Monday, July 11, 2011
The DC Blackest Night event and its prologues were filled with interesting characters and events, setting the stage for massive changes in the DC Universe that almost demanded an epic follow-up. How does the beginning of the sequel event, Brightest Day fare?
If the first two issues of Blackest Night had a lot of setup, then the first 8-issue volume of Brightest Day is the very definition. Every event that takes place in Brightest Day Volume 1 is setup; even when things happen, it’s only to set the characters into position for setup to take place. Not sure how this can be?
Brightest Day follows the story of Deadman, the formerly dead hero now forced to wander at the mercy of the Entity, the embodiment of life in the universe awakened by beings with similar intent and now carrying out its own agenda, to ends as yet unknown to the world’s heroes. Following the events of Blackest Night, Deadman found himself unwillingly among the living and being warped from place to place, witnessing the lives of his fellow resurrected.
Notice something missing? For those who didn’t much appreciate the emphasis that Blackest Night placed on Geoff Johns’s star heroes, the Silver Age Green Lantern and Flash, rejoice! For the rest of us… not so much. Hal and Barry barely play a role here, mostly to exposit information as they did in the beginning of Blackest Night, in this case by visiting the resurrected with Deadman playing the role of an invisible witness. They visit just a handful of the twelve main characters of this series before stepping off the screen.
Other than Deadman, the only one to retain his white ring, the White Lantern draftees go on with their lives in varyious ways. Several of the resurrected are immediately incarcerated by the Justice League, while others register with the Justice League only to take some alone time. The Martian Manhunter takes to life as a botanist on his homeworld, while Hawkman and Hawkgirl set out to permanently end the source of the curse that it seems the white light has freed them from, at least temporarily. Ronnie Raymond, the former Firestorm, faces the fallout from his actions as a Black Lantern- actions that he doesn’t even remember, let alone have control over- and finds himself part of Firestorm once more, this time, with three minds instead of two. And remember, three’s a crowd.
But I can’t focus on that too much, now. Remember, there are twelve potential plots (eleven, if you consider Hawkman and Hawkgirl as a single plot and ten if you consider Deadman as just storytelling adhesive, although he does face his own challenges brought on by the Entity demanding that he embrace life) and each one must be touched upon in almost every issue.
I’ve got to admit, as somebody who’s barely familiar with most of these characters (Atom, the Hawks) and not familiar at all in some cases (Osiris, who appears to be Black Adam-lite and even uses Black Adam’s name in place of “Shazam!”), this just drags. And drags. I can’t say Blackest Night had the same problem. Yes, I had some base familiarity with Aquaman, but he was already dead, and I knew absolutely nothing about Mera. Jason of the new Firestorm has transformed from a college student who just doesn’t want to think too hard about the future into an angry kid who blames his fellow victims for his misfortunes, something that Black Lantern Firestorm is particularly keen on assisting him with.
Why the sudden changes in the characters? Why is the plot so much harder to focus on all of a sudden, and the characters so much more difficult to follow? I assume part of the reason to be the noble cause of trying to connect readers with more obscure heroes, once with less ties to what we know and with less standard story arcs. The other reason? This one’s not hard to see. In fact, if you walk into the bookstore and look on the shelf, you can see it.
On Blackest Night, the name takes up less than half of the binding, leaving space for the name of the writer and one of the artists on its binding. Why? DC was obviously promoting the best of the best, expecting names such as that of popular writer Geoff Johns to sell the book to those that Blackest Night didn’t already hook.
Brightest Day by contrast, leaves room for nothing but the title on the binding. Is it a lack of talent involved? I look in the book and no, Geoff Johns’s name still appears in the credits, as does a number of the artistic skill involved in Blackest Night. The colors don’t seem any worse for wear. But as I browse the rest of the credits, I realize that while more than half of the creative team behind Blackest Night returned for Brightest Day, the familiar names are still a minority. Geoff Johns is no longer the solo (nor, I assume, primary) writer, and several artists have been added. What results is a book pulled in too many directions, the art dumbed down so that many characters that appeared particularly striking in Blackest Night are much less distinct or compelling visually here.
For an example of how simplified these characters were, in her first scene I wouldn’t have recognized Mera had she not been sleeping with Aquaman. The Martian Manhunter faces a similar makeover, as do many of the humans. As somebody who grew up drawing on a daily basis, I can tell you how hard it is to make human faces of similar complexion, gender, build and emotion distinct. The artistic team behind Blackest Night had the knack. The artistic team behind Brightest Day, more often than not, do not.
Now that I’ve compared this book to one of the best comic events I’ve read in recent years, how does it stand on its own? Well, several of the stories have potential. I’m genuinely interested in this serial killing Martian that J’on J’onzz is investigating, just as I’m somewhat interested in this world that Hawkman and Hawkgirl find themselves on- given the assumption that portals to other worlds created of rituals involving doorways of bones are something that needs little explanation in their world, which is a huge assumption if I’ve ever made one. I’m not entirely apathetic to the whole point behind the Brightest Day plot either, even if some aspects seem entirely contrived (why is the Entity telling one man their purpose is to attempt to kill someone, and somebody else that their purpose is to prevent it when that happens?).
The thing is, each of these plots are just barely starting- save those that are only given a cursory glance and then ignored till near the end of the volume, when The Entity explains their purpose for being resurrected- meaning that, after potentially having spent thirty dollars on this book, I’m barely invested in any of the characters or plots. In fact, if I were to find out that the plot threads featured in such spin-offs as Brightest Day: Green Lantern were not to feature at all in the remaining volumes of Brightest Day (as I believe they don’t), I probably would not be anywhere near as willing to spend money on them as I was this one. In fact, I’ll need to hear pretty good things to buy the next one, even with all I’ve put into this series myself.
And that’s where it really comes down to it: recommendation. Was there a compelling story? Yes… and no. There were literally a dozen stories, and each has the potential to be compelling. Is the art good? The art is okay… but it’s nothing to recommend the book for on its own, unlike Blackest Night. Are the characters interesting? Well, the character dynamics are sometimes worth watching, and J’onn J’onzz has been known to feature in some interesting stories, but so far we haven’t seen enough of any one character to recommend it for them. Do the events pertain to readers of DC? I don’t even think the events in this novel are entirely necessary for readers of Brightest Day. This entire volume is setup, with many plots in the same place they were in the beginning at the end, with a small amount of character development covered. The Martian Manhunter’s plot and the Hawks’ plots are by far the ones with the most development, and each of these features in few enough pages that they’d be hard pressed to collect them all and call them a single issue. It’s not out yet, but I have a feeling most readers could pick up Brightest Day Volume 2, ignore a few small questions (or even better, have editor’s explanation boxes like they used to) and jump right into the story without having to sit through 256 pages of setup. Unless you’re a huge fan of Deadman, Dove and Hawk, Martian Hunter or Hawkman and Hawkgirl, that’s my recommendation.
The Man in Black is a weekly review at Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews. For more of his reviews, you can visit his home page at www.MiBreviews.com