Warning: Contains spoilers for Prez #1-3
Since its “DC You” initiative launched following a two-month event, DC has published some of its best comics in recent memory. Some titles continue to be as strong as when they were launched, such as Batman. Others continued their strong runs that began post-Forever Evil (Justice League, Action Comics) or when Mark Doyle took over the Bat-books (Batgirl, Catwoman, Grayson). Then there are the newly launched titles, which finally give fan-favorites a chance to shine (Martian Manhunter, Black Canary), provide quirky, all-ages fun (Bat-Mite, Bizarro), or simply try something really weird and different (The Omega Men, Secret Six). Unfortunately, the influx of quality titles has not translated to sales, particularly for one series. It’s a real shame, especially when you consider it might just be the best series being published, especially after it’s latest issue hit stands. That series is none other than Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell’s Prez.
For those at home not keeping score, Prez resurrects the concept from a 1970s comic by Superman co-creator Joe Simon, in which a teenager is elected President of the United States (don’t worry about what the Constitution says, just roll with the concept). That is pretty much all the current Prez has with the original. The current series centers on Beth Ross, a Youtube sensation [due to workplace clumsiness] that through a series of coincidences and political aloofness finds herself as the nation’s new Commander in Chief.
If this concept seems farcical, that’s because it is. But Prez is also something rarely seen from a mainstream comic book publisher. It is smartly written, lacks the presence of any superheroes, and offers a biting satire of society and the political landscape. As the current state of American politics becomes increasingly detached from reality, it only serves to make Prez, with it’s end-of-life bears and taco drones, feel all the more real.
It is not surprising to see the political establishment in Prez worry about backdoor dealing and the perks of their position than the betterment of society. It’s actually a fairly accurate, and satirical, presentation. Fewer bills have been passed under this Congress in the past 5 years than in any other era of American history. There was also that little government shutdown business that occured. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the American people are not happy with the government, as evidenced by the 14% approval rating of Congress [according to the latest Gallup poll]. The pettiness that has overtaken Congress is on full display in Prez, where rash decision-making and favor-trading leads to Beth’s surprising election win.
Prez also takes aim at the media and its overreaching involvement in American politics. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders recently took aim at corporate American media, denouncing their coverage of trivial matters over the issues that should be at the center of presidential campaigns. Russell and Caldwell’s version of the media is clearly biased, trying to push an ideology on viewers regardless of what the facts say, especially when one a show’s guests tries to present a differing point of view. It’s not just in this book where cable news is dominating the political landscape. Some have even suggested that a cable subscription is the modern equivalent of a poll tax. Some may disagree, but those without a cable subscription were unable to watch the Fox News-exclusive Republican debate, which was divided into two segments of “legitimate” candidates and “also-rans”. As the debates often show who candidates really are, it hinders the political process when voters are unable to truly assess where a Trump or a Clinton or a Rubio stands on key, important issues.
Prez even takes the social polls that are regularly seen on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and has twisted it into America’s new voting systems. Shockingly, what’s in the comic makes more sense than the current voting system in that it’s uniform across the nation. What Russell and Caldwell are doing with Prez is special. They paint a satirical yet accurate picture of America, warts and all. Is it free of bias? Absolutely not, but it highlights problems that most Americans can agree on, mainly that most politicians no longer have their constituents’ [or the country’s] best interests at heart.
Prez is not entirely cynical, presenting some light at the end of the tunnel. That light comes in the form of unlikely President-elect Beth Ross. Given the aloof and out-of-touch nature of today’s Congress, it’s easy to imagine them accidentally allowing an internet sensation and joke candidate (along the lines of Deez Nuts) be elected president. As a teenager, she has yet to be corrupted by the world. In issue #3, when approached by a businessman looking to set up an arrangement, she pays more attention to his sleaziness than the potential riches he is offering. Her political adviser reminds her [and readers] of the opportunity this unique scenario presents:
“Every candidate fills their cabinet with other politicians. A labor secretary who’s never had a job. A secretary of transportation who’s never ridden a bus. You don’t know any politicians, and you don’t owe anybody. You can have actual smart people in your cabinet. Actual smart people!”
It’s advice she takes to heart. She appoints not-Neil deGrass Tyson as her science… well, something science-related. He accepts before she can say the full position title. She appoints an intellectual as Secretary of State. She makes moves that no politician would dare try in the current state of American politics, and it causes the establishment to freak out.
While the political system is the main target, society at a whole does not escape critique – particularly the treatment of the nation’s blue-collar workers. The business world’s desire to squeeze productivity out of workers is, to borrow from the film This is Spinal Tap, turned up to eleven, courtesy of a smiley-faced corporation that is definitely not Walmart. Workers are punished for failing to deliver products within seconds. Bathroom breaks have time allotments. Lives outside of the workplace are discouraged. Despite what business leaders say publicly, this is a reality that many citizens face.
Prez is a sharp, biting satire of American politics and society at large. The ridiculous world presented would feel very much at home alongside late-night talk shows and sketch-comedy programs. It calls to light the many problems society faces, while offering some fairly practical solutions. It’s a shame to hear how low sales are currently, at just over 13,000 copies for issue #2. DC does not put out many titles that are this smart, and this is one is a must-read that gets better with each issue. The latest is evidence that Russell and Caldwell’s series is destined to become a classic.
Note: This piece was originally published at InfiniteComix.com