Full disclosure: I’m a bit of a sucker sometimes (more often than I would like to be). This was not the review I was originally going to write. I was ready to get deep into another awesome series I have been enjoying and then I came across this article, a passionate open letter from the writer and co-creator of Think Tank, Matt Hawkins (Aphrodite IX, Lady Pendragon). Give it a quick read and maybe you will get sucked in as well (for your troubles, you can download the first issue for free). I know most creators are passionate about the projects they work on, wanting to promote their books the best they can. This is especially the case when it comes to creator-owned projects where, for the most part, promotion is up to those who create it, and when I see something like Matt’s open letter, I feel for him and artist/co-creator Rahsan Ekedal (Echoes, The Cleaners). He wouldn’t have written that piece unless sales on the book required a little bump to keep it going. I will admit here and now, that yes Matt, you got me. With the first volume already out and the second recently released, I took a gamble. I was not disappointed in the least.
I remember seeing the solicitation for the first issue of Think Tank a while back, thought the premise sounded interesting, but then for whatever reason, completely forgot about its existence. I’m sure this happens quite often to a lot of books, especially true for the more independent fare, getting lost on the shelves amongst the onslaught of big name super-hero titles produced each month. I’m glad it found a way to come back into my scope of comic reading, as this wonderful tale crafted by Hawkins and Ekedal is a fun, science-laden thrill ride, which can tickle your funny bone while at the same time, open your mind to bigger questions of morality and how we go about existing in this world with our fellow beings.
Think Tank is the story of Dr. David Loren, a child science prodigy who was recruited at a young age into a DARPA Think Tank to help create new technological advances (the vast majority of which are military related) as a pure researcher: essentially an “idea guy”. He is akin to Doogie Howser, M.D., but instead of working in a hospital and being the world’s first blogger, David is a narcissistic sociopath. Think Tony Stark with geek cred who separates his ethics from his work and ultimately builds things that end up killing people better. Being a genius who sees the world in terms of science and mathematics, he can come across as very black and white (which goes along with the colour scheme of the book), who can suck the fun out of things in life, such as why people are romantically attracted to each other. Since he was a scholar at such an early age and essentially grew up to be a man-child, he uses pop culture references for inspiration, which adds a certain light-heartedness to his character, making moments when he is kind of a dick a little more endearing.
We come into the story ten years after his recruitment, where David has a change of heart in what his smarts are actually doing to the outside world. He feels like a bit of a mass murderer and even though he always knew that what he was creating was for military purposes, he can no longer lie to himself about the more plausible applications of his work. It’s a completely relatable trait in that we all lie to ourselves on a daily basis to justify things in our life, and this is where David draws the line and says no more. With help from his sidekick/lab assistant Manish Pavi, David decides to escape CED; the facility he has been a pseudo-voluntary prisoner in. He’ll leave it all behind, have his conscience be clear and maybe find a bit of love along the way (with the fun and mysterious Mirra Sway). When you’re a national security asset, the government will not let you go easily. Volume One encompasses David’s planned escape, with a lot of fun surprises along the way, while Volume Two concerns a darker turn for David and his research, where he taps into the deep, super villain part of his brain, with terrifying results.
Hawkins and Ekedal have created a terrific supporting cast of antagonists to try and keep David at bay, each with their own ulterior motive. Dr. Steven Sejic, who was David and Manish’s professor at Cal Tech University, has a rather intense rivalry with David at the facility due to some rather humourous circumstances back in school. Mark Harrison, Director of Operations at CED, is a by-the-book military man who makes sure the scientists under his watch are producing their best, especially David. Harrison’s commanding officer (who could be described as the “big bad” of Think Tank) is Diana Clarkson, The Vice Chief of Staff for the Air Force, and her genius is the perfect foil for our (anti) hero, setting the tone for a brilliant game of cat and mouse between the two of them.
Much to my surprise, when I cracked the books open the art was in black and white, only “coloured” in a greyscale. At first I thought this was a little unusual, as you would expect some flashes of colour to go along with a book with a science element to it, but it works. This could possibly be due to keeping the costs of printing down on these books, but I believe it also plays in with David being inspired by Steven Spielberg’s black and white masterpiece Schindler’s List, and no longer wanting to be involved with creating instruments of death, much like the titular character Oskar Schindler. Perhaps we will get a “girl in the pink coat” moment later on in the series. I found Rahsan Ekedal’s art to be a little weak at first. With the book being monochromatic it’s harder to hide mistakes, and felt his layouts were a tad cluttered, his greyscale shading a bit messy. However, as the series progresses, Ekedal hits his stride; improving each issue with cleaner lines and a better overall design and flow to the book. It’s always an enjoyable experience to watch an artist grow and mature, especially within an eight (nine with the Military Dossier Special) issue span. I find his strength to be the facial expressions of the characters, especially David’s smirk, causing them to emote in believable ways like a great director. When you finish both collections, you can see what a great artist he truly is and I am eager to see where he will take it next.
One of the most interesting things about this science fiction influenced thriller is that it is based on science fact. Previous to his current life as Top Cow President and C.O.O, Matt Hawkins was a physicist. He takes the time to explain the ins and outs of each piece of technology used in the stories, and how they are actually being developed and used in the real world today. It’s quite a trip when you change gears from enjoying a fictitious story with a bunch of James Bond-esque toys sprinkled about in it, to when Hawkins lets you know the facts of it all in segments called “Science Class”. He educates readers on how real it all is and in the process, blurs the lines between what you think is fiction, planting them firmly in the realms of reality. If I can be honest, some of it scares the crap out of me. It’s a nice treat for science geeks and even readers who have a passing interest in technology.
The collections are a welcome addition to any shelf, with a high re-read factor: like watching the same movie on cable a dozen times, enjoying the ride again, even though you know how it all turns out. If you enjoy them, think about picking it up monthly and keep the book alive. It’s an extremely smart book, which at the same time does not take itself too seriously, rather like the story’s protagonist. They story is a study of manipulation, using all the tenants of literary conflict to help the reader discover more about the way they think. The tag line on the individual issues is “DANGER: Reading this book will make you smarter” and it could not be more accurate; perfect for those who like a little education with their entertainment.
Even the rumour that it’s been optioned for film development hasn’t stopped Hawkins and Ekedal from wanting to keep their story going. You have to respect that, especially when this is a situation where some creators would dial it down a bit, use the comic as nothing more than a pitch with elaborate storyboards, and then sit back to wait for their Hollywood pay cheque. You can feel how much both Hawkins and Ekedal believe in this project, wanting it to continue for as long as possible, and I think you should believe in it too.
Think Tank Volume 1 (collecting issues 1 – 4) and Volume 2 (collecting Issues 5 – 8 plus the Military Dossier special) are available in stores now. Issue # 9 (starting a brand new story arc: “Outbreak) drops on August 7th 2013, courtesy of Minotaur Press, Top Cow Productions and Image Comics.