Since the very beginning, comic book storylines have often mimicked the current cultural climate surrounding them, and that’s where the fine line between fantasy and reality blurs. Celebrities from all walks of life — politicians, actors, musicians, authors, and even prominent businessmen have been featured in everything from comic panels to entire series. Comic publishers look for reasons to include them as much as is possible; their addition often spikes interest in the comics themselves, and you know what the means for the publisher—more sales!
Some storylines, as you’ll see below, lend themselves to using their cameo in a meaningful fashion, while others may just be a wink and a nod to a favorite of the creators and otherwise have no real reason for existing. Whatever the case, special real-life guests often make strange bedfellows for superheroes. Check out these 15 cool, crazy, and downright bizarre celebrity cameos in comic books.
15. President Barack Obama
Current US Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, is no stranger to comic book cameos — he’s been making appearances in publications since right before he began his presidency in 2008 (most notably in the Amazing Spider-Man #583. He’s rumored to be huge fan.) His latest, albeit unnamed, appearance (likely for legal reasons, though the physical similarities are evident) is in Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1, in which he faces off with Amanda Waller on the moral ramifications of using the Squad as covert strike team for the U.S. What could go wrong? To Obama — everything, but Waller has her reasons — the Suicide Squad is the only chance America’s got for survival, despite their viciousness. She stands her ground firmly against the President and, after a bit of back-and-forth, he relents, but only if the Squad has some structure and a leader. Enter military man Colonel Rick Flag, the new face of Task Force X.
14. Woody Allen
Back in 1967, DC Comics’ Showcase featured Woody Allen in issue #71. The then-popular, irreverent, anti-establishment comic teamed up with a fictional pop band called The Maniaks in “What Swings, Fiddle Strings?” The storyline follows Allen’s attempts to corral group members as leads for his latest Broadway venture, entitled Confederate Yankees (think of it as a groovy, Civil War-era Hamilton). Additional celebrities of the time, alluded to but never seen, are Annette Funicello (as Jeannette Punchinello), Rock Hudson (as Rock Hutsut), and the face of the Swinging ‘60s, the model Twiggy (as Twiggly), who Allen has a fling with during the show’s production. Song, dance, and comic book hilarity ensues. Despite all the talent attached, Confederate Yankees was a bust, as was the Maniaks’ success as a Showcase title. It was the last time both the band and Allen appeared in any Showcase comic, or any comic for that matter.
13. President John F. Kennedy
Unlike Obama, President John F. Kennedy collaborated with DC for his appearance in Superman #170, entitled “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy”. The story revolves around the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, which was started by Eisenhower, but never found its footing until Kennedy’s administration. Superman is enlisted by JFK to encourage all Americans to keep fit, eat healthily and exercise. Who better for that job than the Man of Steel?
The story was originally set to be told in April 1964’s Superman #168, but was delayed when real life tragedy befell the President — he was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. For #168, the JFK issue was replaced with an all-Lex Luthor issue, and an “In Memoriam” page was conceived by DC editor Mort Weisinger featuring a panel from the unreleased Superman/JFK alliance. In the months following, Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, requested the release of the comic to the public as a special tribute to his fallen predecessor.
12. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
He’s hot, he’s sexy, he’s the current Prime Minister of Canada, and now he’s a friend of Tony Stark’s. That’s right — Justin Trudeau makes an appearance in Civil War II: Choosing Sides #5, created by Chip Zdarsky and Ramón Pérez (both Canadian and proud of it).
The popular politician appears in one of three short stories included herein and is even on the cover in full boxing regalia (replete with Canadian maple leaf). In Choosing Sides, we are privy to one of the duo’s weekly tussles in the gym. As they chat about civil liberties regarding the Alpha Flight superhero team (Canada’s answer to the Avengers), the Prime Minister gets the better of Tony Stark in the ring. Is there anything he can’t do? (Also of note: While this is Justin’s introductory salvo to the Marvel Universe, his late father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, appeared in Uncanny X-Men in 1979.)
11. David Letterman
In 2015, after 33 years on television, David Letterman shot his last Late Show and retired from TV altogether. Prior to his CBS stint, he spent the greater part of a decade on NBC as host of Late Night with David Letterman. In 1984, when he was still considered a brash, irreverent upstart, playing against the likes of established Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson, he appeared in Marvel Avengers #239.
