Sunday, February 26, 2012

Comics Sunday #2 -- Brilliant #1 Review

Reviewed by Justin A. Swartz

 “There’s always football.  Oh wait, you throw like a girl.”

--Amadeus to Albert, Brilliant #1

Do You Remember The Time

There used to be a time when comic book fans didn’t worship certain writers as gods.  There used to be a time when comic book writers didn’t write eight or nine titles a month.  And there used to be a time when this was okay, the comic book industry survived, and people got on with their lives.

I miss those days something bad, because thanks to computers, the Internet, and comic book message boards and web sites, there’s no end to the worshiping, the moneymaking, and the survival of the comic book industry.  People are obsessed with hero worship, both literal and figurative, and ready to throw the hammer down on something they don’t like in an instant.

When I stumbled across the first issue of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Brilliant at Planet X Comics & Collectibles, these thoughts ran through my head before I bought it.  Was I buying into the mad hero worship and god-like praise people heap on Bendis?  Was I merely buying it because Bagley’s art was appealing and cool?  Was I buying it because of the awesome cover and opening seven pages?  Would I escape from this experience with my down-to-Earth reading sensibilities intact?!

The answer to the last question is a firm “Yes,” and while Brilliant #1 is intriguing, interesting, and humorous, I feel that it’s lacking the certain magical “spark” that some of my other favorite comic books have had.  If you’ll follow me down Bendis’s yellow-brick road, I’ll be happy to explain.

Rock Me Amadeus

I will always give Brian Michael Bendis credit for one thing--he knows how to open a comic.  By “open,” I’m talking about the opening four or eight pages that introduce the situation and the conflict for that issue.  In Brilliant’s case, we’re presented with a bank robbery, courtesy of genius college student Amadeus.  Problem is, he’s no ordinary bank robber.  He’s got superpowers, such as mind control (which he uses on the bank teller to make her give him all the money in the bank) and invulnerability (a bullet from a security guard’s gun bounces off his cheek, but not without causing him some momentary pain).

After Amadeus makes off with some mad dough and tells the security guard to shove his gun up his ass (with mind control, of course), the scene changes to Albert’s arrival at the college dorm.  Albert, another genius whose major is biophysics, took a semester off so he could be with a girl he liked.  The relationship went south, and now Albert is back on campus, just in time for his twenty-first birthday. 

As his friends Kindred (a little Chinese guy with a shaved head), Izzy (a guy who obviously suffers from some slight Asperger’s or bi-polar disorder), Marie (a redhead who seems to really like Albert’s company), and the aforementioned Amadeus throw Albert a surprise party, our cheeky bank robber buys the birthday boy an expensive new phone so that he can finally return people’s phone calls.

After a crazy stunt between Roboformer (a guy dressed up in a Tron-like costume) and The Tech (a guy dressed up in an Optimus Prime-like costume) spills out into the street and campus police shut it down, the scene changes again to the top of a building, where our heroes and some accomplices are tearing apart the police officer’s vehicle.  Albert asks Kindred where Amadeus scored the kind of cash to buy him the top-of-the-line phone, and when Amadeus says “Bring him in,” Albert learns that his friends may have cracked the code to making humans superhumans

It Lacks A Certain...Spark

I will say that I try very hard not to read stuff written by the comic book gods, such as Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead and Invincible come to mind), Mark Millar (Kick-Ass), Geoff Johns (Flashpoint), and everyone in-between.  I feel that the real gems lie hidden between the cracks, such as the time I stumbled upon Michael McMillian’s Lucid mini-series from 2010, which I still love to read and always will.

I can also say that the only other comic written by Brian Michael Bendis I own in my collection is the trade paperback version of New Avengers: Illuminati, which he co-wrote with Brian Reed.  That series is another one I enjoyed, even if it was just a setup to Secret Invasion.  It’s probably safe to say that Brilliant is my first true Bendis experience, and I walk away from it scratching my head and muttering, “Well, that was interesting.”

Like I said before, Bendis is nothing short of awesome when it comes to openings. Amadeus’s bank robbery plays out like the perfect opening to a Brilliant live-action movie, and I love it for that.  It’s what happens after the robbery that left me scratching my head, because I had this huge feeling of let-down when I reached the last page.  We had all this excitement in the first seven pages, and then we’re thrust into a boring college party and a college prank for the next twenty-five pages, only to learn something we already knew (the students cracking the code for super powers).  The dialogue kept things going for the most part, but dialogue does not make a comic.

With that said, Mark Bagley’s pencils and Joe Rubinstein’s inks are the missing pieces of the puzzle.  There’s something interesting about portraying pseudo-realistic events in a hyper-realistic comic book style, and that’s what Bagley and Rubinstein have achieved here.  The coloring work by Nick Filardi was superb as well, with everything rendered at the appropriate color temperature, which only added to the hyper-realism of the art.  You add in Chris Eliopoulos’s letters and you’ve got a winning team that can keep Brilliant chugging along for a long time to come.

But the issue, for me, lies with Bendis.  As I mentioned earlier, I feel that his writing lacks that certain magical spark that all comic books should have.  You know the one I’m talking about.  It’s the one that triggers the flood of imagination in your brain as you get sucked into a really good comic book.  You block out the entire hear music in your hear your favorite actors giving voice to the characters...and when you put that book down, you feel like you were just on the best roller coaster ride of your life.

That’s the spark I’m talking about.  I feel it when I read a really good comic book, whether it’s the first issue, the last issue, or any of them in-between.  Unfortunately, I’ve never felt it reading a book written by Brian Michael Bendis, and Brilliant is no exception.  You can color me intrigued by this offering of college students with super powers, but for right now, that’s about all you can color me.

Since I’m sure a lot of you are going to disagree with me on this one, I’ll be sure to tell you that you can pick up Brilliant at your local comic shop or online at many fine retailers, and you can learn more about it at, Brian Michael Bendis’s personal web site.

Until next time this is Justin Swartz, signing off.  Be sure to check out my other blogs, Movie Monday (, where I review different bargain bin movies that you can buy for ten bucks or less, and Between A Book & A Hard Place (, where I review mystery novels and other books that I find on the cheap.