Have you ever wondered where comic book artists and creators get their brilliant character ideas from? Well, that makes two of us. Many of us have simply accepted the fact that these comic book heroes and villains were created solely through means of imagination, when they actually were not. Sure, some characters might have come to their creators in dreams or through hours of dedication. But more often than not, these creators based their characters off of a real-life person, and even attributed their looks and behaviours based off of this living or dead person’s characteristics.
Finding out that there’s a face behind our favorite characters can be somewhat of a shock to some people, especially when they find out who they’ve been admiring from a distance. For some, meeting their heroes can be an enlightening ordeal, but for others, meeting their favorite villains can be repulsing.
In fact, many of our favourite superheroes and villains are not who they seem to be. Instead, they are projections of living human beings who have both positively influenced the world, or caused extreme harm to it. In the end, it only makes sense that fictional characters hold some truth to them. As people are often influenced by their surroundings and find ways of expressing their thoughts through art. For the most part, the individuals our much-loved heroes were based off of were heroes themselves, and helped our world evolve. Making them go down in history in more ways than one.
15. Magneto — Malcolm X
While many people see Magneto as a villain, creators Stan Lee, Chris Claremont, and John Bolton do not. In fact, in a recent interview Lee stated that Magneto’s essence was solely based off of Malcolm X’s, a man who dreamt of peace not war.
Both men share similar values in their quest to free themselves and their people from the grasps of mainstream society and political injustice. Much like Magneto, Malcolm X believed in defending himself from the corrupted and evil minds of those who maltreated him, instead of learning to forgive and live alongside them. Because of this, Malcolm X often clashed with Martin Luther King Jr. even though they had some long-term goals in common.
In addition, both Magneto and Malcolm X were raised under extreme circumstances, which caused them to grow up angry and resentful. The injustices and heartless actions they faced on a daily basis fuelled their hate, leading them to believe that violence was the only way they could defend themselves — and can we really blame them?
14. Joker — Conrad Veidt
Have you ever wondered how the Joker came to be? If you have, you might have found out that he was actually based off of Conrad Veidt — the man who laughs. Not familiar with who this is? Conrad Veidt was an American actor who became famous in the early 1920s. This actor, who played in the silent movie The Man Who Laughs, was often seen as terrifying due to his role as Gwynplaine, a man who always had a freaky grin on his face.
In the end, the Joker was inspired by this character as he had a certain horrifying aspect to him. His general makeup and enthusiastic personality also emanated from Veidt, as he often used his wide grin and exaggerated hand movements to clearly display his tone, as he was acting in a silent movie. As the years progressed other aspects and characteristics were attributed to the Joker, but it was Veidt who inspired him to be what he is today.
13. Wolverine — Paul D’Amato
While many of us believe that Wolverine was created solely by the figments of John Byrne’s imagination, he was not. Instead, Byrne got his inspiration for the wolfy mutant from actor Paul D’Amato. If you aren’t familiar with the actor it is most likely because D’Amato’s acting career was not an extravagant one, as he usually only landed minor roles in movies. However, while playing the character Dr. Hook in the movie Slap Shot, D’Amato’s essence was ingrained into Byrne’s mind, even though the actor was on screen for a short amount of time.
While it was artist Dave Cockrum who initially drew up Wolverine, it was Byrne’s inspiration of D’Amato that gave Wolverine his characteristics. However, Marvel wasn’t pleased with the mutant, and wanted to have him exiled from the X-Men. Loyal to his character, Byrne fought to keep Wolverine afloat, and while it wasn’t easy to get the publisher to reconsider, Wolverine was eventually reinstated.
12. Batman — Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
In the 1920s, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was cast as Zorro in the silent movie Mark of Zorro. He played the role of an athletic fighter, who also carried himself with wit and charm, while fighting crime on the sidelines. In order to conceal who he really was, Zorro upheld the secret identity of a business man by day, only to transform into a masked hero by night. Sound familiar? Well that’s because artists Bob Kane and Bill Finger chose to base their character Batman off of Zorro, or more specifically, the man who played him.
In some ways, Batman is the exact rendition of Zorro, down to his secret lair and need for justice. However, Batman’s creators made sure that he would not be a total rip off of the late actor, and gave him in own look, background story, and personality. To acquire more attributes, Batman’s creators used slim pickings of Doc Savage and Sherlock Holmes, while also adding some unique characteristics to his appearance.
