Thursday, April 15, 2010

On Brightest Day

I missed, almost in its entirety, the Blackest Night event, as I was waiting for trade. I have noted the many hardcover collected editions coming out next month but I'm no longer sure whether I'm going to be purchasing them or not (hence "was" and not "am").

At the same time, I was looking forward to Brightest Day, a little bit at least, since it's a bi-weekly series. One of my favourite comic book experiences in recent years was 52. Four of the mainstream's best writers telling one massive, self-contained story on a weekly basis. I was hopeful for a repeat with Brightest Day, but I'm waffling now.

The weekly format was something I was fond of early in my comics reading years, with Action Comics Weekly and the tightly organized "Superman Triangle" books, and last year's Wednesday Comics solidified that I do so very much enjoy the weekly comics experience. But I'm still waiting for something to equal the scale and caliber of 52 ((Countdown, obviously, didn't fit the bill). With both Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost going bi-weekly on alternating weeks, it's a pretty close approximation, one which I was starting to get excited about. 50-some pages of Brightest Day #0 later and I'm contemplating giving up on the bulk of the "new DCU" altogether.

Was it that bad, this zero issue? No. It's not. Not really. But as "zero" issues tend to be, it's a tease on what's to come, a prologue, and not the actual story, so it's a whole lot of spinning wheels and marginal set-up with little to no pay-off, a repetitive series of vignettes which the reader is plunked right into. I get no sense of the grander scheme, other than to sell readers on another half-dozen comics.

As I said, I didn't read Blackest Night, so I don't know what resulted at the end, I don't know why or how these characters - Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Max Lord, Firestorm, Aquaman, Captain Boomerang, Martian Manhunter, etc - were resurrected, but apparently neither do they and there's a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of "why me, why not xxx". (This book is more emo than My Chemical Romance's back catalog.)

If I hadn't been reading the internets, I wouldn't have known that the whole story of Brightest Day is positioned to answer why these specific characters were resurrected aside from the obvious "iconic" reasons. It would have been great if this issue intoned that in any respect.

I felt a little lost, as well as somewhat detached from the material, even though these were some of my favourites returning. It felt... unexciting. I guess it's that we're so trained in the language of comics that when a hero dies, it's a sad thing, only we know they'll be back and the celebration of their return will be heralded in advance. But when it's a dozen characters, all at once, it's a whole lot less special, them coming back from the dead, and their emotions in response to it seem redundant. There's also an element of ridiculousness to "rebirth" that's exposed when it happens en-masse (something I think Johns was intending to tackle with Blackest Night but only serves to exemplify it further here), scenes where the dearly departed return to their old/new lives.

Ronnie Raymond parties it up with his old buddies? Really? Under the banner of "Welcome Back Ronnie!" How does he explain his death?

Boston Brand defaces his own tombstone? Seriously? Why? Is that the first thing you'd do if you came back to life? Isn't someone going to wonder who's defacing tombstones? If they dig up his corpse what will they find?

J'onn J'onzz is terraforming Mars? I didn't know he could do that.

Somehow Max Lord is back at Checkmate or at least backdoored his way into their systems... I guess that makes sense?

Carter and Shayera Hall have made themselves at home pretty rapidly in the home of another iteration of Carter. How'd they know where it was? I must be missing something.

Captain Boomerang is in jail. How'd he get there? I dunno. Why's he there? If you're dead for a year or two, and you come back to life it's back to serving for your crimes, I guess. What's the legal precedent on that?

Aquaman, well, fresh back from the dead he beds his estranged wife. That, I do get.

But this whole zero issue is uninspiring. It's fan-wank interlude material, and not all that well thought out. I've heard tell how great this series is supposed to be to let any casual reader in on the ground floor. But this issue isn't showing it. If you hadn't read a DC Comic in 5 years and picked this up, you'd be up to your eyeballs in questions... you'd be wondering how these people died and how they came back to life, and most of all what's the point? That's not very new reader friendly. There's no sense of direction to this specific issue at all.

And I have to wonder, is this the result of Blackest Night? Is this what the point was, to resurrect these characters, lead into another series and spin off a few more? This is why I'm reopening debate about whether to buy the collected edition. There seems something askew when the point of a story is to explain why death has a revolving door, and then to revolve a large group of people through that door, and then have them lament the fact that others are still dead (like they won't be resurrected at some point down the road too). I read a recent trade of the Incredible Hercules, wherein Hades was a casino and all the dead Marvel characters were playing the slots and the tables trying to beat the house and win their resurrection. It's absurd, but perhaps the most ingenious interpretation of the revolving door of death.

I'm really of the firm belief that with the rebirth of Barry Allen, death in the DCU has no meaning. His was the greatest sacrifice and it had been heralded for years as such. His return signifies that when any hero gives "the greatest sacrifice" that it really, really doesn't mean much at all.

It's been made clear that Jade, Hawk, Max, Osiris, Boomerang and Reverse Flash are off to other books (in Justice League of America, Birds of Prey, JL: Generation Lost, Titans and The Flash, respectively), so I suspect (or perhaps I'm really hoping) that Brightest Day winds up being a team book, with J'onn, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Firestorm, Aquaman and Deadman becoming a rag-tag Justice League working together to figure out exactly what the point of their life is, both as individuals and as a collective, sharing in the communal experience of rebirth rather than redundantly going it alone.

Afterall, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Flash (not to forget Jason Todd, Guy Gardner, Ice, Superboy, Impulse/Kid Flash, and dozens of others) have all gone through it already, so it's not like they're that unique. There should really be a support group already established in the JLA Watchtower/Satellite/Cave that meets every Thursday at 8 to talk about their feelings about being dead and then alive again.

So let's just say that Brightest Day is on thin ice with me. I'll give it a month - or two issues - to become something (ditto with Generation Lost).


BFIrrera said...

"Ronnie Raymond is partying with his friends" - not only how does he explain his death, but how does he explain that he's no longer an alcoholic?

Jason Langlois said...

I glanced at the preview pages they posted, and was struck by the fact that page 1 included the graphic depiction of the death of a baby birb... and yeah, that convinced me to continue to skip much of the DC output.

KENT! said...

Well, the dead bird was there so Deadman could resurrect him... why Deadman is now Bring-back-from-the-deadman, I don't understand but I guess that's part of the story. Still, you just know he's going to be Deadman again by the end of this story, don'tcha?

On the Firestorm front, I actually find the Ronnie/Jason merging as Firestorm to be the most interesting thing to come out of this, which is saying something since everything interesting about Jason left with Dan Jolley when he was evicted from the revamp a few years back.