Contested Election: The Ultimates #15 Reviewon September 20, 2012 at 9:12 am
If it was really that easy, Bart Simpson would have been the President of The United States since 1992.
I have previously mentioned that the Ultimate Comics Divided We Fall storyline feels, to me, a lot like Wildstorm’s World’s End arc from a few years back: a major publisher making their sub-universe story playground look more relevant by turning it into an arbitrarily violent cesspool to drive large-scale storylines that the characters themselves weren’t weighty enough to introduce with any believability. Stories like this are the zombie apocalypse of comics: create some form of MacGuffin that sends society into turmoil, like a Kherubim attack or the rise of The Children of Tomorrow or a probe from Venus, and let the circumstances allow characters to do shit that you would never accept in a remotely realistic world.
The problems with stories like that is that you need to buy into the circumstances that have broken society. That’s easy with something like Night of The Living Dead – if you can buy the concept of space bacteria making the dead walk, the overrun of society by the zombies is an easy next step. But if you want to buy into the chaos at the heart of The Ultimates #15, even if you decide to ignore the Sentinels going apeshit in Arizona and that most of the northern eastern seaboard is under National Guard control (despite barely seeing any signs of even traffic snarls in Ultimate Spider-Man), you need to believe that the entire West Coast has united under the rule of pastiches of what appears to be Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Now, my day job is in a software company, and I can tell you with some authority that there isn’t a serious techie in the world who would cross the street to piss down either of those guys’ throats if their hearts were on fire. If this happened in the real world, California’s computer systems would die like pigs in a chute as all the real programmers emigrated to Arizona, because I guarantee you that the Sentinels run on Linux. But I’m getting off on a tangent here.
My point is that, for the events of The Ultimates #15 to resonate, you need to be able to suspend disbelief in the world’s situation itself, which I am finding damn hard to do. Further, you need to believe that somehow, there’s a special recall election of the President of The United States going on, even though Article One of the Constitution states that the Senate has the sole responsibility for removing a sitting president from office. Now, we’ve established that Reed Richards has wiped out Congress, but unless he splashed White-Out on the Constitution, this “special election” just doesn’t make any sense. But let’s assume that there is no Congress, and that nobody’s even tried to replace them, so this “special election” is the only way to select a new president… who made that decision? The President? Not fucking likely; in this issue, he’s ignoring the unrest in California to focus on keeping his job. So who was it? The United Nations? The Ultimates? Irving Forbush?
But let’s further say that we believe the concept of a special presidential… a hard dollar considering we need to believe that this election also discards the concept of an Electoral Collage and allows any dipshit with a birth certificate to be elected (not even an age requirement is mentioned, meaning that that citizenship requirement is the only thing standing between us and President Bieber), The circumstances of how the results come about simply do not hold any water. Writer Sam Humphries shows us an electorate so energized by seeing Captain America taking decisive action in California that they swarm to the polls while he is in action, write his name on the ballot, and elect him before the battle is over. So to buy into this sequence of events, we need to believe that more than 50 percent of the electorate managed to get to a voting booth during eight pages of story – no one says how long the battle lasts, but hell, let’s call it four hours. So in four hours, people were able to get a ballot without having to stand in line or produce ID or anything else fucking the system up because yeah – that’s how it always works on election day… and they were able to get there in such numbers that they overwhelmed everyone who voted before Cap went into action, including all absentee ballots and early voters. Let’s pretend that’s a thing that can happen.
…how the fuck did they count the Goddamned things? These are write-in ballots. Which, by nature of being, you know, handwritten, need to be counted by hand. So we’re expected to believe that election volunteers, who are generally so old that they’re an unexpected Bingo win away from complete cardiac shutdown, counted all those ballots by the end of the battle? God, if only there were a way to get a sense of how long a manual count of presidential ballots might take! And even that timeframe assumes that decrepit election volunteers, partisan election officials, and every judge from John Roberts to Harry Stone is willing to accept that “Captain America,” “Capt. Amreica,” “CAP!!!!!1!,” and “Senor U.S.A.” are the same fucking guy.
Billy Tan’s art is pretty much the best thing about this issue, and even that I didn’t like so much. Tan has a fine-lined style in this issue that reminds me a lot of Rob Liefeld… and that’s a problem. While Tan doesn’t go to the excesses that Liefed does – Captain America has no tits, and Tan can draw a mean foot – his faces look a lot like Rob’s: small eyes, a lot of squinting, and more lines on the face than on Keith Richards’s coffee table. With that said, Tan’s storytelling is head and shoulders above Liefeld’s, in that I never get the feeling that Tan is just drawing poses to help the pages move on the collector’s market; his camera moves keep things interesting, his action is dynamic and makes sense, and his pacing his good. Normally, I might be more inclined to focus on what appears to also be a Frank Quitely influence in Tan’s art, and judge it more charitably, but the fact of the matter is Tan has the misfortune of being the artist on a book that sincerely pissed me off. So we’ll call it 90′s style, if you like that sort of thing, and put this thing to bed.
Look: this is a comic book. Which means that, just by opening the cover, we have agreed to suspend disbelief enough to buy into flying people with superpowers. That’s a big tacit agreement between the writer and the reader right out of the gate. But my suspension of disbelief can only go so far, and the events of The Ultimates #15 are so bafflingly ridiculous that it literally made me angry. Every comic reader over the age of 18 has witnessed firsthand what happens when a presidential election is handed to people counting ballots, and that was an election that wasn’t made up and ridiculous on its face. Maybe I’m asking too much from my comic books, but this issue simply felt like some guys sitting around the Marvel retreat saying, “You know what would be cool? If Captain America was President!” and then spent less time than it took to say that figuring out how to make that happen.
The best I can say about this issue is that having Captain America as president opens up some interesting story possibilities in the future – for example, since Cap had resigned before the election results came in, I can see someone saying that technically he wasn’t Captain America at the time and therefore the election results are invalid. But the events Humphries presented to make Cap President are simply ridiculous to me. I would have preferred it if Cap was made President on the recap page: “Oh yeah – and Captain America is President now.” It would have made more sense to me.
Oh yeah – and Captain America is President now. Just take that recap, jump back in with the next issue, and give this one a wide berth.