Put on your cape n’ tights and plunge into the 50 Greatest Superhero–and Villain–Names of All Time, by Samuel Sattin.
The comic book canon is built on the shoulders of sensationalism. Whether hero or villain, characters that grace the pages of every publication from DC to Top Cow rely upon names that showcase not only mortal (or non-mortal) identity, but the ultimate representation of the powers they possess.
As my predecessors have asked of cinema and football, what, in comic books, constitutes a “great name?” This is one of the most subjective questions I believe one can ask considering the vastness of the comic universe, as well as what constitutes a hero or villain. With the introduction of characters that reach beyond the archives of DC and Marvel into the stranger, less traditional territory with imprints like Image, Dark Horse, Vertigo, and IDW, tights, capes, knee high boots and Barbie-doll busts aren’t necessarily the indicator of titular prowess.
With that information in mind, our experts have thus mulled the forbidden Weeklings archives in order to choose the indisputable 50 greatest superhero (and villain) names of all time. Enjoy.
1) Steel—real name: John Henry Irons. Named after the African American folklore hero who beat a steel mining machine only to die with his hammer in his hand as a cautionary tale against industrialization, Steel—one of the many Superman stand-ins DC called upon between Superman’s death and resurrection in the early nineties—embodies the very linguistic balance of intelligence, resolve and strength. A brilliant weapon’s engineer, Irons was popular enough to spin off into his own series for a spell, and has returned as recently as Infinite Crisis and on the pages of the New 52.
2) Dr. Manhattan—real name: Jonathan Osterman. Dr. Manhattan’s name is one of the most memorable in all comic-dom. A scientist, Jonathan Osterman was involved in an accident during a nuclear physics experiment (the worst type, I can assume) and found himself reconstituted as a being with godlike powers allowing him to temporarily tip the nuclear arms race in America’s favor. The fact that the doctor is named after the Manhattan Project is important in that he has little interest in humankind.
3) Batman–real name: Bruce Wayne. Batman aside, Bruce Wayne is the perfect wealthy playboy name. In fact, like the word playboy itself, Bruce Wayne consists of two easy to pronounce, bite-worthy syllables. Don’t tell me you can’t see such a man being interviewed outside Wayne Manor on CNN for investment fraud.
4) Black Widow—real name: Natalia Allanovna Romanova (Shostakova). Tell me the truth: if you ever met someone named Natalia Allanovna Romanova would you think she wasn’t relaying pentagon blueprint’s to the Kremlin via ham radio? Sure, this Soviet spy turned Soviet defect ends up with the good guys, but not without a shortage of anti-communist sentiment. Nothing like saying to the commies, “We got one of yours. And she’s got the most fucking Russian name imaginable. How ’bout them apples?”
5) Rorschach—real name: Walter Kovacs. A character created by the great Alan Moore, champion anarchist and comics pioneer, Rorschach literally wears an ever-shifting psychological test on his face as an indicator for the desires of both friends and foes. Also, he’s a goddamned psychopath, which makes sense for a creation named after the man who wrote Psychodiagnostik.
6) Galactus—real name: Galan. Being the most feared entity in the entire universe, I’d say that the title Galactus passes scratch. The ‘us’ hybridized with ‘galactic’ lends a terminal authority to Galan’s position as cosmic overlord. Try doing it with your own name and see what happens. The power…the power!
7) Loki—real name: Loki Laufeyson. I know that Loki’s last name is reflective of his noble birth, but I feel like I also knew an allergenic, bespectacled kid on my street growing up by the last name of Laufeyson. Possessing such a surname makes the sinister brother of Thor just about as menacing as the captain of the high school chess team. Hence, we have a winner!
8) Gambit—real name: Remy LeBeau. This red-eyed Cajun heartthrob was scooped up the New Orleans thieves guild, and nicknamed ‘le diable blanc.’ Spit-firing kinetically charged playing cards turns his entire existence into a gambit, so the titular name works. But Remy LeBeau is the true euphonic star, sounding like a rare flower that blooms out of a vintage muscle car.
9) Swamp Thing—real name: Alec Holland. One of the most unusual heroes in the DC/Vertigo universe, Swamp Thing is not as much Alec Holland as he is a botanical reflection of the bio-restorative formula he created. Grotesque as it may seem to some, Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, wanted readers to see that the swamp, too, can be brave and beautiful.
10) General Zod—real name: Dru-Zod. Is it just me, or has this name has always been synonymous with evil traitorous bastard? The name Zod alone isn’t enough to seal the villainous deal. It’s the general part that really solidifies the militant Kryptonian’s bellicose, vendetta-ridden raison d’être. Leave it to a humanoid whose name rhymes with god to accuse scientists of heresy and stage violent coups.
