Sometimes politics and comics do cross-pollinate, notwithstanding what I wrong in my inaugural post.
Yesterday DC Comics released the first issue of DC Universe: Decisions, a four-issue mini-series in which the Justice Leaguers find themselves involved in the political intrigue of a presidential election. There was some controversy (and outright derision) when this title was first announced, centering around the idea that the book would at best be wishy-washy and pointless, and at worst would wind up offering insultingly simplistic caricatures of both serious political ideas and DC’s characters.
DC’s pantheon of super-heroes has always included a handful of characters with overt political identities. On one end of the spectrum is Green Arrow, an outspoken leftist (at least since Denny O’Neil gave him a personality back in 1970), who once even won office (in his civilian identity) as mayor of his hometown Star City; on the other end is Hawkman, a law-and-order conservative. For the most part, however, DC’s characters remain carefully apolitical. While fans can argue at length about why Superman or Batman is liberal or conservative (and there’s at least some persuasive evidence either way), the publisher has no interest in resolving the ambiguities: a large part of the appeal of DC’s most popular characters lies in audience identification, and there’s no percentage in alienating half of your fans by stripping that away.
Thus, despite the obvious effort to piggyback on the public’s interest in an exciting election year, DC has hedged its bets from the start. The storyline doesn’t involve the real-world candidates, only fictional surrogates. Moreover, the book is written collaboratively by two writers, Judd Winick and Bill Willingham, who self-identify as liberal and conservative respectively.
A little background on presidential politics in the DC Universe may be in order here, for those who aren’t immersed in this stuff. Back in 2000, the company published a major storyline in which Lex Luthor ran a dark-horse independent campaign for president, Ross Perot-style—and won. (Yes, that Lex Luthor, Superman’s arch-nemesis; at the time, he was known to the public only as a billionaire businessman.) It was a storyline that held some interesting boat-rocking potential, though ultimately little of that potential was followed up (perhaps because compared to the schmuck we in the real world got stuck with in 2000, Lex Luthor didn’t seem like such a bad alternative). Luthor served for a few years, then his criminal conspiracies were exposed and he went into hiding and was removed from office, succeeded by his vice-president, Pete Ross. (Yes, that Pete Ross, Clark Kent’s childhood friend. He’d previously served as Senator from Kansas. It’s a long story.) Ross didn’t feel cut out for the job, however, and in the wake of various disasters (for example, San Diego sinking into the ocean) he resigned from office rather than face a re-election campaign. He was succeeded by Jonathan Horne, a nonentity of a character invented just to fill the vacancy, who had apparently been the Speaker of the House prior to that point.
Comic-book time being what it is, with storylines taking months of publishing time to play out, things move a bit slower than the real world, and the DCU’s next presidential election didn’t show up until a story published in 2006, in the first Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters mini-series. (This was presumably the same national election seen in the pages of 52, in which one subplot involved a U.S. Senate race.) In the USFF story, Senator Henry Knight (a Republican) was elected, only to have it revealed that the real Knight had been murdered before the election and replaced by a malicious alien android. In the wake of his defeat, the presidency reverted to Horne (under undisclosed circumstances: were the election results nullified? or had Horne run as Knight’s running mate?). And that’s where things stood leading into DCU: Decisions.
The first issue was interesting. It wasn’t nearly as bad a story as I had feared it might be… which is to say, it’s not an absolute train wreck. Neither, however, was it particular interesting or provocative. It goes out of its way to avoid anything potentially offensive; the plot focuses not on any ideological controversy but rather on a murder mystery that’s carefully apolitical (since the would-be assassin is targeting candidates of all parties). So far most of the overt political rhetoric is mouthed by cardboard characters in the various campaigns, not the familiar super-heroes or their supporting cast. Even Green Arrow initially goes out of his way to avoid taking a public position… although he eventually kicks off some potential controversy when he’s persuaded to endorse the liberal Democrat “Davis Brewster,” thus (given the celebrity status of super-heroes in DC’s America) producing a major swing in the polls. And that’s where the issue ends, having reached no further in the story than what was revealed on the cover and in the advance solicitations.
Perhaps the only unexpected revelation in the issue is that Lois Lane is “proudly for a strong military, small government, low taxes, and maximum individual freedom.” This is presumably meant to indicate that she’s a Republican (although given the actual governing philosophy of today’s Republicans, that’s actually an open question). It’s at least marginally plausible, I suppose, since it’s long been known that Lois was brought up as a military brat (indeed, her father served as Secretary of Defense under Luthor; another long story). On the other hand, given that she rebelled early against her authoritarian father, and works as an investigative reporter at a “great metropolitan newspaper,” one wouldn’t necessarily expect her to be a product of her upbringing. At any rate, I wasn’t particularly put out by the surprise, perhaps due to the fact that I’ve never much cared for Lois anyway.
Her husband Clark Kent, meanwhile, as will surprise no one, studiously keeps his cards close to the vest, citing “the time-honored tradition of the secret ballot.” If either he or Batman, or for that matter any other A-list character, actually says or does anything overtly partisan in this mini-series, I’ll eat my Legion Flight Ring.
An aside about continuity: this series throws a monkey-wrench into the flow of time in the DCU, since there’s absolutely no conceivable way that four years of story time have passed since the last presidential election mentioned above (the one from USFF). It’s not yet clear how (or even if) to rationalize this. (For those who care. Yes, I do. I’ve never denied that I’m a geek.) The story’s final page mentions that Brewster is now positioned “to possibly win the Democratic primary,” so presumably it could still be early in the election cycle; even so, I’d be inclined to speculate that perhaps—given the recent political chaos summarized above—that America in the DCU is holding a special election in what is ordinarily a midterm year, in order to correct for the one in which the winner was not merely fraudulent but dead. We shall see.
At any rate, I’m both enough of a comics fan and enough of a political junkie that I’ll read the remaining issues. My expectations aren’t high, but you never know: something interesting might actually happen. I doubt it’ll be half as entertaining as the actual campaign has been (go Obama!), but it probably won’t be as stressful either.Tags: continuity, DCU Decisions, Election 2008, Green Arrow, Lex Luthor, Superman