Last week brought the release of DCU Decisions #2. While I was ambivalent about the first issue, I have to say I’m seriously underwhelmed by the second. Perhaps it’s just that the dramatic real-world political and economic events of recent weeks make this story seem painfully superficial by contrast… but honestly, even judged just as a comic, I think it’s heading rapidly downhill.

Neither the political themes nor the mystery story go anywhere interesting (or really much of anywhere at all), and the writing is tonally uneven and shows a poor grasp of the characters. Even the art is lackluster; Howard Porter’s work here doesn’t compare well to his own past work, much less to Leonardi’s in the previous issue. (I understand Porter is recovering from a thumb injury, though, so we can cut him a little slack.)

The story deserves no such generosity.

This issue all but lost me right from the start, with the little mini-civics lesson on the first page. Yes, Washington peacefully turned over the presidency to Adams in 1796. Yes, it was historically significant. It was not, however, “the first time in recorded human history that a great nation transferred power to a nonfamilial relation without battle or bloodshed,” as the caption claimed. Perhaps the author (and his collaborator, and his editor) somehow forgot about the Roman republic, just to name the first example that sprang to mind.

We’re then treated to several pages of Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen arguing about Ollie’s decision in the previous issue to endorse a presidential candidate. It initially struck me as a throwback to the way the characters were handled in the early ’70s, when Denny O’Neil first used them as vehicles for “political relevance” and delivered every thematic point with the subtlety of an anvil. That alone would have been bad enough; both characters have matured a lot since then, and seen each other to the end of the universe and back (literally). Their relationship is more nuanced now, as shown (e.g.) in Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern #10 from 2006, and this seemed like a jarring throwback. At no point did either character offer any perspective that was other than completely superficial. But it turned out to be even worse, as the argument sunk into swearing and cheap shots, and then degenerated into an actual fistfight on which three pages were wasted. Two grown men, each of whom is used to carrying grave responsibilities and making serious life-or-death decisions, and they can’t argue a political point without hitting each other? It was juvenile and offensive, and I can’t imagine what the writers were thinking.

(It was also illogical on its own terms, as the fight should have been over inside of three seconds. Hal, without his power ring, is little more than a typical brawler. Ollie, by contrast—as established by one of the co-writers of this very mini-series!—recently retrained himself to peak fighting skills under the tutelage of some of the world’s best martial artists. It was a total mismatch.)

As the story moves on, our Mysterious Evildoer launches an assassination attempt on another candidate (foiled by the heroes and the Secret Service), without advancing the plot in any useful way, and meanwhile Guy Gardner and a string of other heroes follow Ollie’s example by announcing their preferred candidates (without, apparently, getting any flack from Hal). Along the way Lois Lane, acting even more out of character than in the previous issue, rails against having to report on these events (as if endorsements aren’t legitimate political stories) instead of “the issues and the perspective of these people running for office.”

That last bit seems remarkably disingenuous on the part of the writers, since this chapter carefully avoids saying anything whatsoever about “the issues” or any candidate’s perspective on them. Indeed, political party allegiances aren’t even mentioned, although it’s possible to glean them from the story so far:

  • Davis Brewster is basically a hybrid of Barack Obama and John Edwards, a progressive Democrat running on “change.” He has the support of Green Arrow, as well as Dr. Light II (when did she become a citizen?) and Thunder. Thunder is the daughter of Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce, himself a former Secretary of Education… but that’s neither here nor there, since neither of these endorsers, nor most of those who follow, is so much as name-checked in the story—making it remarkably unfriendly to readers not steeped in the DCU, not to mention underscoring just how pointlessly arbitrary these cameo scenes are.
  • Bob Ridgeway is a Republican in the mold of John McCain (he has “military background” and will “keep us safe”). He’s endorsed by Guy Gardner, long established as a brain-damaged reactionary (not an insult: he really is brain-damaged), as well as several JSAers (Power Girl, Wildcat, and Hawkman). I can buy Hawkman—he’s long been the polar opposite of Green Arrow politically—but Wildcat seems a stretch; although he’s equally old, dating back to the WW II era, he came up from the streets and has always struck me as more of an FDR Democrat.
  • Kate McClellan is a female Republican, basically Hillary-Clinton-by-way-of-Condoleeza-Rice for the purposes of this story. She’s backed by Vixen (herself a black female) and Plastic Man.
  • Martin Suarez is an establishment Democrat and a stand-in for Bill Richardson (he’s Hispanic, has “gravitas” and “experience in international matters”). He’s the favorite of Beast Boy, Firestorm, and—in the story’s wannabe-dramatic cliffhanger—billionaire Bruce Wayne, who unbeknownst to the general public and (presumably) the candidate is actually Batman.

