From the old board, I launched the "President Luthor" thread with this post (July 21, 2003):


At my last visit to my friendly neighborhood comics shop, I say the President Luthor trade paperback. I haven't read the Superman titles for several years (heresy, I know), and the notion of Lex Luthor becoming President of the U.S. wasn't enough to entice me back.

It's a nifty idea, I'll admit ... but the time to do it was very shortly after the Crisis/John Byrne reboot, when the notion of Luthor-as-business-mogul was still fresh and he hadn't amassed a history of dirty deeds that we readers know about, even if the good folks of the DC Universe don't.

But he has that history ... so how come the heroes of the DCU let him run for office without exposing him? I know that with great power comes great responsibility, and the heroes shy from influencing public policy and all -- but C'MON! He's a villain! They couldn't say ANYTHING? So what if he'll sue them!?! Truth is an absolute defense against libel, at least in this country.

I was curious about whether Luthor had won the election honestly -- or at least legitimately. If he rigged the election somehow, that's even more reason for the heroes to take a hand.

So I thumbed through the book. There was a story in which Luthor hires Talia to run is business empire -- after staging an attack on her condo by armed assassins and having her rescued by his favorite leg-breakers, Hope and Mercy. Talia doesn't swallow the obvious setup, but he answers, "If you think I would engineer the deaths of 17 men just to impress you, you are deluded."

I don't swallow it either. And I also don't swallow how he can hire Talia and explain to The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, Louis Ruskeyer and Maria Bartiromo how somebody with no track record in business becomes the CEO of a multinational business empire.

Then we get into Luthor's announcement that he'll run, and there are a lot of people, Perry White among them, murmuring that "he'll probably win," just like that. Then we see Luthor get shot -- and apparently, he's swept into office on a sympathy vote. The next thing is Superman at a photo op congratulating Luthor on his win.

With that, I put the book back on the shelf. I couldn't stand it any more. Now, I wasn't necessarily expecting the story to be realistic (You know what I always say about that, don't you? Say it with me: "Whenever someone speaks of making comics 'realistic,' more often than not they mean doing something that takes all the fun out of them."), but there are a LOT of problems with the notion of Luthor-as-president that have to be addressed, and such a story requires the writer to do a LOT of heavy lifting to get me to buy into it. Here, it seems, they didn't even try.

For openers: I didn't see even a hint of an opponent, which is, y'know, a given in a presidential race. There's never a shortage of people who will run. I don't have any trouble with the idea that Luthor would want the job; few positions in life have the stature of the Presidency. On the other hand, I think there are a number of people prominent in public life who might want the job, but have no stomach for campaigning for it. I would have put Luthor in this category, but if he decided to go for it, well, fine. After all, there's only one man who became President without actually running in a national campaign. (Gerald Ford -- you weren't thinking of someone else, were you?)

I didn't see a declaration of party by Luthor. If he ran as an independent, well, there are a number of hurdles he'd have to meet to get on the ballot in all 50 states. With his money and resources, he could do it, but one can't assume that he can just sign a check and it's done. We have a two-party system in this country, in large part because members of those parties, once elected to office, have enacted lots of laws at every level of government -- federal, state, and local -- to keep it that way. (The Constitution itself says nothing about parties.)

Which is the other thing: How does Luthor counter the opposition from constituent groups that have thrown in with one party or the other and will mobilize in support of their chosen candidate? How does Luthor win any of them over? How does Luthor win the voters over? Getting shot might win some sympathy, but if that was enough, George Wallace would have been elected in '72, not Richard Nixon.

Speaking of Nixon -- the good Captain has often stated that the Daily Planet should do a Watergate on Luthor. Fine, but I believe that they shouldn't have waited until after the election; they should have gone after him the moment they had any inkling he was going to run. Once he was a declared candidate, they should have hit him with everything including the kitchen sink ... and the stove, the dishwasher, the refrigerator, the cabinets, the pots and pans, and every plate, cup, saucer, fork, knife and spoon.

Which, of course, happens anyway in a presidential race. No matter how much press coverage anybody gets as a public figure, becoming a candidate ratchets it up a notch or three. A serious candidate can expect that, at minimum, The New York Times, The Washington Post -- and the OPPOSING PARTIES -- will document anything and everything he or she has said and done in his entire life.

Can Luthor stand up to that much scrutiny? Of course not, and I can't believe he would put himself in such a position to be exposed.

And I haven't even mentioned all the babbling from the pundits on the cable news channels and the bleating from talk radio, and the Iowa causes and the New Hampshire primary and etc., and so on and so forth.

