14 Notable Appearances by 13 U.S. Presidents and 1 Canadian Prime Minister in a Comic Book Story
1. Barack Obama (2008-2016)
“Spidey Meets the President!”, The Amazing Spider-Man #583 (03/2009)
Was it the crucial Spidey fan vote that put Obama over the top in 2008? Doubtful, but it certainly didn’t hurt the candidate’s chances when he mentioned Spider-Man at children-oriented events during his campaign, then named him as one of his two favorite superheroes in an Entertainment Weekly interview (he admired Spidey and Batman because of their “inner turmoil”). Marvel returned the unexpected plug with this issue, which hit the stands just a week before Obama’s inauguration. In the story, Spidey foils an attempt by the shape-shifting Chameleon to spoil Obama’s swearing-in ceremony… with a little help from the new commander-in-chief. Would John McCain have gotten his own special issue if he had won the election? Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, told USA Today that “if McCain was a Spider-Man fan, I’m sure he would.” (Alas, the senator chose only Batman as his favorite hero in that same EW poll.)
2. George W. Bush (2000-2008)
“Bushwhacked!”, Savage Dragon #119 (11/2004)
Oh, right — like you never dreamed of doing the same thing when Dubya was in power (heck, I still wouldn’t mind taking a shot at him, just on general principle). Poking fun at Bush was pretty much off-limits for much of his first term, as comic writers were wary of disparaging the commander-in-chief in a sensitive, post-9/11 world. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long. In this issue of Savage Dragon, Bush is portrayed as an arch-villain looking to wage war on the superheroes… but then he’s outed as an impersonator taking the president’s place, which one hopes Dragon knew before the scene pictured here. So technically, it’s not really the president that’s getting his lights punched out in this image, and that’s a good thing… I guess.
3. Bill Clinton (1992-2000)
“Funeral Day,” Superman: The Man of Steel #20 (03/93)
Say what you like about Bill Clinton, or “Slick Willie” to his political opponents, but that man could give a speech like nobody else. And here, during Superman’s memorial service, he and First Lady Hillary Clinton offer their condolences to Superman’s loved ones — wherever they may be (the shaggy-haired man sitting behind them is none other than Lex Luthor; it’s a long story). Later, when four beings come forward claiming to be either the real Superman or his spiritual heir, Clinton survives an assassination attempt thanks to the intervention of the cyborg Superman, who immediately gets the White House’s endorsement as the one true Superman. I forget if Clinton’s approval ratings took a hit after the cyborg Superman went on to destroy a city of seven million people as part of his secret evil plan to turn the planet into a mobile war machine — but we were probably distracted by dress stains by that point.
4. George H.W. Bush (1988-1992)
“Sunday on the Tarmac with George,” Green Arrow #39 (11/90)
Mike Grell put Green Arrow through the wringer when he finally got his own series; no longer hanging around with his Justice League buddies, GA lost the trick arrows and became more of a street-level superhero with a knack for getting involved in covert and/or ripped-from-the-headlines adventures. In one notable storyline, he ends up on the run from the FBI because of an incident involving a U.S. ship in the Panama Canal; branded a traitor, he fights to clear his name (at this point in time, it was common knowledge that Oliver Queen was Green Arrow). When it’s over, he receives an invitation to Air Force One, where President Bush offers a personal apology for what Queen was put through by government agents. You can see for yourself here how well-received that was. “Why is it always someone named Oliver?” Bush muses to one of his advisors. Why, indeed…
5. Ronald Reagan (1980-1988)
“Don’t Tread on Me,” Captain America #344 (08/88)
Sure, it might be funny taking potshots at Reagan’s fondness for afternoon naps, but the man earned his downtime, people. During his presidency, he fended off a shape-changing assassin, was kidnapped by inner-city youth who just wanted to rap about poverty, pardoned the Hulk, and dodged an invisible jet on a crash course for the White House. No wonder he once signed a presidential order outlawing all superhero activity (don’t worry; it didn’t last). And let’s not forget his own superhero activity as head of his own patriotic superhero team. But perhaps the most harrowing experience he faced during his time in office was when the villainous Viper tainted the D.C. water supply with a serum that turned Washington’s residents, including the Reagans, into savage snake-people. Captain America (then on the outs with the government and going by simply “The Captain”) rushed to ensure the president’s safety, only to witness Reagan’s hideous transformation. He fought the commander-in-chief in hand-to-hand combat, reasoning (based on no real evidence, by the way) that the exertion would cause the president to “sweat” the poison out of his system. And sure enough, Reagan started shedding his snakeskin (ewwww) and came to his senses… though, as we see in the story’s final panel, he got to keep his new fangs. No political commentary intended, of course.
