Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brightest Day #16 - From the Ocean to Awesome

The past few issues of Brightest Day have been like a topless Playboy model trying to break into your house to give you oral sex. She's been so good to you in the past, but she earned herself a time-out for getting sloppy on the job. She's still skilled at her craft, but she has to earn the right to be awesome at delivering the goods again. Two issues ago, the Brightest Day series hit a low point. Now bear in mind a low point for Brightest Day is like a bad throw by Peyton Manning. It's bound to happen, but he always makes up for it. The previous issue got the book back on track. It wasn't flawless awesome like much of Brightest Day has been to this point. Going back to the Playboy model I referenced earlier, it's the equivalent of three quarters of a blow job. So there's still a ways to go to reach the desired peak.

Brightest Day #16 is left with the less ominous task of improving on an improvement. The last issue had to claw it's way out of a whole. This issue has light already visible from the beginning. It just has to avoid tripping over itself to get there. What has caused some of the recent issues of Brightest Day to fall face first into a pile of horse shit lately has been a deviation from what worked so well earlier. Normally when you're on the yellow brick road, you don't want to veer off. Writer Geoff Johns did that a few issues ago when Deadman met up with Batman. Instead of balancing multiple plots in a way only he can, Johns focused on just one plot for an issue. This is all well and good, but if the way that plot is handled sucks then the whole damn issue sucks. It's like investing all your money in Enron and having no fall-back plan when your bank comes over to ass rape you into bankruptcy. The last issue was similar, but not entirely. It spent most of the time on one plot involving J'onn J'ozz. Granted, this story was much better done, but it still didn't tie into the rest of the series very well. It offered at the end a hint at the next issue, which would revisit the Firestorm arc.

Now you would think a story involving two college kids with the power to create another big bang would be a big fucking story, but no. Somehow this got put on the back burner. It's not the only one either. The Aquaman story was pretty important for a while, involving Aurthur finding the son of Black Manta and letting him know his biological father is a real asshole. So far we've been denied the inevitable kick in the balls this kid, Jackson, is poised to receive. Brightest Day #16 is left being the steel-toed shoe that does the kicking and it tries to get back on that yellow brick road by throwing in the Firestorm arc.

It starts off with Aquaman and Jackson. For the past few issues, they must have twiddled their thumbs or saw Tron Legacy because in their last appearance they hopped on a truck with Jackson's adopted parents to get away. Aurthur then took him to an old hang-out where he can prepare his next move. While there Jackson sees some pictures of Aurthur, Mera, and their son. The scene becomes more awkward than a pedophile in Toys-R-Us when Aurthur reveals that Jackson's biological father killed the cute baby boy in the pictures.

Now here's where this issue takes a definitive turn from the previous two books. Rather than sick entirely with the Aquaman plot (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) it actually *gasp* transitions to the Firestorm plot. This after *second gasp* it was hinted at near the end of the previous issue. I know it sounds like I'm making a big deal of this, but it's worth ranting about through a bull-horn. Part of what made previous issues of Brightest Day so awesome was Geoff Johns flaunting his ability to balance these plots in a single issue. It's not an easy thing to do. It's like having a big dick. You don't stand atop a building announcing it, but you wear slightly loose pants so that people can see the distinct outline to demonstrate your virility. Geoff Johns has been known for subtlety before and regardless of whether or not he has a big dick, the man knows how to flaunt it.

The Firestorm arc, if some are sober enough to remember, was once one of the most volatile plots. Not only did the Firestorm matrix split into a new incarnation of the Black Lanterns, but Professor Stein said that in it's current volatile state the matrix could cause another big bang. And by big bang I'm not referring to porno slang or the nerdtastic show on CBS with the hot chick. I mean an actual big bang that destroys the whole freakin' universe. Seeing as how this is clearly a bad thing, Firestorm seeks out help from the Justice League and they're not in a position to say no when the universe is in the hands of a couple of college frat boys.

While Ronnie and Jason are trying desperately not to undo what God and Allah did over a drunken bar bet, the Black Lantern Firestorm is handling his power with the same responsibility as 2-year-old armed with crazy glue. He has the black lantern in hand, which is like a pedophile who has keys to the boys bathroom at a pre-school. Not content to be a complete arrogant douche-bag, he plays tricks on Professor Stein and Jason's father that he absorbed earlier. He makes Jason's dad believe he can stop the Black Firestorm by killing the host (himself) so he forms a gun for him. It's his way to prove that he loves his son enough to kill himself. It's like a mirror reflection of the Old Testament, except Yahwe in this instance is a juvenile jerk-off. Firestorm made him the gun, but put no bullets in it. He essentially just fucked with Jason's dad for shits and giggles while on his way to deliver the lantern.

We go back to Aquaman (yep, Johns is flexing that package of his again) and the new Aqualad. At least that's how Jackson is being groomed. Aquaman is like a more pushy version of Yoda, dragging Jackson along this path and taking him to a special cave where there's another bio-locked chest to open. Along the way he teaches Jackson a bit about living underwater. He shows him that he can see in the dark and breathe underwater. Aquaman is also nice enough to not warn him when he gets a holographic recording (think Superman origins) from his biological parents. Except he's no savior or a hero. He's pretty much a key and not the kind used in cheap college sex jokes either. He's supposed to release Mera's people from their prison in the Bermuda Triangle. It's pretty much his purpose and the only consolation he gets from it is a new Aqualad costume. To be fair though, the costume looks pretty damn awesome.

