Sunday, June 6, 2010
Brightest Day #3 Review - Back to Basic Awesome
It goes without saying that Brightest Day has a pretty high bar to jump. As the spiritual successor to the supremely awesome Blackest Night event, it has a lot to live up to. Like any cocky protagonist to every sports movie ever made, the series gets humbled at some point. Maybe the cheerleader girlfriend dumps him or he finds out he has herpes, but the game keeps on going. The last issue, Brightest Day #2, was a bump in the road for the story thus far. It was the first time Geoff Johns and his Brightest Day saga failed to deliver on the expected level of awesome, which admittedly is pretty high. It was disappointing, but where Brightest Day #2 left readers a bit jaded Brightest Day #3 straps a wad of C4 caliber awesome to their brains and detonates it without a moment's hesitation.
The story picks up right where the last issue left of. Boston Brand, who was once known as Dead Man only he's not so dead anymore, is standing face to face with the Anti-Monitor in the Anti-Matter universe. That's the equivalent of facing King Kong naked with your arms and legs cut off. To this point the white lantern ring hasn't shown much firepower. It definitely shows a little here and not in a typical way to say the very least.
As kick-ass as every lantern power in the spectrum is, this little display really set itself apart. When it comes to sheer force, you can't get much better than an onslaught from a white outline of the mightiest heroes on Earth. Even for the Anti-Monitor, it's a lot to handle and a damn fine display. Now with this power one might expect Boston Brand to kick the Anti-monitors ass like the 2008 Detroit Lions. But the ring is still not cooperating. It literally has a mind of it's own and isn't exactly dancing to Brand's tune. As a result, he gets a little 'remember me' shot from the Anti-Monitor. It looks like he may take on the mantel of Dead Man yet, but the white ring isn't making it easy for him. It's like Yoda in Empire Strikes Back having Luke fight Darth Vadar during his training. Only this involves someone who is pants-shittingly more powerful than some guy with a breathing problem.
While Brand is left hanging, another plot is unfolding with Firestorm. Ronald, who came back from the dead during Blackest Night, is at odds with Jason. Since he's the other half of the Firestorm matrix that's a pretty big problem. I know Firestorm is used to having an identity crisis, but this brings out a worst-case-scenario kind of moment. The two people who together make an ass-kickingly awesome superhero hate each other at the moment and one of them wants to leave it all behind. What's a guy who just came back from the dead to do?
This is where the whole adjusting-after-having-been-dead plot comes back into the fold. Ronald is like a lot of the other DC heroes who came back in Blackest Night in that he's not sure what to do with himself. Seriously, how do you adjust from coming back from the dead? In comics it's pretty normal. People coming back from the dead is about as common as seeing some wannabe douche-bag make an ass of himself during an American Idol audition. Here, Geoff Johns adds some depth to the experience. He really shows how Ronald is struggling with this and it's a refreshing bit of characterization that often as underplayed as Amy Winehous'es gynecologist.
Only Ronald isn't the only one getting used to not being a corpse. In the previous issue Aquaman was going through his own problems. It turns out death hasn't quite left him yet. He may be alive, but now he can summon dead aquatic life. Now given the recent gulf oil spill, that seems like a good thing. After all, there are probably more dead animals in the ocean than there are live ones in this day and age. But it's still pretty disturbing, at least for Author. For the readers, the visuals are like orgasms for the eyes. It makes Aquaman more interesting than he has been since the Reagan administration.
It's a spooky moment that makes even a fish man piss himself. But he doesn't freak out as most anyone in his position would. Mera reaches out to him and it makes for a nice moment between the two. Given that neither of them has had time for romance that doesn't boarder on necrophilia in a long time, it's a nice little reminder that these two are still very close and it's one of those warm and fuzzy moments that brings out a readers inner Lady Gaga. While Mera clearly loves the guy, it's also pretty clear that she's just as spooked. She just got her man back and now he's summoning dead fish. There isn't much relationship advice you can do with that.
