Heroes, Inaugurated: The Super-Hero as President

The Super-Hero as President

Amazing Spider-Man #583, 2nd Printing

Given the media spotlight and public acclaim that has surrounded Barack Obama for the past year and a half, in the eyes of some, today, the United States in inaugurating a super-hero as President.

Nonsense.

Though he’s already met the Savage Dragon and Spider-Man, and will be playing a role in both Youngblood and Marvel’s Thunderbolts series, Obama is no superhero president.

While he may joke about being rocketed to earth from Krypton as a child, comic book readers know that there have been times when real super-heroes have been inaugurated as President. Often times these stories are used as springboards to explore larger topics, but more often than not, are funhouse mirrors on our own world.

Some cases in point:

from Superman #112

Superman #112 - This issue, from July 1958 features a story (dreamed up by Jimmy Olsen after he was hit on the back of the head by a falling framed photograph) of a Superman Presidency. Clark Kent is named as Vice President, and Jimmy is named as Press Secretary. The story is what you’d expect from a 1950’s Superman story – the Secret Service is constantly frustrated when the Chief Executive insists on flying around for a breath of fresh air, knife and gun-wielding assassins try to kill him while he’s walking on the White House lawn, Superman carries Air Force One around to save on fuel costs, and in a somewhat dark twist, Clark Kent resigns, because what’s the point of being Vice President if Superman can’t be killed? Er, yeah. Oh, and he fixes the $387 million deficit by pulling up treasure from the ocean floor.

Dorothy-like, Jimmy wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream – Superman can’t be President – he wasn’t born in the United States, and isn’t even from earth.

Action Comics Annual #3

Action Comics Annual #3 - Part of the “Armageddon 2001” storyline from 1991 which explored possible futures in the distant year of 2001, this story explored a possible future where Clark Kent’s boyhood friend Pete Ross ran for President, with Clark as his campaign manager. On a stop in Louisiana, an assassin shoots Ross, and Clark’s secret is revealed when he tries to save his friend, and the bullets shred his clothes, revealing his costume. Ross (who recovers) pulls out, but wants Superman to take his place. In a legal battle that puts the real 2000 election battle to shame, the Supreme Court is pulled in and rules that, since young Kal-el came out of the birthing matrix on board his rocketship from Krypton in Kansas, he was thus “born” in Kansas.

As for Superman’s presidency? Think of John F. Kennedy and the Saturday Night Live skit that showed Al Gore speaking to the audience from the future. Despite opposition by Green Lantern when he seeks to disarm the nations of the world, Superman turns earth into a virtual utopia.

Squadron Supreme - As much as Nighthawk (Kyle Richmond) tried to balance his actions as a superhero in the Squadron Supreme (Marvel’s analogue to the Justice League of America), he felt public service was a better place for his efforts, and ultimately became the President of the United States (after being a Senator) on the alternate Marvel Comics earth where the Squadron lived. In the 12-part 1985 Squadron Supreme series, writer Mark Gruenwald was one of the first to fully explore the idea of what happens when superheroes take over the world to make it a better place (echoed many times since), something which found Richmond turn from President into leader of the opposition against his former teammates. In subsequent battles, he ultimately loses his life, but Nighthawk’s actions sway Hyperion, the leader of the Squadron Supreme, to give up his world-changing ways.

What If? #26 What If? #26

What If #26 - Of course, if an idea is worth having, it’s worth exploring, and Captain America as President was turned into a story for Marvel’s alternate reality series What If? with 1981’s issue #26. In the story, Cap runs as the candidate for the New Populist Party with Andrew Jackson Hawk (an African American Senator) as his running mate. Keeping things real, the “America-Hawk” ticket ran against Carter and Reagan (both of which had things to say about Cap’s political experience and the trust the public has for a masked man) and won in a landslide. Keeping a campaign promise, Cap took off his mask on Inauguration Day, and got to work – one of his first jobs – a comprehensive new energy policy in order to “[free] America from the tyranny of foreign oil.” One South American plot hatched by the Red Skull later, and Captain America is killed by one of his administration’s own solar satellites, but the country is saved.

