ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

When we think of superheroes, and their origins, we tend to go straight to super-serums, Kryptonian explosions and back alley parental murders - but when you take a closer look at the very beginnings of our favorite heroes, things sometimes get even more interesting.

Way back before their on-page origins, back even earlier than their creation by the hardworking men and women who brought them to life, there are moments of inspiration that have defined our heroes. And, because comic-books are awesome, some of them are fantastically weird.

So, get ready to meet...

The Real Life Inspirations Behind Your Favorite Superheroes

But be warned, some of them are not only weird, but famous. Here are seven of my favorites...

First up...

1. Batman was Inspired by a Scottish King...and a Revolutionary War Hero

Or, rather, his alter ego Bruce Wayne was named after two key historical figures. For his first name, his creators, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, looked to the Scottish King Robert the Bruce, a famous warrior. For his last name, though, they set out to represent a very different side of the playboy's personality. As Finger put it:

"Wayne, being a playboy, was a man of gentry...I searched for a name that would suggest colonialism. I tried Adams, Hancock…then I thought of Mad Anthony Wayne."

The same 'Mad' Anthony Wayne was, in the real world, a famous general in the Revolutionary War, with a gift for winning against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Just like the superhero, who, the comics later suggested, was actually his descendent all along...

2. Iron Man was Based on an Actual Eccentric Billionaire

Tony Stark, though, had a much more recent inspiration - one who'll be very much recognizable to any Leo DiCaprio fans.

The iconic playboy billionaire was, it turns out, directly inspired iconic playboy billionaire. More specifically, the eccentric, later-reclusive inventor and tycoon Howard Hughes - who was the focus of the DiCaprio-starring biopic The Aviator.

As Iron Man co-creator Don Heck put it:

“Howard Hughes was one of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase. Without being crazy, [Iron Man] was Howard Hughes.”

3. Professor X Wasn't Only Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, it seems like everyone had already heard about how the X-Men's Professor X was originally inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. (with his more militant counterpart Magneto taking the place of Malcolm X).

He was also, though, reportedly very much based on the classic Hollywood actor Yul Brynner.

Who, in fairness, would have made a fantastic Professor X, if they'd actually made a movie version before he died in 1985.

4. J. Jonah Jameson Was Based on...Stan Lee?

Yup, that's right. The angry, curmudgeonly, Spider-Man hating editor of the Daily Bugle was inspired by none other than Stan Lee himself - at the time both a writer and editor at Marvel, known for his mustache, greying hair, and...somewhat stressed demeanor.

The best part? Stan Lee created the character himself...Which, in turn, makes scenes like this...

...actually really kind of depressing.

Some characters, though, had far more mundane (yet weird) origins...

5. The Flash Was Named After the Original Jimmy Fallon

Or, rather one of the versions of him was.

When DC comics decided to revive The Flash, and create a new character to replace the original, Jay Garrick, they chose to look in some slightly odd places for inspiration.

Specifically, the world of talk show hosts.

So, Barry Allen, the second Flash, got his name from Barry Gray, 'the father of talk radio,' and Steve Allen, the popular first host of The Tonight Show.

Steve Allen, seen here back when TV was awesome.
Steve Allen, seen here back when TV was awesome.

And people wonder why the character ended up being a real talker...

6. Catwoman was a Sex Symbol Way Before She Was Even Created

Now, sure, decades of Michelle Pfeiffer in a tight-fitting suit - and...uh...other things, I assume - have made Catwoman one of the biggest comic-book sex symbols there is, as well as one of the greatest anti-heroes around.

Back in the day though, when Bill Finger and Bob Kane created the character in 1939, she was...just as much of a sex symbol.

Or, rather, she was inspired by one.

Jean Harlow was one of the great cinematic figures of the 1930s - and, as Bob Kane put it, the perfect inspiration for Catwoman, seeing as the actress “seemed to personify feminine pulchritude at its most sensuous."

And, of course...

7. The Joker was Basically Just a Classic German Actor

Now, The Joker's co-creator Bob Kane tells the story of the inspiration behind the character like this:

"Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. But he looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs...So Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, "Here's the Joker."

Which is pretty cool, and all - he's based off an old school German, then Hollywood actor, which is...

...Holy crap Conrad Veidt WAS The Joker? Right?

I mean, did anyone think to check the man wasn't actually a supervillain?

Someone should probably warn Robert the Bruce and 'Mad' Anthony Wayne...

What do you guys think, though?


Favorite Real Life Superhero Inspiration?

via TheGeekTwins, Dorkly


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