Great superheroes (and villains) can come from anywhere. Even ideas that don't sound like they're going to be anything special can turn into iconic and enduring characters. It's one of the things that makes comics so great. Who would have thought, for example, that anyone would want to read about a superhero based on an ant before Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Leiber came out with "Ant-Man" in 1962?
As the years have gone on, ideas for new heroes and villains have come from all over the place. That includes the dinner plate. For as long as comics creators have been making new characters, food has served as a constant source of inspiration. Some were created for marketing purposes, some for parody and some were created because they truly made for great characters. Whatever the case, we've rounded up some of the most memorable pop culture heroes and villains based on food.
16 TONY CHU
Image Comics' series "Chew" (written by John Layman, art by Rob Guillory) is all about food. Chew is set in a dystopian future where poultry is outlawed after a devastating outbreak of bird flu. People pay top dollar to experience chicken for themselves in speakeasies. The Food and Drug administration has become the most powerful law enforcement agency in America. All kinds of food powers appear throughout the comic. There's a writer who can describe flavors so well a reader can taste them. There's a man who becomes smarter the more he eats. There's even a Barista who can control minds with messages written in latte foam.
The main character, Tony Chu, is an agent of the FDA and a cibopath. That means he gets a psychic impression from every food he eats. A bite of an apple will tell him where the apple was grown and what pesticides were used. Meat gives him visions of the slaughterhouse. The only food that doesn't trigger a psychic reaction is, for some reason, beets. Chu eats a lot of beets. In his work, he is often forced to eat meat from corpses to figure out what happened to them. He can also absorb the abilities of other people he eats. Yes, "Chew" is proof that under the right circumstances, even cannibalism can be heroic.
15 FLAMING CARROT
Flaming Carrot was created by Bob Burden as a parody of superhero comics. The character is loosely based on Marvel's golden age hero, The Fin, created by Bill Everett. The main difference between the two heroes is that, unlike The Fin, Flaming Carrot has no superpowers. Also, he wears a giant fiery carrot mask and says "Ut!" a lot. Burden says he got the phrase from a Beatles concert at Shea Stadium. He says George Harrison used the word as another way of saying "oops."
Despite having no real powers, Flaming Carrot has accomplished a lot since his debut in 1979. He's saved the world from multiple alien threats, run up against Death, and in the particularly memorable "Flaming Carrot" #16, written and drawn by Bob Burden with letterer and colorist Roxanne Star, he fought an army of cloned Adolf Hitler's boots. He doesn't do this alone, of course. Over the years, Flaming Carrot has teamed up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on multiple occasions, and was one of the original members of the Mystery Men. Sadly, he was omitted from the "Mystery Men" movie in 1999. Clearly, that was the movie's biggest mistake.
14 MILK AND CHEESE
With no ideology beyond sadism and violence, it's hard to decide whether Milk and Cheese are heroes or villains. Since their comics were published by Slave Labor Graphics, that attitude felt right at home. They were created by Evan Dorkin as a joke about two of his friends, Karen and Kristin Garcia. He used to call them the "Cheesy Garcia Sisters," and started drawing little cheeses on bar napkins while they were hanging out. Soon, he started drawing little cartons of milk alongside the cheese and a violent classic was born.
Aside from being anthropomorphic dairy products, Milk and Cheese have no powers. They are simply "dairy products gone bad." That means they drink a lot of gin and then hurt people. It's even funnier than it sounds. Nobody is safe from Milk and Cheese. In the particularly fantastic anniversary issue, "Milk and Cheese SixSixSix" #1 (nearly every issue was #1), they lashed out at their own audience for being influenced by their comics, as well as everyone else for not buying their comics. In the end, they conclude that they're not at fault for the continuing cycle of violence; society is to blame. Milk and Cheese throwing razor blades from the top of a building? Society. Pitchforking babies? Alcohol. In their minds, Milk and Cheese are the real victims. And heroes. And full-time maniacs.
13 AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE
Originally created for an episode of "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast" that never aired, these heroes instead debuted on their own series, which quickly became one of Adult Swim's most popular shows. "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" began with the premise that they fought crime for money, to appease executives who didn't want a show about food doing random things. That premise was quickly dropped because, as Frylock put it, fighting crime wasn't making a whole lot of money. It then became a show about food doing random things.