11. Iron Man — Howard Hughes
While Elon Musk might be considered the modern day Iron Man, it is Howard Hughes who actually inspired Stan Lee to create the superhero. Much like Musk, Hughes was a man of many inventions, and had a vision that could change the world. According to Lee, Hughes was “one of the most colourful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man, and finally, a nutcase.”
Only comic book fans would know this but Ironman has an addiction to alcohol, a factor that isn’t really showcased in the movies, but is present nonetheless. This trait was actually taken from Hughes, who suffered from OCD and addiction. While his alcoholism was never confirmed, Hughes was known to be of a strange sort, and prone to confining himself to a dark screening room for months a time. When he emerged, he would be filled with questionable ideas, and would leave to pursue them, while leaving an array of empty bottles and containers behind.
10. Constantine — Gordon Sumner
In 1985, a superhero who went by the name of Hellblazer made his first appearance in the movie The Saga Of The Swamp Thing No. 37. This hero eventually shed his nickname, and became known as John Constantine; a British detective in constant conflict with his conscience. His name, however, wasn’t the only thing that changed, as his appearance also took a new direction.
Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, the creators responsible for Constantine’s transformation, chose to base Constantine’s looks off of Gordon Sumner’s, the lead singer of Sting. While Sumner felt flattered over the ordeal, DC grew terrified that the singer would sue them. As a result of this, DC began to remove any evidence that could link their character to Sumner. Their efforts were unsuccessful, however, as the resemblance between the two are uncanny. Besides, Sumner had already spoken about the matter during an Interview with Rolling Stone magazine, and clearly stated that he was happy about the feature.
9. Professor X — Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. is known for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, amongst many other accomplishments. This great man influenced and cared for the hearts of many, and believed that peace was on the horizon. Sadly, his aggressors had other plans in mind. Unlike Malcolm X, King believed that racial injustice could be solved without violence. While his outlook was honourable, African Americans could not fight violence with peace. Before King’s voice could find its way into the hearts of racist people and start making sense to them, he was assassinated by white supremacists.
Inspired by his words of wisdom and charismatic personality, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby chose to use King as a model. To do this, they invented the renown Professor Xavier, and implanted in him the same goals and stamina found in King. To make things interesting, Lee and Kirby created a love-hate relationship between Magneto and Xavier. One that could be compared to King’s and Malcolm X’s.
8. Wonder Woman — Elizabeth Marston & Olive Byrne
Princess Diana of Themyscira, or more commonly known as Wonder Woman, is a fictional warrior princess born into the Amazonian race. This hero was created in hopes of balancing out the male dominated field of Superheroes. To do this, William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, chose to turn her into the ultimate female.
Marston aimed to put her on an equal platform with Superman, but also added some female characteristics to her make, such as fairness and peace. This proved to be working, and it wasn’t long before Wonder Woman became the only woman in the Justice League. However, contrary to Marston’s vision, Wonder Woman was eventually excluded from battles, and made into the Justin Leage’s secretary.
The idea of Wonder Woman came to Marston due to his wife Elizabeth Marston’s personality, which he found to be inspiring. Funny enough, Wonder Woman’s looks came from Marston’s mistress, Olive Byrne, who was in a polyamorous relationship with the couple.
7. The Flash — Barry Gray & Steve Allen
The Flash is a popular DC superhero who is known for his superhuman speed. Before Barry Allen became the Flash that we all know and love, he was named Jay Garrick and was created in the 1940s by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. However, the Flash would reemerge, a decade later, under the name of Barry Allen in 1956’s Showcase #4. While some people were against the name-change, the Flash’s creators were fixed on it, as this name had been fashioned to suit his personality. The Flash’s secret identity, was actually invented by combining the names’ of two talk show personalities; Barry Gray and Steve Allen.
Since his invention, the Flash’s path has been a little crisscrossed, as he has often been put into the spotlight just to be taken out of it. However, the Flash was actually one of the founding members in the Justice League, and has long since reestablished his popularity.
6. Harley Quinn — Arleen Sorkin
Harley Quinn is a name that most of us have come to know thanks to 2016’s Suicide Squad. However, before she became a revered DC character, Harley Quinn was most commonly known for being the Joker’s right hand woman, and wasn’t all that popular. In fact, from time to time, even the Joker would get fed up with her and send her blasting off in a canon.
Harley Quinn is one of the newest DC characters, as she made her first appearance in 1992. Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series, and later became a concrete member in the Batman comic books.
