Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Name Game

I was reading a reader comment on some website regarding the latest issue of "The Outsiders", where they questioned:

was that Roy before his arm got torn off? So these events are occuring after BLACKEST NIGHT, but beore CRY FOR JUSTICE? Or, was it a different Roy?

This reader was mistaking "Roy Raymond" (aka Owlman) for Roy Harper (aka Arsenal, aka Red Arrow, aka Speedy).

A lot of superheroes have the same name (there's like five Flashes, and a couple Batmans, and a pair of Captain Americas and Black Widows and legacy characters major and minor like Clayface and Blockbuster and Icicle and on and on and on) so it's hard to keep that straight forward enough, but similar alter ego names do cause just as much confusion.

Hell, when I read earlier issues of the Outsiders I was trying to figure out how Firestorm got resurrected (I confused Roy Raymond/"Owlman" with deceased Firestorm Ronnie Raymond). Not to mention that for a time I thought Nova also had the same name as Firestorm (but it was an alliterative mistake, as he's Richard Ryder, not to be confused with Jack Ryder, aka "The Creeper").

The most recent problem in the name game has been the naming of next generational heroes with the same altar ego first name. Connor? Which Connor? Connor Kent ("Superboy") or Connor Hawke ("Green Arrow"). Cassie? Cassie Caine ("Batgirl") or Cassie Sandsmark ("Wonder Girl"). I mean, really?

Even amidst the classic heroes there can be some confusion.
Are we talking Prince or Drake?

Back in the day they would avoid any such confusion, because whenever someone would refer to someone by their "real" name, the editor would asterisk in a footnote.

"Has anyone seen Ted*? He was supposed to rendezvous back at headquarters an hour ago?"

* Ted Knight: Starman's altar ego - Ed. or
* Ted Grant: Wildcat's altar ego - Ed. or even
* Ted Kord: Blue Beetle's altar ego - Ed.

These kind of editorial interruptions are nowdays seen as part of the medium's juvenile roots and are next to obsolete. Yet, it was these sorts of footnotes that made comics accessible to a younger reader and easier to follow. It may be a bit patronizing to the regular reader but the new reader would be thankful.

Did you know that DC even had/has a second "Hal Jordan" running around? Yup he's "Air Wave II", Harold "Hal" Jordan, a cousin.


Kansasjin said...

How did "Ted" ever get to be such a common superhero name, anyway? The worst part is that half the characters with these repetitive names came out within the last 10 years or so. Cassandra Cain, Kate Spence/Kate Kane, Jason Rusch--and those are just the headliners!

Bill said...

Bring back the footnotes! I am currently re-reading Simonson's run on Thor, and noticed that every time someone says "Midgard" it is accompanied by an asterisk explaining that it means "Earth." Every. Time. That may be a little overkill, but if I were picking up a random issue of that run for the first time, I'd be immediately up to speed.

Devon Sanders said...

What's funny to me is that the bulk of the Silver Agers have always gone by nicknames because of the ordinary nature of the names their creators crippled them with:

Hal is short for Harold

Barry is short for Bartholomew

Ollie is Oliver

Wally is Wallace

and Ralph is just... Ralph.

With names like these, they had no choice but to rise above everything.

Anonymous said...

Lampshaded in Green Lantern: Secret Files and Origins, where the old gate guard who's known Hal since childhood keeps addressing him as "Harold", and first Carol, then Kyle mouth "Harold?"

KENT! said...

Kansssjin... I forgot about the Kate Spencer/Kate Kane... which even creates confusion with Archie's Katy Keene and Batgirl Cassandra Cain. Sigh.

Kansasjin said...

Don't forget the return of Kathy Kane from Morrison's run on Batman, and Bette Kane's relationship to both Kathy and Kate. If Kathy becomes the Barry Allen of the Batwoman book, we're going to be in for a world of hurt.