Politics in superhero comics has always been tricky because a) vigilantism is inherently reactionary and b) most superhero writers don’t know much about politics, to say nothing of depicting it with nuance. It’s for these reasons something like DCU: Decisions exists, DC’s 2008 efforts to capitalize on the election fever created by the multicultural multigenerational movement that coalesced around America hating terrorist Barack Horatio Obama. But of course DC didn’t want to appear partisan despite the overly liberal bent of the comics community, so they did a curious thing: teamed up the house conservative writer and the house liberal writer in an attempt at bipartisan “balance”. It worked about as well as Hannity & Colmes. (If you think that is a dated reference, prepare yourselves.) In the left corner, there’s Juddiah Winick, friend to that guy on Real World who died of AIDS and writer of several hamfisted comics (Green Lantern a la Kyle Rayner, Green Arrow, etc.). In the right corner, it’s Billiam Willingham, creator of Fables, killer of Stephanie Brown (for a time) and the guy who infamously said he wasn’t “your personal art nigger” to someone who wanted him to return to his Elementals series. Both have produced good work; both have produced dogshit. Is it any surprise DCU: Decisions leans towards the dogshit side of things? It shouldn’t be, considering the premise of the series is meta, in that it concerns whether or not superheroes should involve themselves in politics. Should they remain above the fray or speak out in favor of candidates and policies? I believe it was Voltaire who once said “all art is political”, to which I say: is it? And can we really say what DC was producing in the late 2000s was art?
This is just the argument Bill Willingham and Judd Winick had while writing the comic.
DCU: Decisions begins with Superman and Batman yelling at a robot for letting people die. Specifically, Robot-Man of the Doom Patrol failed to save everyone at a political rally for Condoleezza Rice stand-in Kate McClellan. I always like these scenes where the World’s Finest act like disapproving parents, it really helps make them relatable and not at all irritating fusspots. Having found evidence the assassin plans to kill every presidential candidate, Superman and Batman dispatch the Justice League to work overtly or covertly with the four candidates left. Green Arrow raises a question: how about we protect the candidate we like? Hal Jordan asks “are you saying you wouldn’t protect someone whose politics you disagree with”. Now, GA should say “yes”, but this is a bullshit centrist comic so he denies that. Of course, a reporter later goads him into admitting he supports Davis Brewster, the leftist candidate in this mess. The admission triggers a calamitous amount of chatter among superheroes regarding endorsements; Superman says he “needs to stay above such things” and “Clark Kent seems to be keeping mum on his politics as all objective journalists should”. Lois Lane, however, is staunchly a Republican. “What can I say? I’m a product of my upbringing. I’m proudly for a strong military, small government, low taxes, and maximum individual freedom.” I’d be upset if this wasn’t like 4 Lois Lanes ago. The Republican one got wiped away in some Crisis somewhere, I just know it.
“Lois, your 12 part investigation into the supposed Michelle Obama “whitey” tape is just not acceptable for the Daily Planet.”
A Republican Lois Lane does have promise, I must admit. So what if it goes against her traditional characterization as a staunch feminist, a believer in the power and freedom of the press, a decent human being and an opponent of her xenophobic nutbar military general father (who, might I add, has tried to kill her husband innumerable times)? Imagine a scene of her asking Clark “how do you spell ‘Kenyan Marxist’?”. Imagine her in the voting booth, saying of Lex Luthor “I don’t agree with his ‘kill Superman’ policy, but I do agree with his ‘move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem’ policy”. Pity DCU: Decisions doesn’t run with this absurd political orientation reveal or any of them, for that matter. I want to see Jay Garrick claim the real rogues are the shit stirrers at ANTIFA; I want to see Dr. Light (the non-rapist one) guest on an episode of Chapo Trap House and not get any of Felix’s Rich Piana jokes. Alas, DCU: Decisions is content to run with the political assassination plot and give short shrift to the “piss off a good portion of the readership by revealing their favorite B-lister probably thought we’d be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people” even though it’s the only reason anyone bothered to read this. No one thought “I want to see Parallax View but with Parallax the Fear Bug!”
