WoQW: Comics Go Presidential

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The mid-term election has gone and past. Sadly Americans will have to go a full year before they once again know the joy of negative campaign ads, dirty tactics, 527 organizations, robo-calls, and malfunctioning electronic voting machines. To help us pass the time until the next election (or possible impeachment hearings) we here at comics Nexus would like to look back at some of the most memorable presidential runs in the history of comics.

“Superman in The White House” (From Superman #122, 1958)

Superman stories from the early days of the silver age tend to be completely bonkers, and this tale written by Otto Binder is no exception. The fun begins Daily Planet editor Perry White decides to fill the paper with stories on famous presidents in honor of an obscure holiday called Patriot’s Day. (Not to be confused with the 9/11 anniversary, Patriot’s Day is traditionally held in April and only recognized as a civic Holliday in the states of Massachusetts and Maine. We‘re now one step closer to knowing what state Metropolis is in.) Jimmy Olson is disappointed to find out that the obvious choices of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have already been assigned to Clark Kent and Lois Lane respectively. While trying to decide which president to write about Jimmy gets bonked on the head by a picture of Superman which conveniently happens to be Perry’s office.

It’s remarkable how many farcical stories from this time period in every medium revolve around minor head trauma, it really is. Really what would the writers of Bewitched, The Flintstones, and Silver-Age Superman stories do without concussions?

Anyway after getting knocked silly (er”¦ sillier) Jimmy dreams that Superman has been elected president of the United States in the largest plurality in history. Clark Kent is announced to be Superman’s Vice President (remember this is all taking place Jimmy’s subconscious) but he resigns shortly after Superman shrugs off an assassination attempt. “How could I ever become president if Superman is Invulnerable?” Clark asks. “I don’t blame you, Clark! You have the most Useless job in the world!” Jimmy responds. I suppose neither were aware that Vice President’s supposed to break tie votes in the Senate.

For the rest of the story President Superman goes about showing off his powers in ways that could easily be replicated on the old George Reeves television show, like shaking people’s hands at super-speed and throwing a baseball halfway around the world. The only real political issue that Superman addresses is a budget deficit, which he deals with the greatest two panel sequence in the history of comics”¦

superman battles the national debt

Anyway this silliness meets it’s inevitable end as Jimmy wakes up only to learn that Superman couldn’t become president as he was born outside of the United states. Of course Clark Kent might run someday.

“Cap For President!” (From Captain America #250, 1980)

Captain America #250

The Roger Stern/John Byrne run of Captain America near the characte’s 40th anniversary was short but immensely memorable. One of the highlights of this run was issue #250 in which Captain America found himself being offered the candidacy by the head of the upstart “New Populist Party.” The good Captain initially considers the offer a joke, but as time goes on he starts to consider politics seriously. After discussing things with his friends in and out of the Superhero community, Cap finds himself anguishing over the decision. Would a costumed superhero be taken seriously in the world of politics? Does a man from the 1940s know the solutions to the problems of 1980? Is he qualified for the job?

After much consideration Cap ultimately addresses his constituents at the New Populist Party’s convention and declines the offer to run in a heart-wrenching speech.

“[A president] must be ready to negotiate — to compromise — 24 hours a day, to preserve the Republic at all costs! I understand this … I appreciate this … and I realize the need to work within such a framework. By the same token — I have worked and fought all my life for the growth and advancement of the American Dream. And I believe that my duty to the Dream would severely limit any abilities I might have to preserve the reality. We must all live in the real world … and sometimes that world can be pretty grim. But it is the Dream … the Hope … that makes the reality worth living.”

The idea for the story was conceived by an earlier creative team of Roger McKenzie and Don Perlin. McKenzie and Perlin actually wanted Cap to go all the way and win the election. Stern, who was editing at the time however thought this would be too much of a stretch. Still the prospect of actually seeing Cap in power would make a damn fine issue of “What If.”

