Earth Day Heroes: Six Comic Book Characters Protecting The Planet While Saving The World

Animal ManPlanet Earth isn’t always treated as well as she should be. Fortunately for all of us, there are some super-powered folks who make a point to look out for her. No, we’re not talking about that green-haired Captain Planet guy. These are serious superheroes who have fought alongside the likes of Batman and Superman.

So, in celebration of Earth Day 2009, here are some of comics' most prolific protectors of the planet -- heroes who put Earth first when it comes to saving the world:

Swamp ThingSWAMP THING: A creature composed of sentient plant mass, Swamp Thing is an elemental, directly tied to the Earth itself. Originally believing himself to be a mutated human, Swamp Thing realized his true nature and since then has done his best to protect the planet.

Whether it’s a slash-and-burn operation or a supernatural menace, Swamp Thing will use the forces of nature itself to stop the threat.

Animal ManANIMAL MAN: An encounter with aliens gave Buddy Baker the power to mimic the abilities of all animal life on Earth. If he loses a limb, he can regrow it by imitating an earthworm. If he faces a strong opponent, he can adopt the strength and resiliency of a rhino. He can even fly.

A vegetarian and animal rights activist, Animal Man has used his super-hero fame to bring attention to many issues such as animal experimentation and the illegal hunting of endangered species.

Freedom BeastFREEDOM BEAST: Headquartered on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Dominic Mndawe was a South African native chosen to protect not only the people of his country but its very wild life.

With the power of hypnotism and the ability to merge any two animals into a stronger, hybrid creature, Freedom Beast has not only fought for justice by himself but also as a member of the international team of heroes called the Global Guardians.

AquamanAQUAMAN: King of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, Aquaman can communicate with marine life, has super-human senses, and is strong enough to spear a car through a building. Passionate and short-tempered, Aquaman has often attacked those who illegally hunt whales and dolphins, as well any who would dare fill his waters with poisons and waste, endangering his people in the process.

His kingdom is roughly 2/3 of the Earth, which is part of why he has no patience for anyone who doesn’t take him seriously. Call him “Fish-Man” and he’ll punch you in the face.

(Click here to read our past coverage of Aquaman in movie, television and game projects.)

VixenVIXEN: Mari McCabe is a successful international model and is also the super-hero Vixen. A native of the fictional African nation M’Changa, Mari was given a magic totem which marked as the champion of the mythical Anansi. With this totem, Vixen can take on the powers of any animal simply by speaking its name, though as a side effect she often adopts animalistic behavior as well.

With her mind connected to wild life itself, Vixen is very protective of Earth’s creatures and has used her fame as a both a hero and model to bring awareness to their plight and has sponsored animal rights causes.

The PhantomTHE PHANTOM: Before Superman and Batman, there was the Phantom. For centuries, the mantle of the Phantom has passed from parent to child. Each Phantom works to protect the fictional African country of Bengalla. Not only does he defend its people from criminals, he protects the wild life from poachers and the wilderness from any who would decimate it in the name of profit.

Trained to know every inch of the jungle he calls home, and trained since childhood to be a stealthy fighter, the Phantom is a formidable warrior even without any super-powers.

(Click here to learn more about the upcoming movie and television projects involving The Phantom.)

Who did we miss? Any other Earth-friendly superheroes you'd add to the list? Sound off in the comment section!