Tonight’s bedtime conversation with Sam (5).

SAM. Is tomorrow a school day?
DAD. No.  It’s Presidents’ Day.  Do you know who the Presidents are?
SAM. Yes.
DAD. Yeah?  Can you name one?  Who was a President?
SAM. (patiently, as though to a dull toddler) George Washington.
DAD. Do you know what the President does?

This Sam is less clear on.  Which is just as well at this embarrassing point in our nation’s history.

I start to say that if the United States is the DC Universe, you could look at George Washington as Superman, but then I realize that if I say that, the next question will be “Then who is Batman?” and I don’t have a clear answer for that.

Clearly, George Washington is Superman.  He was the first, arguably the most important, debatably the best, and most importantly the “original.”  But then, indeed, who is Batman?  Is it Adams, contemporary of Washington and close second in defining the young nation’s ethos?  Or is it, say, Lincoln, the most beloved of the presidents, the tall, dark, brooding loner president, the tortured insomniac, haunted by the deaths of his loved ones, the one who broke the rules for the sake of the greater good?

Does that make Wonder Woman Thomas Jefferson, the warrior for peace, architect of our most precious freedoms?  Or is she more like Franklin Roosevelt in that regard, giving our enemies a bitter fight while generously giving our poorest and weakest a fighting chance of their own?  That would make Truman Green Lantern, saving the world with his magical do-anything world-saving device.

And who would be an analog for colorless chair-warmers like Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur?  Are these men Booster Gold and Blue Beetle?  Clearly Rorshach is Richard Nixon, Alan Moore practically begs us to see the parallels, but what of Kennedy, Nixon’s shining twin?  Is that Ozymandius, or is he a simpler man, a purer spirit, someone like Captain Marvel?  Or is he Superboy and his “best and brightest” cabinet the Legion of Superheroes in the 31st century?

And how to categorize corrupt, incompetent disasters like Grant, Harding, Hoover and Bush II?  Is Reagan Plastic Man, effortlessly escaping ceaseless attack with a smile and a quip?  And what about Johnson, weak on foreign policy but a genius in the domestic realm, who is that?  Or William Henry Harrison, who caught pneumonia during his inaugural parade and died a month later?  Or Grover Cleveland, who served, left office, then came back and served again?

Or perhaps the metaphor is imprecise, perhaps the US presidency is unlike the DCU after all — perhaps it’s more like the X-Men, where weak individuals are granted extraordinary powers and yet are still hampered by their combative attitudes toward each other and their under-developed social skills.  In the X-Men you have heroes who might not turn out to be heroes after all.  And vice versa.

Or maybe we’re looking in the wrong direction, perhaps the US presidents aren’t the “good guys” at all.  While Bush II has so far shunned the metal mask and hooded cloak of Dr. Doom, he has certainly succeeded in turning the US into his own private Latveria.  And any given Republican of the 20th century can lay claim to being the Lex Luthor of the bunch, brimming with brilliant, short-sighted schemes to make himself rich while destroying other people’s lives and property.

And, if they were given the choice, is there any serious doubt as to whether Americans would elect a comic-book character over a living, breathing human being?
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35 Responses to “DC vs DCU”
  1. memento_mori says:

    Clinton must be Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, right?

  2. ghostgecko says:

    >>>is there any serious doubt as to whether Americans would elect a comic-book character over a living, breathing human being?

    I hardly need point out that Californians elected the Terminator . . . funny thing is, he seems to have undergone a crisis of conscience and might end up doing a damn good job.

    • Todd says:

      There is a store near our house in Santa Monica that sells vintage toys and it never fails to amuse me to point out the Terminator toys to my son and say “See that guy? With the skin scraped off his face and the gleaming metal skeleton? That’s the governor of California.”

  3. Personally, yes, I agree with your closing point, as I’ve been thinking for a little while that the country has currently elected a supervillain.

  4. eronanke says:

    Nixon was clearly the Penguin.

    But as to what you were saying; I think the presidential office falsely distinguishes the President from the people, and even from other politicians, which is not good.
    If we were to look at the reality of who gets elected, we all know it’s 99% marketing (of course I’m talking about the media-driven world we live in now, not the turn of the last century when voters didn’t even know that Roosevelt needed a wheelchair!)

    Therefore, instead of looking to comics characters as parallels for presidents, we have to look at the marketing of comics – I feel that, for example, the GW Bush’s presidency is akin to the over-hyped “Death of Superman”, in that it was a terrible gaff for DC, sent the buying public into overdrive with false ‘collector’s issues’, and nearly caused the destruction of the entire industry by completely catering to the adult buyer, and ignoring new consumers, like little Sam, who, under no occasion, would not ever wish see Superman *die*.

    • Todd says:

      Nixon was clearly the Penguin.

      Nixon, blueblood son of the Gotham Cobblepots? Nay! Nixon was the scruffy son of California farmers, doing an honest day’s work for his pious Quaker parents while his brother died of that blood-coughing disease.

      Although, like the Penguin in Batman Forever, he did harbor a deep resentment for America’s well-healed youth. Was Vietnam his revenge against the Kennedys, murdering the joy of the generation that Kennedy inspired?

      • eronanke says:

        Also: He was hideous.

        • Todd says:

          But smart, don’t forget smart.

          I deeply hated Nixon when he was in office (and I was 12), but at least one knew that he was actually in charge of things. He devised so many cunning Machiavellian schemes and was a brilliant political thinker (and, domestically, was to the left of Clinton). With Bush it’s so clear that he’s nothing but a meat puppet, a stammering idiot given the country to run as a big shiny present by his corporate benefactors.

