16 Examples of Supposedly Name-Stealing Minor Comic Characters Who In Fact Appeared Prior to Their More Famous Counterparts
1. Captain Marvel
I’m cheating a little bit here, since everyone knows the first (and greatest) Captain Marvel character appeared in 1940 and nearly eclipsed Superman in sales before DC’s lawyers took him down. But we’re not talking about the Big Red Cheese here, who was forcibly retired for close to 15 years at this point. No, we’re talking about Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree Empire, one of Marvel’s cosmic heroes of the 1970s and and an obvious ploy on Marvel’s part to snatch up a desirable name while it was in the public domain. But shortly before Marvel could launch its own moderately successful Captain Marvel, another publisher came out with a Captain Marvel of its own — one that was far less likely to win the hearts of comic-book fans. Why? For starters, his adventures were published by M.F. Enterprises, a publisher that redefined “bottom of the barrel” during that period in the 1960s when just about everyone and their dog tried to cash in on the sudden boom in superhero comics. Then there was his decidedly odd super-power: by yelling “Split!”, he could separate his head and limbs from his torso, all of which would then individually fly around and pummel criminals or perform various tasks before re-assembling. (How did he acquire such a strange ability, you ask? He just happens to be an android from a doomed planet that rocketed to Earth and got a job as a reporter… what do you mean, DC’s legal department is laughing their asses off on Line 3?) No surprise, his career lasted just five issues, sputtering to a halt just in time to prevent any newsstand confusion (as if) when Marvel’s own C.M. debuted in 1967.
Say the word “Daredevil” today and most comic fans — and even a lot of non-comic fans — will immediately think of Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer-by-day-vigilante-by-night superhero who uses his superhuman senses and fighting skills to patrol New York’s streets and, when time permits, bag hot Greek assassins. But what many modern-day fans don’t know is that Murdock isn’t the first superhero to take the name “Daredevil” — heck, he’s not even the first handicapped superhero to take the name Daredevil. That honor belongs to Bart Hill, the boomerang-hurling hero who first opposed the Claw’s fiendish plans in the Golden Age-era Silver Streak Comics. Like Batman, he was the victim of a crime that left him orphaned at a young age, a crime that also rendered him mute from shock (though he was plenty talkative while in costume) and instilled in him a desire to eradicate all crime everywhere. He stood out from the hundreds of other superheroes by wearing an unusual costume (a full red-and-blue bodysuit, bisected right down the middle, with a spiked belt for extra attitude) and by boldly going up against Hitler himself in Daredevil Battles Hitler (don’t expect much subtlety in Golden Age titles). The details of his story changed over the years (for instance, he lost his muteness as time went on), and he picked up a scruffy group of kid sidekicks called The Little Wise Guys… whose growing popularity pushed him out of the spotlight and out of his own book just as the decade ended. And that’s why you don’t work with kids in this business.
Feeling bored? Show a recovering ’90s-era fanboy an issue of Omega Men #3 (6/83), featuring the first appearance of the interstellar bounty hunter, and watch his head spin at the sight of his “hero” sporting a form-fitting orange-and-purple unitard. By the time his first mini-series came out in 1990, Lobo was sufficiently retooled to be “kewl” enough for the hordes of fanboys who didn’t quite understand the character was intended to be a parody of over-the-top comic-book violence. While not as famous as some of DC’s other characters (to call him a superhero would be a stretch even for the most bloodthirsty fan), he managed to carve a comfortable niche in the DCU as one of its resident bad boys… and is far, far more well-known today than the first Lobo, whose only crime was being just a little too ahead of his time. His debut issue (Lobo #1, 12/65) introduced him as a veteran of the U.S. Civil War who rode out West in search of a new life, but he ended up on the run after he was accused of a murder he didn’t commit (the name “lobo,” Spanish for wolf, came from one of his accusers). Dell Comics took a chance on the book, the first all-audiences comic to star a non-stereotypical black character, and as it turned out much of the world wasn’t quite ready for it: over 90% of the first issue’s print run came back, with most distributors, especially those in the Deep South, refusing to even take them out of the box because a black man was featured on the cover. Even though no one on the cover or inside the book made a single mention of his skin color or the civil-rights struggle happening in the U.S. at the time, the second issue didn’t come out for another 10 months, and there wasn’t a third.
