Superhero slogans, catchphrases, words of wisdom, and general declarations and utterances have flooded the popular consciousness since the dawn of comic books. Delivered via word balloons, actors' mouths, or radio and television voice-overs, one cannot deny the power of superhero speech.
Although Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938, much of the mythology of the hero originated in his radio escapades. On his radio show, which premiered in February 1940, DC Comics' press agent Allen Ducovny and Robert Joffe Maxwell, a former pulp fiction author, scripted the opening of the show that would be recited—and varied—countless times:
Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets! Up in the sky—look! It's a giant bird! It's a plane! It's SUPERMAN! The actor hired to portray both Superman and Clark Kent on-air, Bud Collyer, gave super-oomph to phrases like
Up, Up, and Awaaay! and
This looks like a job for Superman! The Man of Steel left the radio airwaves in 1951, quickly moving into a live-action television show starring George Reeves. It's here that Superman became
Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful that a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! In a continuing variation on the opening lines from the show's radio counterpart, a baritone voice announced,
Yes, it's Superman—strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way!
Though the comic-book pages are filled with such wholesome Superman phrases as
Great Guns! and
Great Scott! it's Superman's first words on the printed page that perhaps best set the tone for years of adventures to come: Living in Smallville with his adopted parents, the Kents, Superman's first words are,
Try again, Doc! uttered when a physician tries to give him a shot from hypodermic needles that keep breaking on his impervious skin (Action Comics #1, 1938). In the television show The Adventures of Superman (1953–1957) actor George Reeves came up with many pointed lines as both alter ego Clark Kent and the Man of Steel. In the 1955 episode
The Big Freeze, for example, Kent admonishes citizens to get out and vote for the city's next mayor, rather than rely on Superman to step in and
save the election from a gangster crook who is running for office:
Sometimes, Lois, it's not wise for the people to depend on Superman to keep their own house in order.
Master of darkness and
foe of all evil Batman's expressions are always of the serious, contemplative sort. The hero dissects complicated mathematical formulas with as much finesse as he quotes multiple poetic stanzas. But it is Batman's original pun-loving sidekick Robin who is the better remembered of the two for his nimble-tongued epithets, often sending super-criminals like the Joker to near defeat.
Put me in jail the Joker bemoans in a 1947 issue of Batman. Indeed, Robin's expressions received ample airplay in the Batman TV show (1966–1968), with actor Burt Ward reciting such lines as
Holy Long John Silver! and
This Brassy Bird has us Buffalo-d with deadpan delivery. Producer William Dozier delivered the pompous narration, coining such phrases as,
Same Bat time, same Bat station, to invite viewers to tune in to the second half of the weekly aired cliff-hangers. Superimposed over the show's fight scenes were words like
Pop!, themselves becoming as iconic as the shows' lead characters.
Other heroes' expressions may not be as well known as those of the Boy Wonder, yet merit mentioning. In comics' Golden Age (1938–1954), Fawcett Publishing's young newsboy Billy Batson simply recited the name Stan Lee, Marvel Comics' creative impetus during comics' Silver Age, was influenced by Shakespeare and the Bible when he wrote for the Mighty Thor, dousing the strip with Certain heroes, however, really own their words, even developing mottos. Spider-Man's message to readers—to act responsibly and be accountable for your actions—comes straight out of his origin story in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962):
Shazam! and he became the grown-up Captain Marvel, embarking on adventures in the pages of Whiz Comics with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. So well known is this catchphrase (in part made popular by the mid-1970s live-action TV show of the same name) that people often mistake
Shazam for the hero's name. A Silver Age (1956–1969) favorite, the Green Lantern, recited an oath every time he recharged his ring, persevering through several comic-book writers and editors:
In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power—Green Lantern's light! Oaths, magical spells, and super-incantations flooded Golden Age comic-book stories, including those of Doctor Fate, Ibis the Invincible, and Wonder Woman, whose Amazon Code (
Govern yourselves with love, kindness, and service to others) and
Aphrodite's Law are used to signify the set of carefully defined moral and religious tenets that govern Wonder Woman's and her fellow Amazons' behavior.
Whither goest thou? and similar phrases. With Silver Age star Dr. Strange, Lee blended magical incantations and oaths, the most oft-used being
by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, which preceded every serious Dr. Strange sentiment. Lee's moralizing Silver Surfer became, as comic-book historian Mike Benton calls him,
the voice of conscience for a 1960s generation, as Lee spoke to his readers about war and peace, politics and environmentalism, through his silver-skinned space hero's soliloquies. Other Silver and Bronze Age heroes with super-epithets include the monosyllabic Hulk (
Hulk Smash!); the ever-enthusiastic Avengers (
Avengers Assemble!); the gruff Thing (
It's Clobberin' Time!) and hotshot Human Torch (
Flame On!) from the Fantastic Four; and the super-rhyming Isis.
With great power, there must also come—great responsibility.
Other heroes' expressions may not be as well known as those of the Boy Wonder, yet merit mentioning. In comics' Golden Age (1938–1954), Fawcett Publishing's young newsboy Billy Batson simply recited the name
Stan Lee, Marvel Comics' creative impetus during comics' Silver Age, was influenced by Shakespeare and the Bible when he wrote for the Mighty Thor, dousing the strip with
Certain heroes, however, really own their words, even developing mottos. Spider-Man's message to readers—to act responsibly and be accountable for your actions—comes straight out of his origin story in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962):