9 Iconic Superheroes Who Were Based On Real People
Superheroes are larger than life, so it's no surprise they're often based on celebrities. Sometimes it's a marketing ploy for an entertainer. Sometimes an actor writes a comic starring himself as the main character to impress producers. Sometimes you invent a hero named Mightyman and draw him to resemble your dad so that he might finally say he loves you even though your stoic New England family isn't much for such expressions.
We're not talking about those folks. We're talking straight-up sneaky likeness infringement.
When I was a kid in the '90s, mourning nameless S.H.I.E.L.D. agents gunned down by Hydra, I didn't think anybody else cared about Marvel's secret agency. Nick Fury's spy career had simmered down to that of a plot device. He only showed up to send the X-Men into space, point Punisher at targets, and treat Quasar like a respectable character who didn't have a mullet.
How wrong I was! These days, S.H.I.E.L.D. has its own TV show and a character's death will be mourned more than my real one.
What happened? A little thing called The Ultimate Universe. Marvel retold their characters' stories from scratch: no decades of continuity weighing them down like Iron Man armor on Captain America.
And therefore no need to admit this happened.
The new version of The Avengers was Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates. And it kicked your ass in your ass's balls. S.H.I.E.L.D. was now in charge of The Avengers. Hulk was a terrifying threat. Captain America could rout a battalion single-handedly. Hawkeye went from the most laughable member to the only one you could rely on. It was the blueprint for everything that makes the movies so damn good.
Millar and Hitch fantasy-cast their book with some top stars of the day. Like this Brad Pitt-ish Captain America ...
Why, he looks downright pitt-uitary!
Heck, there's even a scene where The Ultimates fantasy-cast The Ultimates:
You know you lack heart when Ant-Man feels comfortable shitting on you ...
And Nick Fury? Well, this was 2002, and the only celebrities who admitted they read comics were Freddie Prinze Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson.
Prinze didn't get to play a superhero in the book, but he did go on a date
with Hulk's main squeeze, Betty.
You got that? Jackson isn't just the only man badass enough to play Nick Fury; Fury is remodeled on how badass Jackson is. Marvel's just lucky the actor was pleased by the nod and wanted to play the part in the inevitable movie instead of suing them.
Prinze's present-day whereabouts are unknown.
The Killer And The Fox
Remember 2008's Wanted, in which Lara Croft taught Professor X how to bend bullet trajectories by hitting him with a car? There was also an assassins guild that took its orders from The Textile Mill Of Fate.
Morgan Freeman also does this in real life.
The movie was very loosely based on a 2003 comic about an introverted nerd who discovers he has superpowers. In the comic version, he uses them to murder, rape, and steal without opposition. Described as "Watchmen for supervillains," the result was much closer to "Spider-Man for men's rights activists."
Assuming such a man would ever listen to what a woman has to teach him.
Millar was fantasy-casting up a storm in this period, when Eminem still epitomized angry white suburbia. Around the same time, Halle Berry was tapped to play Catwoman, so the Scottish author and artist J.G. Jones slotted her as The Fox, a Catwoman analogue.
The Killer inherited his powers from his dad, who looks like a hybrid of Tommy Lee Jones and Charles Bronson.
But with a much lower body count than the real-life Jones.
When the film got momentum, Eminem declined to play the lead, and Millar's fellow Glaswegian James McAvoy got the role. Slim Shady would have to wait a couple of years for his authorized comic debut in a team-up with the Punisher. Meanwhile, I am still waiting for DC to make good on the contest I won to appear in 1995's Guy Gardner: Warrior.
John Constantine is a warlock and star of DC's Vertigo li- wait, I don't have to explain this one, right? He had a show on NBC and his own Keanu Reeves movie: two honors seldom bestowed on the British working-class.
Nor on characters who impregnate gangsters with their dead sons' Antichrists.
Constantine's superpower is he always wins. I know you think that's Batman, but if the two ever fought, Batman would wear anti-magical armor while Constantine just tricks him into sacrificing Robin to the devil.
He never cheats; he just games the rules to their breaking point.
He debuted in Swamp Thing as an antagonistic ally, then spent 25 years as Vertigo's flagship character in Hellblazer. Because he was a Brit in the '80s, he was also in a short-lived punk band called Mucous Membrane. All of Britain was in a punk band then, including Margaret Thatcher, who drummed for an oi trio called The Margaret Thatcher Yeast Infection.
