Movies & TV / Columns

Comics 411: The Best Comic Book Character Imitators

January 29, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson

I’m Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by. If you enjoy reading or discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. I throw out a subject, you comment below. Easy. Let’s get started. 

Previously on…

Last time we held the Comic Books Cancelled Before Their Time. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Jeremiah Ashcroft: “I remember Post Infinite Crisis, Pre Flashpoint, Supergirl wanted to cure a little girl’s cancer. She basically promised and had to make good, so she found Resurrection Man and wanted to kill him over and over until he came back with a cancer curing superpower. After like a dozen tries he was done since it just wasn’t working. I think that’s a clever use for him. I’d like to see a villainous group in the future abduct him and basically do the same thing until they get a specific power that matches their plan. His New 52 Ongoing only made it to 12 issues I think, and as a solo they don’t seem to generate enough interest in him.”

Johnny Royale: “As a kid from Marvel it was What If… and Super Villain Team-U. Could never get enough of either. As an adult it was Pre- New 52 Secret Six”

Gil: “I’ve mentioned my love for the Peter David era of Hulk before. Specifically the “Combined“ Hulk run. Later Hulk went back to the tragic character he is. Incredible Herc was amazing because it brought me back to the Hulk comics I remember. Herc and Cho reminded me of Hulk and Rick. Makes me want a new Herc book with Cho in it, especially now with Cho having superpowers.

And speaking of Cho, and keeping on topic, the latest Agents of Atlas series where he’s the leader…..just ended it’s run. At least I think it’s getting canceled.”

poopsadaisy: “The Incredible Hercules and Agents of Atlas were both great and I would have liked to see more. The book I’d really like to have seen continue was Superior Foes of Spider-Man. That was so fun! Fearless Defenders was also cool but ended pretty quickly.”

Al Lobama: “IDW actually did a four issue Empire Mini-Series back in 2015. But yeah, it’s a great book that deserves more than just ten or twelve issues.

Most of the ones that immediately jump to mind for me are DC series. The early ’90s Justice Society of America series done by Len Strazewski and Mike Parobek was a fun all ages team book that got lost in the grim and gritty and only lasted ten issues. The cancellation of that one still hurts. The late ’90s Hourman series lasted twenty-five issues, but it was such a fun book that you wanted it to last much, much longer. That series may have been the only time I ever enjoyed seeing Snapper Carr. And I can never forget my long, lamented teen team series Young Heroes in Love. It was such a great concept with amazingly likable new characters, and I’m honestly shocked that pretty much all of them never got used again elsewhere in the DCU.

On the Marvel side, I am still in shock that Erik Larsen’s Nova series only got seven issues. This was a book that Larsen had been trying to get off the ground for decades, and then it was gone before you even got a chance to enjoy it. Avengers Academy got thirty-nine issues, but that was a book so good that it should still be getting published today. Even worse, most of those great original characters got killed off in Avengers Arena. The late ’90’s Ka-Zar series was also criminally short at twenty issues, but after Mark Waid and Andy Kubert left the series there really was no series (the book was cancelled four issues later). If Waid and Kubert had stuck around longer or they had found a new creative team of equal or greater value, maybe it could have lasted longer.

As for indy and small press books, I’ve always been disappointed that the original Ben Edlund run of The Tick only lasted twelve issues. Yes, more issues have been published in various forms, but we’ve never gotten more of the original run by the creator himself. Even worse, the series stopped in the middle of a story and we never got to see how it ended!”

Keith: “Resurrection Man was the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of the article. Great call out.

He would make a really good TV show with the gimmick he dies at the end of every episode or something.”

rf: “Empire….great call. May I add Freak Force to the list.

On a similar note I miss Wizard and Toyfare.”

Stanislaus Zbyszko: “There are like hundreds of these. Comics are annoying. You start reading one, then buh bye. It’s like debut TV shows each season, 2 out of 10 aren’t cancelled.”

