We’re in the midst of a superheroine Golden Age. When even Squirrel-Girl can score her own comic book, and it’s awesome, you know times are (relatively) good for super-ladies. But it doesn’t hurt to look back on the bad old days... the days when no one at Marvel or DC seemed to know what to do with female characters... when even their names sounded insulting. Some of these badly-christened heroines were good characters. They just got saddled with cringeworthy names. Here are five of the worst names from classic comic books—that aren’t “Stripperella.”
Superheroines created in the 1960s tend to have one of two superpowers: shrinking or turning invisible. In other words, their power is to stay out of sight, just like real women in the Mad Men era. Shrinking is a potentially useful power—look at the Ant-Man movie to see it used creatively—but it’s hard to intimidate villains by being really, really short. It’s even harder when you’re stuck with a wimpy name to go with your wee stature.
At least Ant-Man’s female partner in shrinkage, the Wasp, sounds like she could hurt you. Not so with Shrinking Violet of the Legion of Superheroes. Her name says it all: she can shrink, she’s shy, sometimes she wears purple (and sometimes green, because why not?). Not the kind of branding that strikes fear into the hearts of evildoers. In some recent appearances, she’s been renamed Atom Girl, which sounds cooler while keeping that retro Silver Age charm.
Homely, glasses-wearing bank teller Emily “Lia” Briggs is transformed by rays from Halley’s Comet (just roll with it) into a gorgeous, busty redhead with psionic powers. The obvious next step: become a super-powered supermodel. That’s the backstory behind the DC heroine Looker, a member of the Outsiders, whose signature power is being hot. Looker is far from the only superwoman whose name suggests sex appeal over strength; others include Dreamgirl, Beautiful Dreamer, and the villainess Knockout. At least in Looker’s case, the name accurately describes her powers.
It’s not exactly the most progressive image of a powerful female character, but Looker has some fun with her situation, developing a cocky attitude to go with her super-makeover. That said, Emily presenting her new body to her husband as a Christmas gift will never not be weird.
P.S. Later she becomes a vampire, because her story wasn’t convoluted enough.
Superhero comics have a long, rich tradition of creating new female characters through the calculus of “popular male character... but a lady!” There are many ways of feminizing a male superhero’s name: Girl, Miss, Lass, Woman. Somehow, slapping a “She” to the front seems the least dignified. It’s the ultimate sign that the writers aren’t even trying to sell this as a new character.
Standing as an inspiration to all badly-named superheroines, She-Hulk, who gained her powers via a blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner, overcame the disadvantage of what might be the most laughable name in comic books to become one of Marvel’s most entertaining characters. The similarly named She-Thing hasn’t fared quite as well, because no one wanted to see the Thing with boobs in the first place, but she’s had some good runs as a backup member of the Fantastic Four. She-Thing sometimes fights under the name Ms. Marvel, like about half the women in the Marvel Universe, but She-Hulk wears her goofy name with pride.
We’re still waiting for the day a man gets a blood transfusion from She-Hulk and becomes the incredible She-Hulk Man.
We’ve rhapsodized before on the wonders of Lady Cop, a DC heroine who’s a cop... and a lady... and that’s it. In fact there were two Lady Cops, one in the 1940s and one in the 1970s. In both cases, her name suggests that the very idea of a female police officer is wild enough to drive a comic book—even though both Lady Cops belonged to fictional police forces that included other lady cops, so presumably no one was actually that freaked out by a cop being a lady.
If Lady Cop had been successful, perhaps she could have inspired spinoffs like Judge Woman, Post Office Counter Lass, and, eventually, She-Blogger. In lieu of such a rich legacy, we’ll have to console ourselves with this scene of the 1970s Lady Cop hunting down her wiliest foe: venereal disease.
The Crimson Curse
Maybe it was an innocent mistake on Marvel’s part. When Aerika Harkness, daughter of the sorceress who trained the Scarlet Witch, became a witchy superhero herself, she needed a name that suggested both her powers and her connection to the Scarlet Witch. Something red... something redolent of witchcraft and spells... Of course! The Crimson Curse! There’s no way readers could look at that name and think of anything but a mighty sorceress whose elemental powers include controlling the tides and...
No. Come on. This had to be deliberate. And somebody at Marvel needs to send her to fight Donald Trump ASAP.
Art credits: Mike Grell, Jim Aparo, Alan Davis, John Byrne, John Rosenberger, Ron Frenz