Politics & Policy

Tragic Comedy?

Liberality for All, good for a few cheap laughs.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about a 37-year-old comic-book junkie from Lexington, Kentucky launching his first illustrated miniseries about a band of dashing superheroes fighting for justice in a futuristic dystopia. It might even be relatively ho-hum news that this new comic drama draws on the talents of both an Indonesian illustrator living overseas and a semi-famous Kentuckian fantasy artist who made his bones in the 1980s drawing pictures of dragons, wizards, and scantily-clad medieval babes for Dungeons & Dragons devotees. But how about these details? The series features a trio of sexy, bionically enhanced, right-wing protagonists–Sean Hannity, Oliver North, and G. Gordon Liddy, to be exact–struggling against the sinister forces of global U.N. oppression in the year 2021.

Please don’t die laughing.

This is the imagination of Mike Mackey, on display in Liberality for All, a comic book described by its creator as a “patriotic knee-in-the-groin to the embodiment of the ultra-left.” In Mackey’s world, Ralph Nader has died in a car crash just prior to the 2000 election, leading to the election of Al Gore–whose first response as president after 9/11 was: “Let us first understand their motives to help us avoid repeating the actions that caused these attacks.”

Mackey’s liberal dystopia is a grim place. Hate-speech codes known as the “Coulter Laws” force rogue radio talkers like Hannity to hijack signals and broadcast from remote-controlled buses. All the “axis of evil” countries have nukes. And America’s “In God We Trust” motto has been replaced with “In Peace We Trust,” emblazoned above an even sadder-than-usual Abe Lincoln. Needless to say, the United States has ceded sovereignty to the U.N., and the world has turned toward the conciliation and appeasement of terrorism. U.N. Ambassador Usama Bin Laden has become an accepted world diplomat, and the only force capable of foiling his sinister plans is Hannity’s Freedom of Information League (FOIL!), which operates in the shadows and periodically escapes to its undersea lair in a giant submersible fishbot–dubbed “The Manatee”–whenever the francophone U.N. enforcers come closing fast.

Liberality’s artwork has re-imagined Hannity, North, and Liddy as a dream team of conservative comic-book heroes, each extravagantly embellished in his own special way. Hannity, of course, has a bionic, radio-transmitting arm and an eye patch to show for an encounter with terrorist assassins. A far cry from the clean-shaven and immaculately tailored Fox News commentator, the comic-book Hannity looks more like a Backstreet Boy crossed with the Terminator. North is the white-haired elder statesman of the group, presiding over debriefings and mulling FOIL’s next move.

But Liddy is the real gem. Sporting his trademark bald pate and moustache, the 91-year-old nanotech-enhanced freedom fighter roars into the picture on his 1930 Harley, uttering codgerly lines like, “The XM-9… [a futuristic gun he and Hannity have wrested from a U.N. cop] … You know, I evaluated the XM-8 model for the NRA before the organization was officially disbanded… so many cold, dead hands.” Then, as the U.N. cops enjoin him to put the gun down, he retorts, “It’s not a gun! It’s called a weapon or a rifle. You should respect it! Even if it’s made in France.”

So just who is the man behind such brilliance?

On the phone, Mike Mackey is affable and good-natured. He is a genuine red-state conservative who says he has never really held down a job worth mentioning. What he has sustained, he says, is an interest in politics and a lifelong dream of making it big by producing his own comic books. His inspiration for Liberality came in large part after he saw a certain fantasy illustration by Bruce Caldwell, depicting a heroic Rush Limbaugh fighting off a snarling hydra of liberal repulsiveness. Literally, a hydra.

Yet despite his conservative bona fides, Mackey says Liberality is meant to be a mixture of both silliness and seriousness. When prompted further, he describes the comic as an effort of light satire aimed at the Left–a way to “have a little fun” with liberals, while raising a few serious questions along the way.

In the first of these aims–playfully tweaking lefties–Liberality seems to be succeeding. On the Internet, one agitated left-leaning blogger writes: “If you could take every single hyperbolic rant from right-wing punditry about ‘the left’ and compress it into a single comic book, I think it comes close to what we have here. Judging from the first five pages, this thing looks like Ayn Rand on Mescaline.”

But putting aside irked liberals (when are they not irked, lately?), what about Mackey’s aim of “raising some serious questions” throughout the course of his comic book? On the phone, he stresses his main point by posing a rhetorical question: “If [Liberality’s] fictional world isn’t the result of ultra-liberalism taking power,” he says, “then what is?”

Well, let’s consider it. What would things look like if the Michael Moore elements of the American Left had taken control of the country in 2000, and held power for two decades? Would the world in general be friendlier to terrorism and more hostile to liberty? Probably. Would the U.S. government have conceded a large chunk of its sovereignty to U.N. governance? Possibly. Would conservative American pundits be censored and persecuted by agents of authority? Unlikely. Would New York City welcome “Ambassador Bin Laden” to speak on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks? The borderlands of loonytown approach.

If satire is the stuff of Jonathan Swift–intelligent, probing, witty, sharp, and scathing–then Liberality falls woefully short. It is, in fact, none of those things. Walking a blurry line between oblivious self-parody and conscious self-deprecation, it is a hysterical, hilarious romp through a nightmarish right-wing fantasy land. In Mackey’s vivid landscape of cartoon figures and comic-book quips, it’s impossible to tell just who or what is being ridiculed. According to one lefty blog, “The debate rages on… whether or not this is all being done completely straight-faced or if it’s a spoof of conservative attitudes.” Philadelphia Weekly writer Steven Wells says that if it’s not a spoof on conservatives, it might as well be: “[I]f lefty liberals were to concoct a savage satire of the pseudo-patriotic rabid right, in what possible way could it improve on Liberality for All? How could a lefty liberal writer come up with a fictional device that more effectively reveals right-wingers as crazed paranoiacs…?”

Regardless of how Liberality’s humor is intended, it’s there in spades. On the back cover of one of the comic books, Hannity’s metal fist clenches a squirming caricature of an Arab terrorist by the throat, holding him up in a gesture of triumphant contempt. Purposefully or not, it is the perfect culmination of this carnival of colorful absurdity.

Anthony Dick is an associate editor at National Review. Stephen Spruiell reports on the media for National Review Online’s new media blog.

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