Written by Mark Millar
Art by Rafael Albuerqueque and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Peter Doherty
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
What is it they say about geniuses that turn into slackers? In certain ways, that’s the foremost lesson of Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque’s Prodigy, a series about the smartest man in any classroom - yet said brainpower never seems directed towards new philosophies or solutions to real-world problems, but instead solving the fleeting high-concept spectacles of a Hollywood blockbuster.
But while Prodigy is a book that may feel unambitious in terms of its point of view, it’s hard to deny the talents of Millar’s storytelling economy as well as the stellar production value of artist Albuquerque and colorist Marcelo Maiolo. While Millar’s other Netflix-owned title The Magic Order felt like a strong mash-up of genres with some superb world-building, Prodigy manages to take over-the-top stakes like extinction-level asteroids and parallel universe invasions, and still feel like it’s holding something back.
But to be fair to Millar, Prodigy as a concept is a bit more of a cerebral premise than his usual fare - indeed, one of the not-so-hidden secrets of Millar’s success is that he goes big or he goes home, and so it never really seems enough to him that his hero, polymath Edison Crane, is an eidetic genius. Almost immediately, Millar sets up Crane in the same echelons as his brainy takes on Reed Richards or Lex Luthor - but unlike those two, who had world-changing philosophies percolating underneath their supercharged noggins, Crane uses his genius largely for vicarious thrills, like memorizing Bruce Lee moves to beat up his childhood bullies or beating a dozen chess grandmasters simultaneously (while building a meteor-slaying rocket in the back of his mind). Like most Millar scripts, it’s a fast-paced introduction that’s designed to get readers excited, and in a lot of ways, this feels like it could have been a lost Mister Terrific script in seeing this young, isolated genius grow up to become a powerful figure in his own right.
Yet what could be double-edged about this debut is that like his titular hero, once Millar has introduced Edison, he’s immediately got more ideas in mind, spitting them so fast at readers that it can be challenging to keep up. What begins as a story about an undisputed genius quickly transforms into a story about an invasion from a parallel universe - right now, Millar is largely giving us exposition in the form of teleporting vehicles with their drivers flash-fried inside, but the jury is still out over whether this is incongruous with the actual premise of the main character. Is it a question of Millar not feeling confident enough in the appeal of Edison, who admittedly never seems to have any sorts of challenges or tension in his day-to-day life? Or does this veteran writer have a backdoor he plans to activate, finding a way to dovetail this otherworldly threat into something that affects or informs Edison personally? Unfortunately, while Millar’s cinematic pacing makes each page feel punchy and exciting, it also means that the plot progression keeps its cards close to the vest, making the general shape of the series’ structure look uncertain.
But what is absolutely certain is how great this book looks. Comic book artists love to work with Mark Millar, in part because of the fat checks they get off his lucrative creator-owned fare, but also because he has a knack for writing fun stuff for them to draw. And it’s clear that Rafael Albuquerque is having a heck of a lot of fun here. A sequence of Edison’s crazy motorcycle jump, kicking off with a delightful Akira homage, is a real delight, while a scene of Edison performing surgery gives this book a surprising creepiness. But even while the sober flashbacks with Edison’s parents don’t necessarily ring as emotionally harrowing as Millar might hope, Albuquerque isn’t slouching at giving his usually unflappable character some real pathos in his expressions and body language. Marcelo Maiolo, meanwhile, continues to be one of the best colorists in the business, giving Albuquerque’s artwork a painterly style that then breaks with small explosions of red-and-white violence.
While some people might see writers inserting themselves into their books as self-indulgent, I’d argue that Mark Millar has earned it - given that the man has more multimedia adaptations than anyone in the comics industry not named Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, or Steve Ditko, it’s clear that Millar is one of the smartest and most talented guys in comics. But Prodigy, despite its obvious charms on a panel-to-panel basis, feels like it’s afraid to channel that prodigious intellect, that it has to spend its time solving flashier and flashier problems in order to get the audience on its side - that rather than have anything deeper to say, it spends its time convincing readers that being smart can also equal being cool. But the secret to that equation is that Prodigy might have it all backwards - that the best way to be cool is to unapologetically strut your stuff, to show your brilliance to the world, and not care what anybody has to say about it. With all this untapped potential clearly bubbling beneath the surface, Prodigy is proof that a mind like his can be a terrible thing to waste - so here’s hoping the virtuosic talent behind this book can find their voices and find the intellectual substance beneath its bold spectacle.