Mark Mainz/Getty Images // DC Comics
Mark Mainz/Getty Images // DC Comics

The Real People Who Inspired 8 Famous Superheroes

Mark Mainz/Getty Images // DC Comics
Mark Mainz/Getty Images // DC Comics

In many ways, pop culture's most famous superheroes are otherworldly beings with powers that we mere mortals can never hope to possess. Yet many of these badass characters found their inspiration in real people. Here are eight of them.


Making his debut appearance in The Saga of the Swamp Thing in the summer of 1985, John Constantine was modeled after Grammy-winning musician Sting. Comic book artists Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben told writer Alan Moore that they wanted to create a character that looked like Sting because they were big fans of the band The Police and the artist's movie roles.

“We began drawing Sting in the background scenes in Swamp Thing. And it was a game we were playing," Bissette told The A.V. Club. "We loved The Police, John was a huge fan of Andy Summers. And I liked Sting, because he had a great face and I was a big fan of the movie Quadrophenia. And we wrote Alan, and said ‘We’re going to put Sting in the comic, and Alan, you better make it a character, because he’s not going to go away. We’re going to make him more and more visible, whether you like it or not.’ So Alan made him John Constantine.”


Batman co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane named Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman, after Robert the Bruce, or King Bruce I of Scotland, and American Revolutionary War Army officer “Mad” Anthony Wayne. According to Finger, “Bruce Wayne’s first name came from Robert [the] Bruce, the Scottish patriot. Wayne, being a playboy, was a man of gentry. [Then,] I searched for a name that would suggest colonialism. I tried Adams, Hancock … then I thought of Mad Anthony Wayne.”


In 1940, Batman co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane created Catwoman, then known as simply The Cat, to add sex appeal to their comic book and introduce a “friendly foe who committed crimes but was also a romantic interest in Batman's rather sterile life.” The pair based Catwoman’s appearance on Jean Harlow, who according to Kane, personified "feminine pulchritude at its most sensuous."


In 1956, comic book writer Robert Kanigher created The Flash/Barry Allen (Silver Age) by combining the names of two popular talk show hosts at the time. Barry Gray was a radio host who is known as "The Father of Talk Radio," while Steve Allen was best known as the first host of The Tonight Show in 1954 and later the host of The Steve Allen Show in 1956.


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Before he was known as Shazam!, the superhero was originally known as Captain Thunder and then later changed to Captain Marvel when he was created in 1939. But due to another superhero taking on the name Captain Marvel for Marvel Comics, DC Comics had to change the superhero’s name, so they changed it to “Shazam!” when the character was re-launched in 2011.

Comic book artist C.C. Beck and writer Bill Parker created the superhero and modeled him after a very popular actor at the time, Fred MacMurray. According to comic book artist Jim Steranko, “[C.C. Beck] began the task of translating Bill Parker’s ideas into graphic form. He chose film star Fred MacMurray as the model of Captain Thunder (Captain Marvel), giving him the same black, wavy hair; bone structure, and cleft chin.”


Wolverine is the most popular character in the X-Men comic book series. He was originally created as a very minor character for the sole purpose to fight The Incredible Hulk when the “Big Guy” went to Canada. Wolverine’s look was based on character actor Paul D’Amato in Slap Shot. In the cult classic, D’Amato played Dr. Hook, who wore crazy-shaped hair and thick sideburns. He also had a grizzled face and wild personality.


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Stan Lee and Jack Kirby modeled the appearance of Professor Charles Xavier after Academy Award–winning actor Yul Brynner. "I thought of Professor X as [actor] Yul Brynner,” Lee said in an interview with Wizard in 1993. “I thought it would be good if he was physically limited, since his mind was so powerful. Even though he was confined to the wheelchair, in a way he was the most powerful."


