A burnt-out quantum physicist has to make the biggest decision of his existence – life or science?
WARNING to Bangers, Bazingans or whatever fans of The Big Bang Theory sitcom call themselves – stay away from Genius, lest it shatter your idea of a quantum physicist, as the television show depicts them to be, worrying about the future of the universe or if the Star Trek TV series will ever be rebooted.
As Steven T. Seagle shows in his graphic novel, quantum physicists also worry about – gasp! – money, promotions, health insurance, precocious children, sick wives and in-laws who hate them.
While midlife crisis is hardly a topic that will send graphic novel readers rushing to the bookshops, Seagle and his partner-in-storytelling Teddy Kristiansen deserve some credit for their second collaboration; it is an interesting and even inspiring read.
Genius revolves around Ted Marx – physicist extraordinaire, or rather, formerly extraordinaire. Having been told he was a science prodigy all his young life, Marx as an adult finds himself drowning in a sea of science prodigies at the physics institute where he works.
But his failure in realising his childhood potential for brilliance and making the scientific discovery of the century pales in the comparison to his problem of meeting his KPI (key performance indicators) at the office.
His mundane work pressure grows with his mounting domestic issues: putting food on the table and a roof over his family’s heads. Then there is a real possibility that his wife might be terminally ill, leaving him to cope all alone.
So when life throws you lemons, what can a self-respecting scientist do? Talk to Albert Einstein, of course.
Yup, Marx talks to his hero Einstein’s “spirit” for the answers to his life’s problems.
But as he discovers, Einstein’s formula, which he has rigorously learnt in order to plumb the secrets of the universe, cannot help him in the task of surviving daily life.
And to his surprise, the big scientific discovery he has been waiting for, the solution to his problem, is closer to home than he realises – deep in the mind of his contemptuously non-genius father-in-law.
As Marx discovers, his somewhat senile father-in-law was once a military guard to Einstein and, if he’s to be believed, even Einstein’s confidante for a brief time. All these years, the former soldier taunts him, he has been keeping Einstein’s darkest secret – one that could be even more devastating than the atomic bomb if it is revealed – and plans to take it to his grave.
This puts Marx at a moral crossroads. Should he do all he can to dig out Einstein’s last secret to save his skin, even if it means betraying his hero? Or should he protect Einstein’s scientific legacy and lose everything, from his job and family to life as he knows it?
As expected, the graphic novel is speckled with the imagery of atoms and equations, but Kristiansen’s emotive artwork could not be more fitting in portraying the intangible struggles of creativity and inspiration. The muted and moody hues reflect Marx’s moral quandary, and when he reaches breaking point, Kristiansen lets the pages burst into colourful abstracts.
Combined with Seagle’s inventive narration and sharp characterisation, Genius’ illustrations capture both the depths of human emotion and heights of the human mind.
Seagle’s wry humour in expressing Marx’s relationship with his children (fun fact: Seagle is one of the founders of Man of Action, the studio that created Ben 10!), gives a fresh twist to what could have turned into a drab “family drama”.
The funniest moments are Marx’s exchanges with his son. During his birds-and-bees lecture, for example, Marx takes a liberally pragmatic approach to hem in his hormonal son’s carnal curiosity. Without going into specifics, it involves the old carrot-and-stick approach, the carrot being a used car (don’t ask about the stick).
Ultimately, it is Marx’s conversations with his wife that grounds the story, which adds to the poignancy of the moment he finds faith again in his ghostly hero’s truisms: that God does not play dice with the universe and one’s world, or some stories, can end with a whimper, not a bang.
Genius and Iron, Or The War After are available at the graphic novels section of Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail ebd3 email@example.com or visit www.kinokuniya. com/my/.
Teddy Kristiansen’s emotive artwork could not be more fitting in portraying the intangible struggles of creativity and inspiration.
When life throws you lemons, what can a selfrespecting scientist do? Talk to albert einstein, of course.