ALL AMERICAN POLITICIANS (and arguably politicians in general), whether left or right,
take on larger than life qualities to win the vote. No matter what you think of the opposition’s policies, the opposition’s candidate becomes emblematic of popular virtue. In truth, it’s not far off from the way we look at Superheroes, which, traditionally, are meant to embody elevated, even supernatural concepts of justice.
As an every-Wednesday comic reader myself, I find myself less pulled towards certain heroes than others for reasons I still find mysterious. I’ve never been a big fan of The Punisher, for example, and The Fantastic 4, save for Benjamin Grimm, have always left me wanting. Some people are drawn to antiheroes that border villains and others to bolder, heart-on-sleeve crime busters. It all comes down to how you perceive yourself, and how you expect society should behave. Every hero in the comic universe, from Hulk to one of the Ant-man permutations, embodies somebody’s sociopolitical worldview. And it is with this knowledge that I began to wonder what popular superheroes our current 2012 candidates could be compared to if in fact, we were able to imagine them as characters from Marvel and DC.
This one is a no brainer. Take the modern, reimagined history of DC’s underwater demigod, Aquaman—who, with the release of the New 52 is only slightly more popular these days as Ted Akin at the FFL—was born to Queen Atlanna and the wizard Atlan in the underwater Atlantean kingdom Poseidonis. Though abandoned on Mercy Reef, and saved by the ‘Mark of the Kordax,’—which, albeit allowing him to survive above sea-level, rendered him a massive Aryan—Aquaman’s abilities as a superhero draw mainly from the vestiges of his birth. He’s not a poor kid from Queens who got nipped by a radioactive spider, or a physicist who got gamma rayed in a lab experiment. Much like Superman (only much, much less epic), Aquaman is powerful because he was born that way.
Sure, Orin is not an altogether bad guy, noble, strong, and even ecological when it comes to his native biome. But he is ineffective. The butt of bad jokes and genre vitriol. Like Romney, he is representative of a wealthy, yet not particularly mortal constituency of planet earth, and, contrary to what he tries to convince everyone, is of very little good outside of it. If you’re on a luxury yacht that happens to graze an iceberg while sport-fishing for Orca, than Aquaman is your guy. But if you’re locked in a land war with Darkseid, or, god forbid, dueling the SOB in outer space, forget it. You might as well contract Jimmy Olsen. At least he has the tendency to go radioactive.
Similarly, good ol’ Mitt—while richer than Bruce Wayne and business savvy enough to avoid responsibility for nearly every dubious schematic orchestrated under his hand—has little relevance in the vast sea of land dwellers, with barley livable wages and a shoddy healthcare system. Instead, he inhabits the realm of his elite origins, which, though rich in beauty, is uninhabitable to the average human being. Both Romney and Aquaman would reign supreme only in a world where the polar ice caps had melted, and, in Romney’s case, marauding sharks consumed tax records. There’s a reason Aquaman has never really caught on with the general public, anyway. Humans don’t have gills. We have medical bills and unpaid student loans. Long commutes and other landlubber problems. Do we really want an Aquaman running the show when Nekron invades Chicago, so he could stare wide-eyed at the startling darkness above? Let’s leave the voters to decide.
Romney’s biggest Aquaman moment: Condemning president Obama for the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya. One of the most desperate acts of political opportunism this year. I don’t know how the tragic news of the diplomats’ deaths was relayed to Mitt, but I’m pretty sure the method of transmission was just about as effective as Aquaman’s clam phone. Seriously, Aquamitt, smearing other caped crusaders won’t make your trident look sharper. They’re out there fighting for justice just like you.
Though not versed in dolphin-speak like the presidential nominee, the catfish brawling Janesville elite, with eyes bluer than the glaciers he hopes to destroy, has powers of his own. Paul Ryan doesn’t need to answer tough political questions in order to retain popularity. Like a sharp-nosed Svengali, he need only relax his twinkling gaze upon the camera, and, with an upturned acorn jaw, mutter something absolutely inconsequential about American values, and the fact that stuff sucks. Ryan never has a real answer for how he’s going to help the American public, or reduce the GDP to twenty percent. Instead, as with Palin, he relies on the go-to Republican vote snag: weird, guilt-ridden puritanical sex, involving Larry Craig-style foot tapping or women with promise rings, a history of crystal meth, and the hope that secret Muslim will trump Mormon.
