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Superpowers that be: Seven politicians who appeared in comics

28 February 2019

She's taken US politics and social media by storm - and now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being turned into a comic book superhero, it has been announced. TOM CHURCHILL discovers that the Democratic congresswoman is the latest in a long line of politicians to grace the pages of a comic...

1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty | Illustration: Tim Seeley & Josh Blaylock/Devil's Due Comics

At 29, Ocasio-Cortez last year became the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress. Now independent publisher Devil's Due Comics is paying tribute with Alexandria  Ocasio-Cortez and the Freshman Force: New Party, Who Dis? - a one-off "satire that takes aim at Washington". Publisher Josh Blaylock said: "It’s no secret that AOC has been made the unofficial leader of the new school and has sparked new life into Washington."

Although the book, due in May, has not been officially endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez, the social media-savvy Democrat has hinted at an interest in comics via her Twitter feed. She quoted Rorschach, the vigilante superhero from Alan Moore's classic graphic novel Watchmen last month, in response to Democratic party efforts to rein her in: "None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME."

2. Donald Trump

Photo: BBC | Illustration: R Sikoryak/Drawn & Quarterly

While AOC is portrayed as a heroine, cartoonist Robert Sikoryak reimagined President Trump as a host of infamous villains in his 2017 satirical collection The Unquotable Trump. In recreations of iconic covers, Wonder Woman becomes Nasty Woman, Black Panther becomes the Black Voter, and Trump becomes Magneto fighting the Ex-Men.

Trump has in fact turned up as a character in all manner of comics through the years - from Marvel's New Avengers in 2008 (where he gets on the wrong side of Luke Cage) to 2017's The Tremendous Trump, a homage to the Incredible Hulk - one of a series of bizarre President-themed titles from indie publisher Antarctic Press.

3. Barack Obama

Photo: BBC | Illustration: Marvel Comics

Former US President Barack Obama has probably appeared in more comics than any other politician, gracing the pages of everything from Captain America to The Beano. Among the wackier titles are President Evil, where a cyborg Obama takes on an army of "flesh-hungry super soldiers led by 200 years' worth of undead Presidents", and Barack the Barbarian, a Conan spoof.

But perhaps his highest-profile guest spot was in issue 583 of The Amazing Spider-Man, in 2009. As well as appearing on the cover, he was the star of Spidey Meets the President, a five-page story set on inauguration day in Washington DC, in which Obama exchanges a trademark fist-bump with the web-slinging superhero.

4. Sarah Palin

Photo: Jason Connolly/Getty Images | Illustration: Antarctic Press

The former governor of Alaska inspired the oddest title on this list, Steampunk Palin, a 2010 one-off in which the vice-presidential candidate wants to convert the world from oil and nuclear power to steam. "More insane than you imagined" and "so bad it's good" was the verdict of one review at the time.

Amazingly, this wasn't the only comic to feature the high-profile Republican. Back in 2011 The Atlantic reported on "an entire cottage industry of Palin-infused comic books", including appearances in classic titles Archie and Tales from the Crypt.

5. Tony Blair

Photo: BBC | Illustration: 2000 AD / Rebellion

It's not only American politicians that have been reimagined as superhumans. British sci-fi institution 2000 AD launched the B.L.A.I.R.1 character - a bionically altered prime minister aided by a computer intelligence named Doctor Spin - after Labour's Tony Blair swept to power in 1997.

And Blair wasn't the first British PM to be referenced in comics: Margaret Thatcher was central to the plot of an early issue of cult favourite Hellblazer; and in St Swithin's Day, a 1989 graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Paul Grist, a troubled teenage boy fantasises about assassinating her.

6. Bill Clinton

Photo: BBC | Illustration: Topps Comics

Secret City Saga was one of the final projects by comics legend Jack Kirby - the artist who created Marvel icons including the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men - before his death in 1994.

Generally considered a far cry from his genre-defining work at Marvel in the 1960s, the series was notable for its inclusion of Bill Clinton as a key character. A group of prehistoric beings known as the Ninth Men are awakened from hibernation after 15,000 years and attempt to foil a plot involving an evil clone of the then-President.

7. John F Kennedy

Photo: New York Daily News Archive/Getty | Illustration: DC Comics

No other US President permeated popular culture as strongly as JFK during the 20th century, so it's no surprise that he has appeared in dozens of comics in the decades since he was shot dead in Dallas in 1963. Series including Badlands and Future Proof are based around the assassination, and he has made numerous appearances in mainstream titles from Marvel and DC Comics.

One of the most notable is Superman issue 170, published in 1964. It contains the story Superman's Mission for President Kennedy, in which the Man of Steel plugs the late JFK's Physical Fitness Program by encouraging American children to become more active. At the time it was said that the story had originally been due to appear in Superman 168 and was pulled following JFK's assassination - but the reality may be a little more complicated.

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