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Literature / The Super Dictionary

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Teaching children grammar by Breaking the Fourth Wall.

"We all want our children to be excited by learning and gaining an early command of our language. This superb dictionary was carefully and systematically researched to accomplish just these things. Based on established educational methods, it contains all the words children need to know in the early grades. And it is so dynamic in design that children are highly motivated to use it. What could be more exciting than to have the greatest superheroes give meaning to a solid reading vocabulary."

The Super Dictionary is a 1978 children's dictionary. To be precise, a Warner Educational Services book, featuring superhero characters from DC Comics (including Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman) as well as a few Canon Foreigners. It has the characters act out the words and their definitions, in often bizarre (and often quite out-of-character) ways. Developed specifically as Edutainment, it was marketed as "a convenient and entertaining resource book unlike any other."

Well, that last part was true...

As a side note, Craig McCracken, the creator of The Powerpuff Girls, has stated that Mojo Jojo, one of the villains from the show, was partly based on this book. Namely, his tendency to repeat himself in strange ways.

It was published in 1978 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

But let's be honest, you're just here for Lex Luthor stealing 40 cakes. And That's Terrible.

Not to be confused with Superdickery, although you can find a few examples of that in here.

This work contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • The Penguin is a threatening character in the actual comics, but in this version he's a harmless buffoon who does things like leave the door open and get caught in his own trap.
    • Superman seems to be afraid that Lois Lane might beat him up.
    • Joker ties Supergirl down with ordinary tape.
  • Agent Scully: El Dragón insists that he's not afraid of dragons because they're not real... when there's one directly in front of him.
  • Alliterative Name: In addition to existing characters, we have a couple of canon foreigners with names like these: husband-wife detective team Ted and Teri Trapper.
  • Ambiguously Christian: Jonna Crisp is mentioned as going to a church in her rocket, and has a cross on said rocket which she believes gives her luck. It's not clear if she's just visiting the former or actually attending.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: "Before Batgirl went to Catwoman's house, she took her car apart." Did Barbara dismantle Catwoman's car, or was it her own? (And in either case, why did she do it?)
  • And That's Terrible: The Trope Namer, said when Lex Luthor steals 40 cakes. The dictionary also makes a point of clarifying that Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman are all "bad". In fact, villains are often referred to as "bad men."
  • Animal Motif: As you might expect, El Dragon is a huge fan of marmosets. No, wait. Pink fairy armadillos! No, no. Man O' war jellyfish?
  • Artistic License – Physics: No, Wonder Woman, it is not possible to make invisible things look "bright". (Though it would probably make sense to clean off the dirt from your plane to keep it invisible.)
  • Art Shift: It's pretty clear when characters have been added to a panel or altered to be ethnic with everything else staying the same. Also, comic panels from several different eras have been used along with their attendant changes in clothing and hair styles.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Lex Luthor is shown walking on what looks like the moon without any form of spacesuit at one point.
  • Batman Gambit: Conjura tries to spread peace by writing the word "peace" backwards on a chalkboard, hoping that people will read it out.
  • The Beastmaster:
    • Firehair, who is every bear's friend.
    • El Dragón, when he leads a horde of elephants.
  • Black Comedy: "Crashes like that could be heard almost every night. People who try to fly like Hawkgirl crash. They fall to the ground. After they have crashed enough times, they give up."
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Hawkgirl uses a 400-year old bow.
  • Butt-Monkey: Robin. An awful lot of things seem to happen to him more than any other character...
  • Calling Card: Conjura writes "ECAEP" on chalkboards everywhere. It's unclear what compels her to do this.
  • Canis Major: Jody has an encounter with a wolf so big, its head is the size of an adult man.
  • Canon Foreigner: A few characters were created especially for this book. Most of them do not appear anywhere else. These include:
    • Intrepid Reporter Wilson Forbes.
    • Alien SR-12.
    • Time travelling magician Conjura.
    • Husband and wife detective team Ted and Teri Trapper.
    • Tomahawk's partner Jody.
    • Spanish superhero with mental control over electrical devices El Dragón (other name: Miguel Rodriguez.)
    • Space pilot Jonna Crisp.
  • Captain Obvious: Many characters in the book become this, given that they are supposed to be adults, yet talk in a way meant to teach grammar to first-graders.
    Ted Trapper: "This is a picture of my aunt."
    Teri Trapper: "Then she must be your mother's sister, or your father's sister, or your uncle's wife."
    • "When Catwoman is awake, she is not sleeping."
    • As Hawkgirl flies over a mountain range, she realizes that mountains and fields are, in fact, not the same thing. (Though in fairness, the mountains were apparently not marked on her map.)
