In Retrospect – RED LANTERNS #1-9

For a while this book left me seeing red. Now I’m just blue. And really tired. It’s my retrospective look at the first nine issues of Red Lanterns.

When I did my retrospective on OMAC, it came out positive, because I loved that series. Yet in the end we had to say goodbye. RED LANTERNS, on the other hand, seems set to keep running for the foreseeable future, and why such is the case is anyone’s guess. This series frustrated me for a considerable length of time, so when I saw a need to drop books so as to at least keep the numbers consistent with newer titles, Red Lanterns was the first on the list.

In order to understand this book and why it squandered what potential it had, one must look at the history behind the corps. When Geoff Johns revived Green Lantern, he did something that really should have come to pass well in advance but never did. He created other, conflicting lantern corps to rival the Green Lantern Corps. He also tied the colors of the rings into emotions. First came the yellow lanterns of the Sinestro Corps, and then a host of others followed.

One such group was the Red Lanterns, lead by the ancient psycho criminal Atrocitus. He was and angry person, and as such he made corps built upon unbridled rage. They were also one of the most unique in the spectrum, able to spit napalm and regenerate bodily harm. But they were also mindless, so consumed by rage that only Atrocitus himself possessed a semblance of rationality. They were both the most potentially lethal and the simplest of the corps.

So why did DC think it necessary to give them an entire ongoing series? From the outset I thought it’d work much better as a miniseries. But an ongoing? How would they manage that?

Turns out they really did a lax job of managing a RL ongoing, since this comic frustrated me at every turn. Which is not to paint it as devoid of ideas. Those ideas were just spinning on a merry-go-round and left to projectile vomit all over the ground.

Let’s take the first real conflict in the comic, that of Atrocitus not feeling as angry as before, now that the guy who destroyed his family and his entire sector is dead on a alter. When I first read Atrocitus commenting on going through the motions, I couldn’t help but recall the Buffy musical. Not a good sign. Does this go anywhere? Not really, despite Atrocitus repeatedly claiming renewed resolve at the end of several issues. Resolve either ignored or forgotten by the next issue.

Then there’s Bleez, token red lantern chick whose primary features include a condescending attitude towards just about everyone, and a rear-end frequently on display. Exaggeration on this is nonexistent when I say most – if not all – shots of her showing below the waist contort her body and perspective to optimally display the goods. When it comes to her purpose in plot, Bleez often plots (often in Atrocitus’ presence) to overthrow their leader and assume command. And it would be interesting, like two lions fighting over dominance of the pride, if Bleez ever made good on her threats. But she rarely does.

Instead, her attempts to “rebel” take the form of posturing (sexually of course) and taking a group of red lanterns out to kill people mostly off panel. In issue nine, she actually plans to lead Atrocitus off planet – something he’s been loath to do since issue three – only to grow impatient and attack him head on. And I’m pretty that was the only real attempt at seizing control, which didn’t happen because Rankor was around to stop the fighting.

More on Rankorr, the human Red Lantern, in a minute.

But like I said, despite being the leader of a group whose primary goal seems to be wreaking bloody revenge on the wicked throughout the universe, Atrocitus only leaves the corps’ home planet Ysmault twice. Both in the second and third issues of the book.

By the way, Ysmault is a very boring place. Very, very boring.

Know what else? Those two issues were probably some of the more interesting ones in the series, simply because Atrocitus goes around trying to determine the nature of wrongdoing and where blame begins and ends. It’s stuff about the nature of their mission as a corps, which has been sorely lacking in later issues.

The fourth and fifth issues developed a couple characters within the corps. Atrocitus throws three into the sea of blood, hoping to restore their intellect as he’d done with Bleez earlier (a decision he’d begun to regret). It’s here we meet Skallox, Ratchet, and Zilius Zox, three minor characters that added much needed variety to the proceedings. Each has a reason for being so angry that they came into the corps (although maybe not so much Zilius), and have radically different personalities. Skallox was a hardened criminal, Ratchet was a contemplative individual prone to vocally wondering as to their mission and nature, and Zilius is a dumb brute but with a loyalty to Atrocitus unmatched by any other.

The one longest in the making, though, was Rankorr, the human Red Lantern. It’s developed over a number of issues before finally coming to a head in issue five and six. Real name Jack Moore, Rankorr was something I’d been waiting for since the series began. We’d have more complexity to keep things from descending into boring, mindless rage.

Don’t be fooled though. It didn’t work very well. And I know exactly why.

If I could describe this series so far in one word, it’d be “recursive”. Everything brought up must come up again a couple times. And it takes forever to advance the plot because the same scenes played out over and over. Atrocitus feels inadequate without Krona, his rage foil. Bleez wants to usurp Atrocitus’ position of leadership. Rankorr has become something inhuman. And there’s apparently endless layers of guys behind guys pulling the strings.

But at least character motivations make sense to repeat. Often you’ll have an issue end on a cliffhanger with something bad happening, only for it to backpedal out of it. As if the creator constantly made adjustments to where the plot was going on the fly. I think the worst offender was issues eight and nine. In eight, the Red Lantern central power battery gets infected, and red lanterns start dying. Except it’s only maybe two or three; by the next issue, the corps looks as healthy as ever, and ready to fly across the universe looking for enemies responsible. Poison actively trying to kill them? What poison? Apparently the contagion strong enough to rot away the power battery like a ripe jack-o-lantern only mildly inconveniences the corps.

What angered me most about this book – aside from the relative drought of actual anger – is the feeling that this series is just spinning its wheels. It’s like we’re caught in mud, and flooring the accelerator makes the tires slide. Progress occurs, but there’s a lot of excess energy used for such slow movement.

So finally, in issue nine where Atrocitus declares the Red Lanterns will have revenge, I flatly denied the supposition. Really? This time we’re getting the book this series should have been from the beginning? I don’t think so. They promised so much before, that I’m tired of getting my hopes up. Tired of waiting for interesting plots, instead of multiple issues where nothing gets accomplished.

The rage with fangless, the plots repetitive, and the fall of the red lanterns is as transparent an attempt to follow with all the other corps into extinction. And I don’t mind having the status quo mixed up.

I found myself wanting to do a retrospective out of ire for this series. Now I’m too tired to think, and this comic didn’t help. Plus, the next issue co-stars Stormwatch, which I have no interest in whatsoever.

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