Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brightest Day #15 - Inching Back To Awesome

So here it is. The new issue of Brightest Day is out after Geoff Johns's long streak of awesome ended with the last issue. It's like having a favorite restaurant all your life and having a single meal where the cook spit on the steak and rubbed his balls in your potatoes. That bad taste is still in your mouth and there may even be a few ball hairs stuck between your teeth, but you still love the restaurant and the food so you go back to give it another shot. Geoff Johns is one of those rare comic writers who has earned a few mulligans. He's written so many awesome stories that we can't reasonably expect everyone to be mind-blowingly awesome. That would be like expecting your girlfriend to keep giving you the best blow job you've ever had night in and night out. Such expectations just aren't reasonable.

What made Brightest Day #14 such a disappointment was that it abandoned what made the book so awesome from the beginning. It took many different plots and balanced them in a way that fit into a larger story. Not every issue was going to cover every plot, but that was okay because the plots that were covered were awesome enough that it was hard to give three quarters of a shit. Brightest Day #14 basically linked up with none of the other plots. It focused entirely on Deadman's ongoing struggles with the White Lantern. That wouldn't be too bad if it hadn't all been a big tease. The biggest injection of awesome came from Batman and the promise that he may be the guardian of the White Lantern that Boston Brand had been searching for. That didn't seem to be the case. Boston gave the ring to Batman, the ring rejected him, and it went back to Boston. That's about it. Boston did get to make out with Dove and that's okay for a fucking Disney movie, but not Brightest Day. There wasn't even a hint as to what other stories would come with the next issue or how this was going to affect the other DC characters who were being affected by the White Lantern. There were a lot of reasons to pull chunks of hair out with a metal lathe and that issue earned the lowest score yet for the Brightest Day series.

Enter Brightest Day #15. This book is like the maid who has to clean up a hotel room after Motley Crue went on a crack binge and staged an orgy featuring no fewer than 20 groupies, 8 midget prostitutes, and 5 transsexual strippers. It does not make too smooth a transition and that may be for the better. Like America's history with African slaves and Justin Bieber's twitter feed, it's one of those things best left unmentioned in civil conversation. This issue focuses on a plot that culminated a few issues ago. J'onn J'ozz, the Martian Manhunter was channeling his inner Scooby Doo, uncovering a mystery involving the last green martian. This last martian was about as friendly as Dick Cheney on a hunting trip. She attacked and tried to screw over J'onn (and it might have been literal at some points, but it's hard to tell since I haven't watched much Martian porn lately). In some ways she succeeded (minus the money shot) and got J'onn to use his White Lantern powers that had flared up earlier to revitalize Mars. It all seemed so cheerful and happy, but then it was revealed that the last green martian tricked J'onn. He's essentially living in a fantasy world now on the scale of the Matrix, only in his reality Keeanu Reeve's bad acting isn't there to fuck it up.

If you hadn't kept up with the events that led up to this issue (or are too damn lazy to look up spoilers online), you wouldn't really know that the Martian Manhunter was in a dream world. Everything looks all cheery and happy. J'onn is on Mars, his people are alive and well, he's revered for having saved them all, and years of prosperity have since transpired. That should be a big enough hint, that this happens in the future. When his fellow Justice League members appear that include Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern it they all look like they're spokesmen for one of those annoying Medicare commercials by the AARP. While I'm sure Geoff Johns is enjoying his royalty check on fine wine and the best GILFS a lobbying group can provide, J'onn and his buddies smile and hold hands at how happy life is. It almost makes you wonder why Disney didn't by DC instead of Marvel.

The good times continue, further reinforcing the notion that this can only be a dream. J'onn chats with his Justice League buddies, thanking them for dropping by. They take a moment to reflect on how peachy J'onn's life is on Mars. He's got his planet back, his people back, and he's literally the savior of an entire race. For those like Superman who don't have that luxury, they should be downright jealous. But J'onn still managed to show plenty of humility. Considering you can't get a politician to show humility these days, it's amazing a Martian does a better job. They also take a moment to remind each other that Father Time is starting to creep up on them like a pedophile at the little league world series. It leaves J'onn looking like he's ready to retire and do the Martian equivalent of sleeping until noon and falling asleep in front of the Golf Channel.

Beyond the Justice League, J'onn also has his family back. At this point even I have to admit this dream world is pushing the whole Disney style sap. He's hanging out with his wife, they're cuddling in a way comic couples aren't supposed to cuddle (according to Joe Quesada with regards to his stance on the Spider-Man/Mary Jane marriage). He's got all the Oreoes and love a guy could ever want. You know it can't last. It's gotta go wrong at some point.

Then at last there's a glitch in the Matrix. While feeding his dog (which looks like a totally regular Earth dog and not some bizarre Martian dog mind you), the little mutt actually bites him. Now I don't know where the dog came from or if it was some gift from Superman or something, but it's the first time that J'onn's perfect little world starts to crack. You just know at some point he's going to get a jolt of reality on the scale of 10 billion hangovers.

It all starts going down hill, as if that dog bite was a voodoo curse. On the very next panel, Batman is shown to be dead. There's no big time fight. Somehow some way an unseen foe took out the Dark Knight when countless plots of exploding whoopee cushions form the Joker could not. It's pretty underhanded, but given this is undoubtedly a dream world it does feel a bit more salient. And in the same tradition of a Dan Brown novel and shitty Ron Howard movies, Batman tries to give J'onn a message before he dies. He never gets a chance to finish and lie naked on a pentagram. If only everyone were so lucky to die in such an elaborate way.

