Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Decent Start To A (Hopefully) Epic Saga: Brightest Day – Volume 1 Impresses!

The Good: Mostly good artwork, Good stories, Moments of character development
The Bad: So many characters that some are horribly neglected, Light on character development.
The Basics: After the sprawling a-list dominated Blackest Night, Brightest Day emerges as an impressive saga focusing on some intriguing secondary characters.

Right before Christmas, I received a pleasant surprise as I sat in a Borders near where I was working each morning before going off to my mind-numbing training. After months of reading various Blackest Night Saga graphic novels, I was surprised to see the first volume of the Brightest Day Saga on the shelves! Brightest Day – Volume 1 follows up the Blackest Night Saga (click here for my guide on how to read that series!) with the aftermath of the death and destruction that tore through the DC Universe during that event. To truly understand Brightest Day – Volume 1 it does help to have read the Blackest Night books. The fact that DC is releasing the Brightest Day anthologies before the saga is done in the first run is pretty ballsy and it forces those of us reviewing it to take a leap of faith.

Brightest Day – Volume 1 is an ambitious book which is only the start to an apparently much larger tale. And for what it’s worth, especially without knowing how the larger story will end, it is suitably impressive and a pleasant contrast to Blackest Night. While the Blackest Night books featured the Green Lantern Corps with assorted primary, iconic, DC characters Brightest Day – Volume 1 works with secondary characters, primarily Deadman. The risk that DC is taking, of course, is that without the first string characters, readers will not respond to the story which deals with repercussions of nearly destroying the DC Universe. If Volume 1 is any indication, though, readers have a lot to be excited about with the Brightest Day Saga.

With the appearance of the White Lantern Battery and the resurrection of twelve heroes and villains, the ripples from the Blackest Night are still being felt. Boston Brand, formerly the hero Deadman, is the only one of the raised living who possesses a white power ring and he finds himself dragged through time and space to witness events, usually in conjunction with other resurrected people. As Brand wrestles with what it means to be alive again, he sees the struggles of Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter and Firestorm as they contemplate what their new lives might mean. While the Star Sapphire, Sinestro and Hal Jordan attempt to move the White Lantern Battery, they discover their powers are ineffectual with it and suspect there is a larger purpose in play.

But not everything is a simple conflict. Aquaman attempts to make rescues on the seas and discovers that the only sea life that responds to his commands is dead (or undead) and soon, a new conflict under the oceans emerges as Meras reveals the truth about her relationship with Aquaman to him. Similarly, the Martian Manhunter uses his resurrected time to flee Earth, but soon comes to believe an ominous event may have preceded his initial teleport to Earth; the teleportation of a monstrous Martian who is now killing people. While Carter and Shiera Hall (Hawkman and Hawkwoman) are distracted by a journey to Hawkworld, Boston Brand is sidetracked by Hawk, who wants Deadman to resurrect his dead brother. But Brand's powers are strangely limited and his learning curve puts him in touch with a higher power, one that has a purpose that will challenge all who were resurrected for the Brightest Day!

While Blackest Night was arguably a single story told on several fronts, in Volume 1 of Brightest Day, the narrative is severely fractured. While Boston Brand, Aquaman, the Halls and Martian Manhunter all have pretty solid, diverging storylines, there are seven other resurrected people and they are not nearly as well-developed with their stories. Chief among them is Firestorm, the only person still in possession of a Black Lantern ring. Firestorm has two people who took up the mantle (or, in this case, matrix): Ronnie and Jason. While Professor Stein attempts to understand how both men have been resurrected and how to allow them to work with the Firestorm Matrix, both Ronnie and Jason struggle with another voice in their heads: the Black Lantern Firestorm!

Firestorm actually has a story; the same cannot be said of all of the others. Jade, Boomerang, Max Lord, and the Reverse Flash are all resurrected and in the last pages of the book, one is revealed to have already served his purpose. Amon Tomaz (Osiris) was also resurrected and his journey actually seems interesting, but almost the moment he appears in Brightest Day - Volume 1, he is gone again. Moreover, the purpose of his journey does not seem as vital as either Boston Brand's or Aquaman's. Even so, Osiris is presented as a viable character and one that is interesting enough that one hopes the book will pick his story up in future volumes.

What a new reader might fear is being lost with Brightest Day - Volume One as a standalone book. That fear is unnecessary. The events of Blackest Night are recapped well-enough that readers are not likely to feel lost. In fact, the main plotline I was least familiar with was the whole Hawkman/Hawkwoman plot. Apparently, the characters are frequently killed and resurrected, so their relationship with life and death has made them a target of an old villain apparently seeking immortality. Their journey starts with trying to retrieve the bones of a prior incarnation of themselves and puts them face to face with the villainy of Hath-Set, an old adversary. I had never read a Hawkman comic and it was easy enough to understand their role in this book.

Moreover, much of Brightest Day - Volume 1 is about pushing the story forward. As a result, stories like the Martian Manhunter search and Aquaman coming to understand Meras and the coming war under the ocean explain themselves as they develop, with relevant flashbacks to the past. What this also allows is for some pretty impressive artwork. The Aquaman story, especially, affords an opportunity for some truly impressive panels as undead sharks and giant squids tear into boats and people. The pencillers get the fear in Aquaman perfect, which uses the medium well to show the emotions instead of simply telling the reader what the protagonist is feeling. Throughout the book, there is a consistently good sense of movement and the book works. The book is supplemented by a very cool cover gallery that is also bound to please the fans!

Ultimately, Brightest Day - Volume 1 makes an unlikely hero story out of Boston Brand and this is only the start of his journey back into life. It seems that that journey will have massive ripples through the DC Universe. If it lives up to the potential of this first volume, this could be the best treat to DC readers in years; the writers have only to live up to that potential to thrill. Unfortunately, elements like the Aquaman plot threaten to cast the DC Universe into another Amazons Attack! (reviewed here!) scenario which could lead to greater disappointment. Either way, this is a strong start and it leaves readers hankering for a Volume 2!

For the volumes that preceded this as Blackest Night, please check out my reviews of:
Blackest Night
Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Blackest Night: Rise Of The Black Lanterns
Blackest Night: Tales Of The Corps
Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps - Volume One
Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps - Volume Two


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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