Biting but not bitter, “Prez” #1 is an effective satire of the political arena in the internet age. This twelve-issue miniseries doesn’t dive much into its teenage presidency plot in issue #1, instead devoting most of the pages to establishing a dysfunctional near-future world. Taco-delivering drones, full corporate personhood and in-person pop-up ads are all a part of daily life in this universe, and the details are fully imagined. If Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell’s parody is a little too on-the-nose at points, it is at least sharp, and there are genuinely funny moments. “Prez” #1 is a welcome new direction for DC and, as long as the coming issues stay away from easy, lazy jokes, this could be a seriously great series.
Caldwell sets the tone right away with light inks and cartoonish faces full of character. Block-chinned politicians, tubby burners and bouffant-bunned TV personalities inject the dialogue with personality and signal the book’s satirical bent. The panel composition also captures the frenzy of modernity, with a half-dozen items always just slightly out of frame. Colorist Jeremy Lawson can’t quite decide on one approach, with colors that are sometimes entirely abstract, sometimes bright and detailed, but it’s not a huge detraction. While it can be occasionally distracting, he still paints a believable, shiny dystopia that feels close enough to 2015 to let the jokes sting.
Lawson and letterer Travis Lanham also do particularly keen work with the details. The mess of modern advertising, live streams and instant updates is all over this book, but the text is always neatly integrated into the scenery. Whether it’s pop-up ads on hats or streaming text on TV, it really looks like part of these characters’ everyday life. The seamlessness also makes the jokes look slicker than they might if the layout called blatant attention to them.
Russell’s script delivers on the wider parody. The jokes range from individual jabs to systems critiques, and everyone gets a chance to be roasted. There’s plenty of indictment of internet culture but, unlike many such critiques, a lot of the criticism falls on the old guard for how they fail to meaningfully interact with that culture. As a result, “Prez” offers some refreshingly balanced laughs. However, the character development for our soon-to-be-POTUS is lacking. Beth Ross is very much an everywoman, with her dad’s tragic illness introduced as her primary backstory. I wish she’d had a little more verve or page space to develop.
My chief complaint is admittedly more personal than artistic, but “Prez” missteps the most for me when the butt of its jokes is voters themselves. Disdain for the mob is the most snobbish of satires, and I found it hard to imagine a presidential candidate desperately wanting to discuss the issues and being ignored by people with real economic needs. If the elite characters’ sneers of “that’s what the people want” aren’t balanced by scenes of the people’s actual disgust with the system, it suggests that we’re meant to take those judgments at face value.
“Prez” #1 gives me a lot to be excited about, from its darkly funny future to its energetic artwork. Most of all, though, I’m excited to see DC taking a genuine chance with this new miniseries.