Celebrity cameos in comic books tend to go one of three ways: if you’re a fan of the celebrity, your interest is piqued and you’re ready to buy the issue; if you’re not a fan and it’s a book you love, it’ll elicit a groan or if it’s not a book you’re interested in at all, it’s probably nothing more to you than an eye roll. Comics have played host to all kinds of celebrities, from politicians to comedians to rappers to basketball players. Who knew such a wide variety of people would be able to team up with superheroes and save the world?
Some don’t even need the superheroes: they’ve got enough juice to kick butt on their own. (There are a couple on this list–the answer, as they say, may surprise you). Celebrity cameos, especially in superhero comics, lead to the kind of insane crossover you would never be able to see in something live-action. How else would you have gotten to see John Belushi team up with Spider-Man? Or Eminem with the Punisher? Some of the entries on this list make a certain kind of internal sense, and some of them are completely out of left field, but they’re all a specific, bonkers kind of fun.
15. MUHAMMAD ALI
When people talk about Muhammad Ali, they usually omit one of his two most important bouts: the first one, where he boxes Superman on a red-sunned planet to decide who should be the real champion of Earth, and the second one where he fights a giant alien Scrubb for the fate of the world.
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali was plagued by delays, and didn’t come out until after Ali had already dropped the title (though he would regain it six months after the story was published). As it stands, Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano and Terry Austin created a book that didn’t need to be as long as it is, but thankfully is that long. It’s a lot of fun hanging out with Superman and Muhammad Ali, best pals who train at the Fortress of Solitude, and DC re-released it as a luxurious hardcover in 2010.
2009 was a good year for celebrity comic one-shots, with Marvel’s Eminem/Punisher #1 (“Kill You,” co-produced with XXL magazine) hitting the stands to promote Em’s new album, Relapse, just four months after their President Obama issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Written by Fred Van Lente, with pencils and inks by Salvador Larocca and colors by Frank D’Armata, Eminem’s feature-length debut in the Marvel Universe is as a target of a hitman hired by the Parents Music Council.
His crew pulls weapons on Punisher when he appears at the stage exit of Eminem’s show, and the two of them begin a cat and mouse game, with switching loyalties and motivations. The plot takes a lot of twists and turns in 22 pages, and it’s definitely worth diving into Marvel Unlimited to check out.
13. CHARLES BARKLEY
The chain of creation for this comic is much more baldfaced than the others on the list: it’s directly based on a successful 1992 Nike commercial. Released in 1993, Godzilla vs. Barkley is kind of weirdly perfect. Godzilla approaches a California beach where Charles Barkley is shooting a commercial, and a small boy spots the megalizard. The boy is Barkley’s biggest fan; he allows Barkley to use his grandpa’s magic silver dollar to make Barkley grow to Godzilla’s size, they’re able to lure Godzilla out into the desert to challenge him to some “b-ball”.
Eventually, Giant Barkley defeats Godzilla. He leaves him in the desert with a pair of enormous sneaks, and a giant basketball and hoop, challenging him to do “1,000,000 layups,” and saying he’ll be checking in on him in roughly 100 years. We can’t wait for the swerve when 130-year-old Barkley stars in a sequel.
12. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
Writer Zeb Wells and artists Todd Nauck and Frank D’Armata brought President Obama into the Marvel Universe in a backup feature in Amazing Spider-Man #583; the story was called, aptly, “Spidey Meets the President!” Peter Parker attends President Obama’s Inauguration to get some snapshots, but Spider-Man has to make an appearance when a second Barack Obama shows up. Spidey decides to resolve the standoff by asking both Obamas questions only the real Obama could answer; a bold decision, asking the President the answers to all his banking security questions. Spidey eventually stumps the fake Obama by asking what Obama’s college nickname was, and the fake is revealed to be old Spidey nemesis, The Chameleon.
The story itself is fun, in a nostalgic kind of way. The comic became a hot commodity; where Amazing Spider-Man usually sold in the 70,000/month range, #253 hit more than 350,000 issues, and sold five printings.
