Monday, October 11, 2010
Brightest Day #11 - Dark Awesome
Every two weeks I'm inclined to pay my routine tribute to DC comics. This has been the longest stretch of time in over a decade where I've routinely ponied up my hard earned cash for a single ongoing series. It used to be DC comics couldn't hold my interest in the same way Lost couldn't hold my interest. So much was going on and unless you were stoned, it wasn't going to knock your socks off. Well then Blackest Night happened and the ongoing Brightest Day followed up and let's just say I've been walking barefoot ever since! Brightest Day remains one of the most consistently quality stories in comics right now. Not only is it biweekly, but the damn thing only costs $2.99 when most comics these days cost a buck extra. It's a better deal than the five dollar foot long.
Since issue one (or zero if you want to be technical) Brightest Day has followed the story of characters who returned from the ashes of Blackest Night. They've all played a part in the unfolding world of the new DCU status quo. It took a number of issues to set up, but in recent months the action has really escalated. There's a lot more focus on certain character plots. The ones most prominent have been that of Firestorm and Aquaman. The Aquaman plot has spun out of the white lantern, which thanks to Boston Brand (Deadman for all you folks too lazy to use wikipedia) is seeking a new guardian. That guardian is tied to a new Aqualad, who happens to be the son of Black Manta (go on, use wikipedia this time). So somehow the battle for this kid will determine what happens with the White Lantern. It's like a struggle for the keys to a new Ferrari or the combination to Scarlett Johanssen's underwear drawer.
While the Aquaman issue has been unfolding for a few issues, now the last issue revisited the story with Firestorm. Since the beginning of Brightest Day their story has been mostly the tired college drama you would find on MTV reality shows. Some guy's girlfriend is dead because some other guy had the audacity to come back from the dead and merge with the Firestorm matrix. It's basically the plot of no fewer than two seasons of the Real World. Now Jason and Ronnie, the two sides of the Firestorm matrix, have learned how their mutual hatred for one another had the potential to cause another big bang. While this offers a much stronger incentive to forgive and forget, some of Ronnie's old demons literally come back to haunt them in the form of the Black Lantern corps. Apparently not everyone died or re-died as it were in Blackest Night. The Firestorm Black Lantern was just buying his time and having a big bang in his hip pocket leaves him in pretty good position to kick some ass.
So this new Firestorm seems eager to learn about this deadly power Professor Stein has uncovered. He basically comes off as having the maturity of a college frat boy who claims to know the secret of the universe. So in that sense, he's an accurate representation of no fewer than 60 college stereotypes. And like a college stereotype, he's not inclined to study for answers. He does the equivalent of buying his essay off the internet and absorbs Professor Stein in hopes of uncovering the full potential to his power.
There's then a quick interlude of the battle between Aquaman and Black Manta. It's really an old school style brawl, a classic comic character battling his arch rival in the Lex Luthor vs. Superman tradition. However, the stakes are extra high in this one. Black Manta seems a lot less like his sinister self in that he's fighting for control over his son (granted, the same son he apparently abandoned, but still). Aquaman is trying to keep those influences away from him and understandably so. However, as old school as this battle is there isn't much of a spectacle here. It's basically like a reminder to the reader that there is a fight going on and that's about it. Plus it only lasts two pages. It's basically some filler to cover the gaps with the Firestorm arc.
This is really Firestorm and Deathstorm's issue to shine. Jason and Ronnie are facing their darkest half and for once Professor Stein isn't going to bail them out. Now it's not entirely clear just how Deathstorm is using Stein. He just seems to be fooling around with his powers, not using that whole big bang thing that Stein described in the last issue. You would think that someone with the maturity level of a drunk college student couldn't resist the temptation to use it. But instead he just harasses Ronnie and Jason. That's a little underhanded, but it does give Jason and Ronnie time to set aside the whole I-killed-your-girlfriend bit and join forces as Firestorm again. In terms of being an evil villain, Deathstorm is already proving to be pretty incompetent. But that's forgivable from a reader's perspective because it makes for some awesome moments with Firestorm.
This ends up being another short scene, like a prelude for the fight to come. The story goes right back to Black Manta and Aquaman. There's not a whole lot of overbloated dialogue here. There's just an all out brawl and even in a story as deep as Brightest Day, there's nothing wrong with that! It's like porn. There will always be a place for deeper stories, but there are just some times you want to look at pretty things that will get your juices flowing! The art here really shines and the old school style struggle with Aquaman and Black Manta really shines. It unfolds nicely, but eventually someone had to gain the upper hand. In this case it's Black Manta. He's the one fighting for his son so he kicks just enough extra ass to make Aquaman regret coming back from the dead.
This battle appears to be the simpler plot of the comic and like each scene so far, it doesn't last long because the story bounces back to the Firestorm/Deathstorm arc. Now at this point readers may be feeling a bit of vertigo because this issue is bouncing around so much. If your brain is prone to falling out of your skull, now is a good time to take a breather. But the story is still worth following here.
