When Comics Get Political
In this column I will dive into times, throughout superhero history, that comics got political. There seems to be a constant debate if political discussion has a place in the medium. I hope to show that politics and superhero comics go together. This time we look at President Luthor.
Imagine a world where a rich corporate type wins an election, even though he has been shown multiple times in the media to be a nefarious figure of almost no moral standing. That would be almost completely unrealistic, and thankfully this scenario only lives within the pages of a comic book…
To go through the entire thread of Lex’s presidency would take articles upon articles. The main highlights are; Lex used real estate influence in Gotham city to profit off a disaster, and he used gaslighting techniques to fool the world that he was a hero and not a villain. The real estate connection there really does give it that Trump-like connection. Lex Luthor was portrayed as a smart and conniving individual, that got out of trouble through bending the rules.
This special issue (pictured left) was done in 1989, and shows that the Trump connection was something that has been part of the character for quite some time.
The comic book issue being discussed here is from the year 2000, titled Lex 2000. In the DC universe, George W. Bush did not win the election. Instead, Lex Luthor did. At the back of the issue, some celebrities comment on a Lex Luthor Presidency. It isn’t as important who the celebrities are, but far more important what editorial decided to include. Each quote paints a clear picture of the political landscape at the time. Kevin Smith simply states, “Anyone but Bush.” Margot Kidder says that Lex, “[b]eats the present field of candidates!” So there was a general tone of discontent with the real presidential election that fed into this storyline.
Lex’s first day
Luthor is seen in this issue making a documentary that only highlights his good side. It even shows him asking for anything to be edited out that can be seen as remotely negative towards him. He is actively trying to change his history, to show he is now a “good person.” The people at the Daily Planet speak about how they feel of Lex’s presidency, and Perry White compares it to The Challenger Shuttle exploding, and JFK being shot. Batman shows up to try and stop Luthor, but he immediately threatens to use his new powers of the presidency to stalk him. Luthor shows exactly what kind of person he is and what kind of president he will be. Having a villain as president is a perfect set up. As each side of the aisle, sees the opposing candidate as a villain.
I don’t think anyone working at DC could see how the entire Lex Luthor storyline would play out to an audience in the year 2018. Regardless, the writer, Jeph Loeb, is still playing to a larger political storyline. While Trump was not the president at the time, the American public had choices between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Both were seen as status quo old-guard stand-ins. There was a general level of uneasiness and distrust that fractured the American public further along political lines that we see today. This comic is a reaction to the political world around them, with an alarming amount of foresight into what an exaggerated and hyperbolic trend of that landscape would look like. Little did they know that Lex 2000, is subdued compared to the world of politics less than 20 years later.