Marvel-ous Words

If you’re like us, you’ve been peeing your pants waiting in great anticipation for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which opens this Friday in the U.S. (The lucky ducks in the UK have already had the chance to see it.) To us, Whedon, comic books, and an amaze-balls cast create the perfect nerd-storm, and to celebrate, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Marvel Comics words.


“Hugh Jackman reprises the role that made him a superstar, as the fierce fighting machine who possesses amazing healing powers, adamantium claws, and a primal fury known as berserker rage.”

Wolverine Movie Extended Synopsis,” Comic Book Movie, April 16, 2009

Adamantium is, according to the Marvel Universe Wiki, “an artificially-created alloy of iron that is the most impervious substance known on Earth.” The term first appeared in July 1969 in Avengers #66, and may be a play on the noun form of adamant, “a name applied with more or less indefiniteness to various real or imaginary metals or minerals characterized by extreme hardness.” Adamant comes from the Greek adamas, “unconquerable, hard steel, diamond.”

costumed athlete

“It was [Jack ‘King’ Kirby] who put a Silver Surfer on a flying surfboard and sent him soaring through the untracked cosmos. Kirby who turned a costumed athlete in a flag suit into Captain America – ‘Living Legend of World War II.'”

Leonard Pitts Jr., “Silver Surfer of comics cosmos meets Dr. Doom,” Rome News-Tribune, February 18, 1994

A costumed athlete is “any costumed adventurer who has no enhanced abilities or super-powers.” It’s arguable whether or not Captain America is a true costumed athlete, as “he experienced a time when he was augmented to superhuman level.” Truer costumed athletes are Iron Man and Hawkeye (aka Ronin).


“The Darkforce seems to work a little differently for every user (a detail that makes the Darkforce a little too convenient of a plot device for me) but in the Shroud’s case, it seems to mean that he carries the cover of darkness with him wherever he goes, emitting dark clouds to shroud his comings and goings.”

The Shroud and the Marvel Underworld (Shadowland spoiler?),” Comic Vine, July 19, 2010

Darkforce is an energy that “has the ability to assume the properties of both matter and energy depending on the needs of the user,” and may be “a sentient property, often possessing or corrupting those who use it.” The term first appeared in August 1976’s Champions #7. Star Wars, which has the concepts of the Force and the dark side, was released in 1977, but it’s unclear if those concepts were influenced by Darkforce.

flame on

“Instead of giving them terrible illnesses [the cosmic radiation storm] of course turns them into Übermenschen of various sorts, though only Johnny’s new abilities are an unmixed blessing: by shouting “Flame on!” he converts himself into a flying ball of fire.”

Peter Bradshaw, “Fantastic Four,” The Guardian, July 21, 2005

Flame on is the catchphrase of Johnny Storm, also known as the Human Torch. Storm first appeared in 1961 in The Fantastic Four #1.

gamma rays

“Hollywood technology wizards quickly built their own replica of the Gamma Sphere. In the movie, the monster within Bruce Banner is unleashed after the scientist is hit with gamma rays during an experiment.”

Stefan Lovgren, “The Hulk: Fact vs Fiction,” National Geographic, July 2, 2003

Gamma rays, short for gamma radiation, refer to “electromagnetic radiation emitted by radioactive decay.” French chemist and physicist, Paul Ulrich Villard, discovered gamma rays around 1903, although it was fellow chemist-physicist Ernest Rutherford “who proposed to call Villard’s rays gamma rays because they were far more penetrating than the alpha rays and beta rays which he himself had already differentiated and named (in 1899) on the basis of their respective penetrating powers.”

Real-life gamma ray health effects include “radiation sickness, cell’s DNA damage, cell death due to damaged DNA, increasing incidence of cancer.”

healing factor

“Other than dropping him in instant, bone-stripping acid, I’m really not sure how you’d take him out. Thanks to his mutant healing factor, he’s pretty good at getting better.”

Josh Tyler, “Need To Know: A Virgin’s Guide To Wolverine,” Cinema Blend, April 29, 2009

The healing factor is the “ability to rapidly recover from injuries and regenerate lost tissue,” and is a popular trope in comics, literature, TV, and movies. It may be based on the biological concept of regeneration,”regrowth of lost or destroyed parts or organs,” which is found in some starfish and amphibians. The U.S. Army is in the process of developing a real-life healing factor, and have succeeded in “growing back a soldier’s fingertip after it [was] cut off.”

Legacy Virus

“In the well-established and often convoluted ‘X-Men’ lore found within the Marvel comic’s continuity, Pyro was a rambunctious villain with the ability to control fire who was a onetime ally of Mystique. He eventually succumbed to the Legacy Virus, a mutant-only disease that posed a danger to all of the series’ main characters.”

Ryan J. Downey, “New Mutants Added to X-Men 2,”, May 30, 2002

The Legacy Virus is “a deadly disease that attacked the mutant gene, causing its host’s powers to flare out of control before death.” The virus was “based on one that was used 2000 years in the future.”


“Hammer created the Mandroids with the assistance of the evil genius Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), and plans to mass produce them for the military.”

New Iron Man 2 Stills, Viral Mystery, and Interactive Content,” Reelz, May 4, 2010

The mandroid is “battle armor designed by Tony Stark [Iron Man] for use by S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and is a blend of man and android. The mandroid first appeared in December 1971 in Avengers #94. The word android, “an automaton resembling a human being in shape and motions,” was coined in 1847, and comes from the Greek andro, “human,” and edies, “form, shape.” The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that android was “listed as ‘rare’ in [Oxford English Dictionary] 1st edition (1879),” and was popularized around 1951 by science fiction writers.


