Sunday, 29 March 2015

Red Lanterns: Blood and Rage

Peter Milligan, Ed Benes & Rob Hunter
Red Lanterns: Blood and Rage (2012)

There used to be a couple of DC comics of which I was quite fond way back in the mists of time - the Keith Giffen version of Justice League, Blue Devil, the New Teen Titans when Marv Wolfman was writing - but I've never been that deeply entrenched within DC mythology, and have always found myself bewildered by all that stuff about Guardians, Monitors, and going back to year zero every five years just in case anyone notices how Superman has been a teenager since 1930 and thus decides that this detracts from the staunch realism of the character. So I have no idea what the hell is supposed to have happened here. I have a vague knowledge of the Green Lanterns being some sort of super-powered intergalactic police force, but that's about it.

A couple of months ago, Junior - who is eleven - began to babble about the Red Lanterns during long car journeys, as ever predicating his monologue on the premise that people in their forties share most of his interests and will therefore give a shit about Minecraft and whatever other combination of noise and flashing lights he's adopted as self-brainwashing strategy of choice this week. I assumed these Red Lanterns to be either the wrong end of some stick he'd grasped at school, or a pointless console game variation on characters fondly remembered from Keith Giffen's Justice League.

Then I saw this in the book store and bought it out of curiosity, and because I remember liking a few things Pete Milligan wrote for 2000AD and Vertigo; which, if nothing else, impressed the living shit out of Junior who, so far as I understand it, had only experienced this stuff indirectly as the testimony of kids he admires in his class. So it turns out that several car journeys worth of verbal diarrhoea centred upon Red Lanterns, Green Lanterns, and even Yellow Lanterns is more or less on point thanks to yet another reboot of the DC universe; and just as Junior claims, they all have a motto, and the Red Lanterns are fuelled by rage, and one of them is a cat - or at least a cat as drawn by someone who has drawn a hell of a lot of grimacing superheroes but maybe not so many cats.

I say I remember liking a few things by Pete Milligan, but I suppose I mean mainly Bix Barton, Johnny Nemo, and his run on DC's Animal Man. I loved Shade the Changing Man at one point, but then went back for a re-read whilst working out which runs of comics I should flog on eBay in order to finance my moving to the United States, and I couldn't actually get through the first issue. It was Kathy's boyfriend I found objectionable, a black man whose role was apparently limited to getting killed by a stereotypical racist redneck from the deep south in order to upset everybody and legitimise traumatic experience as a substitute for character in the hope that no-one would notice it wasn't so much a story as a series of clich├ęs strung together by someone apparently assuming that Deliverance had been a documentary describing the daily lives of everyone south of the Mason-Dixon. It struck me as nasty, cynical, lazy, and manipulative, even without the clumsy paradox of a hopefully anti-racist subtext based around an arguably racist reduction of this particular character to a one-dimensional human sacrifice.

Sadly, there's some of that here in this volume collecting the first seven issues of the comic. The Red Lanterns appear to be instruments of some sort of universal justice motivated by blind rage and the desire for revenge. Each of them became a Red Lantern after something terrible was done to them - and so we have more variations on Kathy's boyfriend slaughtered by a redneck serial killer in order to justify this, and it feels mostly just as cheap and obvious. Most of the revenge origin flashbacks star alien creatures in obviously fictitious environments which, oddly, doesn't really diminish the element of schlock horror despite there being nothing quite so close to home as in that first issue of Shade. One character turns out to have been an evil fucker prior to himself being wronged and thus set on the path of revenge, prompting some unconvincing philosophising about vengeance as a matter of cosmic balance beyond any moral concerns, roughly the sort of thing Boyd Rice keeps banging on about when not having his picture taken with white supremacists because he thinks it's funny, or wants us to think that he thinks it's funny, or whatever.

The art of Red Lanterns is competent in so much as it's the usual Rob Liefeld with a couple of life drawing classes under his belt - grimacing mouths full of sharp teeth, massive beach-ball tits, excessive perspective, a ton of cross-hatching, and everyone with the face of some guy who has been trying and failing to do a poo for at least the past two weeks. I suppose it's okay for what it is, except the previously mentioned cat doesn't really look much like a cat, and regular human civilian characters all seem uncomfortable in regular clothes, like they're missing the spandex and capes the artist would have preferred to draw.

Superhero comics have become a foreign country for me, and I couldn't find much to love about this one. It's kind of silly, which would be fine if it were for kids, I suppose, except I can't even tell whether it is or not, whether I'm the target audience or it's Junior, who clearly seems to love the thing. It has the narrative simplicity of something aimed at his age group, scattered with details which would suggest a much older target audience, and specifically somewhat gory details. The combination of the overly elaborate art and portentous first person narrative captions seems either misjudged or extraordinarily pretentious, and actually make me a little nostalgic for the days of ridiculous thinky clouds about how Louise sure is swell but must never find out that by night I wield the sword stalwart of Galaxy Knight!

I suppose it is what it is, and I suppose I've seen worse, but Red Lanterns seems somewhat lacking in redeeming features.

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