Conceived by Roger Stern and artist Al Milgrom during one of Marvel’s “Assistant Editors’ Month” events, the story has Wonder Man (AKA Simon Williams) booked on Late Night. Unwilling to attend solo, Wonder Man brings fellow Avengers Hawkeye, Beast, Black Widow, and Black Panther along for the ride. They are threatened by the supervillain Fabian “Mechano-Marauder” Stankowicz, but Letterman thwarts his sinister efforts with a giant doorknob, of all things. The viewing audience never gets to see the action however, as the Avengers segment is interrupted by breaking news.
10. Elton John, Geraldo Rivera, Abe Vigoda, and Redd Foxx
A fantastic foursome if ever there was one. In a perfect world, these for could have a Marvel strip of their own! Pop singer Elton John, former 20/20 and current Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera, Abe Vigoda (of The Godfather and Barney Miller fame), and Redd Foxx (from Sanford & Son) are featured as bystanders in a Spider-Man panel that appeared in newspapers during Spidey’s Bronze Age. The foursome watch Spider-Man face off against a bull-whip-wielding villain. The strip can be found today in Spider-Man Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection Vol. 2, which collects the panels from 1977-1979.
The web-slinger’s long-running comic strip from that era was written by Stan Lee, and illustrated by John Romita Sr. and Larry Lieber. Since the panel is in full color, we know it was published on a Sunday. Now, we wonder — who is the blonde female spectator behind them — Loni Anderson or Farrah Fawcett?
9. Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin’s inclusion in Tales From The Crypt #8 has its roots firmly planted in a dark time in our nation’s history. No, we’re not talking about her vice presidential nomination under Senator John McCain in 2008, but a Senate Subcommittee investigation on book censorship way back in 1954.
Editor Cathy Gaines Mifsud is the daughter of William Gaines, the publisher of Mad magazine and the original Tales From the Crypt. Back in the ‘50s, the Senate aimed to ban Gaines’ output after another book, The Seduction of the Innocent by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, warned of a link between juvenile delinquency and comic book consumption. Palin, the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska from 1996-2002, also had a love of banning books in her jurisdiction and is used as a metaphor for the bigger picture here — the cover shows her threatening Tales’ horror hosts with a hockey stick. Mifsud included an editorial in the comic stating, “Tales From the Crypt is not endorsing any political candidates, nor are we attacking any candidates. What usually seems to be behind banning books is an attempt to repress ideas that may offer alternative political views. This is not only un-American — blatantly violating the very concept of free speech — but it is assuming that people are unable to come to their own informed conclusions.”
8. Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe, noted author of The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, makes an appearance (white suit and all) in 1971’s Incredible Hulk Volume 1 #142, entitled “They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?” In this issue, Hulk is found sleeping rough in the arms of the Statue of Liberty and is given a fundraiser by a socialite couple, Malicia and Reggie Parrington, who believe he’s been wrongly persecuted and maligned by the public. They are, however, more interested in the attention they’re receiving for promoting his cause — and their climbing social status — than the cause itself.
“They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?” is loosely based — with Wolfe’s permission — on his essay “Those Radical Chic Evenings”, which appeared in the New Yorker and was later reprinted in his book, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers in 1970. Strangely enough, this was not Wolfe’s only comic book cameo — he also appeared in Dr. Strange #180 in 1969.
7. Sarah Silverman
Deadpool #40 features none other than comic Sarah Silverman as an environmentally and socially aware activist (true to type) who faces off against the Roxxon Corporation — the evil corporate entity that rules the Marvel Universe in various incarnations. Silverman, known in real life for her political outspokenness (you may remember her turn at this year’s Democratic National Convention for telling booing Bernie Sanders supporters they were “ridiculous”), holds her censored sign high as she and comic creators Jason Aaron and Jason Latour stand their ground against an energy-gathering process created by Roxxon called gamma fracturing (aka, “gracking”). Her appearance in Deadpool shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — one of its writers, Brian Posehn, worked with Silverman in the past, in a starring role on her Comedy Central show, The Sarah Silverman Program. Also of note — artist Scott Koblish drew the issue like a kid’s coloring book.
6. Anderson Cooper
In Black Widow No. 12, CNN reporter Anderson Cooper does what he does best in real life — reports the news in a factual and impartial manner. Cooper’s hard-hitting investigative digging into Avenger Natasha Romanov’s questionable previous actions as a KGB operative and assassin puts her current reputation into question. Cooper asks: Is she really someone who can be trusted to be on the right of side of the law?
