There are no exciting new comics this week so I am going to step into the Time Bubble and go back several weeks [sfx: the day pages flying through the air to stick themselves back onto a desk calendar] to contemplate this issue, which came out the third week in January. You probably have seen it but may not have noticed — that was the week when Barack Obama was on the cover of a lot of publications.
It is always great fun when presidents (it is nearly always the president, because young readers are unlikely to be able to visually identify any other politician) turn up in the comics, but it is rare. So far as I know this is the very first time a Chief Executive has been so prominently featured on a cover, larger even that the title character. This may be due to Obama’s public declaration, reiterated only the other day, that his favorite comics characters are Spider-Man and Batman. The story here is of mild interest — a villain with a weak grasp of the electoral process tries to take Obama’s place at the swearing-in. In a nice touch, Obama himself successfully reveals the imposter, who then pulls the superpower card and has to be socked into submission by Spider-Man. Slight but perfect. I am sure that Marvel sold a jillion copies of this thing; they are already on offer at inflated prices on Ebay.
If you want subtle political commentary, you don’t come to comics, you go to George F. Will. So the appearances of presidents in the past have always been pretty well congruent with their image in the popular mind. This one is typical — the Teen Titans Lost Annual, written years ago but only appearing in print recently, in which the team rescues John F. Kennedy from assassination. (You say you remember the events of November 1963 differently? You are not incorrect; but I will not spoil this issue for you. You just have to read it.)
More often America’s leaders appear in brief cameos, while the super heroes are fighting to save the entire nation or planet from outside menaces. My favorite was in a Justice League of America special when an evil Superwoman got Bill Clinton on his knees in the Oval Office. Mr. Clinton’s rep at the time was such that this scene looked extremely dubious and excited a lot of highly-colored fan commentary which I will leave to your imagination.
The best and largest occurence of this type however was a kind of reverse appearance four or five years ago — when Lex Luthor ran for president and won. The analogies to be drawn between that story line and the 2004 election were admittedly heavy-handed. Superman got to agonize about the electoral process; Lex got to abuse power, and eventually was unmasked as a villain and deposed. Fandom got to debate whether the editorial people at DC were just flaming liberals or actually un-American — what next, Dr. Doom for pope? I’m not sure any huge effect was marked in sales — let’s face it, Lex Luthor is not as attractive a cover icon as Barack Obama — but it was enormously entertaining while it lasted. There is nothing like seeing the duly-elected President of the United States in massive green and purple battle armor, rockets blazing, to really make your day. If George W. Bush had done this we would never be able to accuse him of being all hat and no cattle.
We already know, don’t we? that the comics universe is not the same as the one we operate in. The occasional appearance of American presidents is a link between the one and the other. You know, just like the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill.