Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Brightest Day - Volume 3 Finishes The Saga Well!

The Good: Theme, Some character development, Most artwork, "Bonus" feature
The Bad: Assumption that readers will understand the very end of the book . . .
The Basics: The Brightest Day Saga ends in Brightest Day - Volume 3 with a climax that has the potential to truly change the DC Universe . . . if only it were ballsy enough to be maintained!

For those who do not read my blog regularly, I am a scholar of literary works who has, in recent years, become very interested in graphic novels and comic books because many of them are telling ambitious, interesting or controversial stories. The big commercial comic book companies, like Marvel and DC Comics have a tendency to follow action-adventure plots that speak to a younger audience, reserving their more cerebral works for limited series works like Justice (reviewed here!) and Kingdom Come (reviewed here!). As a case in point, there was remarkably little philosophy in the massive DC Universe crossover event Blackest Night. But the books of Blackest Night gave way to the Brightest Day storyline and following on the heels of Brightest Day - Volume One (reviewed here!) and Brightest Day - Volume Two (reviewed here!) comes the conclusion of the Saga in Brightest Day - Volume Three. Understanding the events in this volume is almost entirely dependent upon reading Volume One. While reading Volume Two helps, it is not as essential as one might suspect. While I did not recommend Volume Two, Brightest Day - Volume Three is one that I do recommend.

Part of that recommendation comes from the fact that Brightest Day - Volume Three (which compiles issues seventeen through twenty-four of Brightest Day comic books into one sleek hardcover) develops into a work which is much more philosophical than the usual DC fare and the meandering story told throughout the other books finally converges in an interesting way. At the climax of the first volume, heroes and villains resurrected at the end of theBlackest Night Saga were given tasks by the White Lantern that they must now achieve in order to save the Earth. At the center of them is Boston Brand and his search for the one who will take his White Ring and become the guardian of Earth. And the choice for the Guardian is an intriguing one.

Under the sea, the Bermuda Triangle is opened and Siren's forces, in league with Black Manta, begin their assault on Earth. Lost in space after apparently destroying the Universe, Firestorm realizes he is in the Anti-Matter Universe. Doing what he can to reconcile the Jason and Ronnie personalities, they go in search of Deathstorm. Meanwhile Carter and Shiera discover they are pawns for a powerful conqueror, who wants to destroy the Star Sapphire homeworld. There, they fight Queen Shrike and in defeating her, the pair is returned to Earth where they encounter Boston Brand in the Star City forest and his White Lantern ring unexpectedly turns on them, disintegrating the pair!

With Hawkman and Hawkgirl disintegrated, Boston Brand rejects the will of the White Lantern Ring, despite it making the purpose of the events of the Brightest Day a bit more clear. Jackson and Aquaman flee Siren's forces in an attempt to keep Jackson out of the Bermuda Triangle. Unfortunately, a water spout carries the pair to land, where Siren and Black Manta openly attack. With Black Manta wounding Aquaman, the battle looks hopeless, especially when Boston Brand determines that he cannot aid them. But the Ring makes it clear that this is Aquaman's test and in marshaling the undead sea life to his side, Arthur Curry manages to accomplish his mission, but at an extreme cost!

Meanwhile on Mars, J'onn J'onzz successfully breaks free of D'Kay and he squares off with the other Green Martian. Through his fight with her, he is forced to chose the world he will live on: the barren Mars or Earth. Defeating D'Kay, he is joined by Boston Brand at the Star City forest and he meets his fate. Deep in the Anti-matter Universe, Ronnie and Jason hunt down Deathstorm, the Black Lantern perversion of Firestorm. There, they have an incredible battle and the result is that the White Lantern pulls Firestorm back into the primary universe, into the forest where Boston Brand encounters him and the new protector of Earth is chosen.

Without revealing the end of the Brightest Day Saga, the climax is a real mixed bag. The premise of Brightest Day was established pretty early on: Boston Brand and the resurrected heroes and villains are supposed to save the world. Brand's mission, specifically, is to pave the way for the new protector of Earth and at the climax when the new protector of life on Earth is revealed, the reader almost has the impression that Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi have reduced the whole Saga to a pun. Given that this is the follow-up to the dark and epic Blackest Night Saga, there is something insulting about that. What isn't insulting is the idea that Brightest Day - Volume 3 reveals a strong message of protecting all life on Earth. There is a pro-environment message which is clever and has never been used as the unifying theme in a major DC (or, to the best of my knowledge, any comic book) crossover.

More than that, it is in the final act that the premise of Brightest Day becomes even more contrived than one might have wished it to be. While Blackest Night was a sprawling story focused on a single goal, Brightest Day is a fractured story with no clear overall goal. So, for example, Maxwell Lord, Jade and Osiris are entirely absent from the narrative of Brightest Day - Volume 3, save the exposition at the very end. Similarly, Digger Harkness and Hawk come into the narrative for the penultimate chapter and finale with no real point to the rest of what they might have been doing the whole time. In other words, like Blackest Night there is the sense that there are missing events in the Brightest Day Saga not covered in the three main books. That is disappointing.

Also disappointing is the last page of the book that reveals an adversary that will be utterly unrecognizable to readers who did not follow one very specific DC franchise. As one who did not, seeing the last panels, I felt the book was trying for a big villain revelation and, frankly, out of context I just did not care. That, too, felt cheap.

One of the admirable aspects of Brightest Day - Volume 3 is that the characters actually have a chance to develop. As the Aquawar rages, Boston Brand becomes infuriated that he finally respects and loves life enough to fight for it, only to be prevented from intervening. Similarly, Arthur Curry (Aquaman) has an actual character journey which works; he must accept life and come to thrive at being the outsider he has always been. This allows him the potential to accept Mera's actions as she has turned her back on her people. Outside Boston Brand, this gives Curry one of the most deep character journeys in the book and it works!

Sadly, not all of the character development makes sense. Boston Brand, who becomes such a cool protagonist that I am already looking for a Deadman and White Lantern Boston Brand figure (hint, hint, fine readers!), has a romantic subplot with Dove that is utterly underdeveloped. Their early trials which started the bond between them are not strengthened through any events in in Brightest Day - Volume 3 making it seem inorganic and contrived.

At least in the plus column is the artwork. The pencillers make everyone look recognizable - though the Martian Manhunter occasionally looks like a cartoon character instead of a rich as others - and the coloring is excellent. The panels of epic battles have a decent sense of movement to them and readers are easily able to follow the visuals that accompany the dialogue.

In hardcover form, Brightest Day - Volume Three features the cover art and variant cover art for the issues which comprise these chapters. What is still missing are the parallel storylines, like Maxwell Lord's journey and Jade's story outside the main Brightest Day narrative. More than feeling like a cheap excuse to get DC readers to buy more books, one feels that the writers actually respected readers not to overload them with stories that deserved a fair telling on their own.

Ultimately, Brightest Day - Volume Three concludes the Saga and, strangely, this feels like a good point for the DC Universe to call it quits. Knowing that their new storyline (Flashpoint) is another story that essentially dabbles in an alternate universe or a change to the fundamental laws of the DC Universe, it seems anticlimactic that a protector of the planet would be chosen only to have the planet fundamentally altered. Indeed, the end of this book and the beginning of the new DC Universe storyline might well illustrate that the writers feel it has all been done already as well. As DC heads in a far less cerebral direction, it is refreshing to close the book which ends - for the most part - with characters excited about the potentials of life and a rebirth of the planet.

For other DC Universe graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps - Volume One
DC Online Universe Legends - Volume One
Identity Crisis


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

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

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