?When you’re a writer, anything around you can become a source for inspiration. That’s why good writers can deduct nearly everything from their taxes. But regardless, pulling in outside ideas has been a literary tradition since Dante co-opted the poet Virgil to be his guide around Hell.
Comic writers are no exception — modifying an existing character is much easier than creating a new one. They have instant credibility, whereas new characters do not; plus, existing characters are easier for audiences to accept, since they’re based on things people are already familiar with. So it should be no surprise that comic creators since time immemorial have been borrowing characters from classic literature, especially when they need a bad guy for heroes to tussle with. With that, here are ten big name comic villains who got direct inspiration from classic literary sources. And no, Fables and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen characters don’t count. Too easy!
10) Humpty Dumpty
?The original Dumpty was part of a riddle cooked up in 1810, and although it doesn’t say he’s an egg, that’s the supposed answer to the riddle. Since Batman comics (and DC in general) love to pull characters from classic lit, Humpty Dumpty became an Arkham inmate in 2003’s Arkham Asylum: Living Hell mini. An obese man with a child’s mind, Dumpty appropriately is obsessed with putting broken things together. Not much of a jump from his literary inspiration (especially since his real name is Humphrey Dumpler), but he’s criminally underused in comics. Luckily, he’s popped up a few times in the last year or two, most recently in Secret Six and Streets of Gotham.
9) Pied Piper
?There’s a lot of speculation that a Pied Piper of Hamelin actually did exist in history, but the one we’re familiar with was the product of the Brothers Grimm in 1816 that drew from numerous folklore and historic sources. In comics, he’s a Flash villain who’s been around since the Silver Age, and one of the few Rogues who has legitimately gone straight. Straight, in that he’s no longer committing crimes, not sexually, as the fictional Piper is one of the few gay supervillains in comics. He was one of the major characters in Countdown and helped kill Inertia during Final Crisis. Now he’s presumably in jail for that, but with new Flash series on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before he’s back in action.
8) Scrooge McDuck
?How can a rich, miserly duck from the British Isles with the name of “Scrooge” not be inspired by the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol? Disney comics love to draw from time-honored sources, one of the reasons that they’re so accessible to readers of all ages. Scrooge played the Dickens part perfectly in his early appearances, and did it even better when he played the lead in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. The role he was written to play, huh?
7) Morgan Le Fay
?When you’re playing around with public domain characters (like Morgan Le Fay from Arthurian legends and numerous medieval tellings of them), it’s easy for everyone to jump on them. Both DC and Marvel have Le Fays as major supernatural villains because when you’re dealing with magic, why not go with crazy powerful magicians? Marvel’s Le Fay (left) is an Avengers villain, shacking up for a time with Doctor Doom, but returning to the present to battle Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers. In the DC Universe (right), she’s battled everyone from the Demon to Wonder Woman, acting as the big bad behind the Trinity maxi-series, and recently tormenting Madame Xanadu in her Vertigo series.
6) Fu Manchu
?While the Yellow Claw from Atlas Comics was a 100% knock-off of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character, some readers forget that the real deal appeared in Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu as Shang-Chi’s father. He raised the good-natured Shang-Chi to be a murderer (in fact, Shang-Chi killed Fu Manchu’s long-time literary enemy Dr. Petrie in his early appearances) but lost control of his son when he went off to fight crime with his feet. Later, when Marvel lost the Fu Manchu license, writers had to stop referring to him as such (same reason Alan Moore couldn’t use his name in the first LXE series), but we’re sure someone will think of something clever in the future.
?The literary basis for Alan Moore’s Watchmen character was a short poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley from 1818, which was about a statue of Pharoah Ramessess II (“Ozymandias” in Greek). From the poem, you can see why Moore chose him as an inspiration: Ozymandias was a cold, cruel ruler, yet powerful, advanced, and boastful about it. While the original basis for Moore’s character was the Charlton hero Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, Ozymandias lived up to his megalomaniacal namesake, landing on both Forbes Magazine‘s 15 richest fictional characters and Wizard‘s Top 100 Villains of All Time.
?Real guy: not a vampire. Bram Stoker creation: a vampire. When Marvel borrowed the character from Stoker, he had to live up the vampire legacy, not the Rumanian prince. And with that, Dracula became the #1 vampire in Marvel Comics, carrying his own series for 78 issues (miniseries included) and six issues of a comic magazine. He’s still the villain to beat, planning an invasion of Earth in the pages of Captain Britain and MI13 that came really close to succeeding. Also, he lived on the moon for a while.
3) Mr. Hyde
?The classic monsters of literature make their way into comic books fairly regularly (Frankenstein’s monster probably should have made the list, since he’s appeared in books published by almost every company that’s lasted more than six months). Mr. Hyde has some serious prestige in the funny papers because he’s one of those villains who’s gone fought almost all the major players in the Marvel Universe, as well as Batman in a Marvel/DC crossover. Robert Louis Stevenson probably never imagined that his literary metaphor for man’s hidden dark side would end up getting his ass handed to him by Daredevil on a semi-regular basis.
2) Solomon Grundy
?Grundy’s the go-to bad guy when you need a hero to mercilessly beat on a villain without worrying about damaging anything. He’s a plant-based zombie of variable intelligence, so even if he’s dead, he won’t be for long. While he originally started out in 1944 as a Green Lantern villain, he’s progressed into one of the big name baddies for the whole DCU, battling Batman, the JSA, and the JLA. He’s the only name on this list to be asked to join Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom in the TV show Challenge of the Superfriends. And it all started from a simple nursery rhyme from the early 1800s that had nothing to do with zombies or the Superfriends.
1) The Mad Hatter
?Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has proven to be the goldmine for inspiration, with almost all of its characters appearing in comics at one point or another. While Tweedledum, Tweedledee, Alice, and the Carpenter have all had their merits (all in Batman comics, incidentally), Jervis Tetch as the Mad Hatter is the Alice-themed villain with the craziness and style to last as a top Batman foe. As a master of madness and mind-control, the Hatter worked with the Secret Six for a time, before becoming their first recurring nemesis. In his spare time, he talks to himself, kidnaps little girls, hangs out with a chimp (not lately), and will not eat any food that doesn’t have a hat on it. Not only is he one of the best literary-themed villains, but he also qualifies as one of the most balls-out insane ones too.