With tousled blonde hair, a British working class accent, and trench coat tossed unceremoniously over a wrinkled shirt and loosened tie, you’d be forgiven for thinking Supa-Star Matt Ryan was actually trying to channel a young Sting in his role as DC’s own Master of the Dark Arts, John Constantine. What’s more, you wouldn’t be far off if you did, as Constantine’s look was intentionally modelled after the British rock star and lead singer of The Police when he first appeared as a character in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing.
The musician’s connection to his comic book doppelganger is no secret, and last year Sting himself even donned Constantine’s trench coat to announce that he would be supplying the foreword to the 30th anniversary collector’s edition of Hellblazer, which was released in October 2018.
John Constantine, however, is far from the only comic book character to owe his creation to a real life celebrity, and the comic book world is positively littered with a host of sneaky, and not-so sneaky, nods to some of the world’s biggest names. So what other comic book heroes owe their existence to celebrities?
Eric Draven (The Crow)
The story of James O’Barr’s cult classic graphic novel The Crow sprung from personal tragedy, with the sudden passing of his fiancée Beverly, but the inspiration for the design of his main character, Eric Draven, owes its existence to a completely different source. O’Barr has repeatedly stated that music played a large part in inspiring his work on the comic, and implied that songs by The Cure and Joy Division were the most influential. For the physical design of his hero, however, he drew directly upon the unique physicality and anatomy of none other than ‘80s punk legend, Iggy Pop.
Iggy Pop himself was even approached to play Funboy in The Crow’s 1994 film adaptation but was unfortunately unable to commit to filming due to conflicting tour commitments. Instead, he would later appear in the 1996 sequel, The Crow: City of Angels.
Wesley Gibson (Wanted)
In the 2008 film adaptation of Mark Millar’s Wanted, the protagonist Wesley was portrayed by a then emerging James McAvoy; but back in 2003, Millar had an entirely different, and more well known, basis for Wesley: superstar rapper Eminem. This celebrity nod was not without some controversy, however. When Millar accidentally let slip that Universal Studios had mentioned the idea of actually trying to get Eminem to star in the film, rumours of the rapper’s involvement quickly ballooned online and earned Millar a swift condemnation from Eminem’s manager who knew absolutely nothing about it.
Wesley Gibson in Wanted.
Eminem was not the only celebrity face to make an appearance in Millar’s Wanted comic, whilst the big screen version of Wesley’s mentor, Fox, went to Angelina Jolie, on the page the character bore a striking resemblance to Halle Berry. Whilst the McAvoy/Jolie version was fun, one can’t help but wonder what an Eminem/Berry adaption would have been like.
Nick Fury (Marvel’s Ultimates)
In a serious case of life imitating art, imitating life, actor Samuel L. Jackson was S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury years before he ever appeared as the character in Iron Man’s post-credit scene. Once again, Mark Millar is responsible for another comic book character with a celebrity doppelganger, as when he began The Ultimates series in 2002, he decided to change Fury’s appearance to match that of his favourite actor. Millar even included a scene in where the Avengers sit around discussing who should play them in a movie, to which Fury replies, “Mister Samuel L. Jackson, of course.”
Jackson, himself a comic book fan, quickly found out about the use of his likeness. But rather than feel angry, he had his management quickly contact Marvel to tell them to keep him in mind for any future movie roles. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
Whilst Shazam may have been named Captain Marvel first, Carol Danvers was certainly not the first to assume that name in the Marvel comic universe. In 1982, the second Marvel character to assume the mantle of Captain Marvel was Monica Rambeau, making her first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #16. A police lieutenant from New Orleans, with the ability to transform herself into any form of energy, and a one-time leader of the Avengers, there was only one woman who they could possibly turn to for inspiration, none other than Foxy Brown’s inimitable Pam Grier.
The Joker (Batman)
It’s been nearly 76 years since German silent film star Conrad Veidt passed away at aged 50 in Hollywood, so you’d be forgiven for not knowing his name off of the top of your head. That said, one look at his character from the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs and you’ll instantly recognise his maniacal grin. When, in 1940, Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson were looking for inspiration for the character that would become Batman’s greatest nemesis, they looked no further than a picture of Veidt.
Conrad Veidt in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs.
These are just a few of the celebrity lookalikes quietly inhabiting your favourite comic books, and no doubt there will be plenty more to come as writers and artists alike go looking for inspiration for characters we’re yet to meet. Who knows what famous face you may see the next time you open your favourite comic?
Arrowverse star Matt Ryan (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) will appear at Supanova Comic Con & Gaming Melbourne (6-7 April) and Gold Coast (13-14 April).