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Veterans Day: 15 Superhero War Vets

by  in Lists, Comic News Comment
Veterans Day: 15 Superhero War Vets

At 11 am on November 11, 1918, the guns on the Western Front fell silent, and ended one of the most brutal wars in history. Known as Armistice Day, but also referred to as both Veterans Day and Remembrance Day, November 11th is remembered around the world and has become the date to honor all the men and women who fought bravely and with valor in war.

RELATED: The 17 Best Silver Age Marvel Comics

Reflecting the harsh reality of their creators and readers, many comic book characters have also fought in wars, from World War I, World War II, Vietnam and modern conflicts. Some characters have even fought in multiple conflagrations. In honor of veterans around the world, CBR looks at some of the most famous (and infamous) comic book characters who have ever fought for their nation, whether it was in their original publication or as a part of their backstory.

15. The Comedian

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Edward Blake, The Comedian from Alan Moore‘s “Watchmen,” is a huge bastard of a character, who fought in World War II and the Vietnam War, acting in his capacity as a special forces soldier. After being kicked out of the first superhero team, The Minutemen, for attempting to assault the First Silk Spectre, he joined the US Army. Hollis Mason, the First Nite Owl, revealed in his autobiography that Blake fought in the South Pacific, while in his “Before Watchmen” prequel comic book series, it was shown that he led a small team for dangerous missions.

In Vietnam, The Comedian was originally sent as an advisor to help train the South Vietnamese army, but when the war escalated, he earned a reputation for brutality on the battlefield, striking down North Vietnamese, Viet Cong and civilians. He had a particular fondness for the flamethrower. In fact, during his time of service, The Comedian was responsible for a number of war crimes, including killing prisoners of war, which he was nearly given a court-martial for. He also killed a Vietnamese civilian he got pregnant in the middle of a bar. Not one of America’s finest soldiers, certainly, but most definitely one of its most notable in comics.

14. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross

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Many characters in Marvel Comics served in World War II, with some of them having their backstories rewritten to accommodate a changing timeline in the comics. One of them is Thaddeus Ross, the great foe of The Incredible Hulk and one of the most looming military presences in the entire history of Marvel Universe.

When World War II started, Ross was a captain in the army and was posted in the Pacific arena. Ross earned a reputation for being a great leader of men — his troops nicknamed him Thunderbolt  because of his fast and vicious attacks, and his willingness to lead from the front. By the time the war ended, he rose to the rank of major and his military career continued, with him eventually reaching the commendable rank of a three-star general.

Ross’ traits may make him rash — he has clearly wasted a lot of taxpayers money hunting the Hulk — but there’s no denying that he is a brave man and has empathy for his troops; desirable qualities for an army officer and in his current iteration as the irradiated hero, The Red Hulk.

13. Charles Xavier

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When Charles Xavier was a young man studying in England, he was drafted to fight in the Korean War for the United States Army, just as he was starting a relationship with a fellow graduate student Moira Kinross. During his time of service, Xavier specialized in search and rescue missions, working with Carmen Pryde, the father of future X-Man Shadowcat. In Korea, Xavier saw his step-brother Cain Marko enter the Temple of Cyttorak and stumble upon a mystical ruby that turned him into one of the great X-Men enemies, The Juggernaut.

When Xavier was still with the army, he received a letter from Moria to say she had married Joseph MacTaggert, an action that devastated the mutant leader and set up his complex relationship with his would-be paramour., which was briefly, yet surprisingly powerfully touched upon during the ’90s animated series. The heartbreak and war experience spurred Xavier to travel the world, meeting Storm and Magneto in Egypt and Israel, as well as putting him at odds with his regular villains like The Shadow King and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker.

12. James and Brian Falsworth

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Time for the non-American entry, specifically one with a little British flair! To kill two birds with one stone, let’s look at the Falsworths, a father and son pair who have taken up the Union Jack mantle.

James Falsworth was a Lord who fought in both World Wars as a clandestine operative. Clad in a costume made from the Union Jack flag, he struck fear in Britain’s enemies. He became disillusioned by the end of the first World War because of all the death and bloodshed he experienced, not to mention having to kill his vampire brother, who was working for the Germans. James donned the costume again to fight the Nazi threat during WWII, and was a member of the superhero team The Invaders. His achievements are even more impression because he was simply a physically fit, well-trained man without superpowers.

Brian was James’ son and was experimented on by the Nazis, gaining superpowers similar to Captain America’s. He was named The Destroyer by the Germans when fighting behind enemy lines and joined The Invaders in 1942. He took on the Union Jack title after his father was forced to retire.