D2Kvirus: “El Cazador was pretty great, with gorgeous art and a real departure for not just Crossgen but comics in general at the time as it was set in the Golden Age of Piracy…but when Crossgen went bust it stopped dead, barring a single one-shot, and even though Marvel picked up Crossgen’s assets they’ve been sitting on the IP for over fifteen years and doing nothing with it”

Ken Wood: “Hellshock is the number one comic, for me, that was cancelled before it’s time. It was so freaking good and could’ve gone on to be just amazing but Jae Lee just couldn’t finish it for whatever reasons. Still, what we got was great.”

prowriter: “There was a comic called Hard Time that was pretty cool. Also, I don’t know if these are hiatuses or not, but Surgeon X (artist died I know), the Fix (one of the funniest comics I’ve ever read….worth trying, I promise. It’s just grand), and perhaps strangest of all, I don’t know if we are ever getting another Manifest Destiny, a comic para excellence.”

redraptor: “Seen a lot of great shoutouts so far. Anyone remember Wizard’s imprint Black Bull? Just a Pilgrim (Ennis), Shadow Reavers(?) and Gatecrasher(Waid) were great. Pilgrim was pretty much one trick that had a second miniseries, but Shadow Reavers was straight nuts with a different angle and Gatecrasher was great and very much like Waid’s later F4 run (which had a fun little easter egg that tied up Gatecrasher’s villain arc.)”

SCGuy: “Gotham Academy had so much potential and I really wish it had, had a longer run!”

Too many great comments to share. Go back and see for yourself. Also, as always, thanks for the input!

This week we discuss…

Biggest Comic Book Imitators!

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
-Charles Caleb Colton

Is it though?

With an industry as big and diverse as comic books, we are bound to come across characters that have a twinge of familiarity to them. Sometimes it goes way past that and it’s just a blatant swipe by one of the Big Two. We have lots of reasons for this, from popularity to homage, but let’s take a look at some of the most obvious rip-offs around.

Let’s start with Aquaman and Namor. Namor, the Sub-Mariner, debuted in 1937 and Aquaman came three years after. The similarities are obvious. Both were the prince of the underwater city of Atlantis, had power over the ocean and fish, and both are looked at as lower-tier heroes. The more I look at these two, I’m not sure I can call Aquaman a rip-off but I’m including it to see what you all had to say. In comics, you’re going to have overlaps. Water-based heroes, speed-based heroes, and so on. While they share several qualities, they have enough differences, to me, that make them unique on their own. What do you think?

Along that same line of thinking I’ll add Hawkeye and Green Arrow along with Flash and Quicksilver. Also, I’ll put Bullseye and Deadshot in here because assassin is a pretty broad label.

Let’s jump into a rip off that’s pretty popular. Deadpool and Deathstroke. Deadpool was born when Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld were doing The New Mutants. According to Nicieza, Liefeld came up with the character’s visual design and name, and Nicieza came up with the speech mannerisms. Liefeld’s character design of Deadpool was supposed to be “Spider-Man with guns and swords,” which was supposedly an in-joke on Todd McFarlane, who had teased Liefeld over how easy he had it drawing Spider-Man, a character in a mask, while Rob had to draw a team of characters who didn’t wear masks. To muddy the waters even more, Liefeld, a professed fan of the Teen Titans, showed his new character to Nicieza and upon seeing the costume and noting his characteristics (killer with super agility), Nicieza contacted Liefeld, saying “this is Deathstroke from Teen Titans”. Nicieza gave Deadpool the real name of “Wade Wilson” as an inside-joke to being “related” to “Slade Wilson”, Deathstroke. Since then, Marvel has done a fine job making Deadpool more distinct, showing that you can make something good from a rip off.

By the way, Liefeld has tweaked his story over the years but the above is probably the closes to being true. 

Then we have the Fighting American. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby introduced Fighting America in 1954 as a protest against Timely Comics (later to become Marvel) in response to them keeping the copyright to their creation, Captain America. Nothing really came from Fighting American and he went ignored until the 90s. Enter Liefeld. Liefeld said in 1997, while he was putting together a submission for a Captain America series, Marvel had filed for bankruptcy and asked Liefeld to take a paycut. He refused and called Fighting American co-creator Simon and Roz Kirby, widow of co-creator Kirby, who agreed to license the character to him, but at a price Liefeld would not accept. Liefeld turned around and created Agent America. Who looked very familiar to Fighting American. So much that he but withdrew the character when Simon threatened to sue. Liefeld negotiated a new deal for Fighting American, but was then sued by Marvel. Go figure.

