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I'd be far more embarrassed to dress up like, say, an animal. Now that would be silly. Face it. The hundreds of would-be badass capes who practice species crossdressing as various theoretically intimidating animals? That's one step removed from being a furry. Talk about embarrassing.
—Maidman explaining his choice of crime-fighting identity, Empowered
Animals are cool! They're scary, they have big teeth, they're fast, and they're stronger than us humans. It's no wonder that the cunning and beastly features of animals have served as inspiration for superheroes and villains for decades.
While Animal Superheroes are animals as superheroes, these characters are human, or at least humanoid. Their names can sometime invoke Something Person, but it's not always the case. These characters can also overlap with Beast Man if the hero or villain resembles their namesake. There are generally four types of this character.
Animal Abilities: Does whatever an animal can! These characters have powers, names, and personal appearances all based on one particular animal. This is the most common version.
Animal Alias: Does...something else. Usually, these characters are Badass Normal characters with an animal motif, or they are superpowered characters based on animals In Name Only. This is also where you might find martial artists who name themselves after their Chinese sign or fighting style, and use names such as Tiger or Monkey.
Mythical Monster Motif: Does whatever a mythical animal can! These characters may invoke the other three types, but the one thing they have in common is that they are named after mythical animals such as dragons, unicorns, and gryphons.
All Animal Abilities: Does whatever any animal can! These characters can channel the abilities of almost any animal or possibly even shapeshift into one particular animal or another. Sometimes, they are limited to only one type of animals or have to be in the proximity of whatever animal whose ability they want to use, but it's not always the case.
- Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can (Type I).
- Many of his enemies also have animal motifs, to the point where it became a plot point during J. Michael Straczynski's run.
- The Rhino is a villain, a thug subjected to chemical and genetic augmentation that gave him vast strength and durability and outfitted with a heavy protective costume that he was trapped in for years after it bonded to his skin. A plot point for some time was his trying to get free of it and leave crime, only to get a new upgraded costume and go back to crime as he couldn't hack it as a regular Joe.
- The Vulture is an old man in a flight suit designed to look vulture-like.
- The Lizard, who combines this trope with Beast Man.
- Stegron, a dinosaur based character who is also a Beast Man.
- There were also villains based on the Rhino called the Grizzly, the Kangaroo, and the Gibbon, and each looked the part. This was parodied with the Walrus, a super-strong idiot that had a lot of trouble coming up with a supervillainous identity, finally being inspired by the Beatles song. His battle cry: "Goo Goo Ga-Joob!" Mocked endlessly during a team-up/fight with Deadpool.
- Venom is his Evil Counterpart, so he is technically spider-based even if his name doesn't directly invoke a spider.
- Dr. Octopus is a given.
- Then, there is the obscure villain, The Fly.
- And Puma, the Magical Native American and current Anti-Hero.
- Scorpion wore a suit with a big ol' scorpion tail on the back. The same character had the role of Venom for a while.
- Many of his enemies also have animal motifs, to the point where it became a plot point during J. Michael Straczynski's run.
- There have been multiple characters named Spider Woman over the years and they are all from Marvel Comics.
- Man-Bat and Killer Croc from Batman comics invoke this type.
- Also from Marvel Comics is Greer Nelson who started off as Type II as The Cat but later turned into a tiger woman and changed her name to Tigra. She is now Type I.
- The Wasp. While her husband fits Type II (see below), her wings and "stinger" fit Type I.
- The X-Men villain and sometime Magneto lackey, Toad who could leap great distances and secrete slime. (Ironically, it's frogs, not toads, that do this.) Later, he was given a toad-like tongue.
- The joke character Leap-Frog was a man in a frog suit who could jump really high. His son took the costume to become the hero Frog-Man who frequently tried to become Spider-Man's sidekick.
- The Owl is a lesser known Daredevil villain with a flight harness and owl-like weapons...as well as an owl-like haircut.
- There is a hero in Savage Dragon named Widow who is a female character with spider-based powers including making webs. She follows the spider motif so completely that it is heavily implied and verified by Word of God that she made her webs the same way spiders make theirs.
