Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Red Lanterns 15, originally released January 2nd, 2013. This issue is part of the Rise of the Third Army crossover event. Click here for complete Third Army coverage.
Drew: Last month, Shelby and Mikyzptlk raged about how Red Lanterns 14 seemed to misunderstand the very concept of rage. While I’d love to suggest that that response was fully intended as a clever “you are there!” meta-text, that stuff is really only satisfying when the text itself actually works. When done well, the various corps should act as a shorthand for emotion, giving you a quick and dirty sense of the character’s motivations. Unfortunately for Peter Milligan, rage isn’t a particularly relatable emotion — in fact, its irrational nature makes it totally un-relatable. I don’t envy the task of pulling something compelling out of the Red Lantern corps, so I can almost excuse the fact that he wants to make his characters driven by something other than rage — except that it ultimately serves to make the characters less compelling by removing literally the only thing I know about them. This leaves Red Lanterns 15 populated by characters with no apparent motivation in situations I neither fully understand nor care about.
The issue tracks four distinct groups of Red Lanterns as they alternately rage and whine about their situations. Dex Starr exacts revenge on some dude who punched him one time (did I mention that I have no prior experience with the Red Lanterns?), while the inversions are secretly draining the power battery back on Ysmault. Meanwhile, Bleez and Rankorr are attempting to find and kill Baxter, the creature (man?) that killed his grandfather. This should be a simple, clean way to express something primal about Rankorr, but Milligan seems determined to muck it up with a totally unearned sense of regret and remorse, by (re)introducing a brother Rankorr had never thought to mention or care about until just now. What happens when they meet? Nothing. No exaggeration. His brother is scared of him, and then the scene is over.
Next time we see Rankorr, he’s confronting Baxter, which again, should be a very simply understood scenario. Except that Baxter is randomly in the presence of a cop Rankorr accidentally puked on when he first became a Red Lantern. Rankorr’s pretty sorry about that, too, but he quickly forgets when Bleez asks if he want Baxter.
Back on Ryut, Atrocitus discovers that the visions he was seeing are the collective dreams of the Manhunters he has kept since the massacre. He revives them, and they immediately try to kill him.
Normally, I’d find Miguel Sepulveda’s murky ink work an appropriate match for this title, but unfortunately, he also matches Milligan’s knack for muddying up what should be simple sequences. There are numerous points in this issue where I have no clue what is going on. Sometimes, it’s because shit isn’t explained well, but others feel like they were put in as totally unnecessary non-sequitrs. Take this sequence, for example:
What do you suppose is happening in that second panel? My guess is that the Manhunters have a self-destruct feature but there’s no compelling reason to include that explosion here. It adds nothing to the scene, which continues as if that panel never happened. The scene goes on to be about one kind of magic arbitrarily not working, while another kind arbitrarily does.
The combined effect is a sense that Milligan is working overtime to pad this issue. It’s tough, rage is an inherently fast-acting decision, but working to expand it to feature-length distorts it beyond recognition. I could understand how rage could drive Atrocitus to resort to using the Manhunters, but I can’t understand it if its a careful, considered decision. He hates the Manhunters. This scene should read like Batman pulling a gun to save someone he loves, but instead it reads like Batman renouncing everything he ever cared about. Smart readers understand that the latter is the subtext of the former, but Milligan doesn’t really trust us to make any connections, so instead we get a drawn-out, boring, and distractingly illogical sequence.
We’ve read a lot of bad issues, but few that have been so transparent in their low opinion of their own audience. This is the rare work of art that is actually insulting to consume. Maybe Milligan really is trying to inspire rage. I tried to hold back, but I won’t blame Patrick if he needs to Hulk-out on this. What do you think, Patrick, are you ready to call this issue as the worst we’ll read in 2013?
Patrick: We are all too willing to excuse Red Lanterns’ flaws on the difficulties in writing a compelling narrative based on rage. I saw Django Unchained this weekend — I’m officially striking that as an excuse for poor quality. Hell, Taratino’s made a decades worth of films that are essentially elaborate revenge fantasies. It’s not the subject here that’s so woefully shitty, it’s the execution.
There’s a lot of crummy comic in here, but nothing really inspires my Hulked-out rage. Sorry to disappoint. I don’t find too many of the sequences to be incoherent, just half-baked. Take the whole Atrocitus trapped in the dreams of the Manhunters. First of all, huh? Second of all, what? Why are machines dreaming? Why are they all having the same dream? Why are they dreaming amount this specific moment? Why do their dreams manifest themselves physically in reality? For a cheaply sensational moment at the end of the previous issue that’s harmlessly resolved at the beginning of this one — that’s why. Let me ask another question — this one we’re not going to have answer to (not even a fun, cynical one). Why would Atrocitus be at all surprised that the Manhunters would resume their task of trying to murder him when they booted back up? Should have started those motherfuckers in safe mode.
Red Lanterns need to experience more simple stories. The premise for this issue is fine enough, right? In order to strengthen their power battery, the Red Lanterns must split up to collect blood from crimes committed in various types of rage. Simple, straightforward fetch-quest with a fun emotional twist. But we don’t see any of that blood-collection. All we see is the collected blood not doing the trick.
That leaves one last sequence we have yet to explore: the confusing non-mission of Dex Starr. Dex was last seen following Bleez and Rankorr to Earth, even muttering to himself about getting revenge on… y’know, whoever. But in this issue, he’s hell-bent on getting back at Midnighter (of StormWatch fame) for punching him in the face. I’m not going to have a reason to post a different image, so let’s just look at that hilarious inciting blow again.
You can almost hear those Kill Bill sirens. Unlike Kill Bill, though, we don’t see kitty taking sweet sweet revenge. In fact, the action pops out of the prison sattelite and the goofy, third-person narrator some something laughably ominous about the prison.
If there is something here that legitimately angers me, it’s that when I open up my Comixology account, I can see that I’ve purchased 16 issues of Red Lanterns. Why do I do this? Because I’ve been convinced that I can’t miss anything in the Green Lantern universe. It makes sense that there would be 4 series under this banner — one for each week of the month. It also stands to reason that they’re not all going to be awesome. But why does one of them suck? The series is coming from a place of security — it’s going to have a modest audience simply by virtue of of the word “Lantern” in its title. Why not let someone take a chance and explore riskier stories? The only value in this issue is the $3.00 I sunk into buying it. It’s not fun, it’s not smart, it barely even expands the GL mythology, even as it participates in cross-over events.
We’re going to have to have a long boring talk about how important completion is for us. I love being able to cover this whole event, but I hate reading this series. And while Rise of the Third Army wraps up next month, we’re taking no breaks before launching into Rage of the First Lantern, which you can bet won’t tie into this series in any thematically significant way.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?