    • curt_holman says:

      PDR – Penguin Delano Roosevelt

      To focus on the superficials, I think someone once commented on the fact that The Penguin LOOKS remarkably like FDR (esp. with the hat and the cigarette-holder clamped in the teeth). I never knew if the Penguin’s creators meant anything with that, or what.

      Dick Cheney’s resemblance to The Penguin, esp. the clenched-tooth thing, has been well-established.

  5. Anonymous says:

    In an actual D.C. world where, for example, Nader is a “bad guy” whose actual decades of deeds should be now rewritten out of history because he “stopped” Gore (and Tipper) from becoming President, the wild vendetta histories of reverse-causalities that appear in the name of desperate politics are much, much more than any comic book narrative would believe feasible to attempt, or that any hero could suffer for without going mental and reverting to Lex Luthorhood.

    Sigh. I would really wonder if configuring any notion of “hero”, super or otherwise, DC, Marvel, alt- etc… in relation to “American President” is even really conceivable anymore. You know, other than as an exercise in some Jonathan Miller Opera way. It’s not for nothing there was the recent film about the assasination of Pres. Bush, rather than about a hero President.

    President Hero… at best Venture Bros material.

    • Todd says:

      It is true that, after spending an adulthood under Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush, I’ve given up on the idea that there could be anything like a heroic president, that there could be anything other than a vile, opportunistic greedhead running the country. I don’t need a hero though at this point, I would settle for a competent human being.

      • Anonymous says:

        “President Competent” sounds perfect. But there would always be “Vice-President Plotter”.

        • Todd says:

          Historically, probably not. The phenomenon of the “Man Behind the Curtain” vice-presidency dates back, as far as I can tell, only to Cheney. Vice-Presidents in my memory were famously nonentities, powerless, idle and frustrated, selected for their ability to “balance the ticket” and nothing else.

          In 1980, Reagan approached Gerald Ford to be his running mate. Ford, having already been vice-president once, said “Sure, I’ll do that, just so long as I have powers equal to yours,” and Reagan balked, selecting instead the weasly order-taker Bush I.

          • Anonymous says:

            Ford (!)…with equal power to THE President Reagan. Does that sound remotely sane as a plausible request..and then from Ford? Would Nancy even have allowed him in the same room?

            I will change my vote from the new era of Vice-President Plotter back over to the good old days of Vice-President Gerald Stumbles. President Competent better not get impeached…

            • Todd says:

              Ford (!)…with equal power to THE President Reagan. Does that sound remotely sane as a plausible request..and then from Ford?

              Well, keep in mind that Reagan wasn’t president yet, he was just the ex-governor of California. And people were worried he was too old to be president.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Merely Dr. Doom!? Foolish screenwriter! George W. Bush is almighty Darkseid! Hail Darkseid! Hail Apokolips! Death to New Genesis and thier Homosexual Liberal Elite! Rargh!

    But seriously, Bush may be the worst U.S. president, that makes him at least the second best Russian president.

    Plastic Man is not Reagan! How dare you!? Plastic Man is obviously Bill Clinton! Reagan is more like Dr. Sivana. Annoying… evil man… Bush is Luthor.

    • Todd says:

      George W. Bush is almighty Darkseid!

      I’ll buy Cheney as Darkseid — Bush is more like that pathetic little guy Darkseid is always smacking when he gets pissed off.

  7. Franklin Roosevelt in that regard, giving our enemies a bitter fight while generously giving our poorest and weakest a fighting chance of their own?

    I take it you’re overlooking his power grab (trying to pack the Supreme Court) and his concentration camps for yellow-skinned people.

  8. mr_noy says:

    Charles Xavier as FDR.

  9. ndgmtlcd says:

    Since the US system was conceived (by Jefferson, over the opposition of Alexander Hamilton) to create deadlocks between the executive and the legislative you obviously have to take your heroes in one of the two branches and your villains in the other, depending on your point of view.

    Given that this deadlock lasts for centuries there’s a never ending stream of heroes and villains with none of them ever winning complete and absolute victory over the other.

    On the other hand, maybe Benjamin Franklin was Superman and George III was Lex Luthor. That would leave George C. Marshall as Batman and Eleanor Roosevelt as Wonder Woman.

    Haven’t figured out who’s Supergirl (or Batgirl) but Queen Victoria’s got to be Poison Ivy and Adolf Hitler is Brainiac.

    • Todd says:

      you obviously have to take your heroes in one of the two branches and your villains in the other, depending on your point of view.

      So is it that the liberals are the Justice League and the conservatives are the Legion of Doom? Or is it one of those Earth I/Earth II things? Because if it’s one of those things I’m giving up on understanding presidential politics once and for all.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I would have to say Lincoln is Batman, I don’t think there’s a closer connection between a Super hero-President.
    FDR is Cpt. Marvel meets Prof. X… and it’s just not the wheelchair. He was sneaky while keeping his boyish optimism.

    • Todd says:

      “Secessionists are a superstitious, cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible…I shall become AN ABOLITIONIST!”

    • Todd says:

      So, wait — then is Joker Jefferson Davis? Is Bane John Wilkes Booth? And Sherman would be Commissioner Gordon. Stanton would be Lucius Fox, that seems obvious. Is Andrew Johnson Robin, later becoming president Nightwing? Is Ulysses S. Grant Terry McGuinness? And poor little Willie would be Jason Todd.

      One thing is for sure, Mary Todd is no Catwoman, although Ann Rutledge would make a fine Talia.

  11. ghostgecko says:

    You just melted my brain, robo.

  12. I’m gonna go with Batman as Thomas Jefferson, if only for the fact that, at one point or another in my youth, I separately considered getting tattoos of both of them. And I’d like to think even Younger Me of Earth 2 might have known something. Then again, your Lincoln theory is pretty spot on.

    Captain Marvel might just be John Adams.