- Both Captain America and The Flash have villains named Cobra/Kobra.
- Thor even has one of these as a villain: the super fast Beast Man, Mongoose.
- Squirrel Girl, complete with tree-climbing claws and a bushy squirrel tail.
- In The Secret Life of the Backyard Kids, Jorge has the strength, agilty, and sharp nails of a panther after morphing into one. According to Emily, wizards who do this stay that way for life.
- While Batman characters are usually Type II, the Batman Returns version of the Penguin was a freak who acted and looked like a penguin. Catwoman was likewise a little animalistic and literally had nine lives.
Live Action TV
- Seijuu Sentai Gingaman, Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger/Power Rangers Wild Force, and Juken Sentai Gekiranger/Power Rangers Jungle Fury. Other Ranger teams are said to have animals of some kind as the source of their powers, but these Rangers actually use abilities and fighting styles based on their animals.
- Kamen Rider Amazon is extremely bestial and looks like a lizardman.
- In the F-Zero series, we have Octoman who, as the name implies, has eight arms. When asked if he could be any animal, what would he be, he answered that he would be an elephant, oddly enough.
- In Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog, the viewer may at first suspect Bad Horse is just an Animal Themed Superbeing. Surprise!
- In the Whateley Universe, the Avatar superpower means that you can hold a magical spirit and gain powers from it. Anyone holding an animal spirit falls into this: Kodiak has the powers of the bear; Silverwing has the powers of the eagle; Aquerna has the powers of the squirrel.
- Much like the film section above, the Batman the Animated Series and The Batman versions of the Penguin character are more animal-like than his comic counterpart.
- The heroes from Thundercats all had cat-themed appearances, powers, and gadgets. They were actually aliens but somehow, everything about them was modeled after jungle cats of Earth.
- Monkey Fist from Kim Possible had the hands and feet of a monkey and was a master of Monkey Kung Fu.
Anime and Manga
- Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (aka G-Force) depicts bird-themed teens fighting in a birdlike ship.
- If we were to go by their lion-like mech designs, the heroes from Voltron would also count.
- Wild Tiger and Rock Bison from Tiger and Bunny. Their names come from the Eastern Zodiac.
- Actually, when you think about it, many of the NEXT heroes (and some villains) are based on the Eastern Zodiac. Barnaby (Bunny), Dragon Kid, Ouroboros, ect.
- Batman, of course.
- This goes for his sidekicks as well: the various Robins, Bat-Women, and Bat Girls.
- The same goes for Catwoman and her Spear Counterpart, Cat-Man.
- The comic version of Penguin isn't really penguin-like, either. His movie and cartoon counterparts are, as said above.
- There is also the Killer Wasp and Firefly characters.
- The various characters who have used the name Ant-Man actually don't really have ant powers. They shrink.
- Sometimes he can also control ants. Not that real ants can do that or anything.
- Black Widow is just a spy who doesn't even have a spider motif in her costume, beyond the hourglass symbol on her belt. The name is an Artifact Title from her long-forgotten Honey Trap days (she has some red on her ledger.)
- There was an obscure villain from The Golden Age of Comic Books called the Armless Tiger Man. He was a man, he was armless...the tiger part of his name is a mystery.
- Spider-Man has a few of these in his rogues gallery as well:
- The Jackal looked like a green monster and he liked to clone people. Not exactly jackal-like behvior.
- The Beetle fought Spidey as well as Daredevil and Iron Man multiple times. He wore a Power Armor that kinda-sorta looked beetle-like, but that was it. He later changed his name to Mach-5 and joined the Thunderbolts.
- There is also Black Cat who eventually became an Anti-Hero. She had luck powers for a short period of time but was otherwise powerless.
- The Chameleon doesn't actually blend in with his surroundings, rather, he simply wears disguises to look like other people. The animal part is mostly in the name.
- Wolverine might fit type I at first glance since he has enhanced senses and claws, but those are very generic animal traits. Not to mention, his claws pop out of the back of his knuckles, which does not happen in the animal kingdom. Then, you get into his metal skeleton, Healing Factor, and the fact that his blue and yellow striped costume does not resemble a wolverine at all.
