|It’s a brave new world. But it was bound to happen sooner or later, and this year seems to be the appointed year.
When President-elect Barack Obama moves into the White House this week you can bet he’ll be toting along his collection of Spiderman and Conan the Barbarian comic books. Harry Truman may have sold suits in a small Midwestern town, but Obama, well, he’s one-of-a-kind. Just ask Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada.
“When we heard that President-Elect Obama is a collector of Spider-Man comics, we knew that these two historic figures had to meet in our comics’ Marvel Universe,” says Quesada. “Historic moments such as this one can be reflected in our comics because the Marvel Universe is set in the real world. A Spider-Man fan moving into the Oval Office is an event that must be commemorated in the pages of 'Amazing Spider-Man.'”
If you haven’t picked up the new Amazing Spiderman featuring Obama (out January 14 - and destined to be a collector’s edition), you’ll enjoy the typical comic action story, this one about how the colorful webslinger saves the day when an impostor attemptrs to kidnap Obama and be sworn in as the new president before the nation knows what’s happening. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but remember, in the comics, the good guys finish first.
While Obama may be the first professed comic collector to live in the White House (will he build a special bookshelf in the Oval Office for those special comics?), he’s not the first president to be immortalized on the pages of comicdom. JFK appeared in the pages of Superman (the issue was written and drawn before Kennedy's 1963 assassination but actually hit stands after that dark day in Dallas) and Richard Nixon posed in a 1972 cameo of "The Fantastic Four" and in "The Incredible Hulk." Even Jimmy Carter was briefly illustrated in a comic in the late 70s.
But the world has evolved (or regressed?), and this year, even before the election, both Obama and Republican challenger John McCain were the stars of their own comic-style publications.
This is an exciting era for non-fiction comics with a journalistic bent and the sector is growing in size and sophistication all the time. But nothing about this project's cover art by J. Scott Campbell suggested that this project would have any more depth than campaign bumper stickers.
That was wrong! The stories and art inside were far more compelling than anticipated and these short-form biographies deliver savvy and nimble life stories for both candidates and mostly succeed in stripping away overt partisan spin. The books, while short were fairly ideal introductions to each candidate, especially for teen readers.
The McCain story begins with him in a dank cell at the Hao Lo Prison in Hanoi and communicates the future senator's agony and bravery in those most dire of circumstances. But it also shows him in far less heroic panels: downcast after his first marriage failed, and cutting loose on bar tabletops as a Naval liason to Congress. Obama, meanwhile, is shown on a far different odyssey, which dwells longer on childhood and young adult years to communicate his struggles as a youngster of mixed-race heritage growing up with a single mom. The intellectual zeal that made Obama the first African American president of Harvard Law Review is a strong undercurrent but, like the McCain story, the compromises, detours and stumbles are left in; we see an aimless, teenage Obama scoffing at the idea of college and then later, after he was shellacked in an expensive 2000 campaign, there's the scene of him getting his credit card denied while trying to buy a plane ticket to the Democratic National Convention.
The McCain bio was written by Andy Helfer (whose career in comics included some memorable work on "The Shadow" after DC Comics revived the iconic pulp character in the 1980s) and drawn by Stephen Thompson. The Obama bio was written by Jeff Mariotte and drawn by Tom Morgan.
Leave it to change to bnring about some amazing developments in both pop culture and in politics. If you look carefully, the two are not that far part anyway.