Edison Rex: More Than Just HomageA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Max Dweck
In the summer of 2012, Chris Roberson (co-creator of I, Zombie) launched a new company called Monkeybrain Comics. What made this company interesting was that it was digital-only, with all content available exclusively on Comixology. As a DC-only reader at the time, I wasn't really sure what I was expecting when I decided to look at their titles. I think I was just curious what Comixology-exclusive content would be like. As I looked at the titles, they didn't get much more than a passing interest out of me. But one comic stuck out to me: Chris Roberson's own project, Edison Rex.
The thing that made me interested in Edison Rex was the name. "Edison Rex" just sounded really, really cool, and while I didn't know what it was about, I wanted to. And it was only 99¢, so I purchased it. What I found inside was definitely interesting. It was the story of a Lex Luthor-esque supervillain (the titular Edison Rex) in his final confrontation with his arch-nemesis, a Superman expy named "Valiant".
Over the course of the comic, Edison reveals that Valiant is the carrier of an alien virus that will cause him to turn evil and take over the world. In revealing this, Edison convinces Valiant to kill himself, but as the mighty hero dies, he tells the mad genius that in his absence, it is now up to Edison Rex to act as protector of Earth.
Every time I tell somebody about this, they say the same thing: "Isn't that the plot of the Dreamworks movie Megamind?" To which I say, "Yes... No... Shut up."
Of course similarities are there, but Edison Rex tells the story in a much more serious, earnest and focused way. The big thing any reader will notice about the early issues of Edison Rex is that nearly every character can be seen as some kind of parallel to an already-existing comic book character.
As I mentioned before, Edison is obviously based on Lex Luthor, though he's much more physical and hands-on. He has the intelligence and arrogance of Luthor, which really comes through in his actions and speech.
Edison's henchwoman/bodyguard M'alizz is very similar to Lex's own bodyguard Mercy Graves -- albeit as an alien warlord instead of a chauffeur. Characters Edison interacts with such as the Defiant, the Eclipse, and Cerebella are all clearly based on Bizarro, Batman, and Brainiac, respectively.
Then there are characters that start mixing together multiple inspirations, such as L.A.R.V.A., leader of H.O.R.N.E.T., who is a sort of mixture between M.O.D.O.K. and Queen Bee. This isn't to say that the series is completely derivative of ideas that came before. Everything takes inspiration from something. But Edison Rex could just be seen as one man trying to play with everybody else's toys. The truth is, it's so much more.
The world of Edison Rex is a world with its own history and characters. The end of every issue has a few pages of Edison's personal "REXfiles" that contain information about the various heroes and villains that show up.
And how unique this world truly is becomes most apparent within the story itself. Edison's mission to save the world starts as just him fighting other super-villains but quickly evolves into trying to change his image and affect social change. He recruits key villains to his cause and teams up with old enemies to show he's a hero like them. He fights evil Santas and mutant monsters. And all the time he's desperately trying to prove that he can be a hero now.
Before Lex Luthor saw the light in Forever Evil or Otto Octavius became the Superior Spider-Man, Edison Rex was trying to remake himself. And it's hard. The heroes he's allied with don't trust him, the villains among whom he used to be counted now want to kill him, and everybody else sees him as a threat.
All the while, Edison just wants to be like his mentor, Gladiator Gladstone, an adventurer/scientist who was one of the most respected men in the world before Valiant came along. It's an ongoing story about a bad guy trying to be good, and it's very compelling.
The elements that are based on other characters are great. Edison Rex is far too earnest to be considered a deconstruction of the superhero genre, and not humorous enough to be considered a parody, but the differences between the characters featured in the book and the characters they're based on really helps make it unique.
Edison meets his own personal analogue to Marvel's Counsel of Kangs, including a female Edison, a Nazi Edison, and an anthropomorphic platypus Edison. They're very funny, but also very dangerous, and seeing Edison confronted with what he used to be makes for a really good story.
Similarly, one issue has Edison meet a group of superpowered teenagers from the future who claim they're inspired by him, and he believes to be good guys, like DC's Legion of Superheroes, only to learn that they're actually an intergalactic protection racket. In addition, all of the homage just gives the comic a great sense of style. Edison Rex mixes some modern storytelling with Silver Age goofiness and all the energy and enthusiasm of old pulp stories, essentially combining elements from several ages of comics to create a mood all its own.
This is the most important thing to understand about Edison Rex. It's easy to look at a bunch of things which are inspired by such obvious sources and say "anybody can write that", but they really can't. Edison Rex's characters aren't homages to other characters. Edison Rex is itself an homage to superhero comics as a whole. It brings back so many of the fun, light-hearted elements of the superhero genre that the Big Two have abandoned these days and modernizes them without ruining them.
Edison Rex is fun and thoughtful, not hijacking old concepts, but using them in ways nobody's thought of before. It has to be read to be truly understood, but it's well worth reading.