This issue is all angsty anticipation, with Aquaman spilling the beans about Jackson Hyde to Jackson. Jackson’s origin is explained here, as well as his mission. The Aquaman plot is advanced significantly here, with an explanation of how Black Manta and Jackson tie to one another and also their shared connection to Mera’s people.
“Brightest Day” has been juggling lead characters for a few issues now, but this issue is more balanced than most, with Firestorm’s dilemma filling the pages that do not involve Aquaman. As previous issues have left Firestorm or Aquaman out of the picture in favor of Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, or Deadman, this issue returns the favor.
The art continues to be solid. Of the myriad artists working on “Brightest Day,” it’s safe to say Scott Clark’s work is every bit as detailed, but significantly more gritty than Ivan Reis’ and Joe Prado’s. Clark delivers some creepy moments featuring Deathstorm and his hostages, Martin Stein and Alvin Rusch. Stein talks Deathstorm into monologuing, as befits the 1990s stereotypical comic character that Deathstorm exemplifies. After some banter that reveals a bit about Deathstorm’s abilities and motivation, the character heads off to deliver the White Lantern. Through it all, Clark’s work propels Deathstorm beyond merely appearing as a Ghost Rider wannabe. As cleanly as Clark defines the nastiness of Deathstorm, he fills the Justice League’s lab with detail, heroes, and emotion. Firestorm’s story is only a handful of pages this issue, but Clark and Steigerwald fill those pages with color and calamity.
The art for Aquaman and Jackson is as polished and smooth as Clark’s work is rough. Only a duo with the level of talent Reis and Prado possess could fill the pages with as much detail as the Aquaman story contains. This story, in and of itself, could easily have filled an entire issue. Steigerwald magnificently balances memories with aquatic imagery, never losing one in the other. The memory images are barely two inches square, but there is as much detail present in each of those as in any of the splash pages in this issue. One of those splashes — when Jackson realizes his power and lashes out at Aquaman — is at once Kevin Nowlan, Jim Aparo, and George Perez. It’s an instantly classic panel that ultimately rings hollow, as dramatic misunderstanding battles always do, but is a beautiful piece of art.
With ten issues remaining, I’m expecting to start seeing the stories of these characters (all of them, not just the two here) come together, but the last page of this issue has me wondering what comes next. There are cliffhanger final pages and then there are cliffhanger final pages that have you checking the calendar to see just how long you’re going to be strung out for. That’s a bigger concern with “Brightest Day” as it could easily be a pair of issues (or more) before we revisit these characters again. Until then, it might be worthwhile to go back and re-read these first sixteen issues.