This is why Ryan has earned the superhero title of Starfox.
Who, you might ask, immediately thinking of a Super Nintendo game you played in 1993? No one too important, in all honesty. In possessing one of Marvel’s many ubiquitous superpowers, Starfox has the ability to, well, make people have sex with him.
Now, I know the GOP is trying not to look as rape-y as they possibly can these days, what with all that talk about mandatory vaginal ultrasounds mandated by men over sixty. But it’s kind of hard with someone like Ryan as candidate for VP, who, though not stupid enough to believe the female reproductive process shuts down in case of attack, isn’t too keen on the idea of abortion, even in the case of assault.
Like Ryan, who could seem likable in a Sears Grill advertisement sort of way, it’s not clear where the Starfox’s heroic design went wrong. He looks the part, can even fly, and is strong, immortal, psionic, etc, but that entire ‘Pleasure Stimulation’ thing? Creepy as fuck. Check out what happened when She-Hulk tried to defend him against allegations of sexual assault, if you don’t believe me. Resulted in a legislative breakdown.
Paul Ryan’s biggest Starfox moment: Ryan’s legislative darling is known as the ‘Sanctity of Human Life’ act, a ‘personhood’ bill that would federally legislate that life begins at conception, thus nullifying a women’s right to choose. Would Starfox have a problem with such a law coming into practice on a federal level? I’m thinking not. And if one of his opponents happened to take issue with it–oops, there goes your bra!
Wolverine is the quintessential lone wolf, strong of heart and gruff of nature. James Howlett, or Logan, is not necessarily the most powerful mutant in the Marvel Universe (save for that whole regeneration thing, which is pretty all-supreme). He’s not a leader type, either, being a sarcastic son of a bitch who’s difficult to get along with. One of the many direct results of post-Vietnam comic culture, Wolverine was drawn without clear intent, as a disgruntled, soldier of fortune with a heart of gold archetype who doesn’t give much of a fuck about who’s around when he gets grumpy. His modern origin story is a little bit too garbled and Highlander-like to go into here, but let’s just say that he was born about 150 years ago as an illegitimate son to a housekeeper somewhere in Canada, and has since then become a master of every martial arts form on the face of the planet, fought in World War II, and been through all matters of love and loss. Despite his surly and anti-intellectual persona, he’s brilliant, and knows almost every language ever spoken. When he isn’t languishing in the sadness of some memory from the past, he’s kicking all angles of ass. Sure, he can be a shithead. A real shithead, to tell you the truth, and a master of task-avoidance due to a distrust of authority. But whenever Wolverine smiles, I’m reminded I should stop bitching. He just keeps you in touch with what’s important. A leather jacket, jeans, a cigar, and a mouth full of “Let’s just get this done,” Wolverine is the Bruce Springsteen of superheroes, whether or not you’re into that sort of thing.
Do I even need to get into the similarities here between this guy and Biden? Joe’s clean-shaven, of course, didn’t perform military service, and doesn’t drink due to a history of family alcoholism, but we are talking about an alter ego here. How about this instead? Take a look at the quotes below and wonder to yourself, ‘Who said it? Joe Biden or Wolverine?’
1) Every night I go to bed regretting all the things I done wrong in this world. And when I wake up, I decide to do things right.
2) In my neighborhood, when you’ve got something to say to a guy, you look him in the eye and you say it to him.
3) I’m not big on flak jackets and tie-dyed shirts.
4) Hardest lesson to learn…sometimes the bad guys win.
5) This is a big fucking deal!
6) A death isn’t like losing a job or getting divorced. You don’t ‘get over it.’ You have to integrate it into your life. Learn to live with it. But…life does get better.
7) Makes me wonder what we’re doing here. When we stop a man from doing what needs to be done.
8) Oh give me a fucking break.
9) You should talk about being defective, lady — you’re all over the place!
