Thursday, December 17, 2015

'Prez' - the Best Satirical Political Comic You'll Read This Year


Here's the deal: either you love the new comic Prez, or you're wrong. Well, I suppose that's a little needlessly harsh, but you get my point. Prez is fantastic, hilarious, and deeply terrifying, which is everything a person could want from a comic that tackles big political issues in a not-distant-enough future.

Written by Mark Russell, with art by Ben Caldwell, Prez is the kind of ambitious comics miniseries that isn't usually supposed to be funny. Taking a satirical look at American politics, the comic follows Beth Ross, a nineteen year old community college student, as she accidentally becomes president of the most powerful nation on Earth. It's easy to like Beth, and the machinations required to make her president are actually a lot less implausible than you might think.

The world Beth lives in is like a funhouse version of ours where everything has been taken to its logical extreme. Corporations have so much more power than people it's terrifying. The poor are used as billboards. There are taco drones. Everyone is dying of "cat flu". Potential immigrants must compete in a brutal reality TV show to be considered for green cards. And the Constitution has been amended to remove any age limit on the Presidency so that corporations can legally run.

This weird little loophole is basically how Beth gets elected. But, to her credit, she doesn't even run. Who would want to be the President, anyway? It's either the worst job in the world or you're the worst person in the world. Beth's name only gets added to the poll rosters when a viral video surfaces of her getting her hair stuck in a corndog fryer, and Anonymous thinks it would be hilarious to enter "Corndog Girl" as a candidate.

Beth doesn't do much more than split the vote at first, but the thing is, she splits the vote really really well. The first she finds out about this is when the secret service come to whisk her away. It seems that in the rush for members of Congress to sell their votes to the presidential candidate who offered better bribes, a bunch of Congresspeople voted for Beth in the runoff, making Beth Ross legally the President. And our story goes from there.

But to say that this is just a wish-fulfillment story about what would happen if we let a "normal person" be president for once is reductive and doesn't grasp the full scope of what this comic can do. As we go through, we find that Beth is a pretty canny political operator and that she might just be the best President in a long time. She does such crazy things as shut down America's drone program or go on a worldwide apology tour. She stacks her cabinet with people she knows and trusts and believes will do the right thing. She even figures out how to blackmail the big pharmaceutical companies into doing what she wants.

Hers is not the only story, however. Alongside the tale of "President Ross", we're also given a plotline about an artificially intelligent killer robot gone rogue. Instead of a story about bloodshed and "we shouldn't have played God!", though, it turns out the robot is really cool. She likes to be called Tina, hates the term artificial intelligence, and ends up living with a nice pastor and his wife in Florida. 

Tina is as much a product of this crazy mixed up world as Beth is, and there's something so satisfying in how the story promises that together they might be able to fix it.

Like I said, though, this story is about more than just wish-fulfillment. The real premise of Prez is that it requires us to take a good hard look at who we are and where our culture is headed. It's not that Prez is trying to scare us all (maybe a little bit), but more that it's not particularly optimistic about our ability to fix ourselves with a pretty swift kick to the behind. Just because we agree with Beth's policies doesn't mean we're not still somewhat responsible for the direction of our society. Disagreeing is not the same thing as not being responsible.

Prez is about reminding us of what we can be when we actually believe all that crap in our Constitution. And it's doing that by showing us a girl who genuinely and truly wants to do the right thing. Beth Ross is an idealist, sure, but she's not stupid. She's not interested in being liked, or in history vindicating her, or even really in being the one to "make America great again". She wants to do the right thing, so she does. So does Tina. And that's really appealing.

Plus there's the whole thing where this story is literally about a teenage girl ruling the free world and doing a kickass job. I mean, how many stories can boast that? Beth Ross is never sexualized, never presented as anything less than an extremely competent and kind young woman, and she's not the one at fault. It's not some comic where we laugh at those weird young people and their silly hijinks. It's a comic that's desperately hoping the younger generations can help to fix the problems of the past. I approve of that.

Prez is currently only halfway through its twelve-issue run, and I like to think that it's getting better, more complex with each issue. In a weird way it's hard to talk about it now because I don't want to spoil anything and the story's not over yet, but I wanted to make sure you all had heard about it while it was still running. We want more comics like Prez, and as far as I can tell, the best way to get that is to actually read comics like Prez!

I'm not going to go off from here and draw all kinds of parallels between the situation in the comic and our current presidential election (even though I totally could), I just want you all to know that this comic exists and it's amazing. It's funny and sweet and pointed and exactly what we all need. Instead of being cynical, it somehow manages to skewer our entire political system and still remain hopeful. 

Seriously, go read Prez

Dare to dream.

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