Saturday, February 5, 2011

Brightest Day #19 - From Tragedy To Awesome

I know I made a big deal of Brightest Day #18 a few weeks ago and for good reason. I'm still picking up pieces of my brain off the floor after it was utterly blown away by that issue. The cleaning ladies I hired demanded overtime and my insurance is looking to sue me for claiming 'overdose on awesome' as a condition they covered. While my lawyer is sorting out this mess, Brightest Day #19 comes out with a herculean challenge ahead of it. Trying to follow up an issue like Brightest Day #18 is like trying to satisfy a woman who just had multiple orgasms with Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. The expectations are high and it may not be possible to rise to the occasion. But limp dick jokes aside, Geoff Johns has done it before. Since the end of this series is in sight, no one should doubt his ability to do it again.

So what made the last issue so great? Well it literally had everything. Mystery, check. Romance, check. Epic fight, check. Beautiful women, check. Crazy parents that aren't Robert De Niro, check. Surprise ending, double check. The story that had been unfolding with Hawkman and Hawkgirl came to a close. They had been waging war against Hawkgirl's mother for several issues, breaking the curse that had doomed them for many lifetimes and having to travel through a gateway made out of the bones of their ancestors. And just when it looked like they were going to have a happy ending by getting down and dirty, Deadman showed up at the behest of the White Lantern. When Hawkman and Hawkgirl refused to live their lives separately, the ring did what seemed most reasonable. It killed them by turning them into dust. For comic fans of all types, this is like seeing the end of Old Yeller the first time. Except this time two heroes had to go through the trouble of saving the world and breaking a curse, only to get shafted at the end. It's tragic, but it yanks on your heart strings in a way that reads like side-effects for a Viagra commercial.

Beyond the epic ending of the issue, it revealed a startling and disturbing development with the White Lantern. Since the beginning of Brightest Day, it does seem to have a mind of it's own. It's brought people back to life and it's saved Boston Brand's ass on more than one occasion. After this stunt with the Hawks though, the White Lantern comes off as a hell of a douche. It brings two characters back to life, gives them a chance at happiness, and then kills them? You have to be a cosmic level dick to be okay with that.

Brightest Day #19 picks up with Boston Brand standing over the ashes of the Hawks. As expected, he's pretty pissed. He had no control over what the ring did. He's like some guy who got carjacked by a bunch of drunk teenagers and thrown into the trunk while they go on a joyride. When he demands that the White Lantern bring back Hawkman and Hawkgirl, it continues to be a dick by flat out saying no.

The White Lantern isn't completely smug about it although it comes off as callous as Dr. House when he breaks the news to a terminally ill cancer patient. It explains that the planet Earth has been slowly poisoned over time by mankind. I get the sense Greenpeace paid DC for that spread. However, the events of Blackest Night acted as a tipping point. It added the proverbial nitro to the glycerine and would create a dark avatar that would make Nekron look like every villain played by Sylvester Stallone. The heroes the ring brought back to life were to play a role in stopping this. Some already did their part. Others like Firestorm, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter have a tougher path ahead of them. Hawkman and Hawkgirl did their part and their life force had to be purified. Somehow that meant killing them. The White Lantern doesn't go into details. It's as vague as OJ Simpson's alibi.

Now usually when explanations like this are thrown into a story, it's hard for them not to be contrived. After a surprise ending in the last issue, some blanks have to be filled in. Otherwise it makes for a pretty shitty story. That may be okay in bad fanfiction or if your name is Jeph Loeb, but for a series like Brightest Day that's a no-no. For the most part, this explanation is workable. It doesn't fill in all the blanks and why should it? The mystery is still unfolding. One of the greatest challenges of this book was to give reason behind what happened to Hawkman and Hawkgirl. The reason is vague, but it's a reason that doesn't make you roll your eyes. For that, Geoff Johns succeeded. Some may be a little pissed, but I'm guessing those people already have anger issues so I'll give it a pass.

The White Lantern still comes off as a dick, saying Hawkman and Hawkgirls' death was necessary. I think Josef Stalin used that excuse a lot in his day as well. It also hinted that these two may not be the only heroes that fall. So like those drunks that threw Boston in the trunk of his car, the White Lantern takes him on another mission. He doesn't even get a chance to argue whether saving the world is worth being such a dick.

The next battle that seems to be coming to a head is the one Aquaman is caught up in. A number of issues ago, Aquaman recruited a new Aqualad. His name is Jackson and he's the bastard son of Black Manta. He hasn't exactly shown his stripes as a superhero. In fact when he first got his chance to man up, he turned into a colossal pussy worthy of the Octomom. His balls eventually descended somewhat. He agreed to follow Aquaman in fighting back against Black Manta's buddies, who are planning to wage war on all air breathers. He also gets nosy and asks Aquaman about Mera, the hot redhead he basically cast aside. Given that he's a teenager, it's only natural he would question a man's intelligence for casting aside a beautiful woman. Aquaman plays the stubborn role that Ashton Kutcher is so good at playing in his movies. It's all business and none of them have any idea that the White Lantern may be coming along to fuck them over.

They eventually find the conflict they're looking for. They get sucked into the equivalent of an underwater shit storm (which we assume is a million times worse in water) and are thrown to shore. The don't end up on some desolate island either. They fall ashore on a busy beach that's full of tourists, kids, and drunken college students on Spring Break. It seems only natural that this would be the first place that Black Manta's people would attack. If you've got a grudge against the air breathers, why not hit the place where they come to unwind and get laid? It's cruel, but appropriate.

