Twenty-five years ago, several high-profile comic creators ventured off on their own and launched Image Comics. Creators like Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, and others created their own characters and topped the charts in the ‘90s. Now, over two decades later, Image Comics has continued that tradition of allowing creators to fully flex their creative muscles with their own original series.
However, not everything released by Image Comics over the years has been completely original, especially during those early days. When Image Comics released its early series of books, it was clear that the creators were borrowing heavily from Marvel and DC. To say they “borrowed” ideas is actually extremely generous. They basically ripped off the biggest, most popular characters and gave them new, edgy names and costumes. If they wanted to tell a Captain America story, well just use Captain America, change the name, alter the costume, and you’re set! Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men topped the charts, so how about just rip off everything about them for multiple series? Let’s take a look at 15 times that Image Comics ripped off Marvel and DC.
Does this sound familiar? There’s a character that changes into a big, brightly colored monster that goes around busting things up and grows in size and strength as he gets increasingly angry. Nope, this isn’t The Incredible Hulk. This is Rob Liefeld’s Smash. While all the entries on this list are blatant rip offs, Smash has to take the cake for the laziest, most uninspired.
Smash appeared in the Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld book Fighting American (more on that later…), and in it, he does pretty much what you’d expect. He smashes things. One look at the character and you might think something happened at the printer when they made the newest issue of Incredible Hulk. You may even think that there’s satire at play here. You’d be wrong on both counts. Smash is just a purple version of the Hulk. Plain and simple.
Wolverine is one of the most popular characters in the history of comics. During the early ‘90s, X-Men ruled Marvel Comics, with Wolvie being the headliner. So, you can hardly blame the guys over at Image for wanting to create their own Wolverine to star in their books. However, they didn’t have to be so obvious about it.
Deadlock’s costume is pretty much Wolverine’s with a different color scheme. The signature helmet that is both silly and iconic on Wolverine is duplicated on Deadlock. It’s not just the costume that draws comparisons to the mutant. Deadlock is also a feral hothead that has claws. Oh, but he’s a vampire and doesn’t have metal claws, so totally not Wolverine! See? There’s a difference! Ugh.
Marc Silvestri is one of the greatest creators of all time, and his work on Uncanny X-Men was top notch in the late ‘80s. However, he didn’t have to go and rip off one of the most popular ‘90s X-Men when he joined Image. Cyblade is clearly a thinly-veiled Psylocke. Seriously, just look at the names. You know, you should never judge a book by its cover, so let’s take a deeper look at the characters.
One of them is a dark-haired mutant with the ability to mentally project pink blades from her hands and use them in combat, along with being an adept martial artist. The other one is Psylocke. There’s almost a meta-commentary on the rip off that occurred in a X-Men/Cyberforce crossover. In the story, Wolverine and Psylocke team-up to save Cyblade and Ripclaw, who are clearly rip offs of these X-Men. It was a way for the creators to just admit that these pairs are eerily similar.
There have been many analogous characters to Superman throughout the decades. Superman is just an iconic character that lends himself to multiple different interpretations. Almost every comic book publisher has copied Superman at one point. So, since Rob Liefeld was in the business of taking popular characters, putting a new coat of paint on them, and selling tons of books, he gladly created a Superman character named Supreme.
Thank God for Alan Moore, though. Alan Moore was hired to reinvent the character for Liefeld. Instead of differentiating the character from Superman, he embraced the similarities and actually included many more in his revised origin. The issues of Supreme that were written by Alan Moore are some of the best Superman stories that ever existed, without actually starring the Kryptonian. If only Moore took the time to reinvent the rest of the characters on this list.
11. FIGHTING AMERICAN/ AGENT AMERICA
Oh, Rob Liefeld. You did it again. This time, you were almost sued. Back in the ‘90s, Marvel hired Liefeld to create a new version of Captain America for their Heroes Reborn initiative. After a falling out, Liefeld had a couple issues already in the can, but Marvel didn’t publish them. He then went to Joe Simon and Roz Kirby (Jack Kirby’s widow) to ask if he could publish a new comic based on the Fighting American character. They couldn’t come to terms, so Liefeld moved on.