6. Jimmy Carter (1976-1980)
“A World Lost!,” The Champions #16 (11/77)
Hey, remember when Doctor Doom took over the world? It’s true. In a 1977 issue of Super-Villain Team-Up, Doom tells Magneto that he used a special neuro-gas to put everyone on Earth under his mental control… but he got bored with total subjugation, so he granted Magneto the freedom to resist. Which sounds sporting of him, until you realize that every Marvel superhero is still under Doom’s control and totally willing to kick some magnetic ass on Doom’s command, as seen in the story’s continuation in this issue of The Champions. In this scene, the writer inserted a bit of not-so-subtle political commentary by insinuating that the inane jabbering and lickspittle attitude of Beltway insiders is enough to rattle even Doom. And, of course, the jabberer-in-chief is Mr. Carter himself, speaking in the thickest cornpone accent allowed on the printed page (by the way, “Cyrus” is a reference to Cyrus Vance, Carter’s Secretary of State).
7. Gerald Ford (1974-1976)
“A Hanging for a Hero,” Daredevil #136 (08/76)
Given his brief time as president, Gerald Ford didn’t have many chances to make an impact on the pop-culture scene (though Chevy Chase’s SNL impressions of him will always be classics). He made a few fleeting cameos in the comics of the day, including this one, in which he is seen calling on New Yorkers to take up arms against an army of marauding police officers and superheroes. Of course, it’s not really Ford on the TV set, just an incredible simulation, thanks to a machine purloined by the Jester that can create fake TV broadcasts. And no such army actually exists, as anyone could figure out by looking out a window… but it was all part of the Jester’s eeeee-vil plot to capture ol’ Horn-Head and put him on “trial.” Given the Network-era times in which this story appeared, there was a good opportunity here for some social commentary on how easily the media can be used to manipulate the masses… but this was a pre-Miller Daredevil book and therefore, by definition, a missed opportunity.
8. Richard Nixon (1968-1974)
“The Senator Doubletalk Act,” Jackie Jokers #2 (05/73)
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy. Almost. I mean, it’s bad enough Nixon made an appearance in Watchmen as a power-mad president, then later on Futurama as a power-mad presidential head… not to mention his uncredited turn as the evil (and power-mad!) mastermind in a major Captain America storyline from the ’70s. But to be reduced to appearing on the cover of an ersatz comedian’s short-lived comic book… one in which someone in the crowd asks who he is and why he’s hanging out with the star of the book? That’s just sad. Jackie was created to give Richie Rich a Hollywood star to pal around with; in this story, he plays a senator as part of his nightclub act, a role that gets a little too realistic when he’s mistaken for a “Senator Longfellow” by the president and later helps Nixon foil a kidnapping plot involving the real senator. Intrigue!
9. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1968)
“Herbie and the Dragon’s Tears,” Herbie #1 (04-05/64)
If you have never heard of Herbie, then all you need to know is this: he’s short, he’s fat, his father thinks he’s a “little fat nothing,” and he doesn’t really say much. Oh, he’s also irresistible to women, he can travel through time and knows famous people in every era, and he uses magical lollipops to gain super powers. Incredibly, the offices of ACG Comics were never raided by federal agents in search of hallucinogenic drugs, because how else could such a wonderfully surreal comic ever been conceived? In this story (featuring special appearances by LBJ, Lady Bird Johnson, Nikita Khrushchev, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, King Arthur and Jimmy Durante), Herbie is personally asked by the president to help the Americans beat the Russians into space. Naturally, Herbie accomplishes this by going back in time to medieval England and getting into a magic contest with Merlin before procuring a good supply of dragon’s tears, the base for a miraculous rocket fuel. Seriously, go look for the Dark Horse reprint volumes and see for yourself — mere words just can’t do Herbie justice.