So it's just Jackson and Aquaman against a full onslaught from the seas. It's about as fair a fight as pitting Betty White against Mike Tyson. So they channel their inner Rocky Balboa (gotta make up for the shot I took at Stallone earlier) and stand their ground. They've got some superhero mojo going for them and since this is a comic, they hold their own. After being such a pussy earlier, Jackson is learning fast. He's still annoying Aquaman with questions though. For an army like this to get through, someone had to rig the game Oceans Eleven style. Aquaman doesn't have the answer, but Deadman shows up in the distance with the White Lantern. So the readers know who's playing the role of George Clooney in this mess and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.

The battle scene is well-developed. Aquaman does his part, but it's Jackson who shines. He's still making up for being such a pussy a few issues ago and he flexes his new powers in the same way Ben Rothlesburger flexes his drinking prowess at a college bar on ladies night. His balls keep descending and it turns out they're pretty solid. They're even solid enough to make him think he can go up against the leader of the attacking army, which happens to be a bitchy relative of Mera. She reminds the kid that a few days ago his life revolved around school, Facebook, and the Jersey Shore. He's got the heart of the hero, but a heart is useless if the brain is as underdeveloped as Zimbabwe.

Aquaman tries to help out when it looks like Jackson is standing up to the big bully before he's had a pep talk with Mr. T. He fights back against Siren as one would expect, showing slightly more skill than some teenager who just got his tights a few days ago. Siren responds by trying to psyche him out. She mentions Mera, the woman he was boning at the beginning of the series. She says that her people captured her and killed her with the same satisfaction an exterminator gets when he strangles a rat. Aquaman is understandably pissed. There aren't too many hot women that could toss his salad in the same way. So he gets the same look in his eye that Rick James gets when he enters a crack house. Then Black Manta shows up and fucks him up before he could channel his inner Rambo.

He's not subtle about it either. Manta cuts off Aquaman's hand. It may not be as surprising as Hawkman and Hawkgirl getting reduced to dust in the last issue, but a hero losing a limb is still a pretty big deal. If that weren't enough, Manta goes on to stab him. So let's recap. Aquaman finds out his girlfriend's relatives are douche-bags that are invading the surface world, he's babysitting a teenager who barely knows his dick from a supervillain, he finds out that the love of his life may have been butchered like a Thanksgiving turkey, his greatest enemy shows up and cuts off a hand, and then he get stabbed for good measure. So yeah, his day officially sucks worse than marketing team for the movie Battlefield Earth. He's wounded, humiliated, and on his knees and not in the Paris Hilton sort of way. He's basically in position to join the Hawks and Mera (assuming Siren wasn't bullshitting him). While the previous issue ended with a shocking death, this one ends with one hanging in the balance. It's not entirely the same, but different enough to be awesome on an epic level.

Going back to the initial challenge of following up an issue like Brightest Day #18, how would this measure up? Does it have all the same elements? Mystery, check. Action, check. Beautiful women, well Siren looks good in skin tight outfits so I'll give that a half-check. Romance, other than the mention of Mera that's another half-check. A surprise ending, double check! There's even some extra elements in this story like a new hero in Jackson who is still learning his right from his left. He doesn't just take up space either. He actually plays a role in the battle that he and Aquaman are fighting. It adds some appeal to the new Aqualad after he came off as such a wimp in past issues. The dialog and the art are still top notch and there's a lot of suspense building up. After the White Lantern took out the Hawks, it didn't say that others wouldn't suffer the same fate. We don't know yet if Aquaman will follow suit and we're left digging our nails into our spline in anticipation.

Now in all the time I've been reading comics, I've come to dread issues that follow up from others that were so good. When the bar is set so high, it's rare that a comic measures up. There were times that I actually wished that an issue wasn't quite so good because it set the series up for a downgrade. I was content with consistency rather than one good issue followed by several shitty issues. Brightest Day has been like that rare unicorn that shits diamond encrusted gold ingots. When a good issue comes along, it's usually followed up with one that's just as top notch. Brightest Day #19 had a big act to follow. History was not on it's side, but it kicked history in the balls and measured up.

Now I wouldn't go so far as to say that the impact of this issue was as intense as the previous issue. Two characters died in the last issue. You can't do that every issue. Marvel tried that with Ultimatum and it sucked worse than Lindsey Lohan on a bender in Tijuana. Geoff Johns didn't try to match that impact. Instead, he built on the suspense by making the reader wonder who else the White Lantern will decide must be purified in the same way that Nazis sought to purify the human race. It won't leave the reader with the same wow factor. Some may even read this comic and criticize it as a setup issue or loaded with filler. In some ways this issue is filler, but it's the good kind. It's like the cheese and hot sauce stacked between the meat and bun of a bacon burger from Five Guys. If this issue is setup, it set up the next big moment pretty damn well.

Brightest Day #19 did everything it needed to in order to continue from the previous issue at the same awesome level. I could not find too many flaws with it. The whole story went along smoothly while building upon an already intense storyline. For that I'm left to give Brightest Day #19 a 5 out of 5. I know I give a lot of perfect scores to Brightest Day, but I wouldn't give them if the series didn't deserve it. Brightest Day earns every bit of praise and blow-job metaphors that I give it. This series is awesome and if you only read one DC comic a month, this is your best bet for quality awesome. Nuff said!

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