While Cooper’s disclosures do indeed prove to be an obstacle for Romanov, he is not portrayed as a villain here. Though his quest for the facts significantly changes Romanov’s place in the world, bringing unwanted attention to her, Anderson is presented as respected journalist with a nose for the truth. Writer Nathan Edmondson, who knew Cooper well when he lived and worked in Washington D.C., admires and respects the man for this very quality, and Cooper said he was “thrilled” to be featured.
5. Stephen Colbert
Comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert teamed up with Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #573 in 2008. Colbert is a known comic book aficionado and a natural addition to the Marvel Universe (after all, a Captain America replica shield is proudly displayed on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert set).
In Amazing Spider-Man #573, Colbert runs for president as a third-party candidate in an eight-page adventure featured in the book (which somewhat mirrored his farcical run in real life). He was beaten out by John McCain and Barack Obama, despite polling well among superheroes and winning the popular vote. Ah, that pesky electoral college! On a low audience attendance day while campaign stumping, Colbert attempts to join Spidey in his fight against Grizzly, but the web-slinger ushers him away to safety before he can really get hurt. He still saves the day, however, by pushing a statue on the villain.
4. Don Rickles
Famed Borscht Belt insult comic Don Rickles was featured in not one, but two issues of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen (#139 and #141, respectively) via DC’s Jack Kirby in 1971. As there are two issues in which Rickles is featured, there are also two Rickles in this somewhat convoluted story — Don (as we know and love him) and his doppelgänger Goody (in case you were wondering, they do eventually come face to face).
Hijinks ensue as Olsen is pitted against Daily Planet owner and covert mob boss Morgan Edge. The sinister CEO plans to do away with Goody, Jimmy, and Clark Kent, who are all hindering his criminal activities in some way. (In one instance, Jimmy and Goody eat tainted food that will cause them to explode within 24 hours. Chipotle humor?)
3. David Tennant
David Tennant, Doctor Who’s Tenth Doctor, shows up in Angel & Faith #5 as an acquaintance of Harmony Kendall’s. You may remember her as a popular, but petty, Sunnyvale High student and Angel’s former employee at Wolfram & Hart. Harmony hires Angel to find out who is blackmailing her with a sex tape that also shows her siring a vampire, which could ruin her rep for good. While on her journey to find the culprit, Harmony runs into Tennant at a party and questions him about his intentions toward her — could he be the blackmailer? He’s shocked by the question and vehemently denies he would do such a thing. Their friendship remains intact, but she still comes up empty-handed, until Angel discovers that Clem (a loose-skinned demon and Harmony’s assistant) is the blackmailer.
2. Richard Branson
In The Transformers (UK) #160, multi-billionaire Virgin Group owner Sir Richard Branson leads the way in the clean up the ancient remains of Transformers Megatron and Centurion from the Thames. As soon as they’re raised, however, Decepticons Thrust, Dirge, Ramjet, and Blitzwing steal them and bring them back to Shockwave, much to Branson’s dismay. His plan for them is never actually revealed.
The real life entrepreneur approved his likeness in the comic which was drawn by Lee Sullivan (his first). The illustrator was challenged by apparently having only one photo of Branson to work with, and as a result, the few close-up shots of the tycoon’s face are nearly identical. Branson saw a marketing and promotional opportunity in his comic book appearance and tied it to his real life “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign. His savvy got him, the comic book, and his cause mainstream media coverage all over the UK in 1988.
1. The Saturday Night Live Not Ready For Prime Time Players
In Marvel Team-Up #74, Spidey finds himself in the company of the original Saturday Night Live Not Ready For Prime Time Players when he (as Peter Parker) and girlfriend Mary Jane finally score tickets to an SNL show taping after a year of waiting.
Late comic and SNL favorite John Belushi receives a ring from a fan that he tries on, but can’t remove. Panic ensues when the Silver Samurai shows up in search of the ring. Parker feels his spider-sense tingle, and it is indeed “on” for the web-slinger. If this sounds like the plot of the Beatles’ Help to anyone, you are not far off — at one point, as Belushi fights the Silver Samurai, he exclaims “Help! I need somebody!”
All the original cast (minus Chevy Chase) makes an appearance, along with Stan Lee as the show’s host and the Muppets Statler and Waldorf as real audience members.