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The Red Lanterns title seems to be the one book that fans agree to disagree about.  I’ve seen lots of fans, myself included, criticize the book over the slow pace and apparent lack of direction while many others have defended the book, citing the exploration of the nature of rage as a refreshing take on what could have been just another book about people beating each other up.  I see the value in the latter position as well and the recently released fourth issue strives to strike a happy medium between moving the plot along while still trying to explore the nature of blinding rage.

The Story –
The issue opens with Atrocitus hot on the heels of Skallox and after catching him Atrocitus takes a bite out of his fellow Red Lantern,  using the blood to fuel visions of the recent past that show him moments where Bleez seems to conspire against him.  Dragging Skallox to the Blood Ocean, Atrocitus is confronted by Bleez, who advises him not to cast Skallox into the pool.  
Atrocitus doesn’t heed her advice and tosses Skallox in, followed by Zilius Zox and Ratchet while Bleez continues to caution Atrocitus, saying that it could well cost them all three of their comrades.  Atrocitus finds Bleez’s comments telling; that she refers to the Red Lanterns as theirs and not Atrocitus’ alone, continuing to fuel his suspicions that she is out to get him.

The seeds of distrust continue to be sown.

The scene shifts to the Blood Ocean and we begin to relive Ratchet’s past as a member of a very isolationist society where beings do not share any physical interaction with each other.  However Ratchet is driven by the intense desire to be with other beings and so sets out for a rendezvous with another like-minded member of his race.  The whole thing goes awry when he is caught by a member of their police force.

Before we can find out more about what happened to Ratchet we are transported to Atrocitus, deep in a one-way conversation with the corpse of Krona about what Bleez might be conspiring to do.  The cosmic Odd Couple are not alone and Atrocitus captures a glimpse of someone spying on them, but before he can confront the voyeur the Red Lantern is either drawn or distracted by a cruel injustice far away from the surface of Ysmault.
Atrocitus deals with a society where its young girls have their eyes removed at puberty and are kept as slaves for a year.  Killing the men behind the ritual and destroying their temple, the Red Lantern heads to Earth where he smashes into a limo carrying men who grow richer at the expense of the poor, then killing the poor man walking nearby because of the rage he created by beating and then abandoning his wife.  
Commenting that he cannot perform his mission alone the action changes to England where Ray and John, the two brothers who lost their grandfather in the debut issue of the series, continue their sibling struggle over the firebombing of the thug’s home in issue three.  The police storm the home as Ray both pleads with his brother to help him conceal his location and battles with him over John’s willingness to let Ray get punished.

Will the next member of the Red Lanterns Corps come on down!

Back on Ysmault Bleez watches over the Blood Ocean and we witness some of Skallox’s past where he was accused of stealing cyber eggs from his crime lord boss, Lancer.  Lancer orders his cronies to use a nearby furnace to help Skallox remember what happened to the missing eggs, but before we can see more we cut away again to Atrocitus, who has returned from his trip.

With Bleez once again on his mind, Atrocitus returns to Krona, only to find that his body has gone missing and the issue ends with an Atrocitus shocked that Krona has gone with the teaser for next issue that Krona might actually be alive.
The Writing –
I have to credit Peter Milligan for the glimpses into the past of some of the rest of the Red Lantern Corps; there is so much we don’t know about them and gaining some much needed backstory is very welcome.  In fact I would have been happy if this whole issue was devoted to their three stories, but instead we got truncated versions of only two of them.  As I read the issue I was really looking forward to Zox’s background in particular, but his was not explored this time around and what we got from the other two was far too short to really understand what drove them to become Red Lanterns.

Red Lanterns #4 provides much need back story for both Ratchet and Skallox

I’m hoping that Atrocitus leaving Ysmault right when he was about to go further into finding out who was spying on him was him being pulled against his will to deal with the anger he sensed in universe or at the very least a reaction to his ability to resist intense rage rather than just a snap decision.  It’s unclear what prompted him to leave and not knowing to me added to the sense I got that this issue was disjointed, hopping about from one place to another just when things got interesting.

The continuing story of John and Ray still isn’t doing much for me, although we know that by the just solicited seventh issue the level headed John will be a full fledged Red Lantern in a confrontation with Guy Gardner.  That solicitation also talks about an upcoming Civil War in the Red Lantern Corps, so we know that the plot for this series is going to continue at about the same pace for some time.  Whether that hurts the performance of the book or not is another thing.

I almost found it laughable that Atrocitus was shocked to see the body of Krona missing knowing that someone, presumably Bleez, was watching from the shadows.  This could all be some sort of swerve, of course, but the first reaction would be that Bleez moved the body.  And to me this is another time when I just wonder why Atrocitus doesn’t kill Bleez off rather than spend a lot of energy pondering what she’s up to.  The Atrocitus I thought I knew wouldn’t waste the energy on thinking about it, he’d just kill her and move on.  But perhaps there’s something more to the way that the Red Lanterns are bound together that hasn’t been revealed that precludes that notion.

The Art – 
Ed Benes is joined by Diego Bernard this issue but their styles work so well together that there was no jarring changes as you read the issue.  I did find Ratchet’s appearance rather unusual in the flashback where he had a very tentacled humanoid appearance, complete with a facial structure, since he barely resembles that now, but since we’re not sure exactly what happened to him after he got caught by the Isolation Police I’m not going to call anyone out on it since he could have any number of things done to him as a result.

With the spotlight off of Bleez is was interesting to note that there wasn’t one glimpse of her thonged backside in this whole issue!  Whether that’s in response to some of the criticism laid on Benes over the first couple of issues or just his choice is unknown, but I did find it amusing and hard not to notice.  I also felt that Atrocitus looked a little more ferocious this time out which is a good thing.

What Do I Think?
I think that what we as readers feel about a book is a combination of the the compatibility of our tastes with the creative team’s vision and what expectations we bring with us when we open the covers.  In the case of Red Lanterns for me it’s not the prior but definitely the latter.  I like the kind of book that Milligan and Benes are producing, but it’s not what I expected and combined with what feels to me is slow and disjointed pacing and the result is that, in my opinion, Red Lanterns is an okay book, just not one that I find myself eagerly anticipating from month to month.

The first issue of this series sold a little over 66,500 copies, a healthy number which placed it in the top twenty for the month of September.  The second issue actually sold better by a very slight margin, but then dropped nearly twenty percent with the third issue.  Nearly all of DC’s books dropped some in November which is not unexpected with readers deciding what books they are sticking with in the new DCU.  But for the four Green Lantern family of books Red Lanterns saw the steepest drop and remains the bottom performer.

I liked issue four of Red Lanterns, but it suffers from what feels like fractured storytelling.  While I’m looking forward to the eventual Civil War, I just wish it wasn’t as long of a wait to get there.  Three out of five lanterns.

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