Lady Blackhawk: the original Bernie Bro
Really, the only reason to read this misbegotten series is to find out the political ideology of heroes that aren’t at the forefront of your mind but are nonetheless recognizable enough. (You’re not finding out who Martian Manhunter voted for so stop fucking speculating.) The plot is pretty straightforward, with a stupid conclusion I’ll get to soon enough. So here we are. As far as I can tell, the four candidates map as follows: Kate McClellan is Condi Rice. Davis Brewster seems to be a Dennis Kucinich/Howard Dean hybrid (I say Kucinich because Green Arrow supports him and it stands to reason then that Brewster is the left-most candidate…and I say Dean cause he kinda looks like him). Bob Ridgeway represents a fusion of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani (McCain for the military fetishizing, Giuliani because only assholes like him). Martin Suarez is Barack Obama due to racial minority status but also has some international diplomacy background and I’m not sure who in the 2008 Dem milieu fits that bill. But it’s stated he’s moderate in comparison to Brewster. Enough preamble. Here’s who supports whom:
- Kate McClellan (Republican): Vixen, Plastic Man (because he wants to fuck her), Jay Garrick, Huntress
- Bob Ridgeway (Republican): Lois Lane (implied), Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Power Girl, Wildcat, Hawkman, Wonder Woman
- Davis Brewster (Democrat): Green Arrow, Dr. Light, Thunder, Lady Blackhawk
- Martin Suarez (Democrat): Beast Boy, Firestorm, Bruce Wayne (but it’s only a beard for his real agenda–young men in tights, I mean investigating the assassination attempts), Blue Beetle
- The Mad Bomber: Wally West (sadly, he says it as a joke… a “smash the state” Wally would be better than whatever the hell happened to him in Heroes in Crisis)
As you can see, there’s some definitely suspect choices (an African woman voting Republican?), but most of them do make a certain amount of sense. Ridgeway, the far-right extremist in the race, mostly receives support from the JSA, aka old farts who want the government’s hands off their Medicare. The Obama stand-in is championed by dumbass kids whereas the true left counts among its constituents an aging hippie and characters you have to strain to remember. Outside of the aforementioned Lois Lane, almost all of the character choices elicit a “yeah, that makes sense”. Notice how the comic doesn’t define the politics of any major character, though. Absent from the list are Hal Jordan (we know he’d vote for whichever Republican hated age of consent laws most but just go with me here), Batman, Superman, John Stewart, all thirty seven Robins, Oracle, most of the Teen Titans, etc. They went with safe choices. No one reading JSA month to month will go “pah, I came to this for social democratic beliefs espoused against a canvas of punching Ultra-Humanite in the face!”.
This is a ripoff of a Seinfeld bit so I’m assuming this particular bit of misogyny comes from Judd Winick. That’s not to say Willingham is a stranger to misogyny.
Some of the motivations do seem suspect under closer scrutiny, like multiple heroines supporting McClellan because she’s a woman. 2008 did not see a significant enough to remark upon feminist outpouring for Sarah Palin because she was still a fucking Republican, who are to women what Gargamel is to the Smurfs. Power Girl endorses Ridgeway because he’ll “keep us safe”. Aren’t, you know, you supposed to keep us safe? When did she become such a fucking nationalist? I want to see a comic about Power Girl having to sweat her way through a 6 hour flight where she has to sit next to a Sikh she incorrectly thinks is a Muslim. Shit, her name is Karen, it would certainly fit. Wonder Woman’s choice makes sense because as we all know William Moulton Marston’s strain of feminism squares well with “a right-wing extremist”, but I want to highlight the moment anyway because it gives Willingham like an entire page to vomit conservative talking points that will remind one of those times Fables stopped dead to remind the reader the importance of Israel.