Master Shake has the ability to shoot charged blobs of milkshake from his straw. He can also make any object he throws explode, though he doesn't seem to realize he can do this. Frylock has eyebeams powered by a jewel on his back. Meatwad is a childlike ball of raw meat who can shapeshift into pretty much anything. He's also extremely manipulative and single-minded. In the series's penultimate episode, it was revealed that they all had jewels like Frylock's. Master Shake never uses his and Meatwad traded his jewel to a kid named Zachary. These powers are almost never put to good use, except for when Frylock uses his eye-beams to get Shake and Meatwad out of whatever mess they caused. That happens a lot.
12 FOOD BOY
Written by Marc Mangum and directed by Dane Cannon, "The Adventures of Food Boy" is an indie comedy film about a teenage superhero who can shoot food out of his hands. Ezra Chace, played by Lucas Grabeel, has a reputation around school for being able to stomach almost anything. When food starts shooting out of his hands, his grandmother explains that it's hereditary. His entire family has this gift. At first, he shows it off as a magic trick, using it to make him and his friends more popular at school. Since this power is a metaphor for puberty, Ezra soon finds he can't control it. The food starts shooting out in large quantities at inopportune times.
It's a cute, if not particularly great, family film whose message is, as Ezra's grandmother puts it, "not all superheroes fight crime." As the power threatens to take over his life, distancing him from his goals as well as the girl he likes, Ezra vows to master his abilities. It's a superhero story without an antagonist. Ezra eventually learns to control his power and put it to good use by making his powers benefit his friends and by making water for people running a marathon. Whether or not he uses it to feed the hungry isn't really brought up.
11 EGG FU
Not all food-based characters have great beginnings. Egg Fu is a sentient egg and recurring adversary of Wonder Woman's. He first appeared in 1965 in "Wonder Woman" #157 (written by Robert Kanigher with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito on inks). In all of Egg Fu's early appearances, he is depicted as an offensive Chinese stereotype. Egg Fu was a Communist agent from China who spoke in stereotypical broken English and used his mustache as a whip. He remained that way in every appearance until "Crisis on Infinite Earths."
In recent years, DC has attempted to modernize the character and separate him from his racist past. In 2006's "52," limited series, Egg Fu appeared as Chang Tzu, a supervillain planning to kidnap the world's mad scientists to forcibly recruit them into his "Science Squad." Gone are the accent and mustache. Instead, Chang Tzu has a spider-legged chair that allows his egg-shaped body to movie around. The chair also has a number of hidden weapons for DC's heroes to deal with. His most recent appearance was in 2014's "Harley Quinn" Annual #1, written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Ben Caldwell, Joe Quinones, John Timms, Kelley Jones and Stjepan Sejic. In that book, he appears as Edgar Fullerton Yeung, a scientist experimenting on Poison Ivy until Harley Quinn sets him straight.
10 THE BREADMASTER AND BUTTERY PAT
"The Tick" is known for its large roster of colorful, if not always terribly effective, superheroes. Likewise, the villains faced by the titular hero are equally... unique. As silly as The Tick's rogues gallery can get, it's almost inevitable that he'd face a food centric opponent. The Breadmaster is one of The Tick's more fleshed out, fully baked (sorry) villains. He's an evil baker, who uses his culinary skills to wreak havoc on The City. He especially hates food companies that make what he sees as inferior baked goods. In his first appearance, "The Tick Vs. The Breadmaster," (Written by Ben Edlund, Richard Liebmann-Smith and Martin Pasko) he demands enough ingredients to make a souffle big enough to destroy the city.
Breadmaster's sidekick is arguably more useful than he is. As a human being made entirely out of butter, Buttery Pat can quickly slide through the streets on the oil slicks created by his own feet. Pursuing heroes are also prone to slipping on the tracks he leaves behind. He's also slippery enough to slide through iron bars, which comes in handy when evading justice. Buttery Pat just might be the most effective bad guy sidekick in the series.
9 POWDERED TOAST MAN
One of the funniest and most memorable side-characters from "Ren and Stimpy," Powdered Toast Man appears in the episode, "Powdered Toast Man," directed by John Kricfalusi and written by Richard Pursel and John K. It's the first episode where Ren and Stimpy aren't the main characters, instead having only a couple of lines. Instead, it focuses on the adventures of Powdered Toast Man, a superhero created to sell something called "Powdered Toast." He wears his undershorts on the outside, flies backwards, and his powers include projectile raisin breath and corrosive crouton armpit farts.
Over the course of the episode, our hero saves a kitten from being hit by a car, shooting down an airplane to do so, and then tosses the kitten into another street where it's probably hit by another car anyway. He then saves the pope from the evil Muddy Mudskipper, leaving the villain tied to a barrel of explosives. By the end of the episode, he serves as president and burns the Constitution and Bill of Rights for warmth. In addition to being a hero, Powdered Toast-Man can also be considered a villain. In the "Ren and Stimpy" comics published by Marvel, he fought Spider-Man. (Issue #6, written by Dan Slott, art by Mike Kazaleh.)
