The Real People Who Inspired 5 Comic Book Characters


While most superheroes are all-powerful and larger-than-life, they’re sometimes modeled after extraordinary real-life people. Here are five of them.


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Marvel Comics pioneers Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby were all credited as the creators of Iron Man. Lee wanted the character to be the "quintessential capitalist" and a superhero that went against the times and the publication’s readership during the early 1960s. Stan Lee wanted Tony Stark/Iron Man to be a wealthy inventor, weapons manufacturer, and playboy. He modeled him after Howard Hughes, who “was one of the most colorful men of our time,” according to Lee. “He was an inventor, an adventurer, a ladies' man and finally a nutcase. Without being crazy, (Iron Man) was Howard Hughes.”

However, while making the first Iron Man movie in 2008, director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. based Tony Stark on billionaire engineer and inventor Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, and founder of SpaceX. In fact, Elon Musk makes a cameo appearance as himself in Iron Man 2.

“When I was trying to bring the character of genius billionaire Tony Stark to the big screen in Iron Man, I had no idea how to make him seem real,” wrote Favreau in TIME. “Robert Downey Jr. said, ‘We need to sit down with Elon Musk.’ … Downey was right. Elon is a paragon of enthusiasm, good humor and curiosity—a Renaissance man in an era that needs them.”


In 1940, comic book writer William Moulton Marston modeled Wonder Woman on his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, whom he believed was the model of modern feminism. She was a psychologist and fellow writer and helped her husband develop the systolic blood pressure test that is used in polygraph machines (lie detectors), which is one of the reasons why Wonder Woman uses a Lasso of Truth against her enemies.

Marston also based Wonder Woman on Olive Byrne, who lived with the married couple in a polyamorous relationship. Byrne always wore silver bracelets, which Wonder Woman used to deflect speeding bullets.  


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In 2002, Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Allred redesigned Nick Fury in The Ultimates comic book series, which was a modern reimagining of the Avengers. The pair based their version of Nick Fury on Samuel L. Jackson. The likeness was even referenced in the comic book itself, when the superhero team talked about who would play them in a hypothetical movie. Fury answered, "Mr. Samuel L. Jackson, of course, no discussion."

Six years later, in 2008, Marvel Studios actually cast Jackson to play Nick Fury in the post-credit tag in Iron Man. In addition, Jackson has played the character throughout a majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Comic book writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster (who met in high school) created Superman in 1934. They were big movie fans, so they based Superman’s iconic superhero stance and physique on movie star Douglas Fairbanks, who starred in the silent films The Mark of Zorro and Robin Hood, while the Man of Steel’s alter ego was partly based on Harold Lloyd and named after Clark Gable and Kent Taylor.


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Stan Lee based the loudmouthed publisher of the Daily Bugle and Peter Parker’s boss on himself. Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko also modeled J. Jonah Jameson’s appearance on Stan Lee—from his silver sides to his iconic mustache. “I thought, if I were a grumpy, irritable man, which I am sometimes, how would I act? And that was it. So, you got me,” revealed Stan Lee about Jameson’s origin on Talk of the Nation on NPR.

Disney/Marvel Studios
Afternoon Map
Marvel vs. DC: This Map Shows Each State’s Favorite Comic Universe
Disney/Marvel Studios
Disney/Marvel Studios

Which comic book company is the best: Marvel or DC? This is a perennial argument on middle-school playgrounds and Reddit threads, but this map, courtesy of, might just give us a definitive answer. The information here is broken down by state, using information provided by Google Trends to give us a clear winner of not only the most popular comic book company but also the most popular individual hero in each state (let’s show a little respect to Indiana for championing the Martian Manhunter).

According to the map, Marvel is the most popular publisher in 37 states, with DC trailing behind at eight, and five additional states coming to a 50/50 stalemate. The totals weren’t a blowout, though. In certain states like Mississippi, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, the favored company only won by a point. And just because a state searches Google for a specific publisher the most doesn’t mean an individual character from the opposing team isn’t its favorite—Hawaii is listed as favoring Marvel overall, yet they love Aquaman on his own. Same with DC-loving Maryland showing Black Panther some love (helps to have a big movie coming out). Take a look at some of the most notable state preferences below:

So how did Marvel amass so many states when there are just as many DC TV shows and movies out there? Well, according to Andrew Selepak, Ph.D., a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in social media, the answer lies in the depth at the House of Ideas.

“While Superman and Batman may be dominant characters,” Selepak said in a statement, “the DC Universe offers few other well-known heroes and villains and when these other characters are presented to the audience in film and on TV, they often are less than well-received.” This is opposed to Marvel, which launches new heroes on the big and small screen seemingly every year.

Does this map tell the whole story? That’s up for debate. When it comes to comics sold, DC and Marvel are always in a close battle: In January 2018, DC had six of the 10 best-selling comics of the month, placing four of the top five. Marvel, meanwhile, had three, while Image Comics had one with The Walking Dead. In terms of overall retail market share, though, Marvel eked out DC 34.3 percent to 33.8 percent.

This is a battle that's been raging since the 1960s, and for an industry that thrives on a never-ending fight between good and evil, we shouldn't expect the Marvel vs. DC debate to be settled anytime soon.

DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
The Dark Knight Is Returning to Theaters, Just Ahead of 10th Anniversary
DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Believe it or not, July 18 will mark the 10th anniversary of the release of The Dark Knight, the second entry in Christopher Nolan’s game-changing superhero movie trilogy. To mark the occasion, Showcase Cinemas—the movie theater chain behind the Cinema de Lux experience—is bringing the movie back to select theaters on the east coast for limited screenings on February 8 and February 11, /Film reports.

Many people consider The Dark Knight the best film in the Batman franchise (Tim Burton and LEGO-fied movies included). The film currently holds a 94 percent “fresh” rating with both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest-rated movie in the Batman universe.

Much of the film’s acclaim came from Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as The Joker—a role that won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (making him the only actor to win that award posthumously). Even Michael Caine, who plays Bruce Wayne’s ever-dutiful butler and BFF Alfred, admitted that he wasn’t sold on the idea of bringing The Joker back into Batman’s cinematic universe, after the character was so ably played by Jack Nicholson in Burton’s 1989 film, until he found out Ledger would be taking the role.

“You don’t try and top Jack,” was Caine’s original thought. But when Nolan informed the actor that he was casting Ledger, that changed things. “I thought: ‘Now that’s the one guy that could do it!’ My confidence came back,” Caine told Empire Magazine.

To find out if The Dark Knight is playing at a theater near you, visit Showcase Cinemas’s website. If it’s not, don’t despair: With the official anniversary still six months away, other theaters are bound to have the same idea.

[h/t: /Film]


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