Saturday, August 21, 2010
Brightest Day #8 - Focusing The Awesome
The last issue of Brightest Day was a case study in awesome. It was the kind of issue that you would put in a time capsule along with a copy of Ultimate X-men #1, Ultimate Spider-Man #1, and Superman #700 to show future generations how true awesome in comics should be done. What made it so great was that it took so many dangling plot threads and tied them together. The White Lantern, which Boston Brand had been struggling to figure out since the beginning of this series, finally started flexing it's power and in doing so it reached out to all the featured characters who up to that point had been dealing with their own shit. The Martian Manhunter, Firestorm, Aquaman, and the Hawks were all affected by this. It even affected characters that this series hasn't even touched on, showing that it's able to cop a feel from the greater DC Universe. The great revelation from all this awesome is that the White Lantern is connected to all those it brought back to life in Blackest Night and in order to proceed with the next step, it needs to find a protector in the same way all lanterns need to find a bearer of it's power. That's where Boston Brand is left to pay the tab. He is essentially the cleaning lady who has to clean the hotel room after Led Zeppelin has been in it.
So after an issue that awesome, how can Geoff Johns possibly follow it up? It's an unfortunate nature of comic book physics. When a book of great quality and supreme awesome comes out, the book that follows is usually doomed to drop-off of some kind. You can't reinvent the fucking wheel in every issue, otherwise readers will either overdose like they would if they took too many hits of crack or the readers will be essentially inoculated from any further surprises. So even if you had the equivalent of the Ebola virus of awesome, a reader with that kind of immunity wouldn't appreciate it. Now a lot of writers succumb to the temptation of trying to match such an issue the way professional athletes easy pussy on a road trip (just ask Kobe Bryant). Some writers are smart enough to keep it in their pants. Can Geoff Johns do it? Can he succeed where Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods failed?
Brightest Day #8 starts out with the same guy that Brightest Day #7 ended with, Boston Brand. Coming back from what had to be the most awesome LSD trip ever, he now knows what he has to do. He has to search for that protector that the White Ring revealed. This involves him being a meat puppet for this thing just a bit longer. Since he's about as equipped to find this protector as Michael J. Fox is equipped to perform open heart surgery, he decides to seek out the Green Lantern (who hasn't shown up in Brightest Day since issue 0). The ring takes him to the guy in a flash, but with a twist. It takes Dove along for the right. Because what's a quest to find a protector without a hot chick being involved?
While Hawk is left hanging like the unfortunate soul left paying the bill after his buddies ditch him at a pub, the effects of the White Lantern's little tantrum start reverberating with the other characters. The first one to get their share is J'onn J'ozz. When he was touched by the White Lantern in a very non-Catholic Priest way, he was able to heal the ailing Miss Martian. This is important because she had been on the receiving end of an Exorcist style joyride in that she was essentially possessed while she went on a bloody Charles Manson like rampage. The White Lantern was able to heal her and allowed her to reveal to J'onn just what was behind this and it wasn't a Martian equivalent of PMS. It was the mischief of a White Martian, who are essentially the KKK or Nazi versions of the Martian race. They're also uglier than Janet Reno in a thong.
The White Martians are essentially the only other Martians left though. J'onn is the last of the Green Martians, the ones that are cool in the sense they don't fuck people up. So it's imperative for J'onn to make sure that these guys don't thrive and make all Martians seem like total douche-bags. He essentially is that last Baldwin actor who has to stem the tide of douchiness from his family name. To learn more he does a Vulcan style mind meld with Miss Martian (which sounds sexier than it really is). But in doing so, J'onn makes another startling revelation. Turns out he may not be alone after all. There is another green Martian and the chances of saving the non-douchebag reputation of Mars may have more allies than previously thought.
This joyful little cliffhanger leaves the Martian Manhunter story open for more awesome down the line. The next story is so big it takes up damn near the rest of the issue. This is the plot involving Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who walked through a portal made out of the bones of their reincarnated ancestors (seriously, you can't make that shit up) and found themselves in a cozy little place called Hawkworld. It's essentially like Pandora from the Avatar movie, but there's no exotic jungle and no sexy blue chicks running around in loin cloth.
In the previous issue both Hawkman and Hawkgirl flashed their White Lantern bling for a moment, which actually was good timing because Hawkman was about to get the shit kicked out of him by the animal-humanoid beings of this world and Hawkgirl was about to get thrown to the proverbial lions by Hath Set. This works out better for Hawkman because it earns him some street cred with the locals (and he didn't even have to nail the chiefs daughter). One of them ends up taking Hawkman on a quick tour of the fucked up world they call home. He demonstrates how their people are basically the equivalent of North Korean sweatshop workers in that they're forced to work mines in order to extract Nth metal (the Thanagarian equivalent of unobtainium from Avatar). And if those workers can't work, they're basically tossed aside like a used tampon.
