The Inspiration Behind Iconic Villains and Hero’s From Comic Books

Writers and Artists get their inspiration for creations from various aspects around them. People, places and existing masterpieces have inspired some of the greatest artists throughout history to create some very memorable pieces. Comic book writers and artists are no exception.

Comic characters
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It’s no surprise that many of the best characters in comic books have become, almost literally, iconic. Eras of stories were built around the following 40 comic book heroes and villains. Only some of us are aware that actual people inspired them! How many of these real-life comic book inspirations did you know about?

Red Skull

Debut: March 1941.

Character influence: Hot fudge sundae with a cherry on top.

Creators: Joe Simon.

Red Skull
Source: Twitter.com

I know, it sounds pretty unbelievable. However, Captain America co-creator Joe Simon disclosed in his autobiography ‘My Life in Comics’ a sweet and cold treat was actually his inspiration for the red-faced mad man.

The Penguin

Debut: December 1941.

Character influence: Kool Cigarettes Ad/Emperor Penguins.

Creators: Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

The Penguin
Source: Pinterest.com

Bill Finger say’s, “Emperor penguins, which reminded me of stuffy English gentlemen in tuxedos.” Bob’s Kane’s recollection is a bit different. Bob said he was inspired by, “He little penguin who appeared in print to advertise Kool menthol cigarettes.”

Two-Face

Debut: August 1942.

Character influence: ‘Pulp Character Black Bat’ and ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’

Creators: Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

Source:

Kane mentioned his inspiration was the 1931 film version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th-century tale, ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ while making the iconic villain’s look. He was also influenced by a pulp magazine character ‘Black Bat,’ who got splashed in the face with acid.

Fing Fang Foom

Debut: October 1961.

Character influence: ‘Chu Chin Chow’ film, 1934.

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Fing Fang Foom
Source: Imgur.com

In the early 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby needed to create a big monster that would possess the ability to destroy anything with little opposition. The mighty Martian dragon from Kakaranathara, known as Fin Fang Foom, came to life.

Doctor Doom

Debut: July 1962.

Character influence: Death Personified.

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Doctor Doom
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Kirby discussed ‘Death’ as his influence: “It was the reason for the armor and the hood. Death relates to armor and inhuman-like steel. Death is something without mercy, and human flesh contains that mercy.”

Magneto

Debut: September 1963.

Character influence: Malcolm X.

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Magneto
Source: Imgur.com

The powerful mutant Magneto was created during the height of the American civil rights movement and used famed civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as inspiration for Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier.

Kraven The Hunter

Debut: August 1964.

Character influence: The Most Dangerous Game.

Creators: Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

Kraven The Hunter
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He was the first villain to “hunt” Spider-Man. Apparently, Stan and Steve were inspired by Richard Connell’s 1924 short story called The Most Dangerous Game.

Galactus

Debut: March 1966.

Character influence: God/ The Bible.

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Galactus
Source: Pinterest.com

These creators needed a unique, evil villain with the likes of good and evil with almost God-like powers – enter Galactus. Having created many evil villains, they required an evil-doer who possessed ‘God-like’ powers, a demi-god.

Poison Ivy

Debut: June 1966.

Character influence: Feminist movement/ Rappacini’s Daughter/ Bettie Page.

Creators: Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff.

Poison Ivy
Source: taringa.net

DC Comics has tried continuously its best to be up to date with current world trends, which is why they probably used the rising feminist movement of the mid-’60s as a motivation to create one of Batman’s more lethal, beautiful enemies.

Kingpin

Debut: July 1967.

Character influence: Actor Sydney Greenstreet.

Creators: John Romita. Sr. and Stan Lee.

Kingpin
Source: Tumblr.com

He wasn’t given any real superpowers. However, they turned him into one of Spider-Man’s most cunning foes. Comic Vine mentioned that actor Sydney Greenstreet’s role in films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca is what motivated Stan and John when creating Kingpin.

