In my travels around the magical world of the innernets, I have discovered something interesting: Folks these days seem to be a little too eager to deem something as a “rip-off”.  There are dozens of characters in our favorite fictional worlds who are homages, Captain Ersatzes and yes, blatant copies of what is or was successful, many of whom are considered classics these days.  The practice of “swiping” is a venerable and sizeable part of our comics history, Faithful Spoilerites, and some examples are more noticeable than others…  Welcome to Ten Things!

Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with ‘An Amateur Comics Historian!’, and ‘All The Good Ideas Have Been Done Already!’, Presents:



General Glory

Hailing from the tail end of the “Bwah-Ha-Ha” Justice League in the early 1990s, the General was a pastiche of patriotic heroes in general, but Captain America in specific.  A relic of a simpler time, he tried to keep the members of the League on the heroic straight and narrow during the dawn of the Darkest Age of comics, and while he didn’t succeed (and was himself darkened into a neck-snapping vigilante for all of one issue), his black-and-white morality and straightforward two-fisted can-do retro world-view were an interesting take in comics at a time when even Superman and Captain America were gritting their teeth in rage…



Mystery Incorporated

This one’s a no-brainer, another open and loving tribute, this time to the classic issues of Fantastic Four.  As part of Alan Moore’s 1963 comics event/line, the M.I. team (Crystal Man, Neon Queen, Kid Dynamo and The Planet) were embroiled in a strange time-travel mystery (one whose conclusion has never seen print, thanks to Moore’s break with Image Comics.)  No one is entirely sure what that break entailed or what broke the camel’s back, but it’s really a shame, as Mystery Incorporated (not to be confused with the Scooby-Doo gang) was a breath of fresh air, a classic Fantastic Four comic at a time when the regular book had little to nothing in common with that aesthetic.




Does whatever a Spader can!
Stars in movies, slurs his words!
Spanks Maggie Gyllenhaal!
Mocks the nerds!
Look out! That’s a reference to ‘Pretty In Pink’!



Star Brand

The brainchild of Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, the New Universe was initially conceived as a chance for Marvel to do properties inspired by those of rival DC Comics, Marvel-style.  By the time the line launched as part of Marvel’s 25th anniversary, (back when they actually counted ‘years of operation by Marvel’ rather than the origination date of the characters they absorbed from earlier publishing attempts) the only remainder of that was Star Brand, a character who bore more than a passing resemblance to Green Lantern.  As with most “alternate universe” publishing ventures, the writers eventually decided to throw in a random apocalypse because there were no consequences, and Star Brand’s massive cosmic powers were the cause.  Shooter’s exit probably hastened the end for the New Universe, but (due partially to his twisted ancestry) Star Brand ended up being one of the least-loved titles of the line. (Okay, it was better than ‘Merc,’ but pretty much everything is.)




Of course, Shooter wasn’t the first creator to poke fun at comic-book rivals (and he wouldn’t be the last) but there was a time where relations were a bit warmer, at least unofficially.  Back in 1971, JLA writer Mike Freidrich created an unofficial team-up between his team and a familiar group of costumed avengers.  Wandjina, Silver Sorceress, Blue Jay and Jack B. Quick were pastiches of Thor, Scarlet Witch, Yellowjacket and Quicksilver, respectively, and they and their teammates still pop up occasionally in DC Comics even today.  (Friedrich’s friend, Roy Thomas, did the other half of the crossover as writer of the real Avengers.  His contribution, The Squadron Supreme, has been much more visible, even holding down multiple titles of their own over the years.)



Young All-Stars

The end of multiple Earths thanks to the 1986 ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ affected all the DC properties to one degree or another, but no title took as big a hit as All-Star Squadron.  With the loss of several of their heroes (and additional losses after the fact, as the Golden Age Green Arrow and Speedy weren’t yanked until later), writer Roy Thomas had a bit of a quandary on his hands.  Fortunately, Roy was (and is) the King of The Retcon, and supposed that whatever “energies” created Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman et al would have simply gone somewhere else in the new iteration, instead creating ‘Iron’ Munro, Flying Fox and The Fury.  They were joined by some already-extant heroes and faced down evil Nazi analogues of those lost heroes, making for an interesting start for the relaunched Squadron.



