writers: Marc Bernadin & Adam Freeman / artist: Afua Richardson
If you have been keeping up with the criticisms of the new James Brown bio film Get on Up, you’ll know that there is a growing awareness around the way stories concerning people of color are funneled through the vision of people NOT of color and the complications that can bring. This is definitely not the case with the first issue of Genius, a new book with a predominantly Black creative team. That in itself should make you sit up and pay attention, in addition to the fact that it’s also an interesting book in its first effort. Which doesn’t mean that it’s an easy book to get through either.
The story revolves around a 17 year old African-American
girl woman named Destiny in Los Angeles who is, you guessed it a genius, that has been able to unite all the L.A. Gangs under one unbroken army as they wage war against the LAPD. The timing of the release is interesting given the headlines of the Eric Garner murder in New York City at the hands of the NYPD, but then again, I guess we’re never that far away from such a story involving police and violence involving black people. Nonetheless, the narrative is challenging. Can you like Destiny and not subscribe wholesale to her methodology? Can you invest in this book without subscribing to unquestioned violence and killing of police officers? I think you can answer yes to both of those questions in some capacity, but more work is going to need to be done on the creative team’s part for that to hold true as the book continues.
Addressing the book in a vacuum, this first issue is good, not great. There is a strong characterization of the two opposing forces, Destiny and her counterpart on the LAPD, Detective Grey, who has a working theory that’s about half right in why the gangs have been dominating this war with the police. His underestimation of Destiny (or his outright naivety of her being the one pulling the strings) is an interesting carrot to see how his character evolves. Destiny herself is instantly someone I WANT to root for, the aesthetic alone of a 17 year old Black girl genius that has mastered the Art of War is enough to pull me in. Some of the exposition of that genius is a little heavy handed however. Her expounding upon at what time the human body is at it’s weakest or other parts of dialogue seemed like they should’ve been better suited for internal thought as opposed to dropping it into casual conversation. However, the show of her rise to power was very well done and paced out well throughout the issue. I guess my question is, what is there to Destiny beyond war? Is there actually a plan to make the city better for her people or is this all about how many cops they can kill? Answering that question will probably play a pretty large role in how long people will be invested in this book. The Wire doesn’t have the arc it does if Avon is allowed to just blast his way through everyone and there is no Stringer Bell that wants to push back against those ways and legitimize them (as ill fated as that was). We’ll see if there’s a flip side to Destiny the cold strategist.
Last but not least, this is my first introduction to Afua Richardson and I was impressed how well it marries the narrative. This is Destiny’s story and the art emphasizes that in every depiction well. I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of mainstream comic books with African-American women doing the art, so I’m happy to see it done so well.
This is a lengthy comic book review, but its an important one as it breaks ground in a number of ways. I can say, from a personal standpoint of wanting to see more POC represented AND see more POC creators in mainstream comics, there is probably no book that I WANT to succeed more than this one. There’s a few bumps in this first issue and some concerns that will hopefully be addressed, but I’ll definitely be rooting for it to be great.