Comics are a cutthroat business. Companies like Image, DC, and Marvel are constantly warring over intellectual properties, artists, and writers, only occasionally calling temporary truces to delight fans with the odd inter-company crossover. And one of the biggest and most noticeable weapons that these companies have in their arsenal is the mighty rip-off -- when a famous character owned by a rival is copied into a new IP and used either satirically or, more rarely, used to greater effect. This can be a deliberate act, like in the case of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America parody Fighting American, Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza openly stealing the design of DC’s Deathstroke the Terminator for their Merc With a Mouth, Deadpool, or the act of a writer moving between companies, like Jack Kirby’s Fourth World for DC being a direct translation of his more experimental work for Marvel in the previous decade.
More often than not, these rip-offs are very noticeable by public audiences and are typically called out for being uncreative. However, sometimes these copies are subtle enough to slip under the radar of most readers and go unnoticed until the artist or writer decides to highlight the similarities between the clone and the original, a rare occurrence seeing as how legal action could follow. But just because they go unseen doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of them. There’s only so much creativity in the world and sometimes artists don’t even know they’re making a rip-off until it’s too late. We’ve compiled a list of 25 comic rip-offs that even fans might not have recognized the first time around.
Superman is perhaps the most copied superhero ever because his powerset is the most generic. Any hero with super strength, flight, and a reasonable degree of invulnerability can be said to be ‘like Superman.’ The Sentry took it to a whole new level though.
It’s been verbally confirmed that Sentry is essentially as powerful, fast, and strong as Superman. They even share significant drawbacks on their powers, for Superman the crushing weight of responsibility and the knowledge that his homeworld is lost forever and for Sentry his demonic alter-ego the Void.
24 THE X-MEN
The X-Men were famously born from Stan Lee’s laziness. He was tired of making up new reasons for superheroes to exist so he just decided that some people in his comics would be born with superpowers.
But that doesn’t explain why his team leader bore more than a passing resemblance and backstory to the leader of The Doom Patrol, a similar team of outcasts and misfits whose comic had debuted only a few months previously. Perhaps Lee was so tired at that point that he wasn’t really concerned if he was copying.
23 LEONARD THE DUCK
The tale of Leonard the Duck is long and bizarre. The short version is that Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, like most comic artists at the time, was upset with Marvel in the mid-'70s and left the company, determined to use any opportunity to take potshots at the label.
His chance came with Image Comics where he created the knock-off character Destroyer Duck. In a crossover with Savage Dragon, Gerber showed that the Howard the Duck of the Marvel Universe was a clone of the original while the real one went into witness protection under the name Leonard.
22 BLACK RACER
Jack Kirby was such a genius comic writer and artist that when he effectively copied his own work from Marvel for DC, his new material, the famed Fourth World comics, took on a life of their own. One of the New Gods he created was Black Racer, who was very obviously a rip-off of Kirby’s own Silver Surfer.
Both were iconic-looking, super-powerful space-travelers who use cosmic sports equipment. They even have similar roles. Silver Surfer was the herald of Galactus the world eater and led him to entire planets to feed, while the Black Racer represents the inevitability of the end of life.
21 THE NEW TEEN TITANS
When DC rebooted the Teen Titans in 1980, they took direct and blatant influence from the Giant-Sized X-Men, both in terms of team structure, story flow, and visual direction. The Titans borrowed their colorful style, character dynamic, and even some narratives directly from X-Men.
For example, both teams had a defined power couple leading the squad, a goofy younger sibling character who showed a lot of potential, and a token character of color who would ironically go on to be the most canonically successful of the team.
20 THE THUNDERBOLTS
While the teams have very unique members who don’t really correspond to the other, the sheer concept of a team of supervillains forced to do good deeds is too specific for it to be uniquely replicated.
The modern incarnation of the Suicide Squad came out in 1987, a full decade before the Masters of Evil disguised themselves as new heroes and coined themselves the Thunderbolts. It was only a matter of time before themes of redemption started to play out and both team, become nearly identical in ideology.
19 COMMANDER STEEL
Some superpowers are just so unique that when they turn up twice, you know someone copied someone else. Such is the case of Colossus and Commander Steel. The Russian mutant debuted in 1975 and showed off the creative ability to coat his skin with organic metal at will.
