Joe Simon created many loopy comics in the Bronze Age, but none loopier or more memorable than Prez.
Most of them — The Outsiders, The Green Team — aren’t memorable at all. Brother Power the Geek is the only other memorable Simon series from that era, and it’s infamously awful. Prez isn’t great art, but it’s closer to good-memorable than bad-memorable. Like Brother Power it focuses on Youth! but instead of dropouts and hippies, its protagonist is Prez Rickards, first teen president of the United States!
John Trumbull at Atomic Junkshop recently wrote about how comics have always been political, and Prez, for all its loopiness, is a good example. Just look at the cover by Jerry Grandenetti: we have angry crowds barricaded off from the presidential limo, but now Youth — hippies, a black guy with an Afro, a Native American and Prez — are inside the barricades instead of storming them.
When the twenty-sixth amendment gave 18 year olds the vote in 1971, it was a huge honking deal. Millions of new voters, but how would they vote? Who would they support? What effect would it have on politics? In Prez, the first effect is that the kids pass another amendment abolishing age restrictions on federal office. Not only can they vote, they can vote themselves in (the 1968 movie Wild in the Streets played with the same idea).
That’s very bad news for Boss Smiley. The most powerful, most famous politial boss in the country (the smiley face image was ubiquitous at the time), Smiley realizes this is an entire voting bloc he doesn’t have any influence with. The solution: find an 18-year-old candidate who’ll turn out the youth vote as Smiley’s puppet.
Smiley’s choice: Prez Rickard from the small town of Steadfast. Prez (his birth name — mom always said her son would grow up to be president) has won some media attention by volunteering to fix Steadfast’s notoriously inaccurate town clocks. Smiley pitches a senate run and Prez agrees. He might have turned into just the puppet Smiley wanted, if not for Eagle Free.
Eagle Free is a Native American who lives in harmony with nature in a wilderness area Smiley plans to pave over. He is such a stereotype it’s utterly cringeworthy: dresses like he wandered out of an old Western, communicates with animals, describes himself as “little more than an animal” (a really horrible line as it’s a rationale whites have used for generations to discriminate against native “savages.”).
By 1971, tribal protests against white discrimination and Bureau of Indian Affairs mismanagement were a thing, but there’s none of that here. Eagle Free’s only interest is protecting the environment, similar to a group of Native ecoprotesters who show up in Marvel’s Man-Thing about the same time. Did that famous commercial where a Native American weeps over pollution have that much impact? Or was it just the old stereotype that Indians never farmed or developed the land, making them either ecofriendly or savage primitives (opinions differ)
Simon still gives Eagle Free a bizarre touch. Rather than hang out with deer, cougars and rabbits, Eagle Free also counts elephants, lions and apes among his animal friends. No explanation provided.
Eagle Free convinces Prez to break into Smiley’s HQ, where they find conclusive proof Smiley’s so corrupt he makes Nixon look clean. Smiley catches them and promptly fires Prez — but he’s too late! It’s election day! Prez wins by a landslide, destroys Smiley’s political machine and a few years later becomes America’s first teenage president. But not without controversy. The last page reveals he’s made Eagle Free head of the FBI and someone unseen as vice president; the “over-thirties” are retaliating with talk of impeachment. Eagle Free warns of “a plot so ingenious, so sinister, that it could destroy the world!” And the next issue of Prez “will be more exciting than anything ever recorded.” (Spoiler: no it won’t).
Simon and Grandenetti deliver all this in an insanely goofy style that might have been a conscious choice or just that they weren’t thinking about much beyond getting the issue done. It’s telling that as Nothing But Comics notes, the teen president premise doesn’t make sense: we’re shown Prez running for the Senate in 1972, but that would make him 22 by the time the next presidential election rolls around. President Rickard wouldn’t be a teenager after all. That’s kind of a big mistake, though I doubt anyone reading when this came out was paying that close attention (I certainly wans’t).
Undeterred by this revelation, I shall conclude the history of the Rickard presidency in a post next week.
All images by Jerry Grandenetti, all rights remain with the current holder. #SFWApro