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.
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.
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.