Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Meet The Prez

by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando

In the words of the venerable Nanki-Poo (re: Gilbert and Sullivan's THE MIKADO): "... now comes the blow."

From the man who gave you the infamous BROTHER POWER, THE GEEK: it's "The First Teen President of the U.S.A." -- Joe Simon's PREZ #1!

Joe Simon's work for DC Comics, Inc. in the late '60's all the way through the middle '70's was, really and truly -- and I say this as a genuine admirer of the man's earlier contributions to the medium, overall -- pretty much characterized by one unremittingly lame and awful comics concept after another, in puny, piddling parade. The golden creative "touch" once so manifestly evident in the man who (along with Jack "King" Kirby) co-created such classic series' as CAPTAIN AMERICA; FIGHTING AMERICAN; THE NEWSBOY LEGION; and BOY'S RANCH was, by this point in his long and (justly) storied career, a thing of the distant past; no more "real" to the readers of the day, first hand, than might have been Prohibition, or the rape of the Sabine women.

"Oh, Say Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave...?" [PREZ #1; August, 1973; Joe Simon, writer; Jerry Grandenetti, artist] is as demonstrable and inarguable evidence in support of this position as can possibly be imagined, short of a handwritten note on Mr. Simon's behalf, in large, block lettering, reading: "I @#$%ing Quit, All Right?"

"If the little town of Steadfast was famous for anything at all -- " (the opening caption informs us) " -- it would be for the number of its clocks... on every steeple, in every shop and home, there was a clock..."

(... as opposed, of course, to all those other cities and hamlets throughout the nation where such was not the case, one supposes. Clocks and wristwatches being artifacts of genuine scarcity in such bucolic cowtowns as [say] Los Angeles; New York City; and Chicago. I'm just sayin' here, is all...)

"Prez Rickard is head of the local stock car club," the narrative continues, as we are transported, willy-nilly, to the local race track. "His sleek racer, 'The Lollipop,' is usually in front of the pack."

("The Lollipop," f'chrissakes -- ?!? Oh, yeah: here's a lusty, brawling, two-fisted action hero I wanna get to know better, by golly...!)

(I mean: where do you suppose Speed Racer would be today, collective consciousness-wise, if he'd named his mean machine "The Lollipop," for the luvva Odin? Or if the Batman had -- even so much as once, mind -- been forced to utter the words: "Quick, Robin! To the Lollipop" -- ?!? The rest of The Justice League would have spent days kicking his silly poofy hinder all up and down the streets of Gotham City and back again, awright?)

(SUPERMAN [sternly]: "Outta the car, perv-boy... now."

(BATMAN [doing the "grim manstalker" thing]: "Gotham is my city, mister. My law; my order."

(J'ONN J'ONZZ [addressing Robin, seated on passenger's side of "The Lollipop"]: "Talk to us, son. We're here to help you."

(ROBIN [lower lip quivering; voice choked with emotion]: "... oh, God... it was just the fruity little short pants, at first, right...? I could've lived with that; Gotham's a freakin' brick oven, come July, August..."

(BATMAN [rounding on the Boy Wonder; furious]: "Shut your pie- hole, you filthy little tramp -- !"

(ROBIN [continuing; lost in shame and memory]: "... but then it was: 'Oh, but you have such beautiful legs, Old Chum! You should keep then shaven and oh-so-silky smoooooooth... same as I do'..."

(BATMAN [to scowling JLAers]: "He just jumped into the car. Never even saw the little hooker before today. Swear to Jesus."

(ROBIN [staring off fixedly into the middle distance]: "...nasty little rubber 'surprises' always showing up in my utility belt... dropping his pants every night at the dinner table and cooing: 'Oh, look; it's the Bat- Signal'... you don't even wanna know what he keeps hidden behind that giant penny, back in the cave..."

(BATMAN [through clenched teeth]: "You. Hateful. Sow."

(No... I have no idea why I write these things, either.)

In any event: no two clocks in Steadfast are capable of keeping the same time, apparently (which is pretty darned weird in and of itself, come to think) -- a fact which consternates the lad no end, since (as he so succinctly parses it): " ... if the clocks aren't on time, how do we know when it's Election Day?" -- Our Young Prez, therefore, takes it upon himself to act as a sort of one-boy tick-tock "repair man," in order that he and his fellow teens might not be disenfranchised, politically speaking.

(Yes, yes... I know; I know none of this actually makes any real storytelling sense, thus far, okay? That's pretty much the point here, y'know? I mean: we aren't covering the O'Neil/Adams issues of GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW in this section, after all. Try to keep up, willya...?)

