that the people who put it together did a poor job at it.
Like Zatanna and Nico from Runaways, Rumor’s word-based powers are often incredibly fun to read, because they require the writer to come up with clever ways to hinder her powers as well as clever ways for her to use them.
Longshot’s name means “unlikely.” I love that, and not just because of his luck-based powers or the chances that he’ll trim that long out-of-style mullet.
More interestingly, Longshot’s existence is the result of Marvel demanding that their editors have also have written something before. So Ann Nocenti came up with the idea for Longshot and the nightmarish TV show-obsessed Mojoverse, but no artist wanted to work on her six-issue miniseries, turning the project into a literal long shot until some fresh-faced artist named Arthur Adams came along, more than ready for his big
So, we essentially have Art Adams to thank for Longshot’s existence and Longshot to thank for Art Adams’ existence.
KNOW YOUR HISTORY
Is it just me or do both Mystique and Destiny have potential stripper names? Of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (can’t believe she didn’t change that gender-biased name), Destiny’s the one that gets shortchanged — Mystique, Pyro, Blob and Avalanche are more popular than her, and she got left out of the ’90s cartoon version of the team. She doesn’t even stand very close to them in group shots!
Destiny, as you may have guessed, has the power to see the future. She’s also an old woman, which makes that Emma Frost prototype costume the unfortunate and probable result of John Byrne not quite knowing how to draw older women. Then again, maybe she didn’t know. She is blind, after all.
Just as notably, Destiny was obviously Mystique’s lover, even back before comics were allowed to make such things clear to the reader. Remember when Mystique scattered her ashes, but the wind blew them back in her face, Lebowski style? That was awesome.
Apocalypse. Uh-pock-a-lips. Uhpockalips. It just rolls off the tongue, and even without the connotation it’s the perfect name for an ages-old would-be mutant conqueror of the world. Even one with a big A on his belt and weird hoses that connect his elbows to his spine. What do those do, by the way? Does anyone know?
Y’know what else nobody knows? What Apocalypse does, though my research tells me that he does pretty much anything a writer needs him to do — telepathy, teleportation and even T-1000 style shapeshifting — along with his expansive knowledge of mutant-relevant science. Mostly, I think of him as a guy who stands around and has a lot of speeches about how evil he is, like an even more pompous version of Dr. Doom with a big blue Joker mouth.
TRIVIALJOSEVIC: I used to find Apocalypse’s booming, pseudo-robotic voice in the ’90s X-Men cartoon to be just a little bit unsettling, even though I had no idea what that guy was even about.
Vision’s name doesn’t really accurately describe his abilities. He’s a “synthezoid” (read: “robot”) with the power to fiddle with his density and tangibility. None of his has to do with sight or the ability to see. He’s got a diamond on his forehead, but that’s not a third eye, but rather the means by which the solar-powered android takes in sunlight.
I don’t know if you know, Internet, but the Wasp named Vision back when he was a villain in Avengers #57 simply because she ran into him and described him as a vision. Despite his silly origins, Vision, is a cool and enigmatic name for an intelligent robot with totally confounding superpowers — one who managed to seduce the Scarlet Witch, which should have been our first indication of “that girl crazy.”
But never forget: his name pretty much means “that thing I saw.”
1. The Question
The Question is seriously the best name ever for a detective who doesn’t have a face. If you saw a guy in a hat and trench coat with no face where there should be a face (or at least some face), and somebody told you his name was the Question, you wouldn’t even think twice about accepting that answer, even though nobody you could see in real life would ever be called the Question. In that case, maybe you’d be like, “Hey, did you just say his name was Quentin?” But then the response would be “No, I said his name was the Question,” and so my point still stands.
Either way, the Question is a lot cooler than the Answer, whom I know nothing about, probably because this comic I own doesn’t seem to know either:
The Question’s secret identity, Vic Sage, ain’t too shabby as a gumshoe name either, even though he’s just an investigative reporter. But Vic Sage has a face, so who cares?
Notably, the Question was created by Steve Ditko, making his name a bit curious for a character created by an obsessive Ayn Rand enthusiast. “The Question” sounds too… wishy-washy, and Ditko seemed to notice that, too, because he created a clone of The Question named Mr. A, whose black-and-white philosophy was a thing that could murder people.