Prez: The 1970’s DC Comic for 21st century politics

The 1970’s were a bizarre decade. Anything was up for grabs at a time of astonishing change and this change included DC Comics who were trying hard to stay relevant at a time when their competitor, Marvel Comics, so they called on Captain America co-creator Joe Simon to produce Prez, the story of America’s first teen president.

Along with artist Jerry Grandetti, the story of Prez Rickard, the first teen president, lasted four short issues (a fifth issue later appeared in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade) and one guest appearance in Supergirl’s ongoing comic. There have been revivals, most notably an issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but these four issues are completely and utterly bizarre.

It should be noted that in 1973, Simon was 60 and being asked to write a strip about a teen hero at the fag-end of flower power when much of what previous generations had known was ripped apart and reformed. That said, had DC stuck say, a Steve Englehart or Denny O’Neill on it who were younger men it probably wouldn’t have this strangeness about it and although some of it is iffy (Prez’s friend and head of the FBI is the permanently bare-chested Native American called Eagle Free) there’s something curiously subversive to it all.

Of course the art by Jerry Grandetti helps give a constant weirdness to it all as in a few short issues Prez deals with the threat of multinationals, assassins and vampires in stories that only make sense in the strange, dreamy world Simon created for Prez. It’s this dreamlike quality Gaiman picked up on for Sandman, but in reading these stories for the first time in decades it strikes me that Simon is trying to give his version as a 60 year-old man of early 1970’s America and what teenagers would be up against which would be mainly industrialists like Boss Smiley.

There’s something not right about Prez. It feels like a satire but it also feels like it’s played straight, but it also plays as a parable, but at the same time a post-modern commentary on the hippies, but it also breaks the fourth wall. Basically it doesn’t behave in the way we would expect a comic to behave as it changes tone, even genres sometimes from one panel to another.

It doesn’t always work and to the eye of someone in 2017/8 it can look awful, and indeed, much of it has dated, but as an oddity it is simply astonishing, and when it works its something weird and subversive. There’s been a few attempts to revive the character but with no success. There is a collection available but it is really worth having the originals as these as this is a bizarre wonder from DC at a time when the world was leaving it behind and it was trying to keep up.

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