Thursday, June 30, 2011
Brightest Day Aftermath #1: The Search For Swamp Thing - Awesome Mixed with Uncertainty
I'm going to stop hiding it. I miss Brightest Day. By Odin and Cthullu, I miss Brightest Day so very much. Since it ended, I haven't really reviewed many DC comics. Please don't bust my balls. DC has been mixing crystal meth with Red Bull on their huge Flashpoint event followed by a massive fucking reboot. It's a little hard to review just a handful of comics in that sea of awesome when I can only do a couple of reviews each week. I'm not the fucking Flash. I can only work on so much before my fingers go numb and my brain starts melting. Aside from Batman Beyond, I haven't been able to show much love for DC lately. While I can't dig into the massive glut of continuity known as Flashpoint, I can still tap the remaining awesome from Brightest Day.
If you remember way back when I was only somewhat less of a drunk, I reviewed every single issue of Brightest Day. It was by far one of the best things DC has done since Power Girl's boobs. There were few occasions when I finished an issue of Brightest Day with my mind unblown. It had a powerful beginning and a satisfying end that brought DC comics in line with Vertigo, matching DC heavyweights with cult classics like Swamp Thing and John Constantine (the non-Keanu version). Well that final issue didn't completely close the book on Brightest Day. Since when have you known a comic company to miss out on a chance to cash in on a runaway hit? The story from Brightest Day continues in the less-than-creative follow-up Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing. It's got a mighty tough act to follow and it's trying to stick it's dick in a hole that was already fucked by Flashpoint. But since Brightest Day has left me sicker than half the addicts in Portland, I'll give it a shot.
This new stage of Brightest Day doesn't utilize Deadman, Aquaman, or pretty much anyone that was central to Brightest Day. Instead, it focuses on John Constantine. He made an appearance on the final page of the last issue of Brightest Day. He has a bit of a history with Brightest Day in the same way 80s rock bands have a history with heroine. When he hears that Swamp Thing has saved the world, he's about as relieved a whore in the same room as the pope. While he's busy blackening his lungs, he gets that sneaking sense that Swamp Thing is after him in the same way Glenn Beck things black people are after America only it's slightly less crazy.
For those of you who aren't schooled in Constantine's history with Swamp Thing (and for once I won't belittle the uninformed), he offers a nice synopsis. In simplest terms, he taught Alec Holland to be a good elemental and not fuck everybody over by losing his mind. They weren't exactly friends, but there was a mutual respect. At least as respectful as a chain-smoking drunk like Constantine can manage. Now that Swamp Thing has returned, it seems to have realized just what a dick Constantine was. Because during Constantine's investigation, Swamp Thing decided to attack in a way that can only be likened to Japanese tentacle porn minus the cute school-girl.
At this point, John has concluded that Swamp Thing has been sniffing too many swamp fumes. The attack leaves John with a mysterious wounds you won't find outside of Courtney Love's pussy. Given this disturbing turn, he steps up his investigation. He decides to make a trip to Gotham where he hopes to track down the world's greatest detective. Seeing as how Swamp Thing saved the world and Batman is used to doing that every other Thursday, he figures he's the best one to help him look into this. Swamp Thing is not something he can beat back with his crass British accent or tobacco smoke. This means the crossover between Batman and John Constantine can officially begin! I smell a buddy-cop show!
Batman, as is often the case, has his hands full with matters that don't have much room for a foul-mouthed British asshole. Life in Gotham is still as miserable as ever. The end of Brightest Day didn't put a stop to all the crazy shit that happens on a weekly basis. This time it's not the Joker or Ra's Al Goul that's causing trouble. It's ecoterrorism and no the kind that involves hippies going on hunger strikes. This involves some corrupt schmuck working in the sanitation business who got a little too greedy. Because forget shit like supervillains, aliens, and mass murderers. It's those underpaid trash junkies that you gotta worry about! Since tree huggers aren't usually this extreme, Batman takes an interest in it.
While Batman is making himself a target for Fox News, Constatine arrives in Gotham. His first challenge is actually finding Batman. The man doesn't exactly have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, John has to rely on more creative methods. And by creative I mean he gets in a taxi and tells it to follow the bat signal. He fucks some guy up who tries to mess with him along the way, but that acts as a reminder that Constatine can hold his own in a place like Gotham. However, it does seen horribly inane that in a city where so many would love nothing more than to confront Batman, just following the bat signal shouldn't work so damn well.
Now I feel as though this was a missed opportunity. Constantine arrives in Gotham and in just a few pages, he's on his way to meeting Batman? This is a guy who is supposed to be the most cunning son-of-a-bitch in Gotham and Constantine finds him this easily? Without even resorting to one of his spells? Hell, you could make a whole issue or two about Constantine trying to match wits with Batman in just trying to find the guy. Instead, it's basically glossed over. Constantined just shrugs his shoulders and does what anyone with a diploma from Arizona State could figure out. So much awesome and it's pretty much lost. It's so tragic I'll need a fresh bottle of whiskey to finish this review.
