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Sunday Slugfest: Brightest Day #1

Posted: Sunday, May 9, 2010
By: Thom Young

Geoff Johns & Peter J. Tomasi
Various
DC Comics
Twelve heroes have returned from the dead, but no one knows why. The answer, though, seems to be connected to the white power lantern that no one can lift--at least no one who has tried up to this point.

Christopher Power:
Travis Walecka:
Robert Tacopina:
Chris Kiser:




Christopher Power:

In a world where comics claim to be heading towards the “Brightest Day” and the “Age of Heroes,” I am left wondering if the publishers are desperately clinging to the hope that they can reinvent the Golden or Silver Age of comics simply by force of will. Certainly the line-ups of heroes that are beginning to appear in the books feel like they are trying to recreate such an environment.

I tend to think that this type of retrospective storytelling is not productive for the comics industry. Instead, we need to look forward and find what readers of today are looking for in their comics. However, that is a broader discussion for another column. In this review, I am tasked with reviewing this “reboot” (for lack of a better term) of the DC universe.

While not an actual Crisis-level event, there have been some significant and confusing changes since the end of the Blackest Night storyline. Most notably, there are (at least) 12 individuals who have been raised from the dead.

In the Brightest Day #0 prologue, we got a bit about each of them and their status quo; however, thankfully, it looks like the writers are going to focus on only subsets in each installment of the actual Brightest Day series.

In this first issue, we get stories about: Deadman (who will probably be present in every book), Aquaman, Firestorm(s), Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman & Hawkgirl. We also get to see the New Guardians--Hal Jordan, Sinestro, and Carol Ferris--for a brief interlude about a white lantern. Then, there is a story about some guy who is apparently a complete psychopath for no apparent reason.

Taking the book as a whole, with the exception of the psychopathic killer storyline, each story seems to be relatively self-contained, and each gains some momentum. Each story has a major event happen, and enough exposition to make you interested in it. Characters sound distinct in their voices, and while at times the dialogue is somewhat weak, you have to credit Johns and Tomasi with the fact that they do seem to understand the tone of each character relatively well.

In terms of art, the book is beautifully rendered. There is fantastic detail in the pencils, in particular in the Hawkman & Hawkgirl storyline with the rendering of individual feathers and ornamental features (something that is rather important in this story). Ivan Reis is one of the best artists working today, with his ability to weave panels together in clever ways that are not distracting.

In this book, the Aquaman & Mera fight on a ship is a good example of this weaving. Reis manages to move from close up shots of the heroes and their adversaries to drawn out shots of the entire ship. This change in perspective happens within one page, which could have been jarring. Instead, it gives the reader an intensity in storytelling that was missing from some of the Blackest Night issues.

This book reminds me a little of Wednesday Comics in that the self-contained stories can be read almost independently of one another (at least at this point). The following are my thoughts on each:

The New Guardians

An important place to start with this book is the fate of the white energy entity, its power, and the current status quo of the Lantern Corps that are all hanging around on Earth (for undetermined reasons). I am concerned that this plot will bleed too much into the main Green Lantern title and force people to have to read outside of the Brightest Day title. So far, though, we don’t have a bad start in that it’s self-contained, relatively straight forward, and provides enough exposition to get us on the trail of the white lantern. However, if there had been many more panels I would have been bored of the talking heads.

Aquaman

“Isn’t Aquaman awesome? Look at how awesome Aquaman is! No really, he is really really awesome and we’ll show you how awesome he is in the first few panels. Oh and Mera . . . she is really awesome too.”

Honestly, the above is what a lot of this story screams at you while you read it. In all truth, though, it works--surprisingly well. Clearly, the end goal is to establish Aquaman as a hero who is not the butt of jokes by the fan community when it is all over.

Moreover, Aquaman’s story is the one that will reveal the most about what the aftermath of Nekron’s presence on Earth. It will be the linking story that ties Blackest Night into what is ahead, even more than will . . .

Boston Brand

I was left cold by this segment. Once again, we find Brand wallowing in self-pity and not really knowing what he is supposed to be doing--which was adequately established in the prelude issue. This story will be dangerous in that it could play at a “big mystery” about the white ring--which is to say that it will just be a really long, drawn-out, and decompressed story that is not a mystery at all.

Hawkman & Hawkgirl

First, can we please call her Hawkwoman? If we are going to have Shiera back in the universe, then let us at least put her on equal footing with the gold-plated blowhard with delusions of grandeur that is her husband.

This story is likely to be the most introspective of the stories, focussing on the history of these two characters and establishing them firmly for former and new fans. Such an approach is not a bad tack to take with these characters because they need to be firmed up in terms of their history and their personalities.

