One major aspect of superhero stories is that superheroes are often needed to handle threats that the government can’t deal with on their 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 this ties into the superhero genre’s more individualistic aspects. It also acknowledges the need for things like a soap-opera-style endless narrative, suspension of disbelief, and other superhero trappings. Otherwise, a “realistic” Batman story would show the Department of Homeland Security or a SWAT team arresting the Joker and most of Gotham City’s villains for domestic terrorism. (They’d also be permanently incarcerated in a conventional prison, versus an outdated “insane asylum.”) Of course, this would A) probably end the series and B) have fans, especially conservative/libertarian ones, livid at the idea of Gotham being permanently saved by the government, versus a single independent billionaire (and his army of sidekicks).
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 a superhero-tied government agency is probably Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D., who serve as an arm of the United States or United Nations (depending on the writer/continuity).
Below are some examples of superheroes or superhero teams who frequently work for, have strong ties to, or receive direct support from, the government.
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” groups for the government (such as the Suicide Squad). Also not listed: superheroes working for or with ties to a local police department; see my previous post about the police in superhero stories.
The All-Star Squadron (DC Comics)
The All-Star Squadron first appeared in a preview in “Justice League of America” #193 (August 1981), and fully in “All-Star Squadron” #1 (September 1981). The team was created by Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler, and Jerry Ordway.
Despite being written in the 1980s, the series is set in the 1940s as a Golden Age superhero team. The All-Star Squadron’s origin shows that President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the wartime-only team immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
The US government considered all active US-based superheroes as “members” of the team. This includes the Justice Society, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and other heroes, as well as some appearances by the Golden Age Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. However, the series mainly features minor Golden Age characters, such as Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle.
Several new characters also debuted in “All-Star Squadron,” including the African American hero Amazing-Man (real name: Will Everett). Amazing-Man serves in-universe as one of the DC Universe’s first Black superheroes. Will later becomes a legacy superhero, with his two grandsons also taking up the “Amazing-Man” identity.
Alpha Flight (Marvel)
Alpha Flight fully debuted in “Uncanny X-Men” #121 (May 1979), after a cameo in the previous issue. The team was created by John Byrne.
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.
As a prominent Canadian superhero, Wolverine has had some ties to the team. There’s also longtime member Northstar, one of comics’ most famous out gay superheroes. Northstar came out in the landmark issue “Alpha Flight” #106 (March 1992), published several years after the Comics Code Authority had lifted its restrictions on LGBTQ characters.
Captain America (Marvel)
As fans know, Captain America received the “Super Soldier Serum” from a top-secret government project designed to create the “perfect soldier.” From day one, Steve Rogers holds pretty obvious ties to the US government. However, there have been occasions he’s fallen out with the government, or even quit his role as Cap.
Captain America first appeared in “Captain America Comics” #1 (March 1941), and was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
Captain Atom (Charlton / DC Comics)
Captain Atom is a character created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko, who first appeared in Charlton Comics’ “Space Adventures” #33 (March 1960). DC Comics eventually bought most of Charlton’s assets, including Captain Atom, and revamped the character in the late 1980s.
DC Comics’ version of Captain Atom (real name: Nathaniel Adam) gained his powers from a government experiment-gone-wrong. (His original Charlton series is passed off in-story as a government-created fake backstory for the DC incarnation.) Adam often works as a super-powered agent of the US government, though his first DC series emphasizes this isn’t by choice; he’s coerced into doing so by a crooked military general.
Plastic Man (Quality / DC Comics)
Plastic Man was created by Jack Cole, and first appeared in Quality Comics’ “Police Comics” #1 (August 1941). The stretching superhero was bought (along with the rest of Quality’s assets) by DC Comics in 1956, who eventually incorporated Plas into the DCU.
A former criminal, Patrick “Eel” O’Brien reforms after an accident gives him stretching powers. The Quality Comics version eventually becomes an FBI agent, a role that some DC Comics versions also maintain (either with the FBI or a fictional counterpart).
Teamo Supremo (Disney)
“Teamo Supremo” is a Disney animated series that aired on ABC and Toon Disney from 2002 to 2004, for three seasons of 39 episodes.
The series features three grade school kids, Crandall, Hector, and Brenda, who serve as their unnamed state’s main superheroes, as Captain Crandall, Skate Lad, and Rope Girl respectively. While it was likely made to cash in on the popularity of Cartoon Network’s “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Teamo” has the unique angle of its superheroes lacking any superpowers, relying instead on high-tech equipment. Captain Crandall has a utility belt with several gadgets; Rope Girl relies on a high-tech jump rope to fight foes, similar to Wonder Woman’s magic lasso; and Skate Lad uses a rocket-powered skateboard (though he’s already their state’s skateboard champ).
Skate Lad is the only member of Teamo to receive a full name: Hector Felipe Corrio. Hector is of Mexican heritage; one episode centers around Cinco de Mayo.
The members of Teamo all have “battle cries” that aren’t exactly “Avengers assemble!”: “Buh-Za!” (Crandall), “Whu-Pa!” (Brenda), and “Chi-Ka!” (Hector).
Uniquely for the government-backed heroes model, the members of Teamo are the only superheroes I known of backed by or tied to a state government, versus a municipal government, the federal government, or the United Nations. The team answers to the state’s governor (“Governor Kevin”), get information on supervillains from the chief of the state police, and receive their crimefighting gear from a high-tech state government lab (“Level 7”). The show also places emphasis on the state itself as a setting, versus a specific city. The series presents: state founder’s day parades; a popular statewide comedian (based on Arsenio Hall); the state’s most valuable landmarks get targeted by villains; and so on.
Similar to “The Simpsons”, there’s no clear indication what state “Teamo Supremo” is supposed to be set in; mountains, oceans, and deserts are all shown over the series’ short run. Though the show’s heavy emphasis on state-level government would imply a small state, such as Delaware, Rhode Island, or West Virginia.
Unfortunately, “Teamo Supremo” isn’t available on DVD/Blu-ray, digital video, or Disney+. While some episodes have been uploaded to YouTube from ABC and Toon Disney recordings, it’s at this point pretty much lost media, unless the Mouse House changes its mind.
The Zoo Crew (DC Comics)
“Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew” is a series that debuted in 1982, and was created by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw.
The series, about a team of funny animal superheroes, is set on “Earth-C” (or Earth-26 in recent comics) in DC Comics’ multiverse. Earth-C is also the setting of DC’s Golden and Silver Age funny animal humor comics (such as the Terrific Whatzit). As such, the entire world consists of funny animals, including animal pun names for everything. For instance, the Zoo Crew live in the “United Species of America,” with the nation’s capital “Waspington DC.”
Early in their career, the Zoo Crew is given some resources for a headquarters, transportation, and other equipment by the federal government. They also sometimes responded to occasional requests by the US President (“Mallard Fillmore”; no relation to the conservative newspaper comic) for help.
The 2007 Zoo Crew miniseries “The Final Ark” puts a more cynical spin on all of the above. Though it does point out the downside of superheroes with heavy government ties: being subject to a changing political landscape. A change in presidential administrations leads to the new US president being less enthusiastic about superheroes, and the Zoo Crew losing their government support. The feds, in a parody of Marvel’s “Civil War” and similar storylines, also try to eliminate all active superheroes in the country, an action that later backfires. The story apparently assumes all of Earth-C’s active superheroes live in the US, versus the other countries (such as “Aukstralia” and “Cornada”) shown or mentioned in the original series. Granted, even “regular” superhero stories can fall prey to this.
Photo by JamesDeMers (Pixabay)