Liefeld created some initial publicity art for a “new” character called Agent America (see what he did there?). However, that was quickly stopped by Joe Simon, who threatened to sue the creator since it was a clear rip off. They renegotiated and agreed to terms. Liefeld then released Fighting American. It’s great if you want to see rip offs of Bucky, Red Skull, Hulk, and of course Captain America.
If you need a strong, warrior-type female character, it only makes sense to rip off the greatest female character of all time, right? That must have been Liefeld’s thought process behind Glory. Raised by the Amazons, away from man, Glory became their best warrior. Not feeling at home among her Amazonian sisters, she goes to man’s world and joins the fight during World War II.
While the character was used throughout the ‘90s as a Wonder Woman rip-off, it wasn’t until after Liefeld stepped back that the character truly got a chance to shine. Similar to how Alan Moore revamped Supreme for a great run of stories, he did the same for Glory, very briefly. Then, in 2011, Joe Keatinge took over with Glory #23 and finally made her a character worth caring about.
No comic book universe would be complete without a Batman rip-off! Image comics has one, courtesy of Jim Valentino, called ShadowHawk. Now, obviously Bruce Wayne’s origin story is iconic and creating another Bruce Wayne would have been hated among the comic community, so Valentino only took bits and pieces to create ShadowHawk.
ShadowHawk has the mysterious costume that takes inspiration from Batman, but isn’t a wholesale copy. The character’s origin is changed quite a bit, but he’s still a vigilante that works only at night in New York City (Gotham). Later, it is revealed that there have been ShadowHawks throughout history, and there was one in the Silver Age that admitted to the Batman similarities. That character worked out of the ShadowCave, drove the ShadowCar, and had a partner called Squirrel, clearly a meta-commentary on how ShadowHawk was conceived as a different version Batman.
Back in 1991, artist Rob Liefeld was going to work on a new Teen Titans series for DC comics alongside the legendary Marv Wolfman. However, the artist and writer never did work on their series, so Liefeld was left with all his notes about Teen Titans. When Liefeld and the other artists created Image, he decided to recycle those Teen Titans notes for a new team book that would launch Image Comics, called Youngblood.
This is one of the cases where the artist actually admits retooling a previous assignment for a new Image series. In an interview Liefeld said, “Shaft was intended to be Speedy. Vogue was a new Harlequin design, Combat was a Kh’undian warrior circa the Legion of Super Heroes, ditto for Photon and Die Hard was a Star Labs android. I forgot who Chapel was supposed to be. So there you have it, the secret origin of Youngblood.”
7. APOLLO AND MIDNIGHTER
It’s almost cheating putting Apollo and Midnighter on this list. These two characters weren’t part of the Image boom that was notorious for rip offs. Apollo and Midnighter were created, very clearly, to be Superman and Batman-type characters, with a twist. These two debuted in Stormwatch Vol. 2 #4 in 1998, well after Liefeld and Co. had created most of the characters on this list, but they do rightfully deserve a place on it, if a loving one.
The big twist on these two, and what has helped them become amazing characters in the last 20 years, is their relationship to each other. You see, Apollo and Midnighter are married. Their relationship is sort of a “What If?” on a popular Superman/Batman theory. What if Superman and Batman were a happily married couple? Well, you can read all about those adventures in comics starring Apollo and Midnighter. Spoiler alert – It’s bloody, violent, and incredibly sweet.
6. GEN 13
Gen 13 is a book about a group of superpowered teens that were training at a remote facility under the tutelage of an older guy. Sounds a little bit like the mega-successful Marvel franchise featuring mutants, huh? If there’s one comic book series that Image Comics liked to rip off the most, it’s X-Men. You can hardly blame Image, though, considering that not only was it the hottest comic on the shelves, but also the basis for a highly successful TV series.
