Comic Book Review – Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns & Agent Orange

Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns (2009)
Reprints Green Lantern #26-28, 36-38 & Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Mike McKone, Shane Davis, and Ivan Reis

Green Lantern: Agent Orange (2009)
Reprints Green Lantern #39-42 & Blackest Night #0
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Phillip Tan, Eddy Barrows, Ivan Reis, Rafael Albuquerque, and Doug Mahnke

In the wake of The Sinestro Corps War, Geoff Johns was fleshing out the rest of the color spectrum in a build-up to the even more significant Blackest Night event. If you notice the gap in the issues Rage of the Red Lanterns covers, it’s because those issues appeared in Green Lantern: Secret Origin. Going back to that story, you see the importance of Atrocitus and the seeds being planted for Blackest Night. Secret Origin has also done a great job establishing the more complex relationship between Hal Jordan and Sinestro. We get a great scene in Rage, where Hal talks with Sinestro. The villain was captured at the end of The Sinestro Corps War but seems completely confident he’s in no harm. It’s an ideological war between these two, with Sinestro holding a far more complex and nuanced view of the universe and justice than the rather blunt Jordan.

The main philosophical question of Johns’s run on Green Lantern is the dialogue between these two characters. “Can the universe be kept safe with rudimentary non-lethal force, or must you wield brutality to keep beings in line?” Sinestro seems to be winning the war. He got the Guardians of the Universe to repeal the non-lethal nature of the power rings, which led to Sinestro Corps members getting slaughtered. Sinestro wasn’t upset about this, seeing it as a compromise he forced them to make. And it proves his ideology right, you cannot keep people safe unless the threat of violence looms over everyone. Jordan doesn’t quite know how to deal with that. Now that choice is in the hands of each Lantern based on their own personal system of beliefs, and that’s a very fruitful space to find stories.

The big introduction in this first collection is, of course, the Red Lanterns. They are based on the exile world of Ysmault and led by Atrocitus. Atrocitus was one of only five beings to survive the robotic Manhunters’ systematic slaughter of Sector 666. These became The Five Inversions, terrorists bent on destroying the Guardians. This means they also exist in opposition to Sinestro, who wants an even more brutal reign of order imposed on the universe. The Five Inversions performed a demonic ritual that allowed them to peer into the future and foment the prophecy of the Blackest Night and the War of Light, two events that will rend all creation.

In this book, Atrocitus discovers he has unlocked the ability to literally vomit up blood and have a red power ring emerge from it. This vomit is a physical manifestation of a being’s internal rage, bubbling to the surface. The red rings are powered by the wearer’s anger, increasing the angrier they get. And the Red Lanterns are such a chaotic force of destruction that we see Green Lanterns working side by side with the Sinestro Corps to fight back, an extremely tenuous alliance. 

We’re also introduced to the Alpha Lanterns, a division of the Green Lantern Corps wherein a very select group is put through a transformative process. When they come out the other end, they resemble Green Lantern Manhunters, machine beings with the ability to keep the GLs in check and drain their batteries if need be. This is the Guardians’ apparent answer to unlocking the power rings’ lethal capabilities, creating another strange moral quandary. Do they trust their officers if they need a second piece of oversight? Who watches the Alpha Lanterns and keeps them in check? Using elements of the highly flawed Manhunters, the Guardians have opened a can of worms once sealed for a billion years.

I found myself becoming disinterested in the very complicated storylines at this point in the Green Lantern book. Even at the time of their original publication, I thought it was a lot coming all at once. The writing is not bad, but the pacing can be breakneck at points. A new element gets introduced, quickly explained, and then we move on to the next. Johns clearly has a schedule he’s keeping up with but also feels that he needs a lot of players on the board to make Blackest Night work when he gets there. The Red Lanterns are the least interesting of all the color corps because they feel very one note. In my opinion, they are just angry and pretty mindless, so little exciting character development happens. It’s some interesting character design, but little is memorable. I will point out that the best Red Lantern is Dex-Starr, a housecat from Earth that was abandoned and thus is filled with rage. I appreciate that Johns looks beyond just humans as the only Earth life to be represented in these galactic organizations.

With Agent Orange, we approach what some feel is the nadir of Johns’s run. There are so many elements at play and storyline threads hanging that introducing MORE characters feels a bit like overkill. Two additional color corps are presented in this one volume, as well as Red Lanterns and Sinestro Corps members floating around. The first of the new colors are the Blue Lanterns, mainly represented by Saint Walker. Blue Lanterns embody Hope, making them allies of the Green Lanterns. They are relatively passive and serve to boost Green Lanterns, giving them the ability to overcharge their rings beyond 100%. Their recruitment is a chain system, wherein the most recent new recruit is tasked with finding the next member. This means their numbers remain far smaller than the GL Corps. 