4. Blank Panther
Speaking of groundbreaking black characters. The Black Panther — a.k.a. T’Challa, hereditary leader of the high-tech African kingdom of Wakanda — was first introduced as a supporting character during Lee and Kirby’s legendary Fantastic Four run, and he’s had been on a bit of a roll in recent years, thanks to his starring role in a few acclaimed series and a short-lived cartoon series produced by the BET Network. Fun fact: for a brief period in the ’70s, he was renamed Black Leopard to dissociate the character from the militant political group of the same name. The name change didn’t last long… but you can be certain it lasted longer than the entire career of the original Black Panther, who appeared in a grand total of one Golden Age comic story. Readers who picked up Centaur Publications’ Stars & Stripes Comics #3 (7/41) were treated to the exciting adventures of several heroes, including Amazing-Man (featured on the cover), Minimidget, Mighty Man, and this oddly dressed fellow, whose story revealed precisely nothing about his past, his real identity, his reason for fighting crime, why he chose that particular superhero name, or why he ever thought adding a long tail to his skimpy costume was a good idea. No, none of that stuff, just secret caves, creepy castles, mad scientists, dim-witted henchmen and quicksand traps crammed into seven pages — pretty typical stuff for the era, and not nearly distinctive enough to land him a more prominent place in comic-book history.
5. Black Widow
Like Black Panther, Black Widow is a name that’s well-known to Marvel fans but not to too many folks outside the comic-collecting clubhouse; even in Iron Man 2, Black Widow’s biggest non-comics appearance to date, Scarlett Johansson’s character wasn’t even referred to by that colorful sobriquet. But she’s been a reliable cast member ever since her 1964 debut, in which she originally played the villain role opposite Iron Man. Now fully on the side of the good guys, the former Russian spy lends her athletic and espionage skills to the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D., depending on whichever story she’s appearing in. She’s often portrayed (especially in these post-9/11 times) as a woman who doesn’t flinch at the prospect of getting her hands dirty if it means getting the job done… but it’s unlikely she could ever reach the depths once plumbed by her predecessor, an anti-heroine who worked for none other than Satan himself. First appearing in Marvel’s Mystic Comics #4 (8/40), this Black Widow was one of the earliest super-powered female characters to appear in the funnies, but you better believe she was no rope-twirling piece of eye candy like some other heroines we could mention. After the Dark Lord claimed her soul and infused her with supernatural powers, she set out on her mission to kill evildoers whose dark souls were marked for pick-up by her infernal boss. It was pretty grim stuff even for the anything-goes atmosphere of the 1940s, and despite the immortality that you’d think would come with the whole “infernal envoy” thing, she wasn’t seen for a long time until Marvel’s The Twelve mini-series in 2008 — which is good, because it’s fair to say she could kick the ass of any modern-day “bad girl” you can think of.
“Oh, come on!” a typical Marvel fan is probably sputtering by now. “Daredevil, Black Panther, Black Widow, and now Thor… will you give Stan Lee credit for coming up with anything that was new?” Calm yourselves, now. The point here is not to slam anyone for being unoriginal, but to simply point out that, in the rough-and-tumble world of comic publishing, a few similarly sounding names emerging from the artists’ collective consciousness is inevitable. (Fun rainy day activity: try to track down all the characters who have ever gone by the name Destroyer. Bring a lunch.) And yes, Lee does deserve some credit for introducing an out-and-out god as a card-carrying superhero, giving Thor a bit more of a hands-on involvement in human affairs than, say, the Olympian gods that populated Wonder Woman’s early stories. But facts are facts: a character named Thor appeared in five issues of Fox Comics’ Weird Comics more than 20 years prior to the Thor we all know and love, though his origin story is slightly different from that of Marvel’s resident hammer-wielder. Scientist Grant Farrel was working on a new electrical conductor during a thunderstorm when a bolt of lightning struck him. Instead of causing death or disfigurement, this bolt endowed Farrel with great strength and lightning-hurling abilities, which of course he decides can only be used to fight crime. But this wasn’t any ordinary lightning bolt; it was sent by Thor himself, who was looking for a human to carry on his work in the modern world. Maybe he should have looked a little longer, considering Farrel’s superhero costume — skimpy shorts, helmet, cape, boots and not much else — was not exactly the kind of wardrobe one tends to associate with a god hailing from the northern realms.