Gen 13 rises above a lot of the dreck, however, due to the characters involved. The teens featured in Gen 13 were stereotypes, sure, but they were fleshed out and more inclusive than many comics on the shelves at the time. It’s just a shame that perhaps the biggest reason it was so popular was the cheesecake art, which was pretty questionable given the subject matter.
You can almost go through every aspect of the WildC.A.T.S and connect it to X-Men. Boring, stubborn leader? Check. Wild, clawed rebel? Check. Older guy who creates team? Check. Telepaths, sexy ninja-women, and a mysterious bad boy in a trench coat? Check, check, and check. Finally, add in an alien race similar to the brood and turn Cerebro into a sexy android, and you have a pretty solid X-Men rip off.
WildC.A.T.S was used as the basis for a blatant copy of the X-Men animated series, as well. Seriously, watch the WildC.A.T.S animated series and you have to just laugh at how badly they wanted to copy X-Men. In later years, Marvel and Image decided to join forces and give everyone what they always thought would be obvious, a X-Men/ WildC.A.T.S miniseries. It featured some great creators, and almost made up for the years of copying. Almost.
Deathblow is an example of what happens when you want to create a copy of a character but then ruin him by overpowering him. If you want to make a former special ops badass killing machine, hellbent on avenging the death of family members, just copy Punisher and call it a day. What Jim Lee and Brandon Choi did was copy the Punisher, but then give him superpowers and a convoluted backstory.
Everyone knows that the best thing about Punisher is how he is human and can die. He doesn’t have superpowers, so when he takes on the superpowered bad guys (and good guys), it has serious stakes. Deathblow, on the other hand, is Punisher with a healing factor and psionic powers. That makes Deathblow not just a copy of a popular Marvel character, but instantly strips him of everything that makes the original character interesting. But hey, healing factors are dope, right?
Jim Lee ripped off X-Men with WildC.A.T.S. J. Scott Campbell did it with Gen 13. Then Marc Silvestri went and did it with Cyberforce. Cyberforce tells the story of mutants that were taken hostage and experimented on. They were given cybernetic enhancements that increased the powers they were born with. Basically, Cyberforce is when you take the members of the X-Men, plus Cable, and make them more violent and metal-ly.
One of the silliest tropes of ‘90s comics was the excessiveness of character designs. Cyberforce is a perfect example. Cable is a popular X-character, so in Cyberforce, they made a Cable-like character with three cybernetic arms. Way cooler than one arm! Wolverine is a badass right? So how about we make his whole hands metal claws? Extra badass! Let’s just give everyone some cybernetic goodness and oversized muscles! Yay, ‘90s!
Lobo is a character that works because of how silly and over-the-top he is. He’s a loudmouthed, super strong space bounty hunter who swears and smokes. He’s a crude, funny parody of all those ultra-violent anti-heroes in comics. You know what isn’t funny though? When a creator misses the point completely, and directly copies the character. That’s the story behind Bloodwulf.
Bloodwulf is just a shameless rip off of Lobo, minus any of the actual humor and creativity that went into creating the character. Bloodwulf is that joke that someone tells you but forgets the punchline. It’s painful and just sad. Lobo is already an over-the-top parody of ‘90s badass comics characters, so creating a copy of him because he’s cool is just… redundant. You can’t even say now that Bloodwulf was supposed to poke fun at Lobo because that’s not the truth. He was created to be Image’s Lobo, hoping to capitalize on the trend at the time.
Dale Keown is one of the best Incredible Hulk artists of all time. His run with Peter David is still looked at as one of the best runs on the character in Marvel history. So, you can hardly blame the guy for wanting to bring his knack for drawing large, muscular monsters to his first Image comic. That’s what he did when he created Pitt.
Pitt is an alien hybrid from a race called the Creed. Actually, you know what? It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is Pitt is basically the Hulk crossed with Wolverine. Apparently all the Hulk needs to be relevant in the ‘90s is a set of razor sharp retractable claws, gratuitous amounts of chains, and a ponytail. You have to hand it to Keown to use a couple different influences, unlike other people on this list.
Did we miss any other times Image blatantly ripped of their forebears? If so, help us out in the comments!