Saturday, July 11, 2009

Out of the Vault - Prez #4

Yes, it is just a coincidence that Prez in the Vault Archives comes just after Power Plays. Okay, no it's not. I'd been meaning to do it sometime and it was right there, so now seems as good a time as ever.

So here's the deal: in the early 70's, DC, with much fanfare, hired Jack Kirby away from Marvel Comics. DC wanted to update their image and cut into Marvel's market share. At roughly the same time, DC began to make more extensive use of their archives, trying to lure readers with the extra value of pages and pages of Golden Age reprints as back-up features. In the Kirby books, of course, the reprints were of Golden Age stories by Jack Kirby with his then-partner, Joe Simon.

I don't know if that was what provided the spur, but at some point, DC then decided to hire Joe Simon as well. I'm not sure what made the suits at DC think that two old Depression-Era geezers like Simon and Kirby could attract the hip youth market, but they gave it a try, and in the process created some truly demented comics. Kirby came out with his New Gods series, followed by The Demon, OMAC (One Man Army Corps), and Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth.

Simon created such trivia classics as Brother Power, the Geek and Green Team:Boy Millionaires. And in between, he gave us America's first teen president in Prez.

detailed the story of Prez Rickard, a teenager who is elected to office by the massive new constituency created by the amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote (in Prez-world, another law was passed allowing teenagers to hold all public offices as well). You can tell he's the Prez because he wears a red sweater with his own personalized Presidential seal on it (as seen on the cover above). Hmm, an American president with his own personalized seal? I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy.

Anyway, I only have issue #4, but it should give you an idea of the truly demented flavor of what Simon and DC were doing at the time. I'm going to describe the plot in some detail, because there is so much compressed into these few pages that it's an injustice to summarize.

Issue 4 opens with a man entering the hidden White House vaults and locating a secret file, where we're told "Here, for the first time, you will read all the incredible facts exactly as they happened!" Because that kind of opening worked so well for Ed Wood.

Next, we're swept away to the Republic of Moravia, where Prez and his FBI chief/sidekick Eagle Free are on hand for the opening of a new canal (built with U.S. financial aid) that will bring water to Moravia so they may irrigate their crops and bathe. That second bit is important, because it is the custom in Moravia that everyone wear garlic around their necks.

So Prez and Eagle Free jump on Air Force One--sorry, Prez's jet has been renamed the FreeBee--to fly home. As they're leaving, they notice a dark cloud just on the border of Moravia, and Prez notes that "it may be some country we haven't even heard of!"

Upon returning to the White House, Prez is summoned to the Groovy Room (really) to help negotiate with the Chinese ambassador. There, he finds Vice President Martha, a rather stout woman, playing a furious game of Ping Pong (sorry, table tennis) with the Chinese ambassador, because it's the only way they can communicate. The State Department has sent the wrong interpreters; a pair of silent black women in robes stand by the table, notebooks in hand, ready to interpret any Nigerian that happens to be spoken in the meeting. Hmm, an incompetent State Department screwing up translations? I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy.

Prez takes control, seizing the paddle from Martha as Eagle Free takes over interpreting duties through Indian sign language (seriously). The Chinese are upset over American relations with Moravia, but Prez assures them there is no problem.

If you check out the wallpaper in the scene above, you'll see why it's called the Groovy Room. Limitations in printing technology of the time didn't allow them to show the blacklights. The scene where Prez then gives the Chinese ambassador some DVD's and an iPod has been deleted from my issue for some reason.

That night, a bat-shaped helicopter flies in and lands on the White House roof unannounced. Nervous soldiers surround the aircraft as the passenger climbs out. It's a Wolfman! There's a fight that "wages though the early hours" until dawn, at which time the Wolfman transforms into a human, who claims that he has come for a summit meeting. He is the ambassador from Transylvania, you see. Well, sure.

Prez does not say, "what, they don't have phones in your country?" Instead he just asks where Transylvania is. He's told that it borders Moravia, and Eagle Free deduces that it must be under the black cloud. Ambassador Wolfman (whose briefcase is shaped like a small coffin) demands that the Moravian canal be destroyed, because it has diverted water away from Transylvania, which is now dying of thirst. "No way!" sez Prez, so Wolfman declares a state of war, by authority of Count Dracula the First, ruler of Transylvania.

Chapter 2 (lots of DC Comics broke their stories into chapters, for some reason) opens in a situation room, where Prez informs the gathered "gentlemen--and you chicks--it seems we are at war with a country we can't find." Apparently, the cloud cover is so thick in Transylvania that their spies can't see anything. The only thing they know is that legend has it Transylvania is a country of vampires.

That night, the mysterious coffin-shaped briefcase that Ambassador Wolfman left in the Oval Office (and which has sat undiscovered and undisturbed all day right next to Prez's desk) opens to reveal a legless vampire tied to a small wheeled cart like Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places." The vampire squeaks his way through a deserted White House to Prez's room, where he's just about to put the bite on Prez and make him a vampire, when Eagle Free bursts into the room in the nick of time, having just remembered the briefcase.

Eagle and Prez square off against the vampire, who claims he is indestructible. He has been tormented and crippled and staked seven times, and still he keeps coming back. He then attacks Prez with his incredible strength, but Eagle Free drives him off with a swastika--sorry, an "Indian Hooked Cross"--so the vamp wheels his way out of the White House and onto the lawn, where he bowls over about twenty Marines and jumps onto the bat-chopper for a quick getaway.

The Moravian ambassador next informs Prez that Transylvania is planning a sneak attack: the single airplane in the Transylvanian Air Force will air-drop a cargo of rabid bats over Washington D.C. Prez goes before Congress to ask for emergency war powers to deal with the situation, but they just ask "What have you kids been smoking" and start a Congressional investigation into the White House. Hmmm, Congress wasting time in frivolous attacks on the President in wartime? I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy.

Anyway, with no authorization from Congress, the only option appears to be Eagle Free's marvelous nature powers. You see, aside from being head of the FBI, Eagle Free is like a shaman or something. He wears a headband with a feather, lives in a teepee on the banks of the Potomac and communes with the animals. But don't call him a stereotype or anything. He hates that. Anyway, Eagle Free decides to send his bird friends in a kamikaze attack on the Transylvanian jet.

Prez accompanies Eagle Free to his teepee to see the birds off. As they paddle in Eagle Free's canoe, Prez comments, "The Secret Servicemen must be frantic," which is funny, because there's been no sign of a Secret Service agent anywhere in the book. They must be invisible or something. It's a comic book, it could happen.

So anyway, after a tearful goodbye, the birds are sent winging off toward the Transylvanian plane, which is also shaped like a bat (purchased from Wayne Enterprises, perhaps? Hmmm?) The birds swarm into the jet intake and shut down the engines. The plane, flown by Ambassador Wolfman and the legless vampire (could they not find someone else in Transylvania to fly the plane?), crashes into the Atlantic. All is well, except for the Congressional investigation, of course.

And then there's the matter of foreign aid. According to Eagle Free, America always helps rebuild the countries it defeats. So should they now use American dollars to rebuild the land of the living dead? That is, if they can find it?

I could tell them, don't bother. There were only two people in Transylvania anyway, and they were both on the plane.

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