Throughout comic book forums on the internet, it is very easy to find threads in which fans debate the greatness of various attributes belonging to their favorite superheroes. For example, who is faster - Superman or The Flash? Or who would win in a fight - Green Lantern or Martian Manhunter? Heck, here at CBR, we have forty-eight pages devoted to fake fracases in our Comic Book Rumbles Forum.
Coming this fall, however, you may find threads posing questions of a different nature; such as, "Where do you think Plastic Man stands on U.S. free trade policies?" Or "How does Aquaman feel about social security reform?"
If this shift of focus in our heroes' fictional lives does indeed occur, it will most likely be a byproduct of the upcoming "DCU: Decisions" - a four-issue miniseries that intends to reveal the political orientations of your favorite DC Comics characters. In other words, we'll get an idea if Zatanna possibly voted for "hsuB egroeG" in the 2004 presidential election.
The story will be co-written by "right-winger" Bill Willingham ("Fables," "Shadowpact") and "lefty liberal" Judd Winnick ("Green Arrow," "The Trials of Shazam"), each taking a turn from issue to issue, and will be illustrated by Stephane Roux. The first issue will be released to readers in September, before the actual US presidential election in November.
CBR News was fortunate enough to catch up with Bill Willingham at the recent Emerald City ComiCon to chat about this unusual project.
Before we began, though, Willingham put forth the disclaimer that he speaks for no one but himself, that he often speaks tongue-in-cheek, and that if the series is a success, he will try to take credit for originating the story's premise (even if the truth likely resides in DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio's office). Ah, it seems he's speaking the language of politics already...
Bill, with your disclaimers in mind, where did the idea for "DCU: Decisions" come from?
I'm going to take credit for coming up with this idea, even though I doubt I did. We were talking about doing something election-wise, and I was telling Dan...oh, this is on the record, right?
If that's okay with you...
Sure. So, as I was saying, I was telling my great, good friend Dan DiDio that for years I wanted to do "Hawk and Dove" as a political book - sort of like a point-counterpoint, where it's split and you get one right-wing, Attila the Hun-kind of conservative to do Hawk's story, and to do the counterpoint, you get some real, dyed-in-the-wool - in my mind, I always pictured Peter David ("X-Factor," "Fallen Angel") - liberal to do the Dove story. And that way, the writers will get to go at each other (politically).
Because every time "Hawk and Dove" has been written, you can almost tell the politics of the writer because someone gets their points out the way they want them, and the opposite viewpoint gets the short shrift. Liberals never quite make the conservative argument the way [we conservatives] would make it and vice-versa. And it would be even greater if both authors of this just didn't really like each other...
Well, that idea was "pooh-poohed" forever. I mean, this was before DiDio came along. I would bring this idea up every time I got to the point in my career where someone at DC was willing to give me five minutes, which, at some points in my career, was years between those opportunities.
So they're talking about this thing with the superheroes and politics and stuff like that, and I say "Great," and bring up my "Hawk and Dove" idea, saying that we should do that. I'll be the conservative side and we'll get some stinking liberal for the other. And, of course, everyone in the room at the time turned to Judd Winnick (who was also present), and he was like, "What? What?" So Judd's doing the liberal side.
It's a clash of ideas, but we're not doing the "we hate each other," liberal-conservative thing, because I kind of like the guy. But the premise is, throughout the series, the heroes will come out and say, "I'm this way politically, or that way."
You mean they're going to declare party affiliations "DCU: Decisions?"
So what is the story then? It's not just heroes saying, "I'm this or that," right? What's the story's through-line?
Well, first off, it's not just a big tease. There are definite superheroes that - by the end of this series or sometime during it - you're going to find out their political leanings and their party affiliations, if they have one.
Now, I sort of consider myself a Republican, but mostly, I'm a conservative. I've got certain leanings, and the Republicans are the ones that most exemplify that.
So some of the characters, you'll find out if they're liberal or conservative, but maybe not necessarily their party loyalty. For some, you're going to find out an absolute statement - you know, "I am a member of this party."
In fact, as we all know, Green Arrow leads the way in coming out and saying, "I'm for this." But everyone knew Green Arrow was a liberal from the get-go. If you read the "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" series (from the 70s), you knew that.
But in the first issue of this series, there's a character that everyone inside and outside of comics knows about, who finally comes out and says, "This is my party affiliation and here's why" and you are going to be gobsmacked...if that really is a word. The story involves...well, it's election time. There is an attempt on one candidate's life.
Are you using real political figures?
No. I would've loved to, but DC said, "No." So, what we've done is, we've got four characters still in the race at the time of this story: two conservatives and two liberals. We have our moderate conservative, our ultra-conservative, our moderate liberal, and our "wacko" left-wing liberal. So we have our two extreme candidates and our two moderate candidates.
Between those four candidates, the different characters we're bringing into this are going to align themselves with one of the four. And it starts off with this threat on one of the candidates' lives, where our heroes need to get in there and protect them. And what starts out as close protection turns into average citizens, the media, etc. looking at characters like Green Arrow and asking, "Why are you hanging out with this presidential candidate?"
