Full disclosure: Mark Millar is a guilty pleasure of mine. His comics lack any subtlety and he reaches emotional and narrative beats by stomping around like a bull. Yet, there’s something endearing about how he retains early 2000s sensibilities. This is still the guy who wrote The Authority and Wanted, an icon unafraid to jump genres with the best artists in the West and rake in money through a cult of personality. So it’s with a heavy heart that I must report I couldn’t stand Prodigy #1.
Prodigy #1 focuses on the smartest, super-duper, most brilliant guy ever, Edison Crane. Ever since he was a wee lad, he’s been beating older kids at polo, punching them up just by memorizing Jackie Chan movies, and performing surgeries. But a hostile invasion leads him to aid the CIA in saving earth.
Not a bad concept, right? Well, this issue is sunk by a massively obnoxious problem–its simplistic, derivative attempts to show you in every way possible how “smart” this insufferable, suited primp is. And to illustrate this point, I could think of no better example than Sherlock, the recent BBC series, which commits the same simplistic shortcuts to telling how brilliant the main character is.
Here’s a brilliant quote from the YouTuber “hbomberguy” talking about the problems of this style of writing in his fantastic video, “Sherlock Is Garbage, And Here’s Why.” “Sherlock is too important, too special, too powerful–and this ruins the tension of the show and our ability to empathize with the character. The entire show is dedicated to telling you about Sherlock instead of showing you Sherlock by way of his interactions with the actual plot.”
I understand Sherlock and Prodigy are two separate entities, but Millar and Steven Moffat do themselves a disservice by writing supposedly genius character in such a lazy fashion. We aren’t allowed to slow down and examine their thought processes, which would show the writers actually put thought into the proceedings. Instead, we’re forced to sit through a veritable list of “cool things” Edison Crane has accomplished.
In this issue, on top of his previous feats I listed, Crane plays and checkmates numerous chess opponents on holographic projectors, builds a rocket to stop an extinction level asteroid, jumps the Grand Canyon while doused in fire with no parachute, composes classical music, writes plays, designs a new telecommunication system, invents polymer to keep food fresh for a century, and grows a company 30 percent. How? Millar doesn’t show us. Instead he lists Tony Stark and Reed Richards levels of smartness and expects us to empathize or be impressed.
Is that all it takes to write a “smart” character? Here, I’ll do it. My character is named Alistair Einstein. Sounds smart enough. And he’s an award winning astrophysicist who also cured cancer, single-handedly beat up Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger while debating Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins, and wrote a whole new curriculum for Harvard, Yale, and Oxford. Oh, and he’s an orphan. Where’s my royalties? Where’s my 10/10 score?
Any attempts to give Crane depth are cliché. All we’re given are two flashbacks where his dad refuses to give him an inheritance and his mom being nice. I’m not saying you can’t have a smart character who’s emotionally removed. But Millar desperately wants us to like Crane despite the fact that he’s a sociopath who isn’t convincingly smart because we’re just told how cool he is. So what are we left with? Not much. How are there stakes or tension if he can solve everything?
Rafael Albuquerque is an excellent choice for this story. His style is almost impressionistic. He doesn’t have immensely detailed backgrounds or an overly detailed style. Yet, somehow he’s able to deliver loads of energy combined with stellar composition and expressive dynamism. He always gets awesome colorists and Marcelo Maiolo fits perfectly, using plenty of triumphant colors for our ubermensch hero.
The plot we’re given isn’t enough to go on or be excited by. We’re not informed of it until the last pages and, even then, it’s fantastical but confusing. Futuristic cars are materializing with rats and other animals fried to crisps inside. Is that it? Pretty much. Bodies may be piling up, but who cares? All that matters is the Nietzschean Overman, Edison Crane.