Let’s face it, comic books tend to borrow from each other and we see similar characters popping up in different companies a lot. The most recent example of this is Miss America's creators just deciding to do a solo series with a character that's Miss America in all but last name at another company after Marvel dragged their feet on giving the character a solo title.
Yes, these copied characters can get pretty blatant.. Of course, that doesn’t mean that these “copycat” characters didn’t turn out to great characters in their own right- some of them were different enough from their “inspiration” that they worked or they were taken in an entirely new direction that really made them a success. Some of them were MORE successful than the original character. So without further ado, let’s take a look at all the copycat superheroes and supervillains out there.
Deadpool vs Deathstroke the Terminator
In 1980, the DC Comics Teen Titans were faced with a sinister villain. He was a mercenary, highly trained in martial arts and weaponry, he had an advanced healing factor and he wore a full-face mask. His name was Slade Wilson.
In 1991, Marvel Comics created a character of their own. He was mercenary, trained in martial arts and weaponry and he could heal from anything. He has a full face mask. His name was Wade Wilson.
It’s not speculation to connect Deathstroke and Deadpool because the creators have admitted to it. When artist Rob Liefeld pitched the character to writer Fabian Nicieza, the writer’s response was “This is Deathstroke from Teen Titans”. But Nicieza went with it and called him Wade Wilson as an“inside joke” that he was a relative of Slade’s.
Early Deadpool was more similar in personality to his inspiration than the character we know today. He was a grim, grimacing assassin. It wasn’t until he got a solo title by Joe Kelly that he morphed into the fourth-wall breaking, unhinged, humorous character we know today, who has far surpassed Slade in popularity. He’s probably the ultimate example of how a blatant rip-off can be turned into a great character in the right hands.
Thanos vs Darkseid
This is another one the creators have straight up admitted to. Jim Starlin says he liked what Jack Kirby was doing with the New Gods over at DC and made characters based on that. Originally, Thanos was based more on the New God Metron, a thin little guy often seen in a floating chair. But according to Stalin, his editor Roy Thomas “took one look at the guy in the Metron-like chair 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”.
You can’t get much more blatant than that. Of course, it would be obvious to anyone with eyes anyway. The two villains were incredibly similar in appearance when Thanos debuted- Darkseid was a huge, bulky gray guy with a helmet head and dark blue clothing and Thanos was a huge, bulky dark purple guy with a helmet head and dark blue clothing.
On top of that, both of them were all-powerful beings from a race of “Eternals” who are obsessed with death and nihilism. However, Thanos does have quite a few quirks to set him apart from Darkseid, like his crush on the literal embodiment of Death and the way he sabotages himself. Meanwhile Darkseid is just here to rule his planet with an iron fist and conquer everything.
The Black Cat vs Catwoman
Stop me if you heard this one- a woman takes cat burglar to the extreme by dressing up as an actual cat, calling herself a cat, and stealing things. She is skilled in acrobatics and martial arts. She’s a femme fatale who gets in an on-and-off romance with a famous superhero who tries to foil her plans. He tries to convince her to join the side of good. She flirts with being an anti-hero.
Yeah, Marv Wolfman claims he never thought of Catwoman when creating the Black Cat, but I have a hard time buying it. I can grant he might have initially been inspired by the source he claims, a cartoon called “Bad Luck Blackie”, but I think by the time he decided to take her off Spider-Woman and make her Spider-Man’s love interest, he definitely had another famous cat in mind. Felicia Hardy does differ from Selina Kyle in that she has superpowers- she has the ability to cause bad luck, just like her namesake.
Fighting American and Agent America vs Captain America
This, much like the Miss America deal, is one where the creators actually ripped off themselves. Timely Comics 1950’s iteration relaunched Captain America without getting Joe Simon and Jack Kirby involved. The pair responded by creating Fighting American for “Crestwood Publication imprint Prize Comics”. Simon said, “we thought we’d show them how to do Captain America.”
