There are many roles that a president must prepare themselves for. Leader of the free world. Commander-in-chief. Head executor of the law of the United States.
Comic book character.
For as long as there have been presidents, they have been appearing in all manner of fiction in depictions ranging from the celebratory to the decidedly less so. It's simply the nature of being in power that makes presidents the inevitable targets of satire and fantasy, and in no medium has that been truer than in comic books. And few presidents have been more prolifically fictionalized and caricatured in comics than the outgoing 44th president, Barack Obama.
Even before he took office, President Obama was appearing in the four-colored funny pages, and he's continued his comic book career throughout both of his historic terms. He made national news when he talked about his love of comics and his favorite characters, Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian, and even provided a foreword for an archival collection of Charles Schulz's Peanuts. Now, as we prepare to bid Forty-Four farewell, it’s the perfect time to look back on President Barack Obama's long — and frequently bizarre — history on the comic racks.
THE NON-FICTIONAL (ISH)
It all started out innocently enough. Leading up the 2008 election, several publishers printed their own comics detailing the biographies of the candidates, with Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Sarah Palin all getting their own publications in addition to then-senator Barack Obama. Small publisher Antarctic Press put out the above Obama: The Comic Book, and IDW Publishing put out a flipbook called Presidential Material that featured Obama's story on one side and McCain's on the other. The Obama half of the story was later reprinted in an updated edition that also included the president’s first 100 days. After that it didn't take long for Obama comics to start getting a bit more … stylized …
Publisher Bluewater Productions started producing a line of biographical comics in 2009 called Female Force which spotlighted prominent females in society and politics, the first two of which were the aforementioned Palin and Clinton books, followed by Female Force: Michelle Obama. Their success led to another self-explanatory line called Political Power, which naturally included Political Power: Barack Obama in August 2010. It was an attempt at another biographical comic, but, as seen above, it had a much more specific point of view to it, with the creators inserting their own experiences into the telling. Obama's forays into more spandex-filled portrayals were just beginning, however.
Ever since Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and the rest of the magnificent Marvel Bullpen began constructing a shared superhero universe in the early '60s, they insisted that it was meant to reflect "the world outside your window." This meant fewer fictional cities like the Distinguished Competition's Gotham and Metropolis, but more importantly it meant that significant events that happened in the real world would also be reflected in their fictional one. One of the most obvious ways that this has been shown in the comics is through the president. The Marvel POTUS, for as long as there has been a Marvel Universe, has been the same as ours, and that means Barack Obama popped in the MU quite a few times.
But while the presidents may be the same, time in the Marvel Universe certainly isn't, and so Obama made his first appearance as the Marvel POTUS just a month after being elected. In Secret Invasion #8, readers saw the first reference to the new Commander-in-Chief ... and it wasn't under terribly flattering circumstances. While we didn't see his face, a president clearly meant to be Obama reacted to the massive alien invasion attempt that had just taken place by appointing Norman Osborn — the former Green Goblin — as the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D., or as Osborn would rename it, H.A.M.M.E.R.
Apparently wanting to score back some political points with his favorite superhero, his next major Marvel appearance was in Amazing Spider-Man #538. Taking place on Inauguration Day 2009 (and being published just a week before), the issue's backup story saw Obama arrive in Washington, D.C. to be sworn in ... only to be met by himself! As anyone who's ever read a Spider-Man story with a doppelganger in it can probably guess, the other Obama was none other than the Chameleon, and with a little help from the webslinger — who was in attendance as Peter Parker, sent there to take pictures of the historic event — the villain's plot was thwarted.
Later that month, Obama decided to invite his aforementioned troubling appointee for a ride on Air Force One in order to discuss some of the more questionable allegations laid against the former supervillain. Pre-H.A.M.M.E.R., Osborn was in charge of the black-ops villain rehab team known as the Thunderbolts and had appeared to relapse into his Goblin persona on a few occasions while leading them. So when he boarded the world's most famous airplane to be questioned by the president and Doc Samson in Thunderbolts #128, there was only one course of action: use the T-bolts to fake an attack on the president by the Green Goblin and save the day! This story really made President Obama look like a bit of an idiot, and it didn't really get much better from there.
Over the years, Obama appeared in too many Marvel comics to list, usually when big events went down, such as his cameos in Siege, Doomwar and Avengers vs. X-Men, but his most recent event appearance was one of his most baffling -- and probably his final Marvel appearance. In the first and last issues of last year's Civil War II event, a silhouetted Obama makes an appearance, the first time discussing with Colonel James Rhodes, aka War Machine, his potential future in politics. By the end of the event, however, Rhodey is dead, and so his second meeting is with Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel, who he congratulates on her composure in the conflict and her use of precognitive visions in stopping crimes, despite those actions having killed Rhodey. The scene plays especially weird when considering the metaphor that Marvel said they were going for was criminal profiling, which is certainly not a position that the president has been supportive of. But it only serves to reinforce that Marvel's Obama was significantly more oblivious than ours.
Even before Barack Obama made any formal appearances in the DC Universe, he became the clear inspiration for a new character: Calvin Ellis, an alternate universe's Superman, and also the President of that universe's United States. He popped up only a couple of months after our universe's first African American president's inauguration in the pages of Final Crisis #7 and was clearly a play on not only Obama, but also his message of hope, a primary theme of Superman. You can learn more about this fantasized Obama — and a bunch of other comic book presidential candidates — in my previous article featuring the character.
