Friday, October 13, 2006

Missing Genius Found! Film at 11!

I found the genius I've long been missing ... and he wasn't on Oolong Island!

He was hidden in the back of a book I almost didn't buy, in a back-up story I almost didn't read...

I refer, of course, to Genius Jones.

There have been a lot of "kid genius" characters, but nobody quite like Genius Jones; I mean, how many characters' origin center around bookburning?

Genius Jones (a.k.a. "The Answer Man") was a young boy who became shipwrecked on a deserted island. Fortunately, the boat he was on contained a vast reference library, and, salvaging 734 of the books, he committed them to memory before making them into a bonfire to signal for help.

Books, by the way, were a pre-internet medium for the storage and cataloging of information; can you imagine?

Rescued, he returned to NYC and he set up a lab in the back of an old car, where, instead of selling lemonade like other kids, he offered to answer any question for a dime. Dimes went farther in 1942, you know.

Genius's real first name was "John", and (as I've said here and elsewhere), I've always wanted it to be "revealed" that he had met and inspired a newly-arrived Martian Manhunter toward a career as an investigator. Don't hate me for it; I was raised during the Rozakis/Thomas era.

He dressed like a superhero, acted like a detective, and looked like a kid's funny cartoon. He crossed genres, but the world is not always kind to such characters, and today Genius Jones is nearly forgotten. In fact, I haven't heard tell of ANY in-story references to Genius Jones since his last appearance in DC comics in 1947.

Until this week, that is, when he turned up in, of all things, the Dr. Thirteen back-up story in Tales of the Unexpected. The main story, starring the Spectre was full of "Expected": evil people doing evil things to good people, victims being punished for punishing their victimizers, befitting deaths, severed limbs, gratuitously evil gangs threaten to rape little girls (an annoyingly common trope nowadays); you know, the usual.

But the Dr. Thirteen story? Julius H. Schwartz! Let's see...

A pretentious prologue that mocks pretentious prologues? Incest dreams? Traci the Teenage Witch? The Premier of France? Survivalist cannabilism? Andrew Freakin' Bennet? Genius Jones?

And presiding over the madness, Dr. Thirteen, that wondrous inversion of expectation. Just as in our world, there are those who persist in believing in the supernatural despite the evidence to the contrary, in the DCU, there is Dr. Thirteen, who persists in NOT believing in the supernatural despite the evidence to the contrary. When I was a kid, I used to think Dr. Thirteen was stupid; now I think he's ingenious.

This was definitely a Tale of the Unexpected, and one you shouldn't miss. Kudos to author Brian Azzarello (as complemented perfectly by the clean art of Cliff Chiang); if this is a sample of his writing, I may have to see whether he's written anything else interesting ... .


Bill Meisel said...

I've never read a Genius Jones story before (though I've tried).

have they been reprinted anywhere or online?

Devon said...

Did you recognize the corpse he was cradling.

philip said...

"Julius H. Schwartz!" is going on my short list of work-safe expletives. Thank you.

Chance said...

You are a veritable encyclopedia of comics lore. thanks for this tip.

You're not serious about not having read Azzarello, of course?

Jamie Ott said...

It looked somewhat like Captain Fear but I couldn't tell for sure. And the I, Vampire appearance was a nice twist as well.

Any guesses as to who that is in the 'pretentious prologue' might be?

I ONLY picked this up for the Dr. Thirteen story and I was well rewarded for suffering through yet another Spectre story.


Anonymous said...

I'm also pretty sure that was Captain Fear's corpse, but not 100%

Still, Genius Jones made the story!


Bryan-Mitchell said...

Doctor 13 was always one of those characters that proved once and for all that there was simply no way that all the characters published by DC were meant to be part of the same universe. On his own, he is a decent character. I'm surprised that they didn't try a revival when the X-Files were big. But as part of the DCU, where magic obviously exists, he is simply irrational. They try to make excuses for him, and explain how you can have a character so opposed to one of the premises of the universe in which he is shoehorned into. It would be like having a character in the DCU who believed that aliens didn't exist and went about proving aliens hoaxes.

Nimbus said...

Well, considering all the stuff that goes on in the DC universe, it's easy to explain "supposed" magic/mystical entities or abilities as resulting from either the superhuman metagene, alien physiology, super-science or a number of other pseudo-scientific abilities.

In that universe, when something "miraculous" happened, the last thing I'd think was that it was magic. Heck, it's probably just Superman messing around!

Ununnilium said...

Superman: I think I'll teach Jimmy and Lois a valuable lesson by making them think they've angered some ancient Aztec gods!

Dr. Thirteen: God damn it >:(

Timothy Liebe said...

>But as part of the DCU, where magic obviously exists, he is simply irrational. They try to make excuses for him, and explain how you can have a character so opposed to one of the premises of the universe in which he is shoehorned into.<

Bryan, did you ever read David Freer's A MANKIND WITCH? (It's part of the Mercedes Lackey/Eric Flint/David Freer series about an alternate 15th Century Venice where Magic is Real, and Christianity - reluctantly - tolerates pagan magicks.) In this story, a Renaissance Man skeptic is captured and sold into slavery in Scandanavia. Throughout the book he pretends to be a man-witch, even though he admits to his allies it's all bogus and what he's using is "applied science"...which get more ridiculous as what he does becomes clearly magical, and he keeps denying it's possible! Over and over! I'm guessing David Freer remembers Dr. Thirteen real well.... :D

>I'm surprised that they didn't try a revival when the X-Files were big. <

So am I, come to think of it. It might've worked better in that context than his appearances in THE PHANTOM STRANGER, where he'd make snarky remarks about "The Phantom Phoney" and insist PS was a con man of some kind.

Tim Liebe
Dreaded Spouse-Creature of Tamora Pierce - and co-author of Marvel's upcoming WHITE TIGER comic!

Jon Hex said...

I'm pretty sure the blonde headed caveman was Anthro, the first human.

Cody said...

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