11) Mystique—real name: Raven Darkholme. Mystique earns her place on this list from a name that conjures a shadowy back-story without even trying. Not to mention the fact that her identity lies in the ability to assume that of others. Raven Darkholme is an ode to shape-shifting, origin-less onomatopoeia the world over.
12) Ozymandias—real name: Adrian Veidt. If you’re going to go, then go big. Adrian Veidt, already a capo’s name if I ever saw one, bestowed himself the identity Ozymandias after a poem by Percy Shelley foretelling the inevitable downfall of all leaders. In Alan Moore’s Watchmen, he then went on to successfully destroy a lot of the world (supposedly to save it) and turn Dr. Manhattan into a cancer-radiating pariah. Some villains truly try to live up to their aliases. I think we can honestly say that Ozymandias would have made Percy Shelley shudder.
Another exotic brainchild of Alan Moore, the reason this name reigns on the top 50 is because nothing makes more sense for a genetically altered red-and-black striped lynx created in the laboratory of a madman than to be named after an ancient Egyptian city famous for its worship of a feline goddess. Fin.
*Belongs to #12, Ozymandias.
14) Magneto—real name: Maz ‘Magnus’ Eisenhardt. Probably one of the most complex characters in the Marvel Universe, Magneto’s banner combines his magnetic powers with his birth-name, Magnus, as if to reinforce his disastrous and miraculous destiny from the day he entered the world. Stan Lee himself said he never though of Magneto as a villain, but rather misunderstood. The ‘eto’ in Magneto, seems to symbolize his tendency towards the militant, however, like the point of a devil’s tail.
15) Goat Faced Girl: We can’t blame whoever created this one for a lack of transparency. List made.
16) Aqualad—real name: Garth. Aqualad ain’t ashamed to be Aqualad. Or, well, maybe he is; he pretty much changed his name to Tempest as to not be a target of comic world ridicule. But in reality, Garth makes it onto this list for having the kishkesto put up with being a sidekick, in function and name, to the lamest superhero ever to ever grace a Wednesday.
17) Mister Fantastic—real name: Reed Richards. Yes, perhaps I shouldn’t have included Mister Fantastic on this list based on the ostentatious razzle dazzle nature of his self-ascribed moniker. Sure, he’s admittedly one of the more annoying super-egos in the Marvel archives, but you’ve also got to admit, guy is self-assured. He practically forced himself on this list.
18) Superman–real name: Kal-El. Anyone who knows even a little bit about Superman knows that the Man of Tomorrow’s original, Kryptonian name is Kal-El. But what they might not know is that the words themselves greatly resemble the Hebrew phrase, ‘voice of god.’ The name’s popularity shows that ancient languages can be conflated with alien tongues.
19) Iron Monger—real name: Obadiah Stane. Can you really fault someone with a name like Obadiah Stane for turning to the dark side? I wouldn’t expect someone named Kyle Obesity to be suffering from malnutrition.
20) Professor X—real name: Charles Francis Xavier. The peacemaker of the mutant rights movement, Professor X stands as a moral counterpoint for Magneto, both in action and title. While Magneto’s birth name, Magnus, is most foreboding, Charles Francis Xavier sounds like a member of the crew team at Yale. Professor X was the right choice in this case, turning what would be this wearer of cardigans and loafers into a paralyzed brainiac with stratospheric psychic abilities.
21) Namor the Sub-Mariner—real name: Namor McKenzie. One of the most nude, aqua-speedoed heroes in the Marvel Universe, and also one of the oldest, Namor lands the list. Sure, his mother was Princess Fen of Atlantis, but his father was some dude on a ship named Leonard McKenzie. Say it to yourself a few times: Namor McKenzie. Soon enough, your mind’s eye might imagine some lusty European you’d meet at a discoteque in Prague.
22) Namorita Printiss:
It seems as if creator Bill Everett just decided to go Spanglish on this one. Albeit the cousin of Namor, Bill must have thought that this underwater heroine’s name could adapt the same measures ignorant Americans ascribe to all things Mexican. ‘Which-o way-o to the bathroom-o, Namorita? I’ve got to poop-o.’
23) Rocket Raccoon: In a hat tip to the White Album, Rocket Raccoon’s story involves being genetically improved by a race of intelligent robots so that they could leave their lives of servitude. On his planet there’s an indecipherable codex called Gideon’s Bible. Rocket Raccoon’s Beatles-era homage earns him his place.
24) The Penguin—real name: Oswald Cobblepot. Imagine if The Penguin’s name had been something like Michael Strong or Todd O’Houlihan? Here’s a clue: you wouldn’t have given a damn. Batman villains tend to have some of the best—if most overdone—names around, from the Mr. Freeze to Killer Croc. But Oswald Cobblepott brings home the gold for being someone you just know you wouldn’t like. Imagine if you receive a voicemail from an IRS auditor named Oswald Cobblepott. I imagine you’d start packing your bags for Costa Rica.