Eye-Scream is a villain appearing in a single "X-Men" comic and it's not hard to see why. He's a mutant with the ability to transform into any flavor of ice cream he wants. This includes the banana split. Where does the banana come from? It's best not to ask. He's not even the main focus of the issue he appears in. Eye-Scream makes his only appearance in "Obnoxio the Clown" #1, a one-shot written and drawn by Alan Kupperberg.
In that comic, Eye-Scream is embarrassed by the fact the the X-Men have much cooler abilities than he does. He decides to attack Xavier's school and use the Danger Room to wipe them out. This happens on the same day the Professor X has hired Obnoxio the Clown for Kitty Pryde's birthday party. Eye-Scream overloads Cerebro, causing it to explode and knock out the professor. The X-Men assume Obnoxio is the culprit and fight him. Impressed that the clown can hold his own against the X-Men, Eye-Scream decides to kill him too, trapping him inside the danger room. In the end, Xavier wakes up and lowers the temperature in the danger room, turning Eye-Scream into a giant block of ice. Obnoxio decorates Eye-Scream and leaves without performing for Kitty Pryde. Eye-Scream has never been seen again.
7 TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN
Too Much Coffee Man is exactly what he sounds like. Spending his life in a hectic urban city, Too Much Coffee Man gets nervous about the state of the world, often interacting with a reader stand-in to discuss politics and people. He is powered by coffee and cigarettes, getting his extraordinary abilities from a super-concentrated espresso mix he brews himself in a lab above the coffee shop. Created by Shannon Wheeler as a send-up of superheroes, Too Much Coffee Man wears old-fashioned longjohns and has a giant coffee cup on his head that may or may not be part of his body.
His archenemy is Trademark Copyright Man, and while there are battles, they typically turn into conversations. Wheeler says he created the character to explore themes he started working with at a college newspaper in a more accessible way. He initially wanted to write about the alienation and loneliness of modern urban life, and found that people paid more attention when coffee was involved. Too Much Coffee Man has the ability to fly into a manic paranoid frenzy in battle, which lets him easily defeat opponents, but again, these fights usually turn into conversations.
6 COMBO MAN
Probably the strangest bit of marketing Marvel has ever been involved in, Combo Man appeared in ads in Marvel Comics promoting Combos, a snack food that radically combined the flavors of pretzel and cheese. In all honesty, they were pretty tasty, but this superhero was a strange way to sell them. Because the food was built around the idea of a flavor combo, this superhero is a combination of all of Marvel's most famous heroes. Pieces of Marvel's heroes are literally stacked on top of each other to create Combo Man. He has Gambit's boot, possibly Silver Surfer's thighs, The Human Torch's knees, Spider-Man's hands, Captain America's pecs, etc? Things got weird. All these disparate body parts gave him the powers of every Marvel superhero.
Combo Man even had his own eight-page one-shot in "Combo Man" #1, written by Mark Gruenwald, with art by Hector Collazo and Mark Bernardo. In it, we learn that Rick Wilder was a student who ate a Combo while standing in a room with a device that could expand a human's capabilities. Since he dropped his favorite comics on the floor, the machine gave him the powers of every superhero he was reading about at the time. This being an eight-page advertisement, Combo Man is super over-powered and easily defeats the meager threats thrown at him.
5 THE CHEX WARRIOR
This one is another hero created entirely to sell food, namely Chex cereal. The difference is that what Chex Warrior first appeared in is legitimately great, and still sought after to this day. Back in 1996, "Chex Quest" was included in boxes of Chex cereal, instantly becoming the coolest cereal box prize in history. Once they installed the game on their PCs, kids played as The Chex Warrior, a human soldier who wore armor shaped like a giant Chex. His mission: to defend the planet Bazoik from the evil alien Flemoids. Traversing each level, he was tasked with finding and rescuing the human colonists captured by the Flemoids.
"Chex Quest" was a total conversion mod of John Romero's classic 1993 shooter, "Doom." While the maps were nearly as well-designed as "Doom's," the violence was removed completely to make it a suitable cereal box pack-in. Instead of guns, the Chex Warrior uses zorchers to send the aliens back to their home dimension. Instead of killing the Chex Warrior, the Flemoids shoot mucus at him. Sure it's gross, but it was entirely appropriate for children. Thanks to the Chex Warrior, kids everywhere could experience the fun, fast-paced, revolutionary gameplay of "Doom" free from parental disapproval. Now that's a true hero.
