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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Panel Vision - DC Universe Decisions

Edited by Robert Beach

In case you don’t live in the US, we’re in the midst of gearing up for one of the most overblown and ludicrous election cycles in recent memory. To be fair, the last 2 US Presidential elections have been fairly larger than life in their own way. In 2012, the election was dominated by the heroic confluence of Mitt Romney memes and jokes, and in 2008 the whole world seemed to have caught Obama fever. That latter one is also probably owed to the election falling smack dab in the middle of 4 years of major technological and cultural upheaval. 

At the time, stuff like Facebook and iPhones were supremely new and the crossover of Internet culture into mainstream culture was in its earliest stages. Combine that with the introduction of an all-new Presidential administration ushering in a new political ethos and lexicon and everyone and their brother were desperate to link themselves to the election in some way. As you’d expect comics quickly got in on the act and none were more bizarre or embarrassing than today’s topic: DC Universe – Decisions.

DC Universe – Decisions plays most like a political satire where they forgot to write any of the jokes. The nominal gimmick of the comic is cut from the same cloth as other superhero comedies like Ant-Man or The Paybacks. Only here, it’s being played completely straight. The basic idea is to see what would happen if superheroes endorsed political candidates for office. And that’s not a bad idea for a superhero comic. Within the world of DC Comics, heroes have always existed as something close to celebrities, so their endorsement is actually worth something on a public scale. There’s more than enough diversity among the heroes to make it an interesting angle to explore, especially given the quasi-legal status of heroes like Wonder Woman and Batman. Personally, I’m a sucker for these ideas as I really like it when superhero comics truly explore the world as it would be shaped by having superheroes in it; however, as much as I may love the concept of DC Universe – Decisions the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

The basic plot of the comic is weirdly secondary to the stated purpose of the mini-series. Basically, an unknown super villain has been targeting the various presidential candidates; there are 4 within the series with no obvious counterparts to the 2008 candidates. In order to keep the various candidates safe, the JLA, JSA, Teen Titans, and a smattering of other heroes come together to provide security,  especially once it’s discovered the villain has mind control powers.  In the midst of giving an interview about one of the failed assassination attempts, Green Arrow blurts out his support for one of the candidates and ends up accidentally endorsing him. This essentially sets off a domino effect where all sorts of other heroes become sort of distracted by shouting their political preferences into news cameras rather than trying to stop the villainous mad bomber. 

I don’t really think the super villain bombing plot line was necessary for what’s essentially a stunt gimmick comic. It’s not like the bombings are ever all that interesting, or the ending revelation of the villain’s identity was all the meaningful. There are some worthwhile ideas that I like in the comic, such as Green Arrow being the first hero to bumble his way into an endorsement. Making Green Arrow a politically active hero as a way of giving him a personality beyond just “Batman with a bow” was a cool way to keep him interesting, so it makes sense he’d be at the heart of this particular whirlwind. Additionally, the comic does handle the question of Batman and Wonder Woman pretty well.

With Batman endorsing a candidate as Bruce Wayne, Wonder Woman appeared with her chosen candidate rather than fully endorsing them. I like it because it shows a real eye for detail from writers Bill Willingham (Fables) and Judd Winick. There’s also a great sequence where Green Lantern and Green Arrow get so mad at each other over the events of the comic they come to blows; however, it comes off as less “dramatic clash of friends” and more “ex-boyfriends caught in a bad romance.”

Where the series breaks down the most is that it’s painfully clear beyond the strict nuts and bolts mechanics of superhero endorsements there really weren’t any ideas in this book. Aside from the Green Arrow/Green Lantern sequence, almost all the heroic inter-personal lives really don’t work. Stuff showcasing Superman and Lois Lane’s home life doesn't work. Additionally, the mad bomber plot is incredibly superfluous and malingering, and the brevity of the series keeps the mystery from ever being truly engaging. 

Worst of all there are just too any points in the endorsement plot that aren’t very interesting. Aside from the big hero moments I mentioned, most of the other endorsements are just heroes looking at a camera and rattling off some meaningless political platitude and a name. I honestly feel like the idea of meshing heroes and politics would make or a very good series if the writing was allowed to explore all the nuts and bolts of the idea. Here, we’re just seeing a tiny overlap between the two, but there are plenty of other places to go with it. 

A lot of these problems could’ve been overlooked given this was just a 4-issue quickie cash-in on the election, but what really sinks DC Universe – Decisions is the artwork by Rick Leonardi and Howard Porter. Both artists’ work comes off as impossibly amateurish in this comic with hideous, jagged, unnatural proportions marring nearly every panel of the book. Everyone looks so incredibly unnatural and inhuman; it’s downright comical. 

Still, I actually kind of recommend DC Universe – Decisions.  It’s endearing in its own weird, bonkers way and I’m also a serious sucker for seeing such a large amount of superheroes working together in such a precise fashion.  It’s by no means a good comic and its aimless ending stab toward profundity is downright laughable in its ineptitude much like the hilarious tagline of “heroes don’t vote,” but if you can tune your brain to its particular comic wave length there is stuff to like in this mini-series and re-reading it for this review I found it pretty enjoyable to revisit. 

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