The relationship between reality and the fiction of superhero comics can be a slippery one. Obviously there are no space cops with magic rings in the real world, and radioactive spider bites would certainly have less exciting results. Plus, there is a serious deficit of Greek goddesses formed from clay wielding magic lassos. These distinctions are made clearer in DC Comics, where the geography of the United States is dramatically different: major cities are subbed out in favor of places like Gotham, Metropolis and Star City, while New York and Chicago also exist.
Even worse is Marvel, who uses the Manhattan skyline seen outside its bullpen’s windows as the setting for most of its major characters. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump to actual, living people making appearances in the four-color world. Whether for cross-promotion, sales boosts or just because the creators want to put their famous friend in their book, it happens a lot.
The most recent celebrity to make an appearance in the realm of comic books is Brooklyn Nets point guard Jeremy Lin, who co-stars alongside Amadeus Cho in "Totally Awesome Hulk" #13. He’s far from the first famous face to do so, however, and certainly not the strangest. Here are 16 of the most unexpected celebrity cameos in comics.
16 Anderson Cooper in Black Widow #12
Artist Phil Noto has a keen eye for caricature. His work isn’t photo-realistic, but his knack for capturing the essence of real people is well-known; most notably in the “Hank Pym Photo Archive,” a series of pieces shared through his Tumblr featuring Reed Richards and Tony Stark attending fundraisers for Bobby Kennedy. He gets the look of these celebrities right without ever looking like he’s just tracing over photos from "People Magazine."
It’s no surprise, then, that he brought his A-game when introducing a more contemporary public figure to the Marvel Universe. During Noto and Nathan Edmonson’s run on Black Widow, Natasha Romanova’s murky espionage past was once more brought to light. This time, the one digging around was none other than CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, whom Edmonson met whilst working in Washington. Cooper’s show, "AC 360" proves to be an integral part of the plot of issue #12, turning the American people on this Soviet-defector-turned-Avenger.
15 Chris Cosentino in Wolverine: In The Flesh #1
As if it wasn’t enough for Chris Cosentino to have competed in various seasons of "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef," he also opened numerous well-regarded haute cuisine restaurants and brought the idea of eating offal... if not back into the public domain, than at least somewhat more accepted than it has been since the turn of the century. He also achieved something that remains the dream of many mere mortals: writing a Wolverine comic. And of course, the celebrity chef wrote himself in as a character.
Cosentino has a knack for self-promotion, but to his credit, he didn’t just pen a comic entirely as a pamphlet for his restaurant. The "Wolverine: In The Flesh" one-shot sees Logan and the winner of "Top Chef Masters" teaming up to solve a murder mystery plot, which also involves a villainous food truck owner and cannibalism. Everything culminates in an inevitable knife fight, with Logan brandishing his iconic claws and Cosentino wielding his own kitchen cutlery. Needless to say, there’s a happy ending, and Wolverine gets rewarded with some Michelin-starred nose-to-tail dishes.
14 Orson Welles in Superman #62
It’s almost easier to give a list of celebrities the Last Son of Krypton hasn’t met. He’s crossed paths with everyone from Pat Boone to Barack Obama (sort of). Out of all of his encounters, however, the strangest might have been when he shared an adventure with Orson Welles. An actor and director who changed the face of cinema, Welles nonetheless remains infamous for his "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. His adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel apparently convinced a decent portion of the American populace that a Martian invasion was underway.
That infamy plays into his appearance in "Superman" #62, where Welles accidentally launches himself to Mars after stepping off the set of his new film "Black Magic," which, not-so-coincidentally, was about to be released when the issue hit newsstands. He is then browbeaten into becoming Minister of Propaganda for a fascistic Martian leader called Martler, who intends to invade Earth. Welles manages to transmit a warning message to Earth, which nobody believes thanks to his last hoax. Superman isn’t so cynical, and arrives just in time to save the day.