So, which ’70s-era TV show should we thank for inspiring Steel the Indestructible Man: Wonder Woman, which featured our stars-and-stripes-clad hero fighting dirty Nazis during WWII, or The Six Million Dollar Man, starring a man using his bionic parts to perform superhuman feats? Thanks to both these shows, America was primed for a comic book about a patriotic and bionic super-soldier fighting Axis forces… or so it seemed. In truth, Gerry Conway’s Steel: The Indestructible Man lasted only five issues before falling victim to the “DC Implosion” of the late 1970s, and from that point on he made sporadic appearances as a minor player in All-Star Squadron, Justice League of America (where his grandson took on his name and powers) and elsewhere before meeting his untimely demise. Never a company to let a good name go to waste, DC introduced a new Steel during the much-hyped “Death of Superman” storyline; this Steel, rather than gaining strength from internal machinery, is John Henry Irons, a man who used his technological skills to fashion a high-tech suit of armor and fancy sledgehammer (appropriate, given his name’s similarity to that of the steel-driving man of legend). Though originally derided as “Black Iron Man” by some critics, this Steel has done all right over the years, starring in his own ongoing series for several years, joining the Justice League, appearing in several episodes of Justice League Unlimited, and even scoring his own 1997 live-action movie (though the less said about that Shaq-filled bomb, the better).
Like “Starman,” the name “Starfire” has been passed around among several DC characters over the years. The most famous bearer of the name is Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran, who first appeared alongside her Teen Titans teammates in a special preview story in DC Comics Presents #26 (10/80), just prior to the following month’s New Teen Titans #1. One senses a smidgen of corporate interference (or a generous dollop of fanboy wish-fulfillment) in her creation; while the other new team members arrived more or less in finished form, Starfire was a collection of clichés that never really gelled into a believable character: big breasts, voluminous red hair, blank green eyes, chain-mail bikini, former slave girl, fierce warrior, citizen of a race of deeply sensual libertines… goodness, is it getting warm in here? Her case isn’t helped by the decision to give her a secret identity (“Kory Anders”) and a career as an aspiring fashion model, because God knows no one will ever notice her orange skin and pupil-less eyes on the cover of Vogue and put two and two together. At any rate, long before Starfire’s debut there were at least three other DC characters sharing that name: a Russian superhero introduced to an earlier incarnation of the Teen Titans in the ’60s (he’d go by the codename Red Star in later outings to avoid confusion); a minor super-villain that faced off against Supergirl a few times in the ’70s (and was never seen again); and the female star of a short-lived sword-and-sandal comic set on an alien world of barbarians. Who also, let the record note, sported a chain-mail bikini ensemble.