So I guess readers have to use their imagination and create a story in their minds as to how Constantine tracked Batman down. Not only did he find one of the most elisive and cunning figures in the DC universe, he actually broke into the batmobile and started smoking. Not that it doesn't take balls, but even for a guy like Constantine that's pushing it. You would think that Batman would have enough locks on that thing to secure Bill Clinton's Cyrus's porno stash, but he just lets himself in. We don't even see if he uses a spell or anything. Even when Batman shows up, he's not overly concerned. He just yells at Constantine for smoking in his car. Now I hate lung cancer as much as the next guy, but when someone breaks into your car and the first thing you notice is a cigarette then your priorities are fucked up.
Between carjacking and smoking, John Constantine and Batman don't exactly hit it off. By that I mean Batman is inclined to kick his ass back to Britain where he can be further assaulted by angry soccar fans. Given Constantine's sod-off attitude, nobody would blame him. But John doesn't bother trying to beat Batman in combat. He knows he has a better chance at a three-way with Megan Fox and Natalie Portman. So he brings up Swamp Thing, which catches Batman's attention because it may relate to his ongoing case of hulked out tree-huggers.
Once Batman is interested, it gets messy. Constantine shows Batman the wound he got from Swamp Thing's attempted tentacle rape. When Batman sees this, it triggers a more severe reaction that is like a mix between poison ivy and magic mushrooms except the rashes don't taste like chocolate when you lick them. Somehow just showing this thing to Batman is all it takes to trigger some bizzare hallucination that may or may not be Swamp Thing trying to fuck with Constantine more than he already has. It makes for great visuals, especially when you're stoned. But it's also confusing.
This is yet another instance of something being glossed over. In Brightest Day, Geoff Johns was not too conservative with the details. When something happened, he made damn sure there was an explanation. Here, shit is just happening and the explanation is left up to your own imagination. Now maybe I'm a little lazy here, but there's a fine line between leaving things open-ended and plot holes. I read over this scene a couple times and I still couldn't figure out the nuts and bolts. Does Constantine just have a bad trip from too much nicotine or did Batman trigger something? I don't know and I'm too drunk to come up with something.
Before the story can take readers down a drug-induced trip that would knock Keith Richards on his ass, Constantine wakes up with Batman and Zatanna. Unfortunately, it's not on the set of a gangbang porno. Zatanna is Batman's go-to girl for all things magical and for a good view at a pair of nice legs. For some reason, magic requires beautiful women not to wear pants. She's able to cast a spell that takes Constantine out of his drug trip. He still has the wound on his hand, but it's not turning him into one of Dr. House's unsolvable cases. It's a somewhat contrived resolution, but then again Constantine deals in magic so it does make sense to bring in one of DC's magical characters. It also helps that she's a hot chick. Hot chicks help every comic.
While he's explaining himself to Batman and Zatanna, he drops a potentially Earth-shaking revelation. Keep in mind that Swamp Thing's exploits are pretty recent. As far as everyone is concerned, he's a hero despite the swamp fumes. He saved the world in Brightest Day. However, Constantine questions whether that Swamp Thing was really Alec Holland. He may just be a Swamp Thing that thinks he's Alec Holland. That means if the real Alec Holland is out there, it may fuck up Swamp Thing in the same way the Clone Saga fucked up the Spider-Man comics. It's a surprising and intriguing possibility. You know when something has the potential to fuck shit up like the Clone Saga, there's potential for plenty of bullshit (the awesome kind). There's a nice shot of Alec at the end to show that Constantine may be onto something and it's bound to blow up in his face.
So in the end we've got a book that has John Constantine clashing with Batman and Zatanna. We're met with a potentially mind-bending twist at the end that's not quite Matrix caliber astonishment, but still pretty damn awesome. So what's the problem? What's keeping this from being a worthy successor to Brightest Day if anything? Well as happy as I was to read another DC book with Brightest Day in the title, I was still left underwhelmed. Don't get me wrong. I still enjoyed the book, but it didn't have the same feel as Brightest Day. I understand this was the first issue and there is still plenty of room for this story to expand. The problem is the circumstances in which this book is occurring. Flashpoint has pretty much sucked all the air out of the DC comic realm. This along with the news surrounding the reboot makes me wonder if what happens in this book even matters. It's not clear and it probably won't be clear for months. By then, the relevance of this series may be a moot point. Part of what gave Brightest Day such a great appeal was that it felt like an integral part of the unfolding DC mythos. Here, it just seems like a side-story at best.
There's still a lot to like. John Constantine is a refreshing if not brutish addition to the DC universe. Pairing him up with Batman and Zatanna was a solid and workable combination. The story about Contantine and Swamp Thing added some depth to what was already revealed at the end of Brightest Day. It's a worthy continuation that follows a solid progression. The end also added a potentially startling revelation to the mix. Was that being that saved the world really Swamp Thing? Or was it something that just thought it was Swamp Thing? It's the kind of mystery that makes the next issue worth picking up even if it lacks the same impact of previous Brightest Day installments.
There's nothing terribly wrong with this issue. However, the underlying premise of the book is still it's biggest flaw. It's not billed as something epic, but it's not developed as something more profound. It's somewhat hard to make out just where this book fits into the greater DC universe. That and it only feels like part of the DC universe towards the end when Batman and Zatanna enter the picture. So for a final score, I give Brightest Day Aftermath #1 a 3.5 out of 5. This book has a lot of stuff working against it and wasn't able to overcome everything. It's still worth picking up, but you'll still miss Brightest Day at the end. Damn, I'm depressed again. Nuff said!