Posted by: erikmona | September 26, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 24: Red Lanterns #1

Red Lanterns #1
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Ed Benes

From afar, the DC “summer event” crossovers Brightest Day and Blackest Night looked like just about the stupidest things imaginable. Now, instead of just Green Lanterns, we got a Lantern Corps for every color in the “emotional spectrum.” Judging from comic covers and action figures, at some point just about every character in the DCU joined one of these space patrol parties, so everyone got to be some kind of lantern for a day.

Whatever.

I’m sure the whole thing was better than I make it out to be, but I’m glad I didn’t read it, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that caused me to stay away from comics for a while. The prospect that the New 52 reboot would erase that dumb stuff was a major part of what got me interested in the first place.

Imagine my surprise, then, that it appears the Green Lantern continuity is not getting much of a reboot, and a lot (if not all) of those events are still considered to have happened in the new DC Universe.

Foremost among these developments is the retention of the various different colors of lanterns. We’ve already seen Yellow Lanterns in this week’s Green Lantern, and Red Lanters focuses on, well, a bunch of Red Lanterns.

So if Green is associated with willpower, Red is associated with rage. All of the members of the Red Lanterns are, essentially, evil, and most of them look like monsters.

The comic opens with a bunch of lizardman space pirates torturing some poor sap on their ship. The captain has grown jaded, and ordinary torture just isn’t doing it for him anymore. But never fear, for sensors have detected a creature flying in space nearby. Perhaps they could torture it!

It turns out to be Dex-Starr, a kitty cat with sharp claws and a Red Lantern uniform. Dex flies around and scratches the hell out of the space pirates, who want to skin him for fun. The cat does pretty well against them, but the tide turns with the arrival of the cat’s owner, a hulking, skull-faced Red Lantern named Atrocitus. This heavyweight brawler, with sharp claws of his own, kills the rest of the pirates and rescues his kitty-cat.

It’s a fun action scene with a bit of humor thanks to the space cat, but one thing bugged me. Both Dex-Starr and Atrocitus are constantly barfing up bubbly red fluid that seems to float around their heads. As the scene shifts to Space Sector 666, home of the Red Lanterns, we see that all of them do the same thing.

What the heck is up with that red spittle? For such an in-your-face effect, repeated as often as it is, not to have an explanation in the debut issue was a mistake. It’s not central to the plot, or anything, but it is weird enough to want to know what’s going on with it. It’s not fair to expect a new reader to understand this element of the story, and I’m still not sure myself.

The other Red Lanterns don’t have much character, but they look like an impressively evil bunch. There’s a guy with a skeletal goat head, and a guy who’s a big round head with tiny arms and legs. There’s also a sexy succubus type creature named Bleez who seems to be shaping up as a rival to Atrocitus’s power.

Atrocitus, you see, just doesn’t have the heart for unmitigated rage anymore. He’s got good reason to be bitter—the Guardians who control the Green Lanterns were responsible, via their rogue agent Krona, for the death of his family and the destruction of his home planet.

He makes a blood sacrifice in an attempt to see the future. The universe reveals to him a new role: to punish those who deserve retribution as an instrument of vengeance.

That sounds ok, but honestly Milligan’s script did such a good job of portraying Atrocitus’s inner struggle that I am more interested in a super-evil guy running a team of super-evil minions while at the same time falling out of love with his super-evil self and wishing for a less destructive existence. You don’t expect that kind of heavy story from characters that look as metal as this, but it sure would be interesting to read.

Bleez seems to think that Atrocitus has lost his touch, and begins to foment rebellion among the other Red Lanters (who mostly just fight mindlessly in the background). With his new “spirit of vengeance-style” life goal in heart, he turns to his fellows for help just as Bleez’s insurrection comes to fruition.

There’s also a 3-page sub-plot involving the violent death of an old man on Earth, and his fighting grandsons. This sequence, I think, is meant to root the book to the real world a little, as it otherwise would be totally about weird evil creatures on an alien planet. Unfortunately, the alien stuff is pretty interesting, and the grandsons sub-plot isn’t. It’s also unclear how it ties into the Red Lantern story beyond a broad stroke similarity on the basis of rage and vengeance. But why this example, from this one family? We’re not sure, yet.

Ed Benes’s art is definitely on the “Jim Lee clone/Early Image” spectrum, but I really liked it. He did a great job with the background characters, whom I’d like to learn more about. He also does well with Atrocitus himself, managing to make him sympathetic despite his horrific appearance. I wasn’t as pleased with his take on Bleez, who is almost uniformly depicted showing off a bit of ass. I get that she’s supposed to be a sort of over-sexualized demon creature, but it was a bit gratiutous.

From the feral space cat to the team leader losing his lust for rage to his untrusting (and untrustworthy) allies among the Red Lanterns, I found this to be surprisingly enjoyable and a good introduction to the main character of the series.

I expected this to be an awful comic, but I actually enjoyed it. I’m not ready to commit to keeping it safe yet, but I am cautiously optimistic about #2.

Status: We’ll See.

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  1. […] SEE Batman & Robin Grifter Legion Lost Red Lanterns […]


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