Because DC isn't tied to reality as closely as Marvel, they've had many fictional presidents (including Obama's short-lived predecessor Martin Suarez), and so Obama didn't take office immediately in that universe. In fact, the earliest appearance I can find of him was in Action Comics #901 in 2011, when he took to the airwaves to publicly ask for Superman's help with an incoming crisis. Shortly after this, the DC Universe was rebooted with the New 52, and Obama was more solidly established as the president with cameos of varying degrees in Green Lantern, Superman/Wonder Woman and Static Shock, among others. He was also convinced by Martian Manhunter to endorse the new Justice League team in Justice League of America #2 and was even briefly possessed by Deadman in Hawk and Dove #3.
The DC Universe Rebirth line has also featured Obama a couple of times already, though for some reason the most notable appearances seem to be in comics starring Harley Quinn. He had a highly publicized appearance in Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 advising Amanda Waller on the new villainous team (a constant problem for the president in both superhero universes, apparently), but his most recent appearance was actually a reference to a previous president's comic book cameo. As seen above, Obama was prominently displayed on the cover of Harley's Little Black Book #5, an issue which homaged the legendary Superman vs. Muhammad Ali story from 1978. The cover — drawn by the same artist as the original story, Neal Adams — was also an homage to the original, which featured a crowd full of celebrities and pop culture characters, with Obama taking the place of then-president Jimmy Carter and Michelle Obama taking the place of former First Lady Rosalyn Carter.
Despite Obama's girth of appearances in the two most popular superhero worlds, they were actually both beaten to the punch by Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen. Savage Dragon #137 featured a cover with the titular hero giving his endorsement of the presidential candidate in September 2008. He later featured the president in a one-page strip which had Obama thank Dragon for his support and even credited him with helping him push the vote count "over the top." Larsen featured the president on multiple covers afterward, including a variant which showed Obama knocking out Osama Bin Laden, two full years before the latter's death. Another Image founder, Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld, put Obama in Youngblood #8, which saw the president authorizing the actions of yet another shady government-sponsored super-team. He really should stop doing that.
THE STRANGELY UN-PRESIDENTIAL
Buckle up, because this is where this article starts getting really weird.
A full two years after the presidential election was over, Archie Comics decided to pull a shameless and bizarre stunt starting in Archie #616 where both President Barack Obama and famed Tina Fey impersonator Sarah Palin decided to take a trip to Riverdale to straighten out a student government campaign gone awry. The leaps in logic and feel-good tone make the whole story seem really odd, even for Archie ... and he's met the Punisher, Predator and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
What's an even more natural franchise for the president to show up in than Archie, you ask? How about Army of Darkness? In the somehow-four-issue-long-series Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama, Ash is working against his will at a comic convention in Detroit where a kid finds a haunted comic book which when read begins turning people into zombies or something. Oh, and guess who is in attendance at this convention? The leader of the free world, for some reason! Zombie mayhem ensues, and Ash does as the title says, but — again — takes four issues to do so. Obama could've sorted out two Riverdale student governments in that time.
This wasn't even the only Obama-starring zombie comic published in 2009. Antarctic Press, the guys who started it all with Obama: The Comic Book, also published a four-issue that they clearly had no other choice but to call President Evil. It featured “Ba-rot Obama” leading the country's resistance against the zombie plague while taking on undead presidents as well as conservative talk radio hosts.
In 2009, publisher Devil's Due double-dipped on the "insanely weird Obama comic" trend, first with a one-shot tie-in to their post-alien-invasion series Drafted, entitled Drafted: One Hundred Days. It saw former senator Barack Obama leading a faction of the human resistance against their alien oppressors. In a wildly convenient (for the writer) twist of fate, this world's Obama had been left mute by an alien invasion-related injury.
That idiocy was made up for by the sheer brilliant lunacy of their other Obama comic, a series called Barack the Barbarian. This wild series featured a buffed-up Barack in the role of one of his favorite characters, Conan the Barbarian, and places him in the amoral land of Washington, where sword-and-sorcery versions of Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton live and reign, waiting to be vanquished by Barack's brutal battle axe. The series is hilariously nuts and features covers like the one above, where we get to see the president inappropriately checking out savage Sarah Palin's butt. Devil’s Due even returned to the idea following this year's election with a one-shot called Barack the Barbarian: No F**ks Left to Give.
Can you believe we've made it this far down the article without a cyborg version of the president called 'Robama'? Me either! But don't worry, the psychopaths at Antarctic Press have you covered. In a 2010 publication of utter nonsense called Steampunk Palin (it's unfortunately exactly what it sounds like, but way worse), an inexplicably mechanical version of Barack Obama makes an appearance, looking more than a little like Cyborg of the Teen Titans. Any further detail I go into here won't be worth it. There's no explaining this.
To cleanse your brains of the existence of Steampunk Palin, let's take a quick detour back to the Marvel Universe to remember the cuddliest Obama who will be leaving the White House.
No, your eyes don't deceive you. That is indeed a picture of the Mad Titan himself, Thanos, holding First Dog Bo Obama in his evil clutches. In the third issue of Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, the Inhuman dog Lockjaw, Frog Thor, Speedball's cat and a host of other super-pets join forces to track down the Infinity Gems, one of which they find attached to Bo's collar. It's absolutely ridiculous but it's also adorable, and it's certainly not as ridiculous as this:
Yep. Bo had a bio comic.
And so now that we've discovered the peak of the comic book artform, we find ourselves at not just the end of an article but also the end of a presidential term and the end of an era in comic books. It's clear that our 44th president was a big inspiration to many comic book creators, a big money maker for comic book publishers and a big hit with comic book fans. So from one nerd to another, thanks for giving us eight years of comic book insanity, Obama.
Now it's time for all of us to get ready for four years of this …
Did we miss any of your favorite President Obama comic book appearances? Where do you want to see President-elect Trump pop up next? Make your voice heard in the comments below!