Firestorm

I cannot bring myself to care about Firestorm’s part of the story. It feels like a forced and unnecessary conflict to simply have a dark element in which people are not all just “getting along.” Whatever version of Firestorm you like, this story does neither of them justice. Both come across as whining, ungrateful, pitiful creatures. This subplot is the only real misstep of the book.

Martian Manhunter

Clearly establishing J’onn J’onzz as one of the most powerful characters in the DCU (again), this section drives at returning the character to his roots. He seems as awesome as Aquaman, and clearly is being set up to be a fan favourite. It is an excellent start that made me have real hope for the story of my favourite Martian. I may be just biased, as I’m just very happy to have him back on Mars and in my DCU.

Random Psychopathic Killer Guy

Clearly, we are not supposed to know what is going on with this guy. The lack of any connection between him and the other stories is somewhat disconcerting. The way they were interjected into the book, between the other stories, seems to imply that his story will be made more clear. However, as of right now, these segments were just very jarring. I think they should have been compressed into one story arc, like the others in the book, in order to not break up the narratives too much.

Summary

Likely, each of the subplots could have been the beginning of new series for each of their respective characters. The current economics of the comics industry does not allow that type of experimentation. As a result, we have a new trial of combining multiple threads into the bigger “event” type story all within one book. This series may very well be a test by the DC editorial for a new type of anthology format. If that is the intention, it is quite clever when it is handled by writers who are as consistent as Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi.

Overall, Brightest Day hits high points and low points. If I were to be asked, “Should I read this series?” it would be difficult for me to give a recommendation. If you are a fan of Silver Age characters and you want to see where and how they will be players in the (yet again) all new DCU, then “yes, read Brightest Day.”

However, if you are just looking for good tight storytelling, the decompressed nature of this title may put you off and you should wait for the trades.




Travis Walecka:

New Bedford, Massachusetts just got cheesed out in favor of Westport!

Look, I live in New Bedford, the “Whaling City.” Some even refer to this city of a hundred thousand people (plus illegal immigrants) as the Fishing Mecca of the United States. Yet, upon hearing news that dangerous, child-kidnapping Somali pirates were put down by a reincarnated Aquaman, a small-town fish cutter goes on a murderous rampage--but not in New Bedford. Instead, Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi set the killing spree in nearby Westport.

However, that type of stuff isn’t as likely to happen in Westport. It would happen in New Bedford--the same town that delivered the pool table rape scene in the Jodie Foster film The Accused; the same town known several years ago to have a McDonald’s hostage situation; the same town that only recently had a deranged, Gears of War-inspired psychopath go. . . .

Ahh, alright, enough’s enough. Maybe the writers did my little city a huge favor by excluding us from this issue.

As for Brightest Day #1’s quality, it smells like fresh linguiça fired up on the grill, like waves crashing against the stoned walls of Davey Locker’s ocean end (see, had to give my city props somehow, someway). I wouldn’t say this number one tops the zero issue, as some of the more interesting resurrections are omitted this time out. Thankfully, Aquaman is the closest to a sure thing when it comes to a next character to blow. His bulletproof-scaled chain mail and uncanny ability to summon terrifying sea creatures--all with a ferociously red vixen in his arms--easily makes this oft-ridiculed hero Brightest Day’s epicenter. The rest of the character beats aren’t bad either.

There’s no surprise Hawkman and Hawkwoman (not a typo) grab a huge chunk of the spotlight, too. These characters have died so many times they’re bound to make some yarns about it; heck, they almost die in this book. You got to love little nudges like this to longtime readers.

I’m not so clued-up on the antagonist here, though I’m hoping it’s not another one of those Vandal Savage-types who consistently pilfers artifacts as a way of provoking their enemies. This section of Brightest Day could get really boring, really fast. The Hawks’ contribution towards this debut issue, though, packs plenty of punch and the most intense moments in the bi-weekly series yet.

There are a few minor grips I have with the story, though--and trust me, they are minor. As impressive as Peter Steigerwald’s coloring is throughout the nautical scenes and the intro featuring the New Guardians, I’m not sure the bright tones work as well in the rest of the scenes. This type of vivid rendering justifies the neon waves from the multitude of rings, while the more subdued hues from #0 would’ve led to more pragmatic results in the bits featuring Mars and the Hawks.

Boston Brand continues to remain the invincible soul lost throughout everyone’s ostensible comeuppance. Unfortunately, his renewed manifestation this week is a bit too subtle. I’m hoping his role as a major player remains just that.

It’s evident I’m going to have to treat the creators of this book to a nice cup of clam chowduh and lobstuh roll in order to receive credit for New Bedford having the vilest seaport this side of Atlantic City. More apropos, the bi-monthly Brightest Day is the clear second coming of 52, and that’s akin to all the crashed-waves and seagull-chirping to my ears.




