Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sean Helps Us Express Ourselves

The esteemed Sean Whitmore over at the fun-filled Snark-Free has broken ground on discussing the function of superheroic exclamations, such as Superman's inappropriate "Great Rao!" I mean, you know Clark's a Lutheran, what the heck is he spouting Great Rao for? What a poseur. Hick that he is, Superman should be shouting "Tarnation" or "Land's sakes" every time a giant monster threatens Townsville, um, sorry, I mean, Metropolis. If he had said natural stuff like that early on, Lex Luthor would have fallen over laughing while attempting to use his molecular decoupling ray and accidently atomized himself into his constituent elements.

Naturally, as a villain, I'll now steal Sean's idea. Hopefully, this will anger Sean enough to seek revenge, sew up a themed costume off-panel, and repair to a hideout in the abandoned warehouse district, because, you know, there just aren't enough of us villains in the world.

I'll contribute a little terminology to the discussion. Things like "Great Rao", let's call those Signature Exclamations. These were big stuff in Silver Age Superman particularly, where even supporting characters got them (Jimmy said "Jeepers!", Perry said "Great Caesar's ghost!", and Lois said "Oh, Mister Grant!")

Signature Exclamations are not to be confused with Battle Cries. Battle Cries are very Marvel. Once of the differences between Marvel and DC is that DC favors Signature Exclamations and Marvel favors Battle Cries.

DC characters live in a world where you and another superguy (who you think is your brother, but isn't) will be playing softball with some boulders in the middle of a field but fail to notice (despite super-vision powers) that nearby is a giant jack-in-box left by gargatuan alien children, until two enormous flame-spouting heads leap out of it attempting to fry off of you the nice playsuit your adopted mother made for you out of old baby blankets. This is a world where one must be prepared to be surprised regularly, so one or more signature exclamations are simply a necessary expedient to make it through the day. You can't say "what th--?" every time someone hits you with an imperfect duplicator ray, you know, or you start to look stupid to the readers.

Marvel characters, on the other hand, live in a world where, because 14,746 superbeings all live on a small island off the coast of New York, you can't even go to the drugstore to get your sick aunt the medicine you can't afford to buy her without running to a battle already in progress that has destroyed at least one city block and more lives than any real-world terrorist attack (but which isn't as good for sales). What's the point of saying "Suffering Spiderwebs!" when no one can hear you, the supertypes being busy hitting one another with flagpoles and mailboxes like a Herolix game, and the normal types being busy bleeding and rotting. For such occasions only a rousing Battle Cry of "Pretenders, Resemble!" or "Exordior!" will do.

Oh, there are some Battle Cries in DC, but they only prove the point. "Titans, Together!" is so cringeworthily Marvelesque that even the animated Titans series thought it too juvenile to use. It was also too hard for Puny Bunny Tummy, or whatever their names are, to sing. And what could be more "Marvel" than the Wolfman-era Titans?

Signature Exclamations must also be distinguished from Denominative Epithets, which drip from the pages of the DCU like drool from the mouths of those who read Even Rude lyrics. The Caped Crusader. The Last Son of Krypton. The Clown Prince of Crime. The King of Conundrums. The Maid of Steel. The Fastest Man Alive. The Emerald Gladiator. The Pinioned Paladin. The Boy Wonder. And, my personal favorite: The Dominoed Daredoll.

Villains, naturally, get their own special prosodical term: the emotionally satisfying Villainous Invectives. "Super-fools!" "Batsaps!" "Puny humans!" "Insolent wretch!" "My fine-feathered finks!" "Pusillanimous ninnies!" "Nattering nabobs of negativism!" Start working these mal mots into your daily conversation and I guarantee that, while you may lose your job, you'll regain your self-respect enough to seek revenge, sew up a themed costume off-panel, and repair to a hideout in the abandoned warehouse district.


naladahc said...

I think Megatron said it best with "Puny flesh creature!" but that's not very DC is it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I miss "Great Rao". Kal-El is not a Lutheran, he is a Marrano, a closet Kryptonian raised by Kansas WASPs. But in private he keeps the old rituals...

I wonder when Diana last used "Suffering Sappho!".

Scipio said...

In the mid '50s, from what I can tell. Wertham's denunciation of Wonder Woman as a lesbian led to the editors abandoning the exclamation in favor of "Great Hera!"

Anonymous said...

What of Captain Marvel's Signature Exlcamation, "Holy Moley"?

Etymologists cling to the notion that this phrase's origin is "Holy Moses," simply adapted to rhyme.

I say nay to their prosaic speculations. (Prosaic, geddit?)

You'll remember, of course, that the herb called moly is what Hermes gave to Odysseus to protect him from Circe's shape-changing magic.

I've always regarded (read: fanwanked) Cap's "Holy Mol(e)y!" as a blanket invocation of protection against prestidigitators and other dastards.

Scipio said...

I did NOT make up Pinioned Paladin!!!!

They've called Hawkman that many times...!

I'm a villain, Sean--NOT a liar!

Anonymous said...

Signature Exclamation: "Holy Moley!"
Denominative Epithet: "The World's Mightiest Mortal."
Villanous Invective: "You BIG, RED CHEESE!"

Lawsuits aside, it's obvious that Cap ALWAYS belonged at DC.

And Anonymous, I know I've seen that "Moly" explanation from some book about comics, in the years before Cap's revival -- Thurber's THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES?

Anonymous said...

"Signature Exclamations must also be distinguished from Denominative Epithets"

Snort. Goes without saying, doesn't it?

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