Police Detective Reginald Grey is a cop by training and a tactician by nature. For years he’s hypothesized that there was one figure running all the gangs of Los Angeles. A single vice lord who played the various factions against one another, before finally uniting them under one common cause – the complete destruction of the LAPD. Det. Grey dubbed this mystery man Suspect Zero, theorizing he was a master of military strategy and a genius.
Grey is right in every respect save one – Suspect Zero isn’t a him but a her. A 17-year-old her named Destiny, who is this generation’s Alexander The Great. But Destiny doesn’t want to take over the world. She just wants revenge on the system that screwed up her life. And damned if she might not be able to take them on and win.
Genius is a brilliant idea poorly executed. The core plot is a decent enough idea – a teenage girl who read Sun Tzu at a time most girls are reading The Babysitter’s Club decides to declare war on a corrupt government. Alas, any potential message of empowerment is undercut by a cover featuring our underage heroine wearing nothing but a few lines of police tape.
This disparity is a minor problem compared to the comic’s larger story issues. Bernardin and Freeman deliver most of the information regarding the book’s concept in an info dump on the first page, in the form of a report from an unnamed agent to an unnamed Brigadier General. We are told Destiny and Detective Grey’s backgrounds rather than being shown who they are.
Ironically, telling the reader the story might have been more effective in the textless flashbacks showing Destiny’s childhood that make up most of the comic. We see a harsh upbringing but learn little about Destiny’s motivations. It’s implied that Destiny’s mother was killed by the police – which explains her grudge – but we have no idea why. That makes it difficult to sell Destiny as a sympathetic hero when she may just be a petty thug rather than a modern-day Robin Hood fighting a corrupt police force.
The artwork by Afua Richardson seems equally conflicted. The cover of the book is pure exploitation and outright creepy given Destiny’s age. Yet the interior artwork goes out of its way to depict Destiny and her unnamed best friend as attractive young women without emphasizing their sexuality. Even the one scene showing Destiny seducing a gang leader is shown in silhouette and tastefully done. The only real weakness in the artwork is that Richardson’s children have the faces of adults and odd body proportions.
In conclusion, Genius isn’t as smart as it wants to be. The artwork isn’t bad, but it proves incapable of conveying the story that the writers have to explain on page one so the audience will have some vague idea of what is going on. There is little to recommend this book to any but the most devout fans of the true crime genre.