9. Wonder Man
Truth be told, Wonder Man is likely way down on the list of superhero properties that Marvel is planning to spin into an upcoming feature film, probably somewhere between Ant-Man and Ego the Living Planet. It’s not that he’s a poorly designed character; he’s just a tad too, well, generic for the full Hollywood treatment — which is a bit ironic, since he’s one of the few mainstream comic characters who has carved himself a tidy Hollywood career (first as a stuntman, later as an action movie star) when he’s not out saving the world. First appearing in The Avengers #9 (10/64), Simon Williams is a disgraced businessman who joins the team as a spy and saboteur working secretly for the evil Baron Zemo. He has a change of heart and dies at the end of his debut issue, but the unique energy infusing his body brings him back to life, and he has died and come back to life a few times since then. No such resurrection is in the works for the first hero to call himself Wonder Man, though, and for good reason: the star of Wonder Comics #1 (5/39) holds the distinction of being the first superhero to ever get sued for copyright infringement. The debut of DC’s Superman inspired dozens of other publishers to climb on the superhero bandwagon, and within months hundreds of costumed adventurers were flying and swinging across newsstands. Publisher Victor Fox ordered Will Eisner (later of The Spirit fame) to create a deliberate imitation of Superman, whom he dubbed Wonder Man, and despite some differences between the characters (for instance, Wonder Man’s powers came from a magic ring) DC wasted very little time suing Fox for copyright infringement. The case was brought to court in 1940 in Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, Inc., and to his credit Eisner refused to perjure himself about the derivative nature of the character, despite financial pressure by Fox (who had hired Eisner’s studio to produce Wonder Man and other properties for his books). No surprise, Wonder Man’s career lasted just one issue, and no one has since dared try to bring him back.
And then there are the instances in which a comic writer would like to revive a Golden Age character for a modern-day story, but the character’s name has already been claimed by another hero. Such was the case with Quicksilver, a minor superhero that first appeared in Quality’s National Comics #5 (11/40) and carved a tidy nine-year career for himself, despite his lack of an origin story and status as a blatant Flash imitator. DC scooped up the rights to Quality’s characters in 1956, but it never brought back Quicksilver in any meaningful way until writer Mark Waid revived him in 1993 to serve as “the zen master of speed” for DC’s growing family of super-speedsters. Only problem was, he couldn’t call himself “Quicksilver” because Marvel picked up the name in 1964 for a character that was, and still is, alive and kicking in the Marvel universe. That Quicksilver is Pietro Maximoff, son of Magneto and a mutant with the power to move at superhuman speed (though, as a 1996 DC/Marvel crossover mini-series established, nowhere near the Flash’s top speed). Over the years, Marvel’s writers have portrayed him as a protective brother, overbearing teammate, antagonizing anti-hero, devoted wife and father, approval-seeking son… really, there’s no telling which version of him will show up when he appears in a story. But one thing you can count on is he’ll always known as Quicksilver, which is why Waid renamed the original Quicksilver “Max Mercury” and gave him what was perhaps the best resurrection that any minor-league Golden Age superhero could hope to get.
Geez, which one? Some names, like those of the ancient gods or other mythical beings, are used by comics writers as a form of shorthand — for instance, you can lay odds that a hero code-named Hercules doesn’t count “juicy chess-club brain” among his super powers. The Sandman, that make-believe being whom the ancient songs say can make us a dream with two lips like roses and clover, has inspired several comic characters over the years, including a Golden Age hero that used a sleeping-gas gun on his victims and a Spider-Man villain who is literally made of the stuff. The most successful Sandman, though, has to be the Neil Gaiman creation that first appeared in his own self-titled series in 1989. As lord of the Dream dimension, this Sandman is one of the Endless, those beings above even the gods that shape and personify all of reality (including non-reality, his particular bailiwick). An instant hit with critics and readers, The Sandman offered Gaiman a wide canvas on which to explore many themes, and the 75-issue series has since spawned a number of spin-offs, including the entire Vertigo line of comics for discerning adults. One wonders, though, how well the experiment would have worked if Gaiman elected to revive an earlier Sandman to serve as his muse. First appearing in 1974, the Sandman created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon was the last collaboration for the legendary team that once created Captain America… and to be honest, they could have gone out on a higher note. Dressed in typical Kirbyesque gear, this Sandman is a scientist based in the “Dream Dome” who reaches into sleeping minds and visits the strange worlds within dreams by travelling through the “Dream Stream.” Oh, and he had a pair of assistants named Brute and Glob, who were literally the stuff of nightmares (assuming your nightmares involve staring at used balls of Kleenex). The series got yanked after six issues, but Sandman & Co. made a few more appearances after that — including a pivotal one in The Sandman, in which readers learned the true nature of his little operation.
