With the stunning success of Marvel's The Avengers at the box-office, comic book nerds are buzzing with excitement over how their favorite super-team was received. It should go without saying that the movie had more than just comic-book fans lining up to see it. Sure, there were fan-boys and fan-girls a-plenty, but there were also many, many casual fans who wanted to see what all the hubbub was about. And many of these casual fans were walking out of the theater with a new-found appreciation for comic-book based movies, which warms the cockles of my geeky heart.
Now, as Chicago's self-appointed geek ambassador, I feel that it is my duty to help newcomers to the fantastic world of comics get acquainted with the things that the rest of us nerds take for granted.
And so it is with the casual fan in mind that I present to you these definitions pulled from the pages of Marvel Comics, each researched and written by the good folks over at Wordnik:
This first word isn't related to the Avengers but to that other super-team, the X-Men...
“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.”
Next up we have the substance from which Captain America's shield was created...
“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.
(Actually, in the original Marvel continuity, Cap's shield was made of a unique blend of vibranium and adamantium, making it impervious to anything, including Wolverine's claws. ES)
If you were wondering what Scarlett Johannson was zapping those alien invaders with, here's an explanation...
“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 spider – named 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.
My physicist friends bristle at how the Hulk got his powers, since gamma rays tend to be harmless, but here's how Wordnik defines them in the comic-book world...
“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.”
And I can't end this article without a shout-out to my all-time favorite superhero in the Marvel Universe...
“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.
Read more "marvel-ous words" at Wordnik.com!