Drew: I’m a pretty logical person, which means I tend to be suspicious of emotional reactions — especially in high-stakes situations. That is, until I learned about an array of studies that suggests that our “gut” — our emotional responses to options laid before us — may be more reliable than conscious, logic-based decisions. Turns out, our emotions might be useful, after all. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the various Lantern Corps, which draw their powers from their own emotions. I’ve always thought it was strange that those characters were defined by one emotion — is Hal Jordan even allowed to feel love, rage, or compassion? — which goes double for the Red Lanterns. How can you constantly be feeling rage? With Red Lanterns 26, Charles Soule sets out to examine exactly what happens when you take the rage out of a Red Lantern.
The issue opens with Guy and the Red Lanterns trapped by Field Marshall Gensui. They put up a brief fight, but the Field Marshall has some kind of neuro-blocker gun, which prevents them from feeling anything — including the rage that powers their rings. Gensui takes the Lanterns to a firing line, but Ratchet heroically leaps in front of every bullet fired. Fortunately, Zillius Zox was able to escape, and returns just in time to destroy the neuro-blocker, freeing the Red Lanterns to fight back, kill the Field Marshall, and free the people of Kormorax. In the aftermath, Ratchet reveals that his time as a Red Lantern was already coming to an end — his isolation-driven rage was subsiding as he came to connect with his fellow lanterns.
I think it’s safe to say that that scene is much more moving than I would have thought possible if you asked me four months ago — I mean, this is Red Lanterns we’re talking about. Soule does a brilliant job of examining rage beyond the life-altering trauma that we think of as defining these characters. Ratchet’s rage about his forced isolation has eased with the help of his team, but that allows for a new kind of rage to grow when they are placed in danger. Not only does this endear Ratchet to us as a character (indeed, before Soule took over, the Red Lanterns were basically interchangeable monsters as far as I was concerned), but it creates a sense of progress in a Corps that was long defined by feeling one fleeting emotion forever.
Soule also digs into this a bit with the neuro-blocker weapon. Not only is it a clever idea (and I mean that both as clever-funny and clever-smart), but it strips away the rage, allowing us to see what else is going on with these characters.
I’ve already discussed what’s going on with Ratchet, and we already know Guy pretty well, but that still leaves whatever is going on between Rankorr and Bleez. I don’t really know either of these characters, and while some kind of flirty romance thing seems could be trite, it also has the potential to shed more light on who they are. Plus, a romantic relationship is pretty far off the beaten track of pissed-off plasma-barfing, which is always a welcome change of pace. I might rather see Bleez have a healthy relationship with a pair of pants, but I’ll go ahead and say that a thing with Rankorr is better than nothing.
Between the ability for the characters to feel things other than rage AND change over time, Soule has demonstrated that this series might have more to it’s emotional core than gross-out rage-fights. He looks to be building a more relatable, character-driven corps (heck, even Zox’s gearheadedness is charming me). That’s going to be an important change when Atrocitus returns, which may be sooner rather than later — this issue shows Atrocitus recovering a red ring and smiling ominously. That story line has gross-out rage-fights aplenty, making the inevitable Atrocitus/Guy showdown feel like a battle between the old Red Lanterns and the new ones. For once, I actually have a stake in a Red Lantern fight.
Boy, Mik, I’m surprised that I’m liking this series as much as I have been, but I guess I should have learned to trust Soule by now (who’s basically rocking everything he touches). Are you as excited for what he’s doing with the Red Lanterns as I am?
Mikyzptlk: I am incredibly excited about what Soule has been doing on this book. From his first issue, it was clear that Soule saw this series as a title in need of some serious humanizing. In a very short amount of time Soule has been able to transform Red Lanterns into a book that is not only readable, but worth reading. The best bit is that he has been using Guy Gardner to deliver this humanizing effect to the previously one-noted Red Lanterns.
Soule has been working hard to ensure that this book is going in interesting places and that the characters going to said places are interesting as well. We’ve got the Reds taking over Sector 2814, Guy Gardner firmly in control, characters brimming with new life and personalities, and ol Atrocitus lurking in the background threatening to take over once again.
Soule is clearly a master of great characterization, as we’ve seen in all of his work. However, he seems to be making a point of that in this book in particular. The previous incarnation of Red Lanterns was less a study of character and more a misguided study of the concept of rage. I call it misguided because Green Lantern was a never a study of willpower, it was about Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Kilowog, Soranik Natu, Tomar Re, Mogo, Arisia, Ganthet, and countless other characters. Similarly, this book should be about its characters, and Soule is making sure of that.
Plotting is an incredibly important element to any good story, but a great plot is wasted if it isn’t also accompanied by great characters. I’ve already gone over how great a job I think that Soule is doing on the characterization front, but what I loved about these last two issues is how much the plot gave way to the characters. I honestly wasn’t sure why, on a story level, it was necessary for the Reds to travel to an unfamiliar despot-ruled alien world, and I honestly didn’t care all that much either. I was entertained though, and interested in the interactions of our main characters.
In the end, it didn’t really matter why Ratchet wanted to go to the planet, because the plot was used for one thing: to serve the characters. Ratchet’s death brought to light a character I actually cared about and felt sorry to see go. It also brought to light that the Reds are a family and that they have each other’s backs. Finally, his death brought to light the fact that the Reds are no longer mindless monsters, but a galactic force to be reckoned with. This is a team that I can follow, this is a team that I can finally get behind, this is a team that I want to see triumph against whatever obstacles lay before them.
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?