Soooooooo: Prez busies himself with cogs and gears and mainsprings and I don't know what all; waging a lonely, desperate campaign against the forces of Universal Entropy, or somesuch. (This is what happens when there isn't a thriving, viable drug culture to keep our young people off the streets and out of cheap, dingy pawn shops, by God. Your children, Mr. and Mrs. America. Is the next caller there, please...?)

This particular meta- fictive circus, however, has more than just one clown in its storytelling funny car.

We cut to "Central City, U.S.A." -- which bears pretty much the same uncanny resemblance to the decades-long stomping grounds of noted Silver Age DC hero Barry (FLASH) Allen, really, as does your greying and crotchety Unca Cheeks to film actress Nicole Kidman -- and discover it to be a sort of "anti-Steadfast": venal, filthy, despairing and corrupt in every particular.

(My absolute fave-fave-favorite over-the-top one panel "moment" on this particular page is the final one; where a scowling, slum-dwelling denizen goggles incredulously at a letter from some nameless government agency and states, thunderstruck: "Boss Smiley wants me to pay him welfare...?" I can't even imagine the sort of auctorial chutzpah requisite to penning something like that with a perfectly straight face, for pity's sake.)

That's right: "Boss Smiley."

As we watch a horde of "young people [demonstrating] to protest the corruption which runs rampant through the slum-ridden metropolis" being savaged and mauled by a phalanx of club-swinging policemen, a trio of suit-and-tie types likewise observe the carnage taking place and exposit thusly:

Fatcat #1: "That's the only way to handle those punk kids!"

Fatcat #2: "Wait till [sic] Boss Smiley sees this... breaking heads makes him so happy!"

Fatcat #3: "Ain't that the truth? Boss Smiley is the meanest, most vicious man in the world!"

Fatcat #2: "That's what makes him so successful!"

(... omigawd... "Boss Smiley" is really Bill Gates -- ?!?)

That's a cue for your standard Comic Book Baddie to make a big-time dramatic entrance, Stage Right if ever I heard one... and, sure enough: heeeeeeeere he comes!

What... you were expecting Darkseid, maybe...?

"LOOK, BOSS!" one of Boss Smiley's yes-men carols. "BLOOD! Ain't it grand -- ?"

"Idiots!" the mayor of Slum City snarls, casually back- handing Fatcat #3 right through the closed window AND SENDING HIM PINWHEELING TOWARDS HIS BLOODY, PAINFUL DEMISE ON THE PAVEMENT BELOW. (We wouldn't see that level of chill, naked brutality associated with the image of the ubiquitous "smiley face" emblem again until the first issue of Alan Moore's WATCHMEN, nearly twenty years later.)

"Those kids can clobber us where it hurts most... in the ballot box!" the savvy politico counsels. "Ain't you heard that the eighteen-year-olds have the vote now? They've even passed an amendment that lets the kids run for Congress!" (Say what -- ?!?)

"We've got to have a candidate that can relate to those stupid kids," Der Smilester concludes. "Someone young, ambitious and pliable!" (Unca Cheeks would like to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to nominate those inexplicably popular pre-adolescent twin songbirds, Mary-Kate and Ashley. Projected Campaign Slogan: "... look... you want IT TAKES TWO off the air, don'cha...?")

For reasons which passeth all human understanding, however: Boss Smiley elects, instead, to seek out the comparative sagacity of one "Misery Marko, the Advertising Genius" -- a squat, balding. toadish man who works and resides steeped in industrial toxic waste, since (in the argot of Boss Smiley) "Misery thinks best when he's unhappy -- he's a true genius!"

(Characterizing anyone involved with this hellish four-color sarsaparilla as "a true genius" -- whether fictional character, or real-life creator -- is roughly akin to terming Stephen Hawking as "one hell of a triathlete.")

"Our candidate has to have a gimmick!" Misery instructs Smiley and his men. "Look back at history -- Mussolini made the trains run on time -- Ghandi stopped the trains -- Lincoln freed the slaves -- !"

(This may well be the first [and only] recorded instance in mainstream American comics of ruthless fascism; adult diaper wearing; and/or civil war being regarded as political "gimmicks," in all honesty. Makes you wonder how far you could take this approach, "spin"-wise: "Adolph Hitler made his mark in the day camp industry... the Borgias were noted nutritionists... Nero popularized the use of lighters during live musical performances...")

"These punk kids never did nothin', Boss!" one of Smiley's fatcats smugly avers.

