When it comes to the fantastic, weird and wonderful world of comic book characters, it’s easy to think that they’re all entirely fictitious and created solely from the imaginations of talented writers. In some cases, that may well be true, but there are also some very real inspirations behind a lot of them.
Obviously there’s nobody in the real world who can lift a building, travel around the world in ten seconds or take a bullet to the eye without suffering a horrific injury, but the personalities, appearances and lifestyles of many comic book characters are very much based on people who have really existed.
This notion applies to superheroes, supervillains and indeed supporting characters and we’ll look at some examples of all those in this video. Here are 10 comic book characters you didn’t know are based on real people.
Marvel legends Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber and Don Heck created Iron Man with a very famous business tycoon in mind. That man was Howard Hughes and Lee described him as being “an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase” – doesn’t all of that sound exactly like Tony Stark? Hughes was incredibly rich and lived the kind of eccentric life that most people could only dream of – and that’s certainly reflected in Stark’s lifestyle too. He also suffered from a crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder – something that is touched upon in a less devastating way in some of Tony Stark’s behaviour, such as his refusal to be handed things.
Artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger came up with the idea for Batman AKA Bruce Wayne, but their inspiration for the kind of character he would be came from two very well-known historical figures. Not only did they take Batman’s real name from the men in question, they also based the kind of hero he would be on them. The first was Robert the Bruce – a famous warrior who led Scotland against England during the Scottish War of Independence. And the second was Mad Anthony Wayne – a war general during the American Revolution who became famous for winning battles against opposition with bigger numbers, just like Batman fights a one-man war against crime in Gotham City.
The incredibly powerful Amazon princess known as Wonder Woman was based on two extremely strong and formidable women from the real world. Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston – the same man who invented the lie detector – took inspiration from two of the most important women in his life to create the superheroine. The first was his wife, Elizabeth, and the second was his research assistant, Olive Byrne. Elizabeth inspired William to create someone who triumphed over evil with love, while Olive wore Arabic “protection bracelets” that inspired the creation of Wonder Woman’s Bracelets of Submission.
Created in a joint effort by Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben, anti-hero and supernatural expert John Constantine was actually inspired by world famous musician and former front-man of The Police, Sting. In this case, the inspiration came in the form of the character’s likeness. Early illustrations of Constantine heavily resembled Sting both facially and in terms of the character’s clothing, and there was even a nod to this fact in one of the character’s first appearances on-panel, when Constantine appeared on a boat with the words The Honourable Gordon Sumner – Sting’s real name – written on the bow.
These days, pretty much everyone knows Bucky Barnes as the best friend of Steve Rogers AKA Captain America. The pair went to school together and are the same age – but that wasn’t always the case. Bucky was introduced in the comic books as a schoolboy companion to the grown-up Captain America and was actually based on a real-life schoolkid. Bucky was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and Simon revealed that he was named after Bucky Pierson, a star player on his high school basketball team.
There have, of course, been several characters who have gone by the name The Flash throughout DC Comics’ history – Jay Garrick, Wally West and Bart Allen, for example – but the second super-fast hero to go by the name was Barry Allen. Barry Allen was named after two different iconic American talk show hosts from different media platforms. Writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino came up with his name by combining those of radio host Barry Gray and Steve Allen, the first host of television’s The Tonight Show.
There’s simply no way we could create a list like this without mentioning J. Jonah Jameson – and there’s an extremely good reason for that. It’s because Jameson was based on none other than real-life Marvel legend Stan Lee! Created By Steve Ditko and Lee himself, Jameson is an exaggerated, much angrier version of the latter. The Spider-Man-hater and editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle resembles Lee in terms of his appearance and has an amplified version of the former Marvel president’s already huge personality.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the personality of the X-Men’s wise mutant mentor Professor Charles Xavier – also known as Professor X – is quite famously inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. (with Magneto – his more militant and often more evil counterpart – being inspired by Malcolm X, incidentally). But his appearance was influenced by a real-life individual too. That man was Russian actor and The King and I star Yul Brynner, whose bald head and extremely prominent eye-brows were quite obviously mirrored by those of the telepathic superhero.
No list of comic book characters is ever complete without the most iconic of them all – Superman. Pretty much every aspect of the Man of Steel was inspired by real-life people. Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both of whom were fond of swashbuckling movies like Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro – so they modeled Superman’s physique and poses on the star of those movies, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. The look of his alter-ego, Clark Kent, was based on the appearance of both Shuster and silent actor Harold Lloyd, while his name was a combination of actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor’s.
Don’t worry, nobody in existence has ever been quite crazy enough to have their personality inspire the creation of The Joker, but there was a real-life actor whose iconic silent movie character formed the basis of Batman’s most formidable foe. In The Man Who Laughs, Conrad Veidt played a man whose facial disfigurement meant it looked like he was creepily grinning all the time. The Joker’s creator, Bob Kane, came up with the idea to apply that concept to his character – although the initial idea for The Joker character actually came from a 17-year-old boy he knew called Jerry Robinson.