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☆☆

 

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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11 Comments

  1. Rodrigo
    May 24, 2010 at 7:24 am — Reply

    Is Boss Smiley’s hideous and debilitating deformity ever addressed?

  2. May 24, 2010 at 10:09 am — Reply

    It is not… It is, however, explained that his corrupt influence is the reason why the “Smiley Face” is such a 70’s icon. He also has an autographed picture of himself with Nixon, as seen in one of the panels above. (Nixon’s hideous visage is likewise never explained…)

  3. TaZ
    May 24, 2010 at 10:52 am — Reply

    I remember seeing this on the shelf when it first came out in the 70’s. As even as a kid I had a conservative lean on things I passed it by and this series never became a part of my collection. Plus the art reminded me way too much of MAD magazine.

    • TaZ
      May 24, 2010 at 10:57 am — Reply

      Correction on that last post. I believe that I did have a copy of a team-up between Superman and Prez where the plot was Prez’s unwillingness to have Secret Security and Supes foiling plots against him. But only that one…I was weak and young, forgive me.

  4. May 24, 2010 at 1:18 pm — Reply

    Actually this book had pretty interesting concepts to it that were later examined by Neil Gaiman in his sandman series,issue 54 in a story called the golden boy. In this issue, Prez was consistent with his previous characterization of the ideal president; a young man who adored not simply his country but everything that it stood for. Much of the story includes revised versions of real-life events from years that followed, and the assassination attempt on Prez’s life takes the life of his fiancée, which Prez forgives, learning that the assassin is mentally unbalanced. Eventually, he is killed, and Boss Smiley confronts him with a day of reckoning. At this point, Sandman’s protagonist, Dream, intervenes and offers him passage to alternate Americas.

  5. Slappy
    May 24, 2010 at 5:01 pm — Reply

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’this story also told in a Sandman comic or other Vertigo periodical 15 years ago?

    • May 24, 2010 at 11:14 pm — Reply

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’this story also told in a Sandman comic or other Vertigo periodical 15 years ago?

      There was a Prez issue of Sandman, as well as a one-shot…

  6. Greg A
    May 24, 2010 at 5:19 pm — Reply

    I’m curious how you managed to obtain the never printed issue of Prez. Reading, let alone finding, a copy of the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade is as close to a Comic Book Holy Grail as I have.

    • May 24, 2010 at 11:13 pm — Reply

      I’m curious how you managed to obtain the never printed issue of Prez. Reading, let alone finding, a copy of the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade is as close to a Comic Book Holy Grail as I have.

      Several years ago, I encountered a feller who had obtained a copy and was selling photocopies thereof online for a couple bucks a pop. I got this, The Green Team, Black Lightning and a couple others…

      • Greg A
        May 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm — Reply

        I’m jealous.

        If I encountered a copy, I would probably have to either sell my first born or make a deal with Mephisto. Come to think of it, it might be worth it…..

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