What makes Batman so popular? If you think about it, any number of superheroes could be more popular than the Dark Knight. Whether it's his rich history, his enigmatic persona, or his fealty to justice, Batman remains one of the most venerated, adapted and copied superheroes in the world.
Since he appeared in the 1939 issue of Detective Comics, Batman has been shamelessly imitated in a variety of forms. From Frank Miller to Marvel a slew of superheroes have donned a similar looking cowl and endured a traumatic childhood not unlike young Bruce Wayne. Some copycats hit their mark and became franchises of their own, while a great many others wound up in the bargain bin. As the less fortunate iterations have realized, it's not just about the suit. To quote the inimitable Rachel Dawes: "it's what you do that defines you." Or something like that.
Here are the 15 Most Blatant Batman Rip-Offs.
How do you build a Batman? First, start with a rich protagonist. Then, give him an axe to grind (i.e., find a tragedy). Once your character has mourned the loss of (insert key figure here), make him angry to the point of sociopathy and set him on a warpath.
Cynicism aside, the Batman origin story obviously wouldn’t be repeated if it weren’t so effective. Marvel saw an opportunity to not only create their own Batman with Nighthawk, but to put him in the midst of their Justice League, the Squadron Supreme. Like Bruce Wayne, Kyle Richmond, the boy-who-would-be-Nighthawk, lost his parents unexpectedly and became a life-long devotee to fulfilling his revenge. With the wealth of his parents’ corporation at his disposal, Kyle turns himself into a lethal warrior and builds a super-serum to heal his congenitally weak heart and make him more powerful than ever. While a differentiating factor from the Dark Knight, Kyle’s reliance on science loses the human factor that defined Batman.
14 The Fixer
Like the wars in the Middle East, Frank Miller’s Holy Terror was always an evolving property. At one point, it featured a title straight from the mouth of Burt Ward’s Robin: Holy Terror, Batman! What’s more, Miller’s take on Batman vs Al Qaeda initially starred the Dark Knight himself. Like Captain America versus the Third Reich, Miller sought to reimagine the propaganda genre with his newfound appreciation for patriotism and the threat of terrorism: “For the first time in my life I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden I realize what my parents were talking about all those years.” Enter the Dark Knight.
Unfortunately, DC Comics balked at the notion of Batman engaging such a modern enemy, forcing Miller to publish the story through a different outlet and under a unique avatar: The Fixer. More Dirty Harry than Bruce Wayne (as Miller himself described), The Fixer is less maladjusted than Batman but far more trigger-happy. Though this post-9/11 character shares some physical attributes with Batman, Holy Terror is a showcase in manslaughter that would make Bruce Wayne blush.
13 Green Arrow
Bruce Wayne is only two years older than Oliver Queen, but in terms of popularity and public awareness, they may as well be from different centuries. In 1941, Mort Weisinger and George Papp latched onto the early success of the Dark Knight and established his bow-and-arrow equivalent: the Green Arrow. Though he would eventually develop political and social agendas to separate himself from Bruce Wayne, the blonde archer first functioned as a carbon copy of the Caped Crusader.
With his trusted sidekick and Robin analogue, Speedy, Oliver Queen dedicated his strengths to taking down a remarkably unsubtle rip-off on the Joker: the devious clown, Bull’s Eye. Taking refuge in the Arrow-Cave and commandeering the Arrow-Plane to get around town, the billionaire playboy Oliver Queen seemed like a hero who caught a glimpse of Batman’s life and decided he wanted a piece for himself. Today, Green Arrow has established a more vibrant personality than Batman, but his foundation owes a lot to the Dark Knight.
Ever dream of a Batman who fights his enemies with Holy Scripture and a lethal lightsaber? Maybe not, but Pamplin Entertainment did. In this unabashedly religious take on the Caped Crusader, Bibleman is the crime-fighting identity of wealthy convert Miles Peterson. Though in possession of every material need imaginable, Peterson turns his back on his earthly life and vows to fight villains in the name of God. This New Testament Bruce Wayne suffers the death of his former identity before emerging in a garishly purple and gold power suit to take on his enemies.
Given the show’s target audience, Bibleman lays on the zealotry pretty thick while adhering to its Gotham-set inspiration. Alongside Biblegirl and his sidekick, Cypher, Bibleman prepares for battle in the BibleCave and taken on his own rogues gallery that includes a Cesar Romero-like Joker: the Fibbler. Say what you will about Bibleman, but it’s clear the Dark Knight has found his place in a variety of cultures and creeds.
11 Nite Owl
Based heavily on the World’s Greatest Detective, Nite Owl (Daniel Dreiberg) was conceived as an explicit analogue to Batman. Dreiberg’s physical specs, suit and combat style bear likeness to the Dark Knight (and are all unified by an Owl theme), as does his aircraft, The Owlship.
