By: Paul Jenkins (writer), Bernard Chang (artist), Blond (colorist)
The Story: Just because he ties up old ladies and steals their books doesn’t mean he’s not a hero!
The Review: It took me a while to get this review underway because I had to spend some time trying to find the words for my particular feelings toward this book. Even though Jenkins’ writing has been admirable, the plotting fine, and the overall direction interesting, I still have a strange dissatisfaction with the series. And now I think I know why: the title just talks too much.
Here me out. Deadman has always been a lighthearted hero, one more given to quips and jokes than deep thought, and more inclined towards fast-paced physical action and slapstick, despite the inherent spirituality of his mission. Through Brightest Day, he’s become more thoughtful and layered, a growth I don’t begrudge, but the overemphasis on his more introspective side has turned the story into a philosophical and expositional slog.
Past issues had Rama trying to broaden Boston’s understanding of the universe through innuendo, a fruitless exercise that gave as little enlightenment to us as him. This time, we have the fallen angel of libraries, or something, giving Boston a lead to someone who can provide the real answers he needs—for a price, of course. While undoubtedly crucial info, Jenkins takes far too long to get there, dragging us through a scene that repeats a pattern of the angel refusing to speak, then giving in with each of Boston’s casual threats.
Jenkins does better when he goes for a straight-up narrative, like Deadman’s recounting of his attempt to save an innocent man on death row. The tale has a lot of weight to it, asks all the right questions (“There must be a last-minute reprieve, I thought. Otherwise, what was I doing here?”), and ultimately ends on a powerful, sobering note—all within three pages. It also has the added bonus of getting you just as invested in demanding answers from Rama as Boston is.
To that end, Deadman sets into motion a power play of his own, one he doesn’t even reveal to us. However, it does involve him interfering with an illicit exchange between a group of terrorists and some Gotham mobsters, which provides all kind of fun. You even get a screwball moment when Boston’s bluff about one set of criminals trying to stiff the other on the cash turns out to be true: “Holy crap—Vito was right! These freaks were tryin’ to give us paper!”
That Boston involves current host Johnny in his plans comes off a bit disturbing. There’s a lot of primal sympathy attached to a military vet with amputated legs, especially one suffering bouts of depression, so you just get a viscerally sticky feeling thinking that Boston might risk Johnny’s soul for his own ends. He does plan to confront the Son of Morning, an angel who left Heaven willingly, and Lord knows those kinds of guys don’t give without plenty of take.
Chang does well for himself, and he plays up the script with good credibility. I once said he has a made-for-television-movie sense of storytelling, and that applies here. He employs a gripping drama to the more grounded scenes, like the sequence of Boston’s death-row inmate gradually losing all hopeful avenues. With the more mystical scenes, he can’t seem to perfectly convey their otherworldly nature, making them look more cartoony than threatening, channeling the same sober yet campy aesthetic as WB supernatural dramas (Charmed comes to mind).
Conclusion: There’s a sliver of a great title here, but it’s buried beneath the weight of overwritten expository scenes and crawling pacing. Let’s see if Jenkins can turn that around next time.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – The thing is, no matter what a wash this story turns out to be, I’ll still stick to the title since the rotation of writers and artists creates a clean slate for new optimism every time. And with the Challengers of the Unknown, a cult favorite of mine, taking the next feature, I think I’m set to review this series for at least a year.
– Usually, death row inmates get to choose the menu for their last meal. In that case, Larry Kloock has either the saddest taste ever or he just can’t be bothered to put any imagination into it (and who can blame him?), because it looks like he decided to go out with a TV dinner.