Writer: Peter Milligan | Penciller: Ed Benes | Inker: Rob Hunter | Colorist: Nathan Eyring | Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Last year DC Entertainment cancelled all its ongoing series and relaunched its entire range as part of the New 52 initiative. I’ve read a few of these new series so far (Batman, Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Red Lanterns, Flash, Savage Hawkman, Nightwing, Earth 2) to varying degrees as there are about 13 issues in each, twelve monthlies and the latest #0 origin issues. Some of these new series, which provide excellent jumping on points for new readers, have been hit and miss while others have been excellent. Red Lanterns for me lies in the middle of both categories as the series is mostly quite decent. I suppose that I would have liked the series better if I had prior knowledge of what the Red Lanterns are. All I knew of them before picking up Milligan’s series was that the Red Lanterns are powered by the red spectrum of energy and that they draw upon this through their rage, hatred and their need for vengeance on those who have wronged them.
Like most other of the New 52 series, Red Lanterns is fairly action-packed, but it also goes beyond typical action-movie fare and delves into the philosophy behind what drives the Red Lantern Corps. I didn’t expect to see that really, so I was quite surprised to see it. In retrospect, I would say that this was the right approach by Milligan as this was how I was able to even remotely connect with any of these characters. When I had first come across the Red Lanterns earlier this year in some one-page box-out that identified all the different Corps, I had assumed that the Red Lanterns were all bad guys. I mean, their leader calls himself Atrocitus and all Red Lanterns have a very feral aspect to them. My recent watching of the first four episodes of Green Lantern: The Animated Series certainly bears that out. But Milligan’s run so far has cast them into the morally grey area. As a point of comparison, Atrocitus is very much like Anakin Skywalker or Ulic Quel-Droma, Jedi who turned to the Dark Side of the Force to protect those that they loved.
Exploring the philosophy of the Red Lantern Corps means that Milligan is able to have the reader relate to them. Atrocitus and his ilk aren’t just warriors who are out to destroy anything and everything and are nothing but uncontrollable berserkers. Their motivations and their urges are real and believable.
The series has two principal characters. The first is Atrocitus, the one who created the Red Lantern Corps in the first place. The second is Jack Moore, a man from Earth who becomes a Red Lantern after losing his grandfather and brother to the injustices of society. The interplay between the two characters doesn’t bear out until the second 6-issue arc (The Death of the Red Lanterns) , with the first arc (Blood and Rage) setting up both of them and exploring what defines them.
When the first issue starts, Atrocitus is going through a moral dilemma as he struggles to understand his own motivations. He is no longer sure of what his future is and he can feel the rage that drives him beginning to ebb. To rectify matters, he goes to the open tomb of the mad Guardian Krona and performs a blood prophecy to determine his future. He gains a revelation that to refuel his rage and to bring about the new future he must raise up some of his crazed Red Lanterns and restore their intelligence. As it turns out later however, not everything goes according to plan and Atrocitus is ultimately betrayed by both his past and his present. Abysmus, one of Atrocitus’ earliest experiments in creating Red Lanterns has been revived and the mad creation is now hell-bent on vengeance of his own.
From there on follows a really bloody and violent tale as Atrocitus becomes increasingly isolated, his only redemption (of sorts) being the mysterious new Red Lantern Jack Moore, who calls himself Rankorr.
Jack’s own story is nearly as violent as that of Atrocitus. Once someone who always kept a heavy lid on his rage, after the death of his brother at the hands of several police officers, he lets loose. He even ends up going against Guy Gardner of the Green Lantern Corps, who tries to help Jack return to being a normal human but ultimately fails. Guy glimpses a slim chance of redemption for Jack however and he is now bent on bringing him back to Earth and saving him from the debilitating, mortal effects of wearing a Red ring.
At first I found the whole Jack Moore arc to be rather superfluous and entirely too disconnected from the main story involving Atrocitus and his Red Lanterns, but Milligan paces it quite well in the end. I found myself increasingly attached to Jack/Rankorr as the series progressed and I was quite surprised to see that it was him who became a Red Lantern instead of another character who Milligan had almost sign-posted for that eventuality.
By the end of #12, things are looking dire for the Red Lantern Corps, for their power has been corrupted at its source and they don’t know who the ultimate player behind their impending destruction. Atrocitus’ lieutenant, Bleez, suspects that the Star Sapphires are behind it and she takes a strong force of her Corps on an attack against the bearers of the Violet rings, powered by love and compassion. A natural enemy of the Red rings of rage? Bleez certainly think so.
The latest issue, #0, is about Atrocitus’ origin from when he was a simple family man on his homeworld of Ryutt. When the world is destroyed by the Manhunters, the first army of the Guardians of Oa, Atros joins a quartet of ancient evils and together the five of them establish an interstellar empire, calling themselves the Five Inversions. As my friend Stefan said in his review of this issue over at the Civilian Reader blog, this story mixes in Atrocitus/Red Lanterns and Cthulhu-ish horror aspects really well. Milligan doesn’t hammer you over the head with the connection and actually leaves it a bit open-ended but it is there for the deducing. Very dark, very brooding issue that is ultimately one of the best issues in the series to date.
In terms of what I didn’t like about the series, I’m not really sure what that would be. The only down-points that I can really think of are very inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. For one, a couple issues towards the end of the second arc have a few editing mistakes in that the speech bubbles are on the wrong characters. It’s a really, really small thing that I don’t think I can fault the series for at all, other than saying that there should be a greater amount of attention paid to this kind of a thing. Second, some of the early issues are a bit too on-the-nose and don’t experiment much with the character of the Red Lanterns. I’m not sure if that too is something I can fault the series for. After all, this is the first time I’ve even reading about them and so I lack any frame of comparison.
As far as the art is concerned, it has been a little hit and miss, especially in the early issues. The richness of colours and inks that can be found in Batman or Wonder Woman or Aquaman or Earth 2 isn’t there but it improves by the time that #0 rolls out. The only aspect in which the art really didn’t work for me was that everything is just way too red, giving the appearance that all the artwork was run through a red-colour filter. Even when the Star Sapphires show up, their violets are muted in comparison, so the contrast doesn’t work so well. Benes’ pencils however are pretty good. This isn’t the best drawn series by any means, that distinction going to Greg Capullo’s Batman and Nicola Scott’s Earth 2, but it is certainly miles better than Philip Tan’s The Savage Hawkman and Brian Buccellato’s The Flash.
For the cover art, all the thirteen covers are excellent and among the best cover art I’ve seen this year. All the artists who’ve worked on these various covers deserve a big thumbs-up for their pencils and colours alike. Whether it is the Red Lantern Corps bursting out in a charge on #1 or Bleez drenched in blood for #3 or Jack and Guy fighting on #7 or Bleez fighting against the Star Sapphire Fatality on #11, these are covers that really invoke the mood and atmosphere of the rest of the book.
All things considered, Milligan’s Red Lanterns is a great series. While it lacks the incredible nuances of Scott Snyder’s Batman or James Robinson’s fantastic alternate reality of Earth 2 or the pure feel-good action of Geoff Johns’ Aquaman, it certainly is a series that I’d recommend to all readers. Milligan has definitely done some high-quality work here and he is supported very well by the entire art team on the project.
Comixology link to all issues