Sep 04 2013

Election Day: comic book heroes vote too

DC Universe Decisions - Green Arrow

Richard Gray in disguiseThe Australian Federal Election is being held this weekend across this big, brown land that we here at Behind the Panels call home. While most of the DC and Marvel characters will be ineligible to vote – a combination of their (mostly) US citizenship and fictional status as far as the electoral role is concerned – they have all been active in politics over the last few years, and had their fair share of elections.

So before going and doing his civic duty on Saturday 7 September 2013 at the local polling station, identifiable by the cake stalls and free sausage sizzle for early voters, Behind the Panels co-host and reviewer Richard Gray went through his collection to find out what kind of decisions our comic book heroes make.

Lex Luthor for President (2000)

Lex 2000It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. It seems that when the good people of the DCU vote, they have about the same taste in politicians that we are likely to have come the next polling day. Notorious villain Lex Luthor pulled the wool over the world’s eyes when he not only ran for US President on the platform of technological change, but won the election and was sworn in as the Commander in Chief.

Garnering public support after seemingly helping to rebuild Gotham City following a devastating Earthquake (see: No Man’s Land), the Luthor presidency had its victories: he took a proposed moratorium on fossil-based fuels to U.S. Congress, and led Earth’s heroes against an invading alien force named the Imperiex. It’s neither here nor there that he was partially responsible or complicit in these tragedies. In the comic book world, Luthor eventually overplayed his hand and a video taped confession of an alien collaboration by drug-fuelled president in a battle suit caused his downfall. In the real world, it probably would have earned him a second term.

DC Universe Decisions (2008)

DC Universe Decisions #1Digging through the longboxes to research the ongoing History of Green Arrow column, I stumbled across an easily overlooked piece of recent DC history. In an attempt to cash-in on the historic 2008 presidential elections in the US, as many of the comics here have done, DC posed the question: what would happen if one of the heroes officially endorsed a candidate. Of course, it was the loud left-leaning Green Arrow that endorsed Senator Davis Brewster, causing a ruckus among the JLA rank and file. Oliver Queen/Green Arrow was no stranger to politics, having taught Green Lantern a thing or two on the road, unsuccessfully run for mayor in the 1970s and later winning sometime during the 2006 “One Year Later” event.

It’s “easily overlooked” because it’s also highly forgettable, using a convoluted plot in which a bad guy (spoilers: later revealed to be the Teen Titans’ Jericho) was launching unsuspecting sleeper assassins as human bombs at presidential candidates. The plot device was the main thrust of the narrative, although it gave the bipartisan writing team of conservative Bill Willingham and liberal Judd Winick a chance to see the heroes squabble amongst themselves. Lois proves to be more of a Republican than boy-scout Clark Kent, and it’s a free-for-all throwback to a fondly remembered set of “relevant” Justice League issues from the 1960s and 1970s (from about JLA #66 onwards) where the League would argue over whether social ills were worth their time. Ultimately, it proved that while comics and politics do mix, sometimes it just isn’t all that interesting.

DC Decisions #1 - Green Arrow

That time Stephen Colbert was almost US President (2008)

Daily Bugle - Colbert Defeats McCain and ObamaCaptain America was president in the Marvel Ultimate Universe. Lex Luthor was even the Commander in Chief over at DC for a while. Yet one of the stranger moments in recent Marvel history was the crossover between Marvel comics and Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report. It’s no surprise though, as Colbert’s love of comics has been quite literally hanging on his set wall for some years. That prominent Captain America shield you see every episode? It was given to him by the (then) editor-in-chief Joe Quesada when visiting as a guest. During the 2008 elections, Colbert became a guest in Quesada’s “show” when he appeared in the pages of Amazing Spider-man.

Beginning with Amazing Spider-man #573, written by Dan Slott and illustrated by John Romita Jr., the in-continuity appearance of Colbert as a Third Party candidate running against John McCain and Barack Obama began. Although he was ultimately defeated on electoral votes, Colbert won the popular vote, causing JJJ and the Daily Bugle to jump the gun with the headline “COLBERT DEFEATS MCCAIN & OBAMA (above right). Of course, the later editions corrected this mistake with a fan more humbling headline, and a photo that paid tribute to Amazing Spider-man #50. In a faux press release at the time, Quesada responded to the discrepancy with, “We completely forgot the Marvel Universe reflects what happens in the real world…Ooops, our bad.” A bit of harmless fun, and any Colbert is good Colbert.

Daily Bugle - Obama Wins Election

Superior Obama-Man (2009)

Once all of the politicking was done, it was time for the president to be inaugurated, and every media outlet was there: including Peter Parker with his camera at the ready. In the back-up feature “Spidey Meets the President!” (from The Amazing Spider-Man #583), no less than two Obamas turn up to the inauguration in Washington. With the Secret Service at a loss, Peter (now in costume as Spider-man) asks both men questions that only the real president elect would be able to answer. Eventually a childhood nickname question freaks out the imposter, revealing him to be the Chameleon.

It was, of course, a fluff piece – but fluff sells: at the time, the average Amazing Spider-man issue was selling 70,000 a month, but this special election issue sold over 530,500 units and went to five printings. It remains the highest selling comic of the last decade. By the time the issue is done, another celebrity endorsement is issued, only this time it is Obama throwing his hat into the Spider-man ring, confessing that he has “been a big fan…for a long time.”

Spider-man and Barack Obama

Parting Shot: When Richard Nixon was a little girl with powers (1970)

While not an election per se, the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow run was undoubtedly full of some seriously goofy moments, not least of which was a little a girl with psychic powers who looked like Richard Nixon. Included here for some seriously whack politics, with vice president Spiro Agnew controlling the young Richard Nixon to do his evil bidding for him. Agnew was almost certainly not controlling the presidency. Instead, he was known as Nixon’s “hatchet man” in most circles. Yet like most of Denny O’Neil’s writing around the time, subtlety was not one of his strong suits, and the whole thing ends with them bringing their own house down around them. Younger readers looking at this now will probably wonder what that little girl has such large jowls.

Remember: if you live in a place that gives you the right to vote, exercise it early and often.

Green Lanter/Green Arrow - Nixon is a little girl

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