Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing the Red Lanterns 13, originally released October 24th, 2012. This issue is part of the Rise of the Third Army crossover event. Click here for complete Third Army coverage.
Drew: Let’s be frank: Red Lanterns is not on my pull. I’m willing to tolerate a lot of the goofiness inherent in the Green Lantern universe, but blood-vomiting rage-monsters just doesn’t sound like fun. As I read through this issue, I couldn’t help but compare the Red Lantern Corps to the Hulk. It’s an easy comparison to make: both are powered by anger, and (until recently), both lose control when super pissed. The danger with that basic formula is that it turns both the Hulk and the RLC into forces of nature — horrible natural disasters that I can’t even fathom rooting for. For the Hulk, writers have often mitigated this by allowing Hulk to retain some of Bruce Banner’s heart; he still won’t hurt the ones he loves. More important, Bruce actively avoids Hulking-out; he knows it’s dangerous for everyone around him and he does everything in his power to prevent it from happening. Peter Milligan has a different solution, giving the Red Lanterns renewed sentience via some kind of blood baptism, but eliminating their heart from the equation altogether. The effect is that they charge into situations — like the one depicted in Red Lanterns 13 — knowing full well that they’ll probably just kill everything. It’s hard to empathize with that.
The issue opens on some post-apocalyptic planet, where two sisters have just become the possessions of a warlord calling himself King Cord. Turns out, this warlord doesn’t treat his slaves particularly well, and kills one of the girls, causing the other to cry out with enough rage to alert the Red Lantern Corps. Apparently, under normal circumstances, that would have earned her a ring, but because the Red Lantern power battery was recently destroyed, Atrocitus and a small band of Red Lanterns rush out to investigate. Meanwhile, the remaining slave sister escapes to a nearby family, who quickly turn her in when Cord comes looking. She’s killed in the ensuing scuffle. The Red Lanterns show up just in time kill everybody. They’re then attacked by the Third Army, but Atrocitus makes a potentially tide-turning discovery when he realizes their weakness: those creepy eyes we keep hearing so much about.
This is such a strange issue, devoted mostly to a depressing red herring. Pretty much everything about the story is weird, from the post-apocalyptic power-dynamics to the fact that the Red Lanterns seemingly spend all of their time sitting around and waiting for someone to get pissed. It wasn’t the unreadable mess I was fearing, but it suffers from a number of problems, not the least of which is its pitch-black outlook.
The true downfall of the slave girl is that she’s turned in by the family she seeks help from. Or rather, she receives help from the wife, but is turned in by the husband. The wife casually mentions their loveless marriage as a thing to laugh about, but the husband leaps at the opportunity to sell his own wife into slavery.
The effect is an ugly, hate-filled planet, to such a degree that I wonder if it wouldn’t be better served by a visit from the Blue Lanterns, or even the Star Sapphires. But no, the Red Lanterns come, and rather than hope or love, they unleash a barrage of even uglier rage, killing everyone just for fun. It’s a bit of a catch-22, actually, since Milligan can only make killing everyone seem like a reasonable solution if everyone is depicted as pure evil, but then it seems like there’s a larger problem on the planet that might be better solved by someone else. This effectively establishes the Red Lanterns as the absolute worst corps — the one you least hope answers your call for help. Even the Sinestro Corps can use fear to maintain order; these guys can only rampage.
It’s fascinating, then, that the first ray of hope in the battle against the Third Army springs from this title. Perhaps it’s just so the Red Lanterns could have something valuable to contribute? Or maybe they just needed this lesson so they could enact the same solution they have to every problem: KILL! KILL! KILL!
As an entry to the Rise of the Third Army, I didn’t totally hate this issue; it moved along the overarching narrative in a way few entries so far have done. As a standalone issue defending the existence of its title, however, this was an absolute failure. Rage is always going to be the worst solution to any problem, and the implication that it isn’t just kind of makes me sad. I don’t know, Patrick, did this come off better to you? Did the implication from New Guardians 13 that Atrocitus is still secretly motivated by the love of his family make his behavior any more excusable? Do you have any problems you’d trust a blood-vomiting cat to solve?
Patrick: The thing is: I don’t think this title even attempts to show the value of Rage. I’m also not convinced the Milligan has a handle on what he intends to say about anger. But this is something I’ve been saying about the Red Lanterns forever: their experiences don’t so much paint pictures of characters with justified rage as profound sadness. These alien sisters experienced great loss, and were raped, tortured and eventually killed by their captors – and this becomes a beacon of Rage for some reason. Bleez was similarly sold into slavery, and had her wings stripped before the Red ring found her. Atrocitus lost his whole family (and planet). These characters should feel powerless, alone, hopeless. Their Rage feels shoehorned in.
Which is why your comparison to the Hulk is so interesting. I’m not a Hulk scholar, but I’ve seen a few Marvel movies, and that character appears to have a better grasp on what it means to be angry. Remember in The Avengers when Bruce Banner reveals that his secret to controlling his transformation is that he’s always angry? Anger is a motivator, and it inspires quick, effective (if inelegant) action. Y’ know, action like:
But anyone who acts out of anger too frequently will also tell you that regret haunts them. Anger is the perfect excuse to say or do something that you will hate yourself for in the future. But there’s no such morning after for these characters. Red Lanterns rage around until they kill everything in sight, and then they’re summoned off to the next nexus of unfathomable anger.
That’s another thing that bothers me: Yes, the scenario presented on the planet Arhtky (bets on how to pronounce that?) is rough, but shit this bad happens all over the universe all the time. What makes an atrocity a valid Red Lantern magnet? And why do 90% of them involve sexual violence? What if someone’s anger isn’t justified – little things just set them off? What if there’s no target for the Rage retribution, as in the case of a natural disaster?
My own problems with the concept of the protagonists aside, I do think this issue serves as a fine sidecar for the Third Army event. You don’t need to have any previous knowledge of what’s been going on in this series to understand what’s going in the plot. I was half afraid I was going to have to drudge up the previous 12 issues of Red Lanterns in order to understand blood prophecies or whatever, but — as you mention — the meat of this issue is a shaggy dog story; a long set-up to the punch-line: RAGE. Plus, since there’s so little going on in the “lives” of our Red Lanterns, we’re able to spend a little time learning about the bodysnatchers. Atrocitus learns they can be killed (by gouging out their eyes, no less), but he also properly identifies that they first remove their target’s arm to separate the body from the power ring. This is the kind of piddly mechanical crap I wouldn’t want to read in the more character-focused series elsewhere in this event. And that’s a backhanded compliment if ever I wrote one.
Hey, what’s going on with the character models here? I’ll grant that Miguel Sepulveda avoids some of the regular sins when drawing Bleez (though, not all together – there’s a goofy face-tits-ass shot on page 4), but the characters are often weirdly off model. Look at Atrocitus’ proportions in this panel – he looks like a dwarf from Lord of the Rings.
Why — of all the non-Green emotional corps — why does Red get its own series? Literally all five other corps could have more sympathetic characters, with more nuanced goals. Were readers clamoring for this? No one’s going to be able to convince me that Atrocitus is more popular than Sinestro or Saint Walker or Larfleeze. A series this emotionally arrested should have my heart bursting in my chest and send hot plasma coursing through my veins, but ultimately, I’m just sorta sad and indifferent.
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