A Bi-Partisan Review of Liberality for AllA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Keith Dallas
Publisher ACC Studios has billed Liberality for All "The World's First Conservative Comic Book," and the book has received considerable attention from both the mainstream media and the politically conservative pundits on the airwaves.
Writer/Creator Mike Mackey was gracious enough to provide SBC with review copies of the first three issues of his book. Here Michael Deeley, a self-professed Liberal, and Paul Semones, a self-professed Conservative, provide their assessments of Liberality for All and then react to each other's statements.
Let me make this clear: Politics aside, this is a bad comic. The art is sloppy, dark, and rushed. The people are exaggerated caricatures of themselves that barely look human. The coloring is muddy throughout the story. The ink looks like it was slapped on with a paintbrush. This is ugly, ugly art! Donny Lin should never be allowed near a drawing board ever! The only exception is the “Libarro World” story in issue #3. Penciller Aditia Wardhana and colorist Nichx provide the only art that’s agreeable to look at. They also portray satirical versions of political figures. They’re completely inaccurate and insulting, but this can be considered satire. Liberality’s portrayal of liberal figures is just mean-spirited and immature.
The story is also deeply flawed. Mike Mackey is more concerned with demonizing liberals and lionizing the Fox News cast than with creating an actual story. Mackey looks at an alternate future where Al Gore was elected President in 2000.
Check that: An alternate future where Gore was elected AND allowed to take his rightful office in 2000!
Gore leads a “radical liberal movement” that bans conservatives from the airwaves, merges the US military with UN peacekeepers, and slowly surrenders more authority to the UN and its Secretary General Jacques Chirac. By 2021, America is a shadow of its former self. Some citizens rebel against the new administration, now led by President Chelsea Clinton and Vice-President Michael Moore. Chief among them is F.O.I.L., the Freedom of Information League. Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, and Oliver North work out of an abandoned underwater base, using nanotech-enhanced bodies to continue the fight against the terrorists liberals have not fought. Now they have a chance to kill Osama Bin Laden, the ambassador from Afghanistan. Bin Laden is delivering a speech before the UN on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. But only F.O.I.L. knows he’s carrying a suitcase-sized nuclear bomb to destroy New York City.
*sigh* I’ll get to why Mackey’s politics are wrong after I finish describing why he fails to make his own point.
There are numerous images that are meant to shock and appall us, but they don’t come together even in the context of Mackey’s alternate world. When a young Reagan (the teenaged hero of the story) is being taught how America was a brutal warmonger, a quote from Karl Marx is written on the board: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” That’s the basic definition of Communism. Mackey’s implying Communist values are resurfacing in a Liberal America. But that particular statement applies to economics. Why is it in a history class? As Reagan runs outside, a newspaper blows by with the headline, “Fox News Bankrupt.” Again, what’s that have to do with anything? It’s just another sign of how Conservative culture is dying in this future America.
Every page has examples of how Liberalism has made America weak. They also reveal how little Mackey knows about Liberals and our culture. It’s clear his politics and worldview are shaped completely by Fox News. Liberality reveals many of the misconceptions conservatives have about us liberals: “Liberals hate America”; “Liberals want the terrorists to win”; “Liberals have no values.” In a word, bullshit. We Liberals are fiercely proud of this country. That’s why we complain when the government commits crimes in America’s name. We hate terrorists, as we hate all religious-extremist fascists. In fact, we see no philosophical difference between Muslim terrorists and Conservative Christians. We value our personal freedom as much any right-winger. That’s why we protest their slightest infringement, and defend the rights of others who are ignored or oppressed by the thoughtless majority.
But while Liberality fails as a comic book, it succeeds at giving rare insight into a Conservative’s mind. Conservatives often complain how “American values are under attack” from lenient Liberals, the homosexual agenda, and “femi-Nazis.” Liberality presents the future Conservatives fear will come to pass if Liberals come to power. (It does not explain what happened to the millions of Conservative citizens who would have voted against Gore and Clinton. Nor does it show how an American’s daily life would have changed under his/her new Liberal doctrine. But details like that get in the way of Mackey’s fear tactics.) Conservative politics are confrontational by nature; they need an enemy to unite against.
Liberality presents Conservatives as the only people who can save America from itself. This is rooted in the Conservative’s arrogance. This is the most galling trait a Conservative has! If there’s one thing that really pisses me off it’s someone who’s so certain they’re right they never admit they’re wrong. Granted, I used to be like that. And then I turned 19. We’re seeing that now with the current administration refusing to admit any mistakes in the handling of the Iraq War, the continuing failure to capture Osama Bin Laden, and incompetence at the highest levels of management. And they never will. Admitting any error is considered a sign of weakness. The party faithful keep mouthing the same platitudes and hoping things work out on their own. Mackey ironically provides the perfect description of the Conservative’s core belief. In issue #2, Sean Hannity gets a new cyborg arm that feels as natural as his real arm. The scientist explains it’s because the nanites in his body are “lying” to his arm, and both are lying to his brain. So the whole body feels good because parts of it are telling it lies. Parts, remember, that were artificially implanted and cannot be controlled by the brain they deceive. Great metaphor for the current government.
