Superhero catchphrases are a tricky subject. On one hand, they’re a classic trope. On the other, they’re often incredibly cheesy. People don’t want to admit it, but many of these catchphrases are awful. They were created in a different time, and it’s not so much that they haven’t aged well, it’s that they’ve aged to the point where they should have died, but because they’re so ingrained with the fandom’s perception of the character, they’re still hanging on.
There are catch phrases that work, too. When Thor is about to beat the snot out of a bad guy, and he says “Have at thee,” it’s silly but also kind of epic. Also, Captain America always knows the exact right moment to scream “Avengers assemble.” There are plenty more examples, however, that aren’t epic. Instead, these artifacts from simpler times just leave fans cringing every time they’re used.
15. IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME
Put down the pitchforks and hear this one out. Yes, Ben Grimm’s battlecry is a classic part of Marvel lore, but be honest, it’s not exactly intimidating. If somebody said this in real life, it would inspire way more laughs than it does fear. Ben Grimm, aka The Thing, first appeared in “The Fantastic Four” #1 (1961) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, was born in New York City’s lower east side, and was always written to depict the attitude of that area.
Having the Thing yell out “It’s clobberin’ time” before every fight might’ve made sense in the ’60s, but it doesn’t work as well today. In fact, it was one of the most awkward moments from the terrible “Fant4stic” (2015), which was a movie full of terrible and awkward moments. The fact that “clobbering” stood out so much really says something for the phrase’s cheesiness.
14. BLUE BLAZES
For most of his career, Nova was a C-Level hero in the Marvel universe. The character first appeared in “Nova” #1 (1976) by Marv Wolfman and John Buscema, but it wasn’t until the 2006 crossover “Annihilation” that Nova became an A-lister among comic book fans. The crossover revamped the entire cosmic line, and Nova was turned into the last surviving corps member and given a sleek new redesign. Unfortunately, his catchphrase, “blue blazes,” remained, serving as a reminder that Nova used to be one of Marvel’s lamer characters.
Seriously, Nova calls out “Blue blazes!” when he’s surprised or shocked or confused. It feels like it’s supposed to come across as charming, but it makes Nova sound like a weirdo. It seems like Nova uses the phrase “blue blazes” in place of swearing. For example, instead of “what the hell is this?” he’d say “what the blue blazes is this?” The most unrealistic part about this is that none of the other heroes ever stop and laugh at Nova, which they really should.
13. HOLY [INSERT NOUN], BATMAN!
While Robin might be a hard character for the modern, ultra-serious and gritty DC movies, he was a perfect fit for the live action “Batman” (1966) TV series and movie. The show celebrated the campy version of the caped crusader, and the Boy Wonder fit perfectly into the show. In a city that was often besieged by elaborate and colorful schemes, often masterminded by a Joker who put white face paint over his mustache, Batman recruiting a young teen wearing brightly colored tights made perfect sense.
That being said, Robin’s propensity to call out whatever he noticed with a “holy (insert noun), Batman!” was a little much. It’s almost impossible to keep track of how many situations he said it in, because he said it all the time. It got to the point where it seemed like Bruce Wayne only kept Dick Grayson around so he’d have someone to articulate his concerns. The show was supposed to be silly, but this oft-repeated phrase was a little much.
12. SWEET CHRISTMAS
Luke Cage’s early appearances are definitely products of their time. Making his first appearance in “Luke Cage, Hero for Hire” #1 (1972) by Archie Goodwin and George Tuska, Cage stood out from other heroes with his bright yellow, high collared shirt, giant chain wrapped around his waist (presumably being used as a belt) and his silver headband. The costume was painful to look at, but it had nothing on Cage’s penchant for shouting “Sweet Christmas!” whenever he was surprised.
Unlike many of the entries on this list, “Sweet Christmas” wasn’t Cage’s first catchphrase. Originally, he’d shout “sweet sister,” and sometimes he would just yell (or exclaim in a thought bubble) “Christmas!” Eventually, the two were combined, and it’s been with Cage ever since. Even as his costume has been modernized over the years, this catchphrase is still in play, though it makes him sound less like a tough guy and more like a cheesy uncle trying not to swear in front of his nephews.
11. TO ME, MY X-MEN!
Sometimes, context is incredibly important. Other times, like with Xavier’s call to his students, there’s no context where this wouldn’t be weird. When they were originally introduced in “The X-Men” #1 (1963) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men were a small group of teenagers who were under the care of the older Charles Xavier. To most of the world, they believed that he was running an exclusive boarding school, but in reality, his students were all super powered mutants, and he was training them to be a team of superheroes.
