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Eagle Free in PREZ

One comic I never read from the 1970s was PREZ, about the first teenage president. A correspondent recently brought it to my attention:

Here's another one for you: Ever hear of "Eagle Free"?No. I didn't get PREZ when it came out, and it lasted only four issues. All I know about Prez comes from the SANDMAN issue he appeared in.I apologize if he is buried somewhere in the Blue Corn Comics site, but Google showed no connection and I cound not find a Search function for your site.There's no mention of Eagle Free on the site. Incidentally, there's no search function because most search serives charge you after 500 pages or require you to incorporate ads into their routine.He was a Native American comic book character in the comic series "Prez". Check this page:

Gone and Forgotten

and make sure to click on Eagle Free's name for a stereotype-laden panel.

Pretty bad! Did you check the other images at the bottom? Most of them feature Eagle Free. I actually read "Prez" when it first came out, and I would not be surprised if "Eagle Free" was the first Native character I ever encountered in comic books. I had forgotten about him until finding this Prez page today.

If he's not somewhere in the "Blue Corn Comics", I think he should be for completeness' sake.

According to the "Gone and Forgotten" site, Prez Rickard's campaign took off with Eagle Free's help:The clueless young Prez does as he is told, his eyes filled with senatorial stars, until he gets wised up and hepped to the deal by go-go Native American Eagle Free. Turning his back on Smiley, Prez nails his former benefactor to the wall and--riding the newly appointed teen vote and the publicity high of ruining the infamous Smiley--finds himself whisked into the White House! While there, Prez becomes an ambassador for peace, love, understanding, and fighting vampires.Once Prez got elected, the fun continued:Prez was assisted in his ludicrous adventures by the aforementioned Eagle Free, now Director of the FBI, and by his gargantuan vice-president Martha (no last name given).Another website notes how Eagle Free operated:Eagle Free maintained his FBI office in a tepee in a lightly wooded area on the Potomac, within easy walking distance of the White House, where he was attended by monkeys, wolves, bears, even a gorilla and an elephant, but didn't have a telephone.Judging by the posted images, Eagle Free was badly stereotypical. I'd say people didn't know any better then, but comics had already given us Wyatt Wingfoot and Red Wolf at Marvel and Firehair at DC. There's no excuse for characters this ridiculous, then or now.

"Anonymous" replies
Another correspondent offered some thoughts on Eagle Free and the following exchange ensued:

It might be possible to spin some positive things out of Eagle Free:

1) His "Yes, I am little more than an animal" is more likely to refer to something that is very unique to him (and not other Natives) and belongs in the context of the rest of the panel. In this, he claims "I have studied the animals as no man has ever done before" and has uniquely gained powers from them like a land-based Aquaman or another Animal Man. He does not speak as this connection to animals is anything typical of his people. This seems more likely than a stereotypical context of some sort of "animalistic savage"

2) Whether or not it is inattention by the writer, his dialogue appears to lack any sort of connection to stereotypes ranging from the "Indian in the Cupboard" to the Yoda-like medicine man speaking in riddles. He just talks like a normal guy.

3) As the head of the FBI, he has probably reached a pinnacle of real political power not reached by other Native comic characters (even if it is in his role of a "Tonto" sidekick to the golden-boy Prez).

Did you look at all the panels? In one, Prez admits thinking Eagle Free is little more than an animal. In another, Prez calls him a "savage" and Eagle Free doesn't directly contradict him. The comic is stereotyping Indians even if Eagle Free doesn't do it himself.

One panel compares Eagle Free to different animals. It even says he has the strength of a "primate ape," an animal not native to America. Hello? Haven't we learned by now that comparing humans to apes is insulting?

The whole idea of Natives being in tune with Nature is somewhat stereotypical. Even if there's an explanation, even if it's unique to Eagle Free, it doesn't change the point.

Eagle Free dresses in literally the most stereotypical fashion: buckskin pants, bare chest, single feather stuck in a headband. He lives in a tepee, another egregious stereotype. As head of the FBI, it must be tough phoning agents, writing memos, or going to the bathroom out on the lawn. But hey, Eagle Free can't help it. He's natural!

I concede that PREZ tried to tear down the stereotypes it created by showing Eagle Free in a positive light. But many comics, cartoons, and movies try to show their stereotypical Indians in a positive light. The positive traits don't eliminate the stereotypes, they only confound them.

I can't prove it, but I suspect readers are more likely to pick up the negative traits than the positive ones. A half-naked Indian who acts like a savage and consorts with animals is a picture that reinforces 500 years of stereotyping. An Indian who speaks normally and heads the FBI is a rare occurrence that fades quickly from the mind. (The correspondent who brought Eagle Free to my attention didn't even remember him.)

So which traits are most likely to stick with the typical reader? Experience suggests the negative ones will dominate his mental image of Indians.

The discussion continues....

You are right. I didn't even attempt to find anything positive about Eagle Free's appearance and abode: because there isn't anything positive about it. If the comic had continued, an interesting twist would have been for some real Natives to show up, laugh at Eagle Free's appearance, and then discover that Eagle Free's one of those fake Indians. However, silly as PREZ was, I think later issues would have tended toward the silly instead of the thought-provoking.

Having real Indians show up and put the lie to the stereotypes might work. After all, PREZ was contemporary with Wounded Knee II. What would Dennis Banks or Russell Means have said if they met Eagle Free?

But alas, this approach doesn't register with people in reality. How often have protesters pointed out that they don't look like Chief Wahoo or Chief Illiniwek? It doesn't seem to make any difference.

Related links
Comic books featuring Indians

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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