People who claim that Barack Obama is the most divisive president ever may lack either any sense of historical perspective or any idea that beliefs other than their own have existed before the 21st Century [see also: racism]. Ronald Reagan divided 80s USA into two bitterly opposing camps—a significant minority saw him as a reckless destroyer of the Social Contract between government and populace, who trafficked in simplistic homilies and racist dog-whistles, and who exploited the decoupling of left politics from the labor movement, securing near-fatal hits on both entities in the name of a lite-fascist union of the state with the corporate sector. But a majority of Americans at the time believed him a messianic redeemer of the Goldwater ethos in American conservatism, arisen to rescue us all from the brink of New-Left disaster and to renew American optimism after years of economic turbulence, post-Vietnam malaise, and the troubled Carter era. He remains something like a Christ figure to American Movement Conservatives who’ve moved so far to the right that Reagan himself wouldn’t recognize them as conservative—or even sane.
And in re-reading my old Reagan’s Raiders comic books, I’m finding it pretty funny how extremely difficult it is to tell whether the writer thought Reagan was America’s salvation or whether he thought the man was fucking preposterous. Poe’s Law has some mighty long arms.
Reagan’s Raiders was a 1986 ultra-patriotic superhero parody comic book that cast Ronnie and his cabinet as a red, white, and blue spandex clad machine-gun totin’ team of superheroic globo-cops—imagine Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, but all dressed like Captain America. In fact, the origin story is 100% derived from Captain America, with a silly twist. A super-strength process has been developed, and it works perfectly, but only on old dudes. Reagan and several cabinet officials, for the good of the country, of course, submit to the procedure, becoming buffed-out supersoldiers with the strength of 20 men. Each. Also they seem to be bulletproof. Take THAT, John Hinckley, Jr.!
This clearcut case of not trying hard enough was the brainchild of actor Monroe Arnold, an early Strasberg disciple whose fealty to The Method opened the door to a theater career, but failed to elevate him much beyond bit player status on the big and small screens. He racked up a long filmography nonetheless, and he’s recognizable from numerous one-off roles in TV shows like The Munsters,, Bewitched, and Hogan’s Heroes. Reagan’s Raiders was his only stab at scripting a comic book, for one of the worst comics publishers of all time, Solson Publications. The satire is too ham-handed and obvious to be all that funny, and it’s just too stupid to ascend to so-bad-its-good territory, instead settling firmly in the middle of merely bad. The art is handled by actual comics legend Rich Buckler, who between tenures at both Marvel and D.C. starting in the ‘70s has at one time or another drawn literally every comics character most casuals have ever heard of, but during his tenure at Solson (WHY?) he was responsible for dross like this, Amazing Wahzoo, and Sultry Teenage Super-Foxes. Per Frederik Strömberg in his wonderful survey Comic Art Propaganda:
The funny thing about this comic book is that it’s quite hard to work out whether the creators were trying to make the then-president look silly, or macho… Considering Reagan’s reputation with his political opponents of being almost a fascist, this was probably welcome as a heavy political satire, although at the same time it could appeal to the followers of Reagan.
So, is it a parody? Certainly! Is it satire? Definitely! But is it propaganda, one way or the other? Well, reading Reagan’s Raiders now, it is, as mentioned, not clear whether the creators thought this comic book showed the folly of Reagan’s macho image, or if they thought that this was going to go down well with the admirers of Reagan. Both interpretations are available on the web. The only thing everyone seems to be in agreement on is that the comics suck!
The idea that RR‘s ideological ambiguity could have been a canny effort to hoodwink both sides of the left-right spectrum into thinking the comic was for them has occurred to me, but I reject the idea—the writing just isn’t that sharp. Asking Monroe Arnold what he intended is impossible as he passed away in 1991. You’ll just have to track them down and judge for yourself. The comic’s first issue saw Reagan, Caspar Weinberger and George Shultz, among others, fighting a team of supervillainous cyborgs that might have been Soviet supersoldiers, or (the script is unclear) might have been an independent entity implausibly called the “World Terrorist Organization,” who are trying to wage nuclear war without actual nukes by sabotaging power plants. In issue #2 the Raiders visit Bolivia to make the war on drugs a hands-on affair. And in #3, they go to Vietnam to liberate MIAs in an issue that not only lifts the premise of Rambo, it features a character who looks exactly like Sylvester Stallone. In the hands of a better writer the idea might have had incredible potential—a Hulked-out Ed Meese in Los Angeles kicking down pornographers’ doors? William J. Casey and Ollie North personally taking out Sandinistas? You could concoct ridiculous scenarios for days, so it’s almost kind of sad that the series only lasted those three issues.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
’Super President’: This forgotten 1967 cartoon was gloriously stupid (and racist as hell)
Marvel’s ‘Generic Comic Book’: The only superhero comic you’ll ever need!
Post punk icons as classic Marvel Comics superheroes