Monday, July 4, 2016

The New American Revolution!

Prez: First Teen President is one of those offbeat and wacky comic books that really must be read to be believed. Written by longtime pro Joe Simon who in the Golden Age created Captain America and much more with his partner Jack Kirby. Kirby had gone on to become a venerable legend in comics, but Simon was less well known by most fans in the Bronze Age. He'd been lots of things since their partnership had broken up, not least of which was editor of Sick magazine. He'd shown up at DC some years before and gave the world Brother Power the Geek. So weird was something of a drawing card for Simon. For this series he tapped veteran talent Jerry Grandenetti, who was something of a war and supernatural specialist. T

The premise is remarkably simple. With pressure mounting because of the Vietnam War, the vote had been given to citizens as young as eighteen years of age. That youth vote was seen as a game changing demographic and in this story it does just that. Prez Rickard is a young man in the small town of Steadfast who one takes it upon himself to reset all the clocks in town so that events and such can begin on time. This drive for puncuality gets him notoriety and a corrupt corporate leader named Boss Smiley sees how he might gain political power by getting such a pliable youngster elected to the Senate with help of Misery Marko, an advertising genius. But Prez proves immune to Smiley's influence thanks in part to the assistance of Eagle Free, a Native American activist who battles for the environment and lives apart from man with a wide assortment of animals. Eagle Free and Prez sort of team up and when the youth vote allows for Prez to become eligible to be President he runs and is elected by a wide margin. Eagle Free becomes FBI director while Prez's vice-president remains something of a mystery.

In the second issue Prez and Eagle Free confront a weird menace from Russia which has a Chess theme. In what must be a spoof on Chess champion Bobby Fischer we meet Chessking, the champion of the United States who goes up against the Soviet team led by Queen Errant and a mastermind named Krudnik.

We learn in this issue that Prez's vice-president is in fact his Mom Martha and his Sister serves as his secretary. The chess match which is played with living people on a giant board ends with the U.S. victorious. But later robotic drones which resemble chess pieces rumble into Washington and explode at the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and elsewhere throughout out the town. Prez and Eagle Free investigate and defeat the Russian villains. The story though ends with an epilogue that shows an assassin's bullet enter a window of the White House.

Prez and Eagle Free begin to get some backlash from Congress and elsewhere when a distant descendant of George Washington named Gregor sets up his own Minutemen of sorts all fitted out like Revolutionary soldiers in the frozen and miserable Valley Forgery.

He plots to overthrow Prez and attacks the White House after his assasination attempt fails. But a one-on-one battle is proposed by Prez but Gregor Washington sends in a ringer named Hood, who ultimately sees that he himself must fight for Prez and the country.

In the fourth and final regularly published issue Prez and Eagle Free are overseas and spy a mysterious land hidden under a dark cloud. That country turns out to be Transylvania and soon a mysterious ship lands on the White House lawn and a werewolf debarks. He purports to be an ambassador from Transylvania and leaves a weird short coffin-like case in the Oval Office.

Hidden in the case is Dracula, but a Dracula who lacks legs and instead rolls around on a little cart. He is fended off by Eagle Free who displays what appears at a glance to be a Swastika but is in fact an Indian hooked cross. Eagle Free then sends birds on a suicide mission to foul the engine of the escaping plane and cause it to crash into the bay seemingly ending the threat.

The fifth issue of Prez was produced but didn't see any kind of publication until 1978 when DC put out Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, a special two-part in-house publication done for legal reasons. In this story the White House is full of bugs, the insect variety. An exterminator named Clyde Piper is called and he uses his music to lure the bugs away. Then bugs of a different kind are found in the White House and it causes something of a scandal in Congress.Turns out that Clyde Piper is behind it and eventually he is captured by Prez despite his attempts to use his music to kidnap the children of the city.

I enjoy Prez for the luscious Grandenetti artwork. There is an energy and vivaciousness to his lines which entertains me utterly. That said, it's not too much to say the satire is pretty heavy-handed and while seeking to poke fun at the then current political woes of the country falls short because of a strange tone deafness as to the nature of the complaint. Prez Rickard and Eagle Free at first appear to be change agents of a significant sort, but quickly fall into line and use the power at their disposal to accomplish what they see as good. What they don't seem to realize is that those levers of power are by themselves corrupting. There is an autocratic impulse in Prez which is disturbing, despite his good intentions. Prez came to power largely as the head of a cult of personality and the nation was lucky that his intentions were largely benign. As we can see from the evidence of our own experience that is not always the case.

Have a happy 4th of July (if that date matters to you) and be careful out there. Fingers are critically important to having an effective online presence. 

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