Comic books have a long history of political commentary. V for Vendetta offered an insightful view of the extremes between fascism and anarchy. Watchmen criticized government control and civilian complacency. The X-Men was an allegory of civil rights and apartheid. In DMZ, America has been plunged into a new civil war between secessionists and the federal government.
The stories they told were meaningful and remain timeless and perpetually relevant. It’s possible to appreciate them today even without the historical context in which they were written.
As the 2016 election season peaks, comic book writers have not shied away from injecting their views into long-established characters — like self-inserts with super powers.
In new issues of Meredith Finch’s Catwoman: Election Night, readers will draw instant parallels between Oswald Cobblepot (better known as Penguin) with presidential candidate Donald Trump. There’s nothing subtle about it: Oswald Cobblepot is running for mayor of Gotham City on the slogan “Make Gotham Great Again.” He also mumbles about erecting a huge wall around the city, ostensibly to keep out the criminal element.
A woman tied to Catwoman’s past fills in as Trump’s — I mean Cobblepot’s — rival, and she’s very much an analogue for Hillary Clinton.
“Right, it’s the election for the mayor of Gotham. And we have Penguin, who’s running as our Donald Trump-esque character, and then we came up with a completely new character to represent Hillary Clinton, and her name is Constance Hill,” says Finch in an interview with Newsrama.
“So we tried to be reflective of the bad, or the weaknesses, of both candidates within the characters in the issue. And in the end, we show that, for Catwoman, what it’s about is not Gotham City, but her and the people that she loves.”
Catwoman isn’t the only DC Comics series with unsubtle political commentary. In The Flinstones’ latest issue, a general election in Bedrock sees a Donald Trump-like character leading the mayoral race. In its author Mark Russell’s own words, Ralph is “a scion of a more powerful person, and then also the middle school elections at the school — the class elections — in which the leading candidate is Ralph the bully, who’s a not-too-subtle reference, of course, to Donald Trump.”
Russell says the people of Bedrock are easily manipulated and misled, much like the American public.
Marvel has also featured its own spin on the political climate of the United States. In Jason Latour’s Spider Gwen Annual #1, the classic villain MODOK was presented as Donald Trump — or a giant Donald Trump head attached to a small robot body with tiny hands.
Set in an alternate Earth, Donald Trump becomes MODAAK, the “Mental Organism Designed As America’s King.” Throughout various panels, Trump can be seen yelling epithets at brown-skinned people. As he brags about his “powerful hands,” Trump gets his face pummeled by Captain America, who’s a black woman in the Spider Gwen universe. Because of course.
To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with comic book artists and writers weighing in on politics, just as they’ve often done in the past. However, these issues are a far cry from the insight offered by Alan Moore, Brian Wood, and Chris Claremont.
Lazy references to Trump quotes like “Sad!” and “I have powerful hands” are nothing more than easy jabs at a figure who, if he doesn’t win the election, will be nothing more than a footnote in history.
Creators are not limited by the medium, but the scope of their imagination — and these new comics are thoroughly unimaginative.