Much later Rob Liefeld tried to bring the character back and make him even MORE like Captain America. This is one rip-off that actually resulted in a lawsuit from Marvel. There’s a bit of a story here: it all started because Liefeld was working on a story involving Captain America when Marvel went bankrupt. Refusing to take a paycut, Rob left Marvel without doing his story and decided to publish it, barely altered, for Image Comics. He tried to get Joe Simon to sell Fighting American to him so he could do so, but didn’t like Simon’s price, so he decided to create his own ripoff, “Agent America”. Simon threatened to sue, so they renegotiated the deal and Rob bought the rights to Fighting American.
By then, Marvel was also prepared to sue. Liefeld made Fighting American even MORE like Captain America, giving him an almost identical costume and a shield. But Liefeld got out of the trial intact and he was allowed to do his version of Fighting American as long as the costume was somewhat altered and the guy never threw the shield.
The comic also included several ripoffs of other Marvel characters, most notably a character that was just Bucky with his costume colors reversed:
Honestly, lawsuits, capitalism and petty in-fighting- what’s more American than this story?
The Watchmen vs Charlton Characters
This is another one that’s admitted by the creators- the Watchmen are pastiches of Charlton Comics characters. Moore actually originally intended for the story of the Watchmen to be told with Charlton characters, but since the story would have basically turned these characters kind of unusable for DC, they convinced him to go with original characters instead.
Nite Owl is Blue Beetle (begoggled inventors with no powers). Rorschach is the Question (face mask, trenchcoat, and Rorschach’s attitude is sort of a parody of Steve Ditko’s objectivism). Silk Spectre would have originally been Nightshade, but Moore decided to go with Phantom Lady and Black Canary (scantily clad, relies on martial arts, Black Canary was part of a mother-daughter superhero legacy) for her inspiration when he switched to original characters.
The Comedian is the Peacemaker (the original story was called “Who Killed the Peacemaker”) and Ozymandias is Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt (Moore cites the idea of a character with complete physical and mental control). Doctor Manhattan is Captain Atom, who was also a powerful quantum hero.
Hawkeye vs Green Arrow
It seems very unlikely that Marvel’s bow-using vigilante with all his trick arrows didn’t take inspiration from the trick arrow wielding Green Arrow. However, Hawkeye is pretty different as a character in the end. Unlike Green Arrow, he started out as a villain and the current “human disaster” version Marvel Comics has going is pretty distinct from Oliver Queen.
Glory and Power Princess vs Wonder Woman
Power Princess was the super-strong, long lived, expert combatant princess of “Utopia Isle” which was untouched by human civilization. She went into action during World War II and fell in love with a sailor she saved during the war. Yep, sounds a lot like our World War II heroine from Paradise Island and her soldier beau.
Glory is much more blatant that Power Princess- she’s another Rob Liefeld creation and a “homage” to Wonder Woman. She’s a super strong Amazon warrior who left “Amazonia” to go to “man’s world” and fight against the Nazis in World War II. Yep. She was later redesigned to be more unique.
The X-Men vs the Doom Patrol
A team of misfits who are hated and feared, led by a psychic man in a wheelchair? Yep, these could apply to both the X-Men and the Doom Patrol. They even have pretty much the same tagline “the strangest heroes!” Also, The Doom Patrol fights the Brotherhood of Evil. The X-Men fight the Brotherhood of Evil…Mutants. Subtle.
X-Men came out a mere three months after Doom Patrol. Of course, besides Professor Xavier and Niles Caulder, the characters were pretty different from each other and Marvel made the mutants an allegory for minorities while the Doom Patrol were just hated for being weird looking (even though three of them looked normal). Of course, the X-Men have far exceeded the Doom Patrol in popularity and concept.
Aquaman vs Namor
Two heroes who have a human mother and an Atlantean mother, who are Atlantean Royalty and leaders of their people, who can breathe underwater and have superstrength? Yep, smells like copycatting- and Aquaman came a year after Namor (who was a Timely Comics character in 1939), so for once, Marvel wins the race on this one. Of course, Namor is much more hostile than his DC counterpart.
Wolverine vs Timberwolf
Timberwolf from the Legion of Superheroes has claws, enhanced senses and a rapid healing factor. Like Wolverine, he was experimented on. And also, they have the same hairstyle.
Timberwolf debuted in 1964 and Wolverine came 10 years later. The similarities are undeniable, though it’s an understatement to say Wolverine is way more popular than his probable inspiration. But hey, Timber Wolf can brag about being taller!