Prez #1 Review: Odd, Prescient, and Effortlessly Entertaining
In 2036, people are gearing up for another election. The advent of social media has eliminated most candidates with any personality from running due to scandals in their past, while corporate interests own the entire field anyway. Corporate personhood amendments have erased all age barriers to running for office and low voter turnout made it legal to vote by Twitter - not that it matters to most people, who are more interested in being entertained than they are in trying to change anything. Seventeen-year-old Beth Ross is just trying to get by, but with a father in the hospital unable to afford the life-saving treatment he needs, her dead-end job at Lil' Doggie, a fast food restaurant in Oregon, isn't cutting it. But when a training video she's in goes wrong, she finds herself going viral just as the election kicks off - and the target of a prank write-in campaign that turns her into a viable candidate for President of the United States of America.
Prez #1 displays an anarchistic sense of humor that's sharper and meaner than that of similarly-comedic DC books like Harley Quinn and Starfire. Prez is funny, but Russell and Caldwell clearly have some things to say here, and as America delves even deeper into the muck for our upcoming presidential election, the book's satire of America's political process should be lost on precisely no one. But the blame is not placed solely at the feet of a single person or institution: Corporate greed has done a lot to bring the world to where it is, but voters young and old allowed it to happen every step of the way, and Prez #1 is gleeful in the way it spreads its take-downs around.
Also, it introduced me to the phrase 'taco freedom', which... believe me, I'll get some use out of.
I do wish we'd spent a little more time with Beth in this issue, though, especially given that Prez is a 12-issue miniseries rather than an ongoing. Russell makes her sympathetic, sure; while she's introduced as sort of a ditz, he undercuts that almost immediately, and when he does so he puts us on her side in a big way. Bringing her family life in the way he does is great set-up for when the series' core conflict starts... but, unfortunately, that's not really in this issue. Russell hints at where the story is going, but Prez #1 has to spend a lot of its time introducing us to the state of the world in the year 2036, something at which the book undeniably excels.
That those introductions are handled as elegantly as they are is a testament to penciller Ben Caldwell, inker Mark Morales, and colorist Jeremy Lawson. Without saying a word in the script, the brightly-colored holographic pop-ups that litter the setting tell us precisely how busy things are, how much competition there is for the attention of young people with money. Newsrooms have taken the cluttered, tech-heavy aesthetic of CNN to the next level, but they've made it look good. Morales is a crisp, clean inker, which helps enhance the personality of Caldwell's pencils, giving all the characters a pleasantly cartoonish physicality. Meanwhile, Lawson cleverly pushes tacky to the absolute limit, knowing just when to dim the colors a bit to keep them from being grating while building a memorable look. Even if the humor doesn't connect to you, no one can deny that Prez is a gorgeous looking book.
Prez #1 is a fantastic introduction to a very weird world, a sort of Transmetropolitan-lite for the social media age. Despite the lack of focus on Beth, a character we know very little about thus far, the book succeeds on the back of its design, its pacing, and its plentiful wit. In Prez, Russell, Caldwell, Morales, and Lawson have created a book that wouldn't feel out of place with a classic Vertigo line-up of titles like Shade the Changing Man and Doom Patrol. I can't think of many higher compliments to give a comic.
Prez #1 was written by Mark Russell, penciled by Ben Caldwell, inked by Mark Morales, colored by Jeremy Lawson, and lettered by Travis Lanham. Published by DC Comics, Prez #1 was released on June 17th for $2.99.
Prez #1 Review: 9.5 / 10
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