DC Comics’ Prez #1, the first installment in a 12-issue miniseries, is a reboot of a concept DC first tried for a four-issue run in 1973. The basic premise is the same: an 18-year-old gets elected President of the United States. In the 1973 version, Prez Rickard enters office thanks to the youth demographic after the voting age is lowered. (Wikipedia has a good summary of Prez‘s history.) In the current run, set in 2036, our main character is Beth Ross. She’s a teenager working in a fast food restaurant, trying to make ends meet while her father is in the hospital. This series does not seem to be set in the main DC Universe; there is no evidence of superheroes existing in the story.
I was familiar with previous incarnations of Prez, so when this series was announced, I was curious what they would do with it. The little I heard about it beforehand made me think it might be another gimmicky swipe at youth culture, shaking a fist at these kids today with their social media and reality shows and whatnot. And while Prez does play with those things, writer Mark Russell* does a good job keeping the satire sharp. It was a little devastating how so much of it didn’t seem farfetched at all, or seems like a joke when there are little-known real-world parallels. For instance, Beth is trying to raise money on a site called SickStarter to pay her father’s rising medical bills because his insurance doesn’t cover much. GiveForward already provides a similar service, but with a less catchy name!
(Side Note: I welcome the taco drones of the not-too-distant future!)
In Prez‘s world, political campaigning now happens primarily via appearances with YouTube stars and game shows like Double Dare Billionaire. The election is held via social media, so candidates have to endure a lot of silliness and humiliation to get in front of their potential voters. Thanks to a mishap in which Beth’s hair catches fire while shooting a training video at her job, she becomes a viral video celebrity known as “Corndog Girl.” Naturally, Corndog Girl becomes a write-in candidate in the presidential election. She is old enough to be elected thanks to the Corporate Personhood Amendment, which “abolished all age restrictions for office.”
Going into it, I had low expectations for Prez. However, I enjoyed reading it very much, even though I kind of found myself wishing this comic was a lot less plausible. The art team (penciller Ben Caldwell, inker Mark Morales, and colourist Jeremy Lawson) depicts the overstimulating, digital media-saturated environment that consumes most of their world so well. The characters’ faces are so expressive. Most of them are jerks and their faces are so very, very punchable, but the human element is integral in the series’ dehumanizing world.
I genuinely look forward to the next issue of Prez. I am glad it’s a miniseries, because I don’t know that the premise is sustainable for years on end, but I think we’re in good hands.
*The Mark Russell who wrote this is not the same Mark Russell who performed all those allegedly comedic political songs on PBS specials for several decades, like if Tom Lehrer was terrible. This is the writer I will now think of as “the good Mark Russell.”