10. John F. Kennedy (1960-1963)
“The Superman Super-Spectacular!”, Action Comics #309 (02/64)
Yes, that’s o2/64, as in February 1964… and when you consider the comic industry’s practice of post-dating periodicals to ensure a longer shelf life, it’s sobering to realize this particular issue came out just one week after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, much to DC’s horror. In this particular issue, in which pretty much anyone who ever met Superman makes an appearance, Superman gets around the problem of appearing as both Superman and Clark Kent at an event in his honor by having a trusted friend appear in disguise as Clark Kent… with said “trusted friend” being one John F. Kennedy, who swears he will always protect Superman’s secret identity. It was too late for DC to recall the book; fortunately, the country was far too riveted by unfolding events to pay much attention to this unintentionally posthumous tribute to the president.
11. Dwight Eisenhower (1952-1960)
“The Impossible World Called Earth,” Mystery in Space #30 (02-03/56)
“Ike” has made a number of appearances in modern-day books; in the DC: The New Frontier mini-series, for instance, he personally asks Wonder Woman to retire from her superhero activities. Then there was an issue of Marvel’s What If…? in which he asks a 1950s version of the Avengers team to voluntarily disband for the good of the nation (metaphor alert: Eisenhower is all about conformity and not parading in garish costumes because, you know, it’s 1950s America). His appearances in contemporary magazines were limited, though there was a biographical comic about him published in 1969… but check out this early issue of DC’s Mystery in Space, in which he makes an appearance as “IZEN-HOWER,” the apparently fictional creation of a “delusional” alien who can’t convince his people that Earth exists. Given the reception they might have received from actual Earthlings back then, they were probably better off not believing him. (Fun fact: this story made another appearance in a 1972 sci-fi anthology, with all likenesses and references to Eisenhower replaced by those of “NEE-XON.”)
12. Harry S Truman (1945-1952)
The Story of Harry S. Truman (1948)
The story goes like this: Malcolm Ater set up shop in New York City, producing comics for commercial concerns (one of his first jobs was The History of Gas, an educational comic for the American Gas Association). In 1948, he approached the Republicans with the idea of producing a comic book that starred their presidential candidate, but it was considered too undignified for their campaign. So he pitched his idea to the Democratic National Committee, which liked it enough to order three million copies. The 16-page, full-colour comic combined biographical details of Truman’s life with talking points about the Democrats’ platform (you can view the whole book here), and there’s every reason to believe the book had a huge impact in the swing states that decided the election in Truman’s favor in a squeaker of a race (see also: “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”). The Republicans, sufficiently schooled, came out with their own comic for the 1956 election.
13. Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945)
“The Living Legend,” Captain America #255 (03/81)
Franklin Roosevelt was as much as symbol of Allied resolve against Nazi forces as the superheroes were in those early years of the comic business, and so he would often appear in the comics as a grateful president commending heroes on a job well done or providing them orders for their next mission. He makes a sort-of cameo in the second issue of 1941’s Captain America series to do just that, but it’s in this issue some 40 years later that he gets a little more face time. Captain America is recalling the details of his origin, and in this scene he is presented with his famed shield by none other than FDR himself.
14. Pierre Elliot Trudeau (1968-1979, 1980-1984)
“Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!” The Uncanny X-Men #120 (04/79)
Why add a Canadian leader to this list? Because as much as I would love to do a similar list of notable appearances by Canadian prime ministers, the sad fact is there just aren’t a lot of comic book stories featuring appearances by, say, Mackenzie King or Louis St. Laurent. Ah well. In this story, Prime Minister Trudeau (sporting, it must be noted, a slightly diabolical arch in his eyebrows) tasks the fellow in the Maple Leaf suit with the job of retrieving Wolverine, who apparently went AWOL from the Canadian government to join Xavier’s titular group of mutants. Dr. Hudson tried once before and was repelled by Wolverine’s teammates, but this time he has a team of his own to back him up (yes, this issue marks the first appearance of Alpha Flight, Canada’s elite super-team). Later retcons would confirm that it wasn’t the Canadian government that first messed up Wolverine, or “Weapon X” as he was known back then — apparently, a CIA black ops unit did all kinds of things to him before Canada’s “Department H” took a stab at him. Typical Americans, always wanting to be the first at everything…