Brain Boy might seem like an odd choice for a hardcover collection. Published by Dell, a comic book house that was a shadow of its former self by the early 1960s, Brain Boy was a seemingly ineffectual effort to capitalize on the growing superhero comic resurgence that was led by the then-venerable DC and the burgeoning Marvel Comics Group, as well as the interest in spycraft that was occurring at the time as the result of interest in James Bond. The premise was that Brain Boy—Matt Price, Jr.—had telepathic powers that were off the scale. As a result, he was recruited straight out of high school to join a “special bureau of the U.S. government.” For all of that, Brain Boy did not fit either the style of superheroes or of superspies. Price didn’t wear a costume and didn’t really have a secret identity. To make matters worse, Price—there isn’t any way around this—dressed like a dork. And there were other problems. The book suffered from an irregular publishing schedule. Dell paid their writers and artists less than other companies and as a result, the artwork—penciled by Gil Kane for the first issue and by Frank Springer thereafter—often appeared to be hurried or rushed. Yet I bought and read the entire six-issue run, which stretched from 1962 to 1963, over and over, practically until each issue fell apart. So it is that the Brain Boy Archives, which respectfully reprints those issues (minus The Strange Mr. Ozymandias, a five-page backup feature) in the more permanent format that they deserve, is a most welcome addition to the perennial reading shelf.
Brain Boy could read minds, as one might expect. He could also control behavior (“Freeze, all of you!”) and fly. With regard to the latter, there are a number of great panels peppered throughout the stories that show Brain Boy flying up stairs rather than walking up them. Frank Springer was never one of my favorite artists, but giving credit where credit is due, those panels that showed Price floating up the staircase or hovering in the air are among my favorites of all time. Springer would also occasionally be given the opportunity to draw a larger, more dramatic panel and would really shine on those. It was the writing, however, that made Brain Boy. Herb Castle was a Dell workhorse, and he may not have been Stan Lee, but he wrote great stories, and he gave the strong-willed Brain Boy some equally strong villains to work against. The most noteworthy of these for Brain Boy was a Latin American dictator named Ricorta. His powers were almost as strong as Brain Boy’s; combined with his evil intent and a tenacious ability to survive, Ricorta made Brain Boy’s life miserable for three of the six-issue run as he repeatedly and stubbornly attempted to take over the world. Matt also faced off against a time-travelling nemesis, a dinosaur (yep!), and, in the last and best issue of the run, the contents of a mysterious lake way out in the boonies that took over the mind of anyone who swam in it.
Reading Brain Boy Archives over—and over—I am amazed at how much of the images and dialogue I remember from some 50 years on. And it isn’t just me. Friends of mine who also read the comic when it was originally published remember it as well or even better than I do. One asked me, “Didn’t Brain Boy have a hot Hispanic girlfriend named Maria?” Indeed he did. And she is just as hot as ever (Springer was not afraid to draw a womanly shape, in clothes to match). Brain Boy may have been a case of the whole being much, much more than the sum of its parts, but, as Brain Boy Archives demonstrates, they don’t make ’em like this anymore. Nor do they make ’em as good. Strongly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 13, 2012