Now that Deathstorm has to contend with Jason and Ronnie, he tries to make it personal again. To do this he brings Jason's father, Alan Rusch into the fold. Now it's not quite clear what kind of strategy Deathstorm is employing. It's not entirely reckless though. If you want to psyche out Firestorm, a good way to do it is piss off a part of it. In this case that part is Jason and unlike the Mafia, Deathstorm isn't afraid to go after family. He sucks in Alan the same way he sucks in Professor Stein. Before Firestorm can even begin to fight back, he flies off. So basically that means for everything that's happened so far Firestorm and Deathstorm have yet to really fight. It seems like a shortcoming, but the stage is being set for something here. It's just taking much longer than it should to unfold.
Now at this point you gotta hold onto your brain again because the story heads right back to Aquaman and Black Manta. Now to this point Black Manta still has the upper hand just as the baby daddy always has the upper hand in all things outside Maury Povich. He keeps messing with Aquaman, letting his actions do most of the talking here. There's not nearly the same dialogue as there is with the Deathstorm struggle and that's not a bad thing. It's a lot easier to follow here. You don't need to study astrophysics at Oxford to follow it. You don't even need to graduate the third grade to follow it. This is especially apparent in the way that Aquaman turns the tables on Black Manta. He uses an oncoming truck. Even in a superhero comic, there's just no substitute for road rage.
This renders Black Manta officially pwned and humiliated, allowing Aquaman to escape with the new Aqualad (his name is Jackson for all those who skipped that part). This effectively puts a stop to that battle and then resumes the chase with Deathstorm.
Finally, it's getting a bit more coherent. Firestorm chases Deathstorm to his destination. It turns out he was heading straight towards the White Lantern, which Boston Brand found earlier. Now Boston is nowhere in sight and neither are the White Lanterns. So that seems like a bit of a head-scratcher. But wherever he is, Deathstorm takes advantage of his absence and starts corrupting this power that has been at the center of the Brightest Day series since the first page. It immediately upgrades Deathstorm's hit-points in terms of evil from a 10 to a 70 because he's got ambition as well as balls. And with it, he does something that should make Blackest Night fans run naked through the streets while high on ecstasy. He resurrects the Black Lantern Corps.
If ever there was a stage to be set for a battle of cosmic proportions, this is it! Now most should probably have forgotten that whole lack of a fight between Deathstorm and Firestorm. That would have been too easy. Throw in the entire Black Lantern Corps and you've got something that's the awesomeness equivalent of the Death Star! It definite kicks everything up a notch within this series.
While this battle is being waged, the struggle is still unfolding for Aquaman and the new Aqualad. They've left Black Manta behind and are in search of their next battle. For whatever reason, Jackson is the key and Aquaman helps him figure it out. It's not entirely clear what he does, but he manages to open up that sealed case his father gave him earlier to reveal a map that's supposed to tell them where they have to go next. Once again, Brightest Day shows how well-thought out it is because the next destination further ties into the other plots that have been unfolding within the series. Their next trip will be to Mars, where the Martian Manhunter has been caught up in a search of his own. He hasn't shown up in Brightest Day in a few issues. Now it looks like he's going to finally get the spotlight again along with the Black Lanterns. It's like the end of an episode of House. The answers fall into place and Dr. House winds up looking more awesome. He's not even in this comic, but even he would celebrate the end of this issue with an extra helping of Vicodin.
So once again, Brightest Day proves why it's still the most reliable source of awesome from DC. This issue was heavy on the action and the foreboding, showing old school battles with Aquaman and Black Manta alongside new school battles with the Black Lantern Corps. It's like both schools coming together in a way that doesn't piss off the teacher unions! Only someone like Geoff Johns could pull that shit off and it makes this issue a worthy contribution to this series.
Now I do have some criticisms this time. I've caught some flack in the pass for overlooking flaws within this series and giving perfect scores out in the same way Paris Hilton gives out blow jobs. But there are some more serious issues this time around. What really made this issue a bit of a struggle was the pacing. The scenes changed every couple of pages and there wasn't nearly the kind of flow that made the other issues so easy to follow. First it's Deathstorm, then Aquaman, then Deathstorm again, and then back to Aquaman. It made everything more choppy than was necessary. If it were a boat, everybody on board would get sea sick and blow chunks into the nearest school of leaping dolphins.
Confusing or not, the content is still up to par and that's really the most important part of comics like this. You can overlook the seeming lack of organization if the material is still awesome. So while I can't give this book a perfect score like all the others, I can still give it a stellar 4.5 out of 5. Hopefully the next issue won't fly over everybody's head and be a bit more coherent. But with all the big stories set up in this issue, there's a shit ton of reasons to still celebrate the awesome of Brightest Day! Nuff said.