In 1940, 17-year-old comic book assistant Jerry Robinson brought in a rough sketch of a playing card Joker to comic book writer Bill Finger when the pair was working with artist Bob Kane on Batman #1. They were trying to figure out the character design of Batman’s arch-nemesis, so Finger and Kane refined the sketch to make it look more like silent movie star Conrad Veidt, who played a man with a disfigured and permanent smile on his face in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs.

“In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker, Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs,” Robinson said during San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. “He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine. Bill finished that first script from my outline of the persona and what should happen in the first story. He wrote the script of that, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals.”

Marvel Entertainment
The Litigious History of DC and Marvel’s Rival Captain Marvel Characters
Carol Danvers is just one of many heroes to hold the Captain Marvel mantle for Marvel
Carol Danvers is just one of many heroes to hold the Captain Marvel mantle for Marvel
Marvel Entertainment

Behind-the-scenes struggles and legal wrangling have played just as big of a part in the history of comic books as the colorful battles on the pages themselves. And one of the most complex and long-lasting disputes in the industry has focused on Captain Marvel—or at least the two distinct versions of the character that have coexisted in a state of confusion at both Marvel and DC for decades.

Like many comic book tangles, this dispute was made possible because of the debut of Superman. Soon after his first appearance in 1938's Action Comics #1, there was a deluge of knockoffs from publishers looking for a piece of the Man of Steel pie. Though most of these were fly-by-night analogues, Fawcett Comics’s attempt at its own superhero wasn’t an inferior model—it quickly became real competition.


Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was created in late 1939 by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck and debuted in Whiz Comics #2. On his first cover, Captain Marvel is shown carelessly throwing a car against a brick wall, as two criminals bolt out of the windows. In Action Comics #1, Superman made his debut by hoisting a similar car over his head and driving it into the Earth, as the criminals inside fled.

The similarities were unmistakable: Here were two caped strongmen with heroic squints and circus tights leaping around cities and battling mad (and bald) scientists. But while Clark Kent got his powers from his Kryptonian physiology, Captain Marvel was, in reality, a young boy named Billy Batson who would receive his powers by shouting the magic word “SHAZAM!” If Superman was the straitlaced Boy Scout, Captain Marvel earned his moniker of "The Big Red Cheese" through sheer camp, a wink, and a nod.

Seniority mattered little to young comic book readers, and once Captain Marvel found his footing, he was outselling Superman at the newsstand and beating him to the screen by receiving his own live-action film serial in 1941. But as Captain Marvel reached larger audiences, DC was in the midst of legal action against Fawcett for copyright infringement. The claim was simple: Captain Marvel was a bit too close to Superman for DC's comfort.

DC wanted Fawcett to cease production of the serial and comics by the early 1940s, but Fawcett fought to delay a court battle for years. It wasn’t until 1948 that the case actually went to trial, with the dust finally settling in DC's favor in 1954. Legally, Fawcett would never be allowed to print another Captain Marvel book. By now, though, the superhero market was near extinction, so for Fawcett, it wasn’t even worth it to appeal again. Instead, the publisher closed shop, leaving Superman to soar the skies of Metropolis without any square-jawed competition on the newsstands.


The next decade would see a superhero revitalization, beginning with DC’s revamped takes on The Flash and Green Lantern in the late 1950s, and exploding just a few years later when Timely Comics changed its name to Marvel Comics and launched a roster of heavy-hitters like The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and The Hulk, all by 1962.

Marvel was a buzzword again, and in 1966, a short-lived company called M.F. Enterprises tried to capitalize with a new character named Captain Marvel—generally considered one of the worst superheroes ever put to paper.

Marvel now needed to stop inferior comics from using its name on their covers, so it obtained the trademark for the Captain Marvel name and went about protecting it by introducing yet another character named Captain Marvel. This new alien version of the hero made his debut shortly after in 1967's Marvel Super-Heroes #12.

The character was born purely for legal reasons. According to comic book veteran Roy Thomas, Stan Lee only created a Captain Marvel at publisher Martin Goodman's insistence: "All I know is the basis of the character came from a resentment over the use of the ‘Captain Marvel’ name."

