?Real celebrities and politicians have shown up in the comic books since the medium was young. Remember every superhero in the ’40s beating on Hitler and Tojo? Yeah. Heck, even once they were defeated, Hitler managed to pop back up as a comic book villain a few times(or at least his brain did), and the floodgate was opened for other historical figures to grace the pages of the comics, too.
The tradition of having real people appear in comics continues to this day, with all sorts of people doing cameos from month to month. A lot of times they’re nothing more than the then-current President saying things like, “Good job, Teen Titans! The whole nation thanks you for saving us from that alien invasion!” But sometimes fiction tells the better story, and these real people get reimagined into total badasses. Hey, it’s fine when a former president makes an appearance, but it’s far more interesting when he’s suddenly a time-traveling warrior determined to protect — or destroy — the future.
Who are some of the real historical figures who comics have cranked up to eleven? Well, here are 10 of the best
10) Barack Obama
?Cracked.com recently ran the top five Obama appearances in comics that included ass-kicking turns in Youngblood, Final Crisis, and Drafted. And yes, he also did manga porn. But my favorite has to be Barack the Barbarian, a politi-fantasy from Devil’s Due. All the Democrats and Republicans show up to trade ax blows and magic spells. I blame Sarah Palin’s popularity on this book.
?Know what? He’s real. Vlad Tepes was the ruler of Wallachia in the 15th century and, although his boss mustache could control minds, he was no vampire. Tales of his cruelty towards his enemies were widespread (he’s still a hero to the people of the region to this day), but most are considered anti-Vlad propaganda. Didn’t stop him from becoming comics’ #1 public domain badass, with major parts in books from Marvel (Tomb of Dracula), DC (Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula), Dark Horse (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Boom Studios (Dracula: The Company of Monsters), and Harris (Vampirella).
8) John Lennon
?The former Beatle pops up here and there, especially in the swingin’ ’60s, with Rock N’ Roll Comics adaptations, but stories of his life in Liverpool don’t get him the “badass” label (and to be frank about it, Paul McCartney will never get that label, ever). But his appearance in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles #1 (above) brought him to a level past Abbey Road and Imagine: godhood. The concept is simple enough, if enough people pray to him, he becomes a sort of god to be invoked. He becomes a psychedelic giant head who spews arcane advice. Best part? Morrison says that he’s actually contacted this godhead Lennon.
7) Don Rickles
?This one was tough, since I wanted to put him on the list because he’s a real person who appeared in comics as something other than himself, but Rickles is so amazing in real life that nothing could make him better. In fact, his appearances in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen took the loudmouth comic and made him a little sillier — throw a cape on him and make him a superhero, why don’t ya? But you can’t be taken seriously in the DC Universe unless you’re wearing a costume (proof: Lex Luthor’s robot suit), so Rickles’ sticky persona gets a cape and tights upgrade.
6) Billy the Kid
?By the time Billy the Kid, a.k.a. William Bonney, a.k.a. Henry McCarty, was killed at the age of 22, he had killed between four and twenty-one men, depending on who you asked. That’s pretty kickass in itself, but writer Eric Powell went one step further and had him fighting Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Jack the Ripper in the two volumes of Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities. Killing punkass ranch hands is one thing, blasting away at Victorian freaks is another.
5) P.T. Barnum
?If you want to read about a real man who had an amazing life, pick up a book on P.T. Barnum. Not only was he a circus man, he debunked psychics, promoted opera, hosted freak shows, staged wild west battles, fought slavery, and opened America’s first aquarium. According to the Vertigo book Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA, he was also a dashing super spy who used his traveling circus as a cover for undercover activities. With his team of freaks (including the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng) he battled the evil Nikola Tesla, who shows up later on this list.
4) Leonardo DaVinci
?The Marvel series S.H.I.E.L.D. had so much promise, with tales of history’s finest inventors and futurists banding together to fight for mankind, but the execution fell short almost immediately and the limited series creaked to an end after six issues (supposedly it’s coming back). Leonardo DaVinci wins though, since the man was basically Tony Stark in a time when people were still being burnt as witches. Inventions galore aaaaaaand he’s a time traveler. If only it were true.
3) Richard Nixon
?Use your notoriety for good? Pah! That’s for losers! Richard Nixon actually headed up the criminal organization Secret Empire in the pages of Captain America! While not specifically drawn and named as Nixon, the final reveal was that someone high up in the United States government had been evil this whole time and it was probably the president. This happened during Watergate, when Nixon was in trouble for basically being evil the whole time he was president. His fate? Suicide, later replaced by a double.
2) Nikola Tesla
?Physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla is the ‘Lil Wayne of comic books. He shows up in everyone’s stuff. S.H.I.E.L.D.? He’s the bad guy. And a robot. Barnum? Bad guy, super inventor. JLA: Age of Wonder? Creates a death ray (it is believed he did this in real life too). Five Fists of Science? Teams up with Mark Twain to fight Thomas Edison. RASL? He’s created the world-jumping device. Atomic Robo? He made a super-smart robot that has adventures. The sick part? None of his comic adventures even come close to the awesome electrical shit he did in real life.
1) Abraham Lincoln
?The 14th President of the United States was a great man in life, but an incredible man in the pages of comic books. In Antarctic Press’s Time Lincoln the great rail splitter gains steampunk tech and goes bouncing through history to kill Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. When you team up with Ben Franklin, that’s what happens. Want more ass kicking? You’ll see him soon on film in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with Benjamin Walker in the lead.