Bananaman is another send up of superhero comics, this time originating in the United Kingdom. Why do so many of these superhero parodies revolve around food? Created by John Geering, Bananaman first appeared in 1980 in the back of the British comic series "Nutty" in issue #1. Since then, he's appeared in other British comic magazines like "The Dandy" and "The Beano." He even had his own animated series on the BBC from 1983 to 1986. The series later aired on Nickelodeon in the United States, allowing American children to experience the weirdness for themselves.
"Bananaman" follows the exploits of Eric Wimp (Eric Twinge in the TV series). He's an ordinary teenager who turns into the superhero Bananaman when he eats a banana. As Bananaman, he is able to fly, is invulnerable and has super strength. To be specific, he's as strong as 20 men. 20 big men. That may sound overpowered, but in his mind, he's still the same naive teenger. In fact, it's possible he's even dumber in banana form. His transformation has, at times, been affected by the type of banana he eats. There isn't a whole lot of consistency in exactly what the bananas do to Eric. When you're in a British parody comic magazine, that just comes with the territory.
3 CONDIMENT KING
Condiment King first appeared in the seventh episode of "Batman: The Animated Series'" third season, "Make 'Em Laugh," written by Paul Dini and Randy Rogel, and directed by Boyd Kirkland. A tribute to the more whimsical days of the 1966 "Batman" TV show, Condiment King was a comic relief villain who speaks in condiment-based puns and shoots ketchup and mustard at people. That may not sound dangerous, but it could be fatal to someone with an allergy.
Condiment King is dealt with in the episode's first moments. In the comics, he's appeared in "Batgirl: Year One," written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon with art by Marcos Martin, Alvaro Lopez and Javier Rodriguez. He also showed up in "Birds of Prey" #37 (writer: Chuck Dixon, art: Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez) and "Robin" #171 (writer: Chuck Dixon, art: Chris Batista, Rick Ketcham and Cam Smith). Most recently, he had a brief appearance in "The Lego Batman Movie." Each time, he was easily defeated and not taken seriously.
2 APPLE AND CINNAMAN
Superheroes could sell anything in the '90s. These two Defenders of the Sprinkles first appeared in a 1992 commercial for Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. The premise behind them was that the cereal was so good, criminals were constantly trying to steal it from children. That's a pretty terrifying world if you stop to think about it for a second. The pair are able to easily defeat the thieves (by running them over with a car) and save breakfast in the span of a 30-second commercial. In later TV spots and comic advertisements, they fought the Sprinkle Gator, an alligator who turned to crime because he loved the sprinkles on Apple Cinnamon Cheerios too much.
Apple and Cinnaman don't appear to have any actual superpowers, preferring to go the "Batman" route and let gadgets do the job. Only instead of Wayne Enterprises, they have the resources of General Mills behind them. That's nothing to sneeze at, They might even be able to give the Dark Knight a run for his money. The pair work well as a team, with Apple pointing out any problems that arise and Cinnaman dragging him into action. Apple is generally the hero who defeats the bad guys, with Cinnaman starting arguments over whether the apple sprinkles or the cinnamon ones are better. Hey, no duo is perfect.
Probably the weirdest bit of superhero junk food marketing on this list (yes, even weirder than Combo Man), Pepsiman is a Japanese mascot for Pepsi who starred in a PlayStation video game in 1999. Despite being one gigantic advertisement, the game itself wasn't bad at all. It was a fast-paced action runner where players avoided obstacles in order to reach the end of a level. It played about as well as the auto-run levels of "Crash Bandicoot," and was just as fun. The goal of each stage, based on real-world locations, was to reach a thirsty person and provide them with Pepsi. Although there was enough apparent destruction in some of the levels, you had to wonder if Pepsi was really the biggest priority at the moment. Even weirder than the game were the cutscenes between each level featuring an overweight American man drinking Pepsi, hearing the Pepsiman theme song and congratulating the player on their performance.
Pepsiman was created by comics artist Travis Charest (of "Darkstars" and "WildC.A.T.s/X-Men: The Golden Age" fame) for Pepsi's Japanese branch. After appearing in a series of very popular TV commercials and as a guest character in the game "Fighting Vipers," Pepsi decided to release a stand-alone video game starring the character. Pepsiman's powers seem to be limited to running fast and super-jumping, which is enough to get you through the game. Although sometimes his head transforms into a steel drum, which inverts your controls.
Are there any other culinary crusaders we should have included on this list? Tell us about them in the comments!