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X-Presidents. Written by Robert Smigel and Adam McKay. Illustrated by Wachtenheim/Marianetti Animation. New York: Villard Books/Random House Comics, 2000. 78p. $12.95. ISBN 0-679-78362-8.


X-Presidents cover

Humor; political fiction; superheroes

Adults, older teens; language, sex

Ex-presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush are ignored and/or reviled until one fateful day at the Milton Berle Celebrity Senior Pro-Am Golf Tournament at Love Canal. "Mother Nature and Father Radiation have their emphatic say": a tornado hits a nuclear power plant and bestows incredible powers on the Federal Four. They meet at "a place of solitude where humans never venture... the Gerald Ford Library in Grand Rapids" and determine what to do with their new powers. Carter wants to help people, but the others decide to make money. The four join a roadside carnival, where they're a hit. However, when a petty thief makes off with a Whitesnake mirror, they can't be bothered to stop him--a decision they regret later, when the same man murders talk-show host John Davidson while he's showcasing the X-Presidents. Acting on the advice of Henry Kissinger, who appears to them via a hologram (because he doesn't want his wife to know where he is), they build themselves a secret HQ, carpet-bomb Cambodia, and take an other: "To fight injustice without a hitch, to help the helpless by helping the rich!" They also start a band a la the Archies.

Life quickly gets complicated when a giant robotic eagle eats George Will and an axe-filled tornado threatens a maternity ward--whose occupants turn out to be Mole People who immediately attack! Though the X-Presidents fight them off, they have to do some serious spin control (courtesy of Reagan) when they're seen beating up infants. Who's behind all the mayhem? The "United Villians for the Overthrow of America," including Imelda Marcos, Manuel Noriega, Moamar Khaddafi, Pol Pot's brain, Reptilio, Electrobrain, and several Russians. They've kidnapped Bill Gates to build their evil devices.

After a plot involving sharks fails to destroy the X-Presidents, the UVOA unleashes an even more formidable weapon: Imelda Marcos, posing as "Schoolgirl Margaret," who seduces Carter while he's working on a house for Habitat for Humanity. Their subsequent shenanigans are broadcast to the world, but everyone forgets when Reagan mind-melds with the world and erases their memories. Frustrated, the UVOA makes off with the Statue of Liberty, prompting the X-Presidents to attack David Copperfield, since he's been known to make it vanish before.... But of course he didn't do it! The X-Presidents eventually discover the UVOA and attack, but they're brought down when Electrobrain turns Khaddafi into vapor and they inhale his "evil Third World essence." There is an antidote... but it's crack cocaine! Can George W. Bush convince his reluctant father and the other X-Presidents to save themselves? (Of course he can.)

Things come to a head when the powers behind the UVOA turn out to be shiftless Communist atheist drug-using porno-reading flag-burning aliens. Can the X-Presidents fend off this ultimate threat with the help of the "greatest American heroes": General Schwartzkopf, Charlton Heston, Evil Knievel, Oliver North, and Bernhard Goetz? Where will the aliens take control of next--oh, no! Disney World! With its whole room of X-President robots!

Interspersed through the book are fake advertisements reminiscent of the crappy old ads you used to see in comics, except I can't remember seeing "Sugar Sport Jacket" or "Fake Dan Dierdorf Vomit" offered in a Marvel title, or an opportunity for kids to "Sell Magic Dirt to the Elderly," or "A Special Offer from the Ambiguously Gay Duo" and an interesting use for X-ray specs. There's even a letter page and a "Random House Bullpen" page. And every episode (there are four in the book) ends with an Archies-style song.

X-Presidents is crude, weird, graphic, frequently juvenile, completely irreverent, and, thank god, funny. Stuff like this is often everything but funny. But just from flipping through a few pages in the Tattered Cover (world's greatest bookstore, folks) I found myself chuckling, and that's always a good sign--I'm a tough laugh! And reading the whole thing was equally amusing, especially if you're up on your American politics. Smigel and McKay sneak all kinds of political in-jokes and catch phrases into the dialogue (e.g., Bush says, "Welcome to Operation Desert Whupass!"; Reagan yells, "Carter, set the hostages free, for once!"). Indeed, there are so many jokes that this book reminds me of the classic Airplane! movies: rapid-fire funnies, and if one doesn't work, the next one might.

Needless to say, the ex-Presidents aren't exactly well-rounded characters. Reagan is the leader and swears a lot; Bush kisses up to Reagan and has lots of sex with Barbara; Ford is reminiscent of Bill from King of the Hill; and Carter, whom the others dislike, is the most "kindly" of the bunch (he objects to the Republicans' plans to make money for themselves with their powers and is the only one not to laugh when Bill Gates is eaten by Socks the Cat). But half the reason this book is so funny is that the characters are so outrageous. At one point, Reagan walks out of one of the song sequences, yelling to Ford, "You wouldn't know a drum fill if it bit you in the ass!"

The art is crude and stiff, again reminiscent of those crummy old comics whose artists aren't revered these days. The faces are just good enough to make it possible to recognize the celebrities, though it helps when the dialogue identifies them! The artists certainly didn't shy away from outrageous images, like the... interesting... sex scene from Reagan's imagination. Those of you familiar with old superhero comics will also recognize the Presidents reenacting more "traditional" scenes, such as Ford riding through the waves by standing on two dolphins.

This book was an animated series on Saturday Night Live's TV Funhouse and has some plugs from comedians on the back cover. It's almost certainly gotta be funnier than the regular SNL stuff! Anyway, as a book it's definitely worth a look by people who like this sort of humor and, of course, people who watch the animated series. Heck, just a brief description of it to my parents made them want to see it. (Yes, we are a strange family.) Librarians in conservative areas, be prepared for controversy if you obtain this book! With its mix of mostly anti-Republican satire, fairly graphic sex scenes, and beloved conservative icons swearing at the drop of a hat and using drugs, X-Presidents is guaranteed to piss off almost everyone right-of-center. And one other caveat: although I thought this book was hilarious through two readings, it may not have a lot of return value. It has but a single extended joke, and once you get the joke, there's not much else there.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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