He'll respond, "To try and keep them safe."
They'll reply, "Well, are you supporting such-and-such candidate?"
And he'll say, "No comment."
Well, things then happen and pretty soon, he's up there on the stage and it's, "Hi, I'm Green Arrow and I support Brewster (one of the fictional candidates) for president." And everything spins out of control from there.
We take it Dan DiDio has the ultimate say on what the characters' political leanings are?
Right up until the time I can find the dirt on Dan to force him to do it my way...yes, he's the "final guy."
Yeah, there are certain things we can't do, and you know, with a project like this, it's probably a good idea to have someone in there who will rein in our more impulsive ideas. I would certainly like to spin out wildly in this direction, and I'm sure Judd has similar inclinations (in the opposite direction), so it's good to have someone to rein us in so the project is manageable.
Do the villains get in on the act? Do we get to see Lex Luthor's political leanings? Although, I think we all have a good idea of what those might be.
No comment. I'm not going to tell who's involved. I mean, we know Green Arrow's there because we've seen him in some of the promo art. But I will say that Judd and I have both divvied up - almost like people for a softball game - the characters that we would like to use for our sides of the story. And there's been some interesting choices made. And it's like, I pick so-and-so, and then he picks so-and-so, and so on, so we're going to have some very well-known DC characters come out and say, "Yes, this is my political leaning." And that's going to cause some friction...
Is DC setting up anything for fans to continue the political discussions that spin out of these stories?
Well, the election, as everyone knows because we're all good citizens, is in November. These books are coming out, I think, two in September and two in October, so they're leading right up to it. I would love it if DC would do something like, "Well, since we have time between the last book and the actual election," if they just set up a phone line or something like that and had the actual election between our fictional characters. I don't know if it's at all possible, but it sure would be fun.
With you and Judd Winnick alternating issues, how will you be telling the story exactly? Is it a Rashomon-type tale, by which the issues you write tell the story from the conservative side, and Judd would then follow and tell the same events from a liberal perspective? Or is each issue more of a back-and-forth, where you and Judd hold mini-debates?
It's kind of more like the second. I would love to do it Rashomon-style like you said, or the "one guy writes the other guy into a corner he can't get out of" and it's more adversarial, and someday, we may go and do something like that.
I still think, launching out of this, that the first thing DC ought to do is let me write my "Hawk and Dove" idea where we have an ongoing series, half-written by a conservative, half by a liberal, and whatever; but, that said, what we've done is worked out an overarching plotline.
It's like, you know, I'm writing this issue with these characters and they're arguing about this. And then, once I've written it, I give it to Judd. It's almost like the dialogue I've written for the liberal character is a placeholder for Judd. Judd will go, "Yeah, this isn't what I would've said. I would've said this instead." So that no one has the ability to set up and knock down straw man arguments.
So, it's a lot more cooperative - not really adversarial. Although it'd be fun to play up that Judd and I are "Rrrrr" at each other. I figure at San Diego we'll set up something at some panel where he's at the extreme left-hand side of the table and I'm at the extreme right-hand side and we'll go at it!
But it's more of a cooperative thing overall. And interestingly enough, I found out in writing the first issue that some of the best dialogue was the liberal character making his argument to the conservative one. There's this weird kind of cross-pollination coming out of it that I think is kind of interesting. And part of it is just that I want to be so fair because I don't want Judd re-writing everything, so you kind of go out of your way to be more fair to the other side, and one kind of presumes he's doing the same on his issues. And if he doesn't, I'll let you know because I'll slap that guy down! [laughs]
What can you tell us about Stephane Roux's work on the project?
I finally met him at the Emerald City ComiCon, and he's terrific. Plus, he's a fan of my old "Ironwood" series, but don't hold that against him. He's just a great guy and a great artist. It's just going to be a terrific series.
To wrap things up, why do you think it's important to tell this story? Why is it important to know our heroes' political leanings?
Well, it's certainly not to try and sway the readers one way or another (politically). I am not out there to create more conservatives. It's not like, "Well, I was a liberal, but I read this wonderful story from Bill and if this is what he thinks, then by God, I do too." That's just not going to happen.
So it's not didactic. It's not a populist "trap" of any kind. But the justification for doing any story is, can you get a good story out of it?
Hopefully, we'll be reaching out to those readers that have grown complacent and stir that pot a little bit - get them kind of riled up. Every reader is going to have to decide, "Well, no way is so-and-so this. I can show comic book proof he isn't." And if you get that kind of interest - positive or negative - you've got something good going. I think, if the story can do that, more power to it.
But, yeah, it has to stand or fall on its own as a story. It can't just be a gimmick. That said, I can't imagine that the mainstream - outside of comics - news won't pick this up and say, "We're finally finding out who Batman would vote for," for example - I'm not saying that that's in the story though. Or "Who would Superman like as president?" for another example.
I mean, how could you turn down the chance to tell a story like that? The challenge is terrific, but if we fall on our faces...we'll blame Judd Winnick.
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