Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Superman Red/ Superman Blue

Over the weekend, DC Comics revealed that they are planning a mini-series to be released in the weeks leading up to the very real 2008 presidential election. The series will be entitled "DCU: Decisions".

Here for a Newsarama interview with DCU Editor-in-Chief, Dan Didio.

"Decisions" is supposed to define the political leanings of various folks within the DCU. I assume we'll see some folks pop out exactly as previously defined. Green Arrow as the lefty, Green Lantern as his right-swinging pal. Hawkman coming out as a firm GOP'er. Ambush Bug as a registered Democrat.


A large part of me wonders about the wisdom of bothering to identify the political leanings of characters from whom you're trying to derive a profit. Had this been the months leading up to the highly devisive 2004 election, I would have felt Didio and Co. had lost their marbles altogether.

Politics are almost always only mentioned in some super-villainous light in super-hero comics. In 2000, Lex Luthor took the Oval Office (with Pete Ross, Superman's boyhood chum, as VP). The story seemed a bit forced, but was mostly intended to put Lex not just completely outside of Superman's grasp as a deputized officer of the law, but to give Lex the one thing he'd always wanted: the adoration of the people/ almost unlimited power.

The story didn't really bounce off of devotees of either side of the aisle too badly as Lex ran as a third party candidate, and pretty much tried to act as President as he had as CEO of LuthorCorp.

It's worth noting that real life events, such as 9-11 and the real-life US's entry into Iraq and Afghanistan, are mentioned mostly in allegory in the comics.

Anyway, Lex left office under less than ideal circumstances. Whether he achieved his goals, foreign and doemstic, seems unlikely.

Unlike Nixon, Lex knew how to leave office with a little panache

Unfortunately, I can't shake the notion that the continuity nutty and emotionally stunted fans of super-hero-dom in comics will handle the series with acomplete lack of the perspective that Didio is assuming that reasonable and mature adults are supposed to keep in mind when discussing politics. I've been on the message boards.

In short, I think that with "Decisions", DC is opening the door for a series that's just going to welcome people to abruptly turn on some of their characters when they find out that, say, Cyborg votes Libertarian. And, in the long run, that's going to cause DC some readers/ dollars.

No matter the intention of the series, people come to politics with a boatload of pre-conceived notions about "the other guys". Even today, as Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama continue the drudgery of the 2008 campaign to clinch the Democratic Nomination, the actual policy differences are fairly limited. Most of the discrepancy is in how each candidate wants to achieve the exact same goals. Yet, right now the Democratic party is suffering major upheavals as the schizm causes silly in-fighting so "our guy" can win instead of "your guy".

Apply that to a system with essentially two parties. Each has significant platform differences and where they DO agree, they might choose vastly different paths for achieving the same outcomes. No big deal, but for those of us who didn't snooze their way through 2001-2004 and how unnecessarily uncivilized it became, I'm foreseeing a lot of unhappiness with readership if these real-life political wedges are driven into their super-heroes. Isn't fighting off Despero enough? Ithat a school voucher issue?

The DC Universe is populated with characters who the reader is supposed to like. Even Ollie Queen (Green Arrow) and his nutty liberalism could be embraced by right-wingers, as Ollie can be a caricature of the beatnik with half-baked ideas. It's not too far off from how conservatives caricature liberals to begin with. Especially a limousine liberal like billionaire Ollie Queen. In the end, everyone can find something to like.

However, most of the characters aren't so well defined, and DC has carefully side-stepped getting in too much political discussion over the years. I had assumed that this tac was taken so that anyone could just assume that the hero(es) they've chosen to follow might fall in with their own basic set of beliefs. All are do-gooders, all lend a helping hand to those who need it, just as most folks would like to believe they would. If they had heat-vision.

This isn't necessarily limited to comics. When one considers the characters on TV, how often does one think about the political affiliations of their favorite sitcom characters? The characters may occasionally express some political notions, but the characters are usually portrayed as center of the road quite intentionally, so as to keep the viewership within a large tent and ensure the show reaches all kinds of audiences.

Defining, say, Aquaman, as a member of the Democrats may surprise right-leaning readers who had otherwise not given the matter much thought (I have no idea what party Aquaman would throw in with. He'd be a nut for environmental matters, but as a monarch... well... it just seems that he wouldn't buy much into all this voting business, anyway.). Why give your audience an opportunity to suddenly question their own loyalty to a character? Especially these days, when loyalty is largely what's keeping the DCU afloat.

Further, why take the opportunity to further define and explore the characters away from writers/ editors/ etc... who will handle the character in the future? Writers are not without their own biases. If I, as a writer, believe that all GOPers think Alaska serves no purpose but as a place to drill for oil, and Red Tornado has been cast as a Republican, can I write a story about Reddy fighting off evil corporate merchants hellbent on destroying the Alaskan wilderness for fun and profit?

