The current presidential election is likely to go down as one of the most jaded and divisive of our lifetimes, with both candidates generating levels of support and controversy that have served to polarize the voting electorate. Valiant Entertainment dipped its toes into the controversy pool last week with the release of "Faith" #5, which prominently features Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton not only on the cover, but in a ten-page story by Louise Simonson and Pere Pérez.
Valiant took a soft approach with this issue, using Clinton's guest appearance and Simonson's inoffensive story largely as a sales enhancing tool; a common approach used in handling political figures by other publishers in recent years. And while comic book publishers historically haven't taken the bold step of outwardly endorsing a presidential candidate, the presence of the polite and benign "Faith" #5 stands out as a tentative, uncertain presence on the eve of such an historic and contentious election.
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In an election cycle where the very mention of a candidate's name can stoke a political argument, the mere idea of featuring Hillary Clinton in a comic story generated a fair amount of controversy when it was first announced by Valiant. Although many on both sides may claim that the simple publication of the issue constitutes an endorsement of sorts, Simonson's story itself steers clear of any such direct indication. There are no mentions of the various allegations and accusations repeatedly made against Clinton – an omission some would declare as an implication of support – but neither is there lavish praise laid out for her past accomplishments. Instead, Clinton is portrayed in an ambiguous light, and her dialogue is primarily ubiquitous and consists of decidedly non-partisan sound bites; had Pérez illustrated Donald Trump's likeness instead of Clinton's, Simonson's pedestrian story would have made no less sense and worked equally as well.
Presidential figures have been used in comics to bolster sales in the past. Readers will likely recall Zeb Wells' and Todd Nauck's "Amazing Spider-Man" #583, where Spidey saved the day for Barack Obama; not just any day in fact, but Inauguration Day in 2009, when Obama was sworn in as President. Archie Comics also featured Obama and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin in Alex Simmons and Dan Parent's "Archie" #616-#617, but this was in 2010, well after Obama's presidency was underway.
The timing of these relatively recent stories didn't coincide with any election uncertainty, though, so any disdain over these issues was largely reserved for disgruntled voters who hadn't supported Obama. Valiant's purposefully-timed release of a comic featuring Clinton, however, is a puzzling dichotomy; its timing and featured guest star point towards an endorsement, but its actual story stops short.
Instead of a mere nod to the candidate, should Valiant have just openly endorsed Clinton for President? In such a polarizing election, where so many have formed such staunch and unwavering opinions, direct support from an entity where none has previously existed would come as a surprise, sure, but then, it's an election cycle that has been full of surprises already. It's not as though Valiant hadn't already taken heat for their perceived support, and had the story been a direct statement in favor of Clinton, Simonson could have written Clinton more in character and her story arguably would have been better for it.
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If the mere appearance of a presidential contender in a comic book is enough to reach / alienate readers, then the benefits / consequences have already been reaped / suffered by the publisher. The groundbreaking move of outward endorsement would be little more than a tweak at that point, and publishers would find themselves in the position of educating, and even influencing, their readers, albeit in a potentially skewed, cable news channel kind of way. Publishers don't have to take this step, of course, but using a political figure's likeness as only a caricature at such a critical juncture in the election process serves only to send a mixed, passive / aggressive kind of message.
"Faith" #5 is on sale now, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.