Fantasy can sometimes get a little weird when it comes to historical figures. You’ll see John F. Kennedy reinterpreted as a robot clone of a demon, you’ll discover Joan of Arc was actually part of a secret guild of magicians and more. Fantasy has a license to get a little weird with history and provide off-the-wall explanations for their great acts and the unsolved mysteries of history. So let’s take a look at some of the strangest, most out-there versions of classic historical figures you see in sci-fi and fantasy. Do you have any favorite bizarre ones that didn’t make the list? Say so in the comments!
Please note that in discussing how these historical figures are depicted, there will often be spoilers for the endings of various works. Read with caution.
Read or Die Characters
The historical figures features in Read or Die anime are superpowered clones of historical figures, rather than the actual original deal, but they’re weird enough to bear mentioning. The series features several well-known folks from history with weird powers- Jean Henri Fabre rides a giant mechanical grasshopper and controls insects. There are actually multiple Fabres, which grow quickly from child to adult-like insects. Gennai Hiraga has electric powers and even wields what seems to be a lightsaber. Eccentric monk Ikkyu Soujin is the leader of the clones. Genjo Sanzo has can control water, breath fire, fly on clouds and fight with an extendable staff.
The entire OVA hinges on the villain’s desire to reconstruct Beethoven’s “lost Death Symphony” which causes anyone who hears it to commit suicide. The plot is for this symphony to be heard worldwide and eliminate most of humanity and a clone of Beethoven is sent to do this, but is stopped.
Jack the Ripper in Black Butler and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Jack the Ripper has made some interesting appearances in both the manga JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Black Butler. In JoJo’s, Jack is made into a vampire by the antagonist Dio Brando. He keeps scalpels buried in his body and then uses them as weapons.
In Black Butler, Jack’s real identity is a woman named Angelina Dalles. She teams up with a grim reaper called Grell Sutcliff to commit her crimes. She worked at a hospital and the sex workers she murdered were all abortion patients of hers and she removed their wombs when she killed them.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
The title here is pretty self-explanatory. This novel and movie depicts Abraham Lincoln as a dude who secretly hunted vampires. In fact, the premise of this is taken so far that Lincoln abolishing slavery is now because of vampires. Apparently, vamps were a big fan of the slave trade because it allowed them to easily buy victims. And yes, the Confederates have an army of vampires. By the way, Lincoln learned about the vampire slaying biz from a “good” vampire and he also talks to Edgar Allen Poe, who also knows about vampires. Sadly, Edgar is murdered by vamps later on. So is Lincoln’s son and his first fiancé Anne Rutledge. At the end of the novel, after Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Boothe, his vampire teacher turns Lincoln himself into a vampire, stating that some men are just too interesting to die. Centuries later, he stay in the White House as a guest of JFK and listens to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter
Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter inspired Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but it lesser known. Once again. It’s a pretty straightforward deal: Queen Victoria fights demons that threaten the royal family, which include zombies, werewolves and vampires. She does this with the help of the Protektorate, a gang of warriors. The monsters even kidnap her beloved Prince Albert, prompting her to wade into the thick of it and rescue him.
Gustave Eiffel in Umbrella Academy
The Umbrella Academy comic reveals that the guy who designed the Eiffel Tower is in fact, a zombie robot mad scientist, who remained alive long past his expiration date. The comic thus contains the frankly beautiful line “And just as I expected? Zombie Robot Gustave Eiffel!”
Martin Luther King and more in Men in Black: The Animated Series
Men in Black: the Animated Series revealed that Martin Luther King Jr., Raffi and John Lennon were in fact robots powered by tiny peace-loving aliens called Arquillians. There’s a twist for you.
John F. Kennedy from Teen Titans
In The Teen Titans Lost Annual by Bob Haney, JFK is replaced by an alien shapeshifter. Apparently the aliens really wanted JFK’s presidential expertise and therefore brainwashed the real Kennedy into helping them. The Teen Titans eventually rescue Kennedy, but when they return to America, they discover his doppelganger has been assassinated. Thinking that he wouldn’t be able to return to being president without revealing that aliens exist to the American people and throwing them into a panic (never mind that this is the DC Universe so everyone already KNOWS aliens exist) John F. Kennedy does what anyone would do and leaves Earth to be a freedom fighting space warrior, letting everyone think he’s really dead.
Helen Keller in Helen Killer
Helen Keller is a famous artist, political activist and lecturer who was both blind and deaf. She’s well known for showing the world that being deaf and blind doesn’t stop one from participating fully in the world and accomplishing great things.
Helen Killer has this historical figure given a device by Alexander Graham Belle that allows her to “see and hear as we do” called the Omnicle. It also gives her superstrength and agility. She uses these powers to protect the president. Basically, this is Helen Keller as a cyborg assassin secret agent.
While it’s an amazing ridiculous idea, it sort of goes against a large part of what makes Helen Keller so important that she needs to essentially be cured of her disability to do stuff. Like, her narrative is supposed to be about all the amazing things she accomplished while blind and deaf, so I don’t see why it would strengthen the story to take that away. Though she isn’t permanently “cured”, as at the end of the comic, her device is eventually broken and she goes back to her “quiet life” of becoming a famous activist.
I think the starting point Andrew Kriesberg had for the comic is pretty strong, though. Before her teacher Anne Sullivan taught her to communicate, Helen gave herself a separate identity, “The Phantom” as she felt so cut off from the world. Kriesberg’s idea to take that to its logical extreme as a superhero identity is a pretty cool concept, though I’d personally go more supernatural than sci-fi from that starting point- give Helen some sort of phantom self that can communicate with the spirit world since she’s cut off from the physical world or something. Give her powers that don’t take away her disability, or that maybe even work with it thematically. But anyway, the art for the comic is pretty good and interestingly, there’s a super academic study of it in the book Disability in Comics and Graphic Narratives.
Isaac Newton in Vision of Escaflowne
I wonder how Isaac Newton would feel about anime making him into a power-hungry despot who wants to bend reality to his will. Granted, Escaflowne never comes out and says “Emporer Dornkirk” is actually Isaac Newton, but it’s pretty obvious that’s the implication. The story is that a scientist named Isaac was researching “destiny” and just before his death was transported to an alternate world. Finding that the people were struggling, he gave them the tools to survive and founded his own empire. He becomes obsessed with Atlantis, invents a machine to predict the future and wants to bend reality to his will. At the end of the anime, the main character returns to Earth and her teacher discusses how Newton was into alchemy and magic and fate and all that. The implication is clear- Isaac Newton traveled to an alternate world and became an anime villain.
Galileo and Helen of Troy in Jabberwocky
The manga Jabberwocky might be one of the strangest entries on this list. This manga reveals that Galileo and Helen of Troy were secretly humanoid dinosaurs all along, as part of some vast conspiracy. It's hard to top that.
Everyone in The Manhattan Projects
However, because of sheer quantity, The Manhattan Projects belongs at the top of the list.
The Manhattan Projects is an Image Comic that has the premise that the Manhattan Project was just a cover-up for something much weirder and thus is overflowing with bizarre, fantastical versions of historical figures. Italian physicist Enrico Fermi is revealed to be a man-eating, shapeshifting alien. Einstien is shown to be the actual Einstien’s less intelligent brother from an alternate dimension. Engineer Werner von Braun had a robot arm. Soichiro Honda of the car company made mecha for the Japanese military. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Pretty much all the history folk are involved in alien and robot fighting shenanigans.
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