Jack Carter

The world of Warren Ellis’ ‘Planetary’ is a familiar one, containing analogues of everyone from The Shadow to the Fantastic Four, but one of my favorites is Jack Carter, a man who is in many ways an analogue of Vertigo comics.  Initially a parody of John Constantine (a character that Ellis had written earlier in his career), Carter faked his own death, meta-tastically opining that his time had come and gone.  (Amusingly, Jack then chose a new life and a new visage that looked suspiciously like one of Ellis’ other signature characters, Spider Jerusalem from ‘Transmetropolitan.’)  Unlike many of the characters on this list, Carter is less “loving parody” than “vicious parody”, made even more entertaining by the fact that, as a Wildstorm character, Carter is now owned by DC, the very company he was designed to mock…



JLU Defenders

In one of the most affecting episodes of the cartoon ‘Justice League’ (a series that has more than a few powerful moments to offer) the team of Sea King, Sorceror, Brute and Winged Warrior is a clear homage to the classic  70s Defenders stories, with Aquaman as Namor, Doctor Fate as Doctor Strange, Solomon Grundy as The Hulk and Hawkgirl as Nighthawk.  Grundy even calls Hawkgirl “Bird-Nose” and Fate “Stupid magician”, but the tale has a much sadder ending than any of the Defenders stories of yore, as Grundy gives his not-quite-a-life to save the day.  It makes for a really fun story, even if you don’t realize the parallels, and the ending might make you sniffle a bit even if you don’t care for Solomon Grundy as a character.



Captain Strong

Cary Bates is a writer who takes big risks (he once wrote himself into a JLA story as a villain, f’rinstance), and one of his best came in 1973 when he posited that only one man was strong enough to take Superman one-on-one: POPEYE!  Fillnig the role of super-tough seafarer was Captain Strong, but rather than spinach, he ate a strange seaweed that acted like a drug, causing the Captain to become combative and irrational.  Cary eventually migrated over an entire supporting cast of exported characters to help the Captain in his Popeye-like escapades, and led to a couple of cute stories in the doing.  Interestingly, he made an appearance right around the time of ‘Final Crisis’ in an issue of Green Arrow, proving that the best ideas are eternal (even if today’s readers may not know who Popeye actually is.)




Aaaand here’s the one that I expect will get me the most static…  Rob Liefeld is a controversial creator, known for taking a bit more influence from the comics he loves than some are comfortable with, including creating Deadpool as a Marvel Universe take on Deathstroke The Terminator, legendary enemy of the Teen Titans.  Thankfully, the Merc With A Mouth has had a lot of talented writers take over his adventures to distinguish him from his one-eyed inspiration, including Fabian Nicieza, who named ‘Pool’s secret identity “Wade Wilson” as a nod to ‘Stroke’s real identity, Slade Wilson.  Thanks to his flexible backtory and fourth-wall breaking, Deadpool has, admittedly, become more than just Terminator-lite, settling into a role as a top-tier Marvel hero with plans for a solo movie adventure soon.  Not bad for a guy whose first appearance featured more molars than a frontier dental office, and suspiciously few ankles…

Feel free to follow along (@MightyKingCobra) for more Ten Things madness on Twitter!  As with any set of like items, these aren’t meant to be hard and fast or absolutely complete and certainly no disrespect to these characters or their fans is meant (so don’t dogpile me, Deadpool fans, we’re all pals here!)  I’m sure you have a couple of suggestions of your own for this list, so the comments section is Below for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering!

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About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.



    At one point I had considered making a blog solely to point out stuff like that. I used to go to flea markets and such quite frequently, and I always saw a TON of stuff like that, though it was usually single packed figures. There are also counterfeit TCG cards that follow a similar pattern that pop up quite frequently (Pockmon, Yu-Go-Go, Mage: The Gathering, etc.) as well as those that have the set name right but misspell the card names (like Yu-Gi-Oh’s “Exodia” cards were “Exoida” or “Exodusia”).

    I even have a few figures that relatives picked up because they didn’t realize it was a knock-off rather than a legitimate product. For instance, when Power Rangers first came out, a lot of pre-Zyuranger Super Sentai toys (figures, mecha and henshin devices alike) as well as some Kamen Rider toys were produced like this (not to be confused with the similar generic but otherwise legal colorful robot toys that also came out at the time) and my Uncle snagged quite a few not realizing they weren’t legit.

  2. Luis Dantas on

    Has anyone made a wide study of how unpopular indiividual New Universe books were? In the first six months or so, I would rate Kickers, Inc. and particularly the dreaded Spitfire and the Troubleshooters below even Merc. Star Brand was actually the best of the bunch while Shooter was writing it.

    • D.P. 7 was quantifiably better than Star Brand, even Star Brand under Shooter, and Nicieza’s Psi-Force was superior to it as well. Spitfire was a bit dull and scattershot, Kickers was flat-out dumb, but Merc was a humorless, violent mess with an unlikeable protagonist…

      Mileage, as always, may vary.

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