Picnic time for teddy bears

I lived at home for a few years during college and law school, and soon fell into the habit of watching new Star Trek episodes (various series) with my parents. Every so often, at a particularly cliffhanging commercial break, my mom would turn to me and ask, perfectly serious, what was going to happen next. Of course I didn’t know, and eventually I said something like “oh, this is the one where they beam down to the Cuddly Teddy Bear Planet for tea and scones.” Soon the phrase “teddy bears” became shorthand for “invasion,” “warp core breach,” “musical number,” etc. Indeed, when Voyager’s crew was marooned on a primordial world at the end of the second season, I noted the nasty-looking lizards prowling around and said “look, Mom -- there are the teddy bears!”

Accordingly, it is not in my nature to be optimistic about such things; and so I am experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance with all this Brightest Day news coming out of DC. It's like the publisher has traded so heavily in grim ‘n’ gritty that scrubbing it away will involve a year-long biweekly miniseries which (of course) ties into some of the publisher's most recognizable titles.  Apparently happiness has gotten so far from the DC norm that it's become a brand.

It reminds me of the new Domino's Pizza commercial, which opens with focus groups trashing the quality of Domino's pizza. They complain mercilessly about the crust, the sauce, etc.; and Domino's doesn't really disagree. Instead, the commercial explains that Domino's is now committed to using only the finest quality ingredients, picked at sunrise from dew-sprinkled meadows by pixies who have excellent benefits and great parking. I might be wrong on that last part, because I was so amazed that Domino's would take this approach. It's basically a nice way of saying "oh, our bad -- we thought you didn't mind eating ketchup-flavored cheese-smothered cardboard."

While I didn’t think Blackest Night was particularly unappetizing, I am more than ready for DC to tone down the angst and tortured “realism.” Brightest Day -- which I expect will start in April, if its JLA crossover is any indication -- sounds like another “B- and C-listers save the world” story, just like previous year-long weeklies 52 and Countdown (and, to some extent, Trinity).

I know, no one liked Countdown, including me; and yes, the talented Paul Dini managed Countdown’s lineup of writers. Still, this sounds more like 52 than Countdown. Like 52 and Trinity, it has a consistent writing team (Green Lantern writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi), one of whom (Johns) was part of 52’s writing lineup; and hype aside, I doubt it will try to tie into every other regular title like Countdown did.

For one thing, it will run alongside another twenty-six-issue biweekly series, the Keith Giffen/Judd Winick-written Justice League: Generation Lost, which is basically the return of Justice League International under a colon-separated title. What’s more, Giffen and JLI scripter J.M. DeMatteis will be taking over for Dan Jurgens as writers of Booster Gold (with artist Chris Batista), so even in the serious arcs there should be no shortage of bwah-ha-ha humor. I’m not sure what kind of response this is to the cries, circa 2005-06, that Dan DiDio was systematically murdering Blue Beetle, Rocket Red, the Dibnys, and various other JLI stalwarts; but it is definitely a bookend to those events. I suppose the next step will be to let Peter David and Todd Nauck do a Young Justice reunion miniseries....

Actually, the more pertinent question is probably who will buy either or both of these mega-series. I’ll raise my hand here; I bought 52, Countdown, and Trinity (and the weekly Wednesday Comics too, for that matter). I thought each had potential based on the creative team and the subject matter; and again, was only disappointed by the haphazard, short-attention-span Countdown.

However, I imagine there are Blackest Night readers who don’t go much further into DC’s superhero line. Getting them to commit to an 8-issue miniseries with attendant tie-ins is probably easier than getting them to commit to this level of follow-up, even if the tie-ins have pushed the complete Blackest Night experience well over 26 issues. Brightest Day is a meet-the-parents type of commitment, where you really get to know the people you only expected to interact with peripherally.

Although it may well feature one or more now-dead characters revived via Blackest Night, the new JLI series is a different animal entirely. Formerly Known As The Justice League and “I Can’t Believe It’s The Justice League!” each ran six issues; and since I’ve already mentioned commercials, it strikes me as the “Too Heavy” end of the spectrum. Again, I am not complaining -- I kinda like that guy who smashes the fence with his giant-headed 4x4 -- but it is a demonstrably bigger commitment than the Blackest-to-Brightest one. It’s almost like DC is dumping a 16-ton block on the readers: “You want JLI? Here’s your JLI!”

And boy, I am barreling headlong into the Land of Ingratitude here, huh? You’d think I’d be more expressly happy about Giffen returning to the JLI (and G/DM back writing Booster); and I am happy, honestly. It’s just a very odd format. In fact, it’s the kind of thing which feels almost final -- like, why would you want an ongoing Justice League International series after Giffen et al. have had over two dozen issues to say what they need to say with these characters? What’s more, it looks like the new Birds Of Prey by Gail Simone and Ed Benes (hooray!) will be an ongoing series.  At least DC’s sunnier tone makes it much less likely that Generation Lost will see these characters killed....

That brings us back to Brightest Day itself, and specifically to the thought that it might feature a number of back-from-the-dead characters helping Mera and the Atom to save the world. If conventional wisdom about Blackest Night proves true, DC will have a number of BFTD folks looking to find their way, etc., after taking the ol’ dirt nap; so why not put a bunch of them in a 26-issue biweekly miniseries? Better that, perhaps, than the Final Crisis Aftermath route of multiple disconnected miniseries left to wither separately. (As for multiple interconnected miniseries, I presume DC would rather revisit 52 than Seven Soldiers.)

Ultimately, though, despite its length and scope, Brightest Day doesn’t feel like an Event to me. Johns said it was the 52 to Blackest Night’s Infinite Crisis; and I considered 52 part of the “event cycle.” Does that mean the cycle continues, with no end in sight? Have we fans worked through whatever event fatigue was wearing us down?

Well ... with regard to the second question, I can’t speak for everyone. I’m also reluctant to talk about the end of the event cycle before the last page of Blackest Night is turned. However, Brightest Day definitely seems to break the cycle of line-wide carnage, upheaval, “nothing ever the same,” etc., which accompanied its predecessors. In that respect the stakes may actually have been lowered, such that DC will go back to selling characters and stories without injecting spectacle into uncomfortable places.

What hasn’t changed, I presume, is DC’s desire to sell its entire superhero line as a unit; so of course it rolls out an event-style miniseries with tie-ins and the whole magilla. Whether this is designed eventually to get readers back to following ongoing series (as opposed to these all-important miniseries) is still unclear to me. It’ll probably be 2011 before we see anything definite there.

In the meantime, I really can’t argue with much of what Brightest Day entails. Not everything is raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens (the Team Arrow and Titans plans don’t seem particularly uplifting) -- but right now I’m looking forward to the good kind of teddy bears.

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