In all honesty, I feel a little guilty tearing apart Mike Mackey’s work and politics like this. He sent me these comics for free for a review. I’m sure he didn’t expect me to critically destroy his work, attack his politics, and question his sanity. Getting a bad review is the risk one takes when submitting a comic to a review. These personal attacks are normally beyond my purview as a reviewer. But Liberality offends me personally and politically. Many of you might feel the same way. So I must warn you of the anger, the outrage, and the sheer pain that results from reading these comics.
On the other hand, there is one great quote in issue #3 that I’d like to share with you, (punctuation his):
“In this new American era, yesterday’s patriots are today’s criminals, and history always makes the determination between the two. Obviously, crime pays, or there’d be no crime, but does patriotism pay when leaders turn away from the nation’s founding principles of yesterday? Who can blame those of us who embrace such criminals. Who refuse to accept today’s definition of patriotism in lieu of yesterday’s?”
Now that’s real food for thought. When our leaders betray our country’s basic principles, does real patriotism become a crime? Are those who criticise the President’s policies and the military’s abuses really traitors, or patriots of another view of America? Is a criminal a criminal when the law is wrong? That’s a pretty good definition for the modern Liberal. Mackey uses it to defend G. Gordon Liddy. Make your own snarky comment.
Liberality For All reveals the deep-seated paranoia, xenophobia, and even sexism of the far Right. (Notice how their only female member of F.O.I.L. is an unnamed young woman. Another, named “Annie,” is unseen yet described as being irrational.) Its version of a Liberal-run America sees the country fall into ruin through Liberals’ “lack” of values and surrender to a French-lead United Nations. It would be laughably ridiculous if it wasn’t so frightening. Some people really believe this! If anything, Mackey has given us a stark insight into the Conservative mind. And it’s a scary place.
Paul T. Semones:
Reading my review copy of Liberality For All #3 reminds me of one thing: there are fewer good artists in the world than there are people with good ideas for a work of art. Mackey and Lin have a perfectly respectable idea going here: play a satirical game of what-if with contemporary politics by creating a dark dystopian future, a place where all the worst extremes of leftist ideology rule the day. After all, don’t most dystopian comic stories seem to have their outgrowth from liberals’ fear of the political right? Surely it’s time to turn the tables and have some fun poking back at the comic industry’s tilted ideological monolith?
The problem is that Mackey and Lin are not good comic creators. The art in this series suffers from the same problem that hampers the majority of self-published work: it’s awful. The necessary mechanics of sequential-art storytelling are not firmly in grasp here, with dialogue balloons sometimes arranged in confusing order. Plot points foreshadowed since issue #1 are not recalled. The double-crossing twist at the end of this issue is telegraphed with all the bluntness of … well, imagine something large, dense, metallic and heavy flying at your head with great velocity.
Plus, only three issues into the planned eight-issue run, I feel safe in saying I have a good idea where the story’s going. There’s no real sense of suspense, because it’s all so obvious: Ambassador Osama bin Laden is going to conduct another terrorist attack at Ground Zero on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 using a weapon of mass destruction supplied by Saddam Hussein. (All of which is former President Al Gore’s non-interventionist fault, of course.) And, by the turn of the last page, the world’s only remaining American Bald Eagle will be freed from liberal captivity by our stalwart heroes just in time to fly, proud and true, over the smoking ruins, symbolizing the hope that America can, once again, be great – no matter what political depravities President Chelsea Clinton, Vice President Michael Moore and U.N. Secretary General Jacques Chirac may have perpetrated over the years.
The greatest flaw of this comic is that it takes itself so, so seriously. In the absence of weighty intellectual content, a dystopian satire should at least have an element of entertainment to it. Personally, as a great fan of most of the big conservative commentators in print and broadcast media, I was really looking forward to Liberality For All’s bionic super-team of Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Ollie North. Seeing them in kick-ass action could have been a delightfully guilty pleasure. But instead of outrageous lib-bashing fun, the comic is bloated with solemn intonations on all that has been lost to liberality’s ascendance in this future world.
And there’s something about the crafting of this dystopia that just feels illegitimate. (And I say that as one who truly fears that putting the political far-left into power would be a national suicide.) I mean, this series portrays a future Alan Colmes (Hannity’s opposite on the Fox News Channel show) as a fellow who’s actually applauding the execution of right-wing talk radio hosts. That’s not satire. That’s not dystopian polemic. That’s wrong. Now, I’m no credentialed student of literature, but it seems that predictive satire should pose its dark future as an extrapolation of current trends; it should not drop, whole and undistorted, current personalities into that plainly vile fictional world as if such wretched outcomes were precisely the things they’ve been hoping for all along.
Really, I find many key points of liberal ideology to be appallingly stupid and dangerous. But I don’t seriously think my liberal friends want the evil outcomes that I am convinced would result.
So, to judge the quality of thought, insight and artistry of Mackey and Lin, I have to rank them as ham-fisted amateurs.
