We just passed July 4th weekend, and it’s time to fire up the grill, turn up Bruce Springsteen, enjoy some fireworks, and exult in all things ‘Murica! Personally, my preference for the holiday is chili dogs, good beer, and a patriotic movie marathon. Back when I was still stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, I’d add listening for the 50-gun salute at noon to that list of pastimes. There is nothing quite like hearing the artillery fire off all 50 rounds. With a good team you’ll never have to wait longer than 7 seconds for the next shot.
Independence Day holds a special place in the hearts of most of us in the military. It, along with Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day are part of a seemingly holy trinity of holidays in that they are the closest you get to a guarantee of time off. You may lose your weekends, your commander may decide that the current mission trumps Christmas and/or New Year’s but only the truly unlucky or the absolute best of grenade-jumpers end up working on Independence, Memorial, or Veteran’s Day. Even the worst of commanders seem to understand the need for the military to unwind on these days, for America has asked more from us than any other and we always stand ready to deliver. In light of that, let’s take a look at the top ten superheroes that have transitioned from wearing US colors to a superhero’s uniform from the perspective of a Soldier. I obviously can’t say that I speak for every Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman but I can try and represent some of the most popular opinions on these characters.
Honorable Mention- Batwoman
My thoughts on Batwoman can already be seen in my article on the character and I’m not going to spend a lot of time retreading. She’s tough, she knows the lingo, and she knows the score. If not for some young indiscretions on her part during a time when such indiscretions could and did get her separated from service she would have gone on to be a fine Army officer. As it stands, she’s close but just doesn’t quite fit the criteria for this list.
(Dis)honorable Mention- The Punisher
Was the Punisher a Soldier? Yes, a highly decorated one in fact. Is he good at what he does? Again yes, he’s extremely proficient, methodical, and meticulous in his operations. Is he a disgrace to the uniform and everything we stand for? Also yes. The Punisher isn’t a hero, he’s a sociopath and the only reason I have him on this list is because he’s quite popular with the younger crowd in the military who don’t quite understand yet that he gives us a bad name.
10. Nick Fury
Nick Fury barely squeaks by into this list, though not because of his military service record. His contributions to the war effort of World War II alongside his Howling Commandos are indisputable. What makes his entry into this list somewhat hazy is his status as a superhero. Some would argue yes, others no. Personally I’m in the camp for yes. At the end of the day, he tends to work towards a greater good and his multiple team-ups with other heroes are legendary at this point. Whether you agree that he’s a hero or not, no one can dispute that he has a sense of style. Who wouldn’t want that flying convertible?
9. Hal Jordan
Hal Jordan is the first of quite a few Airmen on this list and was an Air Force test pilot, which is a pretty prestigious career in the military. Only the best of fighter pilots in the Air Force get to test new aircraft, to the point that Navy and Marine fighter pilots would likely say that an AF test pilot is almost as good as they are. It’s a sticking point among the pilot community you see, because taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier is no easy feat. You want to know the main reason Hal isn’t higher on this list? It’s because out of the service members I’ve spoken with about him, most can’t get over how terrible the movie was. Actual military opinions on Hal can be summed up as “meh”.
Wolverine in a military role has often been shown to be very, very different from his usual characterization. In the X-Men Logan is best known for being a loner and renegade that rubs people the wrong way and constantly goes off to do his own thing. As a member of the military though, Logan is almost always shown to be a quiet professional and a leader of his team. Military Logan epitomizes the stereotype of the gruff, old war veteran that gets the job done and gets his squad out of the situation alive. He’s the type of leader you might not necessarily like, but you’ll always respect and can always count on when the situation gets ugly.
7. Flash Thompson
I’ve known quite a few Soldiers with injuries bad enough to warrant a medical discharge in my time with the Army. Enough so that, I can say with certainty that nearly every single one of them want the same thing and it’s not to get out of the Army. They just don’t want to be broken anymore, would give practically anything to feel useful again. It doesn’t matter what their injury is, most of them go through a long period of trying to downplay it, so as to not look and more importantly feel like they’re malingering. This is a feeling that Flash Thompson knows well. He was right there with these wounded warriors as he lost his legs in combat. When given the chance to serve again, he did what most of those veterans would have done and jumped on it immediately. It didn’t matter that he would have to fight an alien symbiote for control, what matter is that he could serve and be useful again.