13 Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
Sure, Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, all that good stuff. But what’s that to a world heavyweight champion who handcuffed lightning and threw thunder in jail, could run through a hurricane and not get wet, floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee? It seems like an unfair fight, The Greatest vs. The Man of Steel, but it happened in 1978's over-sized one-shot "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali," in a bout to rival the Rumble in the Jungle.
The all-star creative team of Neal Adams, Dennis O’Neil, Dick Giordano and Terry Austin brought to life the story, which saw invading aliens insisting Earth’s “champion” do battle with one of their own to decide the fate of the planet. Ali takes down a de-powered Superman and goes on to the final round with the alien titan. He actually manages to hold his own against a monster twice his size, too, with only a little help needed from Kal-El to take the extraterrestrial slugger down in four rounds.
12 The Beatles in Strange Tales #130
Stan “The Man” Lee has always had his finger on the pulse. Not only did he tailor the Marvel books under his editorship during the '60s to the prevailing stories of the era -- with secret origins rooted in the space race, Cold War conflict and radiation -- he also tapped into the zeitgeist even more directly by having famous faces show up in his pages. That is exactly why the Fantastic Four’s Thing and Human Torch got roped into taking their respective girlfriends to a Beatles concert in 1965.
While the cover of "Strange Tales" #130 promised a particularly dramatic Doctor Strange story, it was the back-up with Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm in mop-top wigs that was the real draw. “Meet the Beatles!” involved the lovable lads from Liverpool performing a show in Manhattan, only for the box office takings to be snatched before they hit the stage. Ben and Johnny take off in pursuit of the criminals, bickering and arguing all the way. On their return, they realized they missed the entire performance, and that their significant others were less-than-charmed by the wannabe-ladykiller band members backstage.
11 Don Rickles in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #139
Where his BFF Superman got to spend time with a celebrated dramatic actor, Jimmy Olsen had to make do with insult comic Don Rickles as a guest star. In a two-part story that appeared in 1972’s "Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen" #139-141, Olsen was matched up with a hapless Daily Planet employee named Goody Rickles, who had a striking resemblance to the man that would one day voice Mr Potato Head in "Toy Story." The pair get mixed up in a criminal scheme, which sees them injected with a deadly poison.
They throw themselves on the mercy of Morgan Edge, then-editor of the Planet, who, for complicated "plot reasons," also orchestrated the pair’s poisoning. It just so happens that when they burst into his office, Edge is in the middle of a pow-wow with Don Rickles, whose doppelgänger steps on all his best lines. Distraught by the appearance of a man who looks exactly like him, the real Rickles takes off. The weirdest part? This story was written and drawn by none other than Jack Kirby, who took the opportunity to introduce a lot of key players from his nascent "Fourth World" saga.
10 Sean Young in X-Factor #79
Peter David proved his pop culture savviness by deploying a cavalcade of references during his run on "X-Factor." There was the implication a character was related to Agent Dale Cooper of then-airing TV show "Twin Peaks," for example, and plenty of other nods to current celebrity gossip. The latter reached a fever pitch when a running gag concerning Sean Young culminated in the troubled actress taking a member of the mutant team on a date. In the early '90s, Young’s acting work was overshadowed by her increasingly erratic behavior off-camera.
Her public meltdown notoriously climaxed when she began turning up to a talk show interviews wearing a homemade Catwoman costume and auditioning for a part in "Batman Returns" after injury forced her to bow out of the Vicki Vale role in Tim Burton’s first "Batman" film. She turns up at the house of X-Factor’s resident strong guy, Strong Guy, in that self-same costume. “The film’s wrapped, it’s in the can,” Strong Guy tells her. “It’s not gonna happen for ya, babe.” Wise words.
9 David Letterman in Avengers #239
Hip-hop covers and Tsum Tsum variants are just the most recent examples of Marvel’s sales-raising gimmicks. Way back in January of 1984, the conceit was “Assistant Editor’s Month,” which saw the publisher’s main editors take the month off and let their understudies take over, with predictably wacky results. It saw gag covers, the infamous “blizzard” issue of Alpha Flight (where every panel was blank white with speech bubbles) and -- most notably -- the Avengers meeting David Letterman.
