Two men square off in a Texan bar. Nick Cooper moves sideways and snaps a left hook into his adversary's jaw. The man, dressed as a cowboy, takes it well and rolls with the impact. Then he winds back to return a punch. Cooper sees the flicker of motion in the cowboy's eye, the tightening of his deltoid, and the twist of his obliques. He catches everything in an instant, the way a normal person can recognize a stop sign. The punch is a knockout. But for Cooper, who can see where it is going to land, avoiding the hit is easy.
Cooper is not very unlike Sherlock Holmes. He is a man of reason, an evolved person who recognizes patterns, and reads them to predict the future. And it is precisely this talent that has lead federal agent Cooper on a mission to hunt down other gifted people, known as "brilliants" or "twists," in Marcus Sakey's latest novel Brilliance—released on July 16.
Sakey, the author of multiple novels, including The Blade Itself—optioned for a movie by Ben Affleck, and Good People—slated for another film starring James Franco, has sold the movie rights for Brilliance to Legendary Pictures, the producers of other science fiction and comic book blockbusters like Inception, Watchmen, and the Dark Knight trilogy. Legendary, which presented the Pacific Rim prequel graphic novel and movie with screenwriter Travis Beacham at the San Diego Comic Con on July 18, and will present its upcoming lineups at the convention this Saturday, is a good fit for Brilliance's alternate world where exceptional individuals threaten to make normal humans obsolete.
While science fiction and comics have long been thought of as escapist literature, general readers will find many real life parallels in Brilliance to relate to. The Department of Analysis and Response (DAR), the agency that employs Cooper, can easily evoke the National Security Agency (NSA) in the way that it polices and investigates a "radically changing world," sometimes pushing the limits of civil rights and privacy. Sakey's novel can be specially insightful for adult and young readers who may feel disgruntled by current politics, or consider themselves outsiders who are sometimes at odds with mainstream culture and society. But, the idea that brilliants, or twists, could be anyone's father, estranged brother, wife, or friend makes them universally appealing.
"[They] could be adolescents, or gay or black or Irish. They could stand for any minority, represent the feelings of every outsider…" writes comic book creator Grant Morrison in the national bestseller Supergods about another exceptional group of beings—the X-Men. The comparison between Brilliance and Marvel's mutant heroes is unavoidable to the extent that the successes and failures of brilliant and mutant cultures capture the stories of all minority groups—including Latinos—who are struggling to gain recognition, mainstream acceptance. However, Sakey pointed out in an interview with Fusion that Brilliance is not just about supermen and superwomen living amongst us in a marginalized way, but a more encompassing world faced with a "believable problem where everyone has to desperately fight to avoid going over the precipice."
With over 130,000 people attending last year's comic book convention in San Diego, and this year's event selling out in 93 minutes, the success of science fiction and comic book cultures is an indicator of how we have become a nation of outsiders. We increasingly root for immigrants and underdogs who have become symbols of our self-made ideals, and the way individuals can still climb up social ladders to impact mainstream culture in a positive way. In this sense, even when only 300 people attended the first Comic Con in San Diego in 1970, geeks and nerds who were otherwise social outcasts found refuge and solidarity in their love of comics.
The San Diego convention today brings together and celebrates different kinds of pop culture, including video games, toys, movies, and anime. And it has become a premiere venue for presenting the hottest projects. This Saturday, I, Frankenstein will get its first big showcase. 300: Rise of an Empire, and the much anticipated Hunger Games: Catching Fire, will also be presented with other exciting projects on the same day.
Perhaps the biggest draw to being a comic book geek today is the excitement of belonging to a diverse culture where you can learn from a spectrum of different perspectives. Science fiction and fantasy novels like Brilliance, and comic books in general, have become a sacred place where you can discover and defend your identity, a stage where you can play out different ideas about the future. "Instead of just a team, or even a tribe, we imagined a fully formed Homo superior society finally emerging into the light of emancipation," wrote Morrison about the New X-Men in Supergods. And at least for a moment, comic book conventions have become the sanctuaries of this advanced society, where ordinary children and adults can be transformed into the heroes of tomorrow.