Review: Green Lantern: Agent Orange hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Possibly the Green Lantern series has set its own bar a little too high, because after volume upon volume of what's been a consistently high quality series, Green Lantern: Agent Orange just failed to impress. As Geoff Johns continues the build-up to the Blackest Night crossover, part of me says "Enough already!" -- Agent Orange might just be one last prelude too many before the main event.

Compared with the great last Green Lantern volume, Rage of the Red Lanterns, it's easy to see why Agent Orange didn't measure up. Both stories introduce new hues of Lantern into the mythos, but whereas Rage contrasts the Red Lanterns with the Lost Lantern Laira's grief over her fallen comrade and Hal Jordan's mixed feelings about Sinestro's upcoming execution, Agent Orange follows a mostly straightforward hunt for the Orange Lantern. There's some interesting conversation regarding the differences between greed, represented by the Orange Lantern, and hope, represented by the Blue, but nowhere near the crackle that Rage contained.

At this point, the characters in Green Lantern are so set in their ways (in advance, perhaps, of larger character changes in Blackest Night) as to no longer be suspenseful or surprising. The constant bickering between the Green Lanterns and their ruling Guardians grows old; one wonders why the Lanterns, heroes in their own right, tolerate the Guardians' constant recalcitrance.

And writer Geoff Johns seems to delight in doling out the Guardians' secrets one by one, playing a constant game of "I know something you don't know." The entirely unsurprising origin of Agent Orange Larfleeze is such a letdown that it spoils my eagerness for the next hidden tidbit. The Guardians' new rule that the Vega system is no longer offlimits to Lanterns fell flat for me, since even I -- well versed in DC Comics lore -- didn't know there was something about Vega in the first place; far better were the Guardians' previous rules about love and capital punishment that dealt with the Lantern's emotions, rather than minutia.

I enjoyed artist Philip Tan well enough on Final Crisis: Revelations, with his dark, sketchy art that brought out the moodiness of that story. Agent Orange has similarly suspenseful, secretive moments, though Johns seems through Lantern Hal Jordan to want us to envision Larfleeze like a Muppet; I wondered what the whole story would've looked like with more energetic art suited to animated characters. Tan offers beautiful scenes, but then also ones where the Lanterns, especially John Stewart, appear wooden. Strangely, Tan also paints just one panel per page, and not often the most pertinent or emotional panel; that the painted panel had no story relevance beyond appearing once per page seemed to me gimmicky and distracting, rather than adding to the story.

I did appreciate Agent Orange's unique Lantern power to kill, and then replicate his victims, creating a virtual Orange Corps and calling it -- Johns being punny -- "identity theft." While this seems to mildly duplicate what I understand of the Black Lantern power yet to be revealed (animating the actual dead corpse trumps stealing the corpse's identity any day), it's better by far than the Red Lantern power which is, no joke, to vomit fiery blood. In the measly four issues collected here, the Agent Orange power doesn't get much change to shine, but I'm curious what Johns does with it down the road.

Bottom line, I'm just ready to get on with it. It's January now -- the Blackest Night trades don't hit until July, kids. That's a long, long, almost interminable time to wait. Green Lantern is good, really good, I know it, but Agent Orange didn't do it for me -- that makes the wait for the better things to come all that much harder.

[Contains Philip Tan sketchbook, various Lantern corp profile pages from Blackest Night #0.]

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4 comments:

  1. Glad to see I wasn't the only one dissatisfied with this book. After Rage, this was a major disappointment. Even for something "revelatory" like the Orange Lantern, the series feels like it's spinning its wheels a little bit, and the art is just BAD. People have been complaining about Philip Tan's art online, but I always thought they were exaggerating. Doesn't bode well for the Batman and Robin collection...

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  2. Four issues?! The last four issue trade I can even remember was JLA Vol. 1, New World Order, which I recently donated to the library after buying the Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1. And that at least cost just $8 or so back in the day. I suppose they didn't have a choice with Blackest Night, but I can only imagine how thin this thing will look especially as a softcover, especially with the glossy paper they use now (it's not just me; that glossy paper is much thinner then the newsprint-y stuff, right?)

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  3. If you consider that the story's only not-so-ambitious aim really was to introduce Agent Orange before Blackest Night, then to me, it lived up fine to that purpose.

    I enjoyed the story. I treat is as what is it is, which is introductory prelude.

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  4. Nothing wrong with that. Thanks for chiming in!

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