Many of the best comics in the past three decades have been political. I’m not talking the kind of overt politics in which Superman hangs out with Jimmy Carter or Booster Gold campaigns for Ronald Reagan. I’m talking about the strong political context which inform Frank Miller’s work. Or Howard Chaykin’s. Or Alan Moore’s. Those creators have strong worldviews that cannot help but seep through the pages of their comics, for good or ill. Whether you agree with their politics or not, their strong beliefs provide a powerful artistic voice that always makes their comics worth reading.
The same can’t be said for Judd Winick and Bill Willingham. While Winick’s liberalism resonates throughout his superhero comics — take, for example, his “Green Arrow” run in which his Oliver Queen takes his left-wing agenda to city hall — and Willingham’s conservatism pops up now and again in “Fables” in the form of pro-life rhetoric or strong militarism — neither creator has benefited from the infusion of political undertones in their work. It often feels discordant and awkwardly forced, and yet here they are, wrapping up a four-issue series focusing on politics in the DC Universe.
“DC Universe: Decisions” #3 ended with a shocking revelation: the villain behind the series of suicide bombings which targeted presidential candidates was none other than ex-Teen Titan Jericho. And it was shocking, because the character appeared out of nowhere, taking over the body of Hal Jordan. Jericho wasn’t even a character in the first two issues from what I can remember, and that’s the kind of series this is: random things happen without much reason, until it eventually comes to a crashing halt.
Other random things that have happened in this series so far: superheroes endorsing a variety of presidential candidates (fictional ones, of course, even though the most recent “Superman” issue seems to show President Bush in office today — and wouldn’t this series have been all the more fascinating if the real nominees were the subject of such an insane and terrible story?); Robotman, Cliff Steele, acting as if it’s perfectly normal for him to act as security for politicians (the last candidate he supported was Mr. Nobody, and that didn’t end well for anyone); sometimes the heroes have necks, and sometimes they don’t, and other times they look as if their heads were pasted on top of their awkwardly-posed torsos (Howard Porter and Rick Leonardi alternated penciling duties on this series, and while it’s nice to see Porter back in action, his work on issue #4 looks rushed and, frankly, sloppy — much more like his early work on “JLA” than on his superior “Flash” stories); Oh, and did I mention Jericho?!?
I’m sorry, but there’s absolutely no reason for Jericho to be the one behind the attempted political assassinations, and in this final issue Winick and Willingham don’t even try to make sense out of it. They just pass it off as some kind of insanity Jericho recently developed off-panel, probably from hanging out inside the bodies of too many strangers.
“DC Universe: Decisions” #4, and the entire series, culminates in a grandstanding speech by Superman, in which he quells the in-story hysteria about superheroes endorsing political candidates, but since the content of the speech basically shows how little regard the superhero community has for the will of the state — honestly, except for the time Lex Luthor ended up as Commander-in-Chief, when was the last time DC characters cared about what a U. S. president had to say anyway? — it doesn’t have a whole lot of merit. And, as some kind of allegory for our political situation, Superman’s speech, along with the series as a whole, is a double threat: inapplicable and poorly-executed.
If there is a virtue to this series, and it’s hard to find one, it would have to be located in the weirdly antagonistic relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Winick and Willingham present them as a strongly opinionated married couple, and gives them a more overtly passive aggressive relationship than we usually see. It doesn’t make the story any good, but it’s such an off-kilter portrayal of the Lois and Clark relationship that it seems like the only spark of life in an otherwise ridiculous litany of pseudo-political moments.
I don’t know if this fall’s presidential race has whet your appetite for political superhero comics or not, but it’s safe to say that no matter what you’re in the mood for, this comic probably isn’t going to satisfy you.