Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's In a Name?

Darth Vader! Doctor Doom! Luthor! Darkseid! Names that strike terror into the very depths of your heart. Well, maybe not. But at least they have an impact. You can tell from the sound of the name that this is supposed to be a really bad guy.

Unfortunately, not all villains were lucky enough to be gifted with such evil-sounding names. I was reading a Doctor Fate story from More Fun Comics #57 (Jul 1940) (reprinted in 2007's Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives Vol.1) in which the heroic Fate encountered a sinister sorcerer who was summoning fire-spirits to threaten wealthy victims into paying him protection money. The scoundrel's name? Mango the Mighty.

It's possible that, in 1940, most Americans outside of Florida didn't know what a mango is. Heck, I was in my twenties before I saw my first mango. But today, with half the restaurants in the country listing some sort of mango-enhanced dish on the menu, the name doesn't seem quite as eerie and mysterious as it may have back then.

In "The Mad Planet," a science fiction story in Mystery in Space #19 (Apr-May 1954) (reprinted in 1999's Pulp Fiction Library: Mystery in Space), a young married couple vacationing in space (in the distant future year of 1989) land on an uncharted world ruled by an escaped convict named Thong -- King Thong. Even in the real 1989, Thong was not exactly a name that would inspire fear and respect among prison inmates. No wonder he escaped from Sing Sing.

In 1980, DC Comics began a series called "The Creature Commandos" in Weird War Tales #93. (The panel on the left is from issue #97.) It starred a squad of monstrous soldiers recruited to fight for the USA in World War 2. The vampiric member of the team was named Velcro -- Sgt. Vincent Velcro. At that time, the product called Velcro wasn't yet a household word. I'm not even sure whether Velcro fasteners on sneakers had been introduced yet. But the product was around, and the name seemed kind of silly for a vampire. (The character has since been rechristened -- if that's an appropriate thing to do to a vampire -- Vincent Velcoro.)

So there you have them. Three characters intended to inspire terror, who ended up taking a ribbing because of their less-than-impressive names. Maybe there was a time when the names Velcro, Thong, and Mango could have sent a chill down the spine. But today, what sort of reaction do they evoke? I don't know about you, but there's only one thing they make me want to do:


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