This power was copied in Nate Heywood, the third incarnation of Commander Steel, who would debut decades after the fact. Though the characters themselves have very little in common, it’s hard to believe Nate didn’t take at least some influence from Colossus.
Wolverine first appeared in 1974 and went on to become the physical embodiment of unrelenting masculinity in comics during the subsequent decade. He can heal himself from any wound and has rigidly unending endurance.
Lobo, who came out in 1983, is much of the same with only one key difference separating them: Wolverine takes his manhood as something of a curse, typically emphasizing the admittedly few prominent tragic elements of it. Lobo, on the other hand, revels in his unequaled manliness.
17 THE WINTER SOLDIER
They both were the sidekicks of some of the most famous heroes of all-time. They both passed away in famous storylines. They were both brought back decades later, also in famous storylines. Both were much more brutal and vicious upon their resurrection, even hinting towards villainy.
Both had new hairstyles and a grudge against their former partners. Both eventually got over their baggage and even, for a time, took on their mentors’ mantles. It’s hard to know who copied who in this case as both made their first appearance within a month of each other in early 2005.
Though their powers are vastly different, Vision and Red Tornado have essentially the same general backstory. Both were artificial intelligences created by supervillains, Ultron and T.O. Morrow respectively, and were made for nefarious purposes.
However, upon engaging with these strange creatures known as humans, both AIs revolted against their programing and forged their own identities and destinies separate from their creators as heroes. Both even fell in love with human women and had kids, sort of. Red Tornado beat Vision to print by only two months.
This one is a doozy! On one hand, Gladiator was a direct rip-off of Superman in Marvel Comics. He was a member of the Imperial Guard, which itself was based on the Legion of Superheroes, and was a blatant analog for Superboy.
However, Superman himself took heavy influence from Gladiator, a 1930 pulp novel about a boy who gets superpowers from his scientist father, grows up on a small farm in the heartlands, and had a secret fort in the frozen north. The famous cover of Action Comics #1 was even an homage to a Gladiator cover.
Hydra, the occult and deep science branch of the Germans, first debuted in Marvel comics in 1965. They were retconned in their next appearance, making it one of the fastest reboots in the history of Marvel.
DC responded over a decade later with Kobra, an international terrorist group that borrowed Hydra’s green and yellow color scheme, obsession with serpent motifs, and goals of general global domination. In addition, both groups have had only three primary leaders in the group’s history.
In terms of who did the dark and brooding comic hero first, Zorro edges out Batman by a good two decades. Debuting in 1919, Zorro wore all black, fought corruption as well as crime, had a signature symbol, befriended animal sidekicks, came from a wealthy family and used his money to disguise his identity, and operated out of a secret cave.
Any of that sound familiar? Even Bob Kane and Bill Finger admitted they were drawing heavy influence from Zorro by having Bruce Wayne’s parents be taken out after a Zorro film, showing how Zorro effectively gave birth to Batman.
This one isn’t so much a rip-off as it is a direct translation. Mantis was created for Marvel by Steve Englehart in 1973 but left the company not long after. Mantis was halfway through a pivotal character arc though and Englehart wanted to giver he a complete story.
His solution was to insert the character’s story into his new comic at DC. Willow was Mantis in all but name, even going so far as to hint at her involvement in the Marvel Universe. Englehart used Willow and another character, Lorelei, to finish Mantis’s story before going back to Marvel.
11 THE SKRULLS
It’s easy to imagine aliens as, well, alien, but when two separate alien species have similar traits, it becomes suspicious. The Martian Manhunter debuted in 1955 as a green skinned alien who could shapeshift, had a handful of distinct powers, and had a distinct weakness to fire.
Marvel countered with the Skrulls in 1962, an alien race of green-skinned shapeshifters who had, among other abilities, the power to generate and control fire. Because comics don’t have to be subtle, you see.
10 THE LEADER
When characters are defined by their physical strength and abilities, the best villains to pit them against are ones that specialize in mental intellect. Such is the case of Hulk and the Leader and Superman and Lex Luthor. Both the Leader and Luthor are egomaniacal supergeniuses who hate their primary foes for a number of reasons but mostly because they are envious of how respected brawn is over brain.
Their motivation comes from a determination to prove themselves superior over the alternative. Also, they both have distinctive heads. For the record, the Leader came second by over 20 years.
