Ask Chris #278: Hail To The Chief! Nominating Comics’ Finest Fake President
Q: Who is the best President of the United States in superhero comics? -- @SAWinchell
A: Ah yes. It's a Presidential Election year here in the United States, and with politics in the air everywhere you look, the next eight months are probably going to involve a lot of questions about elections, public offices, and other expressions of our American ideals of democracy. For those of you who aren't in America, this might seem like we're drawing things out a little bit, but I can assure you that it's been like this for like a year already.
Anyway, to the question! Given how rarely we actually see the President playing a significant role in superhero comics, there are really only a few directions we can go with this. The obvious choices are, of course, Prez Rickard and Beth Ross, the two teenage presidents who have starred in different iterations of Prez, or Calvin Ellis, the Super-President from Earth-23, and if I was up for a bit of political satire, I could try to defend the Lex Luthor administration again. But really, if we want to talk about the best Chief Executive in all of comics, then there's only one real choice: President Maria Funkhouser, from Christopher Hastings' The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.
And I'm not going to lie, while the jump kicks are what put her over the top, a lot of it has to do with that jacket.
Seriously. It's not like I want the President to have a crown or a scepter or anything --- maybe a ceremonial sword, because that would be both amazing and hilarious --- but I do think that there should be some kind of visual signifier of the office that's a little better than just a tiny little lapel pin of the American flag. Those things are the weakest possible sauce. And while a plain ol' business suit is fine for doing work when you're hanging out in the White House, I guess, there really ought to be a little flair to it. So why not add some red, white and blue epaulets and really complete the look?
So yes, that's the first thing, but believe it or not, that little sartorial discussion isn't just a tangent. Understanding that jacket is the key to understanding just why President Funkhouser is so great, because it's the perfect visual signifier of how her world works.
Like, even more than the jetpack is.
At her core, President Funkhouser is one of the best expressions of how the Dr. McNinja universe works, and since that universe is pretty great, that makes her one of the most fun characters around.
If you've never read the strip, then it won't surprise you to find out that Dr. McNinja is based on a very simple idea --- one that's so simple, in fact, that you probably got it just from the name. It's about a doctor who is also a ninja. The thing is, it's the simple idea at the core of a comic that's been going for eleven years, and the simple gag of a doctor who wears a ninja costume under his lab coat has expanded over the past decade to encompass an entire world of characters and stories.
The result is that you have this inverted pyramid that's all built on the single idea that there can be a doctor who is also a ninja whose name is "Doctor McNinja." It's similar to the old saw about the DC Universe, which is that the entire thing, from Batman's gritty back alleys to the Green Lantern Corps to Wonder Woman's invisible jet, is all built from the foundation that no one can tell that Clark Kent is Superman when he puts on a pair of glasses. With DC, it's an illustration of how fragile superhero comics can be if you start nitpicking at the details and looking for scientific justificaitons for things, but with Dr. McNinja, it's about the possibilities built into that universe.
If a doctor who is also a ninja can exist, what else can exist?
If a doctor who is also a ninja can exist, and he's unique enough to be notable, but he's not remarkable enough to have fame and fortune that goes beyond a private practice in Maryland and a Honda Accord, and if his actual name is "Dr. McNinja," then what else has to exist to make a world where that's possible?
The whole thing starts off small --- if the reveal of Dracula's castle on the moon can be considered "small" --- but eventually the whole thing builds to the point where Hastings ends up creating an actual cosmology built around the ideas of competing dimensions. It's actually one of the coolest and most full-on comic booky parts of the strip, something that appeals to the same continuity-obsessed section of my brain that filed away the different ways that time travel works in the Marvel and DC Universes.
Again, the basics: The main idea is that we're working with three major versions of reality. There's a normal world, a world like the one we live in, where things like Dracula and superheroes and bandits who ride dinosaurs only exist in fiction. Then there's the Radical Lands, a version of Earth where everything is taken to the extreme, a world where skateboards and dirtbikes are mandatory, and where every single person is at least as cool as Tony Hawk.
And then, trapped in the middle as the result of those two dimensions crashing together, there's the world of Dr. McNinja. It's a world where all the comic book stuff exists, but it manifests itself in weirdly mundane ways. There's a ninja who can enter and exit an airplane in mid flight while wearing a full face mask and carrying a katana, but he also drives a Honda Accord and has a small private practice as a general physician. There's a guy who gets angry and turns into an unthinking, hulking monster powered by rage, but he just runs a grocery store.
It's a world where things are taken two or three steps over the top, but where they still have all of the problems and all the mundane, mediocre hassles of day-to-day life, just amped up by the same kind of factors as the good stuff.
Or to put it another way, it's a world where the President of the United States needs a jacket with red, white, and blue epaulets.
That's the version of America that President Funkhouser is in charge of, and that alone makes her a pretty interesting character. What puts her over the top, though, is how she plays out as an action hero.
I actually asked Hastings earlier this week if he had any thoughts on President Funkhouser, and he mentioned that there were two major factors that led to her creation. First, he knew she was going to play a big role in the strip's final story --- the one that's going on now, if you feel like getting caught up --- and wanted to establish her before it got to that point. Second, and far more simple, he really wanted to do a "Dr. McNinja rescues the President" story. That, of course, led to the fittingly titled "A Bad Enough Dude," but it's also the sort of thing that comes with an interesting problem.
If you have a President who, by her very nature in the universe you've created, has to be a total badass --- with the eyepatch and epaulets to prove it --- then what can you stack her up against that will require her to need help?
The answer was to set her up with an endless stream of assassination attempts, including at least two attempted coups.
The end result of all this is that Funkhouser is not only a President in a world that requires her to be two steps cooler than everyone else, but that her time in the Office is pretty much just living through various patriotic iterations of Die Hard, but with dinosaurs.
Every time she shows up, there's a variation on that theme, and through it all, President Funkhouser remains supremely competent and capable, and her presidential grumpiness gives her the air of someone who has resigned herself to just dealing with this as a necessary part of the job. That's something I'm always drawn to in characters, and in Funkhouser, it's done really well.
Also, she has a giant winged robot dinosaur robot named Mech Force One...
... And as a voter, that aligns pretty closely with my core values.