Then Hawkman gets a little history lesson. It turns out this world was visited by both humans and Thanagarians thousands of years ago. It is essentially a bridge between Earth and Thanagar. Humans peacefully co-existed with the locals, but not the Thanagarians. Having wings kind of made them envious and it's hard to co-exist with someone when they've got the equivalent of a tripped out Bently and a house next to the Playboy mansion that overlooks the clothing optional swimming pool. This all got a lot worse when Nth metal was discovered in abundance. Seeing a chance to match the Thanagarians hardware, they turned into typical human douche-bags and set up a tyrannical rule while they extracted this precious cargo. It's sad, but painfully human. They turned the other races against one another (a fancy way of saying to blame the Jews/Blacks/Mexicans/Gays). It sounds like grounds for Lord of the Rings style battle, but with a much lamer ending. The humans just grew tired of being douche-bag rulers constantly at war (seriously, when do humans ever get tired of power?). So they re-integrated with the locals, but some especially asshole humans discovered the portal to Thanagar and thought that would be a better place to act like a total dick.
Fast forward to more recent times and these people are still living under the thumb of some douche-bag who has been ruling over the manhawks and created a floating cities fortress while they went back to work mining Nth metal. Not only was this asshole another tyrant, but she had boobs too. This queen, who has made their lives a living hell for thousands of years, is supposed to still be in that floating city and there isn't a damn thing they can do about it. Hawkman sees a chance to change that though. Now that he has the credibility of flashing shiny lights to a gullible crowd, the locals are rallying around him. And in them he doesn't just see a bunch of pissed of man-beasts, he sees a totally badass army that's way more intimidating than anything Pandora could muster.
While Hawkman's little flash helped him make friends with the locals, it only made Hawkgirl's situation even more fucked up. She's still stuck in a cage, at the mercy of whatever kinky shit Hath Set finds amusing. Her White Lantern episode prompted him to bring his queen in, who supposedly is very interested in Hawkgirl. Needless to day, Hawkgirl is pissed and unloads on Hath Set the way James Gandolfini unloads on hot dogs. She's about as impressed with the queen as Simon Cowell and takes her frustration out on Hath Set, who seems to want to impress his queen by trying to knife Hawkgirl on the spot. That's about as successful as Catholic abortion clinic.
Lucky for Hath Set, the queen doesn't let Hawkgirl completely fuck him up. She wacks her over the head Fight Club style and knocks her to the ground. That's when she makes another startling revelation. This queen that been fucking this world up for so long isn't some random shmuck. It's Hawkgirl's mother. That's right. Hawkgirl has the misfortune of her mother teaming up with a guy trying to kill her, which not only makes it a shit ton harder around Mothers Day. It changes the whole nature of the mission because keep in mind, Hawkman has an army now. He's going to try and overthrow this bullshit authority that's been in place. He doesn't know that part of that involves taking on his girlfriend's mother. If he was hoping to make their relationship one supported by family, then they're both fucked.
This little revelation sets the stage for a much bigger conflict with the Hawks down the line. At the same time, the stage is being set for the Martian Manhunter as well. The book could have easily ended with the Hawks and been pretty damn solid, but the story with J'onn simply can't end on some bullshit revelation. He needs a lead on this last green Martian. With help from Miss Martian, he finds a telepathic anomaly in the center of Star City. So without even taking her along for the ride, J'onn goes after the anomaly and sets things up nicely for his next challenge. So if the Hawk story wasn't good enough for the readers, they have something else to look forward to. If that still isn't enough, then you're just being an asshole.
So after an issue where every major plot from previous issues was tied together, Brightest Day #8 sets itself apart by focusing on only three major plot lines and the first with Boston Brand barely lasted a few pages. Now how does that factor into the overall awesome of this story? Well first off, it shows that Geoff Johns has some humility in that he doesn't try to make a story too similar to the previous issue in a vain attempt to continue the greatness established previously. He's willing to set that aside and focus on developing other plots in the background before getting to that next stage in the story. That means this issue doesn't have the same mind-blowing punch that the previous issue had. However, the stories he focuses on are so well-done you still get your mind blown in just the right way. I wouldn't say it's the best way to follow up the previous issue, but Geoff Johns makes it work.
With this focus does come some costs. While the revelations were awesome, some of the plots felt a bit rushed. The end scene with J'onn could have easily been saved for the beginning of the next issue and used to catch up with another plot like Firestorm or Aquaman. It feels almost cut and pasted and a missed opportunity in a sense. This does little to affect the enjoyment of the issue though. This comic is still pretty awesome. It might not be appropriate to add it in that time capsule I mentioned earlier, but it's definitely one any DC fan would be wise to pick up.
I want to give this a perfect score, but in the shadow of Brightest Day #7 that just doesn't seem appropriate. So for all the greatness and shortcomings that this issue brings to the table, I give Brightest Day #8 a 4.5 out of 5. I could easily make it something like a 4.75 out of 5, but that would be getting into complicated math territory and I would rather not turn this shit into a math problem. Brightest Day is still awesome as hell. If there are any newcomers to the DC universe, they should start here if they want to see what kind of awesome that DC is capable of.