Comic Pet Peeves… of SCIENCE: Doctors without Labels

It’s time to clear the air. There have been a few things that generally bug me about the way science is portrayed in comics. You may call them nitpicks, but this is my platform and perhaps there are others out there looking for a voice in the darkness to point out these grating inconsistencies. Comics are generally pretty good about portraying science, for better or for worse, but they aren’t perfect and this is where I take a stand. This column is by no means meant to be comprehensive and may even continue on as a recurring feature in the future.

Doctors Without Labels

I spend a lot of time with PhDs and I can tell you that they are by and large an unpretentious group. Most do not mind be casually called by first name. There’s no “Professor So and So”, “Doctor Such and Such” or “Assistant Professor This and That.” I even know medical doctors that shrug nonchalantly when called “Mister.” However, when they’re on the job, dealing with students or patients, the proper title starts to matter. It inspires confidence and authority when it’s needed most. Nobody wants to hear their surgeon called “Mister” and not be corrected, because what if your surgeon really hadn’t received an MD? That’d be the kind of thing that might matter before going under the knife.

So what I cannot figure out is why there are incredibly intelligent comic book characters who go out of their way to avoid receiving the proper appellation. I know there are plenty that include "Doctor" or "Professor" but it's the anomalies that get under my skin. Examples include, but probably aren’t limited to: Mister Fantastic, Mister Freeze, Ms. Marvel, and Mister Terrific.

The three men on the list are all holders of advanced degrees, and Reed Richards is probably the smartest human in the Marvel universe. So why on earth does he insist on being called “Mister”? It can’t be ego, because the second word is “Fantastic” and not “Stretchy.” He clearly thinks highly of himself but not enough to be “Dr. Fantastic.” I always found this even more odd because his nemesis is Dr. Doom, not Mr. Doom. Even though I have no proof the Victor von Doom finished his degree after that explosion messed him up. Has anyone been to his office to see what he has hanging on the walls? Did he just create a university in Latveria to give himself an honorary doctorate? I know he’s smart but he’s also well versed in magic, and as I touch on later those guys do tend to inflate their résumé. So maybe Reed is going by Mister just to annoy Victor, which is really the most egotistically move of all. Geniuses are weird.

Then there’s Mister Freeze, who is a genius in the field of cryogenics, i.e. cold stuff. His goal is to find a cure for his ill wife and somehow being a criminal is a big part of that. My suspicion with Victor (apparently a popular name for aspiring smart villains) is that he is trying to downplay his intelligence to catch his foes off guard. We all know that Batman is smarter than Mr. Freeze, but I’m not sure it’s public knowledge in the DC Universe that Batman is the #2 human brain on the planet after Lex Luthor. Either way, Freeze calling himself Mister is not a great plan, but judging from Freeze’s overall pattern of behavior, planning is not something he does all that well.

Ms. Marvel is something of an anomaly amongst the four characters mentioned above. She’s not a scientist, she’s military. And there are plenty of male characters from the military that happily use rank as part of their stage name, but not Carol Danvers. I honestly have no idea why she would avoid the authority of her earned title. I have a meta pet peeve wherein women, particularly PhD holders, are called Miss by dismissive men of lesser education. It happens far more often than it should. But getting back to Danvers, I can’t actually find what rank she was in the Air Force, so perhaps there’s a miniseries to be made from exploring her past, rediscovering her rank and changing her title to Corporal Marvel or whatever is ends up being. There’s really no reason she couldn’t even be Captain Marvel since Noh-Varr is going by Protector now.

And finally we have Mister Terrific. This is perhaps the only character that makes sense. The modern holder of the role of Mister Terrific is Michael Holt, the #3 brain in the DCU after Lex and Bruce. Holt holds more than one doctorate but his reason for sticking with Mister seems to be legacy more than anything. The original Mister Terrific, Terry Sloane, graduated college at the age of 13, so was obviously very intelligent, but never pursued post-graduate education and thus is still only a Mister. And since Michael Holt is carrying on that legacy, the prefix persists and I think after being the Bronze Medal winner at the nerd olypmics for so long Holt probably has the humility to handle it.

Ironically, Doctors Strange, Voodoo, and Fate are all magical guys. Even if the first two actually have Medical Degrees, it seems odd that in magic there is a trend to want to be referred to as a Doctor. I think this is part of a larger trend about the relationship between magic and science which I hope to explore in a future column.

So I guess my point is give respect where respect is due, and be skeptical of those magical doctors, unless you have proof they went to an accredited university.

And finally, Cartar Hall is an archaeologist, so it should be Dr. Hawkman. I imagine he’d hit you with his mace if you called him Mister, so be careful.



If you or someone you know has been pet peeved by science in comics, please get in touch with Ryan Haupt. For audio catharsis, listen to his podcast Science… sort of.


  1. Geniuses ARE weird.

  2. I’ve said this before, but Ryan is quickly becoming my favorite writer on the site. I love reading about science and comics. Although this doesn’t deal with the nitty-gritty sciencey stuff, it’s no exception. 

    Ryan makes science FUN!  

  3. Mr. Fantastic goes by Dr. Richards but no doubt he goes by Mr. Fantastic, because personal opinions aside, he holds no degree in being fantastic.

  4. Both the first and last Doctor Fates were real doctors of medicine and psycholgy respectively 

  5. @wulfstone  Wasn’t the first Dr. Fate was an Egyptian wizard?

  6. That was Nabu and I don’t recall if he ever called himself Doctor Fate back in the day. The first appearance of Doctor Fate was Dr Kent Nelson back in 1940.

