Coming on the tail of fellow bygone “Captain Midnight,” Fred Van Lente and R.B. Silva’s modernized take on “Brain Boy” is a fun, edge-of-your-seat spy thriller with a psychic twist.
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by R.B. Silva
When the United States Secret Service needs to stop an assassination before the killer’s even decided to buy a gun, they call the world’s most powerful telepath: Matt Price, a.k.a. Brain Boy. But when the secret agent that can read anyone’s mind finds that a powerful psychic network has been hidden from him, Brain Boy begins to wonder whether he knows everything or nothing at all!
If you hadn’t noticed, super heroes are a hot commodity these days. While primarily the domain of the Big 2, the concept of “superhero universes” have recently been experiencing a bit of a resurgence. Image has fostered its own loosely based universe for years, with the ill-concieved “Image United” and the more successful “Invincible Universe.” Valiant Comics made a huge splash last year when they relaunched their superhero universe to critical praise. This year, it looks like Dark Horse is set to get in on the action.
While not primarily known for stories about capes, Dark Horse has recently published a large number of such books, through creator owned titles like “The Answer,” older Dark Horse properties like “Ghost,” or by revitalizing characters that have been lost to the years. “Brain Boy” falls into the latter category, and is the latest in the loosely connective universe of titles under the “Black Sky Project” label.
On the surface, there appears to be a lot of similarities between “Brain Boy” and Valiant’s “Harbinger.” Both feature young male leads, gifted with immense psychic power, and strained relationships with covert government agencies. However, that’s about as far as the comparison can go, as “Brain Boy” is a wholly unique book.
Writer Fred Van Lente, perhaps best known for his work on Marvel’s “Incredible Hercules” and Valiant’s “Archer and Armstrong,” brings his signature charm and wit to the character of Matt Price. Matt has a huge chip on his shoulder, the product of a life of government grooming and being able to read the mind of everyone he comes in contact with. He’s not exactly an immediately likable character, but he is at least relatable for anyone who has ever been a teenager (which should be everyone taking the time to read this book). Van Lente takes Price through the paces of a what starts out as a typical day on the job, but what quickly descends into the first act of a spy vs. spy blockbuster. The plot is packed with all the politics, government subterfuge, and high action set-pieces one expects from the genre.
Still, even with its junior Bond-esque flair, “Brain Boy” remains a superhero book at its core. Price’s psychic powers play heavily into the story, adding insight into Price’s world and his own state of mind. Artist R.B. Silva provides a unique visualization for Price’s powers, consisting of translucent yellow circles of varying sizes, signifying the areas being affected. Furthermore, when Price begins searching through an individual’s mind, Silva’s pages shatter, each shard depicting a dreamlike slice of the character’s psyche. When a character is “unreadable” for whatever reason, Silva depicts them as void-like silhouettes, indicating that something is clearly wrong with these individuals. Not only does Silva do a great the reader’s attention, assisting the flow of the story, but his unique contributions make what could’ve been a very visually uninteresting power-set jump off the page.
As an aside for those of you playing along at home, Albright Biovancement bears the surname of one Jim Albright, AKA Captain Midnight. This is a great glimpse of connective tissue between titles in that it adds a layer of depth to those enjoying both titles, but doesn’t exclude those who aren’t. It’s things like this that suggest that Van Lente and company will use shared universe concept smartly and responsibly.
Throughout the issue, Silva impresses on all counts. Having made a name for himself with 2010’s immensely fun “Jimmy Olsen,” Silva is a fantastic match for Van Lente’s brand of story telling. Silva’s characters are slick and expressive, his worlds rich and detailed. Regular companion Rob Lean’s inks are in perfect sync with Silva’s pencils, and colorist EGO bathes it all in vibrant color, bringing it all to life on the finished page.Continued below
Van Lente implements Price’s first person narration throughout the issue to convey necessary plot information and to move the story forward. For the most part, the technique never falls in the territory of telling rather than showing, but there are a few fumbles. Price often describes his powers or his actions to the reader. At best this technique comes across as forced and at worst it interrupts the flow of the story. Similarly, Price will sometimes say something that seems out of place with the context. For instance; in one segment where Price prepares to make a dramatic entrance, he sidetracks into a discussion about his complicated relationship with Albright. It’s just a handful of caption boxes, but it derails a rather tense moment. Of course, the excellently executed twist that occurs immediately after does a great job of drawing the reader right back in.
An under the radar revamp of a sixty-year old concept, from a publisher not known for its exceptional superhero comics, “Brain Boy” is a book that could very easily be lost amidst the weekly influx of books. However, even with the the Villain’s Month and “Infinity” madness, “Brain Boy” stands tall against the competition, and is very much worth your time and consideration when perusing your local comic store.
Final Verdict: 8.8 – Buy. The latest in Dark Horse’s blossoming superhero line is off to a great star.