There is, of course, an alternative theory going. Perhaps Mackey and Lin are actually hardcore lefties. After all, what better way to make your ideological opponents look bad than to masquerade as one of them and produce a high-profile product that is really only embarrassingly bad?
That twist aside, it should be said that there’s nothing about this dystopia that is necessarily any less plausible than all the other ones we’ve seen in comics. There are so many ripe examples of dark visions whose plot structure warns against the unchecked dangers seemingly inherent in religious or political conservatism, as defined in contemporary terms. Need it be said that Marvel’s Civil War did not find its germination in fears over what the Democratic party would do if given control of all three branches of government? Mackey and Lin – I think quite sincerely – simply aim to provide a counter to all the bashing we conservatives take in the metaphors and snide remarks of the weekly output within the comic industry.
Unfortunately, their approach is too graceless to provide any serious material for an otherwise worthy debate.
Response by Michael Deeley:
I agree with you when you say Mackey and Lin are “ham-fisted amateurs.” They seem determined to make liberals look bad without actually explaining why. Their view of liberalism, taken to the extreme, would lead to the dismantling of the US Military, coddling our enemies, and generally being willfully blinded by an unrealistic ideology. But that last part could apply to conservatism or any religion. Many dystopian futures feature an arch-conservative/theocratic society because, historically, fascist governments were rooted in right-wing philosophies or strict religious interpretations. Liberalism is popularly seen as a philosophy of open-mindedness and tolerance; Hardly the stuff of oppression.
An argument could be made how an extreme liberal government would weaken the United States’ position as a global superpower. And left-wing politics favor spending on social programs over the military. (Side note: as a member of the military, I get free housing, meals, and healthcare in addition to a decent salary. Funny how I’m living the ideal liberal lifestyle!) The problem is Liberality doesn’t present a solid argument why liberalism is hurting the country. All we get is how liberals have given into the UN, overtaxed the rich, and let Osama go free. How has life changed for the average American? We’re presented with extreme and extremely hateful parodies of liberal icons that can only play on an existed dislike of the people involved. They show Mackey’s lack of understanding of who these people really are and what they stand for.
You are right when you say liberals don’t want the evil outcomes depicted here. We want to work with the UN, but not at the expense of our sovereignty. Liberals don’t oppose the military as much as its abuse. We have no objection to the defense of our nation or the liberation of oppressed peoples. We just like clear goals and an evil enemy. But, we must never ignore diplomacy. We seek to understand our enemies to (1) better defeat them, and (2) negotiate a lasting peace with their civilians. Diplomacy and understanding should not be seen as signs as weakness, but as preparations for the future. Finally, liberalism is NOT communism as this comic implies! We have a lot in common with socialism because it matches our own beliefs in a government that serves its people. However, we do not believe in a government that controls its people.
Personally, I disagree with you on how the story will end. Issue #3 showed Chelsea Clinton having doubts about the UN and its Secretary-General Chirac. Liddy is clearly planning to free the bald eagle Freedom. Bin Laden may destroy the UN because Mackey clearly doesn’t like them, but other citizens may miraculously escape.
In a comic meant to show the dangers of liberalism, Mackey only succeeds in making himself and his politics look petty and mean-spirited. This image continues into the letters pages where he mocks liberals and jokes with his supporters. The only way Mackey could reveal himself as a liberal is if the book ended with Chelsea and Moore suddenly arresting Bin Laden and defusing the bomb, then taking in F.O.I.L.
Response by Paul Semones:
Michael, I’m quite glad that we are able to agree on so many of the basics of what makes good comics – and what makes bad ones.
But your review seems to reveal somewhat of a thin skin when it comes to your ability to absorb the hits of an author whose goal is to trash everything on your side of the political aisle. I suppose now you know how politically conservative comic fans feel from time to time. Remember, Mackey and Lin’s primary intent with this comic seems to be “payback”: letting the mostly left-leaning comic industry get a taste of its own medicine. Mackey and Lin’s failings are obvious, and we’ve both pointed them out, but those failings stem, I think, from simple over-reaching. They no doubt view themselves as the lone voice of anti-left dystopian satire in a medium that has traditionally been dominated by anti-right commentary (where it has such commentary at all), and in response they’ve laid it all on way too thick.
I find many of your complaints to be either invalid or the kinds of charges that I, a conservative, could have just as easily leveled against the political commentary of liberal creators. You complain that Liberality for All is laden with misconceptions about what you liberals believe; now you know how I have felt. You complain that it is infused with an arrogance that believes its preferred political perspective is the only thing that can save America; now you know how I have felt. You complain that it is determined to make your political perspective look bad without explaining why; now you know how I have felt. You complain about petty mean-spiritedness in the casual mocking of your politics on the letters pages; now..., well, you get the point.
If this comic has performed any service at all, it has been to equalize the playing field only for a moment. Not skillfully or with much in the way of deeper insight, unfortunately, but if readers can come away from the book with a new awareness of just how pointless these ugly, unfair views of one’s political opponents can be, then maybe they’ll turn that critical eye to all the rest of the conservative-bashing product on the stands every month.