Prez #4, Joe Simon

Prez #4, February-March 1974

“Vampire in the White House”

Script: Joe Simon

Pencils: Jerry Grandenetti

Inks: Creig Flessel

Prez Rickard is in the Republic of Moravia, where he is publicly thanked for the US aid that has enabled the building of a new canal. Finally the Moravians will be able to irrigate their crops and “bathe [their] bodies.”

Back in the White House, Prez receives an unexpected visitor: a werewolf! The teen orders the army to capture it, but it proves too difficult and the struggle goes on all through the early hours until the sun rises and the wolfman transforms back into a human. He is the ambassador of Transylvania, the country that neighbours Moravia, and he feels the US has done Transylvania a great wrong: the Moravian canal has emptied the country’s lakes and reservoirs. Prez says that the canal must stay. The wolfman then declares war on the US by the authority of his boss: Count Dracula the First!

 

A crisis meeting in Washington reveals that Transylvania is a country of the living dead, against which the army knows of no defence. That night, as Prez sleeps, Count Dracula himself appears—he was carried into the White House inside the case of the wolfman. Now he wheels himself around on a cart using his hands for propulsion as his legs are strapped beneath him. He leaps onto Prez’s bed, but Eagle Free suddenly appears to save the day.

Dracula reveals that he has been left crippled by all the stakings he’s suffered over the centuries, but he remains indestructible. He throttles Prez, but Eagle Free flashes a sign of the hooked cross, and Dracula flees, his wheels clickety-clacking on the floor tiles.

The next morning the Moravian ambassador tells Prez of Dracula’s plot, “a plot so horrible that it defies belief!” It seems that the lord of the undead has infected bats with rabies and is intent on flying a plane to release the deadly cargo over the capitol! If unstopped, thousands of Americans will die! Prez addresses a session of Congress, but no one believes his story—and his opponents call for a federal investigation of his administration. While Prez is forced to play politics, Eagle Free suggests a suicide attack.

Prez laughs at this, knowing that the military won’t listen to him, but Eagle Free says that he doesn’t need planes, just birds. Across the Potomac river, the pair visit the FBI chief’s teepee. There, Eagle Free performs a sacred ceremony for the birds he has lined up, and sends them on their way. “It’s uncanny they way you’re able to communicate with the wild creatures,” says Prez as the birds fly high into the sky. They intercept Dracula’s aeroplane just as it approaches America’s shoreline, swarming into the craft’s air intake—“SPLAT! CRUNCH!—and the plane falls into the sea.

Back at the White House, Prez celebrates Dracula’s defeat. However, Eagle Free ponders an uneasy question: “If Transylvania surrenders, do we send American dollars to build her up again, as we have done with our vanquished throughout history?”

Prez shudders…

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The sight of a crippled Dracula wheeling himself by his hands all around the White House is disturbing and memorable. I wonder if Simon had recently seen the film The Good, The Bad and the Ugly on TV, as it features a similarly afflicted soldier.

As silly as it appears on the surface, the story asks some difficult political questions about US foreign policy, which was disturbing some people even forty years ago. However, Simon is keen to point out that the US often does a lot of good in the world, once again, perhaps, a case of the writer wanting to have his cake and eat it. And, remember, Joe Simon at the time was not some young student keen to score political points, he was 60 years old—Prez, despite appearances to the contrary, is quite a radical comic. Simon just hides the politics in knockabout silliness, in much the same way that Gene Roddenberry used the trappings of science fiction to covertly comment on concerns of the day in Star Trek. Which is not to say that Prez is a great comic—it’s not—but Simon was at least making an effort to say something meaningful. Surely one can’t miss the intent behind a flock of doves sacrificing themselves to save a nation…

The artistic pairing of old Simon buddies Grandenetti and Flessel is not a pretty one, their styles clashing awkwardly. The storytelling shines through, however, proving that one doesn’t actually have to be particularly gifted artistically in order to make good comics. The whole Prez/Dracula sequence is a masterclass in panel composition and layout.

So, that was that for the Prez. Failing to set the world alight, this fourth issue was the last.

Well, the last to see print anyway…

Images #2012 DC Comics