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For many, being a superhero is something they fell into by accident. For others, it's a calling. But for these guys, it's just a day job.
A Military Superhero is a character who is or was a member of the armed services, and his experience as a soldier has colored his attitude towards the cause for the greater good. The discipline and training of the armed forces lends itself well to producing a pretty badass individual, and their codes of ethics and duty compliment the higher calling of heroism in such a way that they will, undoubtedly, stand out amongst their peers as someone who is reliable and sincerely committed to the cause.
This doesn't mean the hero is perfect by any means: military heroes tend to be pretty old-fashioned and stubborn in their beliefs, and also have a tendency to shun heroes who take authority lightly. They also often harbor disdain for authority themselves when serving under what they think is a weak leader, leading them to either try to take charge or just do things on their own. However, they are also the definition of esprit-de-corps within their organization's ranks, and will be the first to volunteer for any mission if it means keeping their teammates away from harm, as well as be the one guy you can always count on to never leave a man behind.
Very often, the character's background can actually come back to bite him. Their military superiors might come to them with a mission that goes against their current ideals as a hero. Perhaps a teammate does something that goes against the ethics he learned in the military. The bottom line is that this character can face many moral quandaries revolving around the conflict between his military background and his current status as a hero, which will always be played for drama as a way to deepen the story or make it more interesting.
Military heroes often exhibit stereotypes of the branch of service they serve/served with: an Air Force hero can be expected to be an Ace Pilot and love to fly, a Marine hero will be tough and have a little bit of the Blood Knight in him(or, sometimes, even a Knight Templar), an Army hero will be very patriotic, etc. It's pretty much expected of a military hero to also be a Captain Patriotic, but this is not always the case. If they have a rank as part of their name, they will possess that rank.
There are a few specific characteristics a hero must meet to qualify for this trope:
- The hero's military background is an essential part of the character. He can't just merely be or have been a soldier. If you could substitute the character's background for, say, law enforcement or being a fireman, it's not this trope.
- The character must be a bonafide superhero, or if an Anti-Hero, a Type II or Type III(so The Punisher doesn't count).
- The work the character is featured in must not revolve around the military. Military fiction, no matter how fantastic, has soldiers as protagonists by default, so their military background is obviously not something that makes the character stand out. As such, the hero's deeds will not revolve around a military mission. He performs heroism for its own sake, not because of following orders.
- Captain America is one of the best examples of this trope. Loyal to his teammates, a born leader, a paragon of virtue and a bonafide ass-kicker. He was an actual captain during his time of service with the airborne rangers during World War II.
- Captain Nathaniel Adam of the United States Air Force, better known as Captain Atom. Interestingly, Captain Atom did not start this way: he was a full-time soldier who received his powers as the result of an experiment, and was ordered by the military into infiltrating the superhero community to spy on them a keep them in check. However, as can be expected, Captain Atom eventually did grow to appreciate his role as a superhero, but not without serious conflict between both aspects of him. This is explored heavily in Justice League Unlimited.
- John Stewart, aka Green Lantern, is a former member of the United States Marine Corps. He is an excellent example of this trope in that, in all his incarnations, his training in the Corps has been a defining part of his character and has served him in his job as a superhero. His experience as a sniper helped him take down Sinestro Corps member Bedovian by sniping him across the galaxy, and in the Justice League animated series, he battled alongside US Army soldiers in WWII when he didn't have access to his ring's powers.
- Originally, John's backstory had him as merely an architect before becoming a Green Lantern. The DCAU re-imagined him as a Marine veteran, and this version proved popular enough that his DCU incarnation was retconned to have been a Marine as well (which leaving his existing backstory intact; he became an architect after returning to civilian life).
- While Hal Jordan has always been a former Air Force pilot, his The New Frontier incarnation is the one that most fits this trope. His experiences as a pilot during the Korean War heavily influenced his attitude towards his later job as a test pilot and his role as the newest Green Lantern of Earth's sector.
- Colonel Nick Fury. Former sergeant in charge of the Howling Commandos during World War II and concurrent leader of SHIELD.
- Captain Metropolis from Watchmen is a former Marine lieutenant.
- The current Batwoman, Kate Kane, was discharged from West Point under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. She sees her vigilante activity as a form of military service that gives her life meaning.
- Taylor in Power Rangers Wild Force was an Air Force pilot before encountering an Animal Mecha and crashing on a Floating Continent. She's one of the toughest Rangers on the team, and easily the most no-nonsense (at least until Merrick shows up), "drafting" Cole in the season premier by gut-punching him. Oddly, she basically goes AWOL as a result - the guys at her old base have no idea where she is, and she even hides her identity when a Ranger mission takes her there. She resumes duty at the end of the series, dismissing the idea of her landing on an island in the sky as people reading too many children's stories.
- Wolverine has served countless times in the military, and has picked up a great many habits and skills with the years. Interestingly enough, he's always shown to be VERY serious and professional in that role, contrary to his usual authority-sticking personality.
- The ever-loving blue-eyed Thing had one of the most prestigious military careers in comic book history, having served as a pilot for both the Air Force and the Marine Corps. His exemplary service ultimately earned him the right to serve as an astronaut, which eventually led to that fateful cosmic radiation shower.
- Ms. Marvel was a Major in the United States Air Force and served with The Thing back when he was human.
- James Rhodes, aka War Machine, was a lieutenant in the USAF, and saw action in Southeast Asia.
- In the film, Rhodey was a lieutenant colonel in the USAF, and was the military's chief liason to Stark Industries.
- DC's Commander Steel was Hank Haywood, a US Marine who, after being injured during WWII, volunteered for special bionic upgrades that turned him into a Captain America Expy.
- Blackstone, a superhero/stage-magician in Wearing the Cape, is a former US Marine (he mustered out and began his stage-magic career some time after a battlefield injury rendered him incapable of field operations). He appears to have worked in military intelligence, and is the security/intelligence specialist of the Sentinels.
- Hellboy originally was a member of the BPRD, a private agency that functioned much like a government military agency..