Whenever Xavier, also a mutant, needed to summon his students, he would psychically yell “To me, my X-Men!” First, that’s an awkward way of phrasing it. Nobody says “to me!” to people they respect. Second, this is a grown man calling his teenage students “his” X-Men. If he just said “to me, X-Men!” that’d just be pretentious. By adding in the “my” before “X-Men,” now it’s just the creepiest call to action ever.
10. MAXIMUM EFFORT
“Deadpool” (2016) was a nearly perfect adaption of a comic book. It not only nailed Deadpool’s look, attitude and origin, it also successfully brought the same twisted sense of humor to the screen that made fans fall in love with the character in the comics. The only real misstep of the movie was the strange decision to give Deadpool a catchphrase. Aside from the fact that Deadpool isn’t known for saying “Maximum effort” in the comics, it also doesn’t really fit the character.
Wade Wilson is a wise cracking goofball. In the movie, he was also a foul mouthed lunatic with a penchant for dirty jokes. On it’s own, “maximum effort” wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s way too generic for Deadpool to say. It sounds like something an overly enthusiastic gym trainer would say to a client struggling on their last rep, as opposed to the battle cry for the Merc with a Mouth.
9. WONDER TWIN POWERS ACTIVATE
It’s not uncommon for comic or cartoon heroes to have a phrase that they yell when they activate their powers. Whether it’s Johnny Storm yelling “Flame on!” or He-Man announcing “I have the power,” it’s a silly tradition that, when done correctly, can still be a lot of fun. In the case of the Wonder Twins, however, it didn’t work so well. The duo were introduced as part of “The All New Super Friends Hour” as a pair of shapeshifting alien siblings who were heroes in training.
To use their powers, the two had to touch each other, usually by holding out their hands, and then shout “Wonder Twin powers activate!” Then, one would say “shape of…” and announce what they were turning into, and the other would say “form of…” and follow the same pattern. The whole process not only slowed down the action, it also didn’t make a damn lick of sense. The whole point of being a shapeshifter is to be sneaky, which the twins kind of ruined by announcing what they were turning into. Anyone in earshot would know “ok, the giant octopus is actually one of the Super Friends, got it.”
8. BY THE BRISTLING BEARD OF ODIN!
Since he first appeared in “Journey into Mystery” #83 (1962) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby, the way Thor talks has always stood out. He speaks in a quasi olde English, Shakespearean dialect. Considering that he’s an ancient God who has been coming to Earth since at least the time of the vikings, it makes sense that he would speak the language as he learned. While it’s mostly charming to hear him say “verily,” “have at thee” or “I say thee nay,” not all of the phrases worked as well.
When Thor is shocked or surprised by something, he’ll often exclaim “By the bristling beard of Odin!” It’s a weird thing to say, regardless of dialect. Odin is Thor’s dad, and it’s so strange that Thor calls out his father’s “bristling beard.” It has nothing to do with the ancient dialect, because if Tony Stark was surprised and called out the modernized “Howard Stark’s tightly shaved mustache,” that’d be just as strange.
7. MERCIFUL MINERVA (AMONG OTHERS)
Like Thor, Wonder Woman comes from an ancient land, although she generally speaks in a modern tongue. Growing up on the island of Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s people and culture are tied to Greek mythology. She first appeared in the DC universe in “All Star Comics” #8 (1941) by William Moulton Marston and Harry G Peter. After leaving the island, she began living in the world of man, and has been able to adapt to modern life and blend in to current culture.
Her heritage still shows up from time to time, like when she calls out “Great Aphrodite,” “Great Hera,” “Merciful Minerva” or “Suffering Sappho!” The problem with each of these phrases is that it seems like she’s just calling out a random Greek God’s name. These references are all over the place. Hera was Zeus’ wife, Minverva was the goddess of various things like war, school and commerce, and Sappho was a poet who wrote about love.
6. THE FOCUSED TOTALITY OF MY TELEPATHIC ABILITIES
Out of all the catchphrases on this list, Psylocke’s may not be the worst, but it is definitely the most obnoxious. At least the other examples on this list are kind of catchy, but her need to constantly explain what her psychic knife is made out of is a little unnecessary at this point. While Betsy Braddock was initially introduced as part of the “Captain Britain” comics, she was brought into the X-Men world with “New Mutants Annual” #2 (1986) by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis.