Though brought up in an abusive home, Dreiberg lucked out when his alcoholic dad burst an artery and left him a sizable fortune. Like Bruce Wayne, this nest-egg would fund Dreiberg’s escapades into crime-fighting and his eventual makeover as the well-armored Nite Owl. While both superheroes are now firmly cemented in their own universes, the aesthetic parallels remain strong. Compare Batman’s new Tactical Suit with Nite Owl’s golden getup in Watchmen, and you’ll note the resemblance. After all, Zack Snyder is in the director’s chair for Justice League as he was for the 2009 adaptation of Alan Moore’s successful graphic novel.
He was the man who nearly sent Dr. Doom to an early grave. Maximillian Quincy Coleridge, aka The Shroud, is one of the most shameless Batman rip-offs on the books. Creator Steve Englehart may have openly admitted to blending the Dark Knight’s core story into the Shroud, but it’s still difficult to follow the superhero’s life without imaging Bruce Wayne behind the mask.
The Shroud’s foundation itself is pure mimicry. As a boy, he watched as his parents were shot and killed, a horrific event which (newsflash!) drove him to fight crime the rest of his life. Shroud then joined the Cult of Kali, a mystical league that trained him how to fight in exchange for his worshiping of the group's titular goddess. His time in the temple culminated when he was branded with Kali’s icon on his face, leading to such severe burns that he became blind. Seriously, who can blame the guy for crafting a suit so similar to Batman’s when he couldn't even see? As it turns out, the branding actually gave Shroud an extra-dimensional physical awareness to help him out, so he has a bit of a leg up on the Dark Knight.
9 Moon Knight
Bruce Wayne may not be an openly religious man, but his commitment to crime-fighting approaches a spiritually transcendent experience. He is a zealot for justice, so when Marvel built the Moon Knight, they upped the philosophical ante and built themselves a superhero that would make Western Civilization professors proud. You see, Marc Spector started as a fairly normal man who wound up left for dead in the Egyptian desert. Thanks to the moon-god Khonshu, Spector got a second lease on life and became the Moon Knight.
Beyond the definite similarities in crime-fighting appearances, both Batman and the Moon Knight are simply rich, mortal men using their resources and wit to battle crime. Sure, the Moon Knight’s multiple-personality disorder causes him to go berserk half the time (making Bruce Wayne look like a paragon of sanity), but it’s hard to ignore the parallels between the two. With a subterranean pad of his own, a crescent-shaped brand of Batarangs and the help of a regal aide (hi, Alfred), Moon Knight needs more than nightfall to hide his resemblance to Batman.
Paul Johnstone was dealt a bad hand. After working his way out of a fatherless childhood, he climbed the corporate ladder and became a district attorney. When he wound up on the wrong side of the local mob, however, he was attacked and jabbed with an HIV-positive needle. As with Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Johnstone was ostracized from the working world and sequestered to a far lonelier life than he ever imagined.
After enduring yet another beat-down from gangbangers, Johnstone vowed to commit his life to protecting the downtrodden and defeating the evildoers. Armed with a state of the art exoskeleton given to him by a local cop, Johnstone put on the armor of Shadowhawk and began his crusade. Creator Jim Valentino openly built his Harlem-born superhero off of Batman, retaining the qualities he liked while retrofitting the others. The biggest difference between the two was their mode of combat. Batman would (usually) leave his victims battered and bruised, but Shadowhawk would opt for severing the spinal cord so his victims couldn’t flee the scene before the police showed up.
Since 1998, Midnighter has been one of the more progressive and interesting superheroes on the market. He is openly gay and has a long and storied history alongisde his husband, Apollo, with whom he also fights crime. Creators Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch developed this superhero partnership in a way not dissimilar to that of Batman and Superman. That being said, given all of the killing in their storyline, Midnighter and Apollo seem less dismayed by cold-blooded murder than the famed titans of the Justice League. Midnighter himself loves to play Grim Reaper.
As for adapting Batman in their own way, Ellis and Hitch borrowed heavily from Bob Kane and Bill Finger. One quick glance at Midnighter and the Dark Knight comes to mind. Though his appropriately black costume and mask scream rip-off, Midnight is the beneficiary of superhuman enhancements that make him a very significant threat. Numb to pain and toting dual hearts, Midnighter is a mean machine that could give Batman a run for his money.
6 Big Daddy
In the comics, Big Daddy rocked a meat-cleaving butcher’s costume. Not so in Matthew Vaughn’s hit movie, where Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) talked like Adam West, moved like a murderer and dressed like the Dark Knight in Christopher Nolan’sBatman Begins. Given Vaughn’s lack of appreciation for Christian Bale’s “rattle the cages” gruffness, Kick-Ass allowed Big Daddy to become this benign-sounding papa with a serious love for gunplay. As legend has it, Nicolas Cage started adopting the vaguely philosophical tone of Adam West during his costume fittings for the role.
Is the big-screen Big Daddy a send-up of Batman? Absolutely. Does it work? To an extent. The gaudy utility belt and Frenchie mustache put some distance between the two superheroes, but the similarities remain strong. Despite his heroic (yet fatal) final scene, Big Daddy’s presence was a good Batman knock-off that only left us yearning for the real thing.