"Avengers" #239 had Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as unlikely Late Show guests after the fame-hungry Wonder Man found he could only be booked if he brought some teammates. Black Panther, Beast, Black Widow and Hawkeye all squeezed onto the sofa with him, before the show was interrupted by metal-clad menace, the Mechano-Marauder. Letterman, ever the consummate professional, deals with the situation by playing it off as a bit and then delivering the knockout blow to the villain with a novelty over-sized door knob.
8 John Walsh in Outsiders #18
Believe it or not, "America's Most Wanted" ran on Fox for 25 seasons, clocking up a mind-boggling 1,186 episodes, and even more arrests as a result of the crimes they featured. The show did important work, inspired by host John Walsh’s own tragic experience with his kidnapped son. Slightly less serious was when he got involved with a case teaming up with a different form of law enforcement: The Outsiders, a team who had evolved from a Batman-led gang of vigilantes to a more grown-up Teen Titans.
Judd Winick penned the multi-part story “Most Wanted" (of course), drawn by Carlos D'Anda, where Walsh’s expertise is crucial in helping The Outsiders break up a child sex ring they had been tipped off about. Having included the case on an episode of America’s Most Wanted, the phone boards light up and the Walsh/Outsiders dream team manages to bring the issue's bad guy, Tanner, to justice.
7 Charles Barkley in Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley #1
NIKE has produced countless iconic basketball commercials, most of which famously starred His Royal Airness Michael Jordan appeared to sell his still popular shoe line. The squeaks of sneakers on a court and the dribbling of balls were even remixed into a song. But Jordan wasn't the only NBA star with his own commercials. Charles Barkley memorably appeared in quite a few of his own, declaring himself not to be a “role model,” with reference to the in-game controversies which blighted his career. Then, of course, there was the time he played a 1-on-1 game against Godzilla.
This short but memorable ad was expanded into a full-length, one-off comic book by Dark Horse. "Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley" #1 was drawn by former Dungeons & Dragons rulebook illustrator Jeff Butler and written by Mike Barron. The creative team transposed the showdown to California, where a giant-sized Barkley dunked on the radioactive kaiju (who was wearing some specially-designed three-toed kicks for the match up). Just like in the commercial, the comic ended with Barkley suggesting Godzilla’s reach might make him a good fit for the Lakers.
6 Tom Wolfe in Doctor Strange #180
There’s a possible apocrypha from the early days of Doctor Strange, where members of the Marvel bullpen jokingly convinced the staunchly conservative artist and co-creator Steve Ditko that hippy kids were using his trippy artwork to get high without the need for hallucinogens. He would likely have had a similar conniption fit years later when Tom Wolfe, author of classic LSD book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acod Test," along with key “New Journalism” texts like "The Right Stuff," made a fleeting appearance in an issue of the book.
Future Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas wrote the story in 1969’s "Doctor Strange" #180, with veteran artist Gene Colan illustrating Strange’s attempts to abate some fears about trouble on the astral plane by heading out to Times Square on New Year’s Eve. That's when he bumps into the "Bonfire of the Vanities" author on the street, saying he “hasn’t seen [Wolfe] since [he] was just a kandy-kolored, tangerine-flake streamline baby,” referencing the title of Wolfe’s first collection of published journalism.
5 KISS in Howard the Duck #12
Howard the Duck went to plenty of strange places under the stewardship of Steve Gerber. Eventually, the craziness would get the ornery fowl’s creator taken off the book, but before then his sharp satirical mind had Howard entangled with contemporary concepts like professional wrestling, kung fu and religious cults. The idea of an anthropomorphic alien duck is already pretty out there; even more so was teaming him up with celebrities like KISS!
Having been institutionalized when a traffic court decided Howard and regular cohort Winda’s stories are clearly the result of mental troubles, things only get stranger. Odd things are indeed afoot in the psych-ward, not least when the theatrical rock band led by Gene Simmons emerges from Winda’s head and starts wreaking havoc. As it happens, it turns out Winda is an undiagnosed psychic and the band are just projections of her mind, but it still counts as a cameo in our eyes.
