‘Eight Billion Genies’ Can’t Be Wrong

Amazon has already picked up the bonkers new comic already for a cross-media movie and TV adaptation

May 11 was the day that the new comic book ‘Eight Billion Genies’ hit stores and reader apps like Comixology. It arrived with much less fanfare than your latest Tom King Batman run or most anything released with the word “MARVEL” on the cover. But for fans of its co-creators, writer Charles Soule and illustrator Ryan Browne, ‘Eight Billion’ screamed “Potentially a huge deal” from the moment its high concept was announced late last year.

That concept: tomorrow, for seemingly no reason, every human on Earth gets their own genie and one wish. “Not three. One,” says one of the eight billion tiny floating blue genies, each cutely modeled in attire and facial hair similar to the human wish holder they are paired with.

At The Lampwick Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, the barkeep Will Williams, his customers, and a three-member band that was about to play a gig, must each decide whether and how to use their wish as the world around outside the bar literally turns into a death-filled fantasyland of dinosaurs, destructive giant robots, and bad-intentioned superheroes.

Two issues in the eight-issue limited run have been released and Amazon just snapped up the rights to adapt ‘Eight Billion’ into a movie and TV-series “cross-media universe” executive produced by Browne and Soule.

Why this high-concept comic? Why did Amazon commit to what will surely be an effects-budget-busting bonanza based on a comic that has yet to even complete its short run?

Good reputation

The answer might be the co-creators, each respected in the fantasy and comics worlds for their previous work. Soule has written novels, including some in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, and some very well-received comics runs including ‘Daredevil,’ ‘Death of Wolverine,’ and the ‘She-Hulk’ comics helping serve the basis for Marvel’s upcoming Disney+ adaptation.

Browne is an immensely talented artist whose work on the ongoing, completely bonkers, ‘God Hates Astronauts’ is unlike anything else in the comics world. A recent 700-page ‘Omni-Mega-Bus’ version is heavier, more graphic, and even more disturbing than most Bibles.

Together, the two worked on a previous 25-issue comic called ‘Curse Words’ that is also being adapted for TV (though few details have been shared about that one). With ‘Curse Words,’ the pair found an ideal middle ground between Browne’s penchant for big world-building, spelling out his sound effects (“TUD!”, “VWOOG!”) and ridiculous pun-based characters, and Soule’s ability to shift between large-scale global chaos and more intimate stories grounded in real emotions and relationships. ‘Curse Words’ focused as much on its story of a mother, father, and daughter trying to reassemble their family as it did on the two powerful wizards in its story who nearly destroy our dimension and their own as they wage battle.

The genie rules

Eight Billion Genies
A wish granted in ‘Eight Billion Genies.’

Two issues in (and in a third that I was able to read in advance of its July publication), ‘Eight Billion Genies’ feels familiar to this ‘Curse Words’ fan with its big, blow-out splash pages of craziness. As soon as the genies appear, they grant millions of stupid, ill-considered wishes, creating billionaires and people with superpowers, but also causing a lot of death.

“I wish you’d burn in Hell,” one punk teen tells her parents at the dinner table, instantly regretting it when they catch fire in front of her and a horrified sibling.

As dividers in the story, Soule and Browne offer a tally of how many genies and how many humans remain on Earth at increasing time increments. Eight minutes into the wish-granting, two million genies have gone and one million humans are dead. The scene outside the bar includes a T-Rex munching on people, a 50-foot-tall man, spaceships, a castle with a newly-anointed queen, flying superheroes and the mech suit Sigourney Weaver used in ‘Alien’, all in one beautifully-composed two-page panel.

In lesser hands, the story could spin out of control quickly, but the creators have set up a few mysteries and rules in the first issue that keep things focused. Mr. Williams, the bar owner, makes a smart wish at the start that protects those around him, and seems well prepared for the ensuing tumult. He also speaks perfect Chinese when a couple who doesn’t speak English shows up and can’t rely on their translator app.

Does Williams know more than he’s letting on? An alcoholic father struggling with raising his young boy makes one wise decision: bringing the boy’s mother back from the dead. “Please, none of that monkey’s paw shit,” he implores, “Just help us.” A band called the “Bada-Bangs” suffers from love-triangle issues; that leads to a wasted wish and a lot of resentment. The genies summon dead literary figures and rock stars back to life, but sometimes the wishers die of shock or from the friendly fire of someone else’s wish, leaving the resurrected to hang around a while.

The genies, adorable, are helpful and hard-working. Their rules include not creating alternate dimensions (too much work to keep track of), and that opposing wishes can negate each other, so no wishing for your home country to dominate the rest of the world. Every other country has someone wishing for the same thing, except New Zealand, for some reason. The best wishes, according to the genies are personal, simple, and elegant and a good wish, like the dad wishing his son’s dead mother back, is a work of art. “We’re not big on wishes that affect the whole world. Unless we think it’s funny. Or ironic,” explains one genie.

The comic is all three, the perfect fable for our ongoing world-on-fire vibe. Even if it takes Amazon three or four years to bring Soule and Browne’s smart silliness to the screen, it’s likely to still feel apocalyptically of the times.

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Omar Gallaga

Omar L. Gallaga is a technology culture writer, formerly of the Austin American-Statesman, but he's not interested in fixing your printer. He's written for Rolling Stone, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Television Without Pity, Previously.tv and NPR, where he was a blogger and on-air tech correspondent for "All Things Considered." He's a founding member of Austin's Latino Comedy Project, which recently concluded a two-year run of its original sketch-comedy show, "Gentrifucked."

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