I should note that Titan Comic did a new Fighting American series a couple years back that wasn’t too shabby. 

Another one that has roots in shenanigans is Man-Thing and Swamp Thing. Off topic, Man-Thing is one of the strangest names for a character. Say it outloud. “Man-Thing”. Weird,

OK, back on topic. Man-Thing’s first burst upon the scene in Marvel’s Savage Tales #1 in May of 1971. Swamp Thing followed close behind in DC’s House of Secrets #92 in July 1971. Pretty tight schedule. These two are incredibly similar in look, origins, and powers. Too much to be a coincidence so let’s pull back the curtain. Len Wein was living with Gerry Conway around the time both comics came out; Conway wrote Man-Thing and Wein, Swamp Thing. Ah, the answer is simple! Except, Wein claims that neither of them were aware of what the other one was working on. 
Do you believe that? Yeah, me either.

Catwoman (Selina Kyle) was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and she made her debut in Batman #1 in 1940. While she was originally a bad gal, she’s become more of an antiheroine rather than a traditional villain, sinking her claws into Batman. In a good way. The Black Cat (Felicia Hardy) came along in 1979 and she shares plenty with Catwoman. While Black Cat creator Marv Wolfman says he based her on a character on a Tex Avery cartoon “Bad Luck Blackie”, she comes off too Catwoman-like. Sexy costume, cat thief premise, on-and-off with hero…but it all gets overlooked thanks to the artistic license given to Black Cat’s outfit. Meow.

What happens when you rip-off a whole team? That’s what we have when you look at the Green Lantern Corps and the Nova Corps. Both are an intergalactic space police force with the only difference being the Green Lanterns have been around way longer than the Nova Corps. Different powers but they share too much for it to be an innocent homage.

How about Superman? He’s “inspired” plenty of imitators including Sentry, Supreme, Hyperion, Captain Marvel/Shazam, The Samaritan, and a handful of others. This is one where I give a lot of leeway. Superman is more than a simple comic book character. He’s hope. He’s a symbol that resonates all over the world. I think we can understand why anyone would want to honor the character with someone similar.

On the flip side we have two baddies who inspire dread. I’m talking about Thanos and Darkseid. Thanos creator, Jim Starlin, has gone on record to say that he created Thanos during a college psychology class but later came out to say he took it from Jack Kirby’s New Gods series for DC. Both are evil, both are powerful, both have the same color skin but Darkseid came first. I’m sure Mongul fits in there somewhere.

One of my favorite teams of all time is the Legion of Super Heroes. The original Imperial Guard over at Marvel was designed by Dave Cockrum to be a homage of the Legion of Superheroes, a title he had drawn before the X-Men.

A close second favorite team of mine is the Doom Patrol. The Doom Patrol came out in August of 1963 and the X-Men followed in September. Both teams lived in a world that feared them and both had a leader who was very smart and confined to a wheelchair. It’s still up for debate on whether Stan Lee stole the idea of for the X-Men from the Doom Patrol or not. While it’s a tight turnaround, back then it could easily have been accomplished. In fact, Doom Patrol co-creator Arnold Drake has put it out there that a number of guys who freelanced for both DC and Marvel could’ve spilled the beans to Lee. We may never know for sure.

We could throw Bucky and Robin into the mix but then we’d open up all the sidekick discussions. Let’s just say that Bucky and Robin have a lot in common, including them being resurrected around the same time.

We’ll end with the Dark Knight himself, Batman. Who’s a rip-off of a number of characters, the biggest one being The Shadow. But that’s another column for another time.

Which comic book character rip-off is most blatant to you? Good or bad. Sound off in the comments below!

That’s all the time I have. Check out our Comic Book Reviews tomorrow and see you next week!