  7. I like Dr. Hawkman. I’d like to see that change made.

  8. This was fun to read and pointed out some things we take for granted and never think about. Did Dr. Polaris complete his medical degree? I can let the title slide for a “legacy”, but Dr. Freeze makes more sense.

    When I first met my future father-in-law, who was a PhD in History and vice-president of a universitry, the last thing I called him was “Mr. Reese.” Boy did I feel like a dumbass, although he didn’t care.

    I also think Reed Richards should start going by “Dr. Fabulous” instead of Mr. Fantastic.

  9. Per my recollection, Carol Danvers is a Captain in the Air Force.

  10. Very fun. I think we’ve reached the point in “Fantastic Four” where we hear the four called by their real names far more often than by their “superhero” names. Reed is referred to as “Dr. Richards” far more often than he is at “Mr. Fantastic”, but my completely unresearched and totally anecdotal observations.

    And I think “Dr. Terrific” sounds awesome. 

  11. but what about “The Doctor” as in Who? you wanna pick a fight with a Timelord…cause i don’t!

  12. I don’t know if I like the idea of “Dr. Hawkman” although I love the idea of “Dr. Lizard.” Almost as much as I love the idea of “Dr. Hulk.” When your costume is basically the tattered remnants of a lab coat, I think it’d be hard not to go by “doctor.” 

  13. In the Air Force, Ms. Marvel’s full title is Captain Carol “Cheeseburger” Danvers.  Cheeseburger is her pilot handle.  So technically, Captain Cheeseburger wouldn’t be wrong…

    I work with a whole mess of PhD’s as well, and the ones I work with are on the opposite side of the spectrum.  While they’re all generally nice people, there isn’t one I know who wouldn’t immediately correct you if you were to say Mister or Ms.

    Also, I thought the argument could be made that the titles of the respective characters were coined prior to actually recieving their degrees, thus making sense at the time, and rolling with it through the years.  I know this isn’t always the case, but it would certainly explain a decent amount of them.

    And finally, Batman is the second smartest person in the DCU?  That is preposterous.  I understand you’d have to have a mind like that to be able to do what he does, but I just don’t see a genius of that level getting his hands as dirty as Batman often does.   

    Other smart Marvel people to think about: Dr. Stark?  Dr. Boltagon?  Surely Cap has recieved an honorary degree or two throughout the years.  Think of the commencement speeches where Cap congradulates the graduates on their hard work!  It only makes sense. 

  14. @Peteparker  You don’t get to be Dr. just by being smart, you actually have to go through a PhD program, or med school or dental school, etc. 

    So Blackbolt is definitely not a doctor.

  15. Doom has an honorary degree he gave himself as monarch of Latveria.  I believe Castro did the same thing.

  16. @Tork  that was what I assumed but didn’t have a reference, do you know what issue he admits that in?

  17. No, but I do believe I’ve seen it established in Marvel encyclopedias or something.  I don’t think Doom would ever admit he’s not a real doctor.

  18. Doctor Midnite.

  19. @JSAkid  Quote from the article:  “I know there are plenty that include “Doctor” or “Professor” but it’s the anomalies that get under my skin.”

  20. This article reminds of when Dr. Strange stepped down from being Sorceror Supreme and his book after that was just called “Strange” because he wasn’t a doctor anymore and thinking “Huh?”

  21. Great article, Ryan. I appreciate how you put a logical and scientific perspective on ideas like these. Occam’s Razor, most of the writers didn’t think it through when they named the characters.

    One of my personal pet peeves is when Leonard da Vinci is refered to only as da Vinci, which is completely innacurate. (Ask any Italian or art historian.) If you want to abbreviate, it’s Leonardo pure and simple. I’m thinking of “The Da Vinci Code” and Hickman’s “S.H.I.E.L.D.” specifically. What’s even more annoying about “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is that Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is always called Michelangelo, but Leonardo is stuck being called da Vinci. *Sigh*

  22. Yeah it’s like the band U2 but there’s more than two of them! And did you know it’s a blue sky, so how could it be a green day? Birds of Tokyo aren’t Japanese, they’re Australian! Even silly old me hasn’t been sporting black sunglasses and trenchcoats and jacking on lately? Maybe it’s cuz it’s a monicker and not a name or title, just like most of these superhero cats here.

  23. @Matrix So you’re saying that because a bunch of bands have odd names you didn’t like the article?

  24. I hope Dr. Hawkman becomes a character. Even if he’s just showing up alongside Middle Mgmt Red Skull & Post-Coital Thor.

  25. I’ve always thought “Mr. Fantastic” was meant to be said sarcastically.  Like Ben or Johnny saying, “OK, how do we get out of this one ‘Mr. Fantastic’?”

  26. @MisterShaw: Yes!  “You’re nose turned out so well!  Does Dr. Hawkman do all your rhinoplasty?”  btw shouldn’t you be DoctorShaw on this page?

  27. I’ve always liked the names Captain Atom and Major Force, both of which are DC characters. Captain Atom was a member of the US Air Force before gaining his powers, and I think he may have actually earned the rank of Captain before his tranformation. I need to reread his ’80s series to see if he actually made it that far.

    It’s a similar tale for Major Force. He was also in the Air Force, but I have no idea if he actually gained the rank of Major. Looks like I’ve got some back issue reading in my future!

  28. @Haupt  I would imagine that Black Bolt went through some kind of Inhuman royal prep school that would be equivalent to at least undergrad college, and possibly more.  Plus, Dr. Boltagon sounds awesome, and I’d love to hear Medusa say, “Dr. Boltagon is his father, he’d like you to call him Black Bolt.” 😉

  29. I would love to see that article about the magic/science relationship.
    I feel like marvel was going to pursue that – but it seems to have stalled lately.

  30. According to this page Danvers made it to Major in the Air Force.