    • The book also points out that Comet and Krypto are not the same, as one is a horse and the other is a dog.
    • It even gets Lampshaded in the entry for "I'll":
    Batgirl: I'll use my powers. I'll is a short way of saying I will or I shall.
    Robin: I know that!
  • Child Mage: Conjura has been casting spells since she was a kid.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Catwoman seems to clean her tigers by dusting them off.
    Jimmy Olsen: "I am sad inside myself."
  • Comically Missing the Point: The narrator thinks that people ran away from the Joker because he was smoking, and they didn't like the smell of cigars. Not because he was, well, The Joker.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Batgirl tries to pay the Joker to go away... with a nickel.
  • Compelling Voice: The Flash seems to have this.
    "If the Flash talked to you, you would pay attention. You would look and listen carefully."
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: The Flash has gotten really tired of people complaining about him running through walls. He isn't actually destroying them, you know. (Though he later says that he is quite used to knocking down doors, so the complaints may not be totally invalid...)
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Supergirl challenges a butterfly to a race. Unsurprisingly, Supergirl wins.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Supergirl realises that somebody is hiding behind a curtain and asks her to show herself.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: One entry has the narrator suggest that the Joker should put his comedic talents to better use as a circus clown.
  • Dem Bones: Jimmy Olsen ran into some hostile ones during an adventure. He isn't certain that he wants to have any more adventures after that.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: As stated in the description, this book would repeat itself in strange ways over and over and over again, and it inspired Mojo Jojo's little character tic of doing the same thing.
    When no one was looking, Lex Luthor took forty cakes. He took 40 cakes. That's as many as four tens. And That's Terrible.
  • Disabled in the Adaptation: Implied. The Penguin describes himself as "crazy", when in the comics, he's generally depicted as sane.
  • Doppelgänger Attack: Catwoman of all people is apparently capable of this in this continuity.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Robin. When Batman allows him to drive the Batmobile, it ends with the car tumbling off a bridge and into a river.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Alfred is only referred to as "a butler".
  • Eviler than Thou: The Joker thinks he's meaner than the Penguin, according to one entry.
  • Face–Heel Revolving Door: Catwoman seems to randomly change between a dangerous supervillain who gets into fights with the Batfamily and a perfectly law-abiding circus cat trainer who hangs out with them like friends.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Lex Luthor is convinced that only The Joker or The Penguin could be the cause of a loud noise, not realising that The Joker is standing right behind him with a machine in plain view.
  • Fan Disservice: The word "East" is illustrated by Superman flying away from us towards the rising sun- with his legs spread, giving us a completely gratuitous and bizarre crotch shot.
  • Fantastic Fruits and Vegetables: Conjura has magic peanuts that can be used to summon elephants, of all things.
  • Fish out of Water: SR-12 doesn't truly feel at home on Earth, and gets homesick for her family quite a bit. Fortunately visiting doesn't seem to be an issue.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The Joker warns the reader that they’d better watch out for him.
  • Genius Sweet Tooth: Lex Luthor counts, assuming those forty cakes were for personal consumption.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: Atom is shown fighting one in one entry.
  • Go Fetch: Apparently, a candy bar is all that it takes for Batman to distract a tiger long enough to save Robin.
  • Goggles Do Nothing: Jonna Crisp has a pair of goggles on her hat which she never seems to use.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: One scenario has the heroes and villains facing each other in a football game.
  • Great Detective: Ted and Terri Trapper are said to be the best detectives in town.
  • Greed: This Joker seems more motivated by financial gain than other portrayals, as he once gleefully boasts that his newest scheme will make him the richest man in the world.
  • Green Aesop: Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen talk about the importance of cleaning Metropolis' air and water in one entry.
  • Harmless Villain:
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • The entry for "gay" uses the older definition where it meant "happy".
    • "Queer" is used to mean "strange".
    • The Flash has an encounter with a man who has snakes for hands. Said snake-handed man is described as "queer" by the narration.
  • Hazardous Water: While swimming, the Atom remarks to himself that he knows this body of water is dangerous — and he's proven right by the large sentient crocodile about to attack.
  • Hollywood Law: In the entry for "judge", the judge pronounces the Penguin guilty. Juries pronounce people guilty, and judges only give the sentence (except if they have a bench trial, where the defendant waives their right to a jury, which rarely happens).
  • Horned Humanoid: Supergirl briefly grows horns after being nearly headbutted by a cow.
  • Human Alien: SR-12 could easily be mistaken for a human, but she has purple eyes, purple hair, a number instead of a name, and wears a purple Latex Space Suit.