Prez #1

Prez - It’s tempting to put this one under the category of “Hey, it was the ‘70s,” but this DC Comic created by Captain America creator Joe Simon still holds as a social commentary. In the story, the Presidential age requirement in the Constitution is lowered in order to accommodate the youth culture that was sweeping the country, and Prez Hickland, a teenager is elected President – with his mother as Vice President. And his was a wacky Presidency, where he found vampires, the great-great-great-great-great-grand-nephew of George Washington (who led a militia), political bosses, and more.

The series was cancelled after four issues, but Prez struck a chord with readers at that time who later became creators themselves. As such, the character appeared in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (issue #54, which showed Prez at the end of his life); and a one-shot, in 1995 by Ed Brubaker and Eric Shanower, Prez: Smells Like Teen President, wherein Prez’s son seeks out his father, who had died due to the dishonesty of Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.

Lex 2000 Special

Lex Luthor - Okay, technically not a super-hero (unless you’re talking about Earth-3…ask your nerd friends), Superman’s arch-nemesis ran for and won the Presidency in the DC Universe in 2000 (and even got a touch of mainstream media attention). Even though one of his first actions was to (repeat the chorus now) break America’s dependence on fossil fuels, he was still Luthor, which had DC’s superheroes gnashing their teeth throughout the Presidency. The concept was interesting to see play out in a weird art imitating life kind of way – Luthor filled his cabinet with some familiar faces from the DC Universe that readers were familiar with, hamstrung political (and superhero) adversaries at every turn, and in a tragic bit of artistic foreshadowing of life, retaliated after an alien attack on earth that destroyed Topeka, Kansas in the “Our Worlds at War” storyline from the summer of 2001.

After about three years of Luthor’s Presidency (he did some very, very bad things to Bruce Wayne and others while in Office), Batman and Superman went in to the White House and Took Care of Business. Luthor pumped himself up on a super steroid and jumped into a battlesuit to fight them. During the fight, he confesses that he knew of the impending alien attack, but did nothing to stop it. Batman filmed it, the film was at 11, and Luthor’s VP, Pete Ross became President for a short time.

Lex Luthor – Again - Outside of the comics directly, Luthor ran for President in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. While he didn’t win in “reality,” he did in an alternate timeline, where he took the planet to the brink of war. Together with Batman and Wonder Woman, Superman stormed the White House and confronted Luthor. Every the villain, Luthor taunted Superman, who then killed him with his heat vision. This move spun their timeline into one where the Justice League became the Justice Lords, enforcing their will on the people for a better world.

Superman: Red Son - Okay, one last one for Superman. In this alternate world story by Mark Millar, Superman’s rocketship crash lands on a Ukrainian collective farm in 1938, and the infant grows up to be the hero who “fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact." In this topsy-turvy world, Jimmy Olsen is the Vice President of the United States and Luthor is (again) President - and Superman, following the death of Stalin (and much soul searching) Superman becomes the President of a much different U.S.S.R., seeing that country flourish and become a virtual worker’s paradise for a time. Hey – we just said “President” earlier. We didn’t make any claims on what country a superhero would be the President of…

Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President, vol 1

Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President - Our final entry doesn’t necessarily concern a superhero, but is a fictional character from comics running for – and winning the U.S. Presidency. When it came out, Eagle could have been classified as “optimistic fantasy,” but now perhaps can be seen as being out and our foreshadowing for 2008 – scandals and all. Again set during the 2000 election (what was it with that election that it drew so much comic interest?) this manga by Kaji Kawaguchi followed a Japanese-American Senator as he runs for the President of the United States. Some of Kawaguchi’s characters were original; while others were lose fictional interpretations of the political “characters” of the time (Bill Clydon and his wife Ellery) - and the creator hit the 8+ years in the future nail on the head several times both when his non-white candidate had to win over conservative, white voters and t he scndals that might dog such a visibly different candidate. The 2000+ page, thoroughly-researched series was serialized in Japan from 1997-2000, and has been reprinted in English by Viz.

Those are just a handful of the times superheroes have run for President (Howard the Duck and Alfred E. Neuman have tossed their respective hats in the ring, Bill Willingham played with it in Pantheon, and Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon ran – and lost) – and won. Given the cyclical nature of entertainment, as well as the intense media focus and fascination with not only President Obama but all things Presidential lately, it’s a sure bet that more are on their way.

Related:

5 Things We Hope Obama Learned from Spider-Man

Presidents in Comics: Some of the Notables

Worlds Collide: Top 5 Comic Book/Real World Crossovers

Twitter activity