History records the deeds of great men and women — explorers, financiers, inventors, presidents, crimefighters, desperadoes and more — who have shaped civilization and altered the destiny of the planet. But in the alternate history realms to be found in comics, the famous and the notorious alike achieve even greater heights.
Here, showmen can be spies; cowboys can be monster hunters; presidents can be freedom fighters or barbarians or zombies; musicians can be gods; inventors can stop alien invasions; athletes can save the world. Good guys can be good in more than one era, and bad guys can wreak havoc in more than one dimension. Here are 15 real people who, on the comics page, were far more than ordinary mortals.
15. RONALD REAGAN
It was the ’80s, “Rambo” was all the rage, and America was faced, then, as now, with the scourge of terrorism. In 1987’s “Reagan’s Raiders,” the “World Terrorism Organization” plots to cause meltdowns at three U.S. nuclear reactors. President Ronald Reagan turns to “Professor Cashchaser,” developer of the top-secret “Alpha Soldier” program that uses “physio-nuclear conversion” to give humans “the strength of twenty men.” Sounds like the Project Rebirth that 4-F Steve Rogers underwent, doesn’t it? Ah, but there’s a difference! This process works best on old people.
With Reagan a vigorous 74 years young at the time of this story, that made him a perfect candidate! But he doesn’t do it alone: Reagan is joined by his cabinet, who emerge with more muscles than a “Men’s Health” cover model, bulletproof skin and instant commando skills. Take that, Captain America! Clad in patriotic costumes and armed to the teeth, “Reagan’s Raiders” defeat the WTO in issue #1, battle drug lords in Bolivia in issue #2 and rescue American POWs in Vietnam in issue #3. The series was written by TV and movie actor Monroe Arnold and was drawn by Dick Ayers, Rich Buckler and others.
14. ELIOT NESS
Famed crimebuster Eliot Ness brought down bootlegger and mobster Al Capone in the 1930s, supported by a crew of federal agents hand-picked for their honesty — dubbed “the Untouchables” for refusing to accept Capone’s bribes. But in the 1996 Elseworlds one-shot “Scar of the Bat,” writer Max Allan Collins presents a different kind of Batman. He sets the stage with Ness meeting the ghostwriter of “The Untouchables” book. Ness’ brother-in-law recruits him to join a task force to take Capone down, but Ness tells the writer a story that “didn’t make the papers,” about a mysterious vigilante clad in a trenchcoat, gloves, a pointy-eared mask … who also uses a “Chicago typewriter.”
Collins specializes in weaving historical detail in crime stories, such as “The Road to Perdition” and its spinoffs and his “Nate Heller” novels. Here, he weaves in Batman’s traditional inspirations. Ness mentions he liked Sherlock Holmes as a kid, the brother-in-law liked the film “The Mark of Zorro,” and as they walk past a theater showing “The Bat,” Ness is inspired to take up a disguise that strikes fear in the hearts of criminals. Atmospheric art was provided by Eduardo Baretto.
13. JOHN LENNON
“Dead Beatles,” the story in the first issue of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles,” (September 1994), looks in on Dane McGowan, a rootless Liverpool teen. McGowan finds thrills by chucking Molotov cocktails at his school with his buddies and stealing cars. But he has a greater, unrealized destiny. A loop in time allows McGowan to see John Lennon in conversation with bandmate Stu Sutcliffe. McGowan resolves to destroy his school once and for all, leading his pals to break into the library and torch the place. Confronted by a teacher who tries to stop them, McGowan beats him unmercifully, and they are sentenced to Harmony House.
Concurrently, King Mob, leader of the Invisibles, is on a quest. Using a mystic ritual, King Mob calls forth the spirit of John Lennon, rendered by artist Steve Yeowell as a god manifested in a multicolored psychedelic vision. With the vision, King Mob kills numerous inmates and staff to free McGowan from Harmony House and recruit him into The Invisibles. King Mob needs McGowan for his latent abilities, which The Invisibles will find useful in their battle against the Archons of the Outer Church, which represents order and repression.
