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On the Other Hand ... E. Nigma

Written by Logan on Monday, May 23 2016 and posted in Columns

On the Other Hand ... E. Nigma

Riddle Me This: What belongs to you but others use it more than you?



In 1972, playwright Tom Stoppard coined the term "cognomen syndrome" in his play Jumpers. He defines it as "a general sense of direction brought about by a person's surname." In other words, if your last name is Baker you are more likely to become a baker. (Or a time lord.) The scientific term for this phenomenon is nominative determinism. Numerous journal articles have been published studying it. The effect is real. David Bird really is an ornithologist. Dr. Joseph Babey really is a pediatrician. Jim Playfair really is a hockey coach. And Dr. Doom really is dangerous.

Especially appropriate names like these are called aptronyms. Comic book readers are well acquainted with aptronyms and nominative determinism. Some characters simply have no choice. When your name is Victor von Doom, you are not going to sell shoes. Doom is a classic and probably the greatest example of an aptronym that succeeded. More on him later.

What was the name again?

Some comic book aptronyms are beloved by fans while others live in infamy and shame. Let's look at a few stand-outs.

clock kingThe Clock King has two incarnations each with their own aptronym. When he appeared in 1960 he started as the less than subtle William Tockman. He was reinvented for Batman: The Animated Series as the more sophisticated Temple Fugate. The Latin phrase tempus fugit is a common maxim that literally means "time flies" or "time is fleeting." You will find the phrase inscribed on many grandfather clocks. Temple and Fugate are both rare, but they are legit names.

The Calendar Man's real identity is Julian Day. Julian day is a measure of time used by astronomers and nerds. People love to ridicule this name, but I think it's rather clever. Calendar Man has a lot of problems already, not the least of which is that he's Calendar Man. At least Julian Day sounds like a real name. Point of fact, it is a real name. The phone book (what's a phone book?) lists several Julian Days in the U.S., not to mention Julianne Day.

Perhaps the most sublimely awful aptronym belongs to the Rainbow Raider. This color based villain's real name is Roy G. Bivolo. That's bad enough, but it gets worse when you realize what it's a reference to. ROY G BIV is a very old mnemonic device for remembering the colors of the spectrum in order: Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet. Ouch. I imagine writer Cary Bates hearing the phrase and thinking, "Roy G. ... I can use that." And off she went to create the Rainbow Raider. To be fair, it's almost a name. I found listings for Vivolo and Bovello.

Roy G. Bivolo

However, there's no defending Humphry Dumpler aka Humpty Dumpty. Come on, you're not even trying on this one. It does get an image across, though. With a name like Humphry Dumpler, you're destined to be an obese man with a bald, egg-shaped head. Obviously, his parents hated him.

What's in a Name?

And then there's E. Nigma.

Edward Nigma, Eddie to his friends, otherwise known as The Prince of Puzzles, the Crown Prince of Conundrums, the Wizard of Quiz, The one and only Riddler. It's a wonderful name. It requires the first initial form to create the word 'enigma' which makes it just a hair more subtle than most others. It's a colorful bit of backstory for the greatest villain of all (don't fight me on this), a character that nearly faded into obscurity.

The origin as told in his first appearance, Detective Comics #140, is very straightforward. Young Edward (already sporting a severely receding hairline) cheats in a school contest to solve a puzzle fastest. He wins the prize and thinks, "Puzzles are okay! I'm going to learn to solve all kinds!" He continues cheating and his goals get bigger and bigger until he declares, "I'm clever enough at puzzles to baffle even the police--yes, and Batman, too! Why don't I commit puzzling crimes?" And the rest is history.

It's simple. He's a bad kid. He likes puzzles. He's a con-man. Done. Sometimes that's enough to get you started. Oh, and his name? The very first thing he ever says is, "I ought to win sure! After all, my name's Edward Nigma--E. Nigma!" A little heavy handed on the exposition, but they needed to get things moving quickly back then.

Frank Gorshin as The RiddlerSome people hated it. Too silly, too contrived, even for a rarely appearing disposable character. Still, it was no big deal. Then something happened: Frank Gorshin. The Riddler was the first villain on Adam West's beloved Batman TV series. Suddenly he was a fan favorite and went on to be known as one of Batman's most important foes. (Just imagine a TV show having that much influence!)

