This August, California’s Top Cow will release the long-await Pilot Season winner Genius as a five-issue weekly series. Set in the urban streets of South Central Los Angeles, the series concerns a young woman with the natural military acumen comparable to Genghis Khan or Napoleon who is organizing her neighborhood in a war against America.
The story, described by series co-writer Marc Bernardin as “an urban revolutionary’s war on systemic injustice, pits this young woman, Destiny Ajaye, against the L.A. police in a battle of attrition and survival. Bernardin is joined by long-time co-writer Adam Freeman and artist Afua Richardson for five issues beginning August 6 and going weekly.
Newsarama: Marc, Adam – I remember Genius, but many may not. How do you describe the series and its concept here and now in 2014?
Adam Freeman: The concept is incredibly simple and has not changed since its inception - every generation has its "best": best athlete, best musician, most brilliant scientist etc. What if the most gifted military mind of our generation was in the head of a 17-year old female gang member from Los Angeles. Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Napoleon...Destiny Ajaye.
Marc Bernardin: There has been, in America, a frightfully long history of disenfranchising the people it doesn’t like -- a history that has led to some heinous atrocities: slavery, internment camps, pox blankets. While the chief horrors of those atrocities are in the past, the effects are still with us. Those of us who live in places like Destiny’s South Central, L.A., with liquor stores and pawn shops on every corner instead of libraries and parks, who get treated as hostile by the authorities whether we’re being hostile or not -- one can understand how life is like sitting on a powder keg. Destiny sees that. And she sees that the only way to change their lives for the better is to secede a few square blocks of the Union through force. This is the L.A.P.D.’s worst nightmare: What if they threw a revolution and everybody came?
Nrama: What can you tell us about Destiny?
Freeman: She is fiercely intelligent, patient and deeply understands what makes humans tick. She is Keyser Soze.
Bernardin: Destiny has always been different. She’s always lived life on the outside, and the outside provides a certain clinical perspective. She can look at any situation and dissect it. And once Destiny sets her sights on something, she’ll do whatever is necessary to achieve it. This kind of asocial anti-empathy hasn’t led her to make many friends -- but most great heroes are not of the societies they choose to protect.
Nrama: Is this some supernatural tinge about her being the next in line of military genius, or just she happens to be born with these abilities?
Freeman: Nope. We've always been fascinated by prodigies. Mozart started composing at five, I believe? Picasso’s first masterpiece at eight? Right now Colin Carson is getting his Ph.D. in environment science at 13 or something insane like that. Some people are born with unexplainable gifts. Destiny is one of them. If you are spiritual maybe this has a specific importance to you, but for Marc and I it just means she is an elite member of this gifted group. She didn't get infused with alien DNA or anything.
Bernardin: Even though Adam and I were raised on The X-Men and Batman, it was very important for us to make Destiny purely a product of her environment. So no superpowers -- and, yes, vast wealth is, in and of itself, a superpower. Destiny is a creature of raw intellect and absolute will. Adam’s mention of Keyser Soze is spot on: “Then he showed these men of will what will really was.”
Nrama: In the press release for this, you describe Destiny’s army as a bunch of gangbangers. Can you tell us more about them?
Freeman: I was in Israel for work once and narrowly missed a bombing at a bus station. Naturally, I was freaked the f*ck out, but for all the locals it was a Tuesday. Why? They have grown up around violence their whole lives. People in violent inner cities are similar. It is all they know. If you are desensitized to death and no longer afraid of it, it makes you very powerful and dangerous.
Bernardin: Destiny sees most of them as pawns on a chess board -- a perspective that’ll get her in a bit of hot water. But she also understands that that’s somewhat necessary: She’s going to send some of them to their deaths. Better not to get to know any of them, personally. But she does have two aides de camp, two actual friends, that have joined her crusade. She met Gerald in elementary school, in the computer lab. She recognized someone who also thought differently than everyone else, even if he’s not at her level. He’s her tech wizard. And then there’s Chavonne, her best friend. The only one who truly knows who and what Destiny is...and loves her for it anyway. Chavonne knows what it’s like to be a young woman in this particular man’s world. I think Chavonne is who Destiny would want to be -- gregarious, fun-loving, committed -- if those were cards in her deck.
Nrama: If Destiny, Gerald, and Chavonne, are the good guys, who are they fighting against?
Bernardin: They are fighting against everyone. Nothing unites like a common enemy, and their common enemy is authority and everyone who represents it. So that means L.A.P.D., S.W.A.T. and, eventually, the National Guard.
Freeman: In Genius, that area could be "none more gray." Everyone thinks they are the hero. Everyone thinks the person on the other end of that gun barrel is the villain - but it is all subjective, isn't it? Truth is, even if Destiny knows she is the villain, she also knows what she is doing is, in her mind, the only way to prove her point.
Bernardin: Sometimes, you have to become what’s required, even if that thing is horrible. “I am become death...the destroyer of worlds.”
Nrama: Coming back with you on this is the artist of the original one-shot, Afua Richardson. We haven’t seen preview pages yet, but can you tell us how she’s grown as an artist in the intervening years since the one-shot’s release?
Freeman: The only positive thing about the down time between winning Pilot Season and the launch of the book is to see how Afua has developed as a visual storyteller. Every comic writer has gotten amazing pages back from an artist and thought, "they made it so much better than I imagined." In our case it is more of, "A. How the hell did she interpret what we wrote to become that? and B. She makes us look pretty brilliant."
Bernardin: The more you do it, the better you get at it. There have been more than one instance where we’ve had to go back and rewrite stuff -- remove text -- because she was doing so much with the art that words became superfluous.
Nrama: This won Top Cow’s Pilot Season years ago – what took so long for it to finally fulfill its promise of coming back as its own series?
Bernardin: Life has a funny way of getting in the way. For all of us, the past few years have brought with them great change -- sometimes good, sometimes bad. We’ve been trying to roll with those punches and make sure that, at the very least, we were always moving forward.
Nrama: That being said, it’s now coming out – weekly, in fact, beginning August 6. What’s it like having a five-issue series come out so rapid-fire in August?
Freeman: Time will tell. I think putting it out weekly is smart. It makes it like an "event" a little bit. If you like the first one, it is still fresh in your mind the following Wednesday. If the reviews are good for the first one, which so far they are, it's only days until the next one. We had some heat coming off Pilot Season which the intervening years completely put on ice. Maybe the weekly things will help warm it up a bit.
Bernardin: When Top Cow’s Matt Hawkins came to us with the idea, we thought it was pretty smart. It’s a publishing blitzkrieg: hit them hard and fast and not give them a chance to recover. Destiny would like it.
Nrama: And should these five issues go well, could you see yourself doing more Genius?
Freeman: We're are open to it and Top Cow is as well. We have a lot more of this story to tell. Hopefully the readers will want to hear it. Let yourself be heard!
Bernardin: In all of the comics marketplace, Genius is unique. If it only ever exists as a miniseries, we’ll still be immensely proud of it. But should we get to tell more stories with Destiny -- that would be like a herd of unicorns. Heavily armed unicorns.