With Further Ado #126: Ripped from the Headlines: The Fake News of Rip Hunter

It’s funny how the looking at an old story with a contemporary lens can change things completely.

But before I get into that, I must admit I’ve always loved time travel stories.  Movie favorites include everything from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Time After Time to Back to the Future. I love the simple ones and the complex ones.  I still think the main reason I was admitted to a top ten business school was because I turned my essay into a time travel story.  And in my comic collection, I have one short box that’s all time travel-y series, you know stuff like Aztec Ace, Chronos, Ed Brisson’s Comeback and Stephen Perry and Tom Yeates’ Timespirts. And DCs’ Rip Hunter…Time Master is right there in the front of the box.

I snagged a beat-up “readers copy” of Rip Hunter…Time Master #23 earlier this year, but I just recently got around to reading it. As you can see by the stunning cover – the shocker is that George Washington was really a spy!

(As an aside, I can’t help but draw parallels between Rip Hunter’s “You’re a spy/No you’re a spy” exchange the infamous “I’m not a puppet, you’re the puppet” debate exchange a four years ago.)

It seems that in 1964, many American school children believed, or were taught, that George Washington was the greatest American patriot of all. So, how could he, of all people, have been a spy?!? That’s what the whole sales hook of the cover was based on.

Here in 2020, there’s a contrary view for everything.  I am fascinated by the concept of the epistemic dissenter. As I understand it, this term refers to a well-informed individual who uses selective facts to develop a view or belief that is contrary to mainstream, commonly held and even science-based ideas.

As an extreme example, people who believe the world is actually flat, and have facts to support their theory, are epistemic dissenters.  And no, I don’t know if they can explain how their cellphones work.

In this adventure from issue #23, Rip Hunter is called to Washington, D.C. to meet with the (unnamed and cloaked in shadows) President. It turns out that evidence has recently been uncovered showing that George Washington was….a traitor! The President orders Rip Hunter to travel into the past to investigate.

And yes, this would unfurl a plethora of ethical and economical conundrums.

Rip Hunter and his team of “experts” – his athletic friend Jeff Smith, his “girlfriend” Bonnie Baxter (he tells her that she’s too young for him when she offers up romantic ideas), and Bonnie’s kid brother, Corky – travel to New Windsor, NY  in the year 1781 to get  to the bottom of this historical mystery.

And when the team finds that Washington is indeed an enemy agent, they return to the present day to let the populace know.

The caption reads “The sensational news explodes like an atom bomb, the following morning as…”.  Newspaper headlines proclaim “George Washington, Traitor” as Americans read the story in disbelief.

The country reacts harshly:

  • Crowds gather to stop traffic on the George Washington Bridge -urging commuters to instead use the Lincoln Tunnel.  After all, Honest Abe never tried to sell out our country.  (As a guy who was a long time commuter into NYC – I’d be pissed at those protesters.)
  • Citizens throw tomatoes at George Washington statues.
  • In the halls of Congress, legislators demand that Washington, DC be renamed Franklin, D.C.  One quick-thinking congressman noted, however “Ben Franklin liked the French too much. I vote for…Jefferson, DC”

As the country is enveloped in the chaos of this revelation, it doesn’t sit well with Rip Hunter, the guy who started it all. He decides to return to the past to investigate further.  It tees up the story’s Chapter 2 and, as you’ve probably guessed, Rip and his “Scooby Gang” find out that Washington (and Lafayette -he’s in on it too) was indeed just faking it. They pretended to be turncoats to fool those rotten Brits. George Washington wasn’t a traitor after all.

Oh, phew!

Rip is energized and elated that an American hero he branded a traitor is still actually a hero. “We’re going back to own time – – to clear George Washington’s name!”, Rip tells his cohorts. And the story ends and, presumably, all returns to normal in present day, i.e., 1964, America.

But this is where it gets really crazy from today’s vantage point.

Can you imagine what it would be like if Rip Hunter had to embark on a media campaign to tell the country he was wrong?

“Hey everyone, sorry, but never mind! Washington is actually the patriotic hero we all thought he was. I have the real truth now!”

How would you even get the word out? In today’s world, would Rip appear on Fox News or MSNBC? Would he write an editorial for the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal?  Would some people only believe his first revelation, and some only believe his second?

And why is it that Rip Hunter – and his pals – are the only ones who get to time travel?  I would imagine there would be a congressional investigation into Rip’s operation and the President’s authorization of Time Travel.

In today’s world, I can only imagine the countless conspiracy theories Rip would launch and the many epistemic dissenters he would create.

We have enough questions about the current President (and his current administration). Even though this presidency is ending in just a few weeks, we certainly don’t need Rip Hunter’s ham-handed adventures into the past to confuse voters on the facts about past presidents.

And don’t even get me started with your conspiracy theory  that it was all true, but someone went back in time and hid the truth in this comic book.  That’s too much even for me.

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There’s also a wonderful subscription ad in this issue.  This page touts what was the B-level of the DC universe back then. Someone, I imagine it was driven by editorial, imagined that a subsegment of kids who liked Rip Hunter…Time Master would also like Challengers of the Unknown, Sea Devils and The Doom Patrol. Maybe these were the kids who didn’t like the cape & tights crowd of ‘traditional” DC superheroes?  Again, from today’s vantage point, it seems odd.

I can’t help but worry that Tomahawk must’ve felt really left out.