11. URI GELLER
Uri Geller was a famous mentalist in the ’70s, renowned for his spoon-bending tricks and his claims of psychic powers. In the late ’70s, Marvel was trying to make a transition into the entertainment magazine industry, and was setting up a lot of celebrity cameos, which is probably why Uri Geller is in Daredevil #133.
The issue, “Mind-Wave and His Fearsome Think Tank!” follows Matt Murdock and Geller on assignment from the District Attorney to stop Mind-Wave and his recent, ahem, wave of bank robberies in the city. Murdock and Geller are able to stop Mind-Wave’s telepathically controlled Think Tank with the use of Murdock’s acrobatics and Geller’s literal telekinetic powers (he moves a huge steel girder with his mind, y’all). Mind-Wave is apparently Geller’s old nemesis from Europe (Geller is Israeli), but he only appears in this issue and then again a decade later to be killed by Scourge.
10. LEA THOMPSON
Howard the Duck has always been a comic that does well with a healthy dash of self-referentiality. It also has an unfortunate pedigree, including a horrendous live action movie starring the otherwise-delightful Lea Thompson as Howard’s love interest, Bev.
Howard the Duck #9, “Lea Thompson Needs Help”, came immediately after an issue of Howard catching up with his old flame, Bev. So imagine his surprise when his new client, Lea Thompson, comes to him to solve the case of the blackouts she’s been having — leading to a TV show of Howard’s life, where she plays Bev! Wheels within wheels, gang. Howard and Lea discover their lives are being manipulated for prime ratings by Mojo, and after she beats the crap out of him, she gets a hunky hero named He-Lix to teleport her back home. God love you, Lorraine McFly.
9. TIM GUNN
Models, Inc. #1 was a comic intended to bring some of Marvel’s romance history back into play. Starring Millie the Model as the suspect in a murder during Fashion Week, she and her best friends Patsy Walker and Mary Jane Watson put their heads together to solve the crime.
The backup story was, once again, where the real action was. “Loaded Gunn” is a short essay about the style of Marvel’s superheroes over the years, transplanted as dialogue for Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. Gunn muses about Janet Van Dyne’s costume collection in her new wing of the New York Fashion Museum, particularly about the Iron Man suit. He also asks difficult fashion questions, like “Why do supervillains care what their costumes look like?” The opening is spoiled by the appearance of A.I.M., claiming all of Van Dyne’s collection for themselves, but Iron Man shows up to take care of things.
8. ORSON WELLES
Orson Welles first came to national prominence for his direction and acting of Mercury Theatre Company’s War of the Worlds broadcast, a radio show people though was real and caused panic. A little over a decade later, Welles had a film in theaters called Black Magic, and DC decided to do a tie-in issue.. about Mars. In Superman #62, Welles stumbles across an empty rocket that takes him to Mars. Once there, he meets the leader, Martler, who is on the warpath for Earth.
Welles is able to send out a warning broadcast, but unfortunately he’s the boy who cried wolf on Martian invasions, so the only one who believe him is — Superman? They team up to fight off the Martians, use the knocked-out Martler to broadcast a cease fire message to his people, then drop him off on an asteroid, alone, as punishment for being such a dictator.
7. HARRY HOUDINI
Spawn #19-20 introduced Al Simmons and the Spawn universe to the greatest magician who ever lived: Harry Houdini. The story takes place relatively early in Al Simmon’s life as Spawn, and Houdini appears as more of a supporting character than a stunt. In the story, Demons of the Overlap (the birthplace of Magic) are debating the best ways to kill a Hellspawn, and they wonder if an atomic bomb’s detonation might not do the trick.
Meanwhile, Houdini teaches Spawn about the magical abilities he has at his disposal as a Hellspawn, and the two of them discover a plot to detonate an atomic bomb. Luckily, Houdini is able to expend all of his energies to send the bomb into the Overlap, rather than let it detonate in New York City, but he disappears as well. He leaves behind his flying car for Spawn, but it disappears, too.
6. DAVID LETTERMAN
There was a period of time when David Letterman was king of late night comedy, so what better place for Wonder Man to get a boost for his acting career than an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman? In Avengers #239, Wonder Man wants all his friends from the Avengers to come be on TV with him, but they’re all on a mission, so he does the best he can with what he’s got. Vision, Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Black Panther, Beast and Black Widow get to be on TV!
