RETRO REVIEW: Prez #1 (Aug./Sept. 1973)

by

Or – “The Seventies Really WERE A Different Time…”

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that most of the things that we complain about (the economy, foreign conflicts, gas prices, government policices) are the same things people have been complaining about for decades.  40 years ago, a legendary creator returned to DC Comics after decades away and captured the zeitgeist of those tumultuous times and channeled it into his creative devices to create a lasting, viable, and affecting piece of work, which tragically was unfinished.  That book was called..

…The New Gods.

This book was written by that legend’s ex-partner the same year, and it kinda has to be seen to be believed.

PREZ #1
Writer: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Joe Simon
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 20 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $34.00

Previously, in Prez: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby started out working together in the 1930s, creating or defining such comics as DC’s Sandman, Wildcat, and The Guardian, Marvel’s Captain America, the legendary western comic Boys’ Ranch and hundreds of one-offs and lesser concepts for dozens of companies.  In1955 or so, Simon stepped away from comics to commercial art while Kirby moved on to be the architect of what would become the Marvel Universe.  Joe returned to comics late in the 60’s with characters like Spyman, B-Man, Jigsaw and Brother Power, The Geek.  It was Brother Power that probably has the greatest influence on this book (although Jigsaw, Spyman and the rest of the Harvey Comics heroes would be likely candidates for Hero Histories, in theory) as it combined the youth culture of the 1960’s with Simon’s trademark character work.  Like that book, this one has is clearly designed to tap into the mind of the kids of the era, taking bits and pieces of the premise from the movie “Wild In The Streets” and turning them on their heads with a 70’s eye towards environmental, racial and social issues.  That paragraph, by the way, may represent the most critical analysis ever given to the subject of Prez in it’s 37 years of circulation…

The small town of Steadfast (no state given, but presumably down the road from Springfield) is known for pretty much only one thing:  Their fascination with clocks.  Every building, every signpost, every billboard is adorned with a timepiece, and none of them ever tell the same time.  Young Prez Rickard, the head of the town’s stock car club, finds a minor annoyance with never being able to synchronize his watch correctly, but realizes in the greater scheme of things that his city’s temporal woes have greater (and more disturbing) implications…

 

While Master Rickard sets about fixing Steadfast, the streets of another city are filled with young people whose problems aren’t so clear.  Central City, USA, a corrupt and venal burg full of graft, theivery, embezzling, telemarketing and other sorts of crime is the scene of a full-scale RIOT, as the teenagers (recently given the ability to vote and serve in public office) turn on the town’s leadership.  Said leadership is a pyramid scheme of utter disgust, topped by a grinning ghoul known only as Boss Smiley…

As with any leader who finds himself on the outs, Smiley wants to hold onto his power any way he can, and sets off by helicopter to his advertising consultant (a man called “Misery” Marko), whose headquarters is a floation pollution machine.  (Edgy social commentary, there.)  Marko has an idea of what might work to get the kids on board with the Boss…

 One quick trip to Steadfast later…

You said it, Al Franken!  With the kid on board and ripe for the exploitation, Boss Smiley and his coterie head home, littering the whole way.  One discarded butt starts a small wildfire which is caught by a young Native American lad named Eagle Free, who stands by the side of the road with a single tear…  Actually, no, he puts it out by beating the flame with a branch and deciding that the big bald schmuck is going down.  When Smiley sets the next phase of his plan into motion (destroying a dam to build a highway so that he can corrupt Steadfast the wasy he has Central City), Eagle Free goes to Plan B.

 

Prez tracks the attacker to his cave, and they cross swords for a minute before Eagle convinces him to listen to reason…

In the 70’s, all Native Americans were spiritually superior.  It was a known fact.  You don’t believe me, ask Dawnstar.  Prez and Eagle Free have an old-school training montage (“You’re the BEST!  AH AHHHH! Nothing gonna drag your monkey dooown!”) and decide to bring Smiley down.  Together, they uncover the evidence to prove Boss’s shenanigans.  Then, on the morn of Election Day, the 18-year-old vote sweeps the election on the strength of the Flower Power Ticket (“A chicken in every pot, weed for all, and somebody sign the petitions?”) and President Rickard and FBI Chief Eagle Free take office.

Um…  Is it Gordon Ramsey?  Harrison Ford?  Blok?  Here’s the awesome part:  I read this issue several times, and have the following issues (including the one  that wasn’t published anywhere but in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade) and I don’t precisely remember who the VP is.  Honestly, I’m not even interested enough to go and look it up right now, which should tell you something.

This book is one that I purchased based on the ludicrous premise, and the word of mouth that comes with it’s goofy raison d’etre and story-telling, and on that level, it’s a must-have for any fan wackjob comic books.  Jerry Grandenetti’s art is weird and stiff throughout, and the bizarre and super-busy cover image should tell you everything you need to know.  With all that aside, you have to love the whole bizarre mess that is Prez, a book where the setup, the dialogue, and the characters are equally bug$&@ crazy, and the experience is like watching a six-year old draw a picture of what she thinks the circus is like…  It ain’t art, but I dig the hell out of it.  It’s one of the best awful comics I own, and Prez #1 earns…  Hmm.  This is a quandary.  On the one hand, I liked this book, in the same way I like Plan 9 From Outer Space and the movie version of Pet Sematary, neither of which qualifies as art.  It’s better than Skateman, but not as good as Astro City.  It’s better than 3 Men and a Baby, but not quite as good as Heavy Metal.  The star system is a very malleable way of grading things, anyway.  If we average out my love for it with it’s obvious glaring flaws, I suppose the answer is clear.  Prez #1 earns 2.5 out of 5 stars overall, for being wonderful, terrible, horrifying, laughable, freakish and earnest all at the same time.  In a weird way, it’s exactly what comics are meant to be:  Brilliant insanity with a hook.

Rating: ★★½☆☆