Rejected From Cracked: Comic Book Rip-Offs

In this series, I give you articles that did not make it past Cracked.com‘s editorial review. Cracked is a great website and I respect and understand their editorial decisions,  but I’ve spend over 40 hours revising some these, so screw it, I’m writing them. I’m, like…90% sure this isn’t against any of Cracked’s policies, but just in case, let’s not tell them about this (I’d still very much like to be published by them). With that in mind I give you…


5 Comic Book Rip-Offs (with insane backstories)

Comic book creators have been ripping each other off for decades. For every Sub-Mariner there is an Aquaman; for every Flash there is a Quicksilver; for every Human Torch there is a…different, completely unrelated Human Torch. But sometimes the history behind the rip-offs is even more bizarre than their spandex-clad protagonists. Here are 5 of the strangest ones.

One of the Deadpool Creators Admits the Character is a Rip-Off, the Other is Insane

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Image Source: moviepilot.com
Deathstroke (AKA Slade Wilson) is a mercenary  with superhuman strength, a fondness for swords and guns, and the ability to heal his wounds rapidly, introduced in 1980. If you think this sounds remarkably similar to a Ryan Reynolds movie you saw, you’re thinking Deadpool (AKA Wade Wilson), introduced in 1991.

According to writer Fabian Nicieza, when Rob Liefeld first presented him with a sketch of Deadpool, he took one look and told him, “This is Deathstroke from the Teen Titans,” (Classic Marvel Figurine Collection #56). While most people would start over with a new character, Nicieza and Liefeld doubled down on plagiarism, even going so far as to name the character Wade Wilson instead of Slade Wilson.

Later writers would develop Deadpool’s absurdist humor and fourth-wall-breaking asides, which went a long way towards dodging a legal action; instead of being evidence of copyright infringement, Deadpool was a parody character. That’s probably why, instead of suing Marvel, DC just created an “alternate universe” character based on Deadpool and let Deathstroke stab him a bunch.

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But it still doesn’t change the fact that, according to Nicieza, Deadpool was born a rip-off.

However, Rob Liefeld’s version of events are a bit…stranger. Just for some background, Liefeld has a long history of attacking his fellow comic creators. He once said Alan Moore, the writer synonymous with artistic integrity, “markets himself as a poet, but he’s just a ruthless businessman, like everybody else,” (Rob Liefeld, ocweekly.com). He also took a private dispute between himself and Batman writer Scott Snyder public…and by that I mean he tweeted screenshots of their conversation like a jilted high school ex:

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Image Source: bleedingcool.com
So once it became clear the Deadpool movie was going to be a massive success, Liefeld took the opportunity to give Nicieza the old Liefeld treatment…by which I mean he treated him like shit. He took all credit for creating Deadpool away from him, saying, “I wrote the stories. Like Jim Lee and others, I worked with a scripter who helped facilitate. I chose Fabian, and he got the benefit of the Rob Liefeld lottery ticket. Those are good coattails to ride,” (Rob Liefeld, The New York Times).

Even weirder, Liefeld claims that Deadpool has no connection to Deathstroke, despite the similar appearance, identical powers, and the fact that have almost the EXACT SAME FUCKING NAME. He lists many differences between the characters, like “They have different colors” or “one of them is old” in this…bizarre interview with Screenrant.

I mean…he’s screaming so hard he must be telling the truth, right? …Right?

Captain Marvel was called a rip-off, then DC and Marvel ripped him off

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Image Source: wikipedia.org
This is not only one of longer and more complicated stories in the comics industry, but it’s also full of complex copyright law! Look, just follow me on this one, I promise you it’s worth it.

So, in 1939, Fawcett comics created Captain Marvel. Much like Superman, he was a super-strong, invulnerable man with the power of flight. However, the big twist with this character was that he was secretly Billy Batson, a 12 year old boy. Batson was given the ability to transform into Captain Marvel by a wizard he met in the subway.

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Ever since that incredibly sketchy encounter, Billy could transform himself into Captain Marvel by speaking the magic word “Shazam.” The series was immediately a hit, probably because the only thing little boys liked more than Superman was a little boy who can turn into Superman. In fact, the Captain Marvel soon began to outsell Superman, which DC did not like.

DC comics sued Fawcett in 1941, saying that Captian Marvel was copyright infringement. Court proceedings dragged on till 1953 when, tired of litigating and noticing the fading popularity of superheroes, Fawcett settled with DC for $400,000 and agreed to stop publishing the character.

But when superhero comics went through a resurgence in the 1960s, Fawcett realized Captain Marvel was actually worth something. However, since they agreed to never publish Captain Marvel again, all they could do was sell the character. And who stepped in to buy it? DC Comics. That’s right, the company that made Captain Marvel unpublishable in the first place went on to publish him. By claiming he was a rip-off, they managed to rip him off.