(All of the reasons given for the endorsements are glib and superficial, in keeping with the rest of the story; I’d love to think this was an ironic comment about Lois’ inability, as an interviewer, to live up to the higher standards she grouses about, but this book isn’t operating on that kind of level.)

What about the DCU’s current incumbent president Jonathan Horne? There is no explanation offered for why he is not running; indeed, he isn’t even mentioned. Nor is there any clue what these candidates’ individual political backgrounds are, nor (as noted) where they stand on any specific issues, nor even how they’re performing in the primaries so far. As political stories go, therefore, every single element that could inject some actual drama is missing.

It’s not as if this book was necessarily misguided at a conceptual level. It’s perfectly possible for comic-book stories to combine adventure and political intrigue. There are plenty of examples in print, with all sorts of artistic approaches, from Watchmen to American Flagg to Ex Machina and beyond. Even within the mainstream DCU, we know that the U.S. is no less embroiled in middle eastern wars than in our reality (several have been seen in recent years), and moreover that quite a few heroes have crossed paths with the White House, especially during the Luthor administration, the Ross administration, and the current one. Evoking, or referencing, any or all of this material could lend some real context and conflict to this project. Instead, Winick and Willingham are thus far doing their best to generate a completely generic story, free of any and all real human interest. They seem more concerned with being inoffensive than with being interesting, much less thought-provoking.

What’s more, even though the comic is biweekly (apparently so as to wrap up its four-issue run during election season), given that the story is set during the primaries and thus far has covered only a few days, it seems unlikely that the conclusion will even reveal who the DCU’s next president is going to be. The only thing we know for sure is that it will once again be someone fictitious. And that’s a shame, since the circumstances sweeping Barack Obama into office in the real world offer far more compelling drama than DC’s writers seem able to imagine.

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7 Responses to “Disappointing Decisions”
  1. Andrew says:

    I don’t belive we do all things the right way as much as we would like to, still something we disappoint people …

  2. sudoku says:

    Hmm.. you’re right. I just looked over my Uncle Sam comics. I think I must have mixed up a couple memories.

  3. I don’t recall any indication in the first USFF mini-series that the presidential election therein was “special” as opposed to an ordinary scheduled election… although holding a special election in the wake of what went down in that story might make sense. As for the unnamed “former vice-president, now acting president” seen at the end of that story, it *could* be Horne, allowing for artistic differences; perhaps he was nominated as Knight’s running-mate? Occam’s Razor suggests it as the simplest assumption, anyway, rather than needlessly multiplying presidents.

  4. sudoku says:

    Nice write-up!

    In the Unlce Sam and the Freedom Fighter mini-series, the unnamed President (presumably Horne) calls for a “special election” in which a robot (posing as a senator) was elected President. The robot is exposed and destroyed in the final issue, but it was never explained whether Horne returned to office after this, nor was it explained why the sitting President would call a “special election” that resulted in his being replaced. Another president appeared in Amazons Attack, but the writers seemed to take great pains not to name him. I think it’s safe to say that no one actually knows who is president of the DCU right now, and if something as drastically divergent from reality as these “special elections” are possible, it’s seems pretty hard to try to apply logic to it anyway.

  5. One would have thought so, yes.

    And that so-called history lesson at the start of # 2? You rightly deflated that one.

  6. Horne was name-checked as the current president as of Checkmate #4-5, in late 2006, early in the “One Year Later” period. I haven’t read anything to suggest a change since then.

    Another detail the writers have overlooked here, BTW — Wonder Woman’s old friend Steve Trevor is still Deputy Secretary of Defense. You’d think that might make for an interesting mix-in to a political story, no?

  7. I’m not entirely sure what Jonathan Horne’s status is in the wake of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, the Checkmate mentions and whatever else I’m blanking on right now…

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