Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
Letters: Peter Doherty
Cover artists: Albuquerque (regular)/Frank Quitely (variant)
Editor: Rachael Fulton
Publisher: Image Comics/Millarworld/Netflix
Price: $3.99 US
I’ve got a standing order at my comic shop for all new Millarworld titles; I don’t always stick with them (I lost interest in Kick-Ass a long time ago, for example), but Millar is an Idea Machine that rarely disappoints. This new project slipped under my radar, though, so I was about a week behind in discovering its release. The concept isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s executed well, and Millar has managed to maintain my interest despite the protagonist’s arrogance. What struck me the most about this new project is how much it seemed like an edgier take on DC’s Mr. Terrific, so much so that I wonder if this wasn’t originally envisioned as a Terrific pitch before being remoulded to exist outside of a shared-continuity universe.
Prof. Edison Crane is the perfect human specimen. Capable of mastering any skill, becoming an expert in any field of study, he has built a financial empire the likes of which has never been seen before. He’s always doing something – somethings, actually. Playing multiple games of chess with masters, making rocket-science calculations to save the planet and crunching the numbers for his latest death-defying stunt to thrill schoolchildren — all at the same time — is an average hour for Edison, not an average day. He’s looking for something to put his mind to the test, and when a foreign government contacts him about unexplained phenomena, it piques his interest — and that’s saying something.
The strongest visuals in the book are in the opening act, in which we meet our protagonist as an 11-year-old child. He’s initially portrayed as fierce and admirable, above the petty pressures of childhood, but we also see an unsettling side to his intellect before we move onto his adulthood. That creepy scene had a powerful impact, showing that even an act of altruism and benevolence can boast a sense of darkness and foreboding. It’s also noteworthy that when the story shifts to the “present,” when Edison is the most respected and powerful figure on the planet, that the backdrops become more sparse and expansive. Albuquerque clearly uses the settings not only to suggest the immense scope of the emerging plot, but also to demonstrate how isolated the character is from those around him.
Millar’s characterization for his hero poses some tricky challenges, but the writer manages to achieve a solid balance. Edison is understandably confident — there’s nothing that’s beyond him — but that confidence also comes off as arrogance. It could be difficult to like him, but Millar manages to include little touches that get the audience on his side, that prompt us to root for him: Edison’s countering of bullying, his efforts to help a friend and his decision to take a few moments to give kids a thrill. I also especially enjoyed the brief flashback in which his relationship with his father ruptures, and he defiantly rejects the notion he needs any support from his distant parent; that scene really spoke to me. It’s clear that Millar doesn’t want to fall into the trap of making his character too likeable; his brains and accomplishments would logically give rise to a powerful personality, but we wouldn’t want a character that’s completely self-centered. Honestly, I was surprised we didn’t see Millar explore Edison as a tortured soul, as someone whose brain won’t stop, who can’t stop learning, who can’t enjoy a moment’s peace. I wonder if we’ll see something to that effect in future issues.
It’s interesting to compare Prodigy to Millar and Albuquerque’s previous collaboration, Huck. That limited series introduced us to a kind but simple powerhouse of a man, a gentle giant living a quiet, modest life who could accomplish anything thanks to his powers. Prodigy, on the other hand, essentially explores Huck’s polar opposite: a man whose intellect has given him the world, who revels in his intelligence, fame and wealth, forever seeking out a new experience to challenge him. The fact that the same artist worked on these two disparate characters with Millar is what really connects them, that contrasts them, and I can’t believe it was happenstance. 7/10