Amazingly enough, none of the monthly comics I picked up this week had a good solid kick to the face, which I guess is one of the hazards of cutting back my sub list when I quit the store. But fortunately for you, the
cretinous loyal Week In Ink reader, I also got my hands on a copy of the new Fantagraphics collection of Basil Wolverton’s Culture Corner, a series of one-page instructional comics that includes the handy guide “How to Kick a Person In The Teeth”:
Now that faces have been properly booted, we can get on with another round of the Internet’s Most Needlessly Ritualistic Comics Reviews, but bear in mind: After reading, what I’m about to write about the Two Faces of Geoff Johns, there’s a good chance you might wish I’d taken the night off.
Here’s what I thought of a couple of this week’s titles!
Brightest Day #0: You know, I really hope that Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi take some time this weekend to sit down and write a Thank You note to James Robinson for being the one thing keeping them from being the guys who wrote the worst comic of the year. It’s just polite.
This is a terrible comic book. From the very first page–again, the first page of a book called Brightest Day–there’s a grotesquerie to it that is completely indistinguishable from someone doing a parody of what Warren Ellis called “Johns’s death-soaked shouting opuses.” Seriously, Brightest Day opens with a five-panel sequence of a baby bird bashing its head in on a tombstone and dying. There’s nothing I can possibly add to that, other than to say that while the name isn’t ever mentioned in the text, it’s all done as a setup for Deadman to move a step closer to his inevitable and groanworthy new role of “Lifeman,” and that in its own terrible way, it’s the perfect introduction for the rest of the book.
Because that’s what Brightest Day is: Pages upon pages of alarmingly stupid navel-gazing that underscores the fact that right now, with the exception of a few islands of good work, the DC Universe is experiencing a creative bankruptcy the likes of which the company has never seen. With this issue, a book that’s meant to set the tone for the DC Universe, Aquaman’s afraid to get in the water and the Flash tells someone he doesn’t want to run. They’ve gotten to the point where they’re not even telling stories anymore, they’re just showing people sitting around talking about things they used to do. And even that’s done wrong.
Take Firestorm. Johns and Tomasi make it clear that Ronnie Raymond is meant to be back from the dead from the moment he died in Identity Crisis. So why does he act like he did thirty years ago? Why did he ask where Professor Stein is, when Stein hadn’t been part of Firestorm for years at that point? Why does Ronnie, a recovering alcoholic, blow off Gehenna’s funeral to go to a kegger? And why, if the union between Jason and Ronnie is meant to be the new version of Firestorm, as seen on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, does Ronnie get control of the body? Well, I know the answer to that one: Because if Firestorm still had the body of a black man, he wouldn’t look like he did in 1978.
Beyond those problems, though, is the simple fact that Brightest Day is just poorly written. There’s a scene where Captain Boomerang talks about Shawshank Redemption in the vaguest, most Herb and Jamal-esque way possible, referring to it as “this film a few years back” before quoting its “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin'” line in a scene that’s a lock for this year’s Eisner for Tritest Prison Conversation. And it gets worse: Hawkman plumbs the depths of explicitly stated melodrama with the line “I see all our ghosts–our past lives–they’re around us–reminding me that all this is… fleeting.” And then it gets even worse.
Here’s a brief re-enactment of me reading this comic:
It’s embarrassing, and the last thing it makes me want to do is read more.
The Flash #1: To promote the relaunch of the Flash, DC had house ads reading, completely without irony, “Barry Allen is back and it’s the worst thing that ever happened to him.” And brother, they ain’t lyin’.
I’ve come out pretty strongly before against the return of Barry Allen, and I think it’s pretty obvious why. There’s no reason whatsoever other than nostalgia to bring him back. His return was the only part of Final Crisis that I actually hated, and bringing him back not only undermines what was probably the best and most heroic death in comics (cheapening the cycle of death and resurrection in comics even more than it already is), but it devalues the work that creators like Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and even Geoff Johns himself have done in making Wally West, if not better than Barry, then at least as good from a character standpoint as he ever was. It’s mind-boggling as to why anyone at DC wouldn’t want him back, or why they’d be willing to contort storylines into impenetrable continuity pretzels so that they could, in effect, get back the toy they played with as kids.
Needless to say, I wasn’t planning on picking up Flash, but hey: Free ring. And with all that said, I’ve got to admit: This is actually a really good comic.
That’s not too terribly surprising, I suppose; Johns did, after all, do some of his best work on the character, although that got tiresome at the end when he decided every aspect of every character had to tie into a one-note gimmick (Mirror Master does cocaine! OFF A MIRROR! DID THAT JUST BLOW YOUR MIND?!). Which, really, is what’s so frustrating about Johns: When he’s good, he’s great and when he’s bad, he’s abysmal, and it all stems from the exact same place and a very specific storytelling ideology he adheres to.
But here, he’s actually doing something fun. Even the title, “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues,” straddles that line between ridiculously self-referential and just goofy enough to get a genuine laugh, and the story, while it’s certainly hearkening back to stuff that’s been done before, has never quite been done in this sort of way, and never to this extreme. For the first issue, at least, this isn’t just a good story, but it’s very much the kind of bizarre Flash story that I really like.
A lot of the quality, though, has to do with artist Francis Manapul. Aside from a few of the costume redesigns, I loved his Legion of Super-Heroes work (which, ironically enough, was ended so that Johns and Brad Meltzer could have their cake with a pastiche of the late ’70s Legion), and he does a really great job here. There’s a sense of motion to his work (which is aided in no small part by colorist Brian Buccellato), and his take on all of Barry’s speed tricks is genuinely thrilling. He makes the Flash disassembling an entire car in mid-air while it jumps an unfinished bridge look exactly as cool as it ought to.
Plus, this page alone is just gorgeous:
It’s a great-looking comic that’s a lot of fun to read, but it’s not without its faults. For one thing, as much as I appreciate that the book hit the ground running (har har), I would’ve appreciated knowing why everyone was cool with Barry Allen coming back to life and having a secret identity, and why Iris wasn’t an old woman anymore, and maybe–just maybe–why he abandoned the kids that he has in the 31st century (which we know he has because his grandson, Bart Allen is back too). But that’s a minor dig on my part–I understand at least some of it was covered in Flash #0, which I skipped for the reasons laid out above–and it’s more than outweighed by an issue that actually feels like it has some momentum to it.
Far more problematic is the fact that, while the story around him is fun, Barry Allen has no discernible personality whatsoever. There are quirks–he’s always late! Boy, that sure was clever in 1954–but by and large, he’s a blank slate. Which means that as fun as this story is, there’s no reason for it to be about Barry Allen rather than Wally West, and we’re right back to where we started with the un-necessity of Barry Allen’s return. You could argue that this is only the first issue and that it needs time to develop, but there’s nothing more important for a first issue than establishing who these people are and why we need to care. Right now, we care because Geoff Johns cares, and for me, that’s not good enough.
But again: By and large, it’s a fun comic, and that buys an awful lot of leeway with me, and the only time I actually like admitting I’m wrong is when I read something that’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be, and this issue certainly qualifies there. I just wish it wasn’t a good comic mired in its own regressive storytelling.
And for me, that’s the week. I mean, sure, there were more comics, but I’ve already talked up Gillen and McKelvie’s Loki, and considering that I’m pretty sure I just murdered my chances of ever writing Jimmy Olsen or the Legion of Super-Heroes with those two reviews, I’m calling it a night. As always, if something caught your eye this week, then by all means, have at it in the comments below.