Is it possible to review a comic about a weapons designer who has a change of heart (no pun intended) and not bring up Tony Stark? Maybe. But this isn’t that review. Think Tank is about a weapons designer who has a change of heart, but unlike Tony Stark, it isn’t violent hubris that brings about this moral awakening, rather growing up (and catching the right Speilberg film at the right time).
I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the simultaneous debut of The Doom Patrol and X-Men, or the far less legendary simultaneous releases of Dante’s Peak and Volcano. It seems that our shared idea-space manages to drip into the brains of many different creators and artists around similar times and around similar themes. So we have a bevy of post-apocalyptic comics falling in succinct waves, but we also find ourselves with a number of hard sci-fi, alternate history titles as well. Think Tank joins The Manhattan Projects in the proud modern tradition of twisting our past and present to say something pressing about our future.
The protagonist in Think Tank is David Loren, a child prodigy who graduated from Cal Tech and went to work for DARPA making and improving weapons. Like most child prodigies (or at least like most portrayals of child prodigies, I confess to knowing very few in reality) David is anti-authoritative, juvenile and surprisingly amoral for someone who claims conscience suddenly.
Along for the ride, Wilson to David’s House is Dr. Manish Pavi, another scientific wunderkind, but the voice of nervous reason as opposed to David’s rebel yell. Writer Matt Hawkins does his best to flirt with genre tropes without getting consumed by them, going so far as to explicitly describing the hard-ass heavy Colonel Mark Harrison as “a nice enough guy in reality, but he’s here to kick my ass.” Hawkins doesn’t want you to think he’s just setting up one-dimensional villains to harangue our heroes (perhaps that should be in quotes, Loren is a weapons manufacturer after all). In Hawkins’ world characters are just as multi-leveled as they are in the real world.
Think Tank feels like a combination of Revenge of the Nerds meets Wargames meets Sneakers. Col. Harrison is the Dean essentially, come down to straighten out the layabout rabble rousers and to get them to shape up and fly right. David picks a project off the fantastical DARPA wish-list (which apparently actually exists and is actually as bizarre as the comic purports it to be) to get into the good graces of his government employers. The project he picks and develops in a matter of pages is a smart phone that can literally read minds. Of course he has to steal from the other foil in our story, Dr. Sejic, the pompous former professor of David and Manish who works with them at Darpa, in order to make his smart phone mind reader work. It’s this theft that presumably brings armed troops to his door the next morning, while he’s walking out the door with a lady. This lady he picked up with the help of his handy thought reader, remember when I said he was a little amoral, even for a bomb maker?
The book is in black and white, a curious choice for a sci-spy comic (is that an official genre label yet? Can it be?) where you’d assume a host of colors to be utilized for lab scenes and government strangeness. Still it works and the artist does a great way of showing David as something of an entitled, genius ass, who while we start to like him he still comes off like one of those guys who’d hang out in an arcade all day long, just wailing on little kids on one game and making derogatory remarks about them.
What should really appeal particular readers, readers who enjoy the SCIENCE part of their science-fiction comics, is the back-matter where Hawkins goes into the research he’s put into the book and makes it known that these concepts he’s utilizing aren’t just wild ideas that came to him in the night, they are all rooted in the real. So Think Tank then becomes a science spotlight comic (something we rarely see anymore since Uncle Warren stopped writing comics on the reg) as well as an underdog story, as well as a counter-culture “damn the man” screed. That’s a lot of good things in one title. A lot of comics will make you dumber, but trust in Think Tank which proudly announces on it’s cover, “DANGER: READING THIS BOOK WILL MAKE YOU SMARTER.”