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9 Real-Life Folks Who Inspired Iconic Supervillains!

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Great bad guys in stories have cool backgrounds, even from space! They feel real, have mistakes, and have reasons for their actions. Kinda weird, but they feel more like us than heroes do. 

Guess what? Many are based on real folks! And it’s not just about looking alike. Here are 9 top ones, based on how close they are to real life.

9. Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy’s creation by Robert Kanigher, who also contributed to Wonder Woman, has intriguing inspirations. Her character echoes the theme from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale where a girl becomes toxic due to malevolent plants.  

She shares traits with Eve and some tales from ancient Indian lore. The first glimpse of Ivy in Batman’s comic (#181, 1966) showcased her nature-centric persona.  

Sheldon Moldoff, the artist, envisioned her resembling model Bettie Page, particularly her iconic hairstyle. Though her appearance evolved, her classic look made a comeback in a 2013 toy edition.  

8. Kingpin

Big, heavyset characters in comics? Not so common. They kinda take up a lot of the frame. But good ol’ Stan Lee had a vision: he wanted a big bad guy. One inspired by the actor Sydney Greenstreet, famous for his roles in classics like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. 

Originally, the plan was to make it Vulture. But Steve Ditko was like, “Nah, that doesn’t jive.” So, in comes the hefty mob boss, Kingpin, modeled after Greenstreet (Check out The Amazing Spider-Man #50 from July 1967). And hey, he wasn’t alone.  

Some characters from Batman (in a 1945 comic), Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #5, and even a Doctor Who comic took a page from the same actor. 

And let’s not forget Jabba the Hutt. Word is, when George Lucas told his team he wanted something “alien and grotesque,” their brains went straight to Sydney Greenstreet.

7. Zsasz

Gotham’s got its fair share of dark tales, and real-life monsters like Son of Sam, Richard Chase, and Israel Keyes sure did inspire some. These guys were slippery – killing without a clear pattern.  

And Zsasz? With his eerie skin tally marks for every life he snuffs out? That’s some twisted Hollywood stuff right there 

But here’s a fun fact: his name? Borrowed from psychiatrist Thomas Szasz. Now, they ain’t exactly twins, but both faced a crisis of belief.  

Batman’s Zsasz (sometimes called Mister or Victor Zsasz) questioned the meaning of life. Dr. Szasz? He started side-eyeing his whole job. He felt psychiatrists should tackle brain issues, not just slap labels on “life problems” or what folks call “mental illness.” He reckoned that just added fuel to the fire. 

And Batman’s world? Oh, it’s on board with that take. Arkham Asylum, a “locked institution for involuntary confinement” and punitive treatment, with a bunch of no-good psychiatrists running the show.  

Heck, a ton of Batman’s foes are headshrinks – think Hugo Strange, Jonathan Crane (Mr. Scarecrow to you), and the zany intern, Harleen Quinzel, who you might know better as Harley Quinn. Instead of healing minds, they’re all about breaking them.

6. Sinestro

Back in ’61, Gil Kane and John Broome, the masterminds behind Hal Jordan, cooked up his main rival, Sinestro. He’s considered the perfect foil or nemesis, a “dark reflection of Hal”.  

He snagged a ring from a fading Green Lantern and sneaked right into the heart of the Green Lantern Corps. 

Ever notice David Niven’s signature mustache and smooth charm? That’s Sinestro for you. Yup, inspired by the man who won an Oscar while hosting the darn thing.  

Niven nailed it as the baddie in “The Pink Panther” (1963) and as James Bond in the cheeky “Casino Royale” (1967). 

Mark Strong’s take on Sinestro in “Green Lantern” (2011) was so spot on, it almost saved a sinking ship of a movie. Strong, not much into comics, totally vibed with Sinestro.  

He deep-dived into Sinestro’s past and made sure to keep it real on-screen. And get this, he told the movie peeps, “No way!” to that ponytail idea. And since he knew Niven was the inspo, he channeled him in his performance.

5. Darkseid

Darkseid strutted in first in “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” (#134, 1970), but, man, he blew up big time. He’s like, one of the top dogs of DC villains. Heck, he’s one of the mightiest ever in the comic world. 

This big bad has a thing for controlling planets and squashing free will. His vibe? A mash-up of Hitler and Nixon – but, leaning heavy on Nixon.  

Now, there were tons of reasons to side-eye Nixon: the Vietnam mess, nukes, the money troubles… And Darkseid’s creator, Jack Kirby? He had his beefs, being a working-class, Jewish vet.

