Comic Fodder

When Politics Intersects with Comics

DC Universe: Decisions 1

by Bill Willingham, Judd Winick, and Rick Leonardi

Since Ryan had half of his audience abandon him with his first sentence just now, I feel obliged to welcome all of that audience here, and in the interests of full disclosure: I am a right-leaning Republican who votes. See how much we have in common already? Ryan and I both vote!

DC needed to open up this can of worms like they needed to show Orion getting killed again. In a time when the entire country has gotten more interested and inundated with politics than ever before in my memory, the last thing normal people want is to have this (censored) intrude on our comic book escapist pleasure. Which does not necessarily mean it will be a disaster, but I do question the wisdom of a four issue mini-series like this. Here’s something that would have been great: have one of the candidates go on the stump talking about how comic books rot young people’s imaginations. That would have been funny, at least. Instead, here’s what we get:

The actual actions of the heroes while tracking down the threat is good, and Leonardi’s art is good enough, but it’s a little weird to see every presidential candidate being targeted. What’s the motivation for something like that? Either you have a political side you want to win, and you eliminate the opposition, or you hate the country period, and want to target the sitting president, the one who actually has the power. Targeting a bunch of wanna-be presidents regardless of which party? No motivation.

The book falls apart as soon as Ollie opens his big mouth and asks if he can be assigned to a candidate whose politics he agrees with, for extra incentive to risk his life. Excuse me?!? Is this a hero talking? And coming from a character that has been identified as a liberal, who have the perception of being the compassionate ones? We actually hear him express a desire to save the life of a particular person based on political leanings, of all the unimportant things? Green Arrow just came off as the most insensitive idiot in the entire DC universe. Set aside the idea that a person who breaks a number of laws as a vigilante and shoots deadly arrows into people every day has been cast as a liberal, socially conscious person: we are supposed to believe that a cop getting a briefing on an imminent threat to the mayor would suggest letting the mayor die because he disagrees with him politically? Because that’s what this sounds like.

Whichever of the two writers who handled Superman did great. Lois Lane plays her normal inquisitive self, and Superman voices his admiration for the “time-honored tradition of the secret ballot,” not even letting his wife know who he votes for; perfect!

The comic turns stupid a couple pages later when the Democratic candidate threatens to fire one of his operatives unless he gets Green Arrow to endorse him and inflate his polling numbers. The threatened guy then convinces Ollie to do it. Really? In the middle of this, we find out Batman has 68 super-powered individuals secretly working for him undercover in different criminal organizations. All of the 68 have some variation on mind control powers. I don’t think so.

Back to the flunky whose job is on the line. He convinces Ollie with some of the most boring, overused talking points from the liberal side of the house: “lift millions out of poverty.” Yeah, because after spending trillions of dollars in the last 50 years in this country, that’s worked. Why, there are almost no poor people left in America, right? Ugh. What else? “He’ll put the nation back on the right track.” I can’t go a whole day without hearing this phrase; I have to read it in my comics now, too? Just shoot me now.

Then we return to the fact that the Democratic nominee doesn’t sound like he has any of the noble qualities that his operative just talked about. I mean, unless his operative did something nobody had managed to do before, he was going to lose his job. Was it for a good reason? No, it was only to give him a bump in the polls. This is the crassness Willingham and Winick want the politicians to display? Are they deliberately trying to make the Democrats look like unfeeling, ruthless jerks, or do they honestly think this is a good portrayal of them?

Don’t worry, because next issue they will inject Guy Gardner into the mix in an obvious attempt to have the heroes counter Ollie’s “liberal” endorsement with someone on the “conservative” side. So expect the Republicans to get thrashed just as soundly next issue, because Guy has always displayed a dumbed-down, misunderstood version of the right-wing, the stereotype of “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out.” It was great for laughs when Giffen was writing the humorous Justice League International, but after skewering the Democrats so they come across as talking-point infested, do-anything-to-get-elected wastes of skin, it makes sense to use Guy as a foil to mock the other side of the political house.

I’ll try to hope it gets better than this, but one of the things that made the West Wing a fun TV show to watch is that they didn’t always stick to talking points; they put out some arguments that you don’t hear every day, or in some cases managed to present a better argument than you heard from the real-life politicians. If DC is going to insist on giving us a political comic that messes with our heroes, they could at least mandate to the writers that they cannot use any of the usual talking points on CNN, and must instead come up with their own slogans and arguments for political issues. If I want the typical bromides in my comics, I can just pick up Amazing Spider-Man and read Dan Slott’s unimaginative ripped-from-the-CNN-headlines banalities that he always uses for his political sub-plot.

Bottom line: if you’re going to throw politics into comics, at least give us something new and/or better than the TV gives us every freaking day. We already watched TV, we don’t want to pick up our comics for re-runs. For politics done right (for that matter, a better take on Secret Invasion at the same time), see Kurt Busiek’s Astro City trade paperback, Confession, in which the main character becomes surrounded by all sorts of legal and political issues that are relevant to living in a world with super-heroes, while simultaneously uncovering shape-shifting aliens.

In the meantime, what do I do with Ryan, my esteemed political opponent (who always cancels out my vote at the ballot box)? He agrees with me on what a bad idea this was! We have already found common ground in a mutual enemy: horrible stories. If only our real politicians could find some common ground on which to build. Because we aren’t going to get any of that from this comic book.
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

My advice? Hang outside his polling place, and make sure he can't go in. Oh wait, that would turn you into a Democrat....

-- Posted by: Mike Shields at September 27, 2008 8:46 AM


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