With Robert Downey Jr. portraying Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Jason Momoa as Aquaman, the notion of celebrities in comic book films is nothing new - but the history of famous people turning up in comic books is even older than that. Long-time readers of Marvel or DC Comics will no doubt fondly remember all the times their favorite comic book characters crossed paths with larger-than-life figures from the real world.
Most celebrity appearances in mainstream comic books are limited to minor cameos, but every so often, a famous person actually plays a legitimate role in the plot of a series. Some of the greatest comic book runs ever printed have prominently featured notable cultural figures, and some of the most significant superheroes of all time have brushed shoulders with the real-life rich and famous.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
Benjamin Franklin has appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics a couple of times - including an adventure with Doctor Strange. But his longest recurring stint in a title is as Wade Wilson's supporting ghost friend.
The ghost of Ben Franklin first shows up during the Merc with a Mouth's confrontation with the zombified presidents of the United States, and he sticks around in ethereal form for several adventures thereafter. Like the real Franklin, this apparition is witty, inventive, and about as active as the non-living can be. Eventually, the two part ways and Franklin moves on to the afterlife - anything to get away from the Regeneratin' Degenerate.2311Is this surprising?
- Photo: DC Comics
Ronald Reagan - one-part Hollywood celebrity, one-part influential historical figure - appears in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. The series, considered a seminal work, features an exaggerated version of the former president of the United States.
Not only does Reagan send this story’s beaten-down version of Superman to fight against the Soviets, but he also tasks the Man of Steel with stopping his oldest friend - an aged Batman in the midst of a public campaign.1710Is this surprising?
- Photo: Vertigo
William Shakespeare is one of the most famous writers ever, and his influence on literature is far-reaching. Subsequently, several homages have been made to him in the pages of comic books. Shakespeare’s most prominent role occurs within the universe of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, a part of DC’s Vertigo imprint.
In the story, Sandman’s ethereal protagonist, Dream, encounters Shakespeare in 1593 at the height of his fame. Dream promises the wordsmith everlasting recognition for his work if Shakespeare will write him some plays about dreams. Shakespeare agrees, producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In response, Dream brings together an audience of fairies to witness the first performance, and Shakespeare’s troupe gets to experience their most memorable show ever.2015Is this surprising?
- Photo: Marvel Comics
Steve Rogers has been forced to give up his mantle as Captain America several times throughout Marvel continuity, but no incident is more serious than the events of 1974’s Secret Empire. That storyline features Cap losing faith in his country’s government and becoming Nomad after discovering the head of an evil organization is none other than Richard Nixon.
The arc never explicitly states that the "Number One" of the Secret Empire is Nixon, but he is described as a "high-ranking government official" and takes his life in a room that looks conspicuously like the Oval Office. Writer Steve Englehart has admitted that he intended for the character to represent Nixon and the storyline itself is a reflection of Watergate - though he kept things ambiguous so as not to provoke people in power.1411Is this surprising?