Feb 17 2015
#BlackComicsMonth – Genius – There Goes The Neighborhood
CALLING ALL CARS
Cop shot on the streets of LA, make that cops, with an “s,” 40 officers down in a matter of minutes. These events are interpreted in different directions, mere snatches at a time. Tumbledrying helicopter footage. An anchorwoman reading a teleprompter, the fear in her professionalized expression subtly evocative, told in the eyes. Freedom fighter riot zines print extremist screeds, somehow evincing more legitimacy in their choice of Courier New. Frightened passersby ramble incoherently on some prime-time man-on-the-street. At some point, neighbors get interviewed. Children play telephone in recess yards adding more weight and majesty to the twice-told tales of two blocks away than a cadre of Hollywood screenwriters.
So begins the pilot story to Genius, the five-issue limited series that kills cops and takes names. An urban power-fantasy dangled on the pinky of a teenage criminal mastermind like a spent ring pop. A bloody tale that is somehow less lurid than you might think, precisely plotted by writing team Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, and brought to krylon-spangled color by fresh hotshot artist/colorist Afua Richardson. It’s a possibility that some see a vibrant, verite period piece here, in the slices of inner-city life which are undoubtedly crucial elements, but I don’t predict that Genius works because it tells a specifically believable story. It works because it is exceedingly well crafted, paced like a race for your life through the woods, populated with characters that work as thoughtful archetypes while usually avoiding caricature, enacting a thrilling action crime-drama that dazzles, surprises, and satisfies immensely at every turn. Thoughtful entertainment, it makes you wonder, if not believe.
THE CITY IS DYING AND IT LOOKS GOOD
Kinetic dialogue and layers of abstraction aside, the art also kills. Richardson impresses on almost all fronts, with exceptional improvement occurring between the pilot issue and the full series. I would bet serious money that she’s a devotee of Kyle Baker, with such enjoyably communicative faces and poses that the frequently luminous dialogue is granted the very best actors to work with. The frenetic, fiery camerawork in the action scenes are electrified to life with stunning colors that shake the page, something like neon-lit graffiti. Suffice to say, the synergistic qualities of the script and art deliver a cinematic reading experience that had few challengers in 2014.
The five issue run starts with Sun Tzu, and a little girl experiencing life on the wrong street with the wrong set of chances (for comparison’s sake, the pilot story starts with a bullet-ridden black police officer). Incredibly economical storytelling draws the tale of Destiny Ajaye, a young talented and gifted gal who, at 17, will wield the disappointment, rage and mistreatment of her local gangs and neighbors as surgically precise weaponry. Destiny is an uberfrau par excellence, a voracious reader whose intelligence lurks in plain sight, revealed to a scant and select few. She aligns herself with the crips at a young age despite the loss of her mother to gang violence, but turns the tables with a merciless, peace-intending coup in which she goes so far as to outright murder her ringleader boyfriend as vicious announcement of her arrival. Her intention? To unite these gangs and fire a mortal message at their common enemy – the LAPD.
There are several narrative lenses swapped throughout, but most compelling is the presence of Detective Gray (heh), a Caucasian data-enthusiast who has unknowingly deduced much about Destiny through studious conjecture, aside from her gender. His interior monologue hovers between awe, anger or humiliation at this unseen and brilliant tactician, who uses guerrilla tactics to murder cops in the jungle mist and stake a claim to her people’s turf. His narrative command shifts to that of a ballsy news reporter before finally allowing Destiny to command the mic completely on her own, carrying the story to its conclusive yet rather unexpected standoff.
I fully understand why other publishers wouldn’t touch this shit. Genius is unapologetic, ruthless in its vision, though its rebellious core is surprisingly considerate and wise, much like the main character herself. There is that churning thrill that brews as you realize that Destiny is overwhelmed, yet brave and selfless in spite of herself.
The answers in the story are never easy. Her closest friend is slain, throwing her plans into chaos as she barely gives herself time to mourn. Of the 40 cops that bled for her dream, the news marks only six of them as potentially corrupt. She views the people that she fights for as valued heroes, though ultimately expendable, victims of the war she both initiated yet felt was inevitable.
The storytelling is so rich, however, that it never gets bogged down in the misery of the issues that precipitate this gritty fantasy. As crazy as it gets, you start to question how fantastical this really is? Is it sadly inevitable, or is the only sad part that it could potentially never happen?
At its heart, Genius is a revolution, compelling and entertaining, yet somewhat tragic and yearning. Detective Gray, operating as an agent of the system, cannot come to conclusions on whether Destiny is an aberrant flame to be snuffed out prior to burning the entire world, or a harbinger, marked for greatness as one of the most intelligent commanders that ever lived. He sees her as exceptional, respecting her skills as something to be treasured and treated with careful honor.
It is with similar affirmation, yet carefulness, that I consider Genius as some of the very best action comics in years, and a warning shot to contemporary comic writers to take greater chances with their stories.
Purchase Genius from Afua Richardson here.