“Political Asylum” (The Demon #26-29, 1992)

A group called the American Legacy Institute inadvertently summons the demon Etrigan while trying to create the perfect candidate for president. The Demon initially scoffs at the offer and threatens to throw the ALI’s head Darren Dingle down a flight of stairs, until he finds out the President has full control of America’s armies and nuclear weapons. Challenging George Bush Sr. in the Republican primaries, Etrigan proposes a simple solution to the nation’s economic woes: force other nations to pay off our debt at the point of a gun. Etrigan seems like a long shot, but after a successful television appearance, publishing a best-selling book and beating the living stuffing out of some Ku Klux Klan members Etrigan suddenly seems like a surprise favorite in the race.

Etrigan answers the hard questions

Not surprisingly, after a few unexpected twists and a fight with Superman, Etrigan ends up losing the race. This story was writing by Justice League Unlimited head writer and Static creator Dwayne McDuffie, and holds up pretty well even with all of the topical references to the 92’election.

“President Lex” (Pretty much every DC title, 2000-2004)

No flashback to the great presidential runs in comics history would be complete without mentioning Lex Lutho’s presidential bid. A constant thread throughout DC’s Superman titles, Lex Luthor ran under a promise of fiscal responsibility, funding for scientific progress, strong national defense, and a stern crackdown on super powered vigilantism. After helping to rebuild Gotham City following the long-running “No Man’s Land” storyline in the Batman titles, Luthor suddenly received a vast swell of public goodwill which he used to help himself get elected.

Lex 2000

Lex’s presidency would soon come to a major ordeal in the face of 2001’s “Our World At War” crossover, in which as commander in chief Luthor would rally the U.S. army and superheroes against the alien invader Impertrix. It would later turn out Luthor received a memo labeled “Impertrix determined to strike U.S.” yet ignored it, but even scandal this proved to do very little damage to Lutho’s popularity.

At the beginning of 2004’s Superman/Batman storyline “Public Enemies,” Lex Luthor claimed that Superman was responsible for a kryptonite meteorite of mass destruction headed for earth. Despite a clear-cut lack of evidence present the public with and a total lack of information from the U.N. meteorite inspectors Luthor placed a $1 million dollar bounty on Superman & Batman’s head, wanting them dead or alive, before sending an all-out assault of superheroes and villain alike against Superman. Luthor would end up resigning after a failed effort to defeat Batman and Superman using a familiar set of power armor.

Ultimately, story-wise Lutho’s presidency would prove to be a disappointing storyline, as he failed to be more cartoonishly evil than the current president of the United States.

“Open Season!” (Howard The Duck #7, 1976)

Why not Howard?

The roots of this storyline started earlier in the Howard the Duck #6 as the cantankerous bird and his sidekick Beverly Switzler were picked up while hitchhiking by a country musician named Dreyfus Gultch who was on his way to The All Night-Party‘s annual convention. Howard found a job working as a security guard and ended up foiling a plot to kill the party’s presidential candidate with a bomb. The candidate promptly resigned declaring the job too dangerous, and the Party rallied behind it’s new hero”¦ Howard. After a team-up with The Defenders in Marvel Treasure Edition #12, Howard soon found himself in issue #7 dealing with assassination attempts and sleazy campaign managers. After firing his staff, Howard started an activist campaign that was inflammatory as it was brutally honest. A media sensation, Howard found himself bitterly opposed by power special interest groups who were actually funding the assassination attempts. Howard’s rise to the top would come to a screeching halt when he was framed for a sex scandal. Howard #8 would reveal that the fake photos, and in-fact Howard’s nomination itself was masterminded by a Canadian villain named Le Beaver, who wished to crush the American spirit by offering the people a completely honest candidate and then ruining him in the public eye. Howard escape death at the hands of deranged Canuck his already shaky faith in the political system was shattered.

While it might not have the overall long term universe wide effects of the Lex Luthor story, but perhaps this storyline was the most important presidential run in comics history. This was the predecessor of the kind of out-of-the box promotion that Joe Quesada’s used so much in recent years, with Marvel handing out thousands of Howard for President buttons and the book receiving tons of coverage in mainstream newspapers. It also marked the peaking of Howard’s popularity before Steve Gerbe’s unfortunate falling out with Marvel and the even more unfortunate movie.