There’s something positively innocent about early X-Men issues, back when the original team battled one evil mutant after another, then retired to the academy to moon over each other. The power levels of the original class were also decidedly less impressive back then; take, for instance, Warren Worthington III, better known as Angel to his classmates. His mutation was enough to earn him a berth at the Xavier Academy, but the ability to present enemies with big, feathery wings to play target practice with… well, you can see the logistical issues here. Still, Angel’s association with the original X-Men team was enough to land him steady work as a member of the Champions, the Defenders, X-Factor, the X-Men again, and pretty much any other team he felt like joining. (He also received the de rigueur power increase in the 1980s, in a deal-with-the-devil situation that left him with razor-sharp metal wings and a permanently azure outlook on life.) But what a lot of modern-day X-Men fans might not realize is that he wasn’t the first Marvel character to fly under the “Angel” codename. That honor belongs to Tom Holloway, a private detective who had no special powers (unless you count the power to look dashing with a pencil mustache), but he did possess a special cape that allowed him to fly. Never as popular as Captain America, the Sub-Mariner or the Human Torch, he still managed more appearances than any other Marvel character of the day, first appearing in Marvel Comics #1 (11/39) and making regular appearances in other titles until his final Golden Age appearance in 1946. He’s been revived a few times since then, but he hasn’t made a Captain America-sized splash in the modern age, for obvious reasons (no, not because of the mustache).
13. Ghost Rider
When stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze — also known as Ghost Rider to Marvel readers — first appeared in 1972, he was part of a new wave of early-’70s characters that melded the supernatural with the superhero, but it was hardly the first time a publisher got the idea of mashing up genres to sell more books. Debuting in a Magazine Enterprises comic in 1949, the original Ghost Rider was federal marshal Rex Fury, who coated his white costume and horse with phosphorus to appear like a spectral apparition to frightened outlaws. His stories tended to be a bit on the grim side, often featuring real-life monsters (or, at the very least, a grisly end to the human bad guys, who often pretended to be supernatural menaces themselves). But the folks behind 1954’s Comics Code didn’t look kindly on those kinds of spooky shenanigans (especially in a “family-friendly” genre like Westerns), and Ghost Rider rode into the sunset later that same year. With the trademark lapsed and the original publishers out of the comic business, Marvel felt it safe to bring out its own Ghost Rider in 1967, which looked and acted very similar to the original Ghost Rider (no surprise, considering both versions were drawn by Dick Ayers). Alas, readers yawned at the concept and the title was cancelled after seven issues. This Ghost Rider made a few more random appearances in the Marvel universe, often encountering time-travelling superheroes that visited the Old West… but he would be known as “Night Rider” (and later Phantom Rider) in those instances, because by that time Marvel’s other, far more visually striking Ghost Rider was tearing up America’s highways in search of wrongs to avenge.
How does one describe the myth, the legend, the utter fiasco that is… the Dazzler? From the atrociously designed costume to the cringe-worthy codename to — oh, sorry, did you think I was talking about Alison Blaire, the young mutant introduced in X-Men #130 (2/80) who possessed the power to transform sound into dazzling light shows? No, though your confusion is understandable. While Marvel’s writers have made many strides with the character over the years, her origins could not have been more ignominious; originally conceived as a cross-promotional stunt with a record company, Dazzler was designed to capitalize on the disco craze of the ’70s, but disagreements and delays meant her debut happened just as everyone agreed never to speak of disco again. Still, once she ditched the roller skates and disco-ball accessories she did all right for herself, scoring many more appearances than a certain Ken Baldwin, who faced Green Lantern precisely once in “The Spectacular Robberies of TV’s Master Villain!” (Green Lantern #49, 12/66). In short: Kahu Ibor was a native of Ethor who became fascinated with the concept of theatre, something his planet never developed. Arriving on Earth, he learned the local customs and landed a job as a special-effects man on a TV show called The Dazzler, which featured a super-villain as its main character. Actor Ken Baldwin, the star of the show, learned of Ibor’s secret and convinced the alien to teach him how to develop his own mental powers, which Baldwin then immediately put to use robbing a fur warehouse (ah, the ’60s) whilst disguised as the character he played in front of millions on TV. And… that’s pretty much it, really. GL suspects the other guy, realizes the truth, and shuts down Mr. Flight-and-Mental-Blasts faster than you can say, “Holy coincidence this story appeared right around the time the Batman show was taking the world by storm!”