- The same goes for his villain, Sabertooth.
- Patsy Walker, formerly an Archie-like character from some Slice of Life Golden Age comics, inherited Greer Nelson's original suit (see Tigra above) and named herself Hellcat. (Turns out the Golden Age comics were stories written by the "real Patsy's" mom. Everyone from them exists, but anything too wacky for the mainstream Marvel Universe was probably Mrs. Walker using artistic license.)
- Black Panther is a Badass Normal in a cat-like suit.
- The Tick is a parody of this type. He doesn't appear to have any tick-related powers (except probably his Nigh Invulnerability), and this is Lampshaded in the first episode of the animated series, where a bystander asks him if he sucks blood.
Bystander: What sort of costume is that supposed to be?
- Further parodied with Arthur, who has a moth suit that lets him fly but otherwise doesn't use a superhero identity or any such thing. People keep referring to him as "the bunny guy", assuming the suit is a rabbit costume and that it makes him this trope.
- A reoccuring character in the Namor series is Stingray, a guy wearing a red and white Power Armor suit. It can go underwater...but it can also fly.
- There is also Black Manta from Aquaman comics and the Secret Six.
- There is a Marvel villain named the Mandrill who is, perhaps, best known for his role in Alias. He actually looks like his animal namesake, but he fits this type more since he has hypnotic powers.
- The Magical Native American American Eagle first appeared in Contest of Champions, and is perhaps the only character to invoke both this trope and Captain Patriotic.
- The X-Men had Maggott, a short-time blue-skinned member whose power was that he had two giant maggot-like creatures that could eat anything; they were not autonomous, but were in fact part of his digestive system. They had to re-attach themselves to him and transfer the partially-digested food to him to be metabolized and excreted. You can kinda see why they didn't keep him around for long...
- Puma Man had powers...just not any that were related to pumas.
- The Black Scorpion TV-movie series featured a Batman-esque female heroine.
- Zebraman spoofs Japanese Toku series with the eponymous hero imagining himself as a Zebra-themed superhero who has few zebra-like qualities.
- "Zorro"—Spanish for "Fox".
- The pulp character The Spider was a hero more along the lines of The Shadow and had little to no resemblance to his namesake.
- Green Hornet in his television series, or any version, really.
- There was also a short-lived TV series called MANTIS about a hero in Power Armor. Justified in that MANTIS was an acronym.
- Many Super Sentai/Power Rangers series. Not counting seasons where the motif is only present through Animal Mecha, we have:
- Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan
- Choujuu Sentai Liveman
- Choujin Sentai Jetman (birds, as a homage to Gatchaman)
- Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (dinosaurs, though the later seasons of Mighty Morphin would blend the dinos with other animal motifs)
- Power Rangers Lost Galaxy
- Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger/Power Rangers Ninja Storm
- Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger/Power Rangers Dino Thunder (dinosaurs)
- Engine Sentai Go-onger/Power Rangers RPM
- Tensou Sentai Goseiger
- Tokumei Sentai Gobusters
- The very first Kamen Riders had grasshopper-themed armor, and all the others carry some of the design elements even if they're not specifically animal-themed: big bug eyes, sometimes antannae, and a jumping kick Signature Move.
- Kamen Rider Stronger, Kamen Rider Blade, and Kamen Rider Kabuto are based on horned beetles, and all the other Riders in those series (and Stronger's ally Tackle) are also insect-themed.
- The Riders of Kamen Rider Ryuki have animal themes: Ryuki is a dragon, Knight is a bat, and so on. This also applies to their counterparts in Kamen Rider Dragon Knight.
- Many superhero and supervillain characters in the F-Zero series have Animal Motifs going for them, such as Captain Falcon, Blood Falcon, and Beastman.
- Captain Falcon returned in the Super Smash Brothers series as well.
- G.I. Joe has the terrorist group Cobra as enemies. Almost all of them were named after snakes or reptiles, but the similarities were usually few and far in between.
- In the beginning, at least. Eventually it was decided that they were a front for Cobra-La, an ancient cult of Lovecraft ripoffs that were half-snake; Cobra Commander, formerly a con artist turned megalomaniac, became a snake-person under his mask.
