Sunday, June 20, 2010

Brightest Day #4 Review - Subtle Awesome

When it comes to the new era of DC comics, the gold standard of awesome is more often than not dictated by the pen of Geoff Johns. Blackest Night was a historic achievement for which readers are still having multiple nerdgasms over and Brightest Day is basically turning it into a three way by continuing the staggering momentum that had been previously established. The last issue was a return to form in many ways. Before then the story had been slowing down a bit and by a bit I mean within the context of a story that involved mass resurrections and some of the most epic battles this side of the multiverse. It kept Brightest day up to par with the most ridged standards of awesome so issue 4 has a lot to live up to. Can it measure up? Can it summon the super human strength of an Olympian to leap over the impossibly high bar? The answer isn't a simple yes or no, but that's where some explanations are needed and maybe a few curse words to boot. I'll do my best.

The beginning of the issue continues with the surprise and ball-bustingly awesome end of the previous issue. Here, Hawkman and Hawkgirl found the thief that had been stealing the bones of their reincarnated selves. With them he constructed a gateway that only someone on enough LSD and cocaine to kill Sigmund Freud wouldn't find amazing. Now going through a mysterious gateway is nerve racking enough, even for a superhero. Going through a gateway made of bones from your past selves? Now that's something that can and probably should make your brain leak out of your ears. Hawkman and Hawkgirl understandably hesitate, but being the heroes they are they go into it and the trip isn't all that pleasant either. Along the way they get a glimpse of all their past lives and how they all violently ended. It makes for a pretty awesome shot as well as a great image to look at when you're stoned. A page like this could keep a pothead entertained for days.

They do make it through in one piece (although it's not clear how much therapy they're going to need by the end of this), but where they end up is overwhelming in some ways and underwhelming in others. For one, they're definitely not on Earth anymore. They're not anywhere familiar either. They're on a planet that looks like a cross between Tatooine from Star Wars and Pandora from Avatar. Their target is nowhere in sight, but they are back on his trail and going to extraordinary lengths to reach him. It would have been great to see a classic hot pursuit, but unfortunately the scene ends. It's not necessarily a cliffhanger, but it is still awesome enough to want be satisfying.

The next part picks up with Boston Brand, who has taken center stage for much of this series. He's alive again after being Deadman for quite some time and he's still not adjusting well. Seriously, how do you go from being the walking dead to being a regular, shitting guy? He already got some action when he faced off against the anti-Monitor in the last issue. Whatever fight ensued it isn't shown, which is kind of a drag because that was shaping up to be a great fight. Instead he just ends up in the room of a sleeping attractive woman. It's basically the kind of scenarios that horror movies and porno movies are made from (not that there's anything wrong with that).

That woman, however, is not a teenage babysitter humping her boyfriend. She's Dove, the more peaceful side to the Hawk and Dove avatars. She's understandably confused because she still knows Boston Brand as Deadman. Imagine her surprise when he shows up alive and in her bedroom? At the very least she can take comfort in the fact that this has no necrophilia undertones. However, she isn't the only one to notice Boston's entrance. Her better half, Hawk, picks up on his presence fast because it's hard to be subtle when you wake a beautiful woman up from a peaceful sleep. It makes for an entertaining and awkward moment that's both awesome and funny.

Hawk, being the reasonable guy that he is, welcomes Boston by trying to beat the shit out of him. It's the kind of moment that would probably make Brand still wish he was dead. However, he does get Hawk to stand down so he can explain himself. His concern is the white lantern ring he's wearing. This thing has basically been the driving force of this series and for whatever reason it let him to the anti-Monitor and to Dove's bedroom (as if a ring needs to lead a man to a beautiful woman's bedroom). He's as confused as Hawk and Dove, but Hawk comes up with an idea and drags Boston along. It's an ominous shift for a guy not known for being reasonable and it adds some intrigue.

That intrigue carries over to the next scene, which picks up with the Aquaman plot. Sadly, Aquaman is nowhere in sight this time. After his moment with Mera in the last issue, he's MIA and the oceans aren't liking it. Lakes are disappearing and dead bodies are washing up on rocks. It follows the whole death theme that seems to be clinging to Aquaman.

However, at this point the plot becomes a bit confusing. I'm not talking Lost style confusing. I'm talking more random shit that doesn't seem to fit. While these death events are being investigated, Mera appears to lead an attack by Atlantean forces. For anyone who has been following this series they'll find themselves thinking "Huh? Where the fuck did this come from?" If it's supposed to be a subtle hint, it's not very well done and seems horribly out of place and poorly fleshed out. For a Geoff Johns comic, that's like a Unicorn fucking a dragon.