Speaking of the Batman show. Calling someone an egghead is generally considered not a nice thing, as it suggests a lack of common sense or an inability to relate to others despite one’s sizable intellect. The word has fallen out of favor in recent years (with political pundits preferring to hurl the more class-conscious “elitist” instead), but back in the ’60s it was one of those words that everyone recognized on sight: egghead=smart. No surprise, then, that two criminal geniuses named Egghead would pop up independently of each other, the more famous of the two (based simply on the fact he made several appearances on a highly rated TV program) appearing in 1966 on the Batman show. Dressed in yellow and white, Vincent Price played a criminal genius with a large bulbous head and a penchant for making “eggs-cruciatingly” bad egg-related puns. (Egghead has been mentioned here and there in the comics, but his place in official DC continuity is something that, as far as I can tell, has yet to be established.) The less-famous Egghead who preceded him was Elihas Starr, a gifted government research scientist who first appeared in the pages of Marvel’s Tales to Astonish in 1962. Busted for espionage, the fellow with an egg-shaped cranium adopted the in-for-a-penny attitude of many other scientific sinners and dove headfirst into a career in world conquest, despite a humiliating defeat in his first superhero encounter at the hands of Ant-Man. But lest you think the results of that little dust-up negates his whole “criminal genius” status, take note he did have a decent track record as the creator of orbiting death lasers, mind-control devices and various robots. Plus, he was smart enough to realize how bad his figure would look in Spandex, opting instead to do his dirty work in a suit and lab coat. If only all super-villains could exhibit such abundant self-awareness.
16. Doctor Doom
I’m bending the rules a bit here by focusing on two characters that appeared almost simultaneously, but I don’t care. The fact that two characters named Doctor Doom could appear at almost the exact same time — and not sue each other into oblivion — is simply too awesome not to celebrate. The first Doctor Doom needs no introduction, as he’s known far and wide as the tin-plated tyrant who rules the tiny European nation of Latveria with a literal iron fist and prides himself on being the Fantastic Four’s most implacable foe (and also a serious pain in the butt of just about every other Marvel superhero this side of Squirrel Girl). He and his imperious attitude first appeared in Fantastic Four #5 (7/62)… right about the same time another Doctor Doom was making his grand entrance in The Adventures of Little Archie #24 (cover dated Fall 1962). Given the time it takes to create and publish comic stories, the odds that writer/artist Bob Bollings swiped the name from Marvel are simply non-existent, so we’ll just have to accept the incredible coincidence that saw both Doctor Dooms debut in comics that appeared on newsstands at almost the same time. The Doctor Doom that made Little Archie’s life interesting was a green-skinned, pointy-eared mad scientist who for some reason employed a dim-witted slacker of an assistant named Chester to help him in his world-conquering or money-raising schemes — schemes that only a plucky, red-headed boy and his friends could ever hope to thwart, time and again. Part Lex Luthor and part every criminal that ever got unmasked by Scooby Doo, Doctor Doom was every bit as good at his job (providing hair-raising adventures for Little Archie and friends) as Doctor Doom was at his, and I know I speak for all comic fans when I say: Team-Up! Team-Up! Team-Up!