- Parodied in Phineas and Ferb, where Candace makes a super-villain persona for herself called "The Dame Giraffe". It's just as ridiculous as it sounds.
- Also parodied in Doug, where the title character constantly imagines himself as Quailman.
- The Venture Brothers villain The Monarch has neither the abilities of his insectoid namesake nor an accurate understanding of what its abilities actually are.
- In Gargoyles, there's a villain group called The Pack who has canine-based personas: Fox, Wolf, Dingo, Jackal, Hyena, and Coyote. When offered a choice of upgrades, Wolf crossed into Type I by choosing the Half-Human Hybrid option. Also, for at least one episode, Fox was a wereworlf... uh, werefox due to the mystical amulet, The Eye of Odin.
- The second Turtle Titan in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) adopted the turtle motif from the original T.T. — Michelangelo.
- Episodes of South Park have Cartman dressed as "The Coon" in a raccoon based costume.
Mythical Monster Motif
Anime And Manga
- Dragon Kid from Tiger and Bunny. As mentioned in the Animal Alias section above, she is named after her Zodiac sign.
- Savage Dragon was named as such because he was green and had a fin on his head which barely invokes a dragonlike appearance. Outside of his great strength, he had no dragonlike powers such as breathing fire or flying.
- Marvel Comics have villains called The Unicorn and The Griffen. There were also two villains named The Sphinx (a man and woman respectively). Curiously, they were Egyptians but the mythical creature was technically Greek. The famous Egyptian statue was given a Greek name.
- The Alpha Flight member Sasquatch pretty much looks the part.
- Spider-Man, once again, had a few of these villains:
- In Kingdom Come, Beast Boy eventually changed his name to Changling and could take the form of any fictitious creatures.
- Also from the X-Men comes the various characters that have been called Phoenix and Thunderbird. Thunderbird was a Native American mutant named after the mythological bird, while the Pheonix is a cosmic force of nature...that channels the appearance of a different mythological bird for some reason. On the other hand, she does have one thing in common with the Phoenix of legend: she keeps dying and coming back to life.
- The Defenders had a villain named The Gargoyle who could turn people into stone with a touch.
- Dengeki Sentai Changeman, Gosei Sentai Dairanger, and Mahou Sentai Magiranger/Power Rangers Mystic Force model themselves after mythical animals (Dairanger's theme can be seen in the mecha of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 2, though they still use the dinosaur-themed suits of the previous season).
- Kamen Rider Kiva is a vampire, and can gain enhanced forms based on a werewolf, a gillman, and a Frankenstein.
- F-Zero has a racer that calls himself Phoenix and comes equipped with wings on his racer.
- Thuban of the Whateley Universe is apparently turning into a dragon.
All Animal Abilities
- Animal Man started off simply using the abilities of any animals nearby, but eventually grew in power to the point where he can utilize the abilities of any animal on the planet, and then the universe.
- Vixen is from the Justice League of America and is practically the Distaff Counterpart of Animal Man.
- Beast Boy from Teen Titans can turn into any animal he pleases.
- Namor was once able to mimic the abilities of sealife, but that power has been long forgotten.
- Alpha Flight had a mystical character named Snowbird who could morph into any animal of her choosing.
- In All Fall Down, Phylum was this, being able to turn into any animal he wished. Now he's a chimpanzee for life.
- The main characters of Animorphs in both the books and TV series can, thanks to some alien Applied Phlebotinum, transform into any animal they've acquired the DNA of for 2 hours. Acquiring the DNA is simply a matter of touching it for a few seconds, and the two hour limit is because any longer and they Mode Lock.
- The shortlived Cult Classic television series Manimal concerned a man who could turn into any animal he wished.
- Kamen Rider OOO can mix-and-match select animal-based powers; using three from the same group (insects, big cats, heavy mammals, birds, sea creatures, etc.) grants him a Set Bonus.
- Jayna, one of the Wonder Twins.
- Gingaman's adaptation, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, downplays this into just "Animal Alias", but some of it can still be seen.
- Downplayed from the original's Animal Abilities.