Last Week’s Comics 10/05/2011

Brilliant #1

(Icon – writer: Brian Michael Bendis; art: Mark Bagley)

Bendis and Bagley have made the Millar/McNiven leap and started a creator-produced series, Brilliant. The premise is that through modern science, a group of college students have created the first superheroes. The semantics behind their creation have yet to be explained, but I don’t see myself following this series for very long. While I love Bendis’ writing in most things, Brilliant is a disappointing read that focuses heavily on (ineffective) character development and excessive exposition.

Brilliant is about a college-aged kid, Albert, who returns to school for some reason (I think it has to do with a breakup) and meets up with some friends who throw him a birthday party, complete with the stereotypical drunk girl and two people who dress up like Optimus Prime and Master Chief (only here they’re called Roboformer and The Tech). They proceed to beat each other up on a lawn until a security guard shows up. Then we transition to a roof after-party where Albert, after being home for a few hours, decides to join his old friends in their scheme to be superheroes. Then we see a car on a roof.

If you’re confused, don’t worry – I think that just means you’re normal.

Brilliant doesn’t seem to be clear on what it wants to be. Is it an anti-hero story? Is it like Fly, where someone has invented a serum to make people superhuman? Is it about a falling-out among friends? The goal of the issue is unclear, and the story meanders for 28 pages before abruptly ending. The final panel – an image of Albert leaning over the side of a building and looking down – is as disconnected and cryptic as the rest of the issue.

There are too many characters. Every time someone is introduced, his or her name appears in the panel. By the end of the issue, we’re introduced – directly – to five characters. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but it causes the issue to feel disjointed. I’m not sure which character I’m supposed to follow. I think Albert is the main character, but whereas Bendis fully established Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man, none of the characters here feels three-dimensional. It’s like Bendis had too much story to tell in a first issue, and rather than allow the introduction to breathe, he decided to jam it all in.

The most exciting part of the issue is the first seven pages, which show one of the characters, Amadeus, robbing a bank. Not only does he have invincibility, but he also has Jesse Custer’s Preacher powers – he can tell people what to do. But to depict this, Bendis has Amadeus throw his hands around like Qui-Gon Jinn.

Much of the issue is like this – random scenes get thrown together for what is a loose narrative with no clear focus. And Bagley’s art has never looked so monotonous. It may be the color schemes or the inking, but this issue isn’t even visually appealing. Tonally, it’s a very dark issue full of grays, greens and reds. The cover doesn’t do the issue any justice either, in that the scene depicted – a bullet bouncing off a man’s face – occurs in the first third of the issue, and is not referenced a single time after that!

I don’t know what to make of Brilliant because it doesn’t know what to make of itself. For someone as talented as Bendis, this is a poor effort. Be wary of Brilliant. It may get better, and I have faith that it will because I have faith in Bendis, but for an introductory issue, this is a weak start. Read some classic Bendis to wash the taste of this one out of your mouth.

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