Soon to be a major motion picture, or three, one supposes — and one of them already has a major Hollywood star “attached,” so to speak. Politico’s Virginia Heffernan brings readers up to speed on a burgeoning literary genre in 2020, where Barack Obama and Joe Biden save the universe in one way or another. It’s not actually new, but the presidential fanfic universe is expanding in, ahem, new and interesting ways:
Past presidential fanfic masterworks—like “Kim Jong Elmo vs Dick Cheney and George Bush featuring Lapis Lazuli”—might have been relegated to online speakeasies, but so great is the nostalgie d’Obama that new books about Barry and Joe are bringing fanfic’s nerdy tropes into the light of day in print.
Parodist Andrew Shaffer has just added a new entry to his enjoyably ludicrous Obama-Biden series, which launched last year with Hope Never Dies and features the duo solving mysteries together. The second entry, published in July, is called, you guessed it, Hope Rides Again. Indie director Adam Reid’s gonzo graphic confection, The Adventures of Barry & Joe, which styles Obama and Biden as time-traveling superheroes, was released this past spring. It is here to, if not to save the day, then at least demonstrate the life-changing magic of putting our heads under the covers and pretending it’s 2015.
I respect you if you refuse to look back and entertain fantasies that Obama and Biden might return to deliver the Republic from evil. Biden on the 2020 stump might wield Obama’s name like a talisman to protect himself from criticism, but all sane voters know the Joe-Barack heyday is never coming back.
It’s tough to take any of this too seriously, especially since we live in an era where political fanfic has firmly established itself as the choice escapist fare of true believers. Hence we have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a Wonder Woman knockoff with questionable superpowers, or for that matter a ripped Donald Trump as the invincible protagonist of My Hero Magademia, complete with “WALL MIGHT”. (That sounds like a conditional — a wall might what?? — until you read the comic.) At least this is explicitly escapist, as opposed to the true believers attempting to explain every move of their heroes in real life as TOTES BRILLIANT IN EIGHT-DIMENSIONAL CHESS.
The two Shaffer books, Heffernan writes, take the form of Hardy Boys mysteries dedicated to “poignant nostalgia for libmerica.” Shaffer, a parodist who also brought us The Day of the Donald in the summer of 2016, had Barry and Joe bust the opioid epidemic while solving the murder of an Amtrak conductor in the days after the 2016 election in the first book. The prequel-sequel Hope Rides Again, which came out in July, apparently explains that the pair was too busy solving another mystery in the last couple of years of the Obama presidency for Joe to get around to running for president in 2016. Even for fanfic, that’s a pretty contrived vindication.
But it’s the Adam Reid graphic novel extravaganza The Adventures of Barry & Joe1 that truly take us to the edge of the fanfic genre. This entry, subtitled Obama & Biden’s Bromantic Battle for the Soul of America, stretches the idea of bromance to its breaking point. It’s supposed to just be a friendship, but Reid manages to get both of them out of their clothes, Heffernan notes, under the watchful eye of … Samuel L. Jackson?
But, unaccountably, Reid still wants to see the former president and VP nekkid, so by panel No. 7 of the chapter called “True Bromance,” they’re drawn in a locker room, preparing to participate in a time-travel experiment by stripping down to their briefs. By No. 9, we’re to full-posterior nudity. Joe, so you know, has the dusty-rose busting-at-the-seams body of geezer strongman Jack LaLanne. Barry, while also shredded, is only somewhat slimmer. …
Before Joe and Barack disappear into a time-travel vessel that looks like KitchenAid made it, Biden says, “Barack, I want you to know … I wanna hug even though we’re naked. Is that wrong?” Barry: “Let’s not.” Joe: “I’ll see you on the other side.”
At first, it’s easy to think this is parody, a skewering of adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasies by those who put political heroes on pedestals. Reading through the Amazon preview of Reid’s book, it becomes apparent that it’s not parody at all – it literally is the realization of their adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasies. That impulse explains the book’s existence in printed form, in fact; Reid notes that his Kickstarter project attracted 1700 or so donors and made this “bromantic battle” into comic-book reality.
With that said, we could cluck our tongues all day at the goofiness of the Obama-Biden fanboys who produce this dreck, but we’d have to acknowledge that it’s only a few years before fanboys begin attempting to improve on My Hero Magademia. In the end, the whole comic-book superhero genre is based on perceived impotence (where superhuman powers are needed to cope with life), so perhaps we should be happy that Biden’s fans think he needs time travel, Samuel L. Jackson, and Super Obama to prevail. They may just be right.
1: Link included to let people know I wasn’t making this up.