Oh, Batman, my Batman. Maybe I write too much about Batman here? Nah. He’s classic, a staple of the comic book world, and one of the most popular characters ever. Even when it felt like every DC Comics live-action movie was floundering, you could count on Batman to perform well. It’s no secret that he’s one of my favorite characters, and I’m far from alone in that feeling. So, it’s no surprise that the Dark Knight has spawned A LOT of knockoffs.
Let me say that “knockoff” is, perhaps, too harsh a term. It implies that all of these characters are meager, lesser attempts at recreating the glory that is Batman. But this is a best-of list, so these characters are pretty amazing in their own right. Each of these characters is an amazing pastiche of Batman, but “pastiche” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
How do I qualify a character for this list? First off, they have to have been introduced after Batman, who was introduced in 1939. A character cannot be a pastiche if it was created before. Once that’s established, the character needs to either be an obvious homage to Batman or created in the same archetype as Batman.
Like the original Dark Knight, this list is very white. It seems that when comics are creating knockoffs of a popular white guy, they default to more white guys. While we finally have a Black Batman in Jace Fox, the history of the character and his pastiches is filled with burly white dudes. Just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it should stay that way.
Now that I’ve set the parameters, here are the 10 best Batman knockoffs.
10. Black Noir
As much as I’m over villainous versions of Superman, some of them do it really well, like with The Boys, which sets up a horrifying, capitalistically driven version of The Justice League. Black Noir is the pastiche of Batman, and he’s at the bottom of my list because he really is a knockoff. He has super strength, Deadpool-like looks under the mask, and is purely a mercenary. He’s almost like the anti-Batman, but a fascinating character nonetheless.
9. Big Daddy
Big Daddy is another anti-Batman, but in a story that goes basically the opposite direction from The Boys in Kick-Ass. Damon McCready is a sniper, marksman, and crimefighter in a very Batman-esque costume (more so in the movie). He’s hyperviolent, which is its own commentary on Batman, though his heavy use of guns is very not Batman, even though Bruce carried a gun in the very early comics. Kick-Ass is a lot of fun, Big Daddy included.
Before the miniseries Nemesis launched, it was introduced by a teaser that said, “What if Batman was the Joker?” While the series itself wound up being only middling at best, the idea of a homicidal Batman was fascinating. It reimagines what sort of origin would take a man like Bruce Wayne (Matt Anderson, in this case) and turn him into a raging, homicidal psychopath. It’s terrifying, to be sure.
Alan Moore’s Watchmen is seminal for so many reasons, including its pastiche of Batman in Night-Owl. In Watchmen, all of the superheroes save Dr. Manhattan are just regular people who train and put on costumes. They don’t have superpowers. Night-Owl has the gadgets, the vehicles, and the wealth to bankroll the superteam. Sound familiar? Night-Owl is based more on Blue Beetle than Batman, sure, but the archetype holds.
Back in the ’90s, when new comics imprints were sprouting up everywhere, there were a lot of Batman knockoffs. One of the few to survive since that time is Midnighter, introduced in Wildstorm Comics in 1998. As a part of Stormwatch, he was an obvious pastiche, though one with superhuman abilities due to experiments and engineering. He’s since been brought into the DC Universe and has even interacted directly with Batman and the Bat-family.
5. The Confessor
It does feel like every imprint makes their own version of Batman, doesn’t it? In this case, it’s Kurt Busiek’s Astro City¸a comic passed around from Image to Homage and now to DC Comics. Busiek really leans into the urban legend side of Batman, with even The Confessor’s sidekick not knowing much about his mentor. Dark and violent, this Batman pastiche is about as pitch-perfect as they come.
Here’s where this list is going to get up in people’s feelings. In 1971, Marvel put out Squadron Supreme, which was a straight-up pastiche of the Justice League. It basically imagined how that classic DC superhero team would exist in the Marvel Universe, a universe that has always been harsher on its heroes. He’s wealthy, highly trained, and completely devoid of powers. Sound familiar? Squadron Supreme is divisive, but Nighthawk is definitely one of the best Batman knockoffs.
3. Moon Knight
Moon Knight is a character who doesn’t seem anything like Batman when you dig into him. He wears all white, has vast powers granted to him by a moon god, and exhibits them in different ways due to his dissociative personality disorder. But really. Moon Knight? The Dark Knight? It’s like Marvel inverted the color scheme and then made a whole new character to fit the costume. Total Batman knockoff.
I know. Some of you got to this place in the list and thought, “How dare he? Nightwing a knockoff of Batman?” But be honest, everyone in the Bat-family is a knockoff of the original. It’s the Bat-family, after all, not the Nightwing-family. Dick Grayson was the original Robin, the first sidekick, and has grown up to be a leader and a hero in his own right. And he’s still mostly using techniques and tricks he learned from Bruce. Nightwing is one of my favorite characters and definitely a Batman pastiche.
And here he is, the absolute best Batman knockoff. The stories are so similar and yet so vastly different between Bruce Wayne and Matt Murdock, though that’s part of what makes them both great. Different socioeconomic backgrounds, though both men put on costumes and fight to make the streets safer. Daredevil has minor powers, sure, but his training and intelligence are his best weapons, just like Bruce.
There are the 10 best Batman knockoffs. Did I miss any of your favorites? Are any of these characters better than Batman?