Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Presidential Comics!

So the US presidential campaign has been in full swing for AGES now and shows no sign of stopping even though the actual voting day is still months away.
However, this current campaign has been the most insanely cartoonish one ever (thanks largely to Mr Tiny-Hands but with help from everyone else) so how better to review this than with a look at actual cartoon characters and comics favourites who have run for or even become POTUS.
First up, let's mention some actual real-world presidents who have appeared in comics.
Many writers and artists over the years have sought to bring some form of realism into the (mostly) fantasy worlds of comics by tying in real-world people. In the US this would most obviously mean featuring the President. 
Superman answered a plea from Kennedy in 1963 to help the youth of America get fit.
However as the president was killed between commission and publication the story was shelved until the next year when it printed with "Authorised by the Kennedy family and the White House" on the cover to show the "official" status of it. 

Much later, king of the bonkers DC silver age story Bob Haney wrote his final story for "The Teen Titans Lost Annual" in 2004, retreading themes and stylistic tics that served him so well over his career. In it Kennedy was replaced by a shape-shifting alien and the real JFK went off into space to fight baddies instead.
Nixon, however was better used as a villain and possibly best seen as one of the architects of the terrible world of Watchmen.
Reagan was similarly used by Frank Miller in The Dark Knight.
Whereas Clinton got to give a speech at Superman's funeral.
But it was the popularity of Obama back in '08 that meant everyone wanted to use his image. Including Spider-Man...
And even the Beano...
It's weird but I can't recall any specifics of real UK Prime Ministers appearing in UK comics but I know Obama was in the Beano at least twice.

However Scotland's First Minister did appear in Oor Wullie last year.

In the fictional worlds of comics, however, it often makes more sense to stay away from real-world politics and create your own characters.

One of my favourite political stories, for example, is Ex Machina by Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris.
The tale of a former superhero who becomes New York Mayor, I'd compare it to The West Wing in terms of its political story-telling, although Mayor Hundred is no president.

The satirical world of 2000AD's Judge Dredd is built on a USA after democracy was deemed to have failed and now only the Judges get to decide what is best for the people. Largely because of the last President, Robert L Booth ("Bad Bob") and his terrible, warmongering policies which lead to the nuclear strikes that created the "Cursed Earth" between the Mega-cities.
Dredd himself encountered his re-animated body in Fort Knox during his first major storyline "The Cursed Earth Saga". Punishment was swift.

In DC Comics, their "Trinity" of superheroes have all been President at some point.

Surprisingly, the first superhero to be seen as POTUS was Wonder Woman, in issue 7 of her own title way back in 1943.
Well, I say way back but the story is actually set 1,000 years in the future. A time when human society has finally progressed to accept an ovary-carrier as potentially equal. Even one with magic powers.

Joking aside, it's actually a very forward-thinking story for its time and was key to inspiring the creators of Ms. Magazine in 1972.
Superman got to be president in the far-off future of 2001 in Action Comics Annual 3 (1991).
A story of a possible future as seen by Waverider in that year's crossover event. And, in case you're wondering how a Kryptonian can become American president...
Trump is still insisting on seeing the birth certificate.

While we're on Superman, it's worth mentioning Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth 23, created by Grant Morrison originally for Final Crisis before being fleshed out in Action Comics 9.
A version of Superman who is ALSO President is such a fun idea and I hope we see more of him.

And that brings us to Batman, who became president in Batman: The Brave and the Bold 3 (2009), set in the continuity of the then-current (and awesome) cartoon series.
Okay, the cover image above turns out to be a fake-out and the story within actually involves Batsy impersonating the President to foil a kidnap plot. But it still kind-of counts. Right?

All those stories were out of continuity though and therefore not "real" (yeah, I know), however, one significant DC character that got to be POTUS for "real" is...
Lex Luthor! 
Yep, in a story that made perfect sense for the character in the fictional world of DC, Superman's greatest opponent seized the highest office in the land and got to make lots of laws to make a Kryptonian's life difficult. It was a great idea well executed and lead, eventually, to impeachment when Lex went full-on super-villain in his new green and purple battle armour.

The idea of president Lex was so good it even bled into other media.
Honourable mention to The Joker who ran for Governor in 2006's Batman: Dark Detective with a memorable poster.
Meanwhile over in the Marvel universe, Earth's greatest super-villain would not be content with being America's president. He was already King of Latveria. So was he Emperor of the World?
Nope, in last year's Secret Wars crossover he became nothing less than GOD DOOM! 
Yep. Nothing less than re-writing the entire universe and making all creatures worship him as the all-powerful creator of everything was good enough for Doctor Doom.

I LOVE Doctor Doom as a character so much.

Moving on....

Many characters over the years have declared their candidacy of the role of president, usually for the purpose of political satire. This goes back at least as far as the great Walt Kelly's Pogo in 1952:
This has lead to others throwing their hat in the ring such as Howard the Duck in 1976.
A campaign that Marvel threw a lot of marketing support behind, Howard being very popular with students of the day, back when students were politically motivated, producing thousands of Howard buttons.
And I have to bring up our old favourite Bloom County who ran Bill the Cat and Opus in 1984:
In 1988 the Suicide Squad intervened in the campaign of Senator Cray, who was blackmailing Amanda Waller to gain support.
And this year Marvel's at it again as the God of Mischief is attempting to crack the White House.
My vote for best comics president (so far), however, goes to Preston "Prez" Rickard.
Prez, by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti is such a weird comic that could only have happened in the 70s. 