"Here's one who did -- " Misery responds, holding up a copy of that noted journalistic beacon and icon, The Steadfast Times. (The headline on said broadsheet reads: "PREZ RICKARD Repairs Town Clocks"; boy... talk about your slow news days, huh...?)

"I can see it now," Misery muses. "Vote For Prez Rickard -- He'll Give You the Right Time!"

******

CUT TO: a dimly-lit cavern, somewhere in the vast, uncharted wilds of the great American midwest. Unca Cheeks is garbed in skin-tight black spandex -- and looking pretty darned fetching, too, I must say -- with two bandoliers of bullets criss-crossing his chest; and a skull emblem glowering ferociously from his mesomorphic chest. Unca Cheeks sits at a scarred and massive oaken desk, scribbling furiously into a leather volume; a single, guttering candleflame at one elbow.

UNCA CHEEKS [muttering to himself as he writes]: "... Cheeks' War Journal... Year Three of my holy, one-man jihad against the four-color forces of darkness... blood and ruination... found another small child the other day, in an alleyway... dead... sightless eyes, staring inward; a copy of PREZ #1 still clutched in one tiny, nerveless hand. Plus: my spandex is bunching up on me again. Damn you, Joe Simon, you soulless monster! DAMN YOU -- !"

******

... and yet, they allow me to raise children. Go figure, huh?

Okay. So: Boss Smiley and his posse make the Steadfast scene, paying a smarmy sort of "courtesy call" on the idiotically beaming, excruciatingly sincere Prez Rickard. (Remember him...?)

"By the way, boy," Boss Smiley inquires, not unreasonably; "... where did you get a name like Prez?"

The young Prez -- who (apparently) doesn't find the notion of a man with a head shaped like an overlarge pie plate all that terribly unsettling, really -- responds as follows [Pick One]:

A.) "When I was born, my Mom said 'Someday, this baby will be President!' So she named me Prez!"

B.) "Christ, Buddy... as blitzed as she was the night I showed up, I'm just damned grateful I didn't end up with 'Old Grandad' scribbled onto my birth certificate, y'know...?"

C.) "... look... it's not as if those [expletive deleted]s over at the Federal Witness Relocation Program gave me a whole lotta choice in the matter, once they finally dug up that busload of nuns and orphans, awright... ?"

D.) [turning to address the reader; rolling his eyes]: "... and this, mind you, from some beachball-headed mutant by the name of 'Boss Smiley.' Shyeah. Right."

E.) "It's a ceremonial word amongst my people, meaning 'He-Who-Is-

Destined-To-Lay-Eggs-In-Your-Thorax-and-Wreak-Total-Devastation-

Unto-Your-Entire-Worthless-Mongrel-Species.' I'm from... ummmmm... Canada."

Jump ahead in the narrative once again, and we watch as Boss Smiley and his cronies tool their way down the highway in the former's Caddy, congratulating themselves on their overall political perspicacity.

"Your fish swallowed the bait, Boss," one sycophant crows, in (vicarious) triumph. "He'll be a great 'front' for us!"

"I'm not so sure," Smiley responds, pensively. "I get the impression that kid has a strong character -- high ideals, and all that garbage!"

... and -- as Smiley and his bohunk brain trust mull over that potential complication -- they are observed, in turn, by... by...

... well: it's really better if you see this one for yourselves, quite frankly.

I'll tell ya straight, campers and camperettes: your doting and responsible ol' Unca Cheeks couldn't make up stuff this blamed cockeyed even if he freakin' tried.

"I have a strange foreboding, my friends," the mysterious figure intones -- who, from his long, ebon locks; the eagle's feather affixed to same, by means of a cunningly hand-crafted headband; and leather breeches and moccasins, I take to be a Swedish émigré (no flies on me, boy) -- "... that our little island of nature will never be the same again!"

(...and, check it out, willya? Mr. "Last-of-the-Mohicans," here, is hangin' out with [among other creatures of passing interest] a gorilla; a zebra; and a @#$%ing elephant, f'chrissakes! An ELEPHANT! Just where, precisely, in this country is the tiny hamlet of "Steadfast" supposed to be located, again...?)

In any event -- enigma-shrouded Jay Silverheels wannabes aside -- Smiley's agenda proceeds apace, and the cheerfully oblivious Prez is maneuvered closer, ever closer to the seat of power (i.e., the United States Senate)... and (the following caption provides): "The plans for [Smiley's] super-highway are set... it is the day of the ceremony to launch the construction of the road to Steadfast."