It doesn't stop with Batman either. Pretty much the entire Justice League starts falling like the unnamed guards in a James Bond movie. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, and Green Lantern all die gruesome deaths. It's not Ultimatum style gruesome, but it's quite a shift from all the rainbows and unicorns from earlier. It's a jarring shift, but one that gives the book a unique feel. One minute you're reading such a happy story and the next there's a mass murderer on the loose. It's like Dexter meets the Disney Channel.

Only Superman remains and before he shows up in a twisted heap of Kryptonian gore, J'onn assembles the Martian Manhunters. The time for holding hands and singing Bryan Adams songs is over. J'onn wants to find this killer and give him the old alien rectal probing treatment, the drunken hillbilly version. They don't find the killer, but they do find Superman. He's trapped in a Martian prison with a Krytonite mask. It would be an unceremonious way to die. Even Lex Luthor would call such a method tacky as hell.

J'onn tries to save Superman by giving him a quick solar sauna (minus the happy ending). Along the way his daughter, Kym, shows some typical teenage whining that seems to cross species. J'onn is making such a big deal about helping his Earth friends that he seems to give less consideration to his Martian brethren. He's becoming Jake Sully in Avatar minus the five-legged horses. Like James Cameron and his producers, J'onn won't hear it. He manages to heal Superman and he's understandably pissed.

It's a given he only becomes more pissed when he demands to see the others only to find they've been butchered like extras on a Michael Bay set. They're basically left to bury their friends and find out who's behind this and how they hell they pulled off what generations of super-powered nutjobs couldn't. It rubs J'onn in all the wrong ways. He remembers how he had to bury every last member of his race before and the thought of doing it again is enough to make him want to cut off his hands and dive head first into a volcano.

It's this paralyzing fear that pushes J'onn over the edge. It's that trigger that turns that sweet, lovable child who likes to rip the wings off flies for fun into a deranged Jeffery Dahlmer level psychopath. Even Martians have their limit and J'onn reached his. So he does the only logical thing a madman would do in his position. He tries to kill Superman. I want to say it sounds contrived, but in a dream world where J'onn is slowly losing it this makes perfect sense. How's that for irony?

It's during this act of Joker style madness that J'onn gets his first dose of the red pill to take him out of the Matrix. Superman urges him to wake up. Doing so is like ripping off 10,000 band-aids while rubbing iodine into your eyes. He flies all over Mars to see everything going up in flames again. All those people he saved are becoming Resident Evil style zombies minus the retarded movements. He makes his way home to find his wife looking remarkably calm. J'onn then proceeds to give her the Ike Turner treatment, literally ripping away the deception from her flesh to reveal the truth that someone has been fucking with him in the worse possible way.

It's a violent dose of reality for the Martian Manhunter, but it leaves him looking more badass than he's ever looked. He finds himself back on Mars (now dead as George W. Bushes credibility), choking the sadistic bitch to death. Now normally I'm not at all for violence against women, including hot alien chicks. But when it comes to mind fucking a guy so he has to relive the death of his whole fucking planet again, that whole chivalry crap goes in the nearest trash compactor.

We don't get to see all the horrible things J'onn does to this alien psycho-bitch and it's probably for the best. Anybody with a dirty enough mind can figure it out. Instead, this issue does what the last issue failed to do and actually touches on another plot in Brightest Day that has fallen to the wayside. This takes place at the Justice League of America's headquarters where Congo and Starman are enjoying a friendly game of chess. Before they can start playing the role of snooty British intellectuals, Firestorm shows up. Last we checked he was dealing with the return of the Black freakin' Lanterns and the prospect of causing another big bang. So he's clearly in need of some assistance and sets the story up for the next issue. And this time, it's done in a way that doesn't suck.

So Brightest Day #15 ends with a far different taste than it's predecessor. It's not the same feeling of imported Swiss chocolate that the other issues brought to the table, but it's still enough to get you drooling like Pavlov's dogs. It doesn't completely turn the tables though. Brightest Day #15 still made a few of the same mistakes the last issue made. It dedicated almost the entire issue to one storyline and didn't really tie it in or even hit at tying it in with other storylines. So it's not a complete departure from what didn't work. Geoff Johns is trying to roll that proverbial bolder back up the hill and crushes his back in the process.

Never-the-less, there is some quality awesome here. Unlike the Batman story in the last issue, this one doesn't end where it began. Even though much of it was spent in a dream world, J'onn woke up and confronted the enemy he had been chasing. He broke free of her control, which granted is progress. In addition the whole shift from such a happy beginning to such a gruesome end gave the story a unique feel. It went from one extreme to the other so fast and still made sense. That's not an easy thing to do. That's like trying to jerk off and take a piss at the same time. Only those truly skilled in the craft can pull it off.

Now I want to get back to giving Brightest Day comics perfect scores. It seemed a given for so long and I miss being able to sing the praises of a book that delivers everything it promises. However, I simply can't make that leap in the same way I can't wipe my memory clean of the previous issue. So for Brightest Day #15 I give it a final score of 3.5 out of 5. This issue is not entirely back to where Brightest Day was in terms of quality. It's definitely back on the right track though. Nuff said!

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