Two comic books out this week from DC Entertainment are poking fun at the upcoming United States elections, but in "bittersweet" ways that one of the writers says will "play to a range of emotions."
It's perhaps fitting that the mudslinging nature of this year's presidential election, which will be decided on November 8, has provided fodder for a satirical story in The Flintstones #5 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh. It's also coinciding with Russell's reunion with Prez (and artist Ben Caldwell), for a short in Catwoman: Election Night.
Self-described "semi-neutral" Canadian writer Meredith Finch and artist Shane Davis will provide some Gotham City-based metaphors for this year's presidential election in the lead story of Catwoman: Election Night, with the Penguin standing in for Donald Trump and a new character representing Hillary Clinton as the tworun for mayor.
Newsarama talked to Finch and Russell about their stories, how they're portraying the two presidential candidates in new ways, and how Catwoman and the Flintstones react to the world of politics.
Newsarama: Mark and Meredith, the election is rarely a fun topic for people, but are you guys attempting to make it more entertaining?
Mark Russell: Yeah, that's the idea.
Nrama: Where did the idea come from? Obviously, Mark, you've played with this before in Prez, but how did Catwoman come into the equation?
Meredith Finch: I was talking about a Catwoman story with DC and the option of doing something to do with the election came up, and I loved it. I'm Canadian, so I get to do it from a third party perspective. So I get to sit back and watch what's happening. So I thought it would be fun to take the approach and try to be as neutral as you can be, because we're ultimately, we're not neutral up here. Whatever happens south of our borders affects us. But initially, the idea was to take a semi-neutral approach and present both candidates in kind of a caricature.
Nrama: Where does Catwoman stand in all this?
Finch: Catwoman stands where she always stand, which is for No. 1. She always takes care of herself, and in this particular instance, the election is really secondary to the fact that somebody's trying to mess with somebody who's important to her. And she will blow it all up if she has to, to protect the person that she cares about.
I think people can really get behind that, because it's not very often that you get to read about a character that Catwoman has a real affinity for. We know she has a relationship with Batman, but one of my favorite things about doing this story was that I got to add a person of meaning to Catwoman into her lore.
Nrama: But this is not the election that people might suspect - Catwoman isn't dealing with presidential candidates. This is in Gotham City, right?
Finch: Right, it's the election for the mayor of Gotham. And we have Penguin, who's running as our Donald Trump-esque character, and then we came up with a completely new character to represent Hillary Clinton, and her name is Constance Hill.
So we tried to be reflective of the bad, or the weaknesses, of both candidates within the characters in the issue. And in the end, we show that, for Catwoman, what it's about is not Gotham City, but her and the people that she loves.
Nrama: So Mark, how did you get in on this, and where did the ideas that you're utilizing in The Flintstones come from?
Russell: Well, DC just told me that, for the November issue, they wanted something a little election-themed for The Flintstones, which was no problem for me, because I think everything I do in The Flintstones at least has a little bit of political or social commentary embedded in it.
My election allegory was kind of split between a general election in Bedrock for the new mayor, and the mayor is a scion of a more powerful person, and then also the middle school elections at the school - the class elections - in which the leading candidate is Ralph the bully, who's a not-too-subtle reference, of course, to Donald Trump.
So I really just sort of tried to parody what I think the problems and frailties of our electoral process are in those elections.
It basically boils down to people's gullibility. People are willfully misled, and they kind of follow their excitement at the expense of their reason, which I think is the big failing in democratic politics, is that people are easily tittilated and misled.
Nrama: Interesting. So I take it that the characters in The Flintstones are easily manipulated and misled?
Russell: Yeah, generally. You know, civilization is new to the people of Bedrock, so they have an excuse that we do not. But yeah, generally, they're chasers. They're all about what the new flavor of the week is. Or whatever the new promise is. There's a new mall that opens up, and everybody's all about the mall. Someone makes a big promise in an election that sounds good to them, and they abandon their reason and their experience of past mistakes that have been made by that sort of rhetoric to embrace it wholeheartedly.
In a lot of ways, people of Bedrock are just an amplified version of the American public.
Nrama: And this Catwoman: Election Night also returns you to the character from Prez.
Russell: Yeah, it's just sort of an additional Prez story. It doesn't really wrap up the storylines from the original Prez, but it does give readers and fans one more Prez story.
And it shows Beth Ross a little further on in her progression as a politician. She's a little more savvy now. She's a little more calculated, and she knows how to, like, turn disadvantages to her advantage. I think that's what you see in this special election issue, is a Beth Ross who is no longer an ingenue, but somebody who knows how to work the system to her favor.
Nrama: Yet the way that she was elected is representative of what you were talking about before with Bedrock. Beth Ross was the hot new thing and got elected president, right? People were just following a trend?
Russell: Yeah, exactly. But in her case, it just happened to have some good outcomes, in that she turns out to be a capable president.
But it's all predicated on this idea that people are fickle and they don't really think things through when they're considering their votes.
Nrama: What about the artist on these stories? What can you tell us about their contribution to the stories?
Finch: Well, if you give me a chance to talk about the artist, I'm going to gush on and on. Shane Davis is the artist on the book, and he did phenomenal work. His use of shadows - I guess this comes from living with an artist, but those are the things that I pay attention to. But he does some really cool things with shadows. And I know he was heavily influenced by Tim Sale and the way he used Catwoman's tail and her whip.
For me, as much fun as it is writing the book, it's almost more fun seeing it realized in the artwork. People should definitely pick it up just for the art. I think the story's good too, but the art is amazing.
Russell: I totally agree with that sentiment as far as The Flintstones goes too. My favorite part of each month is getting the artwork back from Steve Pugh, who's the artist on The Flintstones, and it always cracks me up. He finds nuances and all kinds of funny little background details that I didn't put in the script, and it's been a real joy working with him.
Same with Ben Caldwell, who returns to the art for the Prez special elections story. I've been incredibly lucky getting to work with two amazing artists who have, like, such a humor and vision of their own. It really helps sort of flesh out my work as a writer.
But yeah, I think that in both issues, they're a little bittersweet. I hope people find them funny, but also a little sad. They play to a range of emotions.
Nrama: Kind of like elections themselves.
Russell: Yeah! Exactly.