Ah, who can forget that world-changing childhood moment when you first picked up a comic book featuring a truly unique superhero character? Not comic book creators, apparently -- because it turns out they straight-up jacked many of the heroes you know and love from earlier works. And no, we're not about to list the knockoff brainchildren of Rob Liefeld. We're talking A-listers, like ...
#5. Captain America
Captain America arose during World War II as an inspiration for John Q. Public to do way more Nazi face-punching, and there's no hero more American than the red, white and blue Captain.
"This looks as ridiculous as it does awesome!"
Cap is so well known, in fact, that no one else can successfully pull off the stars-and-bars look anymore -- if they try, they may as well just print "RIPOFF" across their chest in place of the big white star. And God help them if they had some kind of trademark red, white and "everything-proof" blue shield.
It turns out ol' Cap actually showed up a little late to the Stars 'n' Stripes toga party. In fact, he was beat by two other dudes decked out in Old Glory -- the first of whom was the Shield, whose January 1940 debut landed a good 14 months before el Capitan. The Shield wore an armored costume shaped like a -- wait for it -- shield that repelled bullets and also prevented him from clapping or holding babies.
Thus making him the perfect 1940s father.
Curiously enough, in his first issue, Captain America had a shield shaped just like that (although he had the good sense to carry it instead of using it as a fashion statement). It was such a conspicuous copy that the Shield's publishers complained, resulting in Marvel changing it in the very next issue to the more practical patriotic Frisbee Cap carries to this day.
Apparently Adolf's only weakness is a telegraphed haymaker.
But the similarities didn't end with the characters' amazing fashion sense. Cap and Shieldy also both took a serum that gave them their powers, and in both cases Nazis killed the doctors who created the superjuice. And the name of the Shield's formula was the clever acronym S.H.I.E.L.D. (Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lungs and Derma), which you might recognize as the name of the organization Captain America would eventually come to work for under the command of Nick Fury (the pasty one with all the belt pouches, not the Sam Jackson one).
"The Shield is unstoppable! Unless you happen to angle your gun up or down, slightly."
The Shield's initial run came to an untimely end when the publisher, having recently changed its name from MLJ Magazines to Archie Comics due to the popularity of a certain other character, decided to switch their focus away from superheroes. And despite several attempts to revive the character over the years, Captain America has easily retained his ear-winged crown as the usurper king of the patriotic Hitler-punchers.
Back when Aquaman debuted in 1941, he was just a normal human whose scientist father had used him as an aquatic guinea pig, granting him the power to survive better down where it's wetter. The Aquaman we all know and love didn't come about until they retconned him in 1959: That's when he became a full-fledged Atlantean, gained the ability to telepathically talk to seafood and eventually became king of the seas.
The Shark had already done all that -- 20 years earlier. The Shark debuted in Amazing-Man Comics in 1939 and is widely considered the first real aquatic superhero (although Marvel's Sub-Mariner came in a close second in the ultra-competitive underwater superbeing race). The Shark watched lots of "super-television" and fought crime with an assist from his dear old dad -- Neptune himself. The reason they called him the Shark might surprise you: It's because he liked to hang out with sharks. OK, so maybe that didn't surprise you.
"Dude, be honest, how big does my package look in this Speedo?"
But the similarities end with their powers and origins, because Aquaman and the Shark look nothing alike. The Shark wears a blue bathing suit and a mask -- although, as far as we know, he has no secret identity to protect. Maybe he's just into masks.
"Oh, yeah, us dead sailors are totally better off. Yaaay."
Aquaman, on the other hand, sports a more distinctive look. In a world where the good heroes apparently snatched up all the red and blue spandex, Aquaman decided to take the road less traveled: He fights sea-crime in a long-sleeve, traffic-cone-orange top, above a pair of dark green pants. He's also got a few gold accessories to really make his fabulously flaxen hair "pop."
"Although spears are used to hunt whales, I use mine in a way that is not like that."
However, if you flip a few pages past the Shark in Amazing-Man Comics, you'll find a familiar face. Minimidget is a 2-inch-tall man, but if you overlook that one slight discrepancy, he and Aquaman have a lot in common.
He tragically dies several issues later when he's accidentally eaten by a sea sponge.
First, they're both almost as useful as a sex swing in a fight, and second, they look like twins. Blond hair, orange long-sleeve top with green pants and a gold belt? Yeah, all DC added was some scales and the letter "A." Pick up any issue of Amazing-Man Comics, and you're holding the complete recipe to whip up your very own Aquaman.
#3. The Punisher
Back in the early '70s, a black-clad assassin came gunning for Spidey in The Amazing Spider-Man No. 129. Marvel liked the character so much that they spun him off into his own series, turning this skull-wearing gunslinger for hire into a one-man army fighting his own personal war on crime. The Punisher was the first real antihero in comics, and everyone has tried to copy him since.
The Punisher was actually greatly influenced by (read: shamelessly carbon-copied from) author Don Pendleton's Executioner, who first appeared in the 1968 novel War Against the Mafia. Like the Punisher (aka Frank Castle), the Executioner (aka Mack Bolan) is a Vietnam vet who keeps a "War Journal," drives a high-tech "War Wagon" and tends to shoot lots of bad people to death.
But while characters in novels generally aren't known for their outlandish attire, the Punisher is easily recognized by his trademark black suit with the leering white skull that makes him seem more villain than hero. It's a very memorable look -- as well it should be, because it's been around since the 1940s. You see, the costume borrows heavily from a popular hero of the golden age of comics called the Black Terror. This series featured Bob Benton, a druggist who created a formula that gave him super strength and invulnerability. For reasons never explained in the original comic, this also gave him an overwhelming compulsion to dress up in pirate tights and fight crime.
With a name like the Black Terror, we expected way more old-timey racism.
Despite his relatively run-of-the-mill powers, the Black Terror was pretty popular for a while -- perhaps due to the fact that he had the bitchingest duds around. In an era when all the other heroes wore garish colors, the Black Terror was a dark, menacing figure, rocking the skull and crossbones and a mismatched cape that he presumably lifted from some wimpier superhero to set an example that nobody fucks with the Black Terror.
However, unlike the Punisher, the Black Terror wasn't really an antihero. He was just your average do-gooder, trying to make a difference in the world by savagely murdering bad guys with his bare fists while wearing the universal symbol of death. Also unlike Frank Castle, the Black Terror had superpowers and didn't typically use guns -- but he certainly wasn't opposed to employing them when he had to. In fact, during some of his more trigger-happy moments, he could put even the ruthless Punisher to shame. After all, when's the last time you saw the Punisher do something like literally steamroll a group of offensive Asian stereotypes while simultaneously Swiss-cheesing them with a Tommy gun?