11. Ben Grimm

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Another famous character to fight in the Second World War (in his original incarnation) was Ben Grimm, fighting before he became The Thing. Ben was a pilot in the United States Marine Corps and in early issues of the “Fantastic Four” comics, fought in the war. His friend Reed Richards was also a veteran of the war, fighting behind enemy lines in France. Both their backstories were retconned in the ’70s so the characters wouldn’t be tied down to a specific real event or time period.

After the war, Grimm became a test period for the military and was recruited by Nick Fury to serve as a spy pilot, working with other famous Marvel characters like Wolverine and Ms. Marvel. Grimm was able to transfer his military experience to a career in NASA, becoming an astronaut before being recruited by Richards in his legendary flight to space for a private mission — a storyline that has made it into various versions of the Fantastic Four origin.

10. Carol Danvers

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Before becoming Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers had a similar military record to Ben Grimm. At the age of 18, Danvers joined the United States Air Force, after her father refused to pay for a college education. Danvers’ intelligence and determination allowed her to rise up through the rankings and defy gender expectations (this story was originally written in the ’60s.) In the Air Force, Danvers earned the nickname “Ace,” worked in military intelligence and rose to the rank of colonel. She was then recruited by the CIA and fast-tracked to become a field agent during the Cold War.

In the CIA, Danvers was partnered with Michael Rossi and worked with characters like Wolverine and Ben Grimm when conducting a mission over Vladivostok in the then-USSR; a mission that saw her face off against Black Widow. She was quite the badass, even before gaining superpowers. In the Ultimate Universe, Danvers never had superpowers — she was a fighter pilot for the US Air Force and recruited by Nick Fury to become his assistant. She later succeeds Fury as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.

9. James Rhodes

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James Rhodes, also known as War Machine, is famous for being one of Tony Stark’s closest friends and confidants. They technically first met during the Vietnam War, after Stark escaped from Wong-Chu’s prisoner-of-war camp and Rhodes’ helicopter was shot down by the Viet Cong. They had to work together to escape, blowing up a Viet Cong base and stealing a helicopter to escape back to American territory. This backstory was explored in issue #144 in the “Iron Man” comics, and it was later updated to the war in Afghanistan.

Rhodey was a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, worked as a helicopter pilot and an aviation engineer. After his tour of duty in Vietnam, he became Stark’s personal pilot. The Ultimate version portrayed Rhodes as a colonel in the US Air Force who fought in Afghanistan, while the movie version — played by both Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle — was a lieutenant colonel, having command of operations in Afghanistan.

8. The Human Torch

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Before Johnny Storm took the name of the Human Torch, it originally belonged to Jim Hammond, a character created by Carl Burgos and appeared in Timely Comics, a precursor to Marvel.

Hammond was an android created by Professor Horton and has the ability to set his body ablaze. He was originally a crime fighter but ended up fighting the Axis powers, battling against an Imperial Japan that tried to invade Alaska before America officially entered the war. When America was actively at war, he stopped the Nazis from sinking Winston Churchill’s ship and acted as a part of the security team during Operation: Rebirth, the scientific mission to create super soldiers.

Along with Captain America and his former nemesis Namor the Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch was part of the trifecta of Marvel heroes who fought in the war. The comics in the ’70s retconned The Human Torch’s war experience, making him a part of The Invaders, a superhero team that fought together during the war.

7. Sgt. Rock

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Many of the characters to make it onto this list are from Marvel Comics, so it is only fair for DC to have a representative in the form of Franklin “Frank” John Rock, the most realistic character arguably of any war comic. Sgt. Rock first appeared in the war comics series “G.I. Combat” and has also appeared in the series “Our Army at War,” as well as his own series. Sgt. Rock was a member of Easy Company in an unnamed regiment in the US Army, fighting in North Africa and Europe during the Second World War.

He rose to the rank of sergeant after his company defended a hill from a heavy German assault and refused promotions to become an officer, preferring to fight on the battlefield with his men. There are differing stories about what happened to Sgt. Rock at the end of the war — one said that he died on the last day of the war, while still others state that he somehow survived, even becoming a general and working with DC characters like Batman, Superman and the Suicide Squad.

6. Flash Thompson

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Flash Thompson has always been a supporting character in the Spider-Man comics. After leaving college, Flash enlisted in the United States Army and ended up serving in the Vietnam War (although this was retconned to an unspecific war in South-East Asia.) Flash returned as a decorated war hero and matured from his high school jock persona, turning from being Peter’s bully to his friend. However, he developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sought solace through the bottle.

Flash returned to the Army after the controversial “One More Day” storyline, quitting his job as a P.E. teacher to fight in the Iraq War. During his time of service in Iraq, his platoon was ambushed. Despite being shot multiple times in the legs, he fought to save his superior officer, believing his hero Spider-Man would do the same. He earned himself the Medal of Honor for his bravery, but the incident left him without the use of his legs.

