Near Mint Memories: America's First Teen President!


Who, or what the hell is… Prez?

What do you mean you haven’t heard of DC’s smash hit Prez! This book’s groundbreaking writing nothing short of revolutionized the comic book industry in the 70’s…. Wait a tick, that’s not Prez! Man, I must have researched the wrong book. Give me a minute to study the voluminous material on the character, and then I’ll be right back.

Did you miss me?


Who, or what the hell is Prez? (Take 2)

Prez may actually be one of the most politically incorrect comics that the industry has ever spawned. Written by the legendary Joe Simon (creator of Captain America), Prez debuted in 1972. Which if you don’t know, was an extremely difficult time in American history. The Cold War was raging, the United States had been embroiled in Vietnam for a decade, and political corruption had seen President Nixon recently step down from office. It was time for America to find a new hero, one that could wade through the cynicism and political chaos. It was time for Prez Rickard!

It’s the comic that followed the “first teen president.” Still doesn’t ring a bell?

Yeah, I don’t blame you for never hearing of the comic. Prez lasted a whopping four issues, and the only waves it made at the time, where the waves of returns from the newsstands.


Every legend has a beginning…

As origins go, Prez Rickard quite possibly has the most “interesting” one comics have ever seen.

The titular character was named Prez, by his mother, because she believed he’d be President some day. She was right, and I’m sure she couldn’t believe how quickly either.

Prez Rickard grew up in the town of Steadfast, Maine. He’s was president of the local stock car racing club, and drives a car called…the Lollipop. He’s a righteous blonde haired typical late 60’s, early 70’s hippie. He doesn’t have much else going for him, well except for one thing. The deed that indirectly will propel him into the White House, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The evil Boss Smiley is the leading crime figure in Central City, and really, it seems, the nation. To illustrate Smiley’s evil, and to make him the symbol that he is, Simon actually makes Smiley’s face a…smiley face (I’m not kidding, we’re talking the big yellow symbol of 70’s). This menacing figure (snicker) decides he needs to find a political dupe to further his criminal goals. With the rampant political corruption in the United States, laws have been changed, and instead of the thirty-year-old limit to run for Congress, eighteen year olds are now eligible to run. So, Smiley decides to find a youngster that he can “control.”

Smiley believes that every politico must have a “gimmick” that ensures their ability to win office. A couple of the examples he brings up (and their gimmicks), Mussolini (made the trains run on time), and Lincoln (freed the slaves). Wouldn’t you agree that it takes a certain degree of balls to mention Mussolini and Lincoln in the same sentence? Not to mention the fact that Lincoln freed the slaves indirectly and it wasn’t a well publicized aim when he ran for office.

Look at me arguing politics with a 30-year-old comic!


Tick, tick, tick…

The only youngster in America that has done anything that could be considered a gimmick in Smiley’s mind? Of course, it’s none other than our hero, Prez Rickard!

What did he do, you might ask?

Well, it seems that the town of Steadfast, Maine has more clocks than any other place in the United States (?). The problem being, that none of them run at the same time. Prez decides to fix them all. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Sorry.

So, the “acclaim” this feat brings, also gains the attention of the dastardly Boss Smiley. Smiley decides to have Prez run for Congress. Prez is so naïve that he doesn’t realize he is being used as a political pawn. How it’s not immediately obvious to Mr. Rickard, I don’t know. Let’s give Mr. Simon a break, shall we.

Smiley’s chicanery finally becomes clear to Prez, but not until one of the most politically incorrect characters ever shows up.


The coming of Eagle Free

Eagle Free is an American Indian. He tips Prez off to the evil of Smiley. Of course, at first Prez can’t even believe that Mr. Free is much above an animal. That’s a nice message to send about an Indian, who it seems Americans never get tired of oppressing.

I don’t mean to be cruel, as Simon makes Free a strong character, and the key ingredient to Prez’s later success. It’s just that Prez’s stupidity and ludicrousness goes down very badly. He shouldn’t be a total nitwit, but for now, he is.

The origin of Prez really comes together on the last couple of pages. After Prez figures out that Smiley isn’t such a good fellow, he breaks away and wins the congressional seat on his own. Americans looking for a change, set off a chain reaction that resonates through the entire political landscape. Within one year, an amendment to the Constitution allows eighteen years olds to run for the office of President. We find out that Prez Rickard wins the office in 1973.

Prez ran under the “New Flower Party” and upset both the Republican and Democratic candidates. His “Peace and Love” campaign is what brought him the office. Eagle Free becomes the head of the F.B.I., and a mysterious heavyset woman name Martha becomes Vice President. This is mainly told as narration, and serves to cap the issue, but very little else is developed.

As origins go, this is probably the weirdest I’ve ever seen.


What’s next for Prez?

The remainder of the series run, saw Prez battle the Russian Chessmen, and their exploding robots in issue #2. In issue #3, Prez repelled an attempted coup de tat by a descendant of George Washington. Resulting in a mammoth war scene in Washington DC. Topping off the series run, was Prez escaping assassination at the hands of a legless Dracula, and his forces from Transylvania.

I am not making this stuff up, folks!

Strangely, the book was cancelled at this point. The fact that a long run escaped this book is really quite mind-boggling. You can never understand the fickle hand of fate.