25) Lex Luthor: Perhaps it’s because his first name sounds like smarmy a combination of ‘letch’ and ‘sex,’ or because his surname sounds like a lesser, perhaps more adorable Satan, but regardless, this winning combination paid off enough to land our mega list. Lex Luthor is one of those villain names that everyone, even those who’ve never read a comic before, knows.
26) Martian Manhunter—real name: J’onn Jonzz. This poor non-guy received a name that seems like a joke in itself. Though inspired by the characters of Edgar Rice Borroughs, I can easily imagine Joseph Samachson snorting milk through his nostrils as Joe Certa said, “So…we’ll just name him John Johns, but we’ll make it real stupid and Martian-like so it’s even worse.” Okay, that’s unfair. There’s a back-story too lengthy to go into here for why MMH took on his seemingly redundant name. But regardless, the Manhunter became one of the coolest and most commanding characters of the DC universe and is still iconic to this day. Because what’s better than being a Martian than being a Martian whose very name denotes your prey?
27) Pepper Potts—real name: Virginia Potts. Pepper Potts doesn’t have any powers, save for her ability to woo the pants off Tony Stark; she eventually gains a super suit after suffering a massive wound and having a mag-field generator installed in her chest cavity, allowing her to pilot the Mark 1616 (a Stark Industries suit of armor). All this seems to have occurred because Pepper’s name could not be forgotten. An angry/sexy force of alliteration, Pepper replaces Virginia as experience replaces innocence, landing her alongside the greatest.
28) Fin Fang Foom: With a real name that is supposedly unpronounceable, Fin Fang Foom is basically a gigantic fucking dragon. Sources in comic archives say that Fin Fang Foom’s name can be roughly translated to ‘He Whose Limbs Shatter Mountains and Whose Back Scrapes the Sun’ in some variation of ‘Chinese.’ But regardless of whether this creatures name is anything more than some half-racist eastern syllable exercise, he’s actually a shape-shifting alien from Kakaranthara. He can also cook some mean Chinese food, and after becoming a Buddhist, took up residency at a Chinese restaurant in the Baxter Building as head chef.
29) Elongated Man—real name: Ralph Dibny. Probably the only thing more ponderous and pun-worthy than a superhero being called the Elongated Man (apart from being a cheap Plastic Man knock-off) is the fact that his real name is Dibny, a name so small-sounding and orphan-like you’d imagine it originating in the Tale of Two Cities. Although I’m sure this wasn’t the creator’s intentions, I’m sure a lot of comic’s readers have probably snickered to themselves and said: “I wish.”
30) Savage Dragon—real name: Kurr. This iconic Image Comics humanoid is savage in so much as he’s savagely loyal to the law. It’s a dramatic, stake-setting name that raises your expectations, and one that’s so iconic that Eric Larsen has been working on it consistently since 1992.
31) Thing—real name: Benjamin Grimm. Perhaps the most memorable of the Fantastic Four, Thing’s surly strongman antics are balanced by his melancholy birth name, Benjamin Grimm. Despite all his abilities—super stamina, durability, delayed aging, rock-skin—his name brings to surface the fragile balance between childlike diffidence and a godlike ability beat the bad guys to hell. It’s almost poetic.
32) Thor Odinson: Be honest with yourself. You wish your parents would have named you Thor. Regardless of gender or race, if you meet someone named Thor and he or she is not blatantly capable of battling a bull then you’re sorely disappointed. Thankfully, Thor Odinson has the mighty hammer to back up his anachronistic bravado, which is likely why he’s made it to the silver screen so much lately.
33) The Maxx: The hero of one of the strangest, and most compelling comics Image ever put into print, The Maxx is a hero of surrealist proportions. In the real world, he’s a homeless man living in a box, but in an alternate reality he roams a fictional universe called The Outback in order to protect his ward, the Jungle Queen. Nothing but the Maxx could truly stand in as a name for this character, as he pushes reality to its fringe.
34) Deadpool—real name: Wade Wilson. Wade Wilson? Really? A psychotic mercenary for the forces of good is a Canadian named Wade? No more words needed.
35) Storm—real name: Ororo Monroe. An object of male obsession from Doctor Doom to Black Panther, Ororo Monroe, born with severe claustrophobia, fittingly becomes as vast and powerful as a poured open sky. Sure, if this were Burning Man, Storm could be the name for someone’s pink-mohawked six-year-old, but in the X Men universe, she represents supreme command of the elements.
36) Papa Midnite: A benchmark for the criminal underground in the Hellblazer universe, Midnite, an uneasy ally, cashes in on the occult while simultaneously reminding America of its dark, slavery-driven past. An ominous figure who’s evolved to taking on a white suit and hat, the man was forced to decapitate his own sister for failing to support a slave revolt in the 18th century, using her skull from that point after to communicate with the dead. Who better to claim paternity of the night?
