September 02, 2021


Bright Family #1. By Matthew Cody with Carol Kilo Burrell. Art by Derick Brooks. Colors by Warren Wucinich. Andrews McMeel. $13.99.

     One of the less-appealing ink-on-paper spinoffs from the digital library called “Epic!” (complete with exclamation point), Bright Family pushes every inclusive button its authors can think of in a way that quickly becomes tiresome, interfering with a basic story that is very silly and sort of enjoyable. This almost looks like a typical “super scientists” graphic novel, because there’s a mom who is a “world-famous adventuring scientist” and who uses a ray gun to disintegrate dangerous meteors, a kind-of-absent-minded-dad who is a “multiple Nobel prize-winning inventor,” and kids (boy and girl) who are ages 12 and 10½ . But – here comes the button-pushing – the parents are white; the kids are black and adopted; the younger (a boy named Jayden) is an absolute super-genius to whom everything comes easily, but who refuses to do school work because it is all beneath him; and the older (a girl named Nia) gets all sorts of awards and has all kinds of success in school because she works so hard all the time. Nia says such things as “wow, an agrarian culture that’s gone fully subterranean,” while Jayden’s comments are along the lines of “So. Much. Cute.” Also, the kids have a robotic babysitter that looks like something out of a 1950s sci-fi flick (a kind of small-size Robby the Robot, for anyone who knows the genre). The robot does things such as “cleaning the dirt off the dirt” (thus being named Dusty) and has a face plate that displays messages, emojis or exclamation points. For their part, when the kids have ideas – which are always complementary, with the kids almost always being complimentary to each other – their entire heads turn into lightbulbs, a variation on the old “lightbulb above the head” notion used in comics since time immemorial.

     The dialogue is, to put it politely, nothing special: “I’m tired of landing on my butt every time a portal dumps us into another dimension.” But there is plenty of butt-landing, since the story involves mysterious and maybe malfunctioning one-way portals invented by the kids’ dad to allow trips through the multiverse (or maybe through multiple dimensions; the whole concept is neither clear nor consistent) – the parents accidentally go through the first and can’t get back (since it’s built to be one-way, right?), so the kids go after them and have very mild adventures of all sorts. It is important that everyone and everything they meet is well-meaning and basically good at heart – this is what makes the book cloying. The first place they go, for instance, is filled with kaiju (gigantic “strange beasts” from Japanese monster movies) who only seem to fight viciously and whose negative effects on smaller creatures are wholly unintentional and easily stopped when Nia and Jayden heroically create giant-size comics. On another world (or in another dimension; whatever), a thing attacking with a disintegrator ray turns out merely to be carrying a delicious hot dog that looks like a disintegrator ray.

     The creatures Nia and Jayden meet tend to have alliterative or rhyming speech patterns. Some go “Biggy bo bo! Bobity bumbersnatch! Babs be bomers!” Others express themselves by asking, “Goopy doopy goo-gorp snoop goo?” And eventually, inevitably, the kids are given universal translators that, um, land them in the middle of an unusually silly game show (even by Earth’s game-show standards, which are pretty low); and through that show, they are reunited with their parents, while the money-hungry game-show creator is left to lament that Nia “coulda been a contender” (the one line from On the Waterfront that everybody, just everybody, knows and uses way past the point of cliché). Then, on their way through the one-way portals to get home, the kids teach their parents the importance of paying better attention to the family, so the parents lament the error of their scientific ways and decide that from now on, when they go adventuring, Nia and Jayden will go along too. And there you have the setup for the next book – make that books.

     There is nothing really wrong with any of this, and very young readers who are just discovering the graphic-novel format will enjoy the events and hopefully ignore the plenitude of plot holes (plot not being any part of the purpose here). But Bright Family, at least in this first outing, is a one-and-done readthrough: there just isn’t enough storytelling, amusement, character development or artistic cleverness to bring kids back to the book repeatedly. The family may be Bright, but taken as a whole, this first book featuring them is so earnest and well-meaning as to simply be, well, dull.

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