Red Lanterns #1
“With Blood and Rage”
Writer: Peter Milligan
Pencils: Ed Benes
Inks: Rob Hunter
Colors: Nathan Eyring
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover artists: Benes & Hunter
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Like Batwoman, this title was in the works some time before DC announced its New 52 initiative, and it’s been folded into the lineup of new titles this month that’s proven to be such a success for the publisher. While most of those new titles are about fresh starts for the properties, Red Lanterns picks up where Blackest Night and “The War of the Green Lanterns” left off. Writer Peter Milligan faces the enviable task here of transforming a group of Green Lantern villains into a collection of heroes, and he heads down the only avenue available to him: the path of the anti-hero. Atrocitus undergoes a shift here to make him a protagonist in the vein of the Punisher or Lobo, I suppose. Now, I’m a big fan of the idea of introducing Lantern Corps of many colors; I thought it was a simple concept that helped to revitalize the Green Lantern property. But these Red Lanterns aren’t characters I want to follow outside of that larger Rainbow Lanterns idea. This title might appeal to fans of violent, murderous anti-heroes, but I don’t fall into that particular demographic.
Atrocitus, leader of the Red Lanterns, find himself at a loss, at a crossroads in his seemingly immortal life. His reason for being, the driving force behind his cosmic anger, has been taken from him. Krona, the mad god who killed his family and entire race, is dead, struck down by the hand of another, and he suddenly finds himself without a purpose. With his Red Lanterns out of control, possibly considering a coup, Atrocitus finds new purpose in a vision, in a prophecy that drives him to direct anger toward the wicked, to rain down justice and revenge on those who do harm to those who can’t protect themselves.
The over-the-top nature of the title characters suits Ed Benes’ bombastic style pretty well. He handles the action adeptly, and despite the violence that’s inherent in the character concepts, the visuals never get too gory or grotesque. I thought the art could’ve been a little clearer during the divination scenes, but I imagine vagueness is something the storytellers were aiming for in at that point. The only visual in the book that irked me was the unfortunate and unnecessary focus on Red Lantern Bleez’s physical attributes. And judging from the cover image for the third issue — depicting a buxom Bleez seductively stroking her body under a shower of blood — that’s something we can expect on an ongoing basis from this book.
I was surprised to find the script doesn’t contain any background on the Red Lanterns or even what their powers are. The two of them shown in action mainly use physical force against their enemies. There’s no reference to the red energy replacing their blood, no mention of their use of that energy to burn all that stands before them. There’s no explanation why there are Lanterns Corps of different colors. This isn’t the most accessible introduction to the title concept, but then again, when this series was conceived, it was meant to capitalize on the popularity of the Green Lantern franchise and wasn’t meant as part of a starting point for a new DC Universe.
I loved that the opening scene spotlights Dex-Starr, the cosmic killer kitty cat. The reason the character has proven to be popular is obvious: the contrast of a cute frame and a monstrous attitude. I was disappointed, however, Milligan opts to have Atrocitus come to the cat’s rescue and treat it as a pet rather than as a member of his righteous corps. I would’ve thought he might try to establish Dex-Starr as a character in its own right rather than portray it as a joke or a mascot.
There’s a snippet of dialogue that took me right out of the story. Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly engrossed in the plot, but this would’ve been jarring no matter what comic I found it in. At point, a young punk beats an old man bloody in an alley in the U.K., but what prompts the beating is the victim’s attempt to fight back. The first words out of the punk’s mouth are, “Old fool!” “Old fool”? Really? I know Milligan is denied real profanity in a DC super-hero comic, but there was no reason to make a 21st century thug sound like Dr. Doom.
Milligan had an uphill battle ahead of him to his effort to turn Atrocitus into a figure the audience could cheer for or relate to, but I did appreciate the effort nonetheless. The notion he was a psychologist on his planet before the massacre that altered his life was interesting, and there’s a certain logic to the decision he makes at the end of the issue in regard to the Red Lanterns’ new purpose. I also appreciated the subplot involving Atrocitus’ concern about a possible mutiny. After all, these characters are defined by their anger-management issues. Rage defines them, so violence comes naturally. Atrocitus faces the challenge of bringing discipline and control to creatures that have lost all control.
To be fair, Milligan’s script and plot are executed fairly well, hitting the right notes and taking the title characters where they need to be. It’s unfortunate Atrocitus was designed to look like a monster, as these new stories call on the reader to see the humanity in him. Ultimately, at its best, this story is little more than standard comic-book fare. It certainly seems beneath a writer as clever and innovative as Peter Milligan. I have no doubt the momentum behind the Lantern brand will translate into solid sales for the book, but I won’t be among those adding to its circulation numbers. 5/10
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