The Real People Who Inspired 8 Famous Superheroes

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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.”



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.”


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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.”