A mother with such faith in her child's future success that she calls him "Prez" sees her little boy get groomed by "Boss Smiley" (a business leader with a literal smiley face for a head) and a change in US law bring down the legal age for presidential candidates.
Prez becomes the first teenage President of the United States, fights legless vampires, defeats George Washington's gun-nut descendant and survives an assassination attempt but still gets cancelled after just four issues.

Prez got to finish his story in 1978's Cancelled Comic Cavalcade 2 (and oddly made a guest appearance in Supergirl 10 which presumed he was president in the main DC continuity) before being consigned to the dustbin of forgotten characters.

Until Neil Gaiman dragged him back to life in an issue Sandman, one of my favourite things in the world.
In Sandman 54, art by Michael Allred and Brian Talbot (a truly top-draw art team) we get a strange parable of politics too complex for a simple summary here but it involves a parallel world where Prez succeeds Nixon, an assassination attempt costs the life of Prez' fiancée and Boss Smiley presents Prez with a potential Heaven. Then he meets Dream.
Honestly, if you haven't read Sandman yet, what are you even doing with your life?

All of which brings us to the present day and two (yes TWO) presidential comics of comparable and contrasting styles.

First up: Prez.
Nope, not that one. A new Prez By Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales was arguably DC's best new title of last year.

It told the story of a near future America (2037) where politics has lost its way to an absurd degree, a citizen can vote via Twitter and presidential candidates had better be prepared to suck up to vloggers if they want any attention.
The world is run by faceless corporations. Well, I say faceless but they actually have cartoon images for faces. And, once more, Boss Smiley is their leader.
Yes, the owner of world medicine is "Pharmaduke".

Oh, and it looks like Trump finally got his wall.
A stalemate between two candidates means Senators in swing states suddenly have an incredible amount of power and the campaign managers start offering them anything they want.
"Offer them NASA! Texas isn't using it!"

Enter Beth Ross, a 19-year-old fast-food worker who becomes famous after an accident during the filming of an instructional video.
The activist group Anonymous (who DC can show in their V masks, as they own the copyright to David Lloyd's design) start promoting "Corn Dog Girl" as their candidate for president and senators start voting for her as a way of squeezing more stuff out of the two "real" candidates.

Needless to say this backfires badly and everyone votes for Beth Ross.
This is not a million miles away from how Corbyn became Labour leader.

So an unknown teenager with a dying father is swept to power whether she likes it or not. Luckily she has one ally on the inside...
A former political leader, hated for not being exploitable, who may or not be "Prez".
It's a delightful satire that takes swipes at many aspects of American society. Some of it strangely prescient.

So President Ross is sworn in.
And quickly realises quite how messed-up the world is.
And just how heavily Boss Smiley will lean to push things his way.
That's without even mentioning the robot war-machine that gains sentience and comes out as trans.
Or the device for letting cats write email.
Meanwhile, over at Image comics, we are currently four issues in to a series called Citizen Jack by Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson.
Presenting the next President of the United States: Jack Northworthy!
Northworthy is everything Ross isn't. A blowhard. A man desperate for recognition and power. A tough guy. An idiot.
He starts as a rank outsider, a joke candidate. But the media love to cover his antics.
And people start responding to his apparent honesty.
And in this absurdist America the only voice of reason on the news channel is a talking dolphin who easily silenced.
Yep, Jack has everything going for him. Which may or may not be down to this guy:
Oh yeah, it seems Jack has made a deal with the devil. Or a devil. Marlinspike is around to help the campaign as long as he gets what he wants. He can inspire Jack's speeches or nudge a voter.
Even when Jack is caught literally red-handed standing over the body of his main rival with a gun in his hand (to be fair he didn't actually kill him) he still talks his way out.
Writer Humphries is at pains to point out that none of this is based on or even inspired by real events. This was planned out and written way before Trump's rise in the political sphere. It's just one of those odd instances of life imitating art.

Not that I'm suggesting Trump is in league with a demon, you understand. I'm sure Marlinspike has his limits.
The first four issues of Citizen Jack are available now (with five imminent) and Prez Volume One (featuring the full 6-issue run which if it sells well enough will hopefully mean we'll get more) is out as trade paperback collection. Ask at your comic shop.

To finish us off, here's a brief selection off other comics election campaigns.

Please vote!


  1. Great post!
    Re UK Prime Ministers in comics, I recall Blair was in 2000AD

    And of course there was Thatcher's namecheck and execution:

  2. There have been a couple of instances of UK prime ministers turning up in comics. Jim Callaghan showed up in an issue of Captain Britain. Brian Braddock teamed up with Captain America and rescued the PM from the Red Skull. Herb Trimpe's rendition of Callaghan left a lot to be desired, though.
    In 2000ad, Tony Blair turned up in B.L.A.I.R. 1, which is probably best forgotten, and he also showed up in Zenith, where he was a mind-controlled puppet of ex-Tory PM and superhuman Peter St. John.

  3. Actually, I think Thatcher was briefly in Zenith as well.

  4. I clearly need a Prime Minister follow up!

  5. Honestly, if you haven't read Sandman yet, what are you even doing with your life?

    Reading this blog

    This is not a million miles away from how Corbyn became Labour leader.
    Many LOLs. Then depressed sighs.

    Brilliant; many suggestions I will make purchases from here.