Most of them — The Outsiders, The Green Team — aren’t memorable at all. The late Silver Age Brother Power the Geek is memorable, but infamously awful. Prez isn’t great art, but it’s closer to good-memorable or at least interesting-memorable than bad-memorable. Like Brother Power it focuses on Youth! Instead of dropouts and hippies, however, its protagonist is Prez Rickards, first teen president of the United States.
John Trumbull blogged here a couple of years back about how comics have always been political, and Prez, for all its loopiness, is a good example. Just look at the cover by Jerry Grandenetti: we have angry crowds barricaded off from the presidential limo, but Youth — hippies, a black guy with an Afro, a Native American and Prez — are inside the barricades instead of storming them.
When the twenty-sixth amendment gave 18 year olds the vote in 1971, it was a huge honking deal. Millions of new voters, but how would they vote and who would they support? In Prez, the first effect is that the kids amend the constitution to abolish age restrictions on federal office. Now they not only have the vote, they can vote themselves into office (the 1968 movie Wild in the Streets played with the same idea).
That’s very bad news for Boss Smiley. He’s the most powerful, most famous political boss in the country (the smiley-face image was ubiquitous at the time), but he has no influence over this new voting bloc. The solution: find an 18-year-old candidate who’ll turn out the youth vote as Smiley’s puppet. Smiley picks Prez Rickard (his birth name — Mom always said he’d grow up to be president) from the small town of Steadfast. Fixing the town’s notoriously inaccurate clocks got Prez some media attention, so Smiley sells him on a Senate run. The plan might have worked if not for that meddling Native American kid, Eagle Free.
By 1971, tribal protests against white discrimination and government mismanagement were a thing, but Eagle Free only wants to live in peaceful harmony with nature. He considers himself “little better than an animal” (a rationale whites have used for generations to discriminate against Native Americans), dresses like he just guest-starred in a TV Western and communicates with the animals who share his wilderness home. Because Joe Simon’s writing this, the animals include elephants, lions and apes, because why not? Eagle Free has been waging war against a Boss Smiley construction project which threatens to pave over the young man’s wilderness home; although he can’t convince Prez that Smiley’s a crook, Prez agrees to break into Smiley’s office to settle the issue. They find proof, Smiley finds them, but it’s election day so he can’t strike Prez off the ballot. Mr. Rickard wins by a youthquake, destroys Smiley’s political machine and four years later becomes America’s first teenage president.
The last page of #1 shows Prez has picked Eagle Free as FBI director and someone unseen and controversial as vice president, so the “over-thirties” are talking impeachment. Eagle Free warns he’s discovered “a plot so ingenious, so sinister, that it could destroy the world,” and that the next issue “will be more exciting than anything ever recorded.” Spoiler: it wasn’t.
Simon and Grandenetti deliver all this in an insanely goofy style that might have been a conscious choice or just that they didn’t care much. It’s telling that as Nothing But Comics notes, Prez can’t be a teenage president: he runs for the Senate in 1972, so by the next presidential election he’ll be 22. I didn’t notice that when it came out, and I don’t know anyone else was paying close attention either.
#2 opens with stock political satire as Prez travels around the world talking peace, oblivious to the violent revolutions happening around him. Then it moves to a straight thriller plot involving deranged chess genius Robbie Fishhead (a parody of Bobby Fisher) unleashing robot chessmen on the capital. But no, it’s actually a scheme by Queen Errant, his Russian opponent, disgruntled because Fishhead’s own instability ended their championship game before she could beat him. Meanwhile Eagle Free now runs the FBI out of a wigwam by the Potomac so that he can stay in touch with nature, which works much better for crime-fighting than the white man’s forensic science (the character has not, as the saying goes, aged well).
Then there’s Prez’ vice president, Martha. Online sources identify her as Prez’s mother, but I can’t see any resemblance between her and the brief glimpse we got of his Mom, nor is there anything in the story to findicate it. So I’m sticking with what I assumed on first reading, that’s she’s Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon’s attorney general. She became a celebrity due to her role in the Watergate scandal which would explain her being controversial, and why she never got a last name (I imagine that would have raised some legal issues).
The third issue is not only political, it’s surprisingly relevant still. As President Rickard prepares to sign a strong gun-control bill, radical Second Amendment fans take to the streets dressed in colonial outfits a la the Tea Party, promising he’ll only get their guns by prying them from their cold dead fingers. Of course Simon adds some bizarre touches: a George Washington descendant who insists on replacing his teeth with wooden dentures, and the group raising money by counterfeiting $1 bills. Sure, it takes a lot more work than faking $50s, but nobody ever thinks a greenback might be funny money.
While this issue seems to have a liberal subtext (gun control good!) it ends with Prez calling in the military to take out the revolutionaries, admitting he’d been naive to think peace, love and flower power would do the trick.
In #4, the US loans money to a small European nation to build a massive irrigation system. Unfortunately the project diverts water from neighboring Transylvania — an actual nation on Earth-Prez — so their werewolf ambassador shows up at the White House to protest. Rather than trust to diplomacy, the ambassador has smuggled a paraplegic Dracula into his suite in a suitcase to convert the president into one of the undead. When that plan flops, the backup is bio-warfare, unleashing a swarm of rabid bats over DC but with no greater success. We end with Prez pondering whether to rebuild Transylvania, land of vampires, the way the US has helped its other adversaries.
That was the last issue, though Prez did cameo in Supergirl a few moths after cancellation. Nevertheless, Prez endures, sort of. Ed Brubaker wrote a Vertigo one-shot about Prez’s son hunting his missing father and Neil Gaiman did a Prez story in Sandman, both collected with the original series in TPB. Prez is also president for life on one of the world’s in DC’s current multiverse, and Mark Russell wrote a Prez miniseries with a female teenage president (the original Prez is a supporting character) though it only ran half its planned twelve issues. Apparently we’re still not ready for a teenage president.
#SFWApro. All images by Jerry Grandenetti.