5 Night Man
Bruce Wayne’s musical skills consist largely of the piano ditty he plays to open the Batcave. His more modern analogue, Johnny Domino (the Night Man to be), is an up-and-coming jazz musician who specializes in the saxophone. Are these really the roots of a newfangled superhero, this blonde-haired artist who serenades the streets of San Francisco? You bet. You gotta hand it to him, though. He earns his superhero street-cred in a devastatingly bizarre way.
In a series of unfortunate events, Johnny Domino falls prey to a freak incident that saw an uncontrolled cable-car nearly crush him to death. While he survived the attack, Domino didn’t get away unscathed. A piece of shrapnel was lodged deep in his head and fundamentally changed his life. Though he always had an ear for music, Domino gained the powers of night vision and the ability to hear the thoughts of his mortal enemies. Out with the saxophone and in with the supersuit, Johnny Domino became Night Man, a Batman who relied more on genetic evolution than expensive gadgets.
Of all the enduring questions in superhero lore, one remains hotly contested: who is Marvel’s most famous Batman rip-off? Some vouch for Black Panther, others (justifiably) point at the Moon Knight, but chief among the knock-offs is the defender of Hell’s Kitchen himself. Yes, Daredevil is a true takeoff on the Dark Knight, though the parallels admittedly took a few decades to overlap. During his fledgling years, Matt Murdoch’s alter ego looked and behaved in fairly distinct ways. He had brighter colors and was just as active during daylight hours than at dusk. When Frank Miller and a slew of edgier writers came on the scene, however, Daredevil lived up to his name and started borrowing heavily from the Caped Crusader.
Daredevil quickly became a ninja man of the night, who brooded like Bruce Wayne and fought like an assassin. Miller’s love for the Dark Knight clearly seeped into the development of Daredevil, who evolved into this noirish vigilante of doom. Today, the Netflix original series certainly takes some cues from Batman’s world, and coincidentally, the actor currently in possession of the Batmobile once wore Matt Murdock’s spandex.
3 Night Thrasher
On a fundamental level, you could draw parallels to Batman from many superhero origin stories. Basically, any eventual caped crusader with a rough childhood could claim to be a Dark Knight stand-in. Still, Marvel’s Night Thrasher hews a bit closely to the Batman narrative, and it goes well beyond the tale of youthful woe.
When a boyish Dwayne Michael Taylor watched his wealthy parents get gunned down in New York City, he vowed to become an unstoppable war machine bent on revenge (the novelty!). With the help of his guardians, Chord and Tai, Dwayne perfected the ultimate vigilante identity: Night Thrasher. Like the Dark Knight, he even had a similar battle-suit designed to withstand the most heinous of physical attacks (though his vibranium suit may outlast Bruce Wayne's science).
Instead of a Batmobile or a well-timed grappling hook, however, the Night Thrasher relied upon his world-class skateboard for mobility and defense. Alas, despite all of the similarities between Batman and the Night Thrasher, only one superhero can be found in the skate park past business hours.
2 The Black Fox
Who is obscenely rich, has a secret hideout, and flies a plane named after his alter-ego? You guessed it! The Black Fox. Indeed, this Marvel-born Batman analogue has all the trappings of the Dark Knight. With a thoroughly WASPY name like Bruce Wayne, Dr. Robert William Paine is a superhero who relies exclusively on his mental acumen and physical brawn. Like Batman, Paine moved from ordinary citizen to superhero extraordinaire after the death of a loved one. The Chicago-based villain, Nocturne, sent Paine’s beloved fiancée, Miriam, to an early grave.
A decorated veteran, he also served valiantly in World War II and helped undermine Hitler’s rise to power. Paine’s Batcave is The Foxhole, his cape and cowl could easily be mistaken for the Dark Knight’s, and his aerial mode of transportation is the Flying Fox. Despite these parallels, Batman needn’t worry much about his competitor, considering The Black Fox was blown to smithereens in a battle against the Skrull.
What do owls have for dinner? Among other things, they love bats. For writers Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, this was the perfect conceit to introduce the sadistic doppelganger of the Dark Knight: Owlman. Since he was conceived in 1964, this Batman double has wreaked havoc on Gotham’s main guardian, using mind-control, imitation and sheer violence to help bring him down.
Thanks to his physical similarities and chicanery, Owlman has even impersonated Batman and committed atrocities in his name. In JLA: Earth 2, Owlman was actually resurrected as the older brother of Bruce Wayne, Thomas Wayne, Jr. From that point on, things only got more confusing.
Both Batman and Owlman share their command of the martial arts, and though versions of Owlman vary, he tends to rely on his brain just as much as he does on blunt force. In Earth-3, a Robin analogue appears in the form of Talon, Owlman’s loyal sidekick. Like Batman and Boy Wonder, Owlman and Talon act as a cohesive unit against their heroic counterparts.
What other superheroes are Batman rip-offs? Let us know in the comments below!