"Ladies and gentleman," an unnamed (and unctuous) Master of Ceremonies enthuses, in phrasing that fairly rings of "Tupelo Junior Chamber of Commerce"; "... our popular candidate for Senator will now release the dynamite charge to begin Boss Smiley's greatest achievement -- the super-highway to Steadfast, U.S.A. -- BIGGEST LITTLE COMMUNITY IN THE COUNTY!"

The aforementioned dynamite is detonated by Our Brain Dead Boy Politico; the county dam promptly explodes (apparently, this is all part of Boss Smiley's Master Plan); and the peaceful forestland thereabouts (inexplicably) flames into a raging inferno (water being a known combustible in the DC Universe, is all I can figure. Sure as hell makes me respect the holy heck outta Aquaman, boy; tell you that much for stone free.)

"The Dam Is Going!" the Amer-Ind lurker-in-the-shadows exclaims, leading his fuzzy forest friends in a pell-mell charge to safety. "It happened sooner than I thought! Luckily, we're prepared, my brothers!"

(... and you all actually wonder why Unca Cheeks keeps himself this here "War Journal" in the first bloody place...!)

Said "preparation" -- Jesus whack me with a stick if I lie -- takes the unbelievable form of a large, makeshift ark, by means of which the forest refugees and their human helpmeet ride their collective way, via tidal wave, towards (comparative) safety... and Boss Smiley's unguarded construction site.

In fanged, hooved and/or clawed collective, the combined might of elephants; polar bears; velociraptors; and a Pushmi-Pullyu or three are brought to bear against stationary and unmanned bulldozers and whatnot; resulting in an enraged Boss Smiley shrieking at a plainly thunderstruck Prez to "STOP THEM! THEY'RE CRAZY! They're ruining my machinery!"

"What a weird scene!" Prez muses, hot-footing it after the [now] -fleeing Zoo Crew. "An Indian kid, with a crew of four-footed wreckers! Got to see what this is all about -- !"

Craftily, the "Indian kid" manages to elude the steadfast stalker from Steadfast by dint of the old Native American ruse of hiding nine thousand and twelve animals from wildly disparate ecologies within one large-ish cavern, and then sealing the entrance to same with one great, honkin' boulder. (Granted, these are 1940's "Merrie Melodies" cartoon Amer-Inds I'm thinking about, here; still... the principle remains the same, I think.)

There's simply no overestimating the native cunning of a man who drives a Lollipop, however; and the plucky Prez figures out which way the spoor is falling long enough to discover said egress and slip his way in...

... just in time, in fact, to get his little kiddie keister kicked and kicked hard by the Amer-Ind's malcontent menagerie.

"My name is Eagle Free," the sullen Child of Nature informs a flabbergasted Prez. "I live here, in this shelter, where my forefathers lived for thousands of years -- before the White Man came to poison the forests, the streams and the air -- "

(Intriguingly enough, there are -- plainly evident, in the foreground of the final panel -- examples of crude flint beakers; a crude flint Bunsen burner; and a scattering of crude flint advanced science texts. Just so none of you little cynics get to entertaining the silly notion that author Joe Simon doesn't have Clue One, re: this whole "historical verisimilitude" business, I mean. And, remember: they couldn't print it if it wasn't true.)

"I know what you're thinking," Eagle Free continues, re-positioning the massive chip on his shoulder for easier viewing. "You're thinking -- that I'm little more than an animal myself." To which Prez responds, in turn:

A.) "That's uncanny! It's true! How did you know what I was thinking?"

B.) "Can you get me Buffy Sainte-Marie's autograph...?"

C.) "Oh, yeah? Well... we didn't just 'poison the forest, the streams and the air,' Mister Smartyboots! We also killed off all the buffalo! Shows how much you know! HAH -- !"

D.) [staring around the cavern, perplexed]: Sooooo... like... where's the guy with the silver bullets and the mask...?"

E.) [staring avidly at the shirtless youth before him]: "Are you... ummmmm... seeing anyone, just now...?"

(There. Anyone left unoffended, by the time this entry is over: e-mail Unca Cheeks with the particulars of your given socio-political grouping or ethos. Everybody gets a ride on this party pony, by golly!)

Even so, however: I have some little ways to go, believe me, before I can cross tacky sabres with Mr. Simon. ("Yes... I am little more than an animal," Eagle Free assures Prez, without even so much as a scintilla of irony or self-awareness evident in so doing. And this comic, remember, was released in nineteen hundred and seventy-three.)