Their interview is foiled by Fabian Stankiewicz, the Mechano-Marauder/Mechanaut, a then-villain, who installs a variety of dastardly gadgets to pester the heroes. Letterman is able to bonk him with a giant door knob, and all is well — but Wonder Man’s interview gets pre-empted by an emergency broadcast.
5. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, AGAIN
Another one clutching at the coattails of President Obama’s fame at the moment in January 2009 when it hit its peak, Youngblood #8 featured a backup feature about President Obama. The story was written and drawn by returning creator Rob Liefeld, and featured the President setting into his new role as Commander-in-Chief by reorganizing the Youngblood roster.
By March, when the issue was released, it makes sense that the story was at least about Obama settling into new duties, rather than the beginning of his term. But by this point, the novelty of seeing Obama everywhere was starting to wear off; it was less exciting, more kitschy. This story may be kind of a stretch on “saving the world”– sure, Youngblood are a tactical strikeforce with worldwide operations, but we somehow feel like keeping the original Youngblood roster would have been less damaging to the world than a Chameleon presidency.
4. THE CAST OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players are definitely one of the strangest acts Spider-Man has teamed up with in his long and storied history. Marvel Team-Up #74 came out at a great time for all creators involved. The issue was timed to release in the same month as the fourth season premiere of Saturday Night Live and Chris Claremont, the issue’s scribe, was just settling in for a good, long, 15-year run on Uncanny X-Men.
The issue itself is a backstage comedy, à la Noises Off, and it has enough goofy moments to merit checking it out. John Belushi gets a mysterious ring in the mail that won’t come off his finger, and eventually, Belushi fights Silver Samurai onstage during the broadcast (with a little help from Spider-Man, of course). The story is definitely a nice time capsule of the original era of Saturday Night Live, and it’s just a fun Spider-Man story.
KISS (officially Marvel Comics Super Special #1) featured the band themselves contributing blood to the printing ink, and in case you forgot, there’s an article right after the first chapter of the issue that explains at length how KISS have literally drained themselves for their fans.
It starts with Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss as disaffected youths who are bequeathed the Box of Khyscz (pronounced “kiss”), which transforms them into two legendary warriors, a man with immense mental powers and a literal cat person. By the end, they’ve been beaten by Dr. Doom, but he refuses to kill their best friend, crazy old Latverian wizard/part-time New York City street person, Dizzy the Hun. Doom lets them go with a warning, and they head out, the Box of Khyscz making them “kings of the nighttime world!”
2. PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY
Obama isn’t the only President to grace the pages of a comic book. President John F. Kennedy was one of Superman’s best pals while he was in office, to the point that Superman confided his secret identity in him, and brought Supergirl to him for a pep talk when she revealed herself to the world.
In 1970, Superman and JFK teamed up to save the nation — from obesity. “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy,” written by Batman creator Bill Finger and E. Nelson Bridwell, and illustrated by Al Plastino (after an alleged Curt Swan original), is a 10-page adventure where Superman promotes President Kennedy’s new Physical Fitness Program. Superman essentially flies past a bunch of Charles-Atlas-style weaklings and reminds them that they should get in shape — for America! JFK is delighted with the progress Superman has made in such a short amount of time, and all is well that ends well.
1. BILLY RAY CYRUS
Billy Ray Cyrus #1 (1995, from the short-lived Marvel Music imprint) is a true masterpiece of kitsch. It starts with BRC finding an arguing couple in a supposedly haunted old Cherokee fortress, and it turns into a Scooby-Doo episode, complete with mistaken identity, Cherokee re-enacters, an annoying Laurel-and-Hardy-type duo for comic relief.
Part two begins with BRC taking his best friends from the previous issue (two little kids) on his tour bus, which accidentally gets sent to the court of King Edward I, who insists BRC is here, as prophesied, to kill a dragon. BRC disagrees, but the beautiful hostage Princess Huncamunca convinces him to save the day, using a laser gun. He basically forgets about the kids until he drops them off at a gas station at the end of an issue, and signs a photo of himself for them.
Which celebrity comic appearance was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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