Friday, September 15, 2017

Comic Review: What If? Who Killed the President?

It seems that everyone really enjoyed my last review of a comic from the series What If?, known in French as Jour J.  So, I've decided to review another one for you guys.  Today, we're taking a look at What If? Who Killed the President?  Once again, this comic is brought to us by the good people at Comixology and Delcourt.

Who Killed the President? takes place in an alternate 1973.  The Vietnam War has continued to drag on, and doesn't show any signs of stopping.  Protest and unrest and common across America.  Hippies are regularly mowed down by the National clear view of news camera.  Amidst the unrest, the president is making his way to Dallas in preparation for his upcoming reelection campaign.  Meanwhile, an ex-solider named Chris French has also come to Dallas.  He's witnessed the horrors of the war first hand, and lost quite a few friends along the way.  French is angry, and he's out for revenge.

Okay, so before we go any further we need to discuss the alternate history itself.  You don't actually find the point-of-divergence until halfway through the comic, but I think it is important to discuss it upfront.  The way the comic is initially set up, it makes it seem that Kennedy was never assassinated, and acting rather out of character.  Nope, that's not what it was.  Things diverged from our history during the 1960 Presidential Election.  Kennedy was caught having an affair, and as a result, Richard Nixon won by a landslide.  It's hinted that Nixon's cronies are the ones who bused Kennedy.  After that, Nixon proceeded to run the country with an iron fist.

Well, his first term wasn't too bad.  By his second term, however, the shit really hit the fan.  Nixon started cracking down on political dissidents, such as student groups, and sending them to be tortured/killed at concentration camps in Nevada.  Also, apparently, he had Woodward and Bernstein assassinated, potentially J. Edger Hoover as well, and convinced Congress to repeal the two terms limit of the presidency.  Drunk with power, Nixon is planning to start a war with China.

The biggest problem here is that we don't need to speculate on what it would be like if Nixon was president, we know what would happen; given that he was the thirty-seventh president.  Granted, he became president in 1968 rather than 1960, but the point still stands.  Speaking of which, that's actually a pretty big missed opportunity on the comic's part.  Just how would Nixon have handled the challenges of the early 1960s, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Space Race?  I know that Nixon was a controversial president; looking at you Watergate and Red Scare.  That being said, he did do some pretty good things as well.  For example, he did reopen America's relations with China, founded the EPA, ended the Vietnam War, and enforced desegregation.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily object to an alternate history exploring Nixon as a dictator; there's certainly plenty of fertile ground.  However, I would have preferred much more subtly and nuance.  The Nixon in comic comes across more as a mustache-twirling supervillain rather than an actual person.  There's even a scene where Nixon is discussing his plans for the war with China at the Pentagon...and the way he's dressed is somewhere between Nazi and Latin American dictator.  I can kind of see that the writers were trying to make him a dark inversion of our world's Richard Nixon, but it just doesn't work for me.  Especially with some of the stuff he initially does, this Nixon comes across as being evil for the sake of being evil.

Also, let's go back earlier to the hippies getting mowed down by the National Guard.  Apparently, this has gotten so bad that Canada has closed its boarders.  Okay, so you expect me to believe that nobody is calling for Nixon to be impeached?  I know that hippies weren't the most popular people in the world, but most Americans would probably be opposed to mowing them down in the streets.  It's also mentioned that Nixon threatened to invade France, since they refused to give up Americans seeking asylum, but that was probably just saber rattling...I would hope.

Also, provoking a war with China, especially at the height of the Cold War, is beyond stupid.  It's even point out in the comic that, at minimum, American bases in South Korea and Taiwan will be nuked.  Granted, the Sino-Soviet Split had occurred, so the Soviet Union might be willing to turn a blind eye, though that's a very big maybe.  Still, even if it's not World War III, a war with China is going to have serious repercussions.

Okay, so the alternate history is incredibly shaky, but what about the story of Chris French?  That was actually one of the better parts of the comic.  French and his friends start of as idealistic volunteers, but then they experience the horrors of war.  It really made me want to find out more about the Vietnam War.  One scene that particularly stick out is when Chris and his men are resting in some French colonial ruins.  One of the men overdoses on heroin and French immediately shoots him.  Everyone is shocked, but French points out that it's better the people at home think he died in battle, rather than know that he died from an overdose.

It's good and all, but unfortunately it just isn't enough to override the bad parts of the comic.  It really is a damn shame, Russians on the Moon! was so well researched, and I was really looking forward to this comic.  I don't think the writers were trying to make political points.  More likely than not, it was simply poor writing and a lack of proper research.  Whatever the reason, you’re probably gonna want to give this one a pass.

Unfortunately, there currently aren't any more issues of Jour J translated into English.  As far as I know, there's no plans translate any of the other issues for the time being.  Hopefully that will change, be in the meantime, there's plenty of other great alternate history comic out there.  I've got plenty more comics to share with you guys in the future.

Well, that's enough from me for now.  I will see you guys next time. 

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