Nor have I mentioned Luthor's past -- such as destroying the city of Metropolis in Action Comics #700. How does a candidate for the presidency explain something like that away?

To be fair, as I mentioned before, I haven't been reading the Superman titles, so I don't know if any of these points have been addressed. Have they? Have the holes in this scenario been filled? Am I off base in criticizing this? Should I give it a chance?

Stepping off the soapbox now ...

-- ClarkKent_DC (who is grateful that he never covered politics)

Views: 35

Comment by Mark Russell Pennington on September 23, 2009 at 10:02am
I was reading the Superman titles back then.Luthor as POTUS was the straw that broke the back for me. I just couldn't get over the fact that the so-called heroes of the DCU let it happen. I mean, it's as bad as a psychotic mass-murderer with a Halloween fetish being made top-cop of the world...
Comment by John Dunbar (the mod of maple) on September 23, 2009 at 10:15am
I went to the old board to read the responses of the original discussion. I hadn't been reading the Super-titles at the time so I couldn't answer any of Clark's questions; Clark's post above is a great one, and the responses at the old board are well worth reading.

However I'm going to throw some cold water on it (sorry, Clark); in my own opinion, all of the details about the political process and party politics would be a boring read. It's enough for me that Luthor somehow got elected president, and the interesting bits happen after. I think the DCU heroes didn't speak out while Luthor was running for office because it's one of those "let humanity find their own way" situations - I think it was Superman, after all, who said at the end of the first Grant Morrison JLA arc that their purpose is to catch humanity when they fall. I do recall after the 1986 reboot that Luthor pretty much was teflon, not even Superman himself could get the evidence to put Luthor behind bars. Even when crimes became known to the public, Luthor wiggled out, usually by setting up an underling to take the fall.
Comment by John Dunbar (the mod of maple) on September 23, 2009 at 10:59am
Norman Osborn being the head of H.A.M.M.E.R. is actually quite plausible to me. It all goes back to Civil War.

We start with the destruction of Stamford and the resulting deaths. The New Warriors are blamed. Registration quickly becomes the law of the land. There is a divide in the hero community as heroes who refuse to register become outlaws. Helping to hunt down unregistered heroes are the villains who comprise the Thunderbolts, lead by Osborn. The American general public sees the unregistered heroes as the bad guys, so anyone who would hunt them down would be seen as being on the side of the angels, possibly thinking the Bolts are former villains who want to make amends for their pasts. As for Osborn, the public are in the dark here. Only Ben Urich is sounding the alarm, and he is ignored by most. At the end of CW, Captain America surrenders, and the unregistered heroes lack a credible spokesperson. Remember for years in the MU, masked vigilantes are just not trusted, with the possible exception of Cap. His surrender, I think, would cause even less trust in those who will not register.

Fast forward to Secret Invasion. Osborn and his team are seen on television helping in the fight to save the world. Osborn himself fires the shot that ends the war and saves Earth. Yes, the Avengers, the FF, the X-men and others have saved the Earth many times, but Norman has an advantage. He was the latest one to do it, and he did it very publicly (after all, how many times was the Earth saved and the general public had no idea? Remember, a lot of them think Galactus was a myth created to sell tabloid newspapers!). It was all about "what have you done for me lately?" and in story, to me at least, it makes perfect sense that Osborn was given the keys to the kingdom. Tony Stark was discredited. Several heroes had actually been impersonated by Skrulls, and who and for how long will probably never be answered, as far as the public knows. Meanwhile, here's Norman, appearing to fight the good fight, risks his life, kills the Skrull Queen, ends the war - there's your hero. Is it right? Is it fair? We the readers know better of course, but we're privy to everything, the MU general public is not.

One final point: Clint Barton (unregistered hero) recently goes on television to "expose" Norman Osborn. Osborn battles back with his own television interview, admitting he was the Green Goblin, had done many terrible things as Goblin, and blamed it on mental illness, and other people who wore the Goblin costume. He also brings up enough questions about Clint's past, his motives then and today, and the fact that he will not obey the law and register to shred Clint's credibility completely. Clint was bullheaded and barely had a plan, the formula he has used for years, and because he was no match for Osborn on this field, it blew up in his face.

So I have to disagree with the notion that the heroes don't pay attention, and that the writers don't explain why. Just because you don't like how it is explained doesn't mean it is not being explained.
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on September 23, 2009 at 11:59am
John Dunbar wrote:
I went to the old board to read the responses of the original discussion. I hadn't been reading the Super-titles at the time so I couldn't answer any of Clark's questions; Clark's post above is a great one, and the responses at the old board are well worth reading.