“The leader of the X-Men, the telepathic Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), gives them shelter at his school for gifted (read mutant) children while trying to make peace with the majority.”

Ron Weiskind, “Mutant Power,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 30, 2009

Mutants, “also known as ‘homo superior,’” are humans “born with genetic abnormalities which grants them abilities, an appearance, or powers beyond the normal variation expressed in the human genome.” Mutants differ from superhumans, “people who gain powers due to exposure of foreign elements,” and mutates, “former humans genetically enhanced with superpowers by a villain with Mad Scientist credentials.” The word mutant comes from the Latin mūtāre, “to change,” while the science fiction sense of mutant is attested from 1954.

radar sense

“Writer Jim Krueger suggested Absorbing Man because it would be insanely difficult for Matt’s radar sense to get an accurate reading on someone whose physical substance changes at will.”

Brian Truitt, “Daredevil returns in ‘swashbuckling’ new series,” USA Today, June 2, 2011

Radar sense is “an extrasensory means of perception by which the brain generates electromagnetic waves which travel outward, bounce off objects, and are again picked up by the brain, which thus determines what its surroundings are.”

ruby quartz

“As any comic fan knows, the leader of the X-Men, Cyclops, was born with a mutation that causes his eyes to fire out laser beams. To control these beams, our hero (aka Scott Summers) must wear ‘ruby quartz’ lenses over his eyes.”

Ali flick bites the dust,” The Guardian, November 2, 1999

According to James Kakalios in his book, The Physics of Superheroes, rose quartz results when “the mineral contains a very small amount of iron and titanium,” resulting in “a slight pinkish hue.” A “suspension of ruby dots in the quartz will result in cloudy brown and beige veins, and this dark, smoky, nearly opaque mineral is termed ‘ruby quartz.’”


“Spider-Man, you will recall, has a ‘spidey-sense’, which alerts him to impending disaster and gives him time to react suitably.”

Giles Coren, “I had my Spider-Man moment. And I failed,” The Times, May 29, 2010

Spidey-sense refers to Spider-Man’s ability to sense danger before it occurs. It “manifests in a tingling feeling at the base of his skull, alerting him to personal danger in proportion to the severity of that danger.” Spidey-sense also refers to intuition or instinct in general.


“Venom is a villain from the Spider-Man universe that was spawned after an alien symbiote attached itself to Spider-Man. Once Spider-Man shed himself of the symbiote, the alien life form had gained the same powers as Spider-Man and passed them on to another host.”

Alex Billington, “Rumor: Venom Getting a Spin-Off Movie?” First Showing, February 4, 2008

A symbiote is “an alien being that bonds itself to a host body to survive,” and is “named for the symbiotic relationship it maintains with its hosts.” The word symbiotic ultimately comes from the Greek sumbios, “living together.”


“It has Thor and Loki as brothers – the best of friends… and it shows how that goes bad. The origin of the uru hammer, Thor being thrown from Asgard to being a mere mortal… it’s a HUGE story – easily the most awesome script that a MARVEL project has ever had.”

Lev Grossman, “Some Old-School Marvel Comics Action: Hulk and Thor,” Time, August 10, 2007

Uru is a metal from Asgard, home planet of Thor and other Norse gods, and is “known for its durability and affinity for magic.” Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, “was forged from this ore.”


“Much like the material that makes up Wolverine’s claws, adamantium, Captain America‘s shield is made of a fictional metal called ‘vibranium.’ In the comics world, vibranium is only found in the African nation of Wakanda, where the Cap’s Avengers teammate Black Panther hails from.”

Rick Marshall, “‘Captain America: The First Avenger’: Five things that were missing from the superhero movie,” IFC, July 25, 2011

Vibranium is named for its ability to absorb “vibratory energy,” or soundwaves.

widow’s bite

“Black Widow’s powers, according to Marvel’s online archives, come from government treatments that augmented her immune system and enhanced her durability. She also wears bracelets that can deliver the ‘widow’s bite’ — 30,000 volts.”

Sharon Eberson, “Look who’s new in ‘Iron Man 2,'” Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, May 6, 2012

The bite of the real life black widow spidernamed for the “female’s supposed habit of eating the male after mating” – is extremely toxic and painful but rarely life-threatening. More widow’s phrases.


“While vampires and werewolves were fair game, zombies were still banned. Marvel, who was experiencing success at the time with their Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night books, came up with a way around this. They created characters called ‘Zuvembies’. These characters looked liked zombies, acted like zombies and appeared to be zombies, but since they were named zuvembies, the Comic Code Authority was none the wiser (if only censors were that dense today).”

William Gatevackes, “Marvel Zombies #1,” Pop Matters, January 19, 2006

The zuvembie was “created by [Conan the Barbarian creator] Robert E. Howard in his short story Pigeons From Hell, published in Weird Tales in 1938.” The zuvembie is basically a zombie, but “due to restrictions put in place by the Comics Code Authority,” the term zombie could not be used. Marvel Comics first used zuvembie in Avengers #152 (October 1976), and switched to zombie in 1989 when the word was permitted.

For even more things Marvel, check out the excellent Marvel Universe Wiki, and be sure to let us know about your own favorite marvel-ous words. Till next time, Make Mine Marvel!

2 thoughts on “Marvel-ous Words

  1. “Mandroid” sounds like it should be something sexier than it is. When I first saw that, I was, like, “Oh, I want one of those!” Then, I read what it was. :\

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