By: Jonathan Vankin (writer), Marco Castiello (penciller), Vincenzo Acunza (inker), Barbara Ciardo (colorist)
The Story: John, you should know the only thing to do with a stubborn weed is smoke it.
The Review: Even if you’ve never taken improv comedy, you can appreciate one of its most important tenets: the only time you should enter a scene is when you’re needed. This rule should apply as much to characters on the page (and to real life, honestly) as to those on the stage. If you bring someone into a story, they have to provide some service to it, or they might as well be props, there to decorate the setting and distract your attention, but with no value in themselves.
Vankin seems to believe that bringing in figures from both DC’s occult and superhero traditions will somehow lend credence to this title in both fields. Why else would he attempt to mash up the most recognizable figures (Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, and Deadman on one side, with Superman and Batman from the other) from each of the two schools? But rather than making the story more convincing, they actually emphasize its indecisive lack of direction.
Much like Zee back in the debut issue, both Xanadu and Deadman appear briefly to offer a very limited purpose, ultimately proving of little use. Madame X acts only as a conduit between Constantine and Deadman, while the ghostly acrobat himself only confirms what Constantine can already figure out on his own anyway. With the Green exerting enough control over the wisecracking Brit to show him what it wants, John hardly needs any extra help.
Meanwhile, Superman and Batman get relegated to acting as John’s thugs, fending off the more physical obstacles standing in his way while he struggles with some unusually heightened emotions, courtesy of the Green. The Dark Knight by himself has enough star power to consider this title a waste of his talents, but to bring the Man of Steel into the picture and let him do nothing more than hold Swamp Thing (or the shape of it, anyway) so John can put it to sleep? Hardly what a productive use of Superman’s time, in my estimation.
Vankin would’ve helped himself a great deal if he had given his guests more to do, if only to distract from the shallowness of Constantine’s character, which never progresses much beyond smart-alec with a grating accent. The closest he comes to an affecting conflict is his vague hesitation to murder anyone, even to save his skin from getting all floral and swampy. But this is only a tiny, largely ignored moment of lucidity in a whole issue of nonsense.
This mini itself has done no service and engaged no importance to its characters, plot, or the fabric of the DCU at large. Half the goal of Brightest Day was reviving the Swamp Thing and John Constantine properties in the mainstream universe. This series was presumably meant to flesh out their roles in this brave, new world they find themselves in. Yet the only thing it’s accomplished is keeping Alec Holland alive and himself, for completely inscrutable reasons.
Aside from a few technical snafus, like the inexplicable appearance of Deadman in the middle of our heroes’ battle with the Green, Castiello has done nothing to complain about in the art department. He manages to take the offbeat, horror-based elements of the story and ground them in a mainstream palette, though he doesn’t make any waves doing so. His art is fine to look at, no more.
Conclusion: This series as a whole demonstrates that we may never learn that gathering a bunch of popular stars is far, far from a guarantee of success. A waste of time for all involved.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Would you say Batman is strong enough to lift a grown man by the neck with one hand?