But it doesn’t stop there; during the decade or so that Captain Marvel had lain dormant, Marvel Comics ripped the name off:

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Image Source: wikipedia.com
This character had nothing to do with the original comic, and really wasn’t very popular until the 90s (long story short, the guy above turned into Brie Larson), but it did lay claim to the name Captain Marvel. DC and Marvel went to court over this (where DC presumably argued that they’d worked much harder to steal the character than Marvel) and a settlement was reached; both characters could keep their names, but Marvel got to use the name Captain Marvel on their comic books and merchandise, while DC had to find a new one.

So DC started calling their comics “Shazam!” They also started selling their toys under the name “Shazam!” Even when Captain Marvel got his own TV show, it had to be called “The Shazam/ISIS Power Hour” which…boy that name didn’t age well.

In 2011, DC finally gave up and just renamed the character “Shazam.” So there you have it. Captain Marvel was accused of being a rip-off, then got ripped off so hard HE LOST HIS GOD DAMN NAME.

Marvel Creators Quit Marvel to Rip Off Everyone Else

In 1992, a group of artists and writers quit Marvel to form Image Comics. The idea was to create a company where they would not only have editorial control of their stories, but also maintain the rights to the characters they created. It seems like an inspiring story, but it’s kinda undercut by the fact that a lot of the characters they created were massive rip-offs of existing characters.

For example, there’s Mighty Man, created by Erik Larsen. He’s an ancient entity, created by a Wizard, that inhabits a person and transform into a god-like being. That should sound familiar because it’s a an exact copy of the character I literally just told you was already ripped off by multiple companies.

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Image Sources: SavageDragonWikicomicvine.com
There’s also Cyblade, created by Marc Silvestri; she’s a near perfect copy of Psylocke (Remember her from X-Men: Apocalypse? Olivia Munn’s character that didn’t do anything important and really didn’t have to be in that movie?).

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Image Sources: writeups.orgdeadpool.wikia.com
Then there’s pretty much everything that was created by…(sigh)…Rob Liefeld. Look, I swear when I started this article I wasn’t trying to do a hit piece on Liefeld, that’s just where the research led me. I mean, just take a look at Battlestone, the a carbon copy of Liefeld’s earlier character, Cable:

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Image Sources: comicsvine.comaminoapps.com
He also ripped off Chris Claremont’s Sabertooth with Warwolf:

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Image Sources: comicsvine.compintrest.com
You know what? I’ll let you guess who these next two are ripped off of. This is Glory, a half-demon half-amazonian warrior:

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This is Deadlock bub:

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Still, the most blatant one goes to Roman, the aquatic ruler of an undersea kingdom. You can tell he’s a rip off of Namor not just by his appearance and backstory but because HE LITERALLY JUST SPELLED HIS NAME BACKWARDS!

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Image Sources: comicvine.compintrest.com
Liefeld eventually left Image Comics; the Image Board of directors said he was fired, Liefeld says he quit, you can decide who to believe (not Liefeld). Anyway, he went on to found Awesome Comics, where he not only kept all his plagiarized characters, he made some new ones. For example, here’s Smash, a purple monster who gets larger the angrier he gets:

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Image Source: thebrotherhoodofevilgeeks.com
Amazingly, Liefeld wasn’t sued until he added the Fighting American to his rip-off team.

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Weird thing is, this is the one rip-off you can’t really blame him for. Sorta. See, the Fighting American actually already existed; he was created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in the 50s. They were having a dispute with Marvel and created the character as a fuck you to the company. The two parties eventually patched things up, and some old Fighting American stories were republished by a couple of companies, including Marvel, throughout the years.

In the 90s, Liefeld bought the rights to Fighting American and began his own run on the character. Marvel took notice and quickly sued, but apparently even the company wasn’t sure what the legal status of the character was, because they botched the case. According to Liefeld:

“Their original lawsuit was predicated on accusing me of being the creator of the Fighting American. And when we went to court, and I showed up with the hardcover collections of the Fighting American that Marvel published in 1989 via their own limited licensing agreement with Kirby and Simon, the judge was not too pleased.”

-Rob Leifeld, ocweekly.com

Not only did the lawsuit let Leifeld keep the character, it made him a bigger rip-off:

“Fighting American did not have a shield, prior to my publishing him. Fighting American now has a shield. He walked into the trial being less like Cap and walked out being more.”

-Rob Leifeld, ocweekly.com

Despite Leifeld’s victory, Awesome Comics went out of business after only 3 years. But Image Comics is still around; in fact, it actually wound up being a great place for independent creators (just ask the the guy who created The Walking Dead). So in a way, this story is actually a triumph of artist over corporation…but also of plagiarism over copyright law.

DC ripped off Plastic Man for literally no reason

Chances are, if someone asked you to name a superhero with stretchy powers, you’d say Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four. However, a full two decades before he hit the scene, there was Plastic Man.

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Image Source: wikipedia.org
Plastic Man’s creator, Jack Cole, saw the potential for zany shenanigans in stretchy powers, and Plas was somewhere between a cartoon character and super hero. This actually made him pretty popular with readers, right up until his publisher, Police Comics, went out of business in 1956.