How may I live without my name?

The name still wasn't a big problem through the rest of the inherently silly Silver Age. However, in the 80's comics tried desperately to prove how mature they were and simple E. Nigma wasn't good enough. Suddenly, he was a victim of child abuse. (There was a time when every villain was a victim of child abuse. I'm not kidding.) His father beat him and forced him to tell the truth so he learned to speak in riddles to get around it. I wish I was joking. And the cherry on top of this crap sundae was changing his name to Edward Nashton. Nashton. Just typing that makes me gag. They took his distinctive, descriptive, stylish name and replaced it with a mature, bland, instantly forgettable name. It was a completely unnecessary retcon done only to look more grown up.

DC also needed to upgrade his threat level so he went from clever criminal lunatic to hyperintelligent mastermind. (I'm actually okay with this part.) The point is, his backstory didn't need to be changed. There was no radiation accident that needed to be explained away; there were no continuity breaking errors that needed to be repaired. He was just a bad, arrogant man. (And some villains are just bad people. They can't all be damaged victims of society.)

I honestly don't even know what his name is since the New52. I know I hate the sideburns, but I digress. I don't watch Gotham, but I see he is listed as Edward Nygma in the cast which is great. (Nobody seems quite sure where the Nygma with a Y spelling came from. It appeared in the comics many years ago and the predominant theory is that it was simply a spelling/editing error. It's a harmless enough change, especially if unintentional, so I'll give it a pass.)

Recently I ran across an article on whatculture.com that rekindled all of my frustrations with the situation. "10 Things DC Wants You To Forget About The Riddler." From 2014. Most of the list is easily dismissable if not downright inaccurate, but #3 claims DC wants you to forget "That Edward Nygma Is A Stupid Name." The article goes on to make the case for the much more reasonable name of Nashton. "And whilst there are people called Bruce Wayne in the real world, we'd put good money on us flipping through the phonebook and not finding a single Edward Nigma." Well pay up, because Nigma is in fact a real surname. According to whitepages.com, there are over 30 Nigmas in the U.S. And one Edward Nigma lives in Illinois. I have no idea if he's a criminal mastermind.

Is it stupid? No, you're stupid! E.Nigma is a stylish moniker, unique, descriptive and apt with just the right amount of whimsy. It is an ineffable, effable,effanineffable, deep and inscrutable, singular name. You can't forget it. It is everything that Edward Nashton isn't. Edward Nigma is a true classic of a name. Ironically it's his place in the spotlight that put him in this position in the first place. Nobody is petitioning to 'update' Roy G. Bivolo.

He Who Must Not be Named

He's not the only victim of this misguided attempt to mature a character. You probably don't remember when the Nashton change occurred, but I know you remember the most recent major furor over such a change. In 2015, word leaked that director Josh Trank decided that Dr. Doom was a terrible name and needed to be changed in his FAN4STIC movie. He was going to be Victor Domashev, a blogger with the online handle of Doom. Nobody is named Victor von Doom, argued Trank. Nobody would believe that!

When word got out the ensuing nerdrage was astonishing. The backlash from fans threatened to obliterate the movie before it even had a screening. The studio was convinced that they needed to keep the name Doom. It was a minor victory considering the rest of that abortion of a movie. It made a very important point, though. Fans are very connected to their favorite characters. Don't mess with them just because you think they're goofy. Even if you're right, you're wrong.

For what it's worth, whitepages.com lists hundreds of Dooms. My favorite is Timothy Doom. You know he's got to be trouble. There's also a Marcus Vondoom in Florida. Because Florida.

Origin retcons happen all the time. Sometimes they're necessary, and sometimes they make a much better story (see Clock King). Other times they are change for the sake of change or worse, change because they're ashamed of the fun, whimsical nature of the original. Even Roy G. Bivolo is great in that so-bad-it's-good kind of way. There's no need for the change; keep the aptronyms.

Unless your name is Humphry Dumpler. Then you should change it.

"On The Other Hand" is a column of unrepentant nostalgia in a superhero world suffering from an overdeveloped sense of maturity. I note that Rainbow Raider's villain name was eventually changed to Chroma, but they left his real name untouched.

I AM DOCTOR DOOM!





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