12. BILLY THE KID
Notorious Old West outlaw William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, left a trail of death and mayhem in his 21 years on this world. He killed six men before being captured in 1881 and sentenced to hang — and killed two deputies in a jailbreak before he was shot and killed two months later by Pat Garrett, the sheriff who caught him the first time. “Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities” posits that the Kid staged his death.
While traveling, Bonney connects with Fineas Sproule, proprietor of the traveling carnival “Sproule’s Biologial Curiosities.” Sproule invites Bonney to join his band of misfits as they journey to Europe. They’re on a quest to find the Golem’s Heart… which is to be found in Victor Frankenstein’s castle. They contend with a rival, Leonard Abradale, who is also seeking the Golem’s Heart for himself. Along the way, he does battle with Frankenstein’s creations. The four-issue series (April-July 2005) was written by Eric Powell and drawn by Kyle Hotz. There were two sequels, subtitled “The Ghastly Fiend of London” in 2010 and “The Orm of Loch Ness” in 2012.
11. ADOLF HITLER
Adolf Hitler, the world’s most reviled despot, died in a bunker in 1945, committing suicide by gunshot — but in the Marvel Universe, that was a cover story. In the waning days of World War II, geneticist Arnim Zola developed cloning technology. Zola also invented a means to imprint a person’s brain patterns and transfer those patterns to clones of that person’s brain, along with their memories, personality and consciousness. With the goal of living forever, Hitler allowed Zola to use the brain-pattern device on him and also create a clone of his brain.
They were preparing to transfer Hitler’s consciousness into the cloned brain on April 30, 1945 when the Human Torch and Toro breached Hitler’s bunker hideout. When Hitler moved to kill them with a bomb, the Torch incinerated him. However, Zola successfully transferred Hitler’s consciousness. He later made several complete cloned bodies, perfecting the means for Hitler’s consciousness to move from one body to another. Since then, the Hate Monger has fomented hate and terror throughout the Marvel Universe. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Hate-Monger first appeared in “Fantastic Four” #21 (December 1963).
10. LEONARDO DA VINCI
When S.H.I.E.L.D. was first introduced in 1965, in “Strange Tales” #135, its origins were murky and yet to be revealed. The six-issue limited series “S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever” (June 2o10-April 2011), written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Dustin Weaver, presents a sprawling backstory for the spy agency.
This Brotherhood of the Shield is something more. It’s a secret society of the world’s great thinkers and creators. The Brotherhood was established in 2620 B.C. by Imhotep in Egypt to beat back an incursion by the Brood. Over the course of the story, Gallieo Galilei, Archimedes, Michelangelo, Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, Zhang Heng, Nostradamus and Benjamin Franklin appear, as do Galactus and the Celestial Madonna. The saga covers an ideological battle over freedom vs. free will waged between Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton, an immortal who murdered his mentor Galileo and took control of the Brotherhood in a quest for knowledge.
9. NIKOLA TESLA
Inventor Nikola Tesla was best friends with writer and satirist Mark Twain. Both were concerned about saber rattling by the great powers of the globe, and resolved to find a way to establish world peace. Their answer? Superior firepower. If each nation was equally armed with a destructive device, none would risk triggering it — a concept a later age would call “mutually assured destruction.”
This much is true. The graphic novel “Five Fists of Science” takes things from there, having Tesla invent automatons; giant robots 30 stories tall. Noted pacifist Baroness Bertha von Suttner provides financial backing, and Twain and Tesla promote the automatons with public demonstrations of their prowess. However, they are opposed by rival inventors Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi, financier J.P. Morgan and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, using both science and magic. “The Five Fists of Science,” published by Image in 2006, is written by Matt Fraction, with art by Steven Sanders.
8. P.T. BARNUM
“Barnum! In Secret Service to the USA” opens with President Grover Cleveland taking in an evening’s entertainment, watching the Barnum and Bailey Circus with its “Congress of Anomalies” — including strongman Colonel Dyna-Mite; Chang and Eng, the original Siamese Twins; a rubber man, and more. After the show, the circus performers thwart an attempt on the president’s life. Circus impressario P.T. Barnum himself is perturbed that the next day’s papers make no mention of the rescue.
