Fiction writers are always on the lookout for the next big idea. Whether it is screenwriters or novelists, they hope that their creations will lead to success (perhaps franchises?) and become cemented in the public consciousness. In the comics industry, writers are always struggling to come up with new and original ideas for stories and characters. Sometimes it is an unfortunate reality that no matter how well written a character is, a title can be cancelled due to low sales and that creation is left to founder. Originality is a difficult quality to find in any creative endeavour, as an idea can be inspired by something else, which in itself, isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes the inspirations are a little too on the nose. Certain characters can be seen as "rip-offs" of more successful creations, a situation that is rife in the industry. With that in mind, I present the Top Five Comic Copycats, where the similarities between characters extend beyond mere coincidences.
1. Green Arrow vs. Hawkeye
The Emerald Archer made his debut in 1941 and has the distinction of being one of the few "Golden Age" characters to be in continuous print from his creation to the present day. Hawkeye debuted in 1964, initially as a villain before joining the Avengers, becoming a prominent member of the team ever since. Both characters are the resident archers for their respective teams (the Justice League and the Avengers respectively). Furthermore, both characters have been portrayed as "outsiders", lacking flashy powers and abilities and instead more concerned about looking out for the "little guy." Both characters have died and have been resurrected to boot. While there are some striking similarities, there is no clear evidence to say that Hawkeye is directly based on Green Arrow.
2. The Flash vs. Whizzer
A more blatant example of pilfering here: the original Flash, Jay Garrick debuted in 1940 and could run at superspeed, becoming known as a "speedster." Robert Frank a.k.a. Whizzer made his debut for Timely Comics (Marvel’s predecessor) a mere year later in 1941. He also had the ability to move at superspeed, but this time, as a result of a latent genetic mutation and an infusion of mongoose blood (a simpler time). While the Flash would immediately star in his own series, Flash Comics and became a major character for DC, Whizzer was confined to the pages of the anthology vehicle, USA Comics . Whizzer would fizz out only five years later, not seeing a revival until the 1970s. It's clear where Marvel got the idea for a superfast hero and would have better success with Quicksilver in the 1960s.
3. Atom vs. Ant-Man
Much like the Flash/Whizzer comparison, both the Atom and Ant-Man made their debuts a year apart from each other: Atom in 1961 and Ant-Man in 1962 (the Golden Age Atom of the 1940s, Al Pratt didn't have powers and was just physically small.) Both characters are tech-based heroes, possessing the ability to manipulate their size, thereby giving them the capacity to explore the Microverse. Dr Ray Palmer (Atom) and Dr Hank Pym (Ant-Man) are highly regarded scientific geniuses in their respective universes, with Pym infamously known for creating the crazed android Ultron. As one precedes the former by a year, it's easy to see who the copycat is.
4. Superman vs. Hyperion
The character that kickstarted DC's fortunes, the Man of Steel needs no introduction. Consistently the most popular comic character for the majority of the 20th century, Superman became ingrained in pop culture in a way that creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could never have imagined. Hyperion was created in 1969 by Marvel as essentially an evil Superman, one with all of the abilities, but without the moral compass of his virtuous counterpart. Hyperion is even a member of a super villain team, the Squadron Sinister. The similarities go even further when Marvel reimagined Hyperion in the issues of Supreme Power as a baby sent to Earth from a dying world. Not even Kallark (whose name is a combination of Kal-El and Clark Kent) another Marvel Super clone can hold a candle to the original.
5. Deathstoke vs. Deadpool
This resemblance is a little more playful. Deathstroke debuted in 1980 as the archenemy of the Teen Titans. A mercenary with a code of honour, Slade Wilson is a highly complex character, who has evolved from a straight antagonist to a conflicted antihero, enjoying success in multiple solo titles. Deadpool was initially created as a parody of Deathstroke, right down to his costume and abilities (i.e. a contract killer with enhanced abilities). This comparison was picked up on by co-creator Fabian Nicieza, who gave Deadpool the real name of "Wade Wilson" as an in joke. While Deadpool was originally portrayed as a deadly mercenary in the vein of his "inspiration", Deadpool too evolved into a wacky, comedic psychopath, known for breaking the fourth wall by talking directly to the reader and providing meta-commentaries on the state of the Marvel Universe.