However I'm going to throw some cold water on it (sorry, Clark); in my own opinion, all of the details about the political process and party politics would be a boring read. It's enough for me that Luthor somehow got elected president, and the interesting bits happen after.


That's what makes horse races. I didn't want all of the details about the political process and party politics -- I'd never confuse Action Comics with The New Republic or The Weekly Standard -- but I would want enough to sell me on the story. Good grief, Luthor ran without even an opposing candidate in the picture!

And, for me, I disagree that "the interesting bits" would have happened in that story only after Luthor won. Look at your example above with Clint Barton trying to "expose" Norman Osborn. Done right, it might have been fascinating, even thrilling, to have had a similar setup play out in the "President Luthor" plot with the Daily Planet and ace reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane against Luthor's empire. And that would have gone a long way to sell me on the story; I just can't swallow that the heroes didn't even try to stop that from happening, even guided by the "let humanity find their own way" belief.
Comment by Alan M. on September 23, 2009 at 1:53pm
The President Luthor storyline was primarily driven by Jeph Loeb, right?

For me, that goes a long way towards explaining any "don't worry about the details, it just happened" narrative flow that this story may have. (See also: Heroes seasons 2 and 3; Red Hulk.)
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on September 23, 2009 at 3:53pm
One more thing:

Several times, I've heard the plaint that getting into the nuts-and-bolts of the politics of a presidential election would be "boring." I don't agree, particularly because I've seen it done in a fresh, exciting way, in the manga series Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President by Kaiji Kawaguchi. The whole thing is about a run for the presidency, specifically, the campaign of one Sen. Kenneth Yamaoka (D-NY), a first-generation Japanese-American (his parents emigrated from Japan in the 1920s), and how this campaign is covered by a young newspaper reporter, Takashi Jo.

It's a sprawling, 2,000 page epic, and is the closest thing to a TV miniseries as I've ever seen in print. It's got everything: political intrigue, romance, combat, sex, Machiavellian machinations, a murder mystery, football, family drama, comedy, a coming of age tale, "boys on the bus" campaign reporting, a love story, pointed commentary on America's role on the world stage, a clear explanation of the differences between Democrats and Republicans, an inside look at the election process, AND crisp, clean artwork that shows the artist really did his homework. I've been to several of the locations depicted in the story, and he captured them perfectly. I recommend it to one and all.

So I don't accept that that stuff is "boring"; it doesn't have to be, and with Eagle, I've read at least one story that made it exciting and thrilling -- so much so that it was nominated for five Eisner Awards. I know "President Luthor" wasn't meant to be The Making of the President, but I just couldn't go along with it without some of that flavor to make it credible.
Comment by Alan M. on September 23, 2009 at 6:53pm
It's not so much that politics are boring or that they don't make a good comic book story, as it is that they don't really make good superhero stories. Superhero stories are first and foremost action stories, and what makes politics interesting is ideas and intrigue, not action. That's why they so often work their way into noir, mysteries, and suspense stories — because those are the stories where ideas and intrigue rule.
Comment by John Dunbar (the mod of maple) on September 24, 2009 at 1:25am
I wasn't arguing that politics are boring either, just that for myself personally, a story depicting the nuts and bolts would not hold my interest. I do think that a story featuring Lex Luthor becoming president needs some background, but I would only want a few pages. A take that would work for me is that Lex's journey to the White House was like Ross Perot, only successful (I know I'm oversimplifying it but indulge me). An independent candidate, so no party affiliation; uses his own money to fund his campaign, only accepts individual contributions with a maximum donation of $100, so that the ordinary voter can participate but Lex is not "beholden to big business and special interests"; picks a credible and charismatic running mate; does well in debates and interviews; and lastly, has the good fortune not to be facing an incumbent, and to be facing two weak opponents. Perhaps both of his opponents won their nominations in contests that left their parties bitterly divided, and supporters of unsuccessful candidates abandoned their party and joined the Luthor team; perhaps one of the candidates had a scandal of their own after they secured their party's nomination and that campaign fell apart. And maybe Lex is able to engage many people who usually don't vote.

To me, that's all you need right there for background, and Lex or someone else could give the reader that exposition in a few pages. Based on what I stated above, I think he could win an election honestly or at least legitimately, as Clark aptly put it in his first post. I don't think he could rig it or steal it without Superman and others wading in, but they would stay out of it otherwise. A lot of his own money, a lot of hard work, and a little luck - there you go.
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on September 24, 2009 at 4:11pm
John and Mark hit on what would have been (more) satisfying for me: A story or series of stories showing how Luthor beat the odds. I don't believe Luthor could have hidden all his dirt while running for president -- but a creatively told story that made me believe it would have hit the spot.

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