He is soon called into a meeting with Secret Service agent Firestone Kelly, who informs him that she suppressed the news. She also tells Barnum of a plot to overthrow the U.S. government, led by inventor Nikola Tesla — the villain in this story, who is supported by several wealthy industrialists. Kelly deputizes Barnum and his crew into the Secret Service so they can stop Tesla, using the traveling circus as a cover. The Vertigo hardback graphic novel was written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, and was drawn by Nico Henrichon.
7. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
History, sadly, records that Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, was assassinated on April 15, 1865 in Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. But the series “Time Lincoln” by writer/artist Fred Perry tells us that Lincoln lived a different destiny.
In the series, Jozef Stalin is a necromancer bent on conquering all time and space. Stalin’s magic leads him to discover The Void, a dimension he uses to travel through the ages. But Void Stalin is opposed by a team of time travelers composed of Ben Franklin, Isaac Newton, George Washington Carver and Albert Einstein — and Time Lincoln, who interrupts Void Stalin’s attempt to ensure Lincoln is really killed dead that night in 1865. After that, Time Lincoln and his cohorts go through the ages, contending against alternate versions of history’s despots — Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, Donald Trump — and along the way encounter Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, a superhero version of John F. Kennedy, and more! This zaniness was brought to us by Antarctic Press in 2010, with sequels, including “Trump vs. Time Lincoln” by David Hutchison, coming in May 2017.
6. ALBERT EINSTEIN
In our world, the Manhattan Project was a covert military project during World War II that led to the invention of the atomic bomb. In the 2012 Image series “The Manhattan Projects,” it was just one of a plethora of science projects, led by the top scientists of the age, although the men in these stories are more outré than the ones we know. Take Albert Einstein, the brilliant theoretical physicist; in “Manhattan Projects,” he was even smarter, figuring out how to operate the Gateway to other dimensions.
He was rewarded by being clobbered and replaced by Albrecht Einstein, his drunk, nasty alternate-universe double. Einstein is partnered with physicist Richard Feynman to develop ways to extend the human lifespan, but spends much of his time vivisecting aliens he captures from different dimensions. The original series was written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Nick Pitarra. It was relaunched as a series of miniseries, the first being “The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars” in 2015.
5. JESUS CHRIST
It would seem Jesus Christ has little in common with Conan the Barbarian, described by creator Robert E. Howard as “black-haired, sullen eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth.” But Jesus and Conan each had a similar mission: “to tread the jeweled thrones of the earth beneath his sandaled feet.” Both also have suffered the agony of crucifixion, Conan having gone through it in “Savage Sword of Conan” #5 (April 1975), written by Roy Thomas, drawn by John Buscema and inked by The Tribe.
Writer Grant Morrison, however, dusted off a dormant idea from 1990 — a mashup of Jesus’s power and Conan’s brawn — penning “The Savage Sword of Jesus Christ” for “Heavy Metal” #284, released in December 2016. Art is provided by The Molen Brothers. Morrison told Vulture.com that the concept came as he was researching “The New Adventures of Hitler,” and learned about a Nazi attempt to rebrand Christ as an Aryan warrior. “Heavy Metal’s” cover has a buff Jesus holding a sword aloft, and a quote from Matthew 10:34 and 35: “Think not that I am come to send peace on Earth; I come not to send peace but a SWORD.”
4. ZOMBIE PRESIDENTS
In the “Dead Presidents” story arc in Marvel NOW’s “Deadpool,” all of America’s dead presidents, from George Washington to Gerald Ford, are revivified by Mike, a misguided ex-S.H.I.E.L.D agent and necromancer. Mike’s aim is to unify the country. Unfortunately, the former commanders-in-chief, who are not only undead but possessed with superpowers, think the best way to save the nation is to kill all the people. Re-killing the dead officeholders is necessary, but after Captain America beats Franklin Roosevelt, he comes off as unpatriotic.
