On the surface, this is a series about a group of possibly-beloved characters who have been reborn and now must navigate their way through the post-“Blackest Night” world. But it’s also a kind of tribute to the DC Universe, a tour through its byways and spaceways, an exploration of various corners of the DC storytelling machine. A celebratory one, but one that is laden with darkness. (Those characters on the cover aren’t just sternly standing because they’re drawn by David Finch.)
But “Brightest Day” is also, on a production level, about the process of putting together a long-form, rapidly-produced superhero saga. Not that this series is some kind of metaphor for what’s going on behind the scenes at DC — Deadman isn’t Geoff Johns, trying to stand up against the mighty Anti-Monitor Dan DiDio, and Aquaman isn’t Peter Tomasi, getting bitten in the face by mindless fans drawn as zombie killer whales — but there’s a clear attempt to try to do this year-long limited series idea in a different way this time. “Brightest Day” may only be scheduled for 26 issues, but it’s clearly a direct descendant of “52.” And Johns, Tomasi, and editor Eddie Berganza seem to have learned a few lessons from the year-long series that came out between “52” and “Brightest Day.” And this series is a response to that.
For example, one of the things that made “52” work so well was the collaboration between its four writers: Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, and Greg Rucka. The art differed from issue-to-issue, but was mostly fine, decent work. “Countdown” tried to use a “head writer” approach, with a core group of writers taking turns on issues under Paul Dini’s narrative guidance. For whatever reason, the series was almost a complete failure in the end, and not only did it fail to provide a satisfying story on its own, but it didn’t count down to anything, really, since everything that happened in that series was immediately wiped out of continuity. (When was the last time you saw Jason Todd and Ray Palmer hopping from universe to universe, fixing things?) And “Trinity” used a single writer and a single main artist — Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley — along with some help on the back-up features in every issue, to tell one giant story about the importance of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, but it was mostly told in the form of an alternate reality in which those characters didn’t quite exist.
“Brightest Day” takes the collaborative idea of “52” — though cutting the number of writers, and issue numbers, in half — and the long-form saga storytelling of “Countdown” (which, unlike “52” wasn’t artificially restricted to “one week of plot events = one issue of the series”) and “Trinity” and then made it count. “Countdown” was hyped as the “spine of the DCU,” but it never was. “Brightest Day” actually may be.
So, on one level, it’s interesting to see how Johns and Tomasi and their artistic collaborators have learned from the mistakes of the past. And the visual approach of this series is different from what’s come before. Instead of each issue featuring a different, rotating artist, each of the artists tackles one of the five plotlines throughout this series (at least, that seems to be the plan.) So Ardian Syaf draws Deadman, Ivan Reis draws Aquaman, Patrick Gleason draws Martian Manhunter, Scott Clark draws Firestorm, and Joe Prado draws Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Their stories may intertwine, but as of issue #3, they are on separate paths, following their own destinies.
In essence, it’s five mini-series laced together in an anthology format, and though we’re still just getting a sense of character and setting at this point, it seems to be an effective way to tell the stories of these characters. I’m much more interested in reading their parallel stories in this format than I would be if they had been released as distinct miniseries over the course of the year. It’s a shrewd marketing move, but it’s also a potentially more fertile ground for storytelling. The stories may begin to overlap at some point, and the mystery of the White Power Battery will seemingly bring all of them together in the end.
“Brightest Day” #3 opens with the Anti-Monitor and closes with a doorway through Hawkman continuity, and we get a whole lot of tension in between. It may not have done much more than put its characters in motion, but “Brightest Day,” as a method of story delivery, seems like it just might work. And it might end up being the best of the year-long superhero experiments so far.