It's a lot to take in for a kid his age. Most guys at his stage of life bury their faces in pillows because that hot chick with the D-cup breasts in Algebra class wants to file a restraining order because you kept staring down her shirt. But this is a comic! Surely Jackson can summon the inner courage that Clark Kent did back in the day and accept his responsibility.

Actually, he can't. He responds in a way you would expect a teenage boy to respond who got pulled over for a DUI. His words are and I quote "I want to go home." It may be the least heroic thing ever said in a DC comic. Jackson might as well put on a skirt and start sucking his thumb. However, he does redeem himself somewhat by lashing out at Aquaman when he tries to persuade him otherwise. As whimpy as some teenagers can be, they can also be rebellious and fierce.

Aquaman lets Jackson throw his little hissy fit. Over the course of the next two pages, Jackson's balls start descending again after having retreated to the back of his throat. Say what you will about Aquaman being one the lamest superheroes in DC (next to the Penguin), but the man is king of Atlantis. For a kid to fight back and hold his own is still quit a feat. Aquaman resists channeling his inner Namor and helps Jackson settle down. He gives a speech that is basically cut from every episode of 7th Heaven, saying how he went through the same crap when he was young. Except he throws in a few light kicks in the ass so he'll be willing to hero up and help fight back against the Xebels. That may mean pissing his father, Black Manta, off. Then again, what teenage boy wouldn't want to piss off the father that left him? It helps Jackson seem a bit more kick-ass and a bit less ass-kicked.

So Jackson comes full circle and embraces his new role as the new Aqualad. It's a nice little journey that has some parallels with Superman, but not so many that it would excite that inner copyright lawyer in all of us. It makes Jackson more relateable and likable. He's a guy who just found out his biological father is an evil asshole and that he's the key to preserving the whole (underwater) world. It's like finding out you're related to a serial killer and then become a police officer (the non-corrupt non-donut eating kind). For that, Jackson earns the label of awesome.

He's not the only college-age guy having his testicles forcibly descended. Ronnie and Jason are still stuck in the Firestorm matrix, trying to prevent another (non porno) Big Bang. The help they're getting is from the Atom. The theory is they're going to use Metamorpho to stabilize the Firestorm matrix. There's no long-winded Star Trek inspired explanation here. It's just adapting to whatever havoc he's unleashing at the moment. No Nobel Prize in nuclear physics needed.

As with so many things in science, what sounds good on paper doesn't always work out in real life. Communism sounded good on paper to some. Then Stalin put it into practice and nobody was a fan. However, Atom doesn't even get a chance to implement his plan because Ronnie and Jason do exactly what Professor Stein told them not to do. He warned them that if they argued like college students at a football game, they could destabilize the matrix. Well keeping in mind that Ronnie inadvertently killed Jason's girlfriend, it was bound to happen sooner or later. And it did in a big way.

I say big because Firestorm erupts in the heat of a the college-equivilent of a yo momma's so fat joke. As a result, that eruption essentially snuffs out everything. And by everything I mean everything. It appears they destroy the universe. All the stories, plots, and struggles in the entire DC universe post Blackest Night are suddenly meaningless. The universe is dead. Now given that there are still a number of issues left in this series, it's reasonable to assume that this is not the end. But still, it's over the top in a universal way. You expect that kind of shit from Jeph Loeb. Not Geoff Johns. It's a somewhat fitting way to end the book in that you can't really end it any other way. It sets the stage for what could be an either very interesting or very dull resolution in the next issue.

So is it safe to say at this point that Brightest Day has recaptured the magic? Well no one can fault Geoff Johns for not going the distance. It takes more stones than Stone Henge to use a plot that involves destroying an entire universe. Scale isn't the issue here. It's quality. Brightest Day has always set itself apart with quality, mixing action and more personal issues. In Brightest Day #16 the personal aspect was covered by Jackson and Aqualad. This was done very well, painting Jackson as a real kid who didn't ask for the responsibility he's been given and now finds himself in a position he can't easily walk away from. The fact he responded in such a whimpy manner shows he's human and since every other guy in comics is too macho to fit in their own scrotum, it's somewhat refreshing.

But as nicely developed as the Aquaman story was, the Firestorm plot left something to be desired. It was nice to see the Black Lantern Firestorm again, but it's still not clear what the hell he's doing with the lantern or what he has planned. It also felt like the conflict between Ronnie and Jason was a bit rushed. They argue for just a few panels and then the universe blows up? It's not that it's a bad idea (as much as blowing up a universe can't be), but it is over-the-top and it does happen a bit quickly. Now this could all be a ruse of sorts and the Atom hit a failsafe at the last second. Something has to happen to remedy this and that's it's biggest flaw. No self-respecting DC comics fan in the right mind believes that this is the end. It's that knowledge that somehow it will be retconned that makes this twist horribly flawed.

However, flaws are a matter of degree. Compared to the flaws of recent issues, does Brightest Day #16 still measure up? It doesn't fall flat, it doesn't trip over itself or sniff it's own farts, and it doesn't destroy the series. It does succeed at moving the story along in an engaging way and it's nice to get a sense of flow again from the last issue to this issue. Seeing more than one plot made this comic feel bigger than it was and for that, it is still pretty damn awesome. So for the final score, Brightest Day #16 gets a 4 out of 5. It hasn't taken that final leap back to the peak of comic book awesome. It just needs a few more pushes. With the end of this series in sight, rational and level-headed comic fans everywhere have to assume that DC is setting it up for an end so awesome that it will tear a hole in the space time continuum. Anything less at this point would be lame. Nuff said!

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