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I've noticed that some superheros' names are used like proper names, while others are used like a title or description, with "the" in front of it.

For both forms there are cases where it seems to be used very consistently - it's always The Flash, The Human Torch, The Question and The Martian Manhunter - but no "The" for Wolverine, Superman, Daredevil or Iron Man.

Then there are superheroes where it seems to change according to the authors' tastes - most obviously Batman (in fact I'm not sure there are other examples).

My question: is there a reason for this difference? Linguistic? Fashion (i.e. depending on when the superhero was originally written)? Something else? Or is it just random?

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    I don't believe these are being used so much as a title but as to denote genuine article. For example, "You're Michael Borgwardt? THE Michael Borgwardt?" – Gorchestopher H Jun 20 '13 at 20:18
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    I think this is grammer related try asking on the English Stack Exchange. If you look closely you can see some consistancies usualy 'The' s used before something that is self descriptive (The Martian Manhunter, The Flash, The Human Torch). – ClassicThunder Jun 20 '13 at 20:24
  • The Michael, you raise an interesting question. But we're going to have to ask The Thaddeus because he is our resident expert on all things comic books. – John O Jun 20 '13 at 20:33
  • Actually, not all the examples you cite are true. Wolverine is also referred to as The Wolverine (cf. the new movie this summer). – Michael Scott Shappe Jun 22 '13 at 17:04
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In most of the cases where the definite article is consistently used, it's because the name is more descriptive than anything else. For example, the Martian Manhunter is really more an epithet than a name. His name is J'onn J'onzz, and that's not a secret, but he is A) the last living Martian and B) the only Martian on Earth and certainly the only Martian detective on Earth. Thus, the definite article makes very good sense given that the epithet is really more along the lines of the way Batman is also called "The Caped Crusader".

Similarly, everyone pretty much knows who the Fantastic Four are, so Johnny Storm gets an epithet, "The Human Torch"; his sister, Sue Storm-Richards is "The Invisible Girl", and Ben Grimm is "The Thing"; while their leader gets the somewhat full-of-himself nickname "Mr Fantastic" -- but everyone knows he's Dr. Reed Richards.

By contrast, Bruce Wayne's identity is a secret, so "Batman" has become his alter ego's name, while many other epithets are applied to him (the aforementioned "The Caped Crusader", "The Dark Knight", etc). This same basic heuristic also makes sense for Superman, Daredevil, Iron Man (in the comics; in the movies, of course, Tony Stark is out of that particular closet), Wonder Woman, Spider-Man etc. Their superhero "names" have been applied to them by others -- often the press -- because their real names were secrets.

This is not a rule, though, but a heuristic, because, for example, "The Flash" is very rarely just called "Flash" except maybe in direct address, possibly because it just sounds funny. Similarly, "The Question" would just sound wrong as "Question", and lastly, it's almost always "The Hulk". Part of that, I suspect, is that their superhero identities are basically words for things being applied to people.

And then, sometimes, the heuristic is broken just because someone decides it would be more dramatic, or it fits their own aesthetics better. Batman is occasionally referred to as The Batman; Green Lantern and The Green Lantern are somewhat interchangable; the upcoming Wolverine movie is The Wolverine, etc.

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    Pretty much spot on. Also, forgoing "the" (or prefixing with "the") in some cases denotes familiarity/distance. This is in line with the Flash as well as how Batman is occasionally referred to as "the Batman". This formal versus familiar behavior reflects real life. Sorta like how, if you know a celebrity, you might refer to them by their first name or nickname even when you talk to someone who doesn't know them personally. – Lèse majesté Jun 22 '13 at 17:45

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