Robert Tacopina:

The highly anticipated follow up to Blackest Night made its debut this Wednesday and adds a new wrinkle to not only the Lantern mythos but the DC Universe in its entirety. What made this issue such a compelling work is the decision by writers Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi to break the story into sections or chapters in which each segues into the next. It is the selection of the focused characters and the execution that makes it all so successful.

The book opens with Green Lantern, Star Sapphire, and Sinestro trying to lift the white lantern that has formed out of the coalesced entity that was encased within the Earth. The two corpsmen are unsuccessful in their attempt and Sapphire equates the white lantern to the Arthurian Sword in the Stone. From there, each subsequent chapter does a nice job of leading into the next as Deadman, Aquaman, Mera, Martian Manhunter, Firestorm, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Hath-Set round out the roster of characters showcased in this first issue.

While all of the chapters were good, the real standouts were the ones that involved Deadman and Aquaman, which happened to tie into each other. Yet the most poignant scene featured a fish market that is broadcasting the news of Aquaman’s supposed resurrection. A man is cutting fish and sees the broadcast and loses it--killing all the occupants of the market. Some chapters later we see this man again as he lights fire to what the reader must assume is his home on the beach and, without remorse, turns his back to the fire and walks calmly into the water submerging himself only to reappear as Black Manta!

That was the “Holy Crap!” moment of the book as Black Manta’s hatred for Aquaman oozes off the page. Credit goes to Johns and Tomasi as they crafted a beautiful indication of just how deep Manta’s hatred of Aquaman runs as he forfeits his “normal” life at the mention of Arthur’s return. It was powerful and disturbing in the fact that Black Manta NEEDS Aquaman--or at least feels that Arthur is his reason for his own existence.

The insight into these characters is exceptionally riveting. Johns & Tomasi really nailed the nuances of the heroes in a fashion that felt so natural that it is a testament to how good these two men are at their craft. Another impressive feat is how a book with so many artists (five pencilers and four inkers) manages to be so artistically fluid.

Knowing that there are a multitude of artists leaves you waiting for the page where the art totally takes you out of the story; thankfully, though, it never comes. It makes you want to turn back to the front and start over again--which is exactly what I did.

Overall, this issue was one hell of a book! While the art was definitely good, it was the amazing storytelling that really paved the way on a book that was so freaking good you felt cheated at the conclusion because you wanted more. Brightest Day #1 is a shining example of what good comics are and what creators and publishers should strive for.




Chris Kiser:

A book like Brightest Day offers quite the writer’s challenge. With no less than twelve central characters in the series, scribes Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi face the task of shifting focus between each of them while still telling a singular coherent story.

The duo received a free pass in last month’s Brightest Day #0, which mainly served as an orientation for the tale to come. Only the barest of narrative threads was necessary in that prologue to string together the largely separate introductions to each hero and villain.

It is cause for concern, however, that the first “real” installment of the series features the same general tone and structure as the zero issue. Though the narrative lingers long enough on one character’s story to create the sense of a primary plot, the book is still chiefly characterized by rapid switching between numerous unconnected scenes.

I certainly recognize that Brightest Day’s universe-spanning scope requires this approach to a degree--especially in its early chapters--but it can’t be denied that the most satisfying moments of this issue are when the pace slows down to allow ample time for one of the segments to be satisfactorily explored. This moment of satisfaction occurs in the scenes featuring Aquaman, whose psychic connection to sea life appears to have been perverted by his prior experience as a Black Lantern.

Similar moments with the other characters--such as the resurrected Firestorm, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl dealing with mysterious changes to their own status quos--are all too brief. The result is a comic book that reads like a genuine story with its own momentum for only half of its page count (approximately). The other half consists of isolated look-ins that don’t build upon, or lead into, each other.

In the end, I’m sure Brightest Day will see the scattered strands of its story coalesce in a unified direction. After all, we’ve been promised as much in the blurb that introduces each issue. Until that day, though, the series feels somewhat like a backwards version of Lost. Whereas that television series brought together a cast of seemingly random people who later discovered a hidden connection to each other, Brightest Day begins with the link between its characters being known, but their shared story has yet to be discovered.

Visually, Brightest Day #1 is fairly benign, though certainly up to the task at hand. The massive assembly line of pencillers and inkers combine to produce an issue that looks as classic and iconic as a DC comic should. It’s mostly the kind of art that would be at home on action figure packaging, which is quite fitting for this star-studded superhero cast.

Ultimately, the choppiness of Brightest Day #1 is excusable due to its strong ensemble of characters and creators. Fortunately, there is the promise of a more defined story down the road--otherwise this wouldn’t be a comic worth talking about.



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