“Remember when Curveball tricked Themyscria into invading Syria, Princess?”
You see that? You see that shit? It’s egregious, preposterous, outrageous. “Hesitant to go to war”? We’re bombing like seven different countries and have been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets. “Compassionate to those we defeat”… Iraq says hello. From this, one gets the sense that Bill Willingham was much more prone to espousing his poltical beliefs through the text than Winick. Wonder Woman never rebuts this stupid garbage, nor does anyone else. It plays like a damn campaign ad for someone who doesn’t even exist. The division of labor between the two seems to be the political material goes to Willingham whereas Winick handles the lousy characterization, an arrangement that benefits no one. Winick’s dialogue can be cloying and cutesy and it should go without saying Willingham’s politics are stinky garbage.
Mento is my new favorite character. He’s named after a candy and his costume consists of a construction helmet and safety goggles. Fucking brilliant.
In the end, resolved in a dumbass sequence that requires Hal Jordan to break his special sunglasses and get possessed, the culprit inhabiting people’s bodies and forcing them to try to kill presidential candidates is none other than the Teen Titan Jericho, who is evil for reasons that exist in Judd Winick comics no one should ever read. Seriously, we’re delving into some deep cut Titans East territory here. But the actual plot of this comic is such a fucking afterthought even the work itself seems to acknowledge that. Jericho, you might remember, has traditionally been depicted as a good guy, so why the bad turn? Well, Character Find of 2020 Mento explains possessing people has resulted in those people’s personalities meshing with Jericho’s, and since Jericho has jumped into some pretty unsavory characters those have come to the forefront. They want “to kill and to do it better than anyone else has ever before”. You’re gonna have to get pretty fucking early in the morning to kill better than the CIA, buddy. The motivation is yet another cop out because it sidesteps the political issue entirely. This guy has no political motivation to kill political targets; he just wants to take the Stanley Cup of murder away from, I dunno, Dexter Morgan. Given the mini is all about pissing people off, why not make Jericho’s bad personalities a smash the state anarchist? Garfield the shit out of this bitch.
Fucking Democrats probably want chimps to vote. But seriously, Detective Chimp is canonically a Republican, probably because he flings his own shit and rips people’s faces off, both things Stephen Miller has done.
In a sense, everything has been building towards Superman’s final speech in DCU: Decisions #4. If this miniseries has been about anything, it’s about the role public figures play in civic participation. Should they keep their mouths shut or should they use their notoriety and the platform that affords them to voice support for causes and people they believe in. The old “shut up and sing” dilemma. Well, DCU: Decisions comes down on the side of “shut up and sing”. Superman attracts some cameras and gives a long four page speech about how heroes’ job is to protect and serve, not voice opinions or sway the electorate. Asshole, don’t you think that maybe if you said “this Luthor guy…he’s not on” that he wouldn’t have become president and Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman wouldn’t have happened? The thing, and I think the last four years have borne this out, not taking a political position is itself a political position. Can you imagine if Superman had espoused the same beliefs about social movements like #MeToo or Black Lives Matter? He’d be eaten alive. “We answer to no one… we do not govern” sez Superman. That doesn’t make a lick of sense, unless you perceive superheroes as a layer of society that exists solely to pull cats out of trees, with no relationship to any other layer. Let me tell you, the police most definitely take political stances. The series ends with Clark Kent filling in his ballot and still refusing to tell his wife who he voted for, in what I’d characterize as a running gag were it the least bit funny. What would be funny is if the last page did a closeup of Clark’s ballot and showed he drew penises on the write-in line for every office. It’d force message board losers to try to crack the meaning of it. “Maybe the penis represents a cigar… or maybe he’s writing in Herr Starr from Preacher? Does this make Preacher part of DC continuity???”
Doesn’t exist. Like, we have stadiums and convention centers, you don’t have to make one up! The fucking DNC (sorta) happened in Milwaukee this year!
