Just Who IS Ms. Marvel, Anyway?

Update 2016-05-29

What an unexpected update! The May PSD meeting inadvertently answered my question about how LC prefers to handle these specific situations.

Human Torch (Fictitious characters)

The Human Torch is a fictitious character that has various human identities over time. The Human Torch himself may have changed his looks over time, but it was still the same character. It is therefore not a group of fictitious characters according to LCSH, but a single one, which should be established in the name authority file as a pseudonym used by several persons. The proposal was not approved.

I can see situations where I think it’d be good to differentiate between identities. If you had a very large comic book collection in your library and a patron asked for the issues where Bucky was Captain America, having two name headings like “Captain America (Bucky Barnes)” and “Captain America (Steve Rogers)” would be useful. I can see how that could grow untenable though.

I guess I fundamentally disagree that the Human Torch has really been  the ‘same character’ through his various iterations. I mean the first iteration of the Torch was a freakin’ robot! That’s certainly a different character than Johnny Storm.

So though I don’t agree with them that every person that uses a name should be grouped under a single heading — that’s their answer.

Next step my dear catalogers — GO FORTH and add them 400s!

The other day I was cataloging some trade paper backs of Ms. Marvel comics, and was deciding whether or not to use a 600 for the character herself (subdivided by $v Comic books, strips, etc. of course).

Hopping to the name authority file, I found Marvel, Ms. but noted that while “Danvers, Carol” is listed as a 400, “Khan, Kamala” is not.

I wasn’t sure if this identity  (in the Library of Congress I mean, not for Marvel Comics Group and their attendant industries) was intended to represent all people ever known as “Marvel, Ms.” — a sort of collective pseudonym — and therefore usable to represent Khan’s incarnation of the character.

Having posed the question on twitter (and a big thanks to SofiaDistracted and Jessica for engaging with me on this, I checked a bunch of other NARs for comic characters whose names have been adopted by multiple people. Here are some findings:

So from these 4 examples…either the catalogers making the NAR didn’t care to add ANY alter-egos (poor Batgirl and Nightwing!), or they added one for the predominant identity only, or ALL the identities! So I can’t really conclude anything. Maybe I need a larger sample, help me, more knowledgable comics people:

What other names that have been held by multiple people? (for the record, as of ‘print’ time, The Flash, Green Lantern, Venom, Ant-Man, Spider-Woman — all of whom I know off the top of my head have had different people under a single identity — are not in the NAF)

I’m not suggesting that the NAF should differentiate between every person who grabs a name and a cape for twenty minutes. But at the very least, adding in the 400s will allow people who are searching for some of those names to find the character.

To muddy the waters a bit, I did come across the FAQ on pseudonyms from NACO — while this is obviously intended to apply to creators/contributors of works, and not really to subjects, rules A1.4-A1.6 could perhaps be interpreted to apply to this situation.

Whew. I’d love to hear any thoughts anybody has on this!

5 thoughts on “Just Who IS Ms. Marvel, Anyway?

  1. You know, I don’t get this either…the only explanation I can offer is that someone took care of Captain Marvel’s on a whim, and never got to anything else. Superman’s authority record looks fleshed out, though– the 400s include both Kal-El as well as Kent, Clark.

    Also, would a subfield c for “alter-ego” be needed, like for pseudonyms?


  2. Superman does look good!

    I don’t think you’d necessarily need “alter-ego” I like “fictitious character” just fine, and I like the uniformity of having all fictional characters getting a single controlled qualifier. It confuses/annoys me that we have all these corporate bodies/space ships with (imaginary organization) or (imaginary space vehicle)


  3. I try to think of it from a reference and RA standpoint. How will I advise someone who want only Sam Wilson Captain America, not Steve Rogers. How can we make NAR’s convey those small details. I like the idea of having superheroes as more of a corporate/group name and the individual heroes are somehow linked to that particular portrayal. It gets difficult when you have Sam Wilson as Falcon and Steve Rogers as Captain America, but now Sam Wilson has portrayed Captain America, so how do you connect the person with the correct hero….


    1. this is a great question! I have strong feelings about fictional characters all being stuffed into a single authority record, I think it makes recording fictional biographical data very challenging. (I expanded greatly on this point here: https://inevermetadataididntlike.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/fictitious-characters-2016-ganin/)

      If I had my druthers, we’d have two separate AAPs one for “Captain America (Sam Wilson)” and one for “Captain America (Steve Rogers)”


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