“Brilliant” #1 isn’t really all that different from a lot of Brian Michael Bendis’ comics. There are lots of panels of talking, a quick pace, and a general sense that not as much happened as probably could have. However, what separates “Brilliant” from a lot of Bendis comics is that there aren’t decades of history behind the characters to act as shorthand. Here, he and artist Mark Bagley need to both introduce the characters and the plot, and tell the story in an engaging manner. They don’t succeed. The result is a comic that ends with a feeling of “That’s it? Where’s the other half?”
It seems like it’s become the crutch of the first issue to simply ‘introduce’ things and nothing more. That’s what “Brilliant” #1 does: it shows a bunch of characters and then leaves the actual plot or reason for reading the comic for a comic coming-to-shops-in-the-near-future. That wouldn’t be a problem if the character introductions were entertaining or made a strong impression. Instead, those scenes reminded me of walking into a tight-knit group of friends a few years into the friendship and feeling like the awkward outsider. Granted, that’s a little how Albert, a student who took the semester off because of his (ex-) girlfriend, feels. But, he also knows these people and isn’t much of a point of view character since we don’t know him either.
Albert’s return to campus is marked with a party where the entire cast is paraded out and makes no impressions whatsoever. Everyone is a flash across the panel before moving on to the next character. The only character whose name I ever remember is Amadeus and that’s because of the book’s opening scene, which is the only intriguing part of the comic. In that opening scene, Amadeus robs a bank, seemingly with telepathy and near-invulnerability. Presumably, this is a scene from the future since the premise of the book is some college students creating superpowers, but it remains the most interesting thing in the comic, because something actually happens. It’s like Bendis and Bagley tease readers with the ‘good part’ of the story and then jump back to deliver the tedious explanation.
Originally, the coloring was going to be applied directly to Bagley’s pencils and, when the result wasn’t satisfactory, Joe Rubinstein was brought in to ink the pencils. Unfortunately, the result isn’t thrilling, with stiff lines, a sense of incompleteness, and art that looks more like Rubinstein than Bagley. A lot of characters look only partially sketched, which hurts their introductions. If they’re not visually distinctive and stand out, then half of the battle is lost immediately. More than that, Bagley’s not the best artist at drawing people standing around talking. His strengths have always been more costumed action and that shows in the party sequence where indistinct figures stand motionless in a completely unengaging manner.
It’s rare that a 28-page comic will feel incomplete or lacking and, yet, here we are. “Brilliant” #1 tries to lead with the idea of interesting characters and saves the hook for the end, but doesn’t deliver interesting characters or a strong enough hook. The promise of the story actually starting in the second issue isn’t enough. This is the first ten minutes of a generic movie with unskilled actors. The unfortunate catch is that you need to pay four dollars to see the next part of the movie.