Talia Al Ghul

Debut: May 1971.

Character influence: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service/ Fu Manchu Fiction.

Creators: Dennis O’Neil, Bob Brown and Dick Giordano.

Talia Al Ghul
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Daughter of crime lord Ra’s al Ghul and Batman’s on-and-off-again romantic interest happened to be the mother of Bruce Wayne’s son, Damien. Batman-love interest, Talia and his Ra’s Himalayan headquarters was directly inspired by the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’

Thanos

Debut: February 1973.

Character influence: Metron/ Darkseid.

Creators: Jim Starlin.

Thanos
Source: gamestor.org

Jim said, “In my first Thanos drawings if he looked like anybody, it was Metron. I had all these different gods and things I wanted to do, which became Thanos and the Titans.” Roy took a single look at the Metron-like character and said, “Beef him up! If you’re going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!”

Inner Circle Of The Hellfire Club

Debut: January 1980.

Character influence: The Avengers TV show episode ‘A Touch of Brimstone.’

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Hellfire Club
Source: Pinterest.com

Though Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invented the original ‘Mastermind,’ it was Chris Claremont and John Byrne who crowned him the ‘Black King’ of the Hellfire Club and made him an essential element of the ‘Dark Phoenix Saga.’

Shredder

Debut: May 1984.

Character influence: Cheese Graters.

Creators: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

Shredder
Source: Pinterest.com

After creating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Kevin said, “It’s probably the silliest way we came up with a character. I was drawing this up, and I slid my hand and held on to the end. Could you imagine a character with weapons on his arms like this? The guy would be lethal. And we’re like “Shredder! What a name for a character.”

Ozymandias

Debut: September 1986.

Character influence: Thunderbolt/ Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Creators: Alan Moore/ Pete Morisi.

Ozymandias
Source: taringa.net

DC Comics purchased Charlton Comics and their collection of classic comic characters from 1985. A writer named Alan Moore chose to use a few long-forgotten characters to make a murder-mystery story revolving around the death of a superhero. Therefore, Ozymandias was born.

Venom

Debut: April 1988.

Character influence: Reader suggestion.

Creators: Mike Zeck and Todd McFarlane.

Venom
Source: pinterest.com

Imagine you’re a huge lover of Marvel and you send in a proposal for upgraded costume design for Spider-Man. Suddenly, you receive a letter from the late Marvel editor Jim Shooter. They love the idea and want to purchase it from you. This happened to Randy Schueller in 1982.

Lucifer Morningstar

Debut: April 1989.

Character influence: Paradise Lost” by John Milton/ David Bowie.

Creators: Neil Gaiman.

Lucifer Morningstar
Source: Pinterest.com

The original Lucifer character appeared in a dream sequence in 1962. In the late ‘80s, Neil redesigned his image and brought him to life.

Bane

Debut: January 1993.

Character influence: Doc Savage/Count of Monte Cristo.

Creators: Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan.

Bane
Source: Pinterest.com

DC Comics decided they wanted to do something extreme with batman without killing him off in the early ‘90s. They created a villain to break his back, enter Bane.

The Joker

Debut: April 1940.

Character influence: ‘Gwynplaine,’ from ‘The Man Who Laughs,’ 1928 film.

Creators: Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

The joker
Source: Imgur.com

The praise for crafting one of Batman’s oldest and extreme rivals has been debated for decades. A lot of people credit Bob Kane and Bill Finger with his introduction, but writer Jerry Robinson says he should be credited – in other words, it will always remain a debate.

Harley Quinn

Debut: September 1993.

Character influence: Arleen Sorkin from Days of Our Lives.

Creators: Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.

Harley Quinn
Source: Twitter.com

Harley’s debut was September 1992 on an episode of Batman, ‘The Animated Series as the devoted, slightly crazy, overly obsessed girlfriend of The Joker.’ Nonetheless, her character became so popular, they decided to include her in more stories.

