Writers: Judd Winick and Bill Willingham Artist: Rick Leonardi
It was only a matter of time before DC Comics released a politically themed book given the imminent American election. Politics today, it can be argued, has more cache than in recent years. The intrigue surrounding the US capital markets, the personalities that vie for both presidency and vice-presidency, and the on-going war in the Middle-East have plucked at the American mindset the same way pop culture has: with a noted, but probably passing, interest. DC, looking to make money on the back of that curiosity, has fashioned the four-issue mini-series, DC Universe: Decisions.
The premise is simple. Take the company’s biggest heroes and have them choose political sides amidst the backdrop of an American election. Does Wonder Woman support the Democrats or the Republicans? Is Superman for the elephant or the donkey? Would Green Lantern wear a red or a blue necktie?
It’s an interesting question, but one that’s been asked and answered before. The Marvel Universe, to its strength, was, and remains, built upon politics. Government and the effects of politics permeate every story and infect every character. The writers and artists of that company have been telling tales in this more grounded world for a long, long time.
In Decisions, a maniac is attempting to kill the various presidential hopefuls and the heroes must act as glorified security guards for them. Green Arrow, easily the most left-leaning character in the DC Universe, chooses to be stationed alongside the candidate that espouses his own political beliefs. At once, this decision raises important questions. For these heroes, is one life more significant than another? If Green Arrow is to risk his own life, should it not be for someone he believes in? The premise of the story goes a step further. Green Arrow’s public endorsement of the candidate changes the status quo, making him a possible election victor. This action also serves to frustrate and, in some cases, even anger other heroes.
Although this makes for an interesting twist, there are major flaw to the narrative.
Green Arrow’s public endorsement of the candidate seems both forced and contrived for the sake of plot and this feeling undermines everything the comic attempts to accomplish. As a long-standing hero with deep political roots, he knows better than most that his decision opens more than a can of worms. There’s no build up to this choice. It seems merely arbitrary. Even Wonder Woman is re-characterized for the sake of the story’s premise. “Good for you,” she states, after Green Arrow’s declaration, another example of an experienced hero who would know the consequences of the action.
The Emerald Archer’s decision changes the nature of the DC Universe. And not for the better. In Decisions, the DC Universe is less like itself and more like the Marvel Universe – and it needs to be different. As readers, we need to have the choice of the realism of the Marvel Universe and the idealism of the DC Universe. They can cross-pollinate their concepts from time to time, but the distinction between the two needs to be enforced.
If Willingham and Winick are going to cross-over into Marvel’s sense of realism, they must, at the very least, need to have fully fleshed-out characters. Readers themselves are unable to distinguish the politics of the presidential hopefuls who have virtually no characterization. If the writers are going to bring the story to street-level, the characters need to leave a resonance with readers. It’s a wonder if readers can even remember the candidates names by the end of this issue. In addition, there aren’t many accolades to give to Leornardi, the artist. His drawings are fine – they support the plot but they don’t stand out in any way either.
The problems inherent with Decisions reside with the writers. More is expected of Willingham, the critically acclaimed writer of Fables. Winick himself is no fan-favourite, although he’s enjoyed a long career of competent storytelling with DC. Comic book stories themselves are not produced in a vacuum. One must also look to the editors, often forgotten in the creative process, and wonder if Decisions would have been compelling if there was stronger editorial leadership.
As it stands, Decisions has no platform upon which to stand. Abstain your vote and leave it on the shelf.