Obama is a longtime comics fan, preferring angst-ridden superheroes like Spider-Man and Batman. And the comics industry, which has often added famous Presidents into its stories, has been eager to capitalize on the new President's popularity in the months since his election.
Many modern U.S. Presidents have "guest-starred" in comic books, including Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and John F. Kennedy. Even Abraham Lincoln shared a few panels with Batman in the Elseworlds graphic novel The Blue, The Grey, and The Bat (1993).
Often such appearances have been critical of the Commander-in-Chief. For instance, Ronald Reagan had an unflattering supporting role in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (1986). George W. Bush, likewise, appeared in issues of Marvel's The Ultimates, the post-9/11 reboot of The Avengers.
Richard Nixon is another favorite for comics satire. Among his most notable comics appearances are in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen (1985), where Nixon is serving an unprecedented fifth term, and in John Byrne's Star Trek: Assignment Earth #5 (2009), in which aliens clone Nixon in a bid for world domination.
Unlike his predecessors, President Obama was featured in comic books before even taking office. IDW published a one-shot biography of the Democratic Presidential Candidate in the fall of 2008, called Presidential Material: Barack Obama. (In fairness, IDW also put out a companion comic, Presidential Material: John McCain, profiling Obama's Republican rival.)
The Amazing Spider-Man #583, published a few weeks before Obama's inauguration, had a bonus story in which Spider-Man foils a plot by the Chameleon to impersonate Obama and get sworn in as President in his place. Obama was also featured on a variant cover of the issue, giving Spidey a thumbs-up.
Once Obama became President, his comics appearances got even stranger. He was given an Arnold Schwarzenegger-style physique in DDP's miniseries Barack the Barbarian. All the prominent political figures in Washington are parodied as Barack the Barbarian battles such villains as the despot Boosh and Red Sarah, Fighting Queen of the North.
Barack Obama even teamed up with the star of The Evil Dead trilogy in Dynamite's Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama. In this unlikely adventure, Obama stops at a Detroit comics convention where Ash, fresh from battling the legions of hell, is back at his menial job. But Ash leaps into action to save the President when the Necronomicon once again raises the dead.
President Obama appeared in a similar vein in President Evil from Antarctic Press. Though Obama and other politicians fight off zombie hordes in the manner of the Resident Evil video games and movies, President Evil #1's cover actually spoofs the classic Army of Darkness release poster.
Most recently, Obama has appeared in a spoof cover of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 as the soon-to-be-revealed secret identity of the villain Twilight. However, Dark Horse editor Scott Allie has said that the cover would not end up on the final issue.
Gimmick or Social Commentary?
Barack Obama stands out from other U.S. Presidents who have been featured in comics, thanks to the frequency – and sometimes silliness – of his appearances in the past year.
Unlike earlier parodies of Presidents Nixon or Reagan, however, Obama's comics cameos could be filled by any celebrity, and seem designed to cash in on his current pop-culture status. Only if comics creators include Obama in future stories to examine the policies of his Presidency will Barack Obama comics rise above mere gimmicks.