6. The Falcon
I’m using the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Sam Wilson for this one, which apparently follows his background from the Heroes Reborn continuity in 1996-97. It’s a bit of a copout, I know, but I’m quite certain that with how popular the character proved to be that soon Falcon will go through a retcon to be more in line with this version of the character if he hasn’t already. As a former Air Force Pararescue jumper, Falcon is no stranger to both jumping into the midst of danger and saving lives. It’s telling that despite having a rescue role, PR jumpers are categorized alongside the rest of the special operations community. After his tour in Iraq was finished Wilson went on to become a counselor for veterans with PTSD, continuing to aid others that needed his help. Truly this is one hero that continues to live up to motto of his former unit, “That Others May Live”.
5. Ben Grimm
Ben Grimm is the next of our Air Force Test Pilots, as well as a Marine and let’s go ahead and throw in astronaut while we’re at it which is what led him to being on the spacecraft with Richards and the Storm siblings on that fateful day in the first place. Even the Marines and Navy can’t argue this one; only the absolute best out of any services go on to be astronauts. Ben Grimm has the most prestigious military career of any superhero, bar none. But of course to most, he remains the “ever-loving blue eyed Thing” the muscle of the Fantastic Four and the superhero that saved the world by refusing to be beaten in a boxing match with The Champion.
4. War Machine
In the movies, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes is in the Air Force with an indeterminate position that seems to involve being a liaison with Tony Stark at first and then later on the pilot for the Iron Patriot armor. In the comics, he was a Marine combat pilot who apparently was qualified to fly both planes and helicopters — which is something practically unheard of in the real world. Despite his moniker, War Machine wasn’t an anti-hero substitute for Tony in the Iron Man armor and has on occasion been the only Iron Man around during times that Tony was dead or missing. LTC Rhodes has kept professionalism about himself for most of his superhero career, especially on the occasions when he has been forced to kill. It’s that sense of professionalism that reflects well on him and continues to paint him as a hero.
3. Carol Danvers
Known as either Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel depending on when the comic was written, Carol Danvers is the last of our Air Force superheroes who have strangely dominated a large portion of this list. I suppose that comic writers just really liked the Air Force back in the old days. As an Air Force Major, Carol was trained for Military Intelligence and worked as a spy alongside other members of this list such as Logan and Ben Grimm. Her impressive career led her to being named chief of security at NASA headquarters and her meeting with the Kree soldier Mar-vell and her becoming half Kree herself. She eventually left NASA as she struggled to learn control of her new powers, but her time in the Air Force has always remained a defining characteristic and her fans within the service are numerous.
2. John Stewart
John Stewart is the Green Lantern that most military fans actually care about and provides the page image for the Tvtropes article for Military Superhero. As a former Marine sniper. there is no doubt that John is a badass and the skills he learned in the Corps has served him well in his role as a Green Lantern as he proved when he sniped Sinestro Corps member Bedovian from three space sectors away. John proves the old adage “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”, and like War Machine tends to keep his professionalism in a crisis and not shy away from taking lives when the situation calls for it. It’s attitude like this that separates these heroes from murderers like The Punisher.
1. Captain America
Was there really any doubt in anyone’s mind that Captain America would be number one on my list? There really shouldn’t have been. Instead of talking about Cap’s many achievements, though, I’m going to tell you all about the strange place he occupies in modern military culture. You see, Captain America is considered a paragon of Soldierly virtue and the embodiment of everything a Soldier could hope to be. Especially after the two movies, we love the guy. However we also use his name as a derisive nickname for people who take the job too seriously. Some Soldiers “drink the kool-aid” as it were and “go full hooah”. They’re often the first to correct someone out of regs and always listen to everything the Command says as though it were gospel truth. These Soldiers get called Captain America. It’s a strange dichotomy, but one that works for us. We all want to be Captain America, but no one particularly wants to be the average guy working alongside Captain America.