The loss of his legs obviously had a psychological effect on Flash, leading the veteran to undertake dangerous experiments to regrow his legs. More recently, he has tapped into his thirst for heroics and his obsession with Spider-Man to become the new and improved Venom.

5. Frank Castle

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Best known as The Punisher, Frank Castle (originally named Francis Castiglione) is a highly trained US Marine who originally fought through three tours of duty in Vietnam. His time in South-East Asia was marked by acts of heroism — his biggest action being a defensive engagement against the Viet Cong where he was the only survivor. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Navy Cross, Silver and Bronze stars, and four Purple Hearts. After the birth of his son he reenlisted illegally, renaming himself Frank Castle.

Garth Ennis‘ mini-series “Born,” published through Marvel’s MAX imprint, looked at Castle’s time fighting in the Valley Forge engagement, a grueling battle where the base was undermanned and half the Marines were addicted to heroin. Ennis’ thesis was that war scars were partly responsible for Castle becoming The Punisher, implying it hardened him before the loss of his family.

4. Nick Fury

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Before Nick Fury became the Director of the S.H.I.E.L.D. and a Marvel superspy, he was the commander of an elite platoon during the Second World War. He even led his own war series, “Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos” that lasted for 167 issues.

Fury enlisted in the military in 1941, joining the US Rangers, and was originally stationed in Hawaii, witnessing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With the Howling Commandos, he was tasked to perform some of the most dangerous missions during the war. Some of these missions included rescuing a British scientist who was captured by the Nazis, fighting behind enemy lines, undercover spy adventures and even stopping enemy plots on the home front. Fury and the Howling Commandos fought alongside other famous characters from the Marvel universe including Captain America and Reed Richards. Fury lost the sight in left eye after a grenade blast, and in France was given the Infinity Formula, which slowed the aging process, forcing him to watch his friends and family age and die.

The Ultimate version of the character was also a war veteran, serving in the Gulf War and peacekeeping missions in Kosovo.

3. James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes

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The old cliche about comic books is only three careers can stay dead, Bucky, Uncle Ben and Jason Todd, although more recent comic book arcs have changed that status quo. In the comics, Bucky was an orphan who was adopted by an army base and became their unofficial mascot. After discovering his friend Steve Rogers was really Captain America, Bucky convinces the superhero to let train him and become Captain America’s sidekick.

Like other World War II-era characters from Timely Comics, he was made a member of The Invaders in Marvel revisions in the ’70s. He was also a member of the Kid Commandos, a group of teenage heroes who fought in the war: they once even saved The Invaders from the Red Skull. They were later renamed the Liberty Legion near the end of the war. Bucky seemingly died during his last mission when he and Captain America stopped Baron Zemo from launching a drone weapon towards America. He was resurrected for the “Winter Soldier” arc by Ed Brubaker back in 2005.

2. Wolverine

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Due to his healing factor and slow aging, everyone’s favorite Canadian mutant has served in a number of wars, fighting for a special unit in the Canadian army during the World Wars. Wolverine fought in many major battles and arenas of war during his military service, including fighting in the Second Battle of Ypres in the First World War and across Europe and North Africa during the Second World War. He even fought alongside Captain America and Bucky. He also served as an undercover agent in Sobibor Concentration Camp and saw the bombing of Hiroshima after escaping from a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. After the war, Wolverine worked as a black-ops soldier for the CIA, performing clandestine operations across the world.

The Ultimate version of Wolverine also fought in World War II, known then as “Lucky Jim” because of his ability to survive impossible situations. He would later be unleashed as a secret weapon during the Gulf War. Even though Wolverine was conditioned to be a ruthless killing machine, he saved a young Nick Fury who was trapped on the frontlines in Iraq.

1. Captain America

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Steve Rogers AKA Captain America is easily the most famous veteran to appear in comics: how many other heroes can say they punched Hitler in the face? Steve Rogers’ origin story is well known: he was a young man from New York who wanted to fight the Nazis, but was rejected by the military for medical reasons. He was later selected to be injected with the Super Soldier Serum from Project: Rebirth. Yup, he becomes a superhero in the most American way possible: pharmaceuticals!

During the war, Rogers became a propaganda figure and a symbol for America, becoming Captain America. His war service included fighting as an agent in Europe and America, fighting against the Red Skull and his agents and breaking up spy rings in the United States. Rogers also fought with the 26th Infantry Regiment, which saw campaigns in North Africa, Italy and Germany. His final mission ended with him sacrificing himself to save America from an experimental drone being launched by Baron Zemo.

Who are your favorite comic book veterans from real life wars? Let us know in the comments, soldier!

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