Bizarro Back Issues: The Justice League Debates The Presidential Election (2008)
Like a lot of comics readers, I'm usually of the mind that most things would be a hell of a lot better if they involved superheroes, even the American political system. I mean really, you might be interested in tonight's Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but it'd probably be a lot more fun to watch if it was Batman demanding to see Superman's birth certificate and insinuating that he was some kind of Kryptonian Raoist sympathizer.
But while mashing up the Justice League with heated political debate might seem like it would be fun, I can assure you that it is not. It is not fun at all. And I know this because I read DC Universe Decisions. Speaking of decisions, putting this thing out was one of the worst that DC made in recent memory, and if you've been paying attention over the past decade or so, you'll understand that's a pretty serious charge. It was released as a four-part mini-series in 2008 as an attempt to capitalize on public interest in that year's Presidential race, with the hook of the series being that you'd finally be able to find out the definitive political affiliations of your favorite Justice Leaguers. Because that's what the fans were clamoring for, right?
I imagine the idea was to give the story the sense of real-world gravitas that they'd previously gotten with stories like Green Arrow dragging Green Lantern across the country to learn about The Real America (read: black people) back in the '70s. In practice, though, it mostly just amounted to a bunch of characters standing around making half-hearted declarations about why they leaned left or right. Wildcat, an 80 year-old man who dresses like a kitty cat and punches people in the face, is of the mind that we need a "tough S.O.B" in the White House, while Jaime Reyes, the Blue Beetle, is mildly interested in universal health care. It's all very thrilling.
In order to get these thrills across to the reader and add to the gimmick of splitting up the Justice League into Red and Blue camps, DC recruited a bipartisan writing team: The conservative Bill Wilingham, the creator of Fables, and the liberal Judd Winick, whose work in superhero comics is not really something I have ever enjoyed. Don't get me wrong, I probably agree with Winick on a lot of things, but when it comes to the really important stuff -- like, you know, Batman -- me and that dude remain firmly on opposite sides of the aisle. Rounding things out were artists Rick Leonardi (Whig) and Howard Porter (staunch Monarchist).
But on to the plot, such as it is: It's an election year, and someone's mind-controlling campaign staffers into suicide-bombing political rallies.
I'll give that one a second to sink in.
The Justice League is having a hard time dealing with all of this, mostly because this is one of those stories where they need to have a hard time dealing with it so that it'll last for four issues and justify the premise, even though this is probably the sort of thing they'd usually knock out with enough room left to start shilling for Hostess Fruit Pies. Regardless, things have gotten dire.
So dire, in fact, that they've decided to go all out and assign Justice Leaguers to the candidates like some kind of super-secret service. It's certainly a bold plan, mostly because it pretty much requires there to be no other crimes and/or crises going on that week to work. And as you might expect, it gives Green Arrow the perfect opportunity to be a massive dick about everything:
This is probably my favorite part of the entire series: Green Arrow adamantly denying that he wouldn't protect a conservative candidate, right before saying that he probably wouldn't protect a conservative candidate. Also, he uses the word "simpatico," just in case there was any remaining doubt that he's a complete douchebag in this story.
Needless to say, he then goes on to screw it all up for everyone. After rescuing his chosen candidate from a bomber, Green Arrow goes on TV and offers up a full-on endorsement, bumping him up in the polls and sending all of the politicians on a mad dash to grab a superheroic spokesman of their own. Thus, everyone starts taking a side, and we have finally gotten to the real point of the story.
It's not just the superheroes, either. Even Lois Lane gets in the act, coming out as a Republican:
I remember this being a point of contention for a lot of long-time Lois Lane fans when this comic came out. Look, we could debate all night about whether Lois's well-known rebellion against and conflict with her father the General would lead her to reject or cultivate a devotion to a "strong military." Those are internal character traits that aren't really explored that much in the stories. We do, however, know that at the time at least, Lois Lane was married to an illegal immigrant and spent most of her career railing against Lex Luthor, who has succeeded in the free market thanks largely to Metropolis' lack of regulations on the development of Kryptonite-powered battlesuits. Her well-documented hatred of taxes notwithstanding, that doesn't really sound like the GOP.
As you might expect when politics are in play, things get heated pretty quickly. Before long, battle lines are drawn among super-heroes, starting with Green Arrow and Green Lantern getting into a fistfight over Green Arrow's endorsement:
In case you were wondering, that jab about being "faithful" was, I believe, a reference to that time Green Arrow cheated on Black Canary by f**king some girl in a dumpster, a comic also written by Judd Winick. You know, for a guy who wrote his comic for years, I'm not really sure he actually likes Green Arrow very much. Point is, Oliver Queen gets a lecture on using his power responsibly from Hal Jordan, a guy who went crazy, killed a bunch of his coworkers, tried to destroy the entirety of space and time, and then blamed it all on a giant yellow space-bug that lived in his brain for ten years. It's a hell of a debate.
They're not the only ones who fight, either:
Ha! Eating disorders! Women, am I right?
Eventually, it's revealed that the bad guy is Jericho, the worst dressed Teen Titan, who has decided to kill off presidential candidates as the first step in killing everyone. Seriously, that is his plan and his motivation: He has gone crazy because of reasons and now wants to "to kill, and to do it better than anyone else ever has before."
The real climax, though, comes when Superman is finally called upon to give his endorsement, and ends up delivering a speech about how he's here to be a protector, not to tell humanity how to make their decisions. To be honest, I'm actually of mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it is a nice message of Superman telling everyone that it's important to get out and do their civic duty and vote, and it's a nice example of his trust in humanity as a whole to make the right decisions. On the other hand, Superman is also telling us that these last 80 pages of comics we just read were pointless and dumb, and believe me: I already knew that.
Plus, he's a real jerk to Lois about it:
So that's DC Universe: Decisions, A comic book that added super-heroes to the presidential debates and somehow ended up with something that's actually less fun to deal with than backhanded sniping about tax cuts. But, as with so many things, it's not all bad.
It did, after all, show us exactly what it looks like when Superman cuts a truly gigantic fart.