My hope is that the "Decisions" series will explore the heroes while keeping the discussion open ended and friendly, just as its often fascinating to learn more about your own friends of all different political stripes. Part of why I became a DC fan was that, as I became an adult and found myself in the workplace, I recognized the JLA, the JSA, and the partnership between Batman and Superman for what it was... people putting aside their differences, and even their motivations, to work toward a common cause. Where Marvel's FF had unbreakable family bonds and a cosmic accident which forged their team, the JLA had only their intentions and good-will to pull them together. Where the X-Men were a team of folks banding together to fight a common cause by accident of their birth (which I still see as a great set-up), the JSA pulled together, at least initially, as a domestic front to battle our WWII enemies. That dynamic, which reflected a friendly working relationship was easier for me to identify with than the Steans Clan being bathed in cosmic rays, and JLA became something I could relate to.

If the "Decisions" series is complex enough, if it takes the time to explore and appreciate nuance... then there's a place for this series beyond the shrill point-counterpoint of the cable news networks and their talking heads. Do I think DC can actually pull that off...?

I have my doubts. It a 4-issue series with two writers which Didio has promised have diametrically opposing viewpoints. Part of my wariness may be taste, given the two writers they've listed. Neither of whom I particularly trust.

Right now, I'm also not ready for DC's PR push on this one and the inevitable, attention getting headlines during an election year: "Wonder Woman a LaRouche Democrat?"


Last year, Marvel's epic "Civil War" painted a picture of government obedience for masked vigilantes. Some have accused the DCU of following suit with a devisive topic, but I never felt that Marvel's "analogy" really worked. After all, it seems unlikely that in any universe that laws would not be passed managing crime-fighting. Or that crime-fighting without a license of some sort wouldn't be looked upon a bit suspiciously by law-enforcement and the citizenry alike. If the analogy was supposed to be about getting on-board because the government says so, they needed something a bit trickier than the story they presented. And it's possible that "Decisions" will be all too concrete and preachy.

Mostly, I worry about defining any of DC's Big 3 (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) in any political light. As law-eforcing (and somewhat abiding) do-gooders, one could paint the characters either way. And, in my opinion, part of the attraction of such larger-than-life figures is that all 3 characters have well-developed personalities, given the current writing, and the writers (and fans) would have an idea as to the opinions of the Trinity on any given topic. But rather than discuss those topics, the characters can express their beliefs through their actions, staying above the petty squabbling of political discourse. After all, none of the three ever stopped to ask a politicians to take on crime, social injustice, etc... They've always simply acted where others have not. That's the ideal for the costumed, crime-fighting, super-hero, anyway. Respecting the law while always being forced to live just outside of it in order to do what others cannot.

To complicate matters, many superheroes, especially Batman and Superman, were born out of the issues and circumstances of the Depression, with a huge dose of the idealism that comes with youth (Siegel and Shuster were in their mid-20's when Superman hit the stands for the first time. As were Bob Kane and Bill Finger when Batman first appeared.). Crime was rampant, families still fought poverty, and the world was in a precarious political position. However, in the post WWII years, and thanks to editorial codes, increased marketing, and various other influences, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman each changed greatly. Just as they would again and again, reflecting the time and place in which they were written.

I have my personal opinions. And occasionally you'll see them in print here at The League. I also see how certain characters are defined by their actions and how they've been written for years. And I'm comfortable with that. I also believe in followong one of the basic rules of writing a narrative: show, don't tell. "DCU Decisions" seems to be doing exactly the opposite of all that.

And, honestly, having my opinions of each character's political leanings hasn't ever taken away my enjoyment of the comics.

I personally don't talk politics here because I believe in a big tent, just like those sit-com producers. But, like the JLA, I also think most folks who come to The League can agree on end results, if not the way we get there. And when we can't agree on those end-results, on what we really, really want.... well, hopefully we can hear each other well enough to agree to disagree and move on. Nothing that can't be smoothed out on with a good sit on the back porch with a drink.

After all, just as Supermans Red and Blue learned... there are two ways to do everything, and when they work together... they end all crime, solve all social injustice, and each get a girl of their dreams.

Leaguers... behold. Two sides, working together: Superman Red/ Superman Blue

Make of that what you will.


Anonymous said...

I imagine Superman, WW, and Aquaman couldn't vote as they are all non-citizens.

The League said...

Ah. But Clark Kent, Diana Prince, and possibly Arthur Curry could vote.

On that note, though, the following could not vote:

Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, sort-of-Hawkman, Billy Batson (he's under-age), Red Tornado (he's an artificial lifeform), none of the Teen Titans (also underage), Starfire, Geo-Force, Vixen, and many, many others.

Really, I think Batman may be the only guy in the entire DCU who can legally cast a vote.

Anonymous said...

If Kent, Diana, and Arthur voted, would that constitute voter fraud?

The League said...

Possibly. It is an interesting question. Up until this point, superheroes were not perceived as involved in any particular way in politics. Superman can't vote. But Clark Kent can as he's recognized as the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, and the public in unaware that Clark is from anywhere but the US.

Further, I think adoption of a child from a foreign soil gives the child citizenship upon completion of the adoption, but may prevent them from running for President. So Clark is in the clear.

Aquaman is also the child of a human (and either a Canadian or American, I forget) and an Atlantean. So he may actually be able to vote as well as he was born within coastal waters, if not on land.

Wonder Woman, however, has no citizenship. She was publicly the princess of the island nation of Themyscira. As of today, she is posing as a civilian, and one assumes she has a false identity of some sort with which she could vote. But it would be fraud. However, if her identity were revealed, she'd have much bigger problems than voter fraud.