4 Eminem in Eminem/Punisher #1
Frank Castle is a war veteran who lost his wife and young child when they were caught in the crossfire of a gang skirmish. Marshall Mathers is a rapper who doesn’t like his mom. They may not have led very similar lives, but The Punisher and Eminem’s unlikely team-up doesn’t cash in on the potential for a mismatched buddy-cop vibe. Instead, the Eminem/Punisher one-shot actually has the pair face off against each other.
The Punisher shows up after one of Slim Shady’s gigs, blocking his limo from leaving the parking lot. Naturally, Eminem and his posse immediately open fire, most of them being easily dispatched by Castle. The rapper only survives thanks to the supervillain Barracuda, who was hired by the Parents Music Council to assassinate him. Barracuda then spirits him away to a boat where he intends to drown both him and the Punisher. Luckily, Eminem wriggles out of his restraints and saves the day by graphically chainsawing Barracuda to pieces.
3 Uri Geller in Daredevil #133
“I know you still question my abilities. I am used to that, Daredevil. After all, I am different -- but hardly more than, say, the Fantastic Four -- where one member can stretch his body, another turn to flame, a third can turn invisible.” Uri Geller, famous spoon-bender, lists himself among some impressive company when introducing himself to the Man Without Fear. That’s his pitch to the hero in order to convince him to help with the capture of Mind-Wave, Geller’s nemesis, with whom he’s tangled several times before in Europe.
Geller “assists” Daredevil with his psychic abilities -- namely bending metal bars and identifying the location of Mind-Wave -- with the two becoming firm friends at the end. This development mirrored that of Geller and writer Marv Wolfman in real life. In the letters page, Wolfman recounts meeting the purported-psychic at a party. Geller told the writer to draw a sketch, and he would produce an identical copy; not by looking at it, but by reading Wolfman’s mind. The results are published along with the blurb.
2 Bruce Springsteen in Transformers #14
Technically, it’s not The Boss himself who shows up in Transformers #14, but rather "Brick Springhorn and his Tenth Avenue Band," known in the Marvel Universe for hits like “Born in America” and “Dancing in the Night.” Springhorn manages to get drawn into the endless battle between Decepticons and Autobots in the story “Rock and Roll-Out!” by Bob Budiansky and Don Perlin.
Their paths cross when the Decepticons invent a way of siphoning off existing energy sources to produce Energon, the life-fuel of all Transformers. They take it along to a local Springhorn concert, where they steal not only the electrical power from the venue, but also the kinetic energy produced by the audience clapping and cheering. That turns to booing and jeering when the lights go out, before the Autobots turn up and save the day. The Tenth Avenue Band were left impressed by the encounter, never before having had such amazing fireworks at one of their gigs.
1 The Cast of Saturday Night Live in Marvel Team-Up #74
The upcoming Marvel film "Spider-Man: Homecoming" has amassed an impressive roster of comedic stars in its cast, but they’re not a patch on the crowd the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler teamed up with in the pages of "Marvel Team-Up" #47. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and yes, John Belushi, along with the rest of the classic Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players from early Saturday Night Live all made an appearance. They all show up at a taping of the show (with guest host Stan Lee, no less) attended by Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.
The night is knocked off course by John Belushi being sent a ring from a fan, which he puts on and then struggles to remove before showtime. That doesn’t matter much at first, but quickly escalates once the Silver Samurai turns up with a gang of ninja cronies looking for the ring. Laraine Newman is mistaken for Ms. Marvel (in costume for a sketch), Dan Aykroyd rescues Lorne Michaels from the ninjas, and John Belushi fights the Silver Samurai with a prop sword. Eventually the bad guy gets the ring and disappears, and Spidey discovers how Belushi ended up with it: a smudged delivery labelled for J. B. Lu-Shi, whose offices also happen to be located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Common mistake.
Which other celebrity cameos in comics have you loved? Let us know in the comments!