It's almost a good thing that this scene cuts off because the next few parts take the story back down to Earth so-to-speak. Johns takes the story to a place that will probably bring tears to the eyes of anyone with fond college memories...a frat house keg party. Even in the world of DC and superheroes, there's always a place for college age decadence. If the movie Animal House has taught the world anything, it's that everything is made better with a kegger. But it's not completely random like the Aquaman plot. It's revisiting Ronnie (aka the first Firestorm), who looks like he's not in the spirit of the party. If anything it looks like he's skipped a step and gone straight to the hangover. Excuse me while I wipe away my tears from such fond memories.

Now when it comes to being drunk and hung over, it doesn't take much to make it worse. Anyone who has been hammered before knows that even a creaky floor board can be the equivalent of having root canal done with a jackhammer. So Ronnie is understandably in bad shape when a ghost from Blackest Night shows up. Keep in mind Ronnie still has part of the Firestorm matrix and while the other half currently hates his guts, that doesn't mean the part that died in Blackest Night can't come back to haunt him. It's an eerie and very cool scene, one that will make anyone with drinking experience feel that much better when they think their drunken stupor can't get any worse. Because no matter how drunk you are, at least you don't have a ghost that happens to contain the other part of the Firestorm matrix looming over you. That's worse than 10,000 hangovers plus crack withdrawal.

This is another scene that could have been a big spectacle that would have filled this comic with the awesome we've all come to expect from Geoff Johns and Brightest Day. Sadly, it cuts off at yet another cliffhanger that really wasn't a cliffhanger. It was basically a prelude and it seems to reflect a pattern in this book. All the moments are just these preludes to something better instead of being plots unto themselves. It's only half-awesome in that sense and it does sort of feel like you're being teased as a reader. It's like that super hot stripper that pretends to give you a lap dance, but at the last minute runs off to the bathroom while you sit hanging with a boner that is in serious need of stimulation. Yeah, it's that uncomfortable.

At the very least not every plotline is like that in this book. The Boston Brand plot with Hawk and Dove ends on a real cliffhanger for once because the final scene does pick up from what the first one established. Hawk leads Boston to the grave site of his brother, Donald Hall. His way of testing the power of the white lantern ring is simple...use it to bring back his brother. If Brand was able to resurrect a dead bird and come back from being Deadman, then why not a human? It's a morbid and macabre request, one that may have crossed the minds of those following the Boston Brand plot from Brightest Day #0. The issue ends with Brand in a strange position. He wants to understand this power, but Hawk isn't making it easy for him. It's the kind of conflict that makes a reader develop Restless Leg Syndrome in waiting to see what happens next. It doesn't make up for all the weaker plots in the book, but it sure does help end it on a strong note and set up a base of awesome for the next issue.

Going back to the original question of whether or not this book measures up to the standards of Geoff Johns and Brightest day, the answer should be more clear now. It does measure up, but not completely. It does have some shortcomings that keep it from being as awesome as the issues that preceded it. There isn't enough action and too many plots are cut off before they can become interesting. Johns really does seem to want to create some suspense here, but the suspense isn't all that suspenseful and even somewhat of a drag at times. The choppy plot of the Aquaman story and the complete omission of the Martian Manhunter story don't help, but the Boston Brand story and that of the Hawks certainly does. There a certain balance to it all and at the very least it keeps the reader wanting to check out the next issue.

All in all, Brightest Day #4 gets a 4 out of 5. It's a great setup and has the potential to really build on some great plots. But as an individual comic, it just doesn't raise to the occasion as it's predecessors have done. It's still the gold standard of DC comics and it a must have for any self-respecting DC fan. Geoff Johns isn't perfect, but he comes pretty darn close most of the time and he's got plenty of room to still blow the readers away. I'm still picking up parts of my brain off the floor from Blackest Night so I hope he'll have something else ready because my head is ripe for more awesome and Brightest Day is more than equipped to deliver it.

1 comment:

  1. Jack - Great review! In regard to the Mera moment, I'm guessing here but I think that was someone else from Mera's home dimension on a rampage into our world. More that likely this will lead to a confrontation with Mera and Aquaman in the next few issues.

    The Ronnie/Jason moment was great. I can't wait to see what happens next. Also, great descriptions from you on being drunk. :)

    The Irredeemable Shag