Part primer, part polemic, this graphic biography scratches the surface of what its creators depict as a comic-book presidency.
Though the life of Ronald Reagan has previously inspired a number of longer biographies, even some of those have suggested that the challenge of coming to terms with the “Great Communicator” is that there wasn’t much intellectual depth beneath the actor’s engaging façade. Written by Helfer (Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography, 2006, etc.), a former group editor at DC Comics, this hit-and-run graphic narrative reinforces that position, taking a tour through the life of a man who began playing roles as a nearsighted teenage lifeguard (when his record of 77 rescues was apparently inflated by aiding those who were in no danger of drowning) and then mastered the art of dramatizing baseball games where he wasn’t in attendance as a studio radio announcer. In Hollywood, he made more of an impression as a union activist and corporate pitchman than through most of the roles he secured as an actor, while failing at a first marriage that seemed more like a career convenience. It was in politics he found his greatest success, the role of a lifetime, as long as he kept things simple and stuck to the script. (When he went off-message, he was likely to make claims that had no basis in fact.) The narrative touches all the high points: his transformation into conservative crusader and election to the governorship of California, the adoring Nancy, the striking contrast he presented to the ineffectual Jimmy Carter, a presidency marked by an assassination attempt and the Iran-Contra, arms-for-hostages scandal (one of the controversies that the Teflon president deflected with a convenient lapse of memory), the long fade into the Alzheimer’s sunset.
Gives credit where due, but not in a manner that is likely to please conservative partisans.