10) You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.
11) A man comes at me with his fists, I’ll meet him with fists. But if he pulls a gun – or threatens people I’m protecting – then I got no sympathy for him.
12) You’ll recover. But if you have kids, they’ll be stupid.
13) Even the Devil can bleed.
14) If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30% chance we’re going to get it wrong.
Answers: 1) Wolv 2) J.B. 3) J.B. 4) Wolv 5) J.B. 6) Wolv 7) Wolv 8) J.B. 9) Wolv 10) J.B. 11) Wolv 12) Wolv 13) Wolv 14) J.B.
Batman is one of those ubiquitous figures in comics’ history. Though his movies gross more money than some countries’ annual GDP, and his brand still draws the best writers and artists in the genre, he tends to get pulled into a crisis of cultural polarization, even amongst comics’ fans. He’s as much a character as he is a terrain, chained to the city he protects. Staunch ally Superman is able to zip off into outer space, and we are rarely dubious about the character of his justice. Save for some rare offshoots he maintains the composure of a Yale Crew team captain, and embodies a warm, corn-fed Yankee nostalgia that calms my nerves. Not so with Batman, however. Batman’s fucking disturbed. Brilliant, profound, and pragmatic as his surroundings allow him, but always on the edge of a breakdown.
Not like my mother was an expert in the genre, but growing up I remember her saying that the Batman she loved was played by Adam West. The one being portrayed nowadays (anything produced from Burton to Nolan) had become ‘too dark’ for her taste. When she first said this, I spent some time trying to understand exactly what she was talking about. But then it hit me. The Batman of her sixties’ youth was more concerned with self-lampoon than ethical ambiguities. Not because the sixties were a brighter time for America, but because social inequities tended to be eclipsed by moon boots. The modern dark knight’s world, however, has come to reflect our own in a miraculously natural fashion, and those who looked at comics to have their hearts lightened end up running into moral quandaries to dissect. Crazy men in the dark. Mad scientists, sewer beasts, corruption, and freaks of nature. While Superman (blessed though he be) has experienced some difficulties adapting to the modern world, Batman jackknifed into that ocean as a seismic force of stabilization. Some might say he was ahead of his time, preparing to let his dark wings spread.
Similarly, Barak Obama is a man of secrets and shadows. Like Gotham on a grander scale, the country he protects is sandwiched between extremes, racketeered by white collar crime on one side, and besieged by systemic inequities on the other. It’s precisely why, in the tradition of Bruce Wayne, President Obama maintains an alter ego of sorts. So that he can do the work that needs doing. Every bit of progressive legislation Barak Obama has pushed through has had to be concealed in center-right red tape. To capture the attention of a chunk of the public falling along the racist or only-slightly racist spectrum, he has to constantly watch the nature of his speech. Just as Bruce Wayne maintains a gaudy facade to carry out his justice, Obama meets his moneyed opposition at eye level, while at the same time lobbying for the middle class in ways both realistic and sustainable. This is why the average, center-left leaning American looks upon Obama as a hero. For right wing Americans, of course, Obama becomes the instigator; the trespasser; the secret, evil disturber of the status quo. And for ultra left-wing Americans he becomes myopic, disingenuous, even worth going all Ron Paul for. Just like Batman is used to fighting against a panoply of extremes, Obama’s villains are a combination of political laterals. There are Penguins on the right, and Jokers on the left. And so really, when the system breaks down to near catastrophe, and Batman gets into the thick of it, he’s loathed by a substantial chunk of both. Only the moderate, average middle understands what he’s out to do: wrangle a system enslaved by its own corruption so that regular, work-going people can have their say.
There’s a reason Batman is considered an outlaw in Gotham. Because since some Americans constitute a diluted mixture of impatient, greedy, and blind, they need to have someone get things done under smoke and mirrors, so that even they won’t notice the changes. Obama is Batman because he’s terrified of the horrors of a broken system, but still fights against it anyway with everything he’s got. He’ll be hated, and he’s imperfect. Sometimes he won’t even be there in time. But under his watch, Gotham will be kept safe, and we won’t cycle cynically into chaos.