  • Hypocritical Humor: It is said that The Joker will never use this one bank again because somebody stole his money... right after he has robbed it.
  • Identical Stranger: One entry has Clark encounter a man who looks exactly like him. Lois even comments that she thought they were twins at first.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: It is stated that Clark Kent uses eyeglasses to help him see, but then it says that Superman doesn't actually need eyeglasses.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: The Penguin is portrayed like this. He bumps into some guy at the bus, gets caught when he tries to start early in a race, is unable to catch up to a running Batman, drops the sticks he is carrying, gets hit on his head by falling apples, and tumbles of a cliff. Oh, and there are tons of people who want to beat him up, too.
  • Insistent Terminology: Every time a superhero's Secret Identity is brought up, it's referred to as their "other name".
  • Insult Backfire: The Penguin doesn't mind Batman calling him crazy.
    The Penguin: "You are right, Batman. I am crazier than you."
  • Interactive Narrator:
    • The narrator actually tells Jonna Crisp to "Look out" when she hears explosions.
    • It's later implied that the narrators are actual, unseen characters. They mentioned that Conjura visited "their" school, so they are presumably students and/or employees.
    • The narrators also yell at The Atom to get bigger, as he is being attacked by 50 bees. That's as many as five tens. And that's too many bees when you are tiny.
  • Interspecies Romance: Krypto seems to be dating a nice Earth dog whom he calls "honey".
  • Invisibility Cloak:
    • SR-12 has caps which seem to fill this function.
    • Conjura also makes a drink that will turn her invisible.
  • Jet Pack: Jonna Crisp has one that she's willing to lend out to anyone who needs it.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: One entry has Lois Lane fighting Lex Luthor while wearing what looks like a formal gown.
  • Kidnapping Bird of Prey: Black Canary gets carried off by a giant bird.
  • Lazy Bum: The Joker is described as being lazy sometimes, especially if there’s work to be done.
  • Limited-Use Magical Device: Conjura has a number of these, including a Magic Carpet, several magical cloths, possibly a time tunnel (it's unclear if this is a device or a ritual), a magic necklace with Spider-Sense, among others.
  • The Mad Hatter: Penguin freely admits to being crazy.
  • Manly Tears: Green Arrow cries because a child rips up a painting he made for Black Canary.
  • Mind Control: Conjura uses one of her backwards incantations to tell a "mean person" to dnim rieht srennam.
  • Mountain Man: Tomahawk and Jody, who dress like Davy Crockett-style trappers (though they must have been born decades before Crockett to have fought in The American Revolution).
  • Muggles Do It Better: Conjura uses a crystal ball to contact an old man. He tells her that she should have simply used a phone instead.
  • Mundane Fantastic: Magic necklaces are used to discuss... rising prices.
    "For most people, magic necklaces cost too much money."
  • Mundane Utility:
    • Green Arrow likes to ring doorbells by shooting arrows at them.
    • Green Lantern uses his ring to... set his clock, while jumping to the floor in a dramatic fashion.
    • El Dragon stops an elevator and fixes a radio with his mind.
    • Defied in the case of Conjura who seems reluctant to use her powerful command over magic to do things like fix holes in her roof or create light in the dark.
  • Never My Fault: Robin is unable to hit the basket in a basketball match. He is certain that there must be something wrong with the ball.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: The Atom is menaced by a talking albino crocodile who claims to have fought him before.
  • Noodle Incident: Some of the scenarios comes across like this.
    • Why does Lois Lane have a box on her head?
    • Why are Green Arrow and Green Lantern running away from an angry crowd while carrying a duck?
    • Why does Batgirl jump onto the roof of a train driven by Batman (without realising that he drove it)?
  • Oh, Crap!: Hawkgirl has this expression after being surrounded by goblins.
  • Oil Slick: Penguin causes Batgirl to slip by squirting some oil from one of his umbrellas.
  • Ominous Owl: An implied example. Black Canary is briefly shown running away from a giant owl while gasping.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: El Dragón, who - despite his name - doesn't really have any sort of dragon theme. Though it's still a pretty badass moniker.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Atom pays a visit to a castle inhabited by some.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Here, they're "bad fairies that can do magic".
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted. Christianity is still practised in Jonna Crisp's time.
  • Own Goal: The Joker brags about scoring a touchdown in a football game, only for Penguin to tell him that he went the wrong way.
  • Painting the Medium: Teri Trapper throws a ball which bounces off the panel's border and the text within it.
    • Supergirl's super sight is portrayed as a "zoomed in" circle showing her point of view... except she says that she can actually see Superman "in the circle."
  • Pet the Dog: One entry has the Penguin baking cookies for everyone in Gotham, and another has him warning Robin that's something awful behind one of several doors, apparently out of sincere concern.
  • Poke the Poodle:
    • Lex Luthor stealing 40 cakes, of course. There's also him trying to cover his enemies in paint.
    • The Penguin seems to think that leaving a door ajar counts as evil.
