Worlds Collide - Top 5 Comic Book/Real-World Crossovers

Stephen Colbert Joins Spider-Man

This week the Amazing Spider-Man meets face-to-face with the Amazing President-Elect Barack Obama in the pages of the Marvel Web-slinger's eponymous comic book series, but this is hardly the first time the comic book world and 'real' world have crossed over. From David Letterman to Jerry Lewis and Don Rickles, from the original cast of Saturday Night Live to nearly every sitting President since FDR, real-life figures have often found themselves sharing adventures with four-color superheroes, and in one memorable case, sharing real-life tragedy.

Here's a look at 5 of the other most notable real world/comic book crossovers over the decades…

5. Superman Meets Muhammad Ali

Back in his heyday when the boxing great was arguably the most famous and one of the most beloved figures in the world, DC Comic published a special super-sized comic book (circa 1978) where he meets and teams up with arguably the most recognizable fictional character on the planet, the Man of Steel.

Though featuring an odd plot involving a non-super-powered Superman and Ali having to fight each other in the ring to stave off an alien invasion (Ali beats him to a bloody pulp … no, seriously), the comic holds a special place in the hearts of comic book fans, partially because due to changes in intellectual law, the special has never and likely will never be reprinted.

Ironically, one of the intellectual property issues preventing publication is numerous celebrity cameos in the special, including Frank Sinatra and 1970's luminaries such as Tony Orlando and the cast of "Welcome Back Kotter". If you find a copy at a garage sale or flea market, grab it. It doesn't have great monetary value, but everyone probably has someone in the life that fondly remembers it from their childhood.

4. Spider-Man and Mary Jane Get Married at Shea Stadium

The lone solely "reverse" crossover in our list, this time the comic book world invaded the real world on a June day in 1987. In a publicity stunt promoting the marriage of Peter Parker and his long-time love interest Mary Jane Watson in the pages of Marvel Comics and a syndicated Spider-Man newspaper strip, actors portraying Spider-Man (in a tuxedo jacket no less) and Mary Jane tied the knot before a no-doubt perplexed crowd of over 55k there to see then-superstar pitcher Dwight Gooden make his season debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates after a stint in rehab for cocaine addiction.

Recently, Marvel Comics effectively annulled by 21 year-old marriage through supernatural means, with neither Spidey, Mary Jane, or the world remembering they were ever married. There is no word on whether fans in attendance that day at Shea have gotten their wedding gifts back.

3. Stephen Colbert in the Marvel Universe

One could argue the comedian's 'O-Reilly'-esque satirical creation is a comic book character to begin with, so it made perfect sense for Colbert to eventually make the crossover official.

It began with a couple of appearances of Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada on Colbert's show, including the host being presented with the currently – though likely not permanently – deceased Captain America's shield (look closely, you can still see it hanging in the wall of the studio). It continued with campaign signs for Colbert's fictional Presidential campaign appearing in the background of Marvel Comics. The "crossover" then culminated recently with Colbert's actual appearance in four-color form alongside Spider-Man in the pages of October's Amazing Spider-Man #573.

This month's Obama-Spidey team-up should tell you how Colbert's White House bid wound up in the Marvel Universe.

2. President Richard Nixon in Watchmen

If you haven't already, expect to hear a lot more about the landmark 1986-'87 comic book series by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, as a long-awaited big screen adaptation by Warner Bros. is scheduled to open in March (that is, if a legal battle between the studio and 20 Century Fox can be ironed out).

But one of the more curious plot elements about superheroes with feet of clay in a dystopian vision of then contemporary America was that Richard Nixon was still President of the United States in 1985. The presence of superheroes in that world drastically changed the course of history, notably how the Vietnam War end and Woodward and Bernstein's investigation of the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Term limits are thrown out and 'Tricky Dick' remains in the Oval Office, 16 years after he was first elected.

Visions of that nightmarish scenario may have been muted somewhat in recent years due to the long 8 years we called the Bush Administration.

1. Spider-Man, Friends, Foes and 9/11

Almost immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the NYC-based Marvel Comics published a popular book of images drawn by the top comic book artists of the day featuring superheroes alongside Fireman, Police Officers and EMT workers. Their Heroes book (the proceeds of which went to the Twin Towers Fund) was one of several efforts by the industry to recognize the tragedy and raise funds for 9/11 charities. However, it was yet another issue of Amazing Spider-Man (v.2 #36) that most directly – and in some circles, controversially – addressed the events of that day.

Known as the "Black Issue" (due to its almost entirely black cover), in a story written by J. Michael Straczynski and published in November of 2001, Spider-Man, other Marvel heroes, and even the publisher's most notable super-villains gather at Ground Zero immediately following the attacks as onlookers ask the heroes why they couldn't prevent the tragedy.

Attempting to addressing the senselessness of the attack and the helpless feeling that gripped us all, the story was questioned by some fans who asked if it was appropriate or effective to try to capture and recognize the real-world tragedy through characters that regularly walked through and even caused chaos and massive destruction.

On that note, the issue is perhaps best remembered for an image of Doctor Doom – an evil character hell-bent on global domination and mastermind of dozens of attacks on the world – shedding a tear at the site of the devastation.


  • 5 Lessons We Hope Obama Learned from Spider-Man
  • Some of Our Favorite Celebrity Cameo Comics

  • Presidents in Comics: Some of the Notables

  • Twitter activity