Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: RED LANTERNS!
The Concept and Characters: Before the Green Lantern Corps, there were the Manhunters — intergalactic peacekeeping robots gone bad. So bad, in fact, that they nearly wiped out Space Sector 666 with their murderous rampage, leaving only five survivors who became imprisoned on the prison planet.
One of those survivors used a mystic ritual to create a power battery from the blood of his companions, and thus became known as Atrocitus, the first of the Red Lanterns!
Space Sector 666? Atrocitus? Red Lanterns?
Sounds like an Adult Swim parody of a superhero comic doesn’t it? You can almost imagine the heavy metal guitar wail in the background.
Oh, and the Red Lanterns vomit toxic blood, and they represent pure rage, and the most popular member of the team is a former house cat from Brooklyn.
The funniest part of it all is that everything is played completely straight.
But no, it’s not an after-hours show on Cartoon Network, it’s one of the new DC relaunch series, spinning out of DC’s super-popular Green Lantern franchise.
The Red Lantern Corpse debuted four years ago, in Green Lantern #25. We later learned about the origin of the team, and their leader, the monstrous Atrocitus, in a one-shot tie-in with the Final Crisis event. They are as ridiculously over-the-top as they sound, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make for interesting protagonists in a comic book series, particularly with writer Peter Milligan taking control of the team.
Milligan spoke about his approach to the series, and talked about what he needed to do to turn these one-note rage beasts into something resembling lead characters: “This storyline came about through my initial consideration of Atrocitus and his condition. I kept asking myself how and why this creature is still so consumed with rage after all these millennia.” Milligan says, of Atrocitus, “he might be a murderous ancient monster but he’s our murderous ancient monster, and there must be times when we empathize with him or pity him.”
It can’t be wall-to-wall blood and vomit and rage. I’ve read all of the Green Lantern comics in which Atrocitus and his team appears, and they get tiresome after about three seconds. Milligan, however, recognizes this, and says, “amid the blood, death, gore and pain, I hope to shoe-horn in some savage satire and outright weirdness.”
The Creative Team: Peter Milligan is certainly the guy you want to take charge of a series as preposterous as this one. He has already proven himself to be a writer who can take a violent, ridiculous concept and turn it into a series that makes fun of itself and tells a cracking good story. He has done it with Shade the Changing Man. He has done it with X-Force.
But as I mentioned in my write-up of Justice League Dark, Milligan is also wildly inconsistent, so it’s only pure guesswork when it comes to predicting whether or not we’ll get “brilliant” Milligan or “dull, soulless” Milligan this time around.
He has mentioned that his approach to Atrocitus would be somewhat similar to the approach he took to Rhino ten years ago, in a two-part story in Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, and that was quite a good tale, a Flowers for Algernon pastiche, in which the humanity of the rampaging character came through, along with plenty of humor. That approach would work here as well.
Artist Ed Benes is of the sexed-up glossy superhero school of comic book art. If there’s a female character in a scene, her womanly attributes will be emphasized, often at the expense of whatever else might be happening in the panel. He’s clearly a talented artist, with plenty of comic book experience, but his artistic choices tend toward sleaze. Is that a bad match for a comic like this? Nope, but there’s a fine line between revolting and hilariously grotesque.
Recommendation: Skip It, but keep an eye on it. It will look completely uninviting on the surface, and a flip through the first issue, I’m guessing, would probably turn off any casual reader. There’s only so much toxic blood vomit a normal human can take. But if Milligan does squeeze in some of his trademark satire and wit, there’s a chance that the series could be worth picking up in a collected edition next year. It might turn into something worthwhile. But DC’s recent history doesn’t show that the company has much interest in comedy in their comic books, so this series will likely end up emphasizing the violence and the horror of raging Red Lanterns rather than the funny or the human
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.