Trump has been in the spotlight for a long time.
Long before Donald John Trump threw his hat into the political arena or became the star of his own reality show, he had been in the public lexicon for decades. For me, personally, he came into my sphere of influence back in the eighties.
Trump was known for being one thing – rich. Trump had money and he wanted everyone to know it. Back in 1986, he was a forty-year-old billionaire who made money in real estate. When people thought of Trump, they thought of wealth.
What’s more, he wrote a best-selling book (with journalist, Tony Schwartz) called Trump: The Art of the Deal. Readers took this book as being part autobiography and part manual for being a successful salesman. For pre-internet readers, it was the first-impression halo effect of who Donald Trump was.
Trump’s letter to my graduating class (1988)
It is easy to say that prior to the current days of internet marketing when the media was defined as things on television, screen, radio, and print. Trump’s public persona was one he could easily control. Bad press could be forgotten within a week or a month – especially when Trump could make a statement on television or promote some other venture to sway people’s impression.
Indeed, Trump had actually contributed to a book of letters collected by former Price is Right host Dennis James. His letter to my graduating class offered his advice to work hard and “create” your own luck and that you should notice that it’s always the same people who were lucky. Combined with his regular radio “visits” on K-Rock’s morning show regarding business etiquette, people have believed Trump to be a stern taskmaster who ran a tight ship.
However, the chink in his armor were the hidden stepdaughters of the media – the cartoonists.
The late night talk shows of today can credit some of their DNA to the political illustrators. Giants like Thomas Nast used his wit to simplify his fight against Boss Tweed’s New York Democratic Party political machine. What Nast could do with clear images could be distributed and understood to a population where literacy was rare. People did not need to read when they saw Nast’s sinister drawings of the corrupt politician – especially when they saw pictures of Tweed with a money bag in place of his head.
When Donald Trump came into the public’s eyes, the comic book writers of DC and Marvel were paying attention. While they didn’t directly attack Trump in their caricatures, he did provide the inspiration for at least two characters in the comic book world.
When we look at Maxwell Lord and his origin story, it is frighteningly similar to Trump’s. Keith Giffen introduced Lord back in Justice League #1 (1987), shortly after the Crisis on Infinite Earths retcon. In it, Lord is the son of an honest businessman who always sought to do what was right. Shortly after his father died, his mother had impressed a distrust of all high authority figures and drove him to control them rather than the other way around.
Lord became a ruthless businessman and drove himself to be more powerful than his father ever was. In an effort to build a power base, similar to that of Lex Luthor, he made plans to own the Justice League – which had been temporarily leaderless after the events of “the Crisis”.
Maxwell Lord is a born con man. In later issues, he developed strong mind control powers and could dominate the minds of unsuspecting heroes. However, that being said, most of the time, he didn’t use his power and preferred to use his natural persuasion to get his way. Within recent years, his powers grew to the point where he could dominate almost any mind and has used his power to control Superman.
I had the opportunity to ask Giffen about Maxwell Lord’s character and he plainly said he based it on Donald Trump. From the bad hair to the megalomaniacal obsession to gain power to his pathological need to be a conman. Lord’s propensity to try outlandish schemes like turning the Justice League into a business venture for merchandising and cheap promotions (such as his Superfriends version of the Superbuddies) has the hollow ring of some of Trump’s business disasters like Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, Trump Air, Trump Mortgage, and the board game, Trump: the Game.
Giffen had written Lord to be a ridiculous bit of comic relief – which was the flavor of the 1987 Justice League title – the characters were portrayed with a bit of tongue and cheek. Later versions of Lord became more dangerous and evil where his ruthlessness grew to the point of killing the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord.
There is no way for this character to not be Donald Trump. The character’s name is “The Trader”. Guess what he does. He is simply a character who lives for the art of the deal.
Cort Zo Tinnus, an alien who discovered his immortality and out of a desperate attempt to escape boredom, dedicated his existence to manipulation and trade. It is his aim to not only get the better end of any deal he makes but to convince his adversary that they were getting the better end of the deal and leave them thinking that. Like all Elders of the Universe (such as The Collector and The Grandmaster), he was immortal and has had eons to perfect his dedicated craft to the point where few people could gain an advantage in his negotiations. He has dealt in the negotiations of planets and services, constantly trying to get the best deal.
The Trader was been presumed dead when he and some of his fellow Elders schemed against Galactus, the world eater, and the abstract entity, Death. Death obliterated the Trader along with two of his brother elders, the Astronomer and the Possessor.
It is easy to make a presumptive conclusion that the character is based on Trump. The Trader was a small orange haired being with facial characteristics similar to Trump’s. He had orange bushy eyebrows, a shock of orange hair, a jowly face, and two very tiny hands.
A Prophetic Vision
Few people appreciate the genius of Jack Kirby as much as I do.
