Real-World Celebrities Meet Star-Struck Superheroes
Admit it. At one time or another, we’ve all been a little starry-eyed over the prospect of meeting or even glimpsing a popular celebrity “in the flesh”. From 1950’s teenie-boppers screaming over Elvis to modern day fanboys packing the San Diego Comic Con to gaze at this year's Veronica McBuffy, everyone (of every era) is guilty of worshipping at the Altar of Celebrity…even comic book superheroes!
Intended to bolster comic book sales, superhero comics have a long history of celebrity appearances….dating all the way back to the early 1940’s! One of the earliest I’ve come across was the cover of Flash Comics #28 (1942), which featured a kaleidoscope of movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Some of the faces are still instantly recognizable here in the 21st century, while others are as unfamiliar as the faces in a stranger’s photo album.
In Action Comics #127 (1948), Superman made an appearance on the popular radio show Truth or Consequences, created and hosted by Ralph Edwards (of This is Your Life TV fame). Obviously, Supes failed the “Truth” portion of the quiz show and, according to the rules, had to endure a zany, humiliating “Consequence”.
In a nod to her film Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (think Splash in black and white), actress Ann Blythe gave Lois Lane some “real Hollywood competition” in Action Comics #130 (1949).
The tables are turned in Superman #67 (1950), as the Man of Steel must compete with “super-crooner” Perry Como for the floating heart affections of Lois!
Earlier that same year, Superman #62 featured a team-up of sorts between Big Blue and actor Orson Welles, the man behind Citizen Kane and the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast. This time around, the Martian invasion was real, requiring Superman’s power and Orson Wells’…er…acting skills to foil them.
In Lois Lane #9 (1959), we once again find Lois swooning over a singer. This time it was Pat Boone, the wholesome “Anti-Elvis” of the late 50’s, who asked Lois to perform a “Superman Song” with him after he overheard her singing. Realizing the lyrics provided a subtle clue to his secret identity, Superman prevented them from performing the song…until Pat changed the lyrics when Superman discreetly explained the problem.
Some celebrities starred in their own comic book titles, such as The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, starring America’s (and France’s) favorite knucklehead. In this case, it was the superheroes who made guest appearances in Jerry’s book…such as Batman & Robin (1966), Superman (1968), and the Flash (1969).
Continuing the celebrity comedy theme was Action Comics #345 (1967), where Superman gets pranked by the one and only Allen Funt, creator and host of the popular Candid Camera TV show.
A guy who got his start writing for Candid Camera before hitting it big was Woody Allen, whose nebbish presence didn’t help Monkees rip-offs The Maniacs survive beyond their first appearance in Showcase #71 (1967).
One band that had a bit more staying power than the Maniaks was The Beatles (you might have heard of them). Toward the end of their run, various song lyrics and their Abbey Road album cover lead paranoid fans to believe that Paul McCartney had died and had been replaced by a look-alike!
Though not technically a cover appearance by the actual Beatles, it’s obvious who the band on the cover of Batman #222 (1970) is supposed to be. In the story, Batman and Robin investigate rumors that “Saul”, a member of “The Oliver Twists” was dead and had been replaced by a double...obviously paralleling the real-life "controversy".
Jack Kirby, God bless 'im, was an undisputed genius of comic book art…but when it came to connecting with the youth culture, eh…not so much. Jack’s ham-handed attempts at hipness are legendary, like when he imported insult king Don Rickles into his loopy Fourth World saga.
Don’t get me wrong, Rickles was a drop-dead funny comedian, but his shtick seemed better suited to a middle-aged Tonight Show audience than the much younger readers of Jimmy Olsen (back when the average age of a comic book fan was probably 10 to 12 years old). Making matters worse was Goody Rickels, the friendly and non-insulting “alter ego” of Don Rickles who teamed up with Jimmy and his campy new pals.
At the height of the 1970's paranormal craze, Israeli-British performer Uri Geller had convinced a handful of scientists that he did, indeed, have psychic powers…the most famous of which was his telekinetic spoon bending demonstrations. In Daredevil #133 (1976), Geller gave the Man Without Fear a psychic assist against The Mind Wave, his Think Tank, and team of “Esper-T’s”.
In Marvel Team-Up #74 (1978), Spider-Man and Stan Lee joined forces with the cast of Saturday Night Live to battle the Silver Samurai…right there in legendary Studio 8H!
Continuing the trend of Marvel heroes and late night television was Avengers #239 (1984), where the World’s Mightiest Heroes stopped by the David Letterman Show! Strange as that may sound, it was business as usual for Marvel’s periodic “Assistant Editor Month” events, where lighthearted or unusual stories were published while all the editors were supposedly “out of town”.
Of course, the Big Kahuna of celebrity comic book appearances remains the treasury-sized knockout punch of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (1978). Not only did the wrap-around cover feature Superman duking it out with the Black Superman (a nickname coined by Ali himself), but the entire 1970’s pop cultural universe as well (Click on the image for a larger view, and see how many faces you can identify)!
As comic books gradually grew more sophisticated through the 1980’s, and the median age of the readership continued to climb, celebrity appearances in superhero comics pretty much came to an end.
However, considering the rather low wattage
of today's stars...maybe that’s a blessing.