This week, DC Comics offers up a pair of trade paperbacks that present a distorted, funhouse mirror reflection of the current state of American society as well as a skewered look at the ideas of what it means to be a hero and a friend.
The story takes place during the presidential election of 2036. Sometime between today and that future, the Corporate Personhood Amendment abolishes the age requirements for holding elected positions in this country. The problem is that the two political parties controlling the political landscape–or the corporate conglomerates bankrolling said parties–can’t find two puppet candidates scandal-less enough to parade in front of voters.
With wage inequality at an all-time high, a deadly cat flu epidemic killing thousands who can’t afford the most basic medical services, a military complex using fear and violence to increase their ever-inflating budgets for remote drones, everyone wanting their piece of the pie, and the masses entertained by outlandish reality television contests, teenager Beth Ross gains fame when the video of her workplace blunder goes viral. Disgusted by the jokers that the political and corporate establishment present as presidential candidates, hacker group Anonymous (the first non-geographic nation recognized by the UN) throws their weight behind “Corndog Girl.”
Neither of the Big Two candidates can garner enough votes to win office. Politicians on both sides swap political and corporate favors with less thought than my eleven-year-old son puts into potential Pokemon card trades. As members of the House of Representatives use their votes as leverage for more, more, MORE!, someone loses track of the way the votes are piling up and Beth is accidentally elected as President of the United States.
Although, maybe Beth being elected wasn’t a complete accident after all…
The rest of the book focuses on Beth’s first few days (weeks?) in office. This is the story of a true outsider finding herself in the highest office in the land and being hamstrung at every turn by the system that she is now leading. Her heart is in the right place and she wants to do right both by her constituents, which she’s never had before, and by those around the world harmed by the US’s stepping all over them in an effort to achieve global dominance.
The writing is fast and witty. No one is safe from being skewered. Part of the fun is deciphering who in the real world connects with his or her comic character proxy. The antagonist of the original series, Boss Smiley, is re-imagined here as a Jeff Bezos-type of leader of an Amazon-type of company, but the comic never goes so far to put itself in danger of liable or defamation.
The largest issue I have with the story is that Beth, for all her good intentions, is unable to really achieve meaningful change. It is only through the help of a deus ex machina in the form of Delaware multi-billionaire/Congressman Frank Wayne that Beth is able to punch back at the political brass attempting to thwart her every move and hand over what’s left of the nation and the liberties of its citizens to the highest bidder. In fact, it makes Beth into little more than those who she “defeated” for the position–a puppet out there dancing on stage while a rich white guy pulls the strings. Regardless of where she falls on the political spectrum, in the course of the first six issues of the series collected here, Beth goes from a nobody to outsider-on-the-inside to the impotent puppet president who relies on someone else’s money to move her agenda.
The art in this book is over the top. Never subtle. The bold use of symbols and colors is perfectly unsettling, as it should be in this book. Beth’s rebel aesthetic wonderfully depicts her as an outsider. You can feel the smarm radiating from the good ol’ boys in office. The seemingly benign corporate logos hide the faces of the heartless corporate heads, making them that much more disconnected from the world around them.
My last word on PREZ is this… you can’t talk about this book without talking about our current socio-political situation. At a time when clout is measured by number of followers on social media and authority on a subject is determined by re-tweets, when reality TV stars are political front-runners, when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing day by day and the Powers That Be sell off tomorrow for a higher approval rating tonight, this book comes along and shows us what we could become twenty years from now. PREZ is on-point in that we need to shake things up and look outside the establishment for new answers to old questions. My only hope is that when we get those answers, we’re not forced to sell our idealism for the funds to make those envisioned answers a reality.
Recommendation: A good book for a variety of readers, not the least of which include those looking for a strong female lead with an empowering “no matter who you are, you can change the world” message and those interested in our current socio-political climate. I wouldn’t suggest this book for those younger than junior high or high school age, but think that the metaphors contained within the book would be especially powerful for that age group and up.
Up next is Bizarro, a collection of the the comics of the same name, #6-1, by writer Heath Corson and artist Gustavo Duarte. Wait, shouldn’t that be Bizarro #1-6? Nope. It’s Bizarro, after all.
My experience with the character of Bizarro comes from comics and other media where he is the opposite of Superman. A villain, in the way that the Reverse-Flash is the opposite of The Flash. This collection sees Bizarro not as a villain, but as an alien with good intentions, but unable to channel those intentions into the proper heroic actions. Bizarro is imagined more like a young man in the throes of puberty. He has a hard time articulating what he says in a way that others can understand. He’s physically and socially awkward. And, in spite of the words coming out of his mouth, all he wants is to be accepted.
The premise of the story is simple. Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are hanging around the water cooler at the Daily Planet, spit-balling ideas about how to strike it big. We’ve all done some variation of the same thing, I’m sure. That’s when Clark tosses out the million-dollar idea. Take Bizarro to “Bizarro-America” (Canada). Chronicle the road trip. Make a coffee table book out of it.
So, Jimmy sets out to do just that.
I’ll not ruin the plot for you, but suffice it to say that Bizarro is the most fun I’ve had reading comics in a long time. There’s not a single thing wrong in this book. The writing is spot on. I can’t imagine the amount of time and energy that went into writing the dialogue between Bizarro and… well, anyone he speaks with. The character designs are brilliant, making the book suitably cartoonish and accessible to readers of all ages. Each page feels like a treasure hunt; there is something in just about every panel to make you smile. This team could almost make a book just following Collin, Bizarro’s pet “chupacabra,” as he tags along on the adventure.
In the end, Jimmy has to face what it means to be a friend, particularly to someone perpetually on the outside like Bizarro. As a parent of a child with Asperger’s, I felt a connection with Jimmy’s journey in this book. At the same time, Bizarro has to learn how to let others be his friend and accept him for who he is, as well as what it means to be a hero.
Recommendation: Anyone who enjoys fun. Seriously, unless you have a crippling allergic reaction when it comes to joy, then grab a copy of this book. I can’t recommend Bizarro highly enough. If you can read, you need to get your hands on this book. If someone you love can’t read, then you need to get your hands on this book and read it to them while he or she soaks in the illustrations.
Both PREZ and Bizarro are on sale today. Pick up your copy online or wherever trade paperbacks are sold near you.
Disclaimer: A copy of each book was provided for review. The opinions contained in this article are my own.
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