Green Lantern: New Guardians: The Ring Bearer, though flawed in its presentation, may be the best of DC Comics's New 52 Green Lantern titles.
There's nothing wrong necessarily with Tony Bedard's characterization of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner here, though in dialogue Bedard's Rayner still has inexplicable tics that grate through the whole book. Artist Tyler Kirkham's more animated style begins to gell here, even better suited to the wilder aliens of Guardians than it was to Green Lantern Corps previously, but the art has a tendency toward sexual gratuity that's just embarrassing.
Despite this, The Ring Bearer triumphs over Green Lantern and Corps's repetitive storylines and Red Lanterns's stilted introspection because here, something actually happens. The most interesting part of Geoff Johns's revitalized Green Lantern franchise has been the multi-hued Corps, and Bedard brings representatives from each together and plays them off one another in engaging ways. The identity of the person who brought together the "New Guardians" is amusing, full of story potential, and Ring Bearer deals with some of the better plot threads left hanging from War of the Green Lanterns.
At least for the first New 52 Green Lantern collections, the site of the franchise's forward action seems to be New Guardians.
[Review contains spoilers]
Though New Guardians starts slowly with a typical characters-misunderstand-and-fight, it quickly turns to two of the biggest open questions in Lantern lore right now: what did the Guardians do to former Guardian-Lantern Ganthet's mind, and whatever happened to the Guardian Sayd, Ganthet's love and prisoner of Agent Orange Larfleeze? Bedard takes up both of these, and especially strong is the inference that Sayd is secretly manipulating Larfleeze.
The "New Guardian" team is surprisingly compelling. They fight together, at first grudgingly against their common enemy, the Guardians, but after they save one another a few times, some loyalty begins to emerge. Bedard writes an effective speech at the end of the book in which Rayner notes that in working together, the Lanterns become "better than what our power rings say we are." This is a significantly "post-modern" idea -- Geoff Johns has spent a few years establishing the fearsome Sinestro Corps, the angry Red Lanterns, and others, and now New Guardians takes it a step forward to demonstrate how the characters are more complicated than just their rings.
It helps that Bedard populates New Guardians with fan favorites like Sinestro Corpsman Arkillo and Blue Lantern Saint Walker; even in the first issue's fight scene, there's always some entertainment seeing these characters together. Arkillo and Walker have an unexpectedly touching scene in the fourth issue, where Walker restores Arkillo's voice after the warlord Mongul ripped out his tongue some two years ago. For fans of the Green Lantern books, this is an authentic moment -- readers saw Arkillo's defeat and they've seen his shame in numerous stories -- and it suggests the kind of character spotlighting that Bedard can do in this book.
It's also a riot that Larfleeze plays Bosley to the New Guardian's Charlie's Angels, gathering the team and directing them on their first mission (with Sayd's help). Few would predict that Larfleeze would one day add "team leader" to his resume, though at the end of the book, the New Guardians switch to align with Larfleeze's enemy, the alien angel Invictus, and they're directed to kill Larfleeze. Hopefully, despite that Larfleeze is about to star in Keith Giffen's Threshold, Bedard is able to keep him around and to put the New Guardians back under his thrall; it's too much fun to think of him in charge of this team. Bedard also gets points for using Larfleeze's adorable orange construct Glomulus, and suggesting there might be more to the imp than it seems.
Bedard, however, hears a strange Kyle Rayner in his head. As in Green Lantern Corps, Bedard's Rayner is foolishly, inappropriately "hip" -- Kyle calls everyone "dude," from the construction worker he saves in the beginning to Invictus in the end. Bedard's Rayner has never met a colloquialisms he didn't like; rarely does Bedard let a "them" or "about" go by without spelling it as "'em" or "'bout," along with the numerous "wannas" and "gottas."
Bedard's Rayner is at least not the skeevy oversexed pat character here that Rayner has been variously portrayed as over the years (of which the audience saw shades in Bedard's Green Lantern Corps), but Bedard's speech patterns for Rayner just don't make sense. They are not consistent with how Rayner has been written by others (if anything, Bedard's Rayner sounds more like Lantern Guy Gardner) and they suggest a kind of inanity that in fact doesn't even match the actions Bedard gives Rayner, which are uniformly heroic. Ring Bearer emerges as perhaps the best Green Lantern book that Bedard has written so far, if only his Kyle Rayner could be adjusted slightly.
Tyler Kirkham's accentuated, oversized figures fare better here than they did in the War of the Green Lanterns crossover, where they stood out too much beside the straighter lines and smaller panels of Doug Mahnke and Fernando Pasarin. With the big personalities of Arkillo, Saint Walker, Larfleeze, Invictus, and others, Kirkham shines, and this is a rare New 52 collection where the book's art even seems to improve as the book goes on. Unfortunately, the sole woman in most of this story is the Star Sapphire Fatality, with her shirt unzipped and cleavage exposed, and Kirkham never misses an opportunity to include her breasts in a panel, even having her fly upside down at one point so her chest faces the camera.
Worse, Kirkham has at least two quintessential "she has no head" moments, in issue #5 and #6, where the panel lops off Fatality's head and her dialogue seems to come from her chest; in issue #6, a poorly-placed word balloon makes it seem as though her breasts are speaking. These are moments that make New Guardians seem juvenile, and it's a pity Kirham mars his work with them.
Of all of the first volumes of the Green Lantern books, Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham's Green Lantern: New Guardians: The Ring Bearer is the most fun, the one with the best sense of cosmic wide-eyed wonder. Both writer and artist, however, lose some points in the details, and it hurts a book that shows good potential. New Guardians's second volume will bear a look, and hopefully some of these issues get resolved as the series continues.
[Includes original covers, just two sketchbook pages by Tyler Kirkham]
From the cosmos to the supernatural ... next week, the Collected Editions reviews of Justice League Dark and I, Vampire. Don't miss it!