The woman who did the voice acting for Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series, is coincidentally the person who influenced Dini to create her. In an episode of Days Of Our Lives, Arleen Sorkin dreamt that she was dressed up as a mad court jester. It was this scene that inspired Dini to create Harley Quinn. So much so, that Dini contacted Sorkin, his old friend, and got her to do the voice acting for the cartoon as well.
5. Darkseid — Adolf Hitler
Created in 1970 by DC artist Jack Kirby, Darkseid quickly became one of the most feared villains of all time. The character was first introduced in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, in which he only played a small role. One year later, Darkseid was showcased in Forever People #1, which helped him gain more recognition. Darkseid is considered as one of the most evil tyrannical rulers in the DC universe. This is because he is merciless and without a conscience, thus allowing him to kill at will and even take pleasure in it.
While Darkseid’s embodiment might have been based off of actor Jack Palance, it was Adolf Hitler that influenced the evil character’s personality. Kirby used Nazi Germany as a stencil for Apokolips, and focused on interpreting Hitler’s influence on the world into his comic. Much like Hitler, Darkseid used hate and fear as fuel, exploited it, and used a fascist outlook to rule the world.
4. Superman — Harold Lloyd
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933, Superman is one of the only DC heroes to have been invented by high school students. These students sold their rights to Superman in 1938, to Detective Comics, which would eventually become DC Comics. To invent Superman, Siegel and Shuster chose to base some of his characteristics off of actors they had seen in movies. They were especially inspired by Harold Lloyd, a nerdy comedian who usually wore glasses and fought off bullies. They chose to give Clark Kent the same persona that Lloyd held, as they found it to be both relatable and comical. Superman’s physical looks also derived from Lloyd’s.
Lloyd wasn’t the only actor that the high school students used as tribute, as they also chose to incorporate Douglas Fairbanks in the mix. Much like Batman, Superman’s style, stance, and bad-boy attitude emanated from Fairbanks’. His strength, however, was influenced by the Popeye cartoons.
3. Lucifer Morningstar — David Bowie
Lucifer Morningstar was first introduced in 1989 in the comic The Sandman. While he was not a prominent figure, Lucifer was eventually integrated into the DC database and frequently used in spin-off series, which were written by Mike Carey. Although Lucifer’s appearance began as satan-like, it wasn’t long before writer Neil Gaiman began writing The Sandman series, and decided to abandon the character’s devilish looks. Instead, Gaiman chose to base the series off of Paradise Lost, and asked Lucifer’s artist to use David Bowie’s looks as reference for the character’s new appearance.
In Gaiman’s The Sandman, Lucifer becomes bored with his mere existence, deciding to hand over the key to Hell’s gates and try and live amongst the mortals in California. While there are many misconceptions about Lucifer, he is for the most part a good devil, but a devil nonetheless.
2. Emma Frost — Diana Rigg
Emma Frost was created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne in 1980. She is a mutant who is often referred to as the White Queen, and one who has gone through many character transformations. First introduced in the Uncanny X-Men #129 as a super villain, the mutant used her telepathic powers to read havoc on the X-Men. However, the White Queen’s reign did not last long, as she eventually traded in her super villain status for that of a superhero. After switching sides, Frost became one of the X-Men’s most powerful members, and quickly became one of their trusted leaders as well.
Frost’s looks and characteristics were made to mirror a character named Emma Peel, who was played by actress Diana Rigg. Claremont got the idea to create Frost while watching an episode of The Avengers titled “A Touch of Brimstone“. In this episode, Peel was clad in a corset, knee-high boots, and a collar as she spied on her foes’ underground society. It was this scene that sprouted the creation of the notorious Emma Frost and her sultry attire.
1. Catwoman — Ruth Steele & Jean Harlow
In order to give the Batman comics some sex appeal, creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger decided to add a female touch to them. To do this, they decided to incorporate a female character that was neither good nor bad. With this in mind, Kane and Finger created Selina Kyle; a saucy feline character who would make Batman’s serious life a bit more interesting. Kyle, aka Catwoman, was then drawn up and showcased for the first time in 1940’s Batman #1.
In order to make Catwoman both irresistible and charismatic, Kane and Finger decided to base her looks off of Jean Harlow, a 1930s actress. However, to create some diversity, Kane also used his cousin, Ruth Steele, as inspiration. To do this, he took pictures of her and used them as a reference, in hopes of drawing the ultimate Catwoman. While Catwoman might work alongside Batman from time to time, she isn’t really loyal to him alone, which is why her cat-like persona rings true.