“Apparently it’s a lot easier to gamble with someone else’s life.”
“And there it is. The dirty secret that makes politics possible.”
So ends the fifth issue of Prez in this collection of its first story-arc, still in the early stages of Beth Ross’s newfound American presidency. The plucky, naive 19-year-old from Oregon has a lot on her plate after being elected in a freak accident of social media popularity crossed with a Congress so corrupt that nothing gets done without everyone getting a kickback. Rather than allow her authority to sell to the highest bidder (every Congressman assumes she can’t think for herself), surrender to grief (her father has a terminal case of cat flu), or give in to the cynicism of modern-day developments (including a religion that esteems the virus as God’s chosen inheritor of the Earth), she tries to find small victories in a broken country. Hey, not bad for a girl who went viral for accidentally frying her hair in corndog batter.
What’s broken? Well, drone warfare is out of control, damaging America’s standing abroad. A vaccine for the aforementioned cat flu is within reach, but pharmaceutical companies won’t act unless they get a massive subsidy and patent rights to patients’ bodies. A catastrophic flood leads to news outlets telling viewers “to donate money, click on the weeping orphan.” The Mexico-America border is policed by hyper-lethal mechs piloted via remote control by would-be gamers. Health care is administered by “Carl the End-of-Life Bear” who offers marijuana to patients. Reality show contestants navigate obstacle courses that culminate in having to survive a gunshot wound to win a billion dollars. If any of this sounds darkly familiar with a side of satire, consider Prez a MAD-style commentary on American life courtesy of Mark Russell’s script.
While the comic features its share of scenes of senior statesmen in beige offices, much of the world drawn by Ben Caldwell and Dominike Stanton is full of color and expression. Advertisers and hardware manufacturers have made sure that the future is an attractive place filled with translucent screens glowing in thin air. And when politicians aren’t having their identities disguised by emoji-like holograms I would compare some of the faces in the cast to those of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, at some turns dry and blank, but mostly animated and full of life. The characters barely have a moment to sit still and contemplate themselves.
By the end of the first volume, Beth’s solutions to problems are equally ridiculous and reflective of the near-future: from repurposing drones into taco delivery machines to 3D-printing a working heart from a printer otherwise designed to pump out hot dogs, she has a knack for finding solutions where everyone else lacks imagination. When she’s told not to look soft in the eyes of world leaders, she goes on an apology tour to every country ever attacked or otherwise occupied by America. She flips the script on pharmaceutical companies’ demands for patent rights on creatures’ DNA by patenting the lobbyists’ DNA first. Her first day in office, she makes an impassioned plea for equality and dignity, only to be immediately fired upon.
Beth’s not going anywhere, though. She’s the unwitting voice of reason in a world gone cold, greedy, and complacent. Anyone paying attention to the news, or rather, what’s packaged as the news, will delight in all the send-ups at play in this book. Prez will continue into its second story arc just in time for the 2016 election, and this beginning earns my vote for a full term.
Prez, vol. 1: Corndog-In-Chief
by Mark Russell
Art by Ben Caldwell, Dominike Stanton, Mark Morales