One of the most interesting books to come out of DC Entertainment’s big, promising summer revamp has nothing to do with the superheroes that made the company famous.
Out this week, “Prez” #1 doesn’t feature Superman, Batman, or any super-powered characters — instead it’s the near-future story about Beth Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl who is elected President of the United States via Twitter, written by a guy who recently rewrote the entire Holy Bible and called it “God Is Disappointed in You.”
There are also taco delivery drones and transsexual killer robots involved, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Written by Mark Russell with art by Ben Caldwell, the new “Prez” is actually a new take on a very old DC character. Originally created in 1973 by Captain America co-creator Joe Simon and Jerry Grandentti, DC’s first “Prez” comic was about another teen President named Prez Rickard. It was short-lived and little-read, but never really died.
“An interesting thing about ‘Prez,’ is that he’s a remarkably obscure character,” writer Mark Russell tells Business Insider. “[It was] a really, I gather, unsuccessful comic run — and yet, despite that, he really seems to linger in the imagination of other comic creators. He shows up in Frank Miller’s work, he show’s up in Neil Gaiman’s. The idea behind ‘Prez’ is very resonant, even though it wasn’t maybe executed as well in the beginning as it could’ve been.”
Make no mistake, though: The idea behind “Prez” isn’t merely “teen president,” but rather using the idea of a teen president to bring about biting, unsettling, and sometimes very funny, satire. While the time period and protagonist are entirely different from the original, 2015’s “Prez” will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor in its skewering of current politics.
“Imagine if the Tea Party had become ascendant in the next 20 years, and they implemented all of the social changes they want,” Russell says, describing the climate of the year 2030 when his “Prez” takes place. “They’re a lot less hopeful, they’re very much a critique of where politics have gone in this country since 2010, and what the world will be like if the current trend continues … It’s really about this collision between the 19th century — which the Conservative movement is trying to drag us back toward — and the 21st century which the challenges of the world are begging for.”
It’s in this hyper-conservative yet technologically advanced future that the idealistic Beth Ross finds herself in the middle of when she goes viral and wins the Presidency. Making sense of it all is half the fun.
“A lot of the comedy comes out of the absurd situations that are natural to the people of 20 years from now. For example the food stamp program has been replaced by a private company called TacoDrone, which delivers Mexican food via drone directly to the houses of the unemployed and the needy,” says Russel. “In doing so, it’s also able to spy on them — so if a drone comes into your window with your tacos, and it sees a bong in the corner, or cocaine on the nightstand, it just turns around and leaves and you have to chase after it.”
Another important aspect of this future is the personhood of corporations — like the other bits of government policy “Prez” will parody, it’s dialed up to eleven, but also provides the series’ one link to the first “Prez” series: Boss Smiley.
In the original “Prez,” Boss Smiley was the ostensible villain, corporate greed personified as a man in a flat smiley faced mask. He was, quite frankly, terrifying. While many people didn’t read any of the original “Prez” comics, a large number of them encountered both Prez Rickard and Boss Smiley in Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” #54, a bleak retelling of the Prez story that perfectly illustrates how scary a creation Boss Smiley is. Russell, of course, has plans for him.
“He’s going to be the CEO of Smiley Enterprises,” says Russell. “In the future, under the corporate personhood amendment, corporations are not required to reveal the identities of their corporate officers. So Boss Smiley wears the smiley face mask to conceal his personal identity as the CEO of Smiley Enterprises.”
Beyond that, Russell wouldn’t say much else about Smiley, but did note that he is “the main villain.”
Russell is also excited to parody the growth of drone and mechanised warfare, calling his favourite character Warbeast — a robotic killing machine developed by the military but given artificial intelligence. Since Warbeast can think for itself and form its own identity, it decides it wants to live as a woman and quit the military — instead choosing to be President Ross’ bodyguard, Tina.
President Ross might need the help — her country has become a pretty absurd place. But, like any good satire, “Prez” suggests that maybe it always was.
“Prez” #1 is on sale June 17, 2015.
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