Believe it or not, Sting was the face of British cool before he was the face of VH1.
Artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben didn't have many requests of writer Alan Moore in their collaboration on Swamp Thing, but one of them was to depict a character who looked just like Sting. Thankfully, Dune wouldn't come out for another nine months or so after Constantine was created, so we weren't treated to a violent psychopath in a leather diaper.
Which is odd, because that's a good description of most superheroes.
What had come out was Quadrophenia, The Who's go-nowhere rock opera about life as a Mod, starring one Gordon Sumner Belfrey Doubletoff Stingington III, better known as Sting.
It was basically The Harder They Come of Mod culture.
Look at that, with the skinny tie and everything.
She needs five arms just to count the powers she has.
I'm not even going to try to explain Spiral's origin to you, as it requires a PowerPoint presentation that plays in reverse, pauses in the middle, and resumes on a different computer in a building across town.
That said, it's really worth reading.
Just know that she's a great fighter and has whatever superpowers the X-Men writers want to give her this week. Mostly teleportation and spell-casting. Before she got her powers she was a stuntwoman called "Ricochet" Rita. And Rita was a dead ringer for her own creator ...
Good start, but needs more arms.
Nocenti's far from the only writer to appear in her own creation. Grant Morrison does it every other week, and Stan Lee wrote Spider-Man's editor, J. Jonah Jameson, as a cantankerous parody of himself. The Godfather of Marvel also suffered a portrayal at DC when Jack Kirby grudgingly devised Funky Flashman, a silver-tongued, leisure-suited opportunist.
But since neither of those guys has superpowers, let's look at the hero Flashman antagonizes ...
Scott Free is the god of escape. He can slip out of any trap except the one of your heart, girl. He's had practice; as a child he was hostage-swapped by his dad to a prison planet ruled by Lord Darkseid Space-Hitler Thanos.
Darkseid is so intimidating, not even his shadow will follow him.
Mister Miracle may be the universe's greatest escape artist, but he's only an imitation of real-life escapologist, magician, boxer, and comic artist Jim Steranko. Steranko is a guy so impressive that the king of comics had to make his superhero a god just to keep him believable, and yet Miracle only has a quarter of Steranko's talents. Steranko's even a better superhero, like that time he bitch-slapped Batman's "creator" Bob Kane and dedicated it to writer Bill Finger.
He looks even slicker today, if you can believe it.
Interestingly, Steranko's art and writing gave Nick Fury enough oomph to make S.H.I.E.L.D. an ongoing thing, so Sam Jackson can probably thank him for that too. He is still active and appearing at comic conventions, but you don't have enough money to pay him to escape death-defying traps.
Mister Miracle's just giving it away, though.
When Billy Batson says the magic word "Shazam!" a bolt of lightning transforms him into the world's mightiest Superman knockoff.
Shazam is also the name of the wizard who gave Billy Batson his powers, though, so it's not like things got any less confusing. How they introduce themselves at parties without killing everyone in attendance baffles me.
Although we know he'd beat Superman in a fight because he has a cooler costume.
Superman first appeared in 1938, and by 1939, every comics publisher had their own brute in a circus costume. Some, like Wonder Man, got sued out of existence. Others just sucked their way into obscurity.
But Captain Marvel beat Superman on the sales racks and in the courts -- probably because his origin tapped into every kid's dream of being lured into an abandoned subway by a vagrant and made to say his name.
Billy shares a secret origin with half the Amber Alert list.
DC eventually procured the character after original publisher Fawcett's collapse. These days they're calling him Shazam, because Marvel used a publication lull to claim the name, and now that there's box office on the line, neither company wants to waste money dickering it out.
Fred MacMurray. Yeah, back in 1939. This fantasy-casting thing has been going on for as long as superheroes themselves. Artist C.C. Beck mooched MacMurray's likeness for his clean-cut, wholesome superhero, then pitted him against a mad scientist named Doctor Sivana, who was a dead ringer for Beck's local pharmacist.
That chin is hard to refute.
The captain's success meant an entire Marvel family followed, with characters like Mary Marvel, who possibly resembled Judy Garland, and Captain Marvel Jr., who wasn't based on anybody real but did inspire Elvis Presley's stage costumes years later.
Some fans suspect that Captain Marvel was also based on boxer Max Schmeling, and the case can be made. All beady-eyed guys look alike.
Captain Marvel (No, A Different One)
You'd think your costume would avoid drag when you move at the speed of light.