9 SILVER BANSHEE
Banshee, the classic X-Man, was originally an antagonist of the team. An Irishman with a sonic cry, he was identifiable by his heavy accent and creative use of his power. About 20 years later, DC introduced Silver Banshee, a Superman villain who was possessed by an ancient Gaelic spirit and compelled to find an occult book and got a sonic scream power as a result.
A bit more specific, but the broad strokes are still the same. Irish/Gaelic heritage, check. Super scream, check. Started as villains, check.
Though it may seem like the only similarities between the Green Lantern Ch’p and the Guardian of the Galaxy Rocket Racoon is that they’re both rodents in space, their connection actually goes deeper than that.
While his origin has been retconned in recent years, Rocket’s backstory when he debuted in 1976 was that he was the member of a sentient alien race that just happened to have evolved to share an appearance with raccoons. This is the same origin of Ch’p, who first appeared in 1982, except with squirrels instead.
7 BLACK CAT
Batman and Spider-Man are often considered two of the best superheroes of all time, in part because they both have the best villains of any comic hero. One of Batman’s greatest foes is Catwoman, a sultry, black-clad cat burglar who wields makeshift claws and often flirts with her nemesis.
She came out in 1940. Then, in 1979, Spider-Man first fought Black Cat. She was a sultry, black-clad cat burglar who wielded makeshift claws and often flirted with her nemesis. The similarities were lawsuit worthy but no legal action was ever taken.
6 SWAMP THING
The controversy surrounding DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man-Thing is a bizarre one. Both were created in 1971 by writers Len Wein and Gerry Conway respectively, who were living together at the time. When people saw the uncanny resemblance, both physically and in terms of lore, between the two characters, they assumed that one writer had peeked at the other’s work and copied them.
However, both men have insisted that neither of them copied the other, that they’d both coincidentally had remarkably similar ideas at the exact same time.
Basically any ultra-muscular troll-like superhero is a rip-off of the Hulk in one form or another, but one of DC’s newest heroes, a reboot of the classic character Damage, simply drops the charade. Like Hulk, Damage was born of a military experiment which turned an innocent bystander into a berserker weapon who he can’t control.
This puts him on the run from the military while he tries to grapple with the dual psyches that now occupy his mind. The only measurable difference is that Damage can only exist for one hour, making him a rip-off of Hourman too.
4 DOCTOR STRANGE
Sometimes, you don’t really care if the teacher catches you teaching. Such was the case of Dr. Fate and Dr. Strange. Dr. Fate was one of the first superheroes to follow on the trend that Superman set, debuting in 1940. Dr. Strange came out some 20 years later.
While Stan Lee has maintained that Dr. Strange is based on Chandu the Magician radio dramas, fans have noted the vast similarities between the two, such as their similar outfits, academic backgrounds, and shared title of Sorcerer Supreme.
Though the characters happen to have different backstories, this copy job was just lazy. The Marvel Enchantress was Amora of Asgard, one of Thor’s enemies who wore green, had a good side, had mystic powers, and first appeared in 1964. The DC Enchantress was the extradimensional witch who possessed June Moon.
She wore green, literally had a good side, used mystic powers, and first appeared in 1966. The physical appearances end only at the hair because if they’d made DC Enchantress a blonde, it would have been just a hair too obvious they’d copied. Plus, they have the same name.
Spawn may be Todd McFarlane’s masterpiece and the crux upon which the Image Comics label initially rested, but he’s still got almost the exact same origin story as Ghost Rider. In 1972, Marvel introduced the world to Johnny Blaze, the stuntman with a heart of gold who tries to save someone from eternal damnation by signing a deal with the devil, giving him incredible powers but enslaving him to the forces of evil.
Switch out Johnny Blaze with Al Simmons, stuntman with secret agent, and heart of gold with moral conscious and the stories are essentially the same.
1 WATCHMEN RIPPED OFF CHARLTON COMICS
The characters of Alan Moore’s magnum opus were all based on pre-existing Charlton Comics characters. In 1983, DC acquired the rights to the Question, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Nightshade, Peacemaker, and Thunderbolt, some of the only comic characters openly used to spread a very direct and certain message.
Moore wanted to take these characters and subvert them to his own more liberal views but DC wanted to incorporate them into their mainstream continuity. In compromise, Moore made his own versions of the same characters, Rorschach, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Comedian, and Ozymandias respectively.