The president of the United States may be a big deal in the real world but what position of power could they hold in a world that has the Justice League or The Avengers helping to protect and make the world a better place? To add a sense of realism to our extraordinary heroes, the President of the United States has been a constant presence in comics since the Golden Age. Obviously we could see popular presidents such as FDR, Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson featured talking to the Justice Society or Captain America but we’ll focus on our more contemporary presidents starting with Richard Nixon in 1969 and go all the way to Donald Trump in 2018 highlighting their “best” moments in comic book history.
Richard Nixon was doing pretty well as the President in the early 1970s. He had cameos in The Fantastic Four , the Incredible Hulk and one of the kids from DC Comics Newsboy Legion was modeled after him. But everything changed after the Watergate scandal and immediately Tricky Dick wasn’t the American golden boy anymore. Some of the criticisms were light, but the harshest was his role in the controversial Secret Empire story in Captain America #169-176. Although a mini series with the same name would also be controversial decades later, this series would not only parallel Watergate but also have a severe effect on Captain America himself. When Cap discovers an intricate conspiracy spearheaded by an organization called the Secret Empire, he follows the paper trail all the way to the White House. To his shock and amazement, he discovers that their leader is none other than President Richard Nixon.
Defeated and confronted with his crimes by Captain America, Nixon suddenly decides to confront suicide in front of the character. The size of this corruption and betrayal from within America combined with the sudden demise of “the President” resulted in Captain America questioning his country and his role within it. Disgusted with an organization he no longer believed in, Steve Rogers relinquished the title of Captain America. This not only began a new era of story telling and understanding for the classic Marvel character but it was also a strong criticism for what Watergate did to diminish the American public’s faith in the government and its leader.
The only other noteworthy cameo of Nixon is in the legendary Watchmen series where you can see him debating which portions of the country were acceptable losses should a nuclear war commense with the Soviet Union. Nixon changed the game for all the presidents who would succeed them regarding their portrayal in comics. They were no longer above criticism, they could be panned or ridiculed just like everybody else.
While he could be seen awarding or praising the superheroes of their respective universes, creators were not afraid to show a darker side of the actor-turned-president. His appearance in the iconic Frank Miller story The Dark Knight Returns referenced the president close relationship with Superman in other comics but suggested something clandestine and almost sinister.
While he’s portrayed in star spangled suits with that trademark senility gaining support for the military, Reagan’s giving orders to Superman to execute covert missions on the behalf of the American government. In Captain America #344 where Steve Rogers, now known as The Captain, has to deal with an agent of the Serpent Society known as Viper who has poisoned Washington’s water supply and turned many of the politicians including Reagan into mindless lizard men.
In the spirit of the Secret Empire storyline, writer Mark Gruenwald also used the story to criticize Reagan and his administration. When he’s not a raging lizard man capable of attacking the Captain, he’s an ignorant leader who not only is unaware of his administration’s legacy but also comfortable with being in the dark with absolute plausible deniability. Even after he sweats off the snake skin and Captain stops Viper, everything is swept under the rug just in time for the press conference afterwards.
Already considered one of the best approved presidents since World War II, Bill Clinton had more than a few notable cameos in comics since his first appearances amongst the crowd at Superman’s funeral. In 1996, President Clinton appeared in the Captain America story arc “A Man Without a Country”. Writer Mark Waid and artist Ron Garney continued the theme of Captain America wrestling with his faith in the government and their power. Cap is framed for attacking a military base and is branded a traitor and exiled from the United States. Cap discovers the villain Machinesmith manipulated the whole thing and proves his innocence and saves the President in Captain America #453. Later Clinton apologizes for the mishap and reinstates Captain America by returning his shield to him.