If you want a map of how confusing comics can be, try to track the usage and copyright of the name Captain Marvel. At least nine characters at three companies have been called Captain Marvel, but each of those characters also uses a few other aliases. The only thing that's clear in that sprawl is that the Captain Marvel published by M.F. Enterprises is the dumbest.
For crying out loud, you android creep, keep those thoughts to yourself.
But even though the rest are clear-cut badasses, few are quite so badass as Monica Rambeau, and it's no wonder why. According to John Romita Jr., the artist who created her, she was based on Pam Grier.
Everyone should be based on Pam Grier. Specifically, everyone who dates me.
Later designers made her look more like another model, and Romita lamented the fact that under (let's go ahead and guess mostly white) artists her likeness had already been lost to "looking like the generic black character anyway." But for a brief period, the Marvel Universe had its own Coffy with laser blasts.
She also had some kickass villains, like Nebula from Guardians Of The Galaxy -- unlike the Brand X Captain Marvel, whose villains were an embarrassment to himself and others.
That's a normal-sized ray gun, you itty-bitty idiot. Jiminy Hossenfeffer Christ, listen to yourself.
The Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel is currently kicking ass under the name Spectrum. Pam Grier is kicking ass these days under the name Pam Grier.
Dazzler is what happened when disco's last gasp was expelled with enough force to reach the floor where Marvel editors were bumping rails. She turns sound into lasers, making her the third-most-dangerous comic book character to have sex with if you're doing it right.
Pokes Holes In Condom Lad is No. 1, if you're wondering.
Marvel wanted to make a live-action superhero, and so they designed The Disco Dazzler. Obviously, Dazzler is based on Olivia Newton-John. I mean, she skates around in bell-bottoms and butterfly collars, turning music into spectacle and bad ideas into coke hangovers, and that's the logline for Xanadu. So this one's a no-brainer, and-
Hunh. Apparently not.
Newton-John's name never comes up in Dazzlerdom. Although Bo Derek was briefly attached to the project, according to editor Jim Shooter, Dazzler was a character in search of a star to play her.
"... Or was she?" asked the author, with the telegraphed melodrama characteristic of both the disco era and the modern Cracked article.
Romita (again) was the character designer, and he felt nobody embodied disco more than Grace Jones.
Kids, if you're too young to know who Grace Jones is, just understand she's one of the very few women on Earth strong enough to survive sex with Dolph Lundgren, and vice-versa. She's also the artist Lady Gaga and Madonna photocopied all their best tricks from.
Nobody seems clear on how Dazzler went from a Grace Jones doppelganger to a stock blonde, but we can call that one a loss for comics. And the world. And me. Just love me, Miss Jones.
Too Many Green Lanterns To Count
Thanks to an innate flaw, Green Lanterns have the power to make anything they can imagine except full use of Ryan Reynolds.
He works so hard for you, Hollywood! And you keep squandering him! He's the dude Milla Jovovich.
Also they're vulnerable to yellow, because GL rings run on willpower, and "yellow" fear saps will. I'm not sure how it works, except it's uncomfortably close to proving hippies right about all their cosmic yammering. Ugh. Hippies are the worst.
The qualifications for Green Lantern are honesty, fearlessness, and enough willpower to make things happen. That's also a pat description of actor Paul Newman: activist, race car driver, and founder of Newman's Own charities and/or superior salad dressings. The man built an empire of healthy, tasty food just so he could give all the money to needy kids.
As opposed to GL, who just wishes for things to improve.
Hey, you want to hear a weird coincidence? The original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, debuted in 1940. In 1950, Newman named his firstborn son Alan Scott Newman. It wasn't until 1959 that the new Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, was based on the actor.
But it's not just Jordan. His arch-enemy, Sinestro, is an alien who looks like the devil ... but even more like British actor David Niven. Jordan's replacement as Green Lantern was Guy Gardner, a spot-on double for character-actor Martin Milner, who frequently played Irish cops.
Here are Newman and Niven taking their battle to an episode of What's My Line?.
Crazy, right? A space-army full of likeness infringement, yet this signed release and I still can't get DC to draw me as Guy Gardner's sidekick. Maybe I can score a role in Captain Marvel. No, the other other one.
I can play his sidekick who's constantly shrieking in horror.
For more ways to make yourself into an art snob, check out 7 Comic Characters Who Outlasted The Trends That Made Them and 5 Extremists It's Impossible to Take Seriously.