So, apparently the USA is having an election or something this year. As this site’s token Canadian, I can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous American politics has gotten. It’s gotten so silly that one can easily make a sort of fantasy narrative around the American political landscape.
But enough about my sure-to-be-classic article comparing the 2012 presidential candidates to Lord of the Rings characters, we’re here to talk about Barack the Barbarian. Yes, it’s a real thing. Yes, it was really published. Yes, I read it. But before I read it, I read a bit about it. This actually started when Josh Blaylock, publisher of Devil’s Due comics, found out that newly elected president Barack Obama collected Conan the Barbarian comics, and contacted esteemed comics writer Larry Hama to do a Conan-esque story starring Obama. Hama said of the phone-call that convinced him to do the series, originally called “Obama the Barbarian”:
First off, you should change it to Barack the Barbarian, and second, I’m not interested in writing a Mad Magazine style parody and that it would have to be more in line with the more polemical stuff of Swift, Twain and Voltaire (not that I can pull off anything like they could,) and third, that my own leanings are towards Barack and that would be reflected in what I write– and Josh said ‘fine.’
So, at the very least I expected competently written fare that was above the quality of a typical Mad Magazine parody. What I got was, well, not what I expected.
The story is, essentially, the Conan story Tower of the Elephant with elements from other Conan stories thrown in, except it’s actually the story of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election told as a flashback from the distant future. Confused? Good. It begins with a take on Conan’s Nemedian Chronicles, the definitely-not-Mad-Magazine-style-parody Maddowian chronicles, which speak of a time before the great ice age, of kingdoms like Brittania of the crooked teeth, Franconia, famed for soft cheese, Nippon (which is what real life Japanese people call Japan), the “target of giant monsters” Sui$$bancara (with dollar signs) where gnomes guard vaults full of treasure, and the great western republic Merikah. Are you laughing yet? No? Don’t worry, there are plenty more jokes just like that. Anyway, a barbarian named Barack leaves his native Shikhago (Chicago, where the Obamas lived prior to Barack’s election) riding a blue donkey and goes to Merikah’s capitol, the corrupt city of Warshington. Yes, the blue donkey he rides is the symbol of the the Democratic Part, and yes, another Messiah figure rode into the city riding a donkey. Don’t think that Hama didn’t pick that allegorical parallel on accident, everything else in this miniseries was painfully deliberate.
Anyway, our hero meets Hilaria of the cult of Bill, Bill Clinton himself, a guy named Manny the Fixer (no, I have no clue who he is), Red Sarah (Palin), and the Old Warrior (John McCain, even though he’s never named and his face is never shown). Absent from the comic is Joe Biden, which is good because they tried to fit far too many people into these 4 issues already. The Old Warrior and Red Sarah want to scale the tower of the elephant god (yes, the elephant as in the Republican Party’s symbol) to take over from Boosh the dim and his Vizier Harry Burden (Dick Cheney, and no I don’t know why he was called that. His face is shown, he’s clearly Dick Cheney). Hilaria, Bill and Manny want this newcomer, Barack, to free the treasure of the temple, which is really a goddess who was locked away by Boosh and the Vizier at the behest of the demon Aight (no idea who that is either, but he represents Big Business). If you read this book and don’t figure out who the goddess is right after she’s mentioned, you’re quite possibly retarded. Anyway, Barack and Hilaria battle through Warshington meeting caricatures of people like Ann Coulter, David Letterman, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and many others, all with silly Mad Magazine-esque “funny” names. Meanwhile, Bill and Manny use the power of tweeting with a blue bird (Twitter) to defeat the elephant cultists outside the temple and rally the people. Barack kills the elephant god (a giant bipedal elephant wearing Uncle Sam’s costume) and Boosh and the Vizier are imprisoned by *sigh* the Four Closures, who also steal everyone’s house and eat everyone’s money. They look like the biblical four horsemen. Subtle AND clever. Then, even more subtly, they free the imprisoned goddess, the statue of Liberty, who needs Barack to light her torch and bring peace to the land-oops, spoiler alert. It gets really preachy at the end, talking about how we need liberty and reason and justice and blah blah blah and hope is eternal and yes we can yadda yadda yadda.
One thing I forgot to mention that completely negates all of the propaganda thrown up by most of the comic: the distant future this story is being told from is post-apocalyptic. Yeah. Climate change caused a great ice age sometime after Barack’s ascension, which is why they only remember the old stories as legends where he triumphed through violence and not democracy. This totally undermines the propaganda in the sword and sorcery bits. If Barack frees Lady Liberty and brings an end to the corruption of Warshington, why is the world in ruins now? I mean, it’s a refreshing bit of honesty to admit that President Obama isn’t perfect and hasn’t really been a leader on environmental issues, but the rest of the comic is such ham-fisted propaganda that that seems out of place. If he really wanted to be pro-Obama, he should have had the wise elder should have been telling that story while flying solar powered cars passed noiselessly overhead or something, not after an ice age!
If I were to describe this thing in one word, it would be “bizarre”. It’s supposedly a real sword and sorcery epic and not goofy parody, yet it has several silly sight gags and “jokes” that would feel more at home in an old issue of Cracked than in a comic from Larry Hama, who’s written tons of brilliant stuff like the ‘Nam, GI Joe and the Dark Claw one shot. It’s supposedly a clever satire in the vein of Mark Twain, but it’s rarely even remotely clever, and I don’t think much (if any) of the attempted humour is actually satire. And it contradicts itself several times, saying that people simply disagreeing doesn’t make them evil then portraying all Republicans as evil, and saying Barack brings about a new golden era while setting the “present time” in a man-made ice age. Between that, the dated references in a book that claims timelessness and the fact that it’s fucking Barack Obama as Conan the Barbarian means this thing defies logic, reason, and sanity. It isn’t nonsense, it’s anti-sense.
The biggest positive I can point out is the artwork. The interior art does a great job of conveying the feel of the old Marvel Conan comics, the covers do make for a good parody of the Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo Conan paintings, and the art in general is excellent without the exterior humour or nostalgia derived from it. For partisan left-wing nuts like me, especially those who are also Conan fans, there’s a bit of joy to be had in seeing Conan Obama the President kill an embodiment of the Republican party, even if Obama himself isn’t all that left wing. Also, given the novelty factor and the fact that Devil’s Due is now digital only, if you can find print copies of these books, they could sell for a profit. There. That’s every reason I can give to read or own this miniseries without lying.
I give this 2 dead elephant gods out of 10, though it almost seems like I should rate this oddity Purple out of Trapezoid or something like that. It would make as much sense as the book does.