Whatever you do on this election day, do not, DO NOT, accidentally vote for Prez Rickard – Prez #1
Our long national nightmare is almost over. Today Americans go to the polls, gathering in school gymnasiums, community centers and other centrally located voting stations, not so much to elect a chief executive and other lesser officials, but to put a merciful end to the never-ending barrage of insultingly stupid advertisements.
I mean, really. I swear, I don’t think I could stand to see another ad from either party. Even the ones from the side I generally go with make me roll my eyes at best, turn red with anger at worst. Their just so, so dumb.
But they’re nowhere near as dumb as DC Comics making a teenager the President of the United States of America.
The story of Prez Rickard is known to many thanks to Neil Gaiman dragging from the dustbin of history for one of the numerous Sandman one-offs. (And many assuredly, like me, later had a “This was a real series? You’re kidding…” revelation.) This inclusion in that legendary comic book series, eighty issues that transcended the industry’s boundaries, has given good old Prez the patina of respectability. Hey, maybe Prez was a thought-provoking title, one offering incisive satire of political mores and the tumultuous culture war. Gaiman wouldn’t be shining up crap, would he?
Make no mistake folks, the short-lived Prez was one of the lamest things to come out of DC in the 1970s, and in that profoundly silly decade, that’s really saying something.
It’s doubly painful to contemplate because Prez was co-created (along with artist Jerry Grandenetti) by a man who, if he isn’t on the comic book Mount Rushmore, at least might be chiseled into the margins at some point. The recently passed Joe Simon is a legend, and someone who was a kindly influence in the comics world from the Golden Age to his death last year. His partnership with Jack Kirby, which spawned no less a figure than Captain America (and lesser properties like the Boy Commandos), is one of the great bylines we’ve ever seen. Period.
Prez, though, is a colossal miscalculation. Perhaps intended to be some surreal prism through which readers might parse the burgeoning political consciousness of youth, a consciousness buoyed by the recently ratified 26th Amendment, it instead was as tine-eared as your typical Teen Titans hip-fest. All the more grating was its sheer goofiness, with symbolically cartoonish characters that made you set your comic down, stare at the wall, and ask it “What the hell is this crap?”
Prez was a dud. Prez is a dud. But there’s no better day than one of our once-every-four-years elections to yak about him. And here we are.
Why should we loathe Prez so much? What’s so bad about the earnest, sweater-wearing kid from Steadfast, the teen with an affinity for clock repair? Well, for one he’s an idiot, as this right off the bat confab with his mother and sister will attest:
This boy is one vapid, empty-headed, big-eyed Troy Tempest looking moron. What, are the —-ing calendars broken too? Young man, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Like many a moron that has entered politics, Prez has his uses as a tool. Boss Smiley, the absolute ruler of a downtrodden burg (Central City, though the Flash in nowhere to be seen) and a cross between Boss Tweed and Smiley the Psychotic Button, finds himself looking for a way to ride the wave of newly empowered — and more importantly, enfranchised — teenagers. Because otherwise they’ll take over the whole show:
HE HAS BATGIRL COMICS. SURELY THIS AMPLIFIES HIS EVIL. (Also, always love it when Hitler is equated with anyone, as he subtly is with Nixon in this panel’s two autographed pictures. Yes, Nixon had his many bad points, but he didn’t barbecue a chunk of Europe. Get a grip.)
Smiley’s big solution is to co-opt Prez and run him for Senate, a decision he arrives at after meeting with a Mr. Misery, an election consultant whose headquarters is on a ship at sea. Here we get cameos by Mussolini, Ghandi (or, if you want to spell his name as the rest of the world does, Gandhi) and Lincoln:
Senator Prez is a willing stooge, at least until a ground-breaking ceremony for a new wilderness-annihilating highway is sabotaged and Prez is enlightened by the saboteur — and here’s where the awful really takes flight:
Eagle Free, our token and patronizing “Natives are great!” presence, may be the character I hate most in this first issue, and the series as a whole. Just read that dialogue. “How could you, a savage, understand all this?” Eagle Free’s the man who teaches Prez combat skills(!) and clues him in on Smiley’s malfeasance, but the way he’s handled is so dopey you can’t help but hate him. He lives in a cave filled with books. He’s surrounded by animals that respond to his every command. His every step is nails on a chalkboard, and his dialogue rolls like a bag of bricks. Clumsy. By trying to come off as enlightened with this “noble savage” (ugh), the script fumbles its way into being the exact opposite.
Long story (mercifully) short, Prez gets elected president (Boss Smiley had decided to run him for that office, with a lowering of the eligibility age, before the awakening) thanks to all those young (and stupid) voters. The final page of the comic breaks the fourth wall in the most cloying, irritating way imaginable (even worse than the Flash doing it):
Please, Prez, don’t drag me down into your private hell. No one cares. (And by the way, his VP is his mother. Yet ANOTHER reason to hate this guy.)
Prez is one of those crazy ideas that, if honed with defter hands (like Gaiman’s), can work. But Simon, his countless contributions notwithstanding, was not a man with that skill set. He was a mason, not a surgeon. His sensibilities belonged in the formative years of the Golden Age, when things were cut and dried and black and white and nuance was a thing rarely seen, when straight-forward entertainment was the name of the game. It was neither a time nor a place for allegory, and that’s what Prez needed to be. And what happened? The book stunk. Big-time. And Grandenetti’s art, while perfectly acceptable in a big-eyed sort of way, was nowhere near enough to rescue it.
Prez has cropped up over the years since the fourth and last issue of his quickly torpedoed series, in a previously unpublished story intended for that original run, a confusing appearance in Supergirl’s title (Was he the president of Earth-1? Was there a Supergirl on Earth-Prez or whatever?), a one-shot and the aforementioned Sandman apotheosis. Not exactly a lengthy resume, yet his odd legacy lives on. Once every four years, long-time comic readers pause, recall Rickard, Eagle Free, Boss Smiley and all the rest, shake their heads and then go on with their lives. And they thank God, no matter how awful the current Oval Office occupant might be, that there isn’t a teenager sitting in the big chair. ONE WHO, WHEN THE CLOCKS DIDN’T WORK RIGHT, DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO TELL WHEN ELECTION DAY WAS. I CAN’T GET OVER THAT.