(... and, before anyone e-mails me the next logical query: the editor of this little meta-fictive abomination unto the eyes of both Man and God was a gent by the name of -- waaaaaaaiiiit for it, people -- Joe Simon. So: it's no good making faces and shaking fists at those Levitz or Giordano or Infantino fellers, you see. FYI.)

Informing a characteristically trusting Prez that his political mentor and patron, Boss Smiley, is "evil" and "corrupt," Eagle Free offers to prove said assertions to his newfound boon companion by leading him on a daring midnight "raid" on the fixer's high-rise penthouse headquarters.

There's some fairly pointless high-altitude acrobatics, at this point; intended, doubtless, to inject some wee dram or jigger of "drama" in a story which -- up to this point (demonstrably) -- has been as innocent of same as might be (say) your sainted grandmother of the latest Marilyn Maanson release. (I mean: one of these two guys is only the silly organization's anointed candidate, is all. Couldn't he just bloody waltz in, via the front door? We're talking a criminal "machine" organized and run by a guy named Boss Smiley, f'chrissakes; not Vandal Savage, or Darkseid. I'm just sayin' is all, here...)

"It's all true," a stunned Prez gasps, eyeing some particularly incriminating files. (Why do I get the eerie, unmistakable feeling that this here kid was pretty much born "stunned"... if you know what I mean?) "Payoffs, swindles, bribes! Smiley's whole system is a corrupt dictatorship!"

(Five bucks says uberstinker Smiley -- based upon the razor-keen criminal intellect he's displayed up 'til this point, at any rate -- obligingly kept those particular files under "P" [for Paybacks]; "S" [for Swindles]; and "B" [for Bribes], respectively. Any takers...?)

Well: the peeping pair are captured and confronted by Smiley and his gunsels, eliciting the following heated exchange betwixt contender and creepazoid:

PREZ: "You can believe this, Boss Smiley -- if I ever get into office, I'll see that you're through! You won't be able to fix a traffic ticket!"

SMILEY: "You'll never get the chance, boy! I'm renouncing you -- I'll get a new candidate! Someone smart... who will take orders!"

PREZ [triumphantly; as the gargantuan tower clock across the street sets to tolling the hour]: "You're too late, Smiley... IT'S ELECTION DAY!"

(This sequence is followed, hard a-heel, by a breathless "BULLETIN" reading as follows: "All over the country, young voters turn out to elect their peers to national office! Political machines feaar that the halls of Congress will be controlled by youth!" This dire harbinger of political apocalypse is accompanied by a sketch of Congress being presided over by [best guesstimate; left to right] "Lionel," from The Jeffersons; noted comics scripter Gerry Conway; and leading mega-junkie David Crosby. So, you see: this whole "Rock The Vote" business does come, hand-in- hand, with its attendent "down" side, as well.)

"After the youth of America gained a majority in Congress" (Simon informs us; scarcely even bothering with the pretense of a straight auctorial "face," now that Page 23 has made its glacial appearance); "... they voted an amendment [sic] to the Constitution which would lower the required age of the President from thirty-five to eighteen." (!!)

"Senator Prez Rickard, running on the new Flower Party ticket [CHEEKS' ASIDE: "... in 1973...?!?"], upset both the Republican and Democratic candidates to win the Presidency, after a 'Truth and Love' campaign which polarized the generations!" (... to say nothing of the firestorm of shattered lives; ruined reputations; and personal self- destruction engendered by the infamous "LollipopGate" scandals of said era...)

The final page of this extended exercise in shameless and unmitigated comics hackery shows us an indignant Eagle Free, pointing to "the new Funk and Wagner history book, Mr. President"; with said tome summing up the story we've just read as follows: "THE PREZ: Prez Rickard. President of the United States, swept into office in a youth blitz after an undistinguished career." (Which -- hell; let's face it -- is considerably more charitable than anything I'd planned on penning, in retrospect.)

"Talk about history," [now-] F.B.I. Chief (!!) Eagle Free confides to the President-Elect. "The next issue will be more exciting than anything ever recorded!"

"You mean the next history book?" the clueless-to-the-bitter-end Prez inquires.

"I mean the next issue of this comic book, Mr. President," comes the determinedly delusional reply.

Not even if you blackmailed Grant Morrison into writing and Barry Windsor-Smith into providing pencils for the @#$%ing thing, you little nimrods.

Consider this my own, personal "veto," boys.

[Unca Cheeks stands up; motions for the camera to pan in for an Extreme, Waist-High Close-Up; unceremoniously drops his trousers.]

Oh, yeah. And that goes double for you, Mr. Simon.

 
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This piece is © 2002 by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando
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