In Supreme: The Return #1, an extraterrestrial despot named Korgo lands on Earth and challenges the head of the free world to a fight. Although the President is defeated, Korgo decides to leave the planet in fear of the First lady, Hillary Clinton. While writer Alan Moore is know for his darker approach to superheroes and comics, this lighthearted content is unexpected and rather entertaining. Bill Clinton also is one of the few, if not the only President to become a regular character in Marc Guggenheim’s post-apocalyptic Resurrection. In the series, he was the last President in Office before an alien invasion besieged the planet and occupied Earth for 10 years. When they mysteriously leave, Clinton is revealed to have survived the occupation and his position of power in this new world is explored.
But he would join ranks alongside Nixon and Reagan in the category of cameos that are meant to poke fun and/or criticize in Uncanny X-Men #401. This story took place during the ‘Nuff Said month which was a silent month were comics were printed without any sort of dialogue, thought bubble or communication in general. In this story, Wolverine searches for Stacy-X who has the mutant ability to secrete her own pheromones. During his search for Stacy, Logan discovers an the aftermath of an attack on a private government installation and finds our former Commander in Chief unconscious, half naked, blindfolded and… holding the American flag? We know it’s Clinton gathered from the references in the photographs and the landmark horndog status but apparently it wasn’t supposed to be him in that bed. Apparently the person was originally to be former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, an obvious reference to his highly publicized affair with Judith Nathan. But Giuliani at that time was busy helping with 9/11 references and Marvel probably didn’t want such a reference to come off in bad taste.
GEORGE W. BUSH
One can only imagine how George W. Bush felt coming off the heels of Clinton’s administration and trying to step out of his father’s shadow. In the beginning of his administration, 9/11 convinced the comic book publishers to rally behind the President to show support for him and the government by putting him in a more sympathetic light than previous presidents. One of my personal favorites was in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates series seen below.
As more time passed and his actions became more and more divise, his depiction in comics changed drastically. Other companies were content with depicting him as a political supervillain eager to unleash war over weapons of mass destruction or even as a victim of assassination. The biggest criticism came from DC Comics who elected fictional character Lex Luthor as president instead of depicting Bush in office.
During Bush’s eight-year administration, Lex and his three successors were all fictional characters. Judged like all presidents by his policies and actions, Bush remained divided as man depicted by some as a leader and by others as a buffoon.
Barack Obama’s administration was something of an enigma because he was the first president since FDR to be depicted in such quantity and in most cases positivity. His appearance in Amazing Spider-Man Issue #583 went through more than four printings alone.
He found himself the subject of parodies, cameos, and covers from people celebrating his presidency or simply looking to make a quick buck. He made the usual Presidential cameo as a member of the world’s leaders while Spider-Man and friends try to stop Doc Ock from taking over the world, addressing powerful government agents like Norman Osborn or Amanda Waller or talking strategy with Cyborg in DC Comics Flashpoint.
Obama was seen as both an American leader but also as a character who could support a short-lived miniseries or be paired up with other characters. He seemed to avoid the critical eye many of his predecessors endured while embracing his pop culture appeal and presence. Say what you will about his policies and decisions, but I don’t know if anybody else could have been Barack the Barbarian.
Now in 2018, we have come to our present Commander in Chief: Donald Trump. While he’s only been the President for a year, his less than stellar reception has trickled down into comics. The most notable appearance so far has been his cameo in the Spider-Gwen series. Noticing the political tension within Marvel, creators Jason LaTour and Robbi Rodriguez decided to address it out in a hilarious yet poignant fashion. In this alternate Universe, their Captain America discovers an entity known as M.O.D.A.K (Mental Organism Designed As America’s King) bossing around Mexican workers near the border. Three guesses who’s enlarged face his resembles and you’ll understand the joy on Cap’s face when she defeats him. Time and tweets will tell on what future cameo’s await for Trump.
I would feel remiss if I didn’t include Deadpool Dead Presidents (2012) story arc written by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn with art by Tony Moore. Deadpool has to fight and kill all the reanimated U.S. Presidents brought to life by an rookie necromancer who seek to make America great again by any means necessary. You get to see all the presidents, even the ones you don’t remember, killed in often hilarious fashion by Marvel’s worst historical enforcer.
Go put down the history books and pick up some comic books when you have a minute. It’s a lighter read but just as heavy.