5 Iconic Characters You Didn't Know Were Ripoffs
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 ...
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.
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?
What do you do when you wake up one morning to find that your eyeballs are puking out destructive beams you can't control? You get a special pair of goggles to keep them from zapping everyone, then join up with the X-Men and become the mutant superhero known as Cyclops, of course!
Or, if it's nearly a quarter century before the X-Men even existed, you could always call yourself the Comet instead.
"No, baby, you gotta hide lower ... lower ... looooooower ..."
Cartoonist Jack Cole is perhaps best known for creating Plastic Man in 1941 (the first stretchy superhero, way before Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four). But before that, his most popular character was the Comet. The Comet's alter ego, John Dickering, was a young scientist who discovered a gas "50 times lighter than hydrogen." So naturally he decided that the most reasonable thing to do was to shoot it up.
Instead of inducing a coronary embolism, the first test gave him the power to super-leap. Emboldened by his own reckless success, John dickered around with more injections until he gained all-out flight. However, there was an unfortunate side effect that surprisingly had nothing to do with him floating off into space to pop like a runaway balloon: His eyes began emitting rays that disintegrated things -- rays that fortunately could also be stopped by ordinary glass. And so, freshly armed with his new "dissolvo-vision," he created a costume complete with protective goggles, embellished it with stars, moons and a giant red arrow pointing from his crotch to his face (for some reason), then set out to fight him some crime!
"If either one of you makes a Wicked Witch reference while I'm killing you, I swear to God ..."
Cyclops has an undeniably similar affliction and costume, the only difference being that his beams are concussive-force optic blasts that don't give off any heat -- meaning that he sort of eyepunches you really hard, without killing you -- whereas the Comet ...
His one-liners could use some work, but his random murder skills are above reproach.
... apparently had no such pussification ray in his origin story. During his first appearance in Pep Comics No. 1, the Comet atomized no fewer than three different gangsters, and when he finally tracked down the crime boss, he decided to give his eyes a rest and dropped him to his death instead. All in a day's work for the Comet!
Incidentally, Pep Comics No. 1 was also the first appearance of the Shield. What a strange coincidence! Another odd happenstance is that legendary artist Jack Kirby was the co-creator of both Captain America and the X-Men (and, for that matter, the Fantastic Four, featuring the quite Plastic Man-esque Mr. Fantastic). But Kirby probably didn't even know about these obscure characters -- except that he did do freelance work for Archie Comics in '58, a good five years before he and Stan Lee created the X-Men.
Huh. If we didn't know any better, we'd be tempted to say that Jack Kirby, arguably the most influential comic book artist ever, may have also been the biggest "borrower" in the industry. There's also some controversy centered around whether or not he deserves to get credit for co-creating Spider-Man with Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, which gets really interesting when you consider the fact that Kirby worked at Fox Comics early in his career -- the company responsible for a character that was awfully similar to ...
Sure, there have always been lots of arachnid-themed characters in comics, but none of them are as distinct as Spidey. And while it seems like just about everyone nowadays can climb walls and leap around like an Olympic-level Slinky, nobody else has web-slingers -- because that's pretty much Spider-Man's "thing." Sure, the spider sense is cool and all, but if there's one aspect that defines the character, it's his web-slinging. Web shooters, mounted on his wrists, that he uses to swing around and catch baddies ...
... just like Fox Comics' Spider Queen did in the 1940s, a good 20 years before Peter "Patent Violation" Parker ever experimented with shooting the sticky stuff.
"Spider Queen, Spider Queen, she can cook, she can clean ... and do ... laundry, we guess. Look out!"
Like Spidey, the Spider Queen had a tragic backstory and thought red and blue were appropriate stealth colors. Shannon Kane was the wife and lab assistant of government chemist Harry Kane. After Harry was killed by enemies of the country, she nosed through his papers and found the formula for "spider-web fluid." So then she devised a pair of bracelets to spray the stuff, donned a slutty cheerleader outfit and started busting some heads. And look, she even fired her web bracelets with a flex of the wrist:
"That will teach you to mess with me, law enforcement!"
Yeah, Shannon Kane was doing the whole web-slinger shtick long before nuclear arachnids started running amok and biting moody high school students. And when you think about it, web shooters actually fit a female character from the '40s remarkably well. After all, in an era when the strongest female superhero of all could be put in her place by a little S&M, she couldn't very well go around punching people -- she was a dame, for goodness' sake! She needed to fight crime without offending the sensibilities of the time, and firing sticky ropes at the bad guys basically gave the Spider Queen the power of super-knitting.
"No, please, not another one of those hideous sweaters! NOOOOOOOO!"
As for the incredibly revealing outfit she wore in an age of conservative dress, we're thinking the Spider Queen used it as a way to stun her enemies. No, she didn't have the proportional speed and strength of a spider, but in the era before bikinis, braless cleavage must've been a formidable superpower.
"I think she's coming on to me."
Monte Richard writes comics with a bunch of other supervillains at RealToyGun.com.
For more awesome originals that are anything but, check out 6 Famous Characters You Didn't Know Were Shameless Rip-Offs and 7 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Rip-Offs.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Crucial Rules of End Zone Celebration Etiquette.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn which columnist is ripping his growing bald spot off of Captain Picard.
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