By Jarrod Jones. The world depicted in Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell’s Prez, otherwise known as one of the finest (and most important) books DC Comics is publishing today, is easy enough to laugh at. Depraved corporate greed, piecemeal cures for awful diseases… nimrod politicians? Hilarious. Then you set the latest copy on your coffee table to look at a news feed, and it dawns on you: that world is no less absurd than the one you’re living in today.
That’s pretty dark stuff when you think about it: international crises of severe import bleed together in short bursts during morning news cycles, while fluff pieces about celebrity divorces and other unfortunate scandals are far more pervasive; and it’s all crammed into our ocular cavities in-between advertisements for quasi-legal football gambling or whatever monstrosity Hardee’s cooked up this week. (Wait — you know I’m still talking about us, right?)
Yeah, it’s all fun and games until someone forgets to tell Donald Trump that he has no business running for President. So you can imagine why seeing a bravely optimistic soul like Beth Ross in the chair of Commander-in-Chief — teenager though she may be — might appeal to me. (It’s easier to let my politics show when I’m privy to exchanges like this: Television pundit – “What do you think it says to the world when the United States reverses itself so abruptly?” Beth – “That we’re sorry?“)
On the surface, the social and political satire of Prez isn’t too dissimilar from the political cartoons you might find over at The Nation or The Atlantic. It takes the ills of our society and dresses them up with a heightened cartoonish flair, and Russell’s humor is primarily sardonic, to the point where using words like “absurd” to describe it wouldn’t be sufficient. (Oh, Carl The End-Of-Life Bear, you made coffee spray from my nose.) Nothing about this should be innovative. And yet, when you realize what this entity in your hands actually is — which is a comic book aimed at teenagers — well. It may be hyperbole to say so, but I’m saying it: this book is more practical than a high school civics course.
Just like when you realize more everyday folks get their vital information from satirists like John Oliver than they do from cable journalists like Anderson Cooper, Prez is a hard-borne tunnel made for teenagers to lead them towards certain fundamental truths concerning their nation and the powers that govern it. Just like when you hear the complaint, “schools don’t teach kids to pay taxes or save money!”, Prez comes along and declares, “no one’s telling these kids that politicians have never been the masters of our destinies!”
With its soft ‘T’ rating and its permissive $2.99 price tag, Prez dares anyone curious enough to pick up the book and find its progressive message wrapped around a beating heart. What makes that so crazy, possibly even subversive, is that it’s published by a corporate-savvy monolith like DC Comics. (Whoever had the chutzpah to give this project a “go” deserves a raise, and since we’re throwing well-earned money around, so do Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell, Jeremy Lawson, Travis Lanham, Brittany Holzherr, and Marie Javins. I believe you know where their mailboxes are, Mr. DiDio.)
It’s easy to find glimmers of Garry Trudeau in Ben Caldwell’s work, especially when we’re witness to Beth’s absurd back and forths with the pharmaceutical industry’s top dog (and when that “top dog” has the “come at me, bro” visage of a hound gnawing on a syringe, you get the feeling that Berkeley Breathed might have had an influence in this as well). Russell’s social satire is easier to swallow through Caldwell’s diligent silliness, and through it their sequential majesty has enough ammunition in it that Prez can brazenly direct its barbs at the flaccid media that made this world possible. Even Frank Miller would be pleased.
In fact, there’s enough incisive material here to almost make one forget that Prez is, at its heart, a very sweet comic book. And because we’re only now being introduced to Beth’s giant dronebot, War Beast (who’d like you to know that it would prefer to be called Tina), one only hopes that this 12-issue miniseries has the opportunity to grow beyond that. (Tina, at the door of a church destitute and alone: “Reverend… I think I need help.” My heart, guys.) And wouldn’t you know it? There may be a chance for Beth to secure a second term:
“DC has planned at least 12 issues of Prez, which may expand up to 16 if the books find an audience. In an… http://t.co/SnQsAj2UE5
— RememberingJoeSimon (@joesimoncomics) June 19, 2015
So make your voices heard, people. Elect Prez into your lives.
Written by Mark Russell.
Art by Ben Caldwell.
Colored by Jeremy Lawson.
10 out of 10