I was actually ready to mock Think Tank mercilessly, given the cover’s tagline warns that “Reading this book will make you smarter.” When your publisher is Top Cow and has a history of publishing the kind of comic books that Top Cow publishes (Cyberforce, Ripclaw, Witchblade, Aphrodite IX, and Codename: Strykeforce with a ‘Y,’ amongst other luminaries of disposable pamphlets) – that is to say incredibly dumb comics – it takes really big brass ones to leave yourself open with such a declaration, even if it’s with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Perhaps that’s the great trick of lowered expectations, though, as this first issue, against all odds, is actually… not… bad. Sure, it’s about as disposable as anything else the Image imprint has to offer, is probably going to get some unearned 4-star reviews from overeager-to-please critics on Websites That Shall Not Be Named, and will be forgotten about before the second issue arrives, which will prompt Top Cow to ask Robert Kirkman to attach a preview for his latest
television pitch series to the back of the third, but let’s put all thoughts and worries about the future aside and focus on the now.
Right off the bat, what sticks out about Think Tank is how much it doesn’t really stick out: Rahsan Ekedal’s art is clean and expressive, but otherwise could pass for Image’s current house style (which is essentially Marvel’s house style from the ’00s), with the only standout moment being a dream sequence depicting a drone with an extending gun, phallic imagery that suggests the creators are looking to adapt this into a 3D movie; the plot – regarding a super-slacker/whiz kid engineer working in a DARPA-funded think tank (see how high-concept pitches work?) on ways to kill dirty, dirty foreigners before having a pesky crisis of conscience and intentionally sabotaging his work – hinges primarily on exposition, since it starts after the guy has had an epiphany inspired by Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. As such, writer Matt Hawkins misses an opportunity for character development. It’s an affable read, just done in very humdrum fashion.
A new gizmo slacker protagonist Dr. Loren comes up with is a smart phone app that reads thoughts, going for the topical privacy debate – and in fairly clever fashion – by linking the monolithic state of intelligence-gathering with private citizens’ own abuse of Big Brother-style technology. Loren and fellow researcher Manish “field test” the device at a club, scanning the thoughts of various women that Loren tries to pick up, an effort that leads to feelings of guilt for breaking the ultimate sanctum of privacy. It’s almost as if something holy has been violated for kicks, the same way spirituality and science are co-opted in Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus for profit.
What’s really important here is that, while Hawkins and Ekedal obviously want the reader to worry about what the government would do with such technology (as the cliffhanger indicates), Loren’s “test” ultimately reminds us that those same abuses happen in the private sector, and with far less accountability. The greatest fear of America’s descent into surveillance state is that George Orwell’s Big Brother will become reality, but that really is a surface concern: Orwell understood that for the dictatorship of Nineteen Eighty-Four to work, it requires a populace just as, if not more, culpable in exploitation, bigotry, and unchecked greed as anybody in the seat of power (so much for putting aside worries about the future). It’s doubtful that the creators will expand this theme beyond that brief moment (they certainly don’t have much to say about it beyond how messed up it is), but on the whole this was a pleasant surprise.