Prez: The First Teen President

Writer / Artist
Prez: The First Teen President
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC - 978-1-4012-6317-1
  • Release date: 2016
  • UPC: 9781401263171
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

Prez: The First Teen President was first published as the Watergate scandal unfolded, providing a fascinating oddity. This collection includes the four original issues, a story intended for the fifth, and all related material prior to the 2015 reboot.

The series’ 1973 debut followed USA’s inclusion of 18 year-olds in the electoral process. The implications of the baby-boomer/hippie generation voting are summarised by ‘suits’ on the first cover as “Radicals! We’re ruined.”

The publication timing proved a near miss. The series was cancelled, months before Watergate peaked, resulting in the resignation of President Nixon. In comics, it prompted Captain America renouncing the role, Howard the Duck running for President, and might just have made Prez a hit.

Prez Rickard is an idealistic youth enticed into politics by the corrupt Boss Smiley. Writer/co-creator Joe Simon had founded Sick (a Mad magazine rival), and applies a similar humorous style here. It opens strongly, with the satire extending from politics to environmental issues, as Smiley throws a cigar butt from his limo, starting a brush-fire. This is extinguished by Eagle Free, a Native American youth who becomes Prez’s FBI chief. Today this might have conservative pundits bemoaning ‘woke’ Generation Z youth, yet in the 1970s it was a bold move from a writer in his sixties.

Thereafter, it reads as if Simon didn’t trust his own premise, with subsequent episodes burdened by over-the-top plots. George Washington’s revolutionary army attacking the White House, is broadly on theme, as is a Cold War chess match. “Moravian” diplomats using a (tiny) coffin-shaped suitcase to smuggle Dracula into the White House, was perhaps fittingly, the final episode before the series was put to the stake. They’re all fun, but, the off-the-wall stories, and slapstick, drown the satire, and the non-stop jokes prove exhausting.

Neil Gaiman’s 1993 Sandman episode diligently weaves threads from the original into an imaginative story of the intervening two decades. The nexus of realities setting circumvents continuity constraints, and lets Gaiman show an alternative history changed by Prez, such as inspiring comedian/actor John Belushi to clean up, so avoiding his fatal overdose. There’s a lot packed into a single issue, albeit at the cost of immersion.

The longest item is 1995 one-shot Prez – Smells Like Teen President, with title and story evoking Nirvana’s era-defining grunge anti-anthem. Ed Brubaker, more at home writing crime, delivers a low-key story of P.J., who believes Prez is his father, and coaxes his friends on a road trip to find him. This indirect view of Prez is thoughtful, and aspects of the conclusion elevate what’s now an unremarkable story. Bold for 1990s DC, it’s no match for indies like Love & Rockets.

The art is inevitably mixed. Original co-creator Jerry Grandenetti ghosted for Will Eisner, and his storytelling confidence is highlighted by some packed, but well-planned panels. His compositions and rendering evoke Toth and Kurtzman, but can’t match them. Mike Allred (Sandman episode) can be stilted on routine panels, but strong on feature panels, including a recreation (pictured, right), of the debut Prez cover. Eric Shanower, impressive elsewhere, is mismatched here, his mannered hatching being both distracting, and the antithesis of Smells Like’s grunge aesthetic. 

The recreated 1970s colouring is oversaturated, and Grandenetti is seen to best effect on the previously unpublished, and still uncoloured, fifth episode (pictured, left). In contrast the digital colouring of the 1990s stories is insipid, and now dated.

A Supergirl short, and cameos of a superannuated President Rickard from Dark Knight Strikes Again, complete a throughly flawed but fascinating read.