Now, don’t get it twisted, neither Nixon nor Hitler could rock Darkseid’s bod. For that, Kirby turned to Hollywood, sketching Darkseid in the image of actor Jack Palance. The voice? All Palance. A nod to the man’s screen mojo.

4. Joker

If you dig the Joker, you might’ve heard he’s kinda like the guy from “The Man Who Laughs” (1928). That silent movie, based on Victor Hugo’s book, stars Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine.  

Dude had a scary permanent smile. When Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson whipped up Joker in “Batman #1” (1940), they borrowed that grin, the hair, and makeup. And in “Batman: The Killing Joke” (1988)? Brian Bolland gave Joker some of Veidt’s teary eyes. 

Now, these guys aren’t twins or anything. They mainly bond over feeling left out. But Hugo didn’t just make up Gwynplaine.  

He got the idea from a real dude in old Paris. This guy, Edmond Barbier, wrote in his diary about a man with a huge grin because of some nasty cuts. Sound familiar? In the book, as a kid, Gwynplaine was hurt by baddies who wanted to sell him, kinda like Heath Ledger’s Joker. Crazy, huh? 

So, the Joker, Batman’s big enemy, might have been inspired by a real sad guy in Paris. And considering Batman’s fancy status and how “The Dark Knight Rises” feels like the French Revolution, it’s pretty wild to think about.

3. The Mandarin

Iron Man’s big bad, the Mandarin, has popped up a bunch of ways. One time, he was even Shang-Chi’s dad! But originally?  

He’s like Fu Manchu, that bad guy from way back with a wild goatee and spooky powers. Sax Rohmer dreamt him up after asking a ouija board how to make big bucks. The answer? C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N. Go figure! 

Fu Manchu’s been in movies, TV, radio, and comics. There’s even a candy named after him: Fu Man Chews. But, no shocker here, a lot of Chinese folks find him super uncool.  

That’s why “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021) had some drama in China. Even with a new, cool Mandarin, people still remember the old Fu Manchu vibes. 

But here’s a wild twist. The real story behind Fu might be even more messed up. Back in the day, a Chinese magician, Chung Ling Soo, lost gigs to a white copycat, William Ellsworth Robinson.  

This dude stole Chung’s whole look and even faked speaking Chinese. People think this faker might’ve inspired Fu Manchu. The truth only came out when William got shot on stage by a faulty gun.

2. Magneto

Everyone’s aware that Stan Lee’s X-Men drew parallels to the Black civil rights era. Think of Professor X as the Martin Luther King figure, and Magneto as the Malcolm X persona.  

Just like Malcolm X, Magneto is all about rallying his peeps against the bad guys. Professor X? He’s all about peace and love for everyone, much like MLK. 

But here’s the twist: Stan Lee’s X-Men was ditched pretty early. Chris Claremont, the guy who came in after, had a different spin. He saw Professor X and Magneto as Israel’s political bigwigs: David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin.  

Ben-Gurion wanted Jews to have a peaceful home and to chill with Arabs in Israel. Begin? Not so much. He was all in for Jews being the top dogs, totally going for West Bank and Gaza.  

Not to mention, the dude was tied to a super bad incident where a lot of Palestinians – folks of all ages – got hurt. Even though he had his own past troubles with the Nazis.  

And here’s the drama: he exited the scene after his wife passed away. If you’re into X-Men, you’ll get how this ties to Magneto.

1. Grigori Rasputin

So, Hellboy’s big baddie, Rasputin? Dude’s ripped straight from the history books, with some added flair, of course. I mean, in the comics, our “mad” Russian monk pal calls Hellboy straight outta Hell. But let’s be real, most tales about Rasputin? They’re more fiction than fact.  

Word on the street, or rather from those who offed him, is that he was with the Austrian Green Hand, a mysterious gang kinda like Hellboy’s Ogdru Jahad. People thought he was the reason Russia got into World War I, basically draining its wallet.  

They also said he had these wild parties, even getting fancy ladies to clean his messy fingers with their tongues. But hey, Rasputin’s kiddo begged to differ. To her, he was a chill religious dude who gave candy to kids. 

Now, his end? Totally Hellboy-esque, if his haters are to be believed. They gave him poison treats and drinks, but Rasputin was partying on. When he wanted to bail, bam! They shot him.  

They ducked out, and when they peeked back, the guy vanished. Super creepy, right? They found him, shot him some more, shoved him in a trunk, and sent him into a frozen watery grave. Rasputin? Game over. 

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