Four years later, DC writers John Broome and Carmine Infantino were trying to create a character for their editor, Julius Schwartz. They decided on stretchy hero like Plastic Man, but were having trouble with the name. They can’t call him Rubber Man, cause that name was taken by Flexo the Rubber Man (a flying rubber-robot no one remembers), and Elastic is out, since Jimmy Olsen was already Elastic Lad for a brief stint (long story short, in the 50s they gave Jimmy Olsen super powers ever other day; he was a fucking turtle monster at one point).

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So, with all the good monikers already taken, they had to settle for what may be the worst name in comic book history: Elongated Man. (A year later, Stan Lee created The Fantastic Four, and probably looked at this whole naming debacle and said, “Fuck it, I’ll call him Mr. Fantastic.”)

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Elongated Man was only supposed to hang around for a few issues of the Flash, but comics being what they are he wound up being a background c-lister for the next 50 years. The writers tried to recapture Plas’s trademark humor (for instance, he would wiggle his nose every time he “smelled a mystery”), but it mostly fell flat. All in all, he was a poor imitation.

Thing is, what none of the writers knew is that they never had to create an imitation. DC had bought Police Comics when they went out of business, so they owned all their old characters, including Plastic Man. Julius Schwartz had his team rip off a character they already owned, and at least one artist fondly remembers mocking Schwartz for this:

“I used to razz Julie…Not knowing that they owned all these old Quality Comics— and Julie’ll deny it, I guess, and say they wanted to do something different — they created Elongated Man instead of Plastic Man. They could have resurrected [Plastic Man] back then right out of their own stable.”

-Murphy Anderson, The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson

Of course, DC wouldn’t let Plastic Man go to waste, and eventually added him into their regular comic book lineup. But they didn’t throw out Elongated Man. So Plastic Man is forced to see his own rip-off on a regular basis. It…it get’s pretty awkward sometimes:

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Image Source: imgur.com

Spider-Man’s Costume is a Cluster-Fuck of Rip Offs

Stan Lee created Spider-Man in 1962, but how much help he had along the way is kind of a grey area. Lee took full credit for the creation for decades, but artist Steve Ditko was rumored to have done most of the design work for him. Stan Lee basically admitted this in 1999, saying Steve Ditko created Spider-Man’s original costume, and even called him Spider-Man’s co-creator. So it’s pretty crappy that it took Lee almost 40 years to admit it, but he did. End of story.

…Except for Jack Kirby.

Kirby is a legendary artist who helped create Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and literally dozens of other iconic characters. There are two major comic book awards named after Jack Kirby. So when Jack Kirby said this in 1990 (4 years before his death), people took notice:

“I created Spider-Man. We decided to give it to Steve Ditko. I drew the first Spider-Man cover. I created the character. I created the costume. I created all those books, but I couldn’t do them all. We decided to give the book to Steve Ditko who was the right man for the job. He did a wonderful job on that.”

-Jack Kirby, The Comics Journal

So Jack Kirby, one of the most respected names in comic books, claimed that both Ditko and Lee were taking credit for his design. That really complicates things…but then again, all of these men were quite old by this time. Maybe none of them really remembered who did what 30 years earlier. Guess we’ll never really know. End of story.

…Except for this:

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Image Source: heroenvy.com
This is a Spider Man Halloween costume from Ben Cooper, Inc., created 1954, a full eight years before the character appeared in comic books. It was in uncovered by blogger John Cimino in 2012. Here’s Cimino and his daughter modeling the costume:

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Image Source: heroenvy.com
OK, so the costume is yellow, and the name doesn’t have a hyphen…but that’s Spider-Man. That’s recognizably Spider-Man. Eight years before there was Spider-Man. How is that possible?

Cimino uncovered a total of 5 costumes made by Ben Cooper. Two of them were made before the Spider-Man comics (below on the left), while three of them were licensed by Marvel after the comics debuted (on the right).

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Image Source: heroenvy.com
This just raises more questions. How was this company was making Spider-Man costumes years before Marvel made Spider-Man comics? Why didn’t they complain about Marvel stealing the name and design? Did Marvel give them the contract for licensed costumes to keep them from suing? Who the fuck made this costume?!?!

Cimino never did find out who created the costume, but he did get the name of someone who may have been freelancing for the company at the time: Jack Kirby. Holy shit, how many layers does this mystery have?!?!

Cimino was at a loss, and in a Hail Mary attempt to get some answers, he wrote to Steve Ditko. He never expected receive an answer, since Ditko is kind of a recluse, but he was astonished to get this cryptic, hand written response:

“The burden of proof is on the person who makes the assertion, claim, charge. Some clipping, etc. are not rational proof of anything but some clippings, etc.

-Steve Ditko, Hero Envy

…What the fuck does that mean? That doesn’t deny anything, but it also doesn’t confirm anything. GOD DAMMIT, WHO MADE SPIDER-MAN’S COSTUME?!?!

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a satisfying ending, and neither does this article.


Additional Sources:

cbr.com

comicsbulletin.com

vulture.com

hero-envy.blogspot.com



PJ Westin

PJ is an editor for UnSceneComedy.com