Prez #2 (October-November, 1973)
"Invasion of the Chessmen"
by Joe Simon & Jerry Grandenetti
Cover Price: $0.20
If there are two things I'm passionate about in this world, it's chess and politics. Okay, it's neither of those things... but we're going to discuss a book having to do with both anyway! I guess I can use this as my President's
Prez was one of the first handful of books Reggie and I discussed on the Cosmic Treadmill... however, at that point I'd only ever read the first issue. As we enter the second issue, our man has already assumed the highest office in the land and assembled his cabinet.
Let's watch as he brushes aside the troubles of the war-zone called Earth to focus his attention on the World Chess Championship!
We open with Prez and Eagle Free on "Good Will" tour of the globe. It is their goal to spread peace worldwide. Noble endeavor it may be, it doesn't change the fact that every stop on this tour looks like a war-zone. Prez is completely ignorant to this fact... not noticing planes being blown out of the sky and even suggesting a hail of explosions in their wake is the result of a "twenty gun salute" and not just angry folks.
They return home to the good ole' U.S. of A., to address the United Nations. The streets of New York City are just as war-torn as the rest of the world. Whoops. After delivering his four-word speech, he returns to Washington, D.C. His speech? Simply put, "Peace in our time!" It should be noted that it is here that Prez (and the reader) learns that Prez's security detail includes a whole lotta Prez Rickard lookalikes... that'll be important in a bit.
Prez arrives back at the White House. His sister... secretary... sistertary informs him that Robbie Fishhead, the odd chess champion... who calls himself Chessking, is currently waiting for him in the... ahem, Groove Room. Prez enters, and hoo boy it's a psychedelic scene... Chessking is having a game with the Vice President, Prez's own mother, Martha! It is a bit weird, but Prez addresses her by name... did I say weird? I meant annoying.
Anyhoo, Chessking easily "checkmates" Ms. Martha... and so she turns her attention to her boy. Prez is bugged by her doting, and tells her to lay off. He then congratulates Chessking on his recent victory over the Russian chess champion. As Fishhead leaves, he is met by a throng of reporters... being the braggadocious git that his is, he trash-talks the "Ruskies" and challenges them to another match, if they front a million bucks. Oh, he also denies using hypnosis to win the first match. Hmm...
Word spreads quickly all the way to the Iron Curtain. The Russians are none too pleased at Bobby Fischerrrr.... Robbie Fishhead's unkind words... and so, they accept his challenge. He will face the Russian Queen Errant... which is a ridiculous, but fun name.
The match is set, and Prez Rickard will be in attendance. This is where this already wacky book becomes even more so... the chess match takes place on a hyooge board... with live "pieces". Queen Errant's Oberon-ish aide, Krudnik reminds her not to forget the "poison pawn". More on that later.
The match rolls on... however, Krudnik is somehow getting under Fishhead's skin with the ticking of a pocket watch. He deduces that the Russian Coach is using "electronic rays" on him... and so, he goes nuts and starts bashing his opponents... this gets him disqualified, and so the Russians win! An aggravated Prez walks out, promising to conduct a full investigation.
The next morning, the Capitol is invaded by mechanical chess pieces... which blow up several monuments! This is pretty hardcore, right? This ain't gonna look good for our teen-age Commander in Chief!
During an emergency session of Congress, the blustery old coot Senator Ebeneezer expresses concern that the "whippersnapper" ain't cuttin' the mustard. He threatens Prez with impeachment proceedings before storming off. Prez requests his mother contact Eagle Free... and so she does... sorta.
Prez decides he wants to visit Eagle Free off-site to discuss the threat, however, the Secret Service detail is tight... Prez may as well be a prisoner in his own (White) house. Remember we mentioned the lookalikes? Well, Prez remembers too. He sends a lookalike away in a car... then he strolls out of the White House posing as one of his own body doubles! It helps not to think about it too hard.
