PREZ VOLUME 1: CORNDOG-IN-CHIEF
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Ben Caldwell, Mark Morales, and Jeremy Lawson
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Twenty years into the future, and America needs to choose its president. Will it be the slack-jawed nutcase? Will it be the corporate shill? Will the media treat it like a popularity contest? Um. Wait. Are we sure this is 2036?
Welcome to the world of Prez, America’s first teenage president. And trust me when I say, her age is the least of what makes Beth Ross stand apart from everyone in Washington D.C. Amid rampant corruption, a very wide economic divide, the explosion of the expeditor industry, mindless warfare based on video gaming, advanced surveillance culture, and brazen open carry, an election — normally so well crafted — gets botched by greed. And in place of the usual politician is a 16-year-old YouTube star who just may be America’s last great hope.
Because really, Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell could not have had their finger on the pulse of America more precisely in 2016 than they did in 2015 with this series. As each issue was coming out, I recall a sense of how odd it was to see what was on my TV and NPR broadcast laid out on the page, as if it didn’t take months of production to get it there. Either I only find out about things after everyone else does, or these two guys are witches.
Now, months later and in collected form, Prez does something that it didn’t do in single issue form: it overwhelms. In a good way. Or maybe a bad way. But the way politics in 2016 do for those of us who spend their day ensconced in the Internet and Twitter politics. This book is Twitter come to life. I’m both titillated and horrified simultaneously. But like the best, most hilariously horrifying of elections, I can’t look away.
For their protagonist, the creators crafted a young woman who is like every teenage liberal I knew in high school: wholly idealistic, not 100% confident, utterly convinced of her correctness of vision. OK. I take that back. Beth Ross isn’t just my friends in high school. It’s a lot of them now. But there’s something to seeing that freshness of youth and relative inexperience with the truly rotten of life that brings back a certain characteristic you can’t find realistically in adult characters.
Beth, next to the political machine of 2036, is what we all dreamed we could be. Vice-President Rickard (a clever play on the original Prez character) is maybe who the best of us are today. But truly, Beth, even in the face of her father’s death by — let’s be honest — poverty and lack of insurance, cannot be deterred from making the world a better place. And we need more heroes like that. Especially this year.
Russell and Caldwell pack this volume with a plethora of detail that takes more than a single read to sink in, with everything gaudy and unimaginable like taco drones and laws preventing pig sodomy and death robots that choose a heteronormative female identity — except that none of these things are THAT far off the mark. Would any one of them slide across a Huffington Post or Mashable feed tomorrow, we might give them 75 seconds of astonishment before moving along to ponder how America fell into the sinkhole of Republican politics so profoundly with its latest slate of xenophobic and opportunistic candidates.
No, nothing that happens in Prez Volume 1 seems that far-fetched at all, and that’s a bit of the wonder of it. Because despite the surreal nature of its terribleness, there’s a certain comfort in a parody that brings with it such a delightful young protagonist and sees her fight for change. Caldwell brings his A-game to Beth’s expressions, but more than delivering a perfect Barbie-esque teenager, he gives us a very real, slightly nerdy, freckled young woman. And yes, she has adorable outfits too. But it doesn’t undercut the occasional weariness in her eyes or the all-knowing smirk every teenager gets at least fifty times a day.
There’s a showdown between Beth and her nemeses in Congress toward the latter half of the book that relies on cunning and guile and not simply good intentions. And interjecting that sort of cleverness into Beth is important as well. Russell is making it clear that being strong in conviction does not necessitate being blind in reality or unable to work the system. It’s a nuance that brings the narrative to life.
And it makes me wonder. Could an apology tour of the world redeem America’s soul? Could backroom dealers be defeated with pure science and gumption? Should we be electing a teenage president?
Honestly, could it make 2016’s political shenanigans any more ridiculous? Likely not.
So, yeah. Beth Ross for President. I’m totally in.
The Verdict: 9.0/10
(P.S. This volume of Prez has, no joke, “Volume One” or “Book One” plastered all over its contents. So, if you liked it monthly, take heart in the possibility of a volume two. If you have gotten this far and haven’t read it yet, now is the time to buy. I want more Beth Ross, if nothing else, to distract me from politics in 2016.)