If you have any ideas why the book was cancelled, let me know.

By the way, I am being facetious.


Do you want a free look at Prez?

Noooooooooooo!

Considering the back issues of Prez are highly sought after collector’s items (and classics), you may not have the ability or financial wherewithal to buy these four gems.

Well have I got a great bit of news.

In the later part of the 70’s, DC produced a series entitled Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. They only printed a handful of photocopied issues; with the sole purpose being an ability to maintain copyright of unpublished material. There were two issues, and one of the issues had, you guessed it the unpublished Prez issue #5.

In this odyssey, Prez must battle against the Pied Piper, as well as bugs in the White House, a decidedly topical subject when you consider Tricky Dick Nixon’s downfall. Of course, these are biological bugs, not electrical, but still topical, sort of.

Sadly, this is the only place the comic had ever seen print.

Well, here’s the good part; if good is the proper word. You can read this issue online. For free! Check out the excellent website comicfandom.com, for a look. You’ve just got to see it! Not to mention all the other unpublished books that met their end during the 70’s.

As a note: the majority of the books printed in the CCC, were from DC’s meltdown in 1978, termed the DC Implosion. While issue #5 of Prez was included here, it’s not actually a part of the DC Implosion.
Down the line, expect a Near Mint Memories column which will look at this monumental event in great detail.


The end of Prez‘s legacy?

Other than the four published (and one unpublished issue), Prez Rickard only made one other appearance prior to the 90’s. Prez teams up with Superman’s cousin, in the pages of Supergirl (1st series), issue #10. In this tale, we find that Prez is actually president in the DC Universe, and he makes his final appearance for some time.

Of course, this appearance is conveniently forgotten, and no mention of Prez being prez is mentioned in the DCU again. With the advent of Crisis On Infinite Earths a decade, or so, later, the forgetting wasn’t all that difficult. Hell, it was easily forgotten without Crisis.

Oddly, Prez’s appearance in Supergirl marked the final issue of that book too.

Prez seems to have that cancellation effect on books.


The “legend” reborn!

Leave it to Neil Gaiman to re-envision Prez for the 90’s.

In 1993, the world was ready for Prez’s return. Neil Gaiman, a modern master, explored the character in issue #54 of his classic series, Sandman. In this issue, Gaiman took the concept, begun by Joe Simon in the 70’s, and not only did he give it a slightly more modern spin. He turned in a haunting tale about fame, the difficulty of the presidential office, and just how far good deeds can go.

Joe Simon’s creation, although flawed, really was at heart a strong concept. Prez was an idea that meant well, but certainly needed a little tweaking. Gaiman made the necessary tweaks, and turned Prez into the character he should have been. Triumph, and tragedy, and rising-like-the-Phoenix all fit into this beautiful story’s 24-page length.

The story was followed up, not long after, by an outstanding Vertigo one-shot. Prez: It Smells Like Teen President… was released in 1995, written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Eric Shanower. Even more than Gaiman’s wonderful story, this one-shot finally pulls the concept of Prez together, perfectly.

Set during the early 90’s and taking a look at the grunge generation’s troubled outlook on the future. Brubaker tells the story of P.J., who just might be the son of Prez (P.J. stands for Prez Junior). P.J. and his friends, George and Jason, set out to discover what happened to the former teen president. Prez Rickard supposedly died in 1987, but was recently spotted in a Kansas diner (think Elvis).

Fans of American history will find Brubaker’s story compelling in many ways. His study of the time period, and the reasoning that so many Americans are disillusioned with the crap they are fed, is heady, but accessible storytelling. This road trip of discovery and renewal, through America’s heartland, is a true gem, and can be enjoyed whether or not you want to read any of the other stories featuring Prez.

This voyage of self-discovery, was the first Prez story that I read, and it’s my favorite by far. I give this my highest recommendation.


Parting words…

I have probably used more words in this column than the combined total of Prez’s eight appearances (including the one unpublished story). Yet there is something strangely appealing about this throwaway of the 70’s.

Sure it’s not Joe Simon’s most classic work, but the character somehow continues to endure. The commentary Simon was making at the time just didn’t make sense in a comic that, with the ludicrous stories, was obviously aimed at youth. Perhaps if Mr. Simon had the opportunity to write a more adult version of Prez 30 years ago, the character may have met with more success.

While the concept fell flat, a totally new voice in government may be just what politics in the United States needs. It’s high time that the country factor out all of the political yes men, and the givebacks to financial supporters that politicians make, with no thought to their constituencies. Moving away from what is really a two party-system in the United States, and what many view as voting for the “lesser of two evils.”

Drastic moves must be made to invigorate the youth of America to take an active role in politics. To ask questions of their government, and not blindly follow like lambs to the slaughter.

Is Prez the answer?

Of course not, but Joe Simon sure had the beginnings of a great idea!


The Reading Rack

Sorry, but there aren’t many trade paperbacks that feature Prez.

In fact there is only one.

Sandman: Volume VIII reprints the appearance of Prez from issue #54. It’s still in print, but the twenty-dollar price tag, may be a bit pricey if you only have interest in the one issue.

Otherwise, the choices are obvious. Prez 1-4 should be fairly cheap, and the Vertigo one-shot isn’t that difficult to locate.