By Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell, and Jeremy Lawson
One of the best elements of the DC You rebranding is that a lot of their titles have shed the shackles of a straight-ahead superhero comic and work to try and blend their genres. Superman is now a street level defender of civil liberties, Batman is in the Spider-Man-esque world of corporate sci-fi crime, and Martian Manhunter is tied up in an alien conspiracy straight out of The X-Files. Another key strength of the DC You is that they’ve more or less done away with broad form continuity. There’s still continuity within a small handful of titles but the big, universe enforced continuity has pretty much evaporated and their titles are much better for it. Now the various DC titles don’t have to interrupt an ongoing story for some event or to acknowledge a plot point from a more popular comic. So it’s not surprising that when both of these great decisions combine in Prez, it turns out to be the best comic of the DC You and one of the best comics of the entire year.
Prez is easily the most ambitious comic DC has done in a long time. It’s a revival of an obscure DC mini-series from 1973 written by Superman co-creator Joe Simon and set in no continuity other than its own. Like its predecessor, Prez is most predominantly a political satire comic revolving around the hilarious circumstances around the election of a teen President. Prez 2015 is for the most part just an update of all the crazy high concept weirdness and viscous commentary that informed the original only with the added benefit of a more modern comics approach to characterization and development.
One of Prez’s greatest strong points is its incredibly fast paced and unique brand of futurism. The world Prez presents us with is highly unique as far as depictions of the future go, situated somewhere between the smirky cynicism of Idiocracy and the well observed tragedy of The Zero Theorem. Visually there’s a real embrace of modern technology to visualize this world rather than the grungy designs of most Blade Runner knock-offs, but things are so crowded and cluttered that it avoids slipping into the futuristic utopia vibe of Star Trek. The real emphasis of the comic though, is on the growing integration of social media and the digital frontier into the physical world. This ends up actually being the crux of the story as our hero, Beth ‘Corndog Girl’ Ross, ends up a Presidential candidate thanks to voting over Twitter. The comic doesn’t really have a strong stance on this technological integration so much as just commenting on the ridiculous manner in which it controls our lives. That’s one of the great things about Prez, how well it uses its brand of futurism to blow up our daily practices to such an extreme that it highlights their absurdity. That bleeds over into the commentary as well, like how this issue’s story seems to be designed as a deliberate spoof of all the beltway political palm greasing you see on shows like House of Cards or VEEP, highlighting how ludicrous the practice really is.
Where Prez really shines though is in the commentary department. Underneath all the jokey visual gags and ludicrous reformations of social norms there’s a real sense of energy, passion, and disbelief that makes up the sharp-edged point of Prez. This only surfaces some of the time, but when it does it’s incredibly biting and a real shock to the system after all the goofy cartoon future humor has lulled you into the comic’s easy going sensibilities. You get the sense author Mark Russell views the world as this horrid, terrifying place he can’t believe we’ve all just agreed is okay to exist. That’s the underlying truth of all the book’s comedy and commentary, a broad declaration of “can you believe this?” with only the trappings of political satire and sci-fi comedy to soften the blow of how uncomfortably true the question is. The only character really spared this angry japery is Beth Ross and that’s because she stands as part of the comic’s commentary about the least powerful in society trying to escape the monstrous systems that control their lives either through severe sacrifice or by accident.
Ben Caldwell does a superb job on artwork duty. Every panel is crammed with a ton of detail, but they never come off cluttered or claustrophobic. It’s more that there are just tons of little details and background gags for you to pick up on that really reward repeated reading. Jeremy Lawson does a solid job coloring though both men work wonders together whenever they need to clear the comic’s space for a more serious scene. It’s amazing how smoothly Prez can transition between rapid fire satire and genuinely moving character beats and a lot of that is owed to the art. Caldwell does a great job subtly transitioning characters from exaggerated cartoons to more realistic faces while Lawson knows just how to bring the color intensity down for a moving scene.
Prez is a masterpiece, an outright triumph of the new age of DC Comics and one of the best comics you’ll read all year. The comedy is fun, the commentary insightful and passionate, and the world and characters deeply engaging, well written, ad beautifully drawn. If this really is the face of everything the DC You could accomplish going forward then the future is very bright for them indeed.