Psychics Are Jerks

Dark Horse Comics’ Brain Boy is a jerk, but is he a hero?

There’s a scene in X-Men: First Class where a young Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) uses his mind reading powers in an attempt to get into an Oxford girl’s knickers. Most people in the theater thought it was funny. I thought it was creepy.

If someone were to have psychic powers in the real world, just imagine how much of a leg up they’d have on the rest of us! They wouldn’t be able to guess the winning lottery numbers, but they could read the minds of everyone on the stock market and make a pretty penny. They could tell you everything you want to hear and make you fall in love with them — peering into the depths of your lonely soul. If they didn’t like you, they could make you relive every regret, your every failure, until you were driven to a point where all you know is despair. That is the awful power of a psychic.

Created by Herb Castle and Gil Kane for Dell Comics, Brain Boy was a kid with psychic and telekinetic powers. He worked for a United States secret government agency. He’d get into James Bond-ish adventures, protecting America from communists and other “enemies of freedom.” Dark Horse Comics released an archive edition of these wacky and surprisingly dark stories towards the end of 2011. It’s a lot of fun.

Today, Dark Horse’s new Brain Boy comic hits the stands. Reimagined by Fred Van Lente (Archer & Armstrong, Incredible Hercules) and R.B. Silva (Superboy, Jimmy Olsen), Matt Price, aka Brain Boy, is on loan to the United States’ Secret Service from the Albright Company. His job is to keep General Emil Ricorta, president of an oil rich South American country, safe during the United Nations’ General Assembly. Of course, everything goes wrong.

Art by Ariel Oliveti and R.B. Silva.

Ricorta is an analog of a few world leaders that have thumbed their noses at the United States. Visually, Ricorta is a little bit of Manuel Noriega, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein, while his motivations are reminiscent of Hugo Chavez. When Price takes a quick peek inside Ricorta’s head, he sees himself less a brutal dictator and more a shepherd of children. Interesting, considering a few pages later, it’s revealed he tosses dissidents into gang run prison.

Thickening the plot, there is a shadowy CIA agent, Gerard Bodell, that wants to get secrets from Ricorta’s head, specifically whether or not he’s willing to do business with North Korea. In order to do that, Bodell is willing to trade Matt secrets about his dead parents. Price is torn over this, but the proverbial carrot dangling in front of him and his decision to do his job speak volumes about the character, even if he is a bit of a jerk.

What’s most interesting about this comic is how freely Brain Boy will read the minds of those around him. He doesn’t have the respect for others that comic book psychics Professor X and Martian Manhunter have for those around them. Quite the contrary, Price seems to view most of those around him with contempt. Van Lente and Silva put together a few really funny and, after some reflection, rather terrifying sequences where Price just reads people’s minds and then blows them off. He seems to have little interest in exposing people to the darker sides of his powers. He’s more voyeur than deviant, but someone in this comic doesn’t share Price’s “read only” approach to getting into people’s heads.

Art by R.B. Silva.

The mysterious villain of the story appears to have powers similar to Brain Boy’s, though he takes a much more invasive approach. He either completely wipes people’s minds or he forces them to rip each other apart. It’s a terrifying counterbalance to the not exactly selfless, but definitely not psychotic Brain Boy.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me why I like comic books. It’s a fair question.

Comic books are a medium that has no limit. Writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, letterers and editors work together and tell stories in any genre imaginable. It’s a collaborative medium that can bring out the best, most creative stories these artists can come up with. There’s no budget. The medium accommodates any idea and at the end, there’s a piece of storytelling that, more often than not, is greater than the sum of its parts. Comic books have a lot of history — lots of ideas both fondly remembered and sadly forgotten. There are gems hidden behind every corner of the comic book labyrinth — one such gem is Brain Boy.

Whether building a world where spy vs. spy antics regularly involve people with superpowers, portraying what kind of a person a guy with psychic powers would be or taking pot shots at Sean Penn, Van Lente and Silva blend espionage, superheroes and humor together seamlessly in Bran Boy # 1.

Van Lente and Silva have polished off a gem with this character and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go from this issue. Brain Boy # 1 is a refreshing look at the comic book psychic. Matt Price may have the power to manipulate the stock market or make you fall in love with him but he is clearly disinterested.

Does that make him a hero? Close enough.

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