Comics are nothing if not needlessly confusing at times, and by the early 1970s, Superman wasn’t quite the sales force he used to be. In need of some fresh blood, DC turned to an unlikely source for help: Fawcett. The company had reemerged in the late 1960s as the publisher of Dennis the Menace comics, but its hands were tied when the superhero business revived since it was legally forbidden from producing new Captain Marvel books. So they did the next best thing by agreeing to license the character and his supporting cast to DC in 1973.


Now the world’s two biggest publishers both had high-profile characters named Captain Marvel. But there was a catch: Since Marvel owned the rights to the name, DC couldn’t call its new Captain Marvel comic Captain Marvel. Instead, all of his comics went by the title Shazam, as did the character’s live-action TV revival in the mid-1970s. Oddly enough, the name of the character himself was still—wait for it—Captain Marvel. So DC could retain the character’s name in the stories but couldn’t slap it onto book covers or TV shows. Only Marvel could monetize the name Captain Marvel.

Right after Captain Marvel’s first DC book launched in 1973, there was an immediate hiccup. The full title of the series was the slightly antagonistic Shazam: The Original Captain Marvel. That lasted all of 14 issues before a cease and desist order from Marvel turned the series into Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal. Marvel, on the other hand, found itself in the position to keep its trademark by continuously pumping out more books with Captain Marvel on the cover, which is why the company’s history is littered with reboots and new versions of the character turning up every two years or so.

By the 1990s, DC had outright purchased its Captain Marvel from Fawcett, but it could barely promote him. There are only so many times you can put Shazam on a comic cover but refer to him as Captain Marvel on the inside without confusing your readers. So in 2012, DC and writer Geoff Johns decided to end the decades of confusion and simply rename the character Shazam, because, as John said, “everybody thinks he's called Shazam already.”

In 2019, these two characters that are seemingly forever linked will have another shared milestone when they both make their big screen debuts. Marvel’s Captain Marvel will hit theaters on March 8, 2019, with Brie Larson playing the Carol Danvers version of the character. And after nearly 80 years of switching publishers, changing names, and lengthy legal battles, Zachary Levi will play the title role in Shazam! a month later on April 5.

Evening Standard/Getty Images
8 Actors Who've Played Batman (and What Fans Had to Say About Them)
Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Batman is one of the most beloved superheroes of all time, which has made playing him a difficult task for more than one actor. (Playing characters with rabid fan bases can be a double-edged sword.) Here, take a look back at eight actors who've donned the Batsuit—and how fans and critics reacted to their performances.


Lewis Wilson as Batman
Columbia Pictures

Lewis Wilson was the youngest person to play Batman. He appeared in the 15-part 1943 Columbia serial. Critics complained about everything from his weight to his accent.


Robert Lowery took over the role in the 1949 follow-up serial, Batman And Robin. He was a forgettable actor in this role.


Adam West at 'Batman'
Evening Standard/Getty Images

West played the Caped Crusader from 1966 through 1968 in the Batman television series in addition to a film spin-off. Fans were torn: Either they loved his campy portrayal or hated it.


Michael Keaton's casting in the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film caused such controversy that 50,000 protest letters were sent to Warner Brothers’s offices.


Val Kilmer in 'Batman Forever' (1995)
Warner BRos.

Val Kilmer put on the suit in 1995 and received mixed reviews. Director Joel Schumacher called the actor “childish and impossible."


It's safe to assume Clooney regrets his decision to star in Batman & Robin. It was the worst box-office performer of the modern Batman movies and Clooney once joked that he killed the series.


© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Though Christian Bale is largely favored as the best actor to play the Dark Knight, he was not without criticism. NPR’s David Edelstein described his husky voice as “a voice that's deeper and hammier than ever.”


Most recently: Fans immediately took to the internet to decry the decision to cast Ben Affleck as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), recalling his previous roles in the poor-performing Gigli and Daredevil.


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