Red Lanterns #1

Red Lanterns #1

B-

As part of the last few years of DC’s Lantern universe expansion, the Red Lantern Corps is the first to receive its own spin-off book. In a way, I’m surprised it took so long. If there had to be a team to branch off of the main title, the Red ragers are probably the most natural pick: they’ve got a large, colorful cast of individuals and they like to kill stuff. Sounds like a winning comic book formula to me.

Okay, I’m being a little facetious, but Red Lanterns is a book that legitimately interests me. I think the Lantern line is one of the few properties treated extremely well by DC in recent years, and I’m curious to see how they expand their universe outside the usual Green team. I can’t say I loved Red Lanterns, but I think there’s definitely potential here.

The first and perhaps largest issue we have to deal with relates to Red Lanterns‘ main character, Atrocitus, particularly whether he can support his own monthly series. After all, we’ve mostly seen the guy as a one-note villain, a rage-driven murderer who spits blood. Though villains can certainly carry monthly comics, one-note characters seldom do so successfully. And consider, too, that his defining element is rage — can we have an ongoing series where the entire main cast flies around being pissed off all the time?

Writer Peter Milligan takes steps in this issue to bring some depth to the proceedings. It’s clear he’s interested in using rage not as a constant background noise but as an actual plot element, an emotion to be meditated upon; Atrocitus wonders for himself and the readers whether he can really maintain his righteous anger forever. There’s so much to be done in the universe, so many wrongs to avenge, but it’s too easy to slip into solipsism and apathy, especially when the emotion that fuels you is so negative to begin with. That’s a smart hook for the book’s main character to take, and it’s one I look forward to seeing developed.

The book’s initial action sequence is also quite strong. Here, Milligan and artist Ed Benes pit Atrocitus and Red Lantern kitty cat Dex-Starr up against a gang of space pirates-slash-experimental artists who use torture victims as their canvasses. It’s a cool idea, and one that sci-fi/alt-comics vet Milligan executes perfectly. Benes’ art, too, captures the look of the pirates, as well as the energy of the scene, quite well.

The rest of the issue left me a little cold. Decompressed storytelling, so in vogue, hurts Milligan here, leaving this issue’s central conflict as internal only. That’s fine, even laudable, but I’m not sure how much it works when the idea of these first issues is to draw new readers in with exciting set-ups and perilous circumstances. There are also a couple Earth scenes here that receive no context whatsoever; one assumes these characters will be developed throughout the series’ first arc, but right now we have no reason to care about them, and it’s very frustrating (though wouldn’t it be interesting if every issue just included these miniature vignettes of rage, with no attempt made to contextualize?).

Meanwhile, Ed Benes, while in my opinion a fine artist, makes some curious choices here. I’ve not yet seen anyone draw Atrocitus quite as humanly as he does, and I don’t think that really works — he looks so cool as a freaky-faced alien (thanks to the likes of Doug Mahnke or Ivan Reis) that this just comes off bizarre. His actual human characters, too, are pretty boring, like the two Earth brothers whose grandfather’s murder brings our planet into this story. Could we get two more stereotypical dudes?

Peter Milligan’s a smart guy, and I trust him to have some solid ideas up his sleeve here. Similarly, Ed Benes can draw really nice-looking comics; it’s just that not everything in this issue makes that clear. I know these creators have the ability to make Red Lanterns a fine series well worth reading, but for now, I need a few more pages and a little more plot.

Pull list verdict: ON PROBATION

tags: ed benes, peter milligan, red lanterns, the new 52

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