In the year 2036, the food stamp program is replaced by privately owned taco drones. You have to pay extra at the hospital for an ad-free experience. Corporations can run for public office because of a constitutional amendment that declares them to be people. And, a 19-year-old girl who works in a fast-food restaurant is elected president of the United States in the country’s first Twitter election.
That's how it is in DC Comics’ latest comic “Prez,” the third issue of which hits stands Wednesday. Written by Mark Russell (“God Is Disappointed In You”) with art by Ben Caldwell ("Convergence: Infinity Inc."), the political satire lampoons social media, celebrity candidates, the right wing and many other aspects of the political process. Thanks to Donald Trump, Deez Nuts and the role social media is playing in the election, this idiosyncratic comic's relevance has only increased since it was released in June.
"It’s been very amusing," Mark Russell said about the parallels between his comic and the current election. "I wrote it as science fiction, but it’s odd how prophetic it has become about the 2016 race."
"Prez" is about Beth Ross, a viral sensation whose presidential candidacy begins as a joke perpetrated by an online hacking group. Initially, no one takes her seriously, but in a runoff vote, she accidentally becomes America’s first teen president.
In the real world, the bombastic real estate mogul Donald Trump is leading the Republican candidate in polls despite many not taking his candidacy seriously. In North Carolina, real third-party candidate Deez Nuts received 9 percent of the vote in a theoretical election including Trump and Hillary Clinton in the state.
Though there are similarities between "Prez" and what's going in the real election, they are coincidental, because Russell writes the scripts for the comic months in advance. Russell says the political satire in "Prez" is inspired by things he reads and trends he notices. For example, the Corporate Personhood amendment was inspired by the Citizens United case. However, Russell is more interested in the book's science fiction aspects.
“I very much wanted this to be first and foremost science fiction,” Russell said. “I think I have planned far enough in advance that I’m not entirely influenced by what’s going on in the news.”
The concept of America’s first teen president isn’t a new one for DC Comics. In the 1970s, Captain America co-creator Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti created “Prez: First Teen President.” Although the series only lasted four issues, Prez Rickard has appeared in Neil Gaiman's "Sandman” and Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Strikes Again." In this new incarnation of “Prez,” he becomes Beth’s vice president.
In "Prez" No. 3, titled "Adventures in Cabinetry," Beth begins to assemble her cabinet -- in a way no president ever has before. "Because she didn’t know any politicians [beforehand] or doesn't owe anyone favors, she can actually put smart people in her cabinet, actual experts and thinkers," he said.
With the character of Beth Ross, Russell is hoping to explore what would happen if an "everyman" were thrust into this ridiculous situation. He thinks someone like Beth, if given the chance, could accomplish great things because the person would have more latitude to take chances, do what he or she thought was right, and because re-election would not be an issue, the person wouldn't care what others think.
The America of 2036 is hyper-conservative. In addition to corporate personhood and taco drones, the real world has been invaded by digital and social media and corporate advertisements. This depiction of the future is similar to those we've seen in science fiction movies and television shows like Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" and the BBC's "Black Mirror." It's also an expression of how Russell feels about our present.
"The spaces of private reflection and private thought are getting smaller and smaller because we’re constantly bombarded from social media and targeted ads and digital media," Russell said. "We’re constantly being informed about an agenda that’s not our own. Our consciousness is constantly in a state of being hijacked. I really wanted to make that the point that, if taken to its natural conclusion, does this mean you’re going to have to pay extra when you go to a hospital to have an ad-free experience?"
As " Prez " unfolds, we'll see Beth tackle poverty, racism and prison overpopulation. The fourth issue will deal with the modern version of drone warfare, which is actually fought by remote-controlled robots. The overarching conflict will be between President Ross and the allied forces of the Colonels and Boss Smiley, a revamped version of the character from the original series who is now the corrupt CEO of the world's largest corporation.