Fourteen months in and I finally feel like I’ve turned a corner with Red Lanterns. Out of the four titles in the shared lantern universe this one seems to be benefiting most from the Rise of the Third Army crossover. For a start it is the only book that shows any character development of the Thirdite creatures themselves. I guess Peter Milligan has an advantage over other writers in that he spent the best part of a year struggling to give personality to a mindless Red Lantern Corps. Who would have predicted in the early stages of the run that Atrocitus would eventually utter the immortal words seen in this issue, “I sense that you are the most intelligent and trustworthy of my Corps, Ratchet.”? Now that he has actually achieved sentience for the RLs he seems to be finding it a straightforward matter to chart a development for the Guardian’s own mute army.
I never expected to be in a position where Red Lanterns is not sitting at the bottom of my GL stack but I have no qualms in admitting that this book is considerably better than Green Lantern: New Guardians #14 released the previous week. I’d even take my compliment a step further. RL #14 has the feel of a Gerard Jones era GL book. The characterisation is strong, the narrative is reflective without being laboured and, in terms of the storytelling, nothing can be taken for granted. Sure, dialogue is a tad clumsy here and there but it comes across more as charming than stilted. This is a vast improvement on earlier issues in my mind.
The story opens on the rage corps swamped in Thirdites and giving as good as they get in hand to hand combat. Even to hold their own in this scenario is a great deal more than the Green Lantern Corps have achieved up until now. Of course, they are helped by the fact that Atrocitus has apparently developed the powers of Atom Smasher. Either he has turned into a giant on the first splash page or his corps have been attacked by a battalion of Third Army smurfs.
I mentioned in previous reviews that Miguel Sepulveda’s art sets a great tone for what is essentially a horror comic posing as an anti-hero book. I’ve also mentioned how he appears to have thrown out the style notes that would have been drafted for the crossover. Well, now he has also thrown out the long-established rule book on form and perspective too. Rankorr continues to show his conflicted human side by having doubts about killing a creature that had only just been transformed. In the dialogue this is attributed to the victim’s eyes not having been changed with the rest of her, which fits in nicely with everything we have been shown previously. But Sepulveda unnecessarily telegraphs her tragedy by drawing her with a distinguishable hairstyle that is not at all in keeping with our understanding of the Third Army’s transformation.
On the whole, however, the art is to be commended. It is brutal and bloody when needed and the dramatic stylised panels are much clearer than they have any right to be given the amount of viscous flying around the place!
Atrocitus carries one of the corpses back to his home world for study and applies a combination of science and magic learnt over the course of many centuries to divine that his enemies were spawned by the Guardians in order to conquer the universe. He realises his corps is vastly underpowered for a successful confrontation with the Oans and so he sets each of them a mission of revenge which will draw strength for their red power battery. The book shows a rare glimpse of humour when Bleez wisecracks about being typecast as she is instructed to seek out crimes of passion. Milligan has found his voice and is able to utilise light and shade in a much more effective way than was the case five and ten issues ago. He is no longer bogged down in the overtly philosophical burdens of his agents of vengeance.
As all of this was happening the lantern’s magic was having unexpected side effects on the subject of their recent autopsy. In a further example of Milligan’s improved sense of balance a terrifying panel of a rat being sucked into the corpse’s remnants is juxtaposed with Dex-Starr, the rage kitty, giving a goofy shrug at its disappearance. What then follows is the creation of a monstrous beast that is part rat and part skeletal spider. It took a combination of Atrcocitus’ blood magic and Rankorr’s ring construct to eventually defeat the abhorrence. I enjoyed Milligan’s exploration of the skill that Rankorr possesses which is common amongst Green Lanterns but unique to him within the Red Lantern Corps. This definitely opens the doors for some intriguing storylines in the future.
In order to exorcize the inner doubts that hold him back from fulfilling his lantern duties Rankorr is ordered to Earth to have revenge on those who first enraged him. He quickly realises that the planet of his birth can never be his home again. Meanwhile Atrocitus is facing his own demons on the barren wasteland of his destroyed native planet, Ryutt. His plan is to take control over the robotic Manhunters who slaughtered his species and turn them against their former masters. He presumes the Guardian’s minions will not be able to forcibly induct an inorganic foe into their army. Things take a turn for the worse when his memories of that fateful day seemingly become reality. Ryuttians are brought to life before his eyes before being horribly slaughtered by the Manhunters all over again. It remains to be seen how and why this tragic event is taking place.
The pacing of the issue was excellent. An incredible amount of action is crammed into these twenty pages without feeling rushed or under-explored. The crossover event and the story of the Red Lanterns themselves are both progressed with losing out to the other. If the book can maintain the same level of quality next month with the added sprinkle of an invincible regiment of Manhunters I will be a very happy lantern fan.