Prez dashes across D.C. to Eagle Free's... um, office. Make that, teepee... either way, they discuss strategy, among Free's "natural crime detection apparatuses".
That night, the pair head to the roof of the (oddly unguarded) Russian Embassy building. You'd have to figure there'd be at least one guard here, right? Anyhoo... they watch, and wait... until three more mechanical chessmen approach. Two of them head one way, while the third heads toward the Treasury... Prez and Free follow the lone one.
Unfortunately for Prez, and Eagle Free's avian friends, they fell for the ol' poison pawn trick. Not being a chess expert, I did a bit of reading. From what I've gleaned, the poison pawn is strategically placing a pawn in a capture-able spot, because if it is captured, the capturing piece is left in a less than advantageous spot. Probably not as hardcore as Screech Power's Spassky-Bishop block, but whattaya gonna do?
Prez and Eagle Free leap on the remaining, operational chessmen... but they cannot stop them. Prez comments that they're full of electrical energy... which causes Eagle Free to suggest they check in with the Power Company to see if they can track higher-than-normal power consumption on the grid... and so, they do.
And wouldn'tcha know it... the consumption is coming from the remote Silver Springs... home of Chessking! The intrepid teens head out... and hoo boy, wouldja just look at Chessking's house...
Prez and Free are surrounded by the chess-sentries before falling through a hole in the "board". This sends them down a shoot leading into Chessking's... um, dungeon? I mean, there're shackles on the wall! Anyhoo... it's here we find our "big bad", not the Chessking but the Queen Errant!
She pulls a gun on the teens... but then, Eagle Free's birds launch an attack... somehow (they are underground, right?)... causing her to drop her piece. Prez picks it up, and it's academic from there.
Prez returns home, and learns all of the money that was stolen by the electrical chessmen had been returned, minus a single dollar. Prez forks over the bill... which, has his face on it. I think I'm missing something here... Prez winks at us... but, I'm not getting what he's on about. Oh well.
We close with an epilogue... it's all about gun control... and ends with a shot being fired in the White House... uh oh!
Good gravy... this is a strange book!
I think I have an unconscious trigger that goes off whenever an issue is broken up into "chapters". Even if a given chapter runs only a handful of pages... it still makes a book feel so much longer than it is. I kinda feel like I breezed through this, however, when I think about the opening chess match... I'd swear it's been days since I read that! Weird seventies pacing.
I feel like the book dropped a bit of the more biting social commentary with this second issue. The premiere issue was downright dripping with it... here, it's still around, but not as in-your-face... then again, maybe I'm just too dense to realize when I'm being preached to... wouldn't be the first time! It is crazy to consider that a book about the President of the United States isn't nearly as political as much of the mainstream output these days... but, I'll quit my editorializing there.
The story here was just nutty... and a lot of fun! Chess as a full-contact, potentially violent, and nationalist endeavor is such a wild premise! The political intrigue we did get was well done as well, in the form of Prez's opposition seeking to being impeachment proceedings. There was even a bit of a swervy ending... I would've put money on Chessking being the big-bad! I dig being surprised, so that all worked for me.
The terroristic element was bizarre in a way that I thought for a moment that I was reading something that I shouldn't be. I'm not sure if that says more about the industry, or myself... but seeing Washington D.C. monuments destroyed by suicide-chessbots, seemed a bit, I dunno... extreme. Not bad, certainly... just a bit eye-opening for your humble blogger.
The art was great as well. So much surreality to behold here. From everywhere Prez visiting turning into a warzone, to Eagle Free's FBI headquarters, and even Chessking's front yard being a security-laden chessboard. Such weird imagery, but so well done.
I'd definitely recommend Prez to anyone interested in some weird comics. It only ran for four issues if you're into bin-hunting... if not, DC recently collected it in trade paperback format, along with a few goodies (and not-so-goodies, hello Vertigo Visions!). It's not a trade I own just yet... but it's definitely on my watch-list. The entire all-too-short run is also available digitally, if that's more your thing.
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