By Justin McCarty
What do you get when you do a mashup of sci-fi social commentary and superheroes? That would be Brilliant Trash. Here we have a superhero story that leans heavily on the trashy, pandering media culture, and the SJW narrative of the last couple years, all wrapped up in a tight superpowered bow. The final product isn’t perfect, and the themes are a little heavy-handed, but that doesn't take away from the truly unique presentation and use of the comics medium.
Brilliant Trash combines media and superheroes to comment on the vapid entertainment that the internet allows us to consume. We start out with a couple of internet journalists. One still has managed to have some interest in real truth and wants to keep her integrity despite all the incentives not to. In the other, we get the opposite: a journalist who has sold her journalistic integrity for clicks and pageviews. She is cynical and takes the easy road. Both stand in as an argument about what kind of information we should be consuming. Entertainment, maybe? Enlightenment, possibly? Opinion validating drivel, yes, please.
Kennedy Avis is our jaded journalist who clearly is going to have to come to terms with her shallow point of view. She is suddenly pursued by a superpowered man working for a seemingly evil company that wants something from her. (He has a chilling way of finding people.) Until that is, she meets some self-made superheroes. They are internet style DIY superheroes and their abilities aren’t without side-effects. They save Kennedy after she has an encounter with an immigrant that wants to make the world a better place. She now carries some kind of mysterious formula in her blood that both the super mutants and the evil company need.
I really like this comic, it had a couple misses, but nothing that could just ruin the book. It gave us a genuinely interesting take on the superhero premise. There’s politics in here, not really presented to us in the usual way, though. The art is pretty fantastic, using dynamic angles to build tension and a sense of danger. While there are some great elements in the comic, it did have its problems. There is a lot of information given to us in the first two issues. Also, with this being an action book, and while the action was fun at times, it sometimes felt stiff and awkward.
The way the book gets across its narrative using social news feeds is engaging. Log on to Kitter! You might mind all the text, but it adds a dimension that you would not otherwise get if the characters were just referencing the content generated by these crazy world circumstances. That does still make the book pretty text-heavy and coupled with the character’s dialogue, it is quite a lot of reading and not looking at the art. The characters are well crafted, their insecurities will be their real weaknesses, and they’ll look to external sources for validation; not unlike society today. While the art worked in many cases, I found certain action sequences just didn’t land. It was the action moments that required a lot of movement to come through, they just tended to feel flat.
All the credit goes to the letterer and design team for not letting all the text get tedious. The lettering and design make it feel like social media but gives it flow and a narrative of its own. Because there is quite a bit of dialogue, further kudos to the letter, without the flow from the balloons there would just be these massive blobs of dialogue really bogging down the book. We increasingly interpret our world through digitized text, it’s important that it comes across right for this book, and it’s a large part of why this story works.
Aftershock has an ambitious book on its hands with an opportunity to really tap into the current culture wars playing out over the cacophonous internet. What does it mean to consume information? Especially when the line between content creation and consumption is so blurry? What is social justice really? Is it really just saving the world from what it wants? There is so much garbage out there; everyone has something to say. What works in this comic, really works. Brilliant Trash is pretty entertaining.