The thing about Kirby is that not only was his drawing style unmistakably brilliant, but his writing was equally prolific. Kirby, as well as many of the pioneers of comic book writing, was a Jew who grew up during the Great Depression. He was a product of that time and was particularly sensitive to the German fascist movement of the Nazis.
Glorious Godfrey and anti-life
The message of the national socialist movement of Hitler’s party stayed with him while he wrote the foundation of the New Gods saga. In the 1970s, when he wrote of the forces of good and evil battling through the sides of the High Father and Darkseid, respectively, he came up with his most dangerous, true to life creation – Glorious Godfrey.
As part of The Fourth World series (issue #3), Godfrey’s natural persuasion is his power. In essence, he talks and gathers followers. For Kirby’s stories, it was to support Darkseid’s anti-life equation of misery and oblivion. This was a thinly disguised message for fascism and how evil it really was. The anti-life equation is a mathematical formula for mental domination in the proof that living is futile. The theory being that when someone absolutely controls you, you’re no longer living. It corrupts and destroys everything it touches.
Godfrey is its chief acolyte.
He preaches to crowds and gathers followers to spread its message. It is the message of “us versus them”. It is the voice of exclusion which calls for enemies of its like-minded people to be cast out.
Any of this sound familiar?
The thing about this is that Kirby only created the character years prior to Donald Trump’s emergence – so, it’s impossible for me to say this character was based on Trump. Rather Godfrey was an uncanny prediction from a man who hated fascism in every form and somehow it transmogrified into a Trump caricature. I’m not the first person to notice this.
He even got the orange hair and the coif right.
Before you start thinking of Kirby as a prophet, you should know that this was one of his main themes in many of his creations. After all, early in the pages of The Fantastic Four #21, he and Stan Lee created the Hatemonger – a dark masked figure armed with an H-ray gun (hate ray) who turned out to be an Adolph Hitler clone. Presumably, this was his warning that fascism wears many faces and it’s always there and ready to come back.
It’s fun when we read celebrities in comics. Trump is not the first, nor is he the first to donate a healthy bit of his DNA in a character.
Anyone who’s read the DC graphic novel Identity Crisis should be on the look out for the faces Rags Morales drew. Danny Kaye (the Elongated Man), Sue Gibney (Dawn Wells, Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island), Patty Hearst (Firehawk), Layne Staley (Green Arrow), Lesley Ann Warren (Jean Loring), Paul Newman (Ray Palmer), Tom Selleck (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Brad Pitt (Wally West), John Hurt (Barry Allen), Phoebe Cates (Zatanna), and Rebecca Romijn (Black Canary) among others can be found within those pages. Using celebrities, or at least, attributes of celebrities have been around for a while. For the artist, it gives them a good model and for the reader, it gives them a nice colorful easter egg.
Heck, when we look for characters who were inspired by celebrities we need go no farther than the Joker when Bill Finger modeled him from the silent movie, The Man Who Laughs, actor, Conrad Veidt. His chilling face and portrayal still haunt cinephiles today.
John Constantine, while written by Alan Moore, was physically modeled after the rock star, Sting. Even Professor X was modeled after Yul Brenner in his prime. But the best example of taking a slice of a real person and putting them into the comic book frames was when Stan Lee was the model for J. Jonah Jameson in both body and personality.
In the case of Maxwell Lord and The Trader, comics focus on both his successful reputation back in the eighties as well as his notoriety of wheeling and dealing to appear as a con man. However, it should also be noted that Trump has a following who have swallowed his reputation, hook, line, and sinker – much like the character of Glorious Godfrey.
Does it really mean anything? Maybe… Maybe not. What we do know is that Trump’s character for good or for ill has remained in the public’s mind.
Comic book artists bottom line is to sell comic books. Getting a blueprint of a celebrity like Donald Trump gives them the hero and antihero they need to build complex characters. For example, when we look at shows like House of Cards, we know that Frank Underwood is a complete and total bastard, but there’s something in that character’s chemistry that keeps us wanting him to go further.
In the cases of Maxwell Lord and the Trader, we know those characters are sleazy and up to no good. We also love to see where the “catches” are in whatever deals they’re about to make. It’s like making a deal with the devil. If you want to get the upper hand in that deal, you’d better be sure to cross your “T’s” and dot your “I’s”. I refer you to any episode of the Twilight Zone where the main character was careless with his words.
I, for one, love the character of Maxwell Lord in both his frivolous and darker incarnations. Not because I see Trump in him, but because Maxwell Lord is a sleaze bag. Watching him come up with cheap promotions for the Justice League and watching the heroes get completely aggravated with his nonsense only adds flavor to the mix. The fact that his character had turned so dark that Wonder Woman was forced to kill him for the good of the world (you really can’t have someone who can dominate Superman’s mind at any moment and expect him to live), just made the character more interesting. DC reconsidered and resurrected the character back in the “Brightest Day” storyline.
So regardless of their creative makeup, we enjoy the characters that evolve in the stories and look forward to how they work their magic.