Review: ‘Red Lanterns’ #22
Sometimes it’s better for a review to be subjective.
Every comic fan has a favorite character. If we’re talking DC Comics, mine is Guy Gardner, a Green Lantern generally known for a bad attitude and a worse haircut. In recent years, DC has developed both of those qualities into something better without losing their original basis. Gardner’s known for always telling it the way he sees it (Lanterns are supposed to be honest, after all), even if he’s wrong, and the fact that he often is makes him an interesting character. Some readers hate him, but even they aren’t bored by him. So I’ll do the same and call Red Lanterns #22 like I see it.
If Green Lanterns are space cops fueled by will, the Red Lanterns are the universe’s quite literal hate group. Their problem is they’ve always wanted to see the Guardians destroyed, and now that they are the Reds aren’t sure what to do next. Gardner’s defection to their group last issue (actually an undercover infiltration) has provided them with an opportunity for change, and it’s clear that he thinks the wise thing to do is direct their energies into resolving the Green Lantern Corps’ problems for it.
The humor is solid — much more than you’d expect from a book full of rageaholics vomiting acidic blood at people — like the trademark moment when Gardner’s the only person in a scene willing to call a turd a turd. DC has given this title enough time to run and evolve, discarding elements that only work when the Red Lanterns are villains in someone else’s book. Now that they’re not mindless, interchangeable oafs, they’re mindful, distinct oafs, which is precisely why Gardner (so often a furious oaf himself) is a strong center to this title. He’s got more experience and self-awareness than his new team, but not so much he’s ever on safe ground with them. They hold him in mixed regard, and for the first time since maybe DC’s “Blackest Night” crossover, the Red Lanterns seem dangerous again.
The humor, in large part, helps. Taking the piss out of its own trappings, we’re just left with the grand concept and the negative-space definition of the jokes. The red rage of this series stands out a lot more on a humorous tinge than a sea of blood, so that when it’s done being shockingly humorous (and humorously shocking), the reader is unprepared for when writer Charles Soule reminds them this is a book about angry people doing terrible things. Artist Alessandro Vitti’s art is appropriately jagged and splashy in equal handfuls, and though the composition occasionally suffers (it’s difficult to tell in one scene which character is using his ring, for example) a smart fit to the book stylistically.
Gardner’s two longest-running character flaws have been his anger and his lack of empathy, but in recent years he seemed to have a better handle on the latter–and that’s precisely what sets him up for a fall here. It’s a swell trick, watching him keep a handle on his fury like a drunk at a party, only to get sideslapped where he’s vulnerable as punishment for growing as a person. The issue pivots hard on a grim discovery, and Gardner’s first step into the dark side is less one of boundless hate, and more a cold resignation. What perfects this issue is that it’s hard to disagree with him, even while it’s chilling to watch him relax upon his throne.
So in conclusion, I’m very happy to tell you that Red Lanterns is a great book and a big improvement on the run before it, not because it now stars my favorite character, but because it gets him right, and better still: pitches him into new territory to challenge him. I know this character better than anyone, and I have no clue how he’ll react to each lurch of the earth under his feet in this story. I only know that what does happen is that writerly sweet spot of totally unexpected and completely inevitable.
Brendan recently interviewed 2 Guns Writer Steven Grant and posed Ten Weird Questions to Internet Icon Judge Christine Lakin.