The new series from Image Comics, by Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal, is an insider look at slackerdom inside DARPA
There's always something about those people who are just super smart from an early age. You kind of wonder what happens to these child geniuses when they grow up.
If Think Tank #1 is any indication, some of them grow up to be jerks. Dr. David Loren, Ph.D, is one such jerk. Barely out of college, which he graduated from early, David is your everyday slacker who sits around playing video games and munching on chips all day. It so happens that he's a supergenius. And in comic books, we all know what happens to supergeniuses – the government gets their hooks into them. Recruited into DARPA, David is tasked with coming up with all kinds of outlandish tech to be used by the military-industrial complex. But when he finally decides that he doesn't want to create new machines of death anymore, he doesn't really get overly showy with his rebellion. Just the opposite – he spends his days vegging out on the couch watching TV and not finishing any of his work.
Think Tank #1, despite its high-concept premise, isn't really so much about the dreamy and impossible tech as it is about the characters, particularly David (every other character is really only here to bounce off of him). Consequently, the artwork by Rahsan Ekedal doesn't do a lot of work with the setting, and most of his panels are closeups of the characters' faces. In those moments when he is able to pull back and use an establishing shot, his knack for interesting page design comes out. These moments comprise his best sequences. For example, Ekedal does get to show off some of the lead character's personality when David is confronted by the military colonel who oversees DARPA. Ekedal is able to use wide shots to show that David's world is full of clutter and general messiness; exactly what you'd expect from such a slacker. His tonal grayscale art grounds the story in an immediate present, and his figure work has the slightest hint of exaggerated cartooniness, leading to the characters exhibiting more personality through gestures and body language. The only thing that detracts from the visuals of the issue is the large and often obtrusive lettering, which doesn't serve the story so much as distract from it. The font size, especially in the caption boxes, is rather large and doesn't really bring the subtlety this book would benefit from.
Hawkins spends the first two acts of his script establishing the lead character and his world. That's where the comic is at its most immersive. We get a good sense of exactly who David is and what he's dealing with. His external voice is an extension of his internal narration, and it's entirely through him that we experience the world of Think Tank. We get a good sense of how intelligent he is, and why it is that he's basically sacking it in while working at DARPA. The third act realization is where the comic really starts to live, and sets up where the story goes from here. David has created a device that won't kill anyone, but it occurs to him (somewhat late) that it has a whole other set of troubling implications. There's the hook: Think Tank seems like it's going to be about not only David's problems with DARPA, but it's also about navigating his own philosophy. It's about understanding exactly who he is and what he can do, and what that means to his own world and the world at large. When you have more brain power and talent that a gaggle of scientists, what do you do with yourself? Not only that, but how easy is it to hurt the world with your abilities, even when you're not trying to? What makes Think Tank #1 so compelling isn't so much what happens in the issue itself, but in the promise it holds. Engaging issues of ethics in superscience can only enhance what Hawkins and Ekedal are up to with this series. Here's hoping that Think Tank gives us a new spin on "with great power comes great responsibility." Whatever happens from here, the series is definitely off to an intriguing start.