Magog

Debut: May 1996.

Character influence: The Bible/Cable (Marvel).

Creators: Alex Ross and Mark Waid.

Magog
Source: Pinterest.com

Always being on the fence about being a villain, Lance Corporal David Reid would very much act in an evil way as Magog. He was infused with powers by the demon god Gog. Magog killed The Joker and was partially responsible for the nuclear destruction of a significant part of Kansas.

Clark Kent

Debut: 1938.

Character influence: Civil War soldier, Douglas Fairbanks.

Creators: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Clark Kent
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Jerry lightly based the plot on the John Carter of Mars books, a sequence about a Civil War soldier who traveled to Mars and realized that he was particularly powerful because of the low gravity. Joe Shuster’s drawings imitate the mannerisms of Douglas Fairbanks. Douglas was an action star from the silent era.

Professor X

Debut: September 1963.

Character influence: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Professor X
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Professor Charles Francis Xavier is a character depicted as the founder and sometimes leader of the X-Men.

Batman

Debut: 1939.

Character influence: Sherlock Holmes, Zorro and a Leonardo da Vinci sketch of the bat-winged flying machine.

Creators: Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger.

Batman
Source: Wikipedia.com

Other than the inspirational figures mentioned above, they also took inspiration from Dracula and The Bat, the 1926 silent film. Batman’s portrayal and costume have evolved over the years. His most notable costume change was the evolution from a cloth suit to combat gear.

Green Lantern

Debut: 1940.

Character influence: A subway accident and Aladdin 1001 Arabian Nights.

Creators: Martin Nodell.

Green Lantern
Source: Wikipedia.com

The Green Lantern happens to be one of the most complicated comic figures, with an elaborate backstory, including aliens and planetary mythology. The Green Lantern has over evolved over the years and been recreated twice. The Green Lantern made its first appearance in 1940, and the character was rebooted entirely in 1959.

Captain America

Debut: 1941.

Character influence: World War 2. Captain America provided hope for a generation of soldiers.

Creators: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.

Captain America
Source: Reddit.com

During World War 2, many superheroes were battling for the American flag. However, Captain America was the first character to wear it. Captain America debuted in 1941. On the cover of this iconic comic book, Captain America punches the famous German Dictator in the jaw.

Wonder Woman

Debut: 1941.

Character influence: Varga Girl centerfolds in Esquire.

Creators: William Morton Marston.

Wonder woman
Source: Imgur.com

Wonder Woman is one of the most notorious heroines of all time and has been a feminist symbol since 1941. She is loved for her speed and strength, her bulletproof bracelets and her Golden Lasso of Truth which assists her in defending the world. She was inspired in part by Varga Girl centerfolds in Esquire that William saw as “erotic” and “cosmopolitan.”

Spider-Man

Debut: 1962.

Character influence: 1954 children’s Halloween costume by Ben Cooper Inc.

Creators: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Spider-man
Source: Wikipedia.com

Spider-Man debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. Spider-Man is rare because, before the 1960s, teenage comic book characters were generally consigned to the role of the sidekicks. Stan Lee profoundly disagreed with this notion and pushed relentlessly for a teenage protagonist.

The Hulk

Debut: 1962.

Character influence: A lady who had lifted a vehicle to get her baby out from under it.

Creators: Jack Kirby.

The Hulk
Source: Marvel.com

The Hulk concept was born after the comic’s creator witnessed a woman lifting a vehicle while trying to get her baby out from underneath it. This incident motivated him and made him think about ordinary people’s capabilities when they are compelled to act.

Black Panther

Debut: 1966.

Character influence: The Black Panther predates the official founding of the Black Panther Party. The name was encouraged by a pulp adventure hero who had a black panther as a helper.

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Black Panther
Source: history.com

Approximately three months after the Black Panther character debuted in the Marvel world, the Black Panther Party was established in Oakland, California. Nonetheless, the Black Panther logo of the party’s predecessor, Lowndes County Freedom Organization, came a year before the release of the comic.