She had a variety of psychic powers, including the ability to produce an energy blade made of psychic energy. Or, as she put it a little too often, her psychic knife was “the focused totality of (her) telepathic abilities.” At first, it made sense for her to explain to her teammates how her powers worked. She kept saying it, seemingly every single time she used her psy-knife, and it started to feel worn out very quickly. The weirdest part was that sometimes, she would just think the phrase, like she was explaining how her powers worked to herself.
5. FLAME ON!
When he first gained his powers in “The Fantastic Four” #1 (1961) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Johnny Storm was still a young and very immature teenager. Over time, he’s grown up, but he’s never lost his youthful spirit, which is a big part of the character’s charm. One thing that he needs to grow out of, however, is calling out “Flame on!” whenever he ignites his human torch powers.
This is another case of a character feeling the need to announce that they’re activating their powers. In Johnny’s case, that usually means covering his entire body in flames, which people are going to notice whether he announces it or not. As awkward as this dated catchphrase is in the comics, it felt even more out of place when the phrase was used in the live action “Fantastic Four” (2005) and its sequel, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007). As talented an actor as Chris Evans is, it’s hard to make “Flame on!” sound cool or intimidating in real life.
4. I’M THE BEST THERE IS AT WHAT I DO…
Wolverine was always one of the most popular X-Men, and it’s easy to see why. Due to his dark and shadowy past, he had developed a tough as nails persona and was almost unstoppable in a fight. Wolverine also has a direct way of speaking to people, most notably with his use of the word “bub.” While that can sometimes come across as kind of silly, it’s not as bad as the famous “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.”
The phrase first appeared in “Wolverine” #1 (1982) by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. To be honest, the first part isn’t so bad, it’s the second half that landed it on this list. “But what I do isn’t very nice” sounds more like something that an angry high school bully would say, instead of a tortured man who’s traveled the world, going from fight to fight for decades. This is a case where Wolverine should’ve just stopped talking and he would’ve been fine.
3. YO JOE!
In 1982, Hasbro successfully relaunched the G.I. Joe line under the name “A Real American Hero.” The new line was tied to a cartoon of the same name, and reimagined the G.I. Joes as an elite military unit full of colorful characters, each coming up with a unique code name. The Joes fought the newly introduced terrorist organization known as Cobra, full of equally colorful and codenamed characters. Also introduced during this time period was the G.I. Joe’s battle cry of “Yo Joe!” (It’s often misquoted as “Go Joe!”)
Clearly, the G.I. Joes of this iteration weren’t the most serious military outfit, allowing the soldiers to wear whatever they wanted as a uniform, but this was just too silly. Also, they clearly were just saying it because it rhymed, otherwise it doesn’t make much sense. “Yo Joe” sounds like somebody trying to get a guy named Joe’s attention, but it was always said by the Joes themselves. Were they just trying to get their own attention? Either way, it’s weird and it rhymes, which is a bad combination.
2. OH MY STARS AND GARTERS
There’s a tendency in comic books and cartoons to have smart characters only speak in smart people language. They’ll always use a big, multi-syllable word in place of a shorter, more commonly used word, just to constantly remind the audience how smart they are. Beast, from X-Men, falls into this trap from time to time. He’s the team’s resident scientist, biochemist, engineer or just generally “super smart” guy, so of course he can’t speak like a normal person.
For example, instead of saying “Oh my!” when he’s startled, he’ll rattle off “Oh my stars and garters!” The thing is, it’s not really that intelligent of a saying. The phrase is believed to originated in England, referring to the chivalry that comes with holding high office. So, it seems like Beast is just saying something that’s vaguely smart sounding because he overheard someone with a British accent use it once, and he never bothered to look up what it means.
When the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” were adapted into a children’s cartoon show, the concept was heavily altered from the original comics. The books were meant to be a parody of dark and gritty comics famous during the late ’80s, and were pretty violent themselves. The cartoon, however, was aimed at children, so the Ninja Turtles became more silly and fun loving. While Michelangelo was always the most fun loving and easy going turtle, by the time the cartoon came around, he had become a typical ’90s “party dude.”
This somehow led to him, and the other turtles, using the catchphrase “Cowabunga!” The phrase eventually became so synonymous with the Ninja Turtles, it seems like a completely made up word. “Cowabunga” actually originates from the ’60s, used mostly by surfers, making it already a dated reference in the late ’80s when the show debuted. These days, nobody says “cowabunga” except the Ninja Turtles and people asking “what does cowabunga even mean?”
Which phrase on or off this list do you find the most cringe-inducing? Let us know in the comments!