The whole death theme continues into the next plot, which seems to be the key theme of this issue. The forces of death are following these heroes and by and large it's screwing with them. They beat the grim reaper and now the grim reaper is looking for ways to fuck with them. J'onn J'ozz is next in line for such a fucking when he is left to uncover the grizzly events that occurred in the previous issue. A whole family is dead and the only survivor is a dog. Once again showing his resourcefulness, J'onn reads the dog's mind to see what happened. Even through the eyes of a creature whose favorite activity involves licking himself, it's a pretty gruesome scene. At least it provides him with his next clue. It would be so engaging if only there was some explanation as to what that clue was. All J'onn does is read the dog's mind and fly off with him, dropping his typical hint in the process. That's all well and good but it moves his mystery forward about as quickly as turtle's boner.
J'onn isn't the only one whose time gets shortened way too much. The White Lantern makes another appearance. Apparently, it still hasn't moved from where it ended up at the end of Blackest Night. Nobody, not even the various lantern corps, have any idea on how to move it. That doesn't stop some locals from trying to fuck with it. Naturally, the White Lantern doesn't like that and throws a hissy fit. It's an okay spectacle, but nothing too mind blowing. At the very least, Johns shows that this mysterious manifestation of DC awesome is still in play. It would just be nice if he did something with it.
These two scenes highlight the weakest points of the issue. They touch on events from the previous issue, but don't do much with them. It's like they're just slapped together so Johns can say "See! I haven't forgotten! Now don't quit your bitching!" He's big on the little things, but there is such a thing as being too little to care. The scenes from the previous plots could have easily been made longer while omitting these two. They have their place, but they seem so painfully contrived in the sense they act like filler.
Thankfully, this is the only part where this lull sets in. The next scene doesn't just pick up on a moment from the previous issue. It moves it forward and does something awesome with it that blows the mind and possibly other parts of the body that may not be appropriate to mention. It involves Hawkgirl and Hawkman, who have been tracking down Hath-Set. The guy developed a sudden intrigue for the bones of their reincarnated forms and assembled himself a pretty messed up collection. Since we're talking reincarnation here, the Hawks are pretty intent on showing the man a Thanagarian ass-kicking.
What happens next is so unexpected that Nostradamas himself would be at a loss for words. In a moment awesome enough to be marketed as a cure for depression, Hath-Set shows why he's been gathering their bones. It's not just for kicks or even to sell them on Ebay. He wants to use them to create a gateway to another world. That's not a typo fleshed out while high. The guy actually used dead bones to make a gateway. Even in the lore of comics where a walnut can be turned into a diamond, that's a new one for most fans and pretty damn awesome to boot.
It's the perfect way to end the issue. It leaves readers needing to know what happens the same way Jack Baur needs to know where the next terrorist strike is going to happen. Only it's not done in a way that would require torture on par with cutting open the stomach and retrieving a computer chip (see the 24 finale). It definitely makes for a kick-ass ride for a kick-ass comic. It brings home an issue that by most standards measures up to the insanely high bar established by Blackest Night. If it were in an Olympic event, it would get a silver metal.
Now I say silver metal and not gold for reasons I've already stated. As awesome as the ending was, there were some slow points that just weren't all that interesting and probably could have been cut. In many ways that's the biggest problem with this issue. Many of the scenes just end too quickly. It feels like the comic is shorter than it should be. Granted, there's a nice preview of Green Arrow at the end, but it feels like that comes at the expense of an already strong story. Geoff Johns is one of the best at laying out a story. All he requires is time and space on a certain number of pages to tell that story. It almost seems like he tried to condense everything or got cut off. It doesn't hurt the awesome factor too much, but it leaves readers agonizing at just how awesome it almost was.
Taking this narrow shortcoming into account, this Brightest Day #3 gets a 4 out of 5. It isn't so much that the book is flawed. It's more so that it seems incomplete. It's still a must-have and definitely keeps Brightest Day moving along with the momentum of a bull high on crystal meth. It's DC at it's finest and still deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Blackest Night. Nuff said.