Dark Horse’s superhero universe is growing by leaps and bounds, and next week a strange hero with a secret past is joining their ranks: Brain Boy. Written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by R.B. Silva, this 4-issue series dusts off the forgotten 1960s Dell Comics’ hero and puts his James Bond-esque story squarely into the 21st century for political intrigue, action, psychic powers and a blatant disregard for authority.
In this series, Matt Price – aka Brain Boy – is a psychic-for-hire brought in by the United States’ Secret Service to protect against the one thing they can’t find on their own: mind powers. Previewed earlier this year in a series of shorts inside Dark Horse Presents, Brain Boy is now out on his own in this new series where Van Lente and Silva show that when you can read minds you can’t trust anyone.
Newsarama: Although Brain Boy looks like something straight out of your mind Fred, this is actually a 1960s Dell character. Can you tell us how you came to this book and this character was found and dusted off?
Fred Van Lente: Dark Horse approached me about doing the title. They had already published a hardcover of the original stories called Brain Boy Archives written by Herb Castle with art by Gil Kane, so it had a terrific pedigree.
What was fun about revitalizing it was that Dark Horse is setting this firmly in its own superhero universe, but Brain Boy himself is on the cusp of being a superhero without actually being one. In his first incarnation, he was king of a teenage James Bond with mental powers who, in the original comic, says he works for the Secret Service. It’s kind of lazy writing, but it did occur to me that a psychic character who was a Secret Service agent could work. In the real world if psionic powers did exist, then the threat of telepaths and telekinetics as assassins would make bodyguards like the Secret Service want to keep pace with that.
So in this series, Matt Price – aka Brain Boy (He hates that name, by the way) – is there not just to guard against conventional attacks but also psionic ones as well.
Nrama: This miniseries started life as a series of shorts of Dark Horse Presents and now into this full-fledged miniseries. What can you tell us about this new story?
Van Lente: Well, the duty of the United States Secret Service is not just to protect the President but also all foreign heads of state when they’re on U.S. soil. And every September is the United Nations General Assembly where many of those heads show up in New York City and convene with each other. It’s like Christmas rush when you work at a mall; it’s an “all hands on deck” type situation for the Secret Service, and Matt finds himself assigned to protect the president of a South American oil-producing country with a mysterious connection to psychic phenomena. Matt inadvertently uncovers a conspiracy with the C.I.A. and the company he works for, Albright.
Albright, I should mention, also happens to be the company of the Captain Midnight, Dark Horse’s flagship superhero.
But getting back to the conspiracy, this involves his own parents who he was told died when he was young and raised by Albright. So something else may be going on there. It’s ironic – the guy who can read minds can’t trust anyone.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about Matt Price, the person?
Van Lente: A joke I said on twitter was that the book should really be called “Psychic Asshole.” He’s a House M.D. type character; he’s been raised and told since he was very young that he was a super special snowflake with psychic powers and the greatest thing ever. He has millions of dollars, lavish cars, dates with beautiful women, and can get his hands on any video game he wants. He’s pretty arrogant, but the world has a pretty good way of grinding that out of people. Along the way Matt’s going to learn there’s more to the world than just the personal possessions he’s been getting. It’s similar to the Tony Stark arc and is about a cad who becomes a hero, and that’s the fun part.
Nrama: The Secret Service already has some top-notch people working for them – what does Brain Boy bring to the table, and how can they trust someone with his powers?
Van Lente: They can’t trust him, and that’s a big part of the series. And Matt can’t trust them either; he has to have one eye – or one brain cell – on everyone in this book. Just because you can read minds doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paranoid. That actually makes you more paranoid.
And technically, Matt doesn’t work for the Secret Service; he’s subcontracted to them through the company he works for, Albright. He’s a gun-for-hire, and there’s definitely some things both organizations doesn’t want him to know about.
Nrama: As a de facto comics historian after your book The Comic Book History of Comics, what did you think of Brain Boy’s original set-up at Dell back in the 1960s?
Van Lente: It’s a very interesting little wrinkle in comics history. Dell was the largest comics company in the 20th century, because of the Disney license; those books remain the biggest comics, in terms of circulation, of all time I think. The problem was that Western Publishing, who did the Gold Key books like Magnus: Robot Fighter, obtained the Disney license away from Dell. And without their Disney titles, Dell tried to keep their comics line afloat with titles like Brain Boy and others because Marvel was enjoying great success at the time with Fantastic Four. Dell did it just to keep the line alive, but the funny thing about it is that unlike Marvel and DC, Dell never joined the Comics Code Authority because they were, for a long time, Disney’s publisher; they turned up their noses at the Comics Code, saying in effect “we have our own internal code that's better than yours!”
So with that, when the original Dell version of Brain Boy came out he had a girlfriend of color and killed people with his psychic powers; not often, but he did so in ways that wouldn’t happen under a Comics Code book. It’s a weird artifact mixing science fiction and espionage, making it nutty and unusual for its time. It’s a fascinating little document. I’d never even heard of Brain Boy until Dark Horse emailed me, and it’s pretty impressive to put one over on me.
Nrama: Getting back to this Dark Horse book, Brain Boy is joining a burgeoning line of super-hero comics at Dark Horse. How does being a part of a line instead of say, doing a superhero comic at a thoroughly non-superhero publisher, affect your work on the book?
Van Lente: Well, my terrific editor Jim Gibbons is working directly with Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson and the others to keep this part of that universe. They’ve got some great storylines going on in this superhero world.
Dark Horse is doing things in a unique way; they come up with ideas to allow Brain Boy to conjoin or intersect with the other books in the line in a cool and organic way -- “how about this?” By the end of this first Brain Boy series I can say, without any spoilers, that there will be a very obvious connection from Brain Boy to Captain Midnight and the other books.