COMIC BOOKS: A superhero by any other name

Associated Press | FileIn this Jan. 10, 1976, file photo, Stan Lee, standing, publisher of Marvel Comics, discusses a 'Spider-Man' comic book cover with artist John Romita at Marvel headquarters in New York. In addition to being a co-creator of hundreds of characters, Lee created colorful superhero nicknames and the idea of not using them. 

Stan Lee regularly made cameos in the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It became a favorite fan pastime to spot Lee in the movies about the characters he helped create.

But in addition to being the creator, along with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, of characters such as the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom, the X-Men, he is also the unsung hero of the movie trend of how the heroes are named.

For example, in the current "WandaVision," at no point, so far as last week, is Wanda Maximoff ever called the "Scarlet Witch." And if she ever is, she will likely not call herself that. Someone else will give her the nickname.

In many of the comics, the heroes give themselves their colorful nicknames or at least call themselves by those names.

For example, when a gamma-induced explosion turned Bruce Banner into a lumbering behemoth, soldiers called him a hulk. And the behemoth adopted that description as his name. He regularly introduces himself to everyone he meets. "Hulk smash."

But in a more "real" world, people often do not embrace their nicknames or code names. The Secret Service gives presidents code names but we don't hear the rest of the world or even a president going by that code name publicly. 

On the other hand, the media often gives celebrities nicknames such as the one-time name mashup for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of Brangelina. While numerous entertainment reporters used that name, Pitt and Jolie did not personally market themselves as Brangelina.

And so it goes for many code names in the comic book movies. While viewers may still refer to Wanda as "Scarlet Witch," characters in the movies and TV show do not. 

Meeting Dr. Strange (whose name is Stephen Strange) in "Avengers: Infinity War," Peter Parker introduces himself in costume as ... Peter Parker. When the good doctor responds, "Dr. Strange," Peter says, "Oh, we're using our made-up names, Umm, I'm Spider-Man then."

Yet, in many ways, how the live-action movies and shows use these "made-up names" is similar to what Stan Lee created with his first superhero book, "The Fantastic Four."

As Lee wrote in "Origins of Marvel Comics," "I was utterly determined to have a superhero series without any secret identities. I knew for a fact that if I myself possessed a super power I'd never keep it secret. I'm too much of a show-off."

So, while the public did give them the nicknames of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl – later the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing, the Fantastic Four called themselves by their names: Reed Richards, Sue Storm – later Sue Richards, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm.

All back in the early 1960s.

At first, the FF didn't have costumes either. They wore work coveralls before getting their "4"-festooned blue-and-black uniforms. Which is also another Stan Lee device adopted by the movies.

Sure, Spider-Man wears his recognizable comic book costume in the movies but movie Wolverine has never worn the yellow-and-blue costume and cowl he wears in the comics. Nor does Wanda wear the bathing suit and headpiece of the Scarlet Witch in the show, with exception of the recent Halloween episode.

"If our heroes were to live in the real world, then let them dress like real people," Lee wrote.

Real or not, it seems to be working in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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