Wolverine

Debut: 1974.

Character influence: Inspired by the characteristics and persona of the animal wolverine.

Creators: Len Wein and artist Jon Romita Jr.

Wolverine
Source: phaidon.com

Like other characters, Wolverine has a slightly complicated origin story. He was created to be a disposable character for Hulk’s story. Wolverine’s debut was in the Marvel comic word in Incredible Hulk #180 in 1974.

Storm

Debut: 1975.

Character influence: Inspired by the comic characters Typhoon and the Black Cat.

Creators: Dave Cockrum and Len Wein.

Storm
Source: Pinterest.com

Storms debut was in the Marvel universe in Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975. Storm’s character was intended to be a male hero. The character is based on two different roles that were going to be part of the Legion of Superheroes comic book — Typhoon and the Black Cat.

Tony Stark – Iron Man

Debut: 1963.

Character influence: Howard Hughes

Creators: Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby,

Tony Stark – Iron Man
Source: Wikimedia.com

Stan was playing with the idea of a businessman superhero. He set out to make a new character a rich, glamorous ladies’ man, but one with a secret that would plague and torment him as well. Lee based this playboy’s personality on Howard Hughes, explaining, “Howard Hughes was one of the most colorful men of our time.”

If you’re wondering why Elon Musk is in the photo, it’s because of his influence on the movie Iron Man and the character Robert Downey Jr. played (rather than the original comic book character). Apparently, Musk was an inspiration for the modern-day Iron Man.

Thor

Debut: 1962

First Appearance: Journey into the Mystery #83

Creators: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Thor
Source: marvel.com

There were a number of iterations and adaptations of Thor to comic books before his most iconic version appeared in 1962.

Daredevil

Debut: 1964

First Appearance: Daredevil #1

Creators: Bill Everett

Daredevil
Source: Wikipedia.com

Daredevil is commonly known by such epithets as the “Man Without Fear” and the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.” Daredevil has since appeared in various forms of media, including several animated series, video games, and merchandise.

Catwoman

Debut: May 1940.

Character influence: Jean Harlow’s role as Ruth Steel.

Creators: Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

Catwoman
Source: Pinterest.com

Catwoman, Selina Kyle was created by both Bill Finger and Bob Kane, but in his autobiography Batman and Me, Kane revealed that the Catwoman was partly inspired by his cousin Ruth Steel. Catwoman got her sex appeal from the 1930s actress Jean Harlow.

Jean Grey

Debut: 1963

First Appearance: The X-Men #1

Creators: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Jean Grey
Source: marvel.com

Jean Grey-Summers is a character that has been known under the aliases Marvel Girl, Phoenix, and Dark Phoenix. Jean Lee’s debut was in The X-Men #1. Jean is a member of a subspecies of humans known as mutants. They were born with superhuman abilities. She was born with telepathic and telekinetic powers.

Lois Lane

Debut: 1934.

Character influence: Glenda Farrell and her portrayal of the fictional reporter Torchy Blane and a model named Joanne Carter.

Creators: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Lois Lane
Source: Wikipedia.com

“What inspired me was Glenda Farrell, the movie star who portrayed Torchy Blane, a gutsy, beautiful, headline-hunting reporter, in a series of exciting motion pictures.” The name Lois Lane come from and actress called Lola Lane who played Torchy Blane in 1938. “Because the name Lola Lane appealed to me,” Siegel wrote, “I called my character, Lois Lane.”

Darkseid

Debut: November 1970.

Character influence: Actor Jack Palance/ German Dictator.

Creators: Jack Kirby.

Darkseid
Source: Twitter.com

According to Mark Evanier, who wrote Kirby’s biography titled Kirby: King of Comics, he based Darkseid’s appearance on Jack Palance and with a character of the famous World War 2 German Dictator.