3:00pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Lex Luthor or Captain America: Who Was the Better U.S. President?
As the real world decides just who will be living in the White House for the next four years come 2017, it's perhaps instructional to look back at two of the most high-profile comic book presidents of their respective United States and ask what we can learn from their examples. Or, to put it another way, Lex Luthor vs. Captain America: Which fictional commander in chief was the best fictional commander in chief?
President Lex Luthor
For all the promise that the idea of Lex Luthor as evil president of the United States had, the reality was somewhat underwhelming. Luthor stood as a third-party candidate in 2000 at a time when plot contrivance had led the American electorate to conveniently forget any supervillain wrong-doing in his past; he won in large part because he was positioning himself as a change candidate after a cataclysm — literally; it was a storyline called Batman: Cataclysm — had resulted in Gotham City being abandoned by the federal government for a full year, instead of being rebuilt and supported by authorities.
While the various superheroes of the DC Universe kept close watch — including Black Lightning, who even served in the Luthor administration for a particularly up-close-and-personal view — Luthor made a point of appearing to keep his nose clean, including leading humanity against an alien invasion in the 2001 comic book storyline "Our Worlds at War." Sure, he secretly engineered a plot to frame Bruce Wayne for murder at roughly the same time, but a supervillain has to supervillain, right?
It turned out, however, that President Luthor was up to even more no good (even less good … ?) than it appeared; not only did it emerge that he had advance information of the alien invasion that he failed to share because his ego wanted to be seen as humanity's savior in its hour of need, but the very thing he did to save the world was enabled by a secret back-room deal with intergalactic despot Darkseid that gave him access to alien technology when it was most needed.
To make matters worse, this information was revealed during a fist fight between Luthor and Superman, which was itself fueled by a combination of liquid kryptonite and Venom — the drug responsible for giving Batman's villain Bane super-strength — injected directly into Luthor's bloodstream, because … well, comics, really. Unsurprisingly, Luthor was forced to leave office shortly after the fight and subsequent revelations, with his presidential legacy being merely that everyone agreed to pretend that it had never happened.
President Captain America
Technically, it's President Ultimate Captain America; the Cap of the regular Marvel Universe might have pondered a run for office in 1980's Captain America No. 250, but he decided against it; it was his counterpart in Marvel's Ultimate imprint universe finally made it to the White House, and that only happened as the result of a write-in campaign as the nation was literally falling apart — states were leaving the union, and only Ultimate Cap was seen as the man who could stop things getting any worse.
To an extent, he did — he interceded in a potential war between the Carolinas, rooted out corruption in his universe's version of S.H.I.E.L.D. and prevented a nuclear catastrophe in California when it turned out that his own spokesman, Ford — a villain so dramatic that he was never even given a first name — had turned one of Tony Stark's satellites into a nuclear bomb aimed at the west coast state in a last ditch attempt to destroy the United States because … well, he didn't have a first name, so having an ulterior motive beyond "evil" was probably out of the question, let's be honest.
Only after saving the Ultimate Earth that Cap decided that he wasn't cut out for political office. "America's never been perfect, Thor, but it's always been at its best when the people are in the lead," he explained in a moment where he apparently forgot that he had actually been elected by those very same people. "It's time to move past the war, and the wartime president."
It was a sad end to a presidency that lasted less than a year. (Ultimate Cap took office in Sept. 2012's Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates No. 16, and stood down in the 24th issue of that same series, in May 2013.) Even out of office, however, Ultimate Cap did more to safeguard his country than any other former president — including sacrificing himself for the good of the world by flying a plane into the mouth of planet-eating villain Galactus. His final words? "Ah!"
Which president wore the White House best?
It depends how you view the presidency, ultimately — no pun intended. Lex embodied every bad feeling and worry people have about those inside the Oval Office, from abuses of power and back-room deals to literally trying to kill America's heroes by hand if necessary. Meanwhile, Ultimate Cap was every step the hero and leader of the country's greatest presidents, seeking to bring his country back together again and leave it in a better place … even at the cost of his own life. Objectively, Cap was the better of the two presidents … but can we really say that there's not a little bit of credit due to Lex for seeing how far he could take things … ? Let's leave that up to the people to decide.