Red Lanterns has been a bit of a struggle for me to get as enthusiastic about as the other three books in the Green Lantern family of comics. While I do enjoy the book and it’s always at the top of the stack for the week when it comes out I know that a part of that comes from my love of the franchise. Likewise my lack of enthusiasm my also be fueled by the expectations being an “uber fan” brings with it, so I frequently have to try to divorce myself from what I want the book to be and enjoy it for what it is and try to be a bit more objective about it. With that out of the way I still find Red Lanterns to be an interesting exploration of anger despite some shortcomings that continue to keep the book from living up to its full potential.
The Story –
When we last saw Atrocitus at the end of the fourth issue
he was standing over the resting place of Krona after find the body of the mad Guardian had vanished. The fifth issue starts out with him going immediately after Bleez, driven by rage over his paranoid driven feelings that she is trying to undermine his leadership of the Red Lanterns.
Atrocitus finds Bleez by the Blood Ocean waiting for Skallox, Zilius Zox and Ratchet to emerge from the crimson pool and he immediately confronts her about Krona. Bleez denies any involvement and suggests that Krona may not be dead after all. A quick cut away reveals that there is a shadowy being wandering about Ysmault who appears very weak, hinting that perhaps there is a great deal of merit to Bleez’s theory.
After more arguing Bleez is sent into the Blood Ocean to find her three fellow Corpsmen and we see more to Ratchet’s back story where we witness his memories of being captured, maimed and tortured by the authorities for his attempt to seek out intimate relations. Limb removed and force feed nutrients over decades Ratchet loses himself inside his mind until a day comes when the red ring arrives and he begins his new life as a Red Lantern.
|Ratchet’s fate is both compelling and rage inducing.
Meanwhile Atrocitus discovers the tracks of the mysterious figure and is attacked by him. It appears that the being wants to talk with the Red Lantern, but when Atrocitus lunges at the figure there is an explosion of blood and then it all goes dark.
|Is it Krona, or something more?
Bleez emerges from the Blood Ocean with Ratchet and Zox and the two changed aliens begin to have a dialogue about the nature of their mission as Red Lanterns when Zox alludes to the still missing Skallox. Under the surface Skallox is still wrestling with his own demons and we see the rest of his story; one of a criminal who is burned alive when his lifestyle catches up with him and he fall prey to the same kind of violent end that he caused others. Cast aside Skallox’s anger swells at the betrayal and his own self loathing as the arrival of a red ring changes his fate.
Bleez emerges from the Blood Ocean with Skallox and Ratchet makes the observation that the Red Lantern rings don’t always come to the innocent who are wronged and that rage also comes to those who wrong others. Atrocitus arrives and commits his corps to finding Krona before sensing a new ring bearer has been chosen.
|Ratchet and Bleez’s musings are one of the issue’s strongest moments.
On Earth we pick up the story of John Moore and his brother, Ray, who is being taken away for his crimes. Ray resists arrest and is beaten to death by the three British policemen while John stand idly by. We see inside of John and learn that he has always been the calm one, but a great anger has always been there, suppressed below the surface. But now, confronted with the realization that his own fear kept him from expressing the anger and helping his brother, John Moore explodes as years of rage of self hatred burst forth in one giant surge of emotion. The issue closes with with red ring finding his hand and transforming him into the latest member of the Red Lantern Corps.
The Writing –
There are a few really good scenes in this issue that start to pull some of the story elements from the past few issues together. Peter Milligan really makes the reader empathize with Ratchet’s plight while juxtaposing that with Skallox’s “live by the sword, die by the sword” fate. While I would have preferred to find out more about Zilius Zox personally, I can see where that might have muddied up the dichotomy that Milligan is trying to illustrate here about the nature of anger and rage by showing how two beings on two completely different paths can find themselves ending up in similar places.
It’s the nature of that exploration that is the best executed part of the issue. While the mystery of Krona is certainly interesting, the way that the issue cuts to Atrocitus’s confrontation with the mysterious being only to abruptly cut away again and then seem so inconsequential that it’s not referenced later in the issue when Atrocitus appears again is jarring and disjointed. In fact when I first read this issue it was the digital version and I found myself taken out of story because I thought that somehow panels were missing.
The big payoff of John Moore’s fate also misses the mark. You knew from their appearance in the first issue that one of them would eventually end up with a red ring and because of John’s calm demeanor he was going to be the one because that’s exactly what you shouldn’t expect given how hot blooded his brother Ray was. But because this took five issues to play out the ending has absolutely no surprise value to it.
I understand that police brutality exists but the way in which it’s portrayed here seems extremely unrealistic here if it is indeed a literal accounting of the events. I find it unlikely that the three police officers would beat a man to death and then simply walk away leaving him dead outside his home. However after re-reading this issue a few times I’m interpreting this particular scene differently simply because I can’t accept it the way it looks initially. So in my mind I’m reading this as the red ring was there and its presence “pushed” the anger levels in all five of them, suggesting to Ray to lash out and to the police officers to react with the anger filled faces we see.
In the end this issue follows a similar pattern of the rest of the series in that each one of the subplots moves forward a bit nudging them ever so slowly to a point of convergence. While I think it could have been handled a bit better in terms of the pacing and that we could have reached this point two issues ago, I’m still enjoying the series but just not as much as I’d like to.
The Art –
Ed Benes and Diego Bernard share the art chores on this issue and their art styles compliment each other quite well. I thought the panel design was very inventive as was the use of the background page colors to show changes in time and place. I’m still not getting what happened to Ratchet’s face and how he can talk without a mouth, but hey, I’ll give it a pass since there may be more to that story.
What Do I Think?
I’ve said this before, but I’m in like with this book and to me that’s not what I was hoping for. While this issue tries to deliver a payoff to the Earth subplot the pacing of the story made the ending far too predictable and lessened the impact it could have had. Likewise the disjointed progression of the Krona subplot sullies the intrigue that the creative team is trying to create. However the conclusion to the stories of Ratchet and Skallox are a big plus in the issue as is the solid art work, giving this issue three out of five lanterns.