The Orange Lanterns are very interesting on paper; I don’t think it transfers to the actual comic too well. Orange is the color that represents Greed on the emotional spectrum, and this means there’s only one ring and one lantern. They are controlled by the gluttonous alien Larfleeze, a hermit who lives in a cavern in the Vega System. The Controllers, rivals of the Guardians from way back in the Silver Age, want to form their own color corps to keep up with their enemies and go on a hunt for the orange ring. Larfleeze doesn’t want to part with his precious and, in fact, wants what everyone else has. He uses his ring to generate hard-light versions of the intruders he killed over the years, making for a unique take on the corps concept. 

As I said, the ideas in all these stories are great. However, the pace with which they are introduced and the depth with which they are developed are incredibly lacking. It’s pretty impossible to skip over these issues if you want to get to Blackest Night because they are laying the groundwork for that event. In my opinion, Johns never quite recaptures the magic of the first three years of his Green Lantern run at this point. We will take a break for now before continuing on with this run, but I don’t anticipate my reviews to be as glowing as before. It’s not the worst comics I’ve ever read; they are just okay. I consider that disappointing because the momentum leading up to the Sinestro Corps War was entertaining. 

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2 thoughts on “Comic Book Review – Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns & Agent Orange”

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  2. True, true, true. This is where Geoffrey’s run on Green Lantern becomes really problematical, much as his (ridiculous/ghoulish, delete according to taste or just choose ridiculous + ghoulish) revamp of Black Hand would do, Johns had gone graverobbing and mades his weird version of sweet sweet lurve to corpses, the corpses in this case being concepts from Alan Moore’s Tales of the Green Lantern Corps. Taking the joke from Mogo Doesn’t Socialize and turning into primary continuity might have been forgivably silly (the ludicrous villain from that story being used in Green Lantern Corps Recharge was crossing the line into unforgivably dumb, tho’ Dave Gibbons was along for the ride) but repeatedly exercising his comics necrophile tendencies on the Tygers! short and making it the cornerstone of his run seems spectacularly ill-advised. Certainly his weird need to make Hal Jordan the Greatest G.L. Evah! had the effect of making Hal too often incredibly grating. Kyle Rayner had his specialness as Ion retconned away (only Hal can be Super-duper special kids!), Sodam Yat the apparent Greatest G.L. is rushed into continuity but gets jobbed out soon enough as Moore’s Blackest Night, a prophecy made by a bunch of lying demonic @$$holes remember is moved up and turned into Geoff John’s Blackest Night © with its tired 21st century zombies.
    Rage of the Red Lanterns is the tipping point as Atrocitus (Atrocitus!) kills off the other Four Inversions after all five of them get the much more conventional retcon secret origin. Atrocitus is yet another villain who gets a semi-symoathetic treatment despite his actions (cf. Black Adam, Captain Cold, Zoom etc.) while oddly the Guardians go full psycho with no ambiguity. What’s so very annoying about this (especially with all the hoo-hah over Johns’s long-term planning) is that the Guardians’ heel turn doesn’t really fit with how Have Johns reintroduced them, he was pretty much making it up as he went along early on and the stories were better for it but as the series became more successful Bad Geoff (writer of Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, et al, and any story in which a villain is retconned into being a sexual psychopath) took over more and more of the writing from Good Geoff and pulled retcons galore out of his a- bottom. Sinestro Corps War was quite enjoyable despite the usual silliness but the Alpha Lanterns story followed by Rage of the Red Lanterns and Agent Orange showcased the gaping logical flaws and essential stupidity of the blanket Rainbow Corps concepts. The Scar Guardian hardly needed to be infected from said scar as the Guardians were already being twisted into something goofily malign while anyone who had a legitimate complaint about Hal Jordan tended to be either messily killed off, corrupted, or turned into an Alpha Lantern Robozombie which is…I think the word is dubious.
    The scenes with Sinestro are quite interesting although Sinestro is obviously made of bull$π|t even if Geoff himself doesn’t seem to entirely recognize that. The blood-puking heartless Red Lanterns are as goofy as anything from the Silver Age while the Alpha Lanterns are as creepy as they are annoying (Johns’s Ian’s really don’t learn do they?! I’m not sure how that makes sense when they spent centuries with the GLC doing good work but there ya go. Who can trust those little blue furriners, right!) but their stories are pretty readable, Agent Orange on the other hand (and that greedy mass-murdering scumweasel Larfleeze, yet another complete maniac who Johns later treats sympathetically!) is a huuuuuge mess. There was some quite entertaining stuff to come but most of it was weighed down with forced attempts to be epic and odd views on morality.

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