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 zodiac 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 animal or have to be in the proximity of an animal to gain its power, but it's not always the case
open/close all folders
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can (Type I). Although in most versions his body does not produce webs itself (he had to invent the web formula and the web-shooters) and as some fans never tire of pointing out, whether he has artificial or organic web-shooters the webs don't come out of his butt. His vaguely defined "Spider-sense" also puts him more into mythical territory, as it operates more like a "sixth sense" than anything encountered with real-life spiders.
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.
He was on occasion imitated by a younger guy (who stole the secret of his flight suit) and by a trio of minor villains called the Vulturions.
The Lizard, who combines this trope with Beast Man.
Stegron, a dinosaur based character who is also a Beast Man.
There were also villains 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.
Scorpion wore a suit with a big ol' scorpion tail on the back; he was deliberately themed this way because he was created specifically to hunt down Spider-man as a kind of Evil Counterpart. (scorpions being spider predators). The same character also had the role of Venom for a while.
Cap's Cobra leads a super villain group called The Serpent Society with several snake-themed villains. Most of the original team members (like Bushmaster, Anaconda, and Cottonmouth) are Type I, with snake-themed powers, whereas later additions (like Diamondback, Black Racer, and Rock Python) typically just had snake names that loosely tied into their powers or abilities.
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 seemingly had nine lives.
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.
The comic version of Penguin isn't really penguin-like, either; his appearance is short with a long nose, and he often has a fondness for birds, but he lacks any distinct penguin abilities that he had in the movies.
There is also the Killer Moth and Firefly characters who wore insectoid armor.
The various characters who have used the name Ant-Man actually don't really have ant powers. They shrink. Sometimes he/they can also control ants. Not that real ants can do that or anything.
The Beetle fought Spidey as well as Daredevil and Iron Man multiple times. He wore a Power Armor that kinda-sorta looked beetle-like due to his wings that folded up when not in use, 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. 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. He gets his name from being tiny (seldom portrayed as much over 5 feet/153 cm tall) yet ferocious—wolverines are the size of a small dog but have been known to chase pumas and grizzlies away from kills.
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.)
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? The Tick: 'Costume'? No costume, friend. I am, simply: The Tick. Bystander: Well, you can't be 'the tick'. Ticks are arachnids: They got eight legs. The Tick: ...How do you know I don't? Bystander: Ticks suck blood. Do you suck blood? The Tick: Uh... Yeah! I... Suck blood all the time! Bystander: Yeah, right. The Tick: Look! I got a straw right here, pal, you want a demonstration?!
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 recurring 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.
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.
Most animal-based heroes in Astro City don't appear long enough for their full power sets to be established, so most seem to fall under this category:
Puma Man had powers...just not any that were related to pumas.
Zebraman spoofs Japanese toku series with the eponymous hero imagining himself as a Zebra-themed superhero who has few zebra-like qualities.
Lone Wolf from the eponymous series. The name mostly invokes the Noble Wolf trope and the fact he's the Last of His Kind. Though he sure has plenty superpowers through his Kai disciplines, none are especially wolf-inspired.
The pulp character The Spider was a hero more along the lines of The Shadow and had little to no resemblance to his namesake.
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 antennae, and a Diving KickSignature Move.
Exalted has many Exalts with names in this model — especially Lunar Exalts (who are animal-focused shapeshifters), but many others, too, such as Panther. Many powers likewise use animal theme naming, such as Graceful Crane Stance and Eagle-Wing Style.
Many superhero and supervillain characters in the F-Zero series have Animal Motifs going for them, such as Captain Falcon, Blood Falcon, and Beastman.
In the Metal Gear series, every member of Fox Hound, past or present, is Type II. Solid Snake, Grey Fox, Decoy Octopus, Sniper Wolf, Vulcan Raven, Psycho Mantis. Some of these are superhuman, but none of their abilities fit the animal theme.
The Legion of Nothing has Larry, a wearer of Powered Armour, aka aka the Rhino (because he's tough and flightless), who goes undercover as the Frog (green and bouncy!).
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. 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 Phineas and Ferb become a bird-themed superhero called "The Beak", and Candace makes a super-villain persona for herself called "The Danger-raffe". It's just as ridiculous as it sounds, especially when Candace dragoons Stacy into being her henchman "The Danger-bil".
Also parodied in Doug, where the title character constantly imagines himself as Quailman.
The Venture Bros. 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 werewolf... uh, werefox due to the mystical amulet, The Eye of Odin.
Dragon Kid from Tiger & Bunny. As mentioned in the Animal Alias section above, she is named after her Zodiac sign.
The 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.
He also had a joke villain named the White Rabbit. While it may initially seem as though she belongs in Type I or II, she actually based her persona completely on the character from Alice in Wonderland.
In Kingdom Come, Beast Boy eventually changed his name to Menagerie 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 Phoenix is a cosmic force of nature... that channels the appearance of a different mythological bird for some reason.
The Defenders had a villain named The Gargoyle who could turn people into stone with a touch.
Kamen Rider Kiva is a vampire, and can gain enhanced forms based on a werewolf, a gillman, and a Frankenstein.
The villains in Kamen Rider Wizard are Phantoms, evil spirits based on mythological creatures; for example, the main Phantoms include a Phoenix, a Medusa, and a Gremlin. Wizard himself gets his powers from the Dragon Phantom that's trapped within him, though the animal theme doesn't come out much until he uses a form that really starts drawing on the Dragon's power. Kamen Rider Beast has a similar deal, only the Phantom powering him is a Chimera, crossing into "All Animal Abilities".
F-Zero has a racer that calls himself Phoenix and comes equipped with wings on his racer.
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 a Type IV: her totem allows her to access the abilities and even mass of any animal she chooses (e.g. when she channels an elephant, her mass increases to the point that her model-thin body can crush full-grown men). Her powers also apply to non-terrestrial animals, so long as she is familiar enough with the species' capabilities.
Beast Boy from Teen Titans can turn into any animal he pleases, even extinct or fictional species.
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 ... provided it was native to Canada.
Silverclaw was an obscure Avengers supporting character who, like Snowbird, had mystical abilities tied to her homeland, in her case letting her transform into humanoid versions of any animal native to the Amazon rainforest.
In All Fall Down, Phylum was this, being able to turn into any animal he wished. Now he's a chimpanzee for life.
Joshua Brand in Shaman's Tears is granted the power to call on the ability of any animal by Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit of the Sioux. Possibly it is limited to those found on the North American continent, but this is not clear.
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.