37) Sabertooth—real name: Victor Creed. Forget what happened with Liev Schreiber if you can. That decision will haunt Hollywood for the rest of its days, so you’re all set. In the real Marvel Universe, however, Victor Creed is a man who, after his mutation set in, killed his brother for a piece of pie. He chewed off his own hand. He murdered his father. He helped killed Wolverine’s wife. Victor Creed has no creed, which makes him deserving of his name.
38) Jezebel Jet: Possibly the most blatantly over sexualized femme fatale to grace the pages of DC in recent years, this lovely bit of alliteration lures Bruce Wayne into the bedroom while simultaneously working for his mortal enemy organization, the Black Hand. You know that when you have to get biblical to drive the point home that you have some explaining to do.
39) Darwin–real name: Armando Munoz. A living embodiment of evolution, Darwin is one of the finest embodiments of the cultural explosion known as X-Men. Not necessarily one of the more major characters, his powers are rooted in circumstantial evolution, meaning he grows gills in water, night vision in the dark, etc. Though perhaps not the most exciting of the X-Men, Darwin’s name is the most fitting, considering the team he represents.
40) Sasquatch—real name: Walter Langkowski. If a comic book hero by the name of Sasquatch wasn’t born Walter Langkowksi, I think we’d have a problem. The truth is that most Canadian hockey players can be mistaken for sasquatches on their better days, so this seems like the perfect fit. Good job, guys.
41) Abe (Abraham) Sapien—real name: Langdon Everett Caul. Discovered beneath St. Trinian’s hospital in 1978, he was named after a note found by the B.P.R.D on his water-filled time capsule inscribed with the date of Abraham Lincoln’s death. Sapien is only human in his intelligence. In everything else, he is Abe, a mysterious aquatic creature capable of plumbing the depths of the sea.
42) The Goon: This grotesque anti-hero comes from the pages of Eric Powell’s dismayingly brilliant titular series, whose entire identity rests upon the shoulders of a gigantic, gorilla-gaited mob enforcer with a face scar who does battle with an undead zombie mafia. Only slightly more man than necrotic beast, the name Goon, apart from its mafia roots, is beyond appropriate.
43) Ra’s Al Ghul: Maybe it’s just me, but I always found this super-villain’s name to embody a perfectly malevolent combination of euphony and onomatopoeia, sounding like the enchantment a sorcerer might use to raise an ancient ghoul from its grave. Or to beat the living sauce out of Batman. Whatever works.
44) Bizarro Superman: This name puts on parade the unabashed immaturity of creators Otto Binder and George Papp, the two of them concocting an idiot opposite of the Man of Steel. This presumably disabled, badly-wrought clone is also thought to be a metaphorical stand in for the Soviet Union* during the Cold War.
*“Me rule now! Government of Bizarro, by Bizarro, for Bizarro.”
45) Oracle—real name: Barbara Gordon. For good or for bad, it’s strikingly fitting that the genius daughter of Commissioner Gordon, confined to a wheelchair by Joker, became the official Justice League computer matrix all-star who fights foes off with Escrima sticks. It’s refreshing to see that some comic creators don’t like to throw away female characters, turning them into keystone heroes instead. Her name reflects such prescience.
46) Hellboy: A less-than-typical hero of the funny books under the Dark Horse imprint, Hellboy’s name is almost a joke on identities of classic comic book heroes like Batman or Superman. He is from hell, was discovered as a boy, and his body has outgrown his mind, so it all makes perfect sense, no? He’s also got a really big fist.
47) Gorilla Grodd: The gorilla part is obvious, but it’s the Grodd that keeps you guessing. Namely, as a malevolent son of a bitch with a talent for genius mind control devices. This terrifying super-simian brings the pain in a way only someone named Grodd can.
48) Doctor Doom—real name: Victor Von Doom. Like Obidiah Stane, it would be shameful to see a child born with the last name of Doom go, as an adult, into pediatric care. He’s originally from Latveria, and was driven mad by love. His simple pathos has made him famous for the predictable, “I am Doom…Destroyer of worlds.”
49) Solomon Grundy—real name: Cyrus Gold. This Gotham City sewer lurker, susceptible to multiple deaths and resurrections, is one of the only villains I know of who has a creepy lyric poem to accompany his existence: ‘Born on a Monday. Christened on Tuesday. Married on Wednesday. Took ill on Thursday. Worse on Friday. Died on Saturday. Buried on Sunday. Is this the end of Solomon Grundy?’
Well of course not, Sol. You’re fucking immortal. And on the list.
50) Ferro Lad–real name: Andrew Nolan. Because WHAT?
Also read: 5 Rules For Achieving True Nerd-dom by Sam Sattin
Originally appeared at The Weeklings