May 28th, 2012, 9:47 am

Top 5 Veteran Comic Book Characters

In honor of Memorial Day, I figured I would compile a list of the best comic book characters who are veterans. From Captain America to John Stewart, there are many superheroes who were/are soldiers, but the characters I'm interested in are the ones whose service plays an integral part in their characterization. Whether as supporting cast, heroes, and complete anti-heroes, here are my Top 5 Veteran Comic Book Characters.

1. The Punisher
Rank: Captain
Serial Number: The Amazing Spider-Man #129
MOS: Military Judge

The Punisher might not be exactly a role model for Marines, but he does show why it is typically not a good idea to mess with a Marine. After his family is killed when witnessing a gangland execution, former Marine Frank Castle launches a one-man war on crime. Thirty-eight years and three movies later, Frank Castle is still the scourge of the underworld, fighting with or against the various superheroes who share a common enemy - and who generally don't approve of Castle's brutal methods. There's even "Born", the gritty Garth Ennis tale which traces the roots of the Punisher back to Castle's third tour as a counter-snip in Vietnam. Whether veteran or just plain agent of vengeance, Frank Castle is a one-man war-machine whose mind and soul has probably never left the jungles of 'Nam.

2. Venom
Rank: Corporal
Serial Number: Amazing Fantasy #15 (as Flash Thompson), Amazing Spider-Man #654 (as Venom).
MOS: Spider Ops

Flash Thompson appeared in the first Spider-Man story - as the kid who constantly picked on puny Peter Parker. Flash Thomspon has come a long way since then. Trying emulate his personal hero Spider-Man Flash enlists in the Army, where he becomes a war hero in his own right - but at the costs of his legs during an insurgent ambush. Coming home, Flash makes peace with both his high school sweetheart Betty Brant and his one-time bullying target Peter Parker. But he's soon recruited by a military program which bonds Flash Thomspon to a special alien suit which gives him all the powers of Spider-Man and more. Flash runs black ops missions all over the world as Venom, but the symbiotic suit which gives him his powers is a living organism with a bone to pick with Flash's favorite superhero. If Flash isn't careful, the suit will start using him. Fighting against personal demons and the secretive nature of his missions, Flash's new mission takes toll on his personal life, giving him much more in common with his hero Spider-Man than either men realize.

3. Scarlett
Rank: Master Sergeant
Serial Number: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1
MOS: Crossbow-Wielding Counterintelligence

There's a lot of characters from the G.I. Joe universe I could write about. Practically every character in the story - right down to Cobra Commander - is a veteran of some kind. But the human face of G.I. Joe goes to Scarlett, the second-in-command of the Joe team. Shana M. O'Hara aka Scarlett manages to be neither damsel in distress (when she is captured in the famous silent issue, she rescues herself before her ninja beau Snake-Eyes can reach her) nor cold action girl (as seen as her humanizing relationship with silent ninja Snake-Eyes). Plus, she wields a crossbow better than Daryl on "The Walking Dead". While the movie version played by Rachel Nichols looks the part, the poor writing fails to do the character justice (one, she doesn't believe in emotions, and two, she's really into Marlon Wayans). While the character is apparently absent in the upcoming "Retaliation", here's hoping future installments do this strong female character justice on the big screen.

2. Nick Fury
Rank: Sergeant
First Appearance: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1
MOS: Kicking Butt and Taking Names Long Before Samuel L. Jackson

Before Nick Fury was a 33rd-degree SHIELD Agent, and before he looked an awful lot like Samuel L. Jackson, Fury first appeared in the World War II book "Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos". Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during the lead-up to the unpopular Vietnam War, Nick Fury and his squad of commandos battled evil Nazi enemies ranging from historic ones like Rommel to fictional ones like Baron Zemo and the Red Skull. Five years later, Nick Fury's story moved to then-present day 1968, where he appeared as the head of the spy agency SHIELD, along with a few old comrades from the Howling Commandos, such as Dum Dum Dungan and Gabe Jones. More so than virtually any other character on this list, Nick Fury's characterization almost always calls back to his days as Sgt. Fury with the Howling Commandos. As head of SHIELD, Nick Fury shows a genuine interest in the lives and well-being of those under his command, whether they be SHIELD agent or superhero. And while Fury is never willing to ask any agent to do anything he wouldn't do himself, he is forced to ask his subordinates to do questionable things, just as he is forced to keep the truth from the superheroes he often protects. Like Frank Castle, Nick Fury is a character who never left the war, and now finds his current command even more treacherous than his World War II escapades.

1. Commissioner James Gordon
Rank: Guess . . .
Serial Number: Detective Comics #27
MOS: Military Police

Though it is somewhat obscure comic book trivia, James Gordon is a military veteran. The exact nature of his military service hasn't been covered to my knowledge, but it does give credence as to why Gordon is one tough cop when he moves back to Gotham City in Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One". He has little trouble taking down his corrupt partner Flass, himself an ex-Green Beret, and Gordon even remarks he's not the first Green Beret he's taken down. Given his age, it would seem likely James Gordon spent time in Vietnam, though that has been might reconned to Desert Storm soon. Wherever he served, it obviously prepared him well for one of the most riskiest missions ever - piercing the nigh-impenetrable corruption of Gotham City with a man dressed as a giant bat! There's no question James Gordon belongs at the top of the list, because he's faced things which would make the other guys on this list cry for their mother - not the least of which includes being psychologically tortured by the Joker. In addition to Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon is one other person who provides a surrogate father figure to Batman. If you still don't believe how tough Jim Gordon, just look at his daughter Barbara - who doesn't let something as small as getting paralyzed from the waist down stop her from fighting crime. If you want to talk about tough veterans, the list ends with Jim Gordon.

Those are my favorites. What are your favorite comic book vets?

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder this week!)

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