Public sector heroes: Superheroes backed by the government

A frequent aspect of superhero stories seems to be that the government isn’t capable of stopping some villain or other threat on its own. The threat might be too powerful—the police versus, say, Brainiac or Galactus wouldn’t be much of a fight. The government might also be corrupt, incompetent, and/or indifferent to the problem at hand. Either way, it’s up to one singular hero (or team of heroes) to save the day.

I suppose it ties into some of superhero stories’ individualistic aspects. It also concedes to the needs of an endless narrative, suspension of disbelief, and other superhero story trappings. Otherwise, a “realistic” Batman story would show the Department of Homeland Security/FBI arresting and permanently incarcerating the Joker (and most of Gotham’s other villains) for domestic terrorism. (Which of course would probably end the series…)

That said, there are examples of superheroes who work for the government in some capacity, or where the government provides resources to the heroes. Comics’ most famous example of such an active government division is probably Marvel’s SHIELD, but I’ve listed some other examples below.

I’m not listing superheroes who are the government by virtue of being royalty, such as Wonder Woman or Aquaman. I’m also not listing supervillains serving as “black ops” for the feds (see: the Suicide Squad).

Captain America

As fans know, Captain America received the “Super Soldier Serum” from a top-secret government project designed to create the “perfect soldier.” Since that time, Steve Rogers has had obvious ties to the US government. However, there have been occasions he’s fallen out with the feds, or even quit his role as Cap.

Alpha Flight

Alpha Flight
“Alpha Flight” #1 (August 1983). Art by John Byrne.

Alpha Flight debuted in “Uncanny X-Men” #121 (May 1979). In the Marvel Universe, Alpha Flight is traditionally Canada’s top superhero team. Alpha Flight usually answers to Department H, a fictional department of Canada’s Department of National Defence.

Wolverine has had some ties to the team. There’s also longtime member (and famous openly gay superhero) Northstar.

The Zoo Crew

Captain Carrot’s team, the Zoo Crew, was given some crime-fighting and transportation equipment by the federal government of the United Species of America (Earth-C’s version of the United States). They also sometimes responded to the occasional requests by the government for help.

A late 2000s miniseries puts a more cynical spin on all of this. A change in presidential administrations led to the team (or what’s left of it) losing the government’s support. The feds, in a parody of Marvel’s “Civil War” and similar storylines, also tried to eliminate all active superheroes in the country, an action that later backfired. (The story apparently assumed all of Earth-C’s active superheroes lived in the US, versus the other animal pun-themed countries shown in the original series.)

The All-Star Squadron

All Star Squadron #23
“All Star Squadron” #23 (July 1983). Art by Jerry Ordway.

The All-Star Squadron was introduced by DC Comics in the 1980s as a (retconned) Golden Age team. President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the wartime-only Squadron immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

The US government considered all active US-based superheroes as “members” of the Squadron. This included the Justice Society and its A-listers such as the Golden Age Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. However, the series mainly starred minor Golden Age characters, such as Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle. Some newly created characters also appeared, such as Amazing Man.

Plastic Man

In Golden Age stories, Plastic Man started out working for his local police department; he later became an FBI agent. Plas usually has kept his ties to the FBI, or a fictional analog organization, ever since.

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