After reading this book, I was hesitant to review it. It is one of those rare books that transcended the four-color realm and hit me in my real life. I was also unsure if my endorsement of the book was an endorsement of some of the messages in the book. Artist Afua Richardson and co-writers Marc Bernadin and Adam Freeman’s Genius is a book that I am still digesting. First introduced in 2008 by Top Cow via “Pilot Season,” Genius is a book that challenges me in a way that I haven’t felt in a while.
Comics are my escape from a stressful job. I want to read snikt and see folks teleport, and leap off buildings — it is a great way to decompress after days of seeing people in pain. Hell, even the more serious fare can act as 22-page escape pods — escaping into the fantastic from the sad and mundane. But this book read more like a possibility than a fantasy. In light of the killings of Eric Garner, Pearlie “Miss Sully” Golden, and Kathryn Johnston at the hands of the police, Genius is almost prescient. And it is a little foreboding.
Destiny Ajaye is a young African American girl from South Central Los Angeles who unites all of the (formerly) warring gangs under a banner of self-determination and agency. She is a near savant in terms of urban military strategy and gives the LAPD several ass-whoopings. Not only does she outshoot them, she out thinks them, and outmaneuvers them with a combination of propaganda and other forms of social engineering.
There is a sequence in the first issue where Detective Grey — a very smart cop who is investing Ajaye (who he dubs “Suspect Zero” and assumes is a man) presents his profile of our genius. It reads like Trauma for Dummies. I mean this in a good way. This sequence illustrates a possible path for genius children in the hood who witness so much direct and vicarious trauma. It shows that folks can either react or respond to trauma; Ajaye responds in the most ballistic of ways.
Part of the story is about how Destiny is processing the events that led her to wage war on the LAPD, and another part is scathing social criticism about the militarization of the police, the crucible that is ‘hood living, and the insidiousness of community violence. But this is a whole lot more entertaining than I’m making it sound.
Genius is The Spook Who Sat by the Door for a new generation. While Sam Greenlee’s 1969 novel (and the 1973 film) commented on the racial tension and violence of the burgeoning Civil Rights era, Genius depicts the battle of 1% vs. the 99%, the downtrodden vs. the oppressor, the pushback against police brutality, how genius has to hide in the ‘hood, and the enduring legacies of crime and violence. While it does these things well, what it does best is paint a full picture of just how many young people we are losing because of the various anti-social cycles that are perpetuated in underserved and under-resourced communities.
I shared this with a friend of mine and it got him amped. He felt that Destiny Ajaye (whose Sanskrit variation is Ajay, which means either “invincible” or “unconquered”) is a tragic figure in the most literal sense of the word. All of that potential being put into service of the very thing that made Destiny lose her way.
After all that, I will present some of my minor gripes about the form of the book. There is a lot of cursing. I’m a dude who has a swear jar in his house, but it was excessive and jarring at times. While I adore the f-word, it was dropped just a little too much for me.
It took me about an issue (I read all five, plus the Pilot Season) to get used to the art, which looked like a combo of manga, aerosol art (graf), and Ernest Dickerson cinematography. It could be muddy at times, but the film-like framing of the panels made up for this by making the panels interesting to look at.
The tempo of the book felt a little rushed and I would love to see the story they could have told with two more issues to work with. The dialogue also fell flat when slang was introduced. Some of the slang wasn’t correct for the geography or the communities being represented and came off as inauthentic at times.
Do I endorse the book? After some consideration, I do. I really do. I think that it is an important book — one of the more important books to come along in a while.
Who: Artist Afua Richardson and co-writers Marc Bernadin and Adam Freeman
When: First issue drops this coming Wednesday, August 6th, 2014. Subsequent issues will drop weekly. (Five issues total)
Publisher: Minotaur (a Top Cow imprint)