  • Produce Pelting: Hawkman gets hit by a thrown peanut, though it's not clear if he was actually the intended target.
  • Pronoun Trouble: Lois Lane gives us this line:
    Lois: "Is anyone here? Is there any woman, man, boy or girl here?"
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Lois Lane gets so infuriated with Superman's indecision about whether to fly or drive that she lays him out on the ground, grabs a fistful of his shirt, and yells in his face to decide.
  • Redemption Rejection: Batgirl offers the Joker a chance to be her friend; he responds by throwing a dart at her and declaring he'd rather be her enemy.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: The Atom gets menaced by a swarm of fifty bees.
  • Sci-Fi Bob Haircut: Worn by SR-12.
  • Serious Business: Jonna Crisp is really concerned that somebody else got to empty a glass of water before she had the chance.
  • Skewed Priorities:
  • Spiders Are Scary: One entry has Wonder Woman trying to find a dangerous spider that's hidden in one of eighteen boxes.
  • Spider-Sense: Conjura's magic necklace glows when danger is approaching.
  • Stern Old Judge: The entry for "judge" depicts one of these: an older man who bluntly tells the Penguin he's wrong.
  • Stock Animal Diet: Wonder Girl's pet rabbit is shown eating a carrot.
  • Suckiness Is Painful: One definition has Batman tell Robin that he said "ow!" not because he was injured, but because he heard a stupid joke.
  • Summon Magic: Conjura is mentioned as being able to pull a bunny out of her magic window. Presumably, she could conjure other things with it as well.
  • Superdickery: Batgirl is seen burying a (by implication, stolen) money bag in a sand dune. No context or explanation is given for this.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Conjura has almost the exact same "cast spells by speaking backwards" powers as Zatanna, though she can also travel in time. She was originally going to be Zatanna, but she was replaced by a black Canon Foreigner in order to add more diversity to the dictionary.
  • Sweet Tooth: Implied with Luthor's memetic and terrible theft of 40 cakes.
  • Take Me to Your Leader: Said almost word for word by Jonna Crisp. Though in this case there doesn't seem to be any antagonism involved, and Jonna hopes that said leader will be a Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Characters are able to have long conversations when they really shouldn't be able to. For instance, Firehair manages say to say all of this while a pot is breaking:
    Firehair: "Don't break those pots. Do not tear them apart. If you broke them, you would have nothing to put water in. If they have been broken, we cannot fix them."
    • Some pedestrians also manage to say quite a lot as a bridge collapses beneath their feet.
    Pedestrians: "The bridge is falling, Wonder Woman! The road across the river is falling. Save us."
    Wonder Woman: "Don't be afraid. I've caught bridges before."
    • Robin apparently has more than enough time to say several sentences a woman falls off a building.
    Robin: "I just hope he can catch her. I hope he can take hold of her as she falls though the air. If she isn't caught, it's the end."
  • Tap on the Head: Lois Lane karate chops Lex Luthor on the back of the neck to keep him from grabbing a bag of money.
  • Technopath: El Dragon has power over things that use electricity, and can even fix them with his mind.
  • Teleportation: Conjura can use her magic to teleport all over the world, but she also a car.
  • There Was a Door:
    • "Chimneys are for smoke, not people. Next time, use the door."
    • Flash also has a tendency to enter buildings by running straight through the wall.
  • This Is a Drill: For some reason, Lois Lane's job at the Daily Planet requires her to drill holes in walls.
  • Time Travel: Conjura has a time tunnel (ritual?) that takes about ten minutes to warm up.
  • Unstoppable Mailman: Implied. SR-12 writes a letter and sends it to her family, who happen to be on another planet.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Jody seems quite nonchalant about how big the wolf he comes across is. Its head is just as big as a grown man, and yet he only treats it like an unusually large specimen.
  • Villainous Friendship: Joker and Penguin are implied to have one, since the latter is mentioned to have bought the former a hat.
  • Villainous Glutton:
    • Implied by Lex Luthor's infamous theft of forty cakes, assuming he meant to eat them himself.
    • One entry says that the Penguin ate an entire pie by himself.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Lex Luthor is shown celebrating his birthday at one point.
  • Villains Want Mercy: One bad guy lassoed by Wonder Woman tells her he's going to get on his knees and beg her to let him go.
  • Wall Crawl: Done by The Joker, of all people, apparently after Catwoman asked him to do so. He succeeds.
  • Weight Woe: In one entry, Superman steps on a scale and is shocked to find he weighs 400 pounds.
  • Whole Costume Reference: SR-12's bodysuit seems to be based on the one worn by Saturn Girl, only purple and with a slightly different pattern.
  • With Catlike Tread: Green Lantern yells at Green Arrow to be quiet so they can eavesdrop.
  • Working-Class Hero: When someone swipes a dollar from Conjura, she gets upset and complains that she doesn't have a lot of money in the bank. It's mentioned that she can turn dimes into frogs, which may explain why. Also, her house seems to suffer from leaks in the roof and bad plumbing.
  • Worthy Opponent: It's implied Batman views the Joker as this to some extent, since he says of himself and his archenemy "we are both masters".