Needing deniability, S.H.I.E.L.D. ropes in Deadpool — who, helpfully, is Canadian — to take the zombies out. What follows is mayhem, as Deadpool encounters a corpulent William Taft, fights Ronald Reagan in space, joins Teddy Roosevelt on a hunt, among other adventures. “Dead Presidents” covers issues #1-6 (January-May 2013) of “Deadpool.” It was written by Brian Posehn, who has scripted for “Reno 911!” and “The Sarah Silverman Program,” and acted on “The Big Bang Theory,” “Just Shoot Me” and “New Girl,” and Gerry Duggan. Art is by Tony Moore.
3. JOHN F. KENNEDY
In “Action Comics” #309 (Feburary 1964), Superman gets a request from no less than the president of the United States to recover a space rocket’s nose cone from the ocean, for the TV show “Our American Heroes.” After Superman fights off a giant squid to get it, he visits the commander-in-chief, who tells him that if you need a favor from me, just ask. Then Superman is tasked with another mission, and another, and another. At day’s end, he learns he’s been kept busy because the live broadcast is actually a tribute to Superman — and all his friends are there to honor him.
Ever-nosy Lois Lane and Lana Lang, however, have a machine to detect if a robot is impersonating Clark Kent. Worse, the people Superman might call on to stand in — Chameleon Boy, Van-Zee of the Superman Emergency Squad, Batman — are there but can’t help. But “Clark Kent” does shake hands with Superman on the air. How? Well, President Kennedy did owe him a favor … ! “The Superman Super-Spectacular” was written by Edward Hamilton and drawn by Curt Swan and George Klein. Sadly, it went on sale within days of Kennedy’s assassination.
2. MUHAMMAD ALI
When “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali” hit the shelves in 1978, Muhammad Ali didn’t even hold the heavyweight championship title — he had lost it to Leon Spinks that February. But there’s no doubt he’s The Greatest (and he won it back that September). The adventure begins with alien warlord Rat’Lar of the Scrubb declaring Earth must be eliminated. Rat’Lar demands Earth fight his top warrior, Hun’Ya, and will destroy the planet if he is refused. Of course, Superman volunteers, but Ali argues that someone from Earth should fight this fight — namely, himself.
Rat’Lar declares Ali and Superman will be the undercard for the match against Hun’Ya, to be held under a red sun so Superman will have no powers. In the preliminary bout, Ali beats the snot out of Superman; against Hun’ya, Ali predicts, “He’ll hit the floor in four,” and makes it happen. While Ali’s busy, Superman disables the Scrubb armada. Dennis O’Neil wrote the story, and Neal Adams adapted it to the page and penciled; Dick Giordano and Terry Austin inked. The iconic cover was designed by Joe Kubert, and features multiple stars of the day, including Johnny Carson, the Jackson 5, then-President Jimmy Carter and more.
1. BARACK OBAMA
A 2008 Telegraph article, “Barack Obama: The 50 Facts You Might Not Know,” noted, “He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics.” With that as inspiration, writer Larry Hama was commissioned to whip up “Barack the Barbarian: Quest for the Treasure of the Stimuli.” Hama, who has written for “G.I. Joe” and “Conan the Barbarian,” blended a sword-and-sorcery adventure with wry political satire. Set in a New Ice Age, Barack the Barbarian journeys across Merica — on a blue donkey, dontcha know — to defeat the tyrant Boosh the Dim, holed up in the Elephant Tower.
Along the way, he is supported by Manny the Fixer, and sorceress Hilaria and Bill, “her demi-god trickster husband,” while being trailed by The Old Warrior and Red Sarah. Even if you don’t know the figures being lampooned in the tale — such as Vice President Dick Cheney as an evil wizard — the story works. This four-issue series from Devil’s Due Entertainment (June-October 1989) was drawn by Christopher Schons. It was followed by a one-shot sequel, “The Fall of Red Sarah.” The whole thing was collected with a new story spoofing the 2016 election in “Barack the Barbarian: No F**cks Left to Give.”
What was your favorite bonkers reimagining of an historical figure? Let us know in the comments!
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