When I first heard that the Red Lantern Corps would be getting their own series, I was absurdly excited. I’m a big fan of the Lantern Corps spectrum, particularly the Reds, so it was a title I was going to be sure to pick up (and is actually what got me on board with the New 52 in the first place). However, the more I started thinking about it, the harder it was to envision what the comic would be like. With the exception of Atrocitus, none of the Reds can even speak coherently… how could this comic possibly sustain itself?
The first issue didn’t exactly do much to assuage my doubts. The majority of the text is Atrocitus’s internal narration and a lot of that was rather heavy-handed and melodramatic. He keeps the corpse of Krona, a former Oan guardian who was responsible for the destruction of Atrocitus’s home planet of Ryut, and uses it as some kind of silent confidant that he can monologue at. In the first issue, he says: “In many ways, we are like lovers. I am married to you in my rage, Krona. Married for all time.” The first time I read that line, I was dead set on complaining about how utterly bizarre it was, but it definitely helps to hammer home the point that Atrocitus has spent a wee bit too much time alone with his own thoughts. As a result of those one-sided conversations, the pacing of Red Lanterns is rather sluggish to start and the main storyline takes time to reveal itself. Even by the end of the first issue, it isn’t exactly clear where things are going.
The central problem is that Atrocitus believes that he’s lost his edge and that his rage has somehow become “less pure.” Across the subsequent issues, he struggles to keep his frothing ragenauts in check, all of whom seem to sense the change in him. Thinking they are looking to overthrow him as leader, he throws Bleez into the “blood ocean” on Ysmault in order to restore her memories and enable her to speak and think past the searing napalm that courses through her veins. Realising that he can’t exactly trust Bleez, especially now that she’s regained some of her wits, he proceeds to toss Zilius Zox, Skallox, and Ratchet into the pool as well. They all manage to survive the trial, so future issues promise to be far less one-sided than some of the earlier ones have been, and that improvement is already evident by issue 5.
It was good to see the Red Lanterns given more purpose beyond simply rage-barfing Green Lantern villains. Atrocitus is determined to make their mission “to punish those who deserve retribution,” which actually enables the team to become heroes. Morally questionable heroes, perhaps, but still heroes. Atrocitus himself even wonders how one pain can be more worthy of retribution than another, so he is aware of the quandary that he has put himself in by becoming quite literally judge, jury, and executioner for the wrongdoers of the universe.
One thing that was fairly impressive about these issues was the use of subtle twists to keep the reader guessing, and subtle isn’t exactly a word one would associate with the Red Lanterns. While there have been no big “gasp” reveals thus far, there have been several little moments that make you question your future assumptions. The subplot that runs throughout the first five issues about two human brothers on Earth seems fairly clear cut at first. One of the brothers – Raymond – is a prime candidate for the Corps; he is quick to anger and often uses his fists to vent his frustrations. However, by the end of issue 5 we learn that he wasn’t the brother we should have been keeping an eye on after all.
Additionally, there was a passing mention in the first issue that the same remote valley that houses the body of Krona is also the location where Atrocitus buried the “failed” Red Lanterns that he created when first forming the Corps. At first it seems like a bit of background fluff, but issue four shows something lurking amongst the trees while Atrocitus speaks to Krona. He assumes it is Bleez spying on him, but we never see for sure. Then when the body of Krona turns up missing the end of the issue and Bleez doesn’t seem to be the culprit, it dawns that one of Corps rejects might be to blame. Granted, that hasn’t been revealed for certain yet but it nevertheless gave me pause.
Despite its rocky start, it was clear that Red Lanterns had a lot of potential and those who stuck with it have been rewarded with issues 4 and 5. Even the first issue, with its shortcomings, still had a lot to recommend it. The fantastic splash page featuring everyone’s favourite rage cat, Dex-Starr and Atrocitus’s ominous arrival to rescue his furry friend made it worth the cover price alone. It’s clear that this series finally has some momentum going and it’ll be worth picking up the next few to see how the team deals with their newest member, what’s lurking in the valley, and what exactly happened to Krona’s body.