As good as Avengers, X-Men et al really are, there’s always certain restrictions that have to be followed it seems. If it’s Earth-616 Spider-Man who’s being written, we can’t kill him off and follow the adventures of a new Spider-Man like in the Ultimate Universe, or if you do that there will eventually be a “Return of Spider-Man” event and pretty much all of the character development that occurred in that arc will be undone or altered because for the mainstream Marvel Universe Peter Parker will always and forever be Spider-Man. That doesn’t stop great stories being written with Earth-616 Spider-Man – the Spider Island event by Dan Slott was one of my favourite arcs of recent years and I enjoy the Avengers and X-Men lines as well because even if they are written with the need to maintain a certain status quo great stories can still be told with these characters.
However, when writers own the characters themselves and can do what they want to do without thinking “Will those who take over when I finish hit me on the head for writing Carrot-Man in a particular way?” I think it can make for a better story and so creator-owned books can often outshine those owned by Marvel and DC in terms of character development and what they can do. Spider-Man can’t say fuck, for instance, only $%^* and has to live up to high moral standards whereas an original character invented by someone independent can go on journeys that a Marvel-owned character really cannot. I can’t really see Millar’s Wanted taking place within the Marvel Universe, for instance…
So, one thing I’ve been reading recently is Bendis and Bagley’s Brilliant, a creator-owned series that focuses around a set of, uh, “brilliant” college students who happen to have cracked the secret to unlocking superpowers within human beings.
The world it takes place in is largely like our own as there’s no SHIELD or anything walking around to deal with outbreaks of superpowered incidents and so rather than having the rather blasé attitude you might expect from the authorities, they’re pretty worried and even skeptical of such events and to me that makes things very, very interesting. I’m not really going to launch into a review here as such because I’m thinking that there’s already more than enough of those out there and also I’m rather late to the game – we’re three issues in now and the story is beginning to really shift into high-gear but there are a few themes here that kind of match up with things that I’ve always been interested in so I guess I should sort of give a summary of what this thing’s actually about…
Brilliant takes place at the fictitious Seattle Tech, following students Amadeus, Albert, Kindred, Izzy and Marie, who have through the mastery of biophysics managed to create a way of granting people superpowers. Amadeus has tested their method on himself, giving himself superpowers and has gone on to use them to rob a bank and fix casino games in order to get money. Whether the others know of this, according to the recaps at the beginning of each issue, is currently ambiguous…
I kind of went with this one for two reasons: one, I love Bendis and Bagley’s work on Ultimate Spider-Man and two, it sort of covers some ground that’s always interested me – what if superpowers found their way into the real world? Okay, I suppose that sounds like a typical comic-book nerd’s fantasy but I think the idea does have some legs to it. Physics basically tells us “no” to many things that take place in comics – the amount of energy released by Cyclops’ energy blasts, for instance, would consume his body in seconds and the heat and light stored up behind his visor when he’s not using them would destroy him anyway but within the logic of the Marvel Universe is perfectly acceptable… but not in the real world. Here life is pretty mundane powers-wise, mutations are most definitely undesirable and crippling and if anyone wants to bring the world to its knees all they have to do is sell it a load of dodgy financial products rather than launch a scheme involving a giant nuclear-powered satellite.
But I’ve always been fascinated by the what-if of if you did actually bring comic-style powers into the world. What would it actually do to it? Heroes tried to explore that idea too, but I felt that basically they got a bit too traditional with how they did it because we ended up with what was basically an extended homage to the Days of Future Past storyline and a subsequent predilection for plots involving time travel to prevent various dark futures. While I enjoyed it, I wanted something that was initially a bit smaller – for instance how would just say one small group of people react to one of them getting superpowers as to me that’s much more interesting. Bendis takes quite a bit of time to explore that idea and it appears that Albert will emerge as the sort of moral center of the group, whereas Amadeus appears to be heading down the road of villain but we’re not dealing with “saving the world” here, at least not yet but rather how the appearance of superpowers affects the relationship between the friends.
Another strand it picks up is how the authorities might react to such events. In the Marvel Universe if some guy with zappy-telekinetic-mind control powers robbed a bank no-one would bat an eyelid as that kind of thing happens all the time. In Brilliant, however, the FBI have no clue whatsoever as to what’s happening with agents wondering what the hell to make of all this and several calling bullshit on the whole thing and I find that somewhat refreshing for a book involving superpowers. Indeed, it rings quite true for real life as it seems that the emergence of social media and the resulting proliferation of internet-based movements throughout the world has caught the powers-that-be offguard, leaving them trying to regulate and/or simply ban facets of it because it scares them so much.
If a superpowered throw-down did occur in a city (not that physics allows for such a thing) I wonder how’d they react? There’s no SHIELD or anything to call in, and it’s nice to see a bit of time given over just to exploring the reactions of different people and groups reacting to the emergence of the “impossible” into a mostly “real world” setting. The last panel of issue #3 appears to set the stage for the world to find out about the discovery of superpowers and they’ve taken the time to set up the players for what should be quite an interesting saga.
Brilliant is a great book, well written and drawn, based on an intriguing premise and it’s going to be interesting to see where Bendis and Bagley take their creation next. Pick it up next time you’re at your local comics store! (Hmmm. Possibly getting a little bit more reviewy than I thought there…)