Superheroes and their Real-Life Counterparts 

By Khanimamba Khoza 

The superheroes we often see on the big screen or on the pages of a comic book may seem larger than life itself. Well, most of them are exactly that – larger than life and the stuff us mere mortals can only dream of. However, there are some cases where the superheroes are all too human – at least in the sense that they were inspired by real life people. Please do read along, as I explore those rare cases with you, dear reader. 

Tony Stark – Howard Hughes and Elon Musk 

Everyone’s favourite genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist, Tony Stark, was first inspired by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes when he was first put on comic book pages by Stan Lee in 1963. However, when it came to the movies, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark was inspired by South African-born modern eccentric billionaire, Elon Musk – who made a cameo appearance in Iron-Man 2. 

Nick Fury – Samuel L. Jackson 

This is one of those extraordinary moments where the comic book character is played in the movies by the same person the comic book character is based on. Nick Fury and Sam Jackson only share a physical resemblance though, and not character traits.   

Magneto – Malcom X 

When Magneto made his comic debut in 1963, at the height of the civil rights movement in America, it soon became very clear that the social injustice issues the mutants faced, resembled ones that the black people and one of the leaders of the movement, Magneto, shared many traits with a real-life civil rights activist, Malcolm X. 

Darkseid – Adolf Hitler 

One of DC comics’ most evil, megalomaniacal, fascist and militarist villains, was inspired by real life fascist and all-round evil guy, Adolf Hitler.  

The Joker – Conrad Veidt 

Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger based the Joker on Conrad Veidt’s character, Gwynplaine, from Paul Leni’s 1928 film, The Man Who Laughs

Lucifer Morningstar – David Bowe 

When Neil Gaiman and Sam Kieth created Lucifer in 1989, they based his likeness on iconic singer David Bowe. However, the character itself was still based on the fallen angel, Lucifer, Samael from the Bible. 

Photo credit: Timothy Melby

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