The comic ends with an exhortation to vote on November 4th, which I don’t suggest you do this year because that’d be Wednesday. The “vote, guys!” message is the shitty cherry atop the shit cake. I’m not against electoralism; people can and have made persuasive cases for voting as harm reduction technique. But I cannot stand the simple-minded, nuance free “vote!” bullshit. No, voting in and of itself is not a good. Voting if you vote for hate, for disenfranchisement, for cruelty, is not good, and frankly it’s what half the country chooses every single fucking time. Voting when you don’t know shit about shit doesn’t help either. Moreover, voting in the grand scheme of things pales in impact compared to other means of political participation, from donating money to donating time to lobbying elected officials to protesting. If you’re going to have me spend over 10 bucks on some crap, have a more substantive message than “voting is swell”. At least put some “oomph” in it, like “vote or we’ll kill Jason Todd again” or in my case “vote or we won’t kill Jason Todd again”.
What kind of Aaron Sorkin boomer bullshit is this
While the comic itself doesn’t resolve the weird four candidates from two parties general election, DC would. Canon would go on to establish that Suarez won both the Democratic primary and the election, and he was eventually succeeded by the beloved comic book character Barack Obama. That Suarez was used again surprised me in that I was surprised DCU: Decisions would have any repercussions. I figure it’d be forgotten about as soon as it finished, much like most pop culture material meant to capitalize on the 2008 election. (There was a Sarah Palin of Scott Pilgrim you would not BELIEVE.) Nonetheless, the DC Universe had a Hispanic president, because I guess having a white person in while Obama was POTUS would be seen as making the wrong kind of statement. Does Suarez’s success mean they were spared Beto O’Rourke’s and Pete Buttigieg’s tortuous uses of Spanish to endear themselves to voters? Who knows.
“So shut the fuck up, Shailene Woodley! Let the people decide if Standing Rock is good or not!”
Like a lot of DC Comics around this era, the art is competent and unremarkable. This came out biweekly and it shows. But I feel like there’s a missed opportunity. Unless Rick Leonardi (or Howard Porter, who takes over for the second and fourth issues) has some wild views I don’t know about, I think it would’ve been interesting to have teamed up two artists of differing ideologies too. Have a real jam between that cryptofascist Ethan Van Sciver and, I dunno, everyone looks like a flaming lefty when compared to that toilet flush of a man. Ooh! Ardian Syaf, the guy who got busted for putting Islamist/anti-Semitic easter eggs in X-Men comics. That’d be the perfect odd couple. They could even have a competition for who hides the most anti-Semitic messages in their art.
Ethan Van Sciver thinks comics are too political and has been boycotting them ever since Superman came out in support of World War II and wanted us to buy those bullshit war bonds.
This is such an inessential, moronic, pointless comic DC didn’t even see fit to collect it in trade paperback, and they pretty much collect everything in trade paperback. I have The Rise of Arsenal at the foot of my bed right now. Really, though, I get it. The comic had a shelf life of about a month and like mentioned before, it aged like Dorian Grey seeing his portrait. Who the fuck would buy a trade of this beyond irony poisoned weirdoes who rediscovered it multiple election cycles later and wanted to laugh at its quaintness? No one. Countdown to Final Crisis, a comic everybody hated that didn’t even count down to Final Crisis correctly, looks like a masterpiece compared to the inanity of DCU: Decisions. That said, I do wish a trade existed, complete with writer’s notes in which Willingham and Winick had to explain themselves. Unfortunately, Newsarama’s 2008 Dan Didio interview is dead so I don’t have primary sources to contend with that might have given me an inkling of what the fuck the point this was.
I leave you with this one message in this tumultuous time of ours: don’t vote. Because if your choice to vote hinges on what an article talking about an obscure 2008 DC Comics miniseries tells you, you’re clearly not mentally there enough to make an informed choice.