Green Lantern: Rise of the Third Army is a big improvement.
This crossover trade, which includes issues #13-16 of each of the Green Lantern titles plus the Green Lantern Corps Annual #1 and a story from the Green Lantern Annual #1, does a better job than War in balancing the disparate stories in the various series. Each title's storyline is self-contained enough, but both offer sufficient cliffhangers to make turning to a new series seem natural, and also the titles feed into one another well enough that the transitions don't feel forced.
Though this crossover collection reads a bit rough at the outset, it's ultimately an enjoyable Green Lantern epic. All the issues collected here (and more) can be found in other trades, but it's hard not to be impressed by a 400-page hardcover of Green Lantern goodness.
[Review contains spoilers]
Third Army's biggest detraction is that it does not follow well from the volumes that come before. Both the Green Lantern Vol. 2: Revenge of Black Hand and Green Lantern: New Guardians Vol. 2: Beyond Hope collections ended with those books' issue #12, and Third Army picks up with their issue #13; both titles, however, have significant present-day events in their Zero Month issues, such that Third Army begins one step removed. Those Zero Month issues are collected in the Vol. 3 collection of each titles; so, someone wanting a full story would essentially have to go to the Vol. 3 collections first and then come back to the Third Army collection (and if you already had two Vol. 3 collections, you might as well just skip Third Army and get the other two Vol. 3 collections and read the story that way).
In contrast, the Red Lanterns story essentially starts where Red Lanterns Vol. 2: Death of the Red Lanterns ended, and the Green Lantern Corps story even overlaps with Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2: Alpha War. However, the Green Lantern and New Guardian jumps are fairly jarring -- Green Lantern Vol. 2 ended with Hal Jordan's disappearance, and Third Army begins with new Green Lantern Simon Baz having already received his ring and faced some trouble with the FBI. New Guardians ended with Kyle Rayner abandoned by his team, and Third Army starts with Kyle partnered with Carol Ferris, returned once again to her status as Star Sapphire. The audience can generally piece together what has happened, but I was surprised the fit between this book and the ones that came before wasn't tighter. (At the same time, with more than seventeen full issues in this collection, I grant adding two more might not have been feasible.)
This is a big deal collecting-wise, but a smaller one in terms of story, because once Third Army starts moving, it's easy to get roped in. In the first two Green Lantern issues, writer Geoff Johns offers a likable new Lantern in Baz, whose struggles to understand his ring echo those of Kyle Rayner's first days, while Baz's problems with his family, with prejudice, and with the law help to differentiate him. Johns seems to purposefully play Baz against superhero types in interesting ways; when faced with the Justice League, for instance, Baz simply gives up, understanding how quickly Superman could defeat him. I liked that while we see elements of Kyle's naivete and Hal's stubbornness in Baz, we also see some of Guy Gardner's toughness, and the scenes with Guy and Baz sometimes finishing each other's thoughts were priceless.
Baz's story reaches a natural stopping point, and the book switches over to three issues from Green Lantern Corps. These three issues are self-contained as well, detailing Guy's expulsion from the Corps; I praised the two issues that appeared in Green Lantern Corps: Alpha War as being very strong, and the third issue is equally so, as a non-powered Guy still tries to be a hero with even more disastrous results. Corps writer Peter Tomasi continues to bring new depth to the sometimes one-note Guy, and I only hope Corps's next writer can continue to do Guy the same justice.
The next two sets of four issues are the entirety of the New Guardians and Red Lantern "Third Army" tie-in issues. As one might surmise from the two series being collected all together in the middle of the book, these have the least to do with the "Third Army" storyline; they might be lifted out of the book entirely with no consequence except to help explain some cameos in the book's conclusion. New Guardians mostly sees Kyle traveling between the various-colored Corps, trying to learn all of their powers (not significantly different from New Guardians stories thus far, though I always like seeing these other Corps).
Red Lanterns's story is the weakest of the four titles (as has been the case since the New 52 relaunch). Characters appear on one page with no introduction and die on the next; the Red Lanterns have hallucinations never quite explained (and we're shown Atrocitus's origin yet again); and while Atrocitus recruiting the Manhunters is significant, he seems to fight, defeat them, and then have to fight and defeat them again for too long a span in the four issues.
Third Army finally turns to the final two Green Lantern issues, the final Green Lantern Corps issue, and the Corps annual. An earlier Corps issue referenced that the "squirrel Lantern" B'dg had gone to Earth, so when he intersects Simon Baz's story, it makes sense; Johns deftly transitions from a fairly earthbound story, in which Baz engages in a tense "police procedural" standoff, to the sudden arrival of the Third Army and the cosmic into Baz's life. From there, Baz and B'dg break Guy out of jail in Corps, and the switch from Johns's series to Tomasi's is seamless. The story races to a conclusion where the Lantern Guardians get their long-deserved comeuppance and all the characters make a contribution but Guy, appropriately for Corps, is spotlighted; after 400 pages, readers may be distressed to find that Third Army ends on a cliffhanger, but getting there was strong enough that I still felt I'd read a complete story.
The book also benefits from artists Doug Mahnke, Fernando Pasarin, Aaron Kuder, and Miguel Sepulveda's styles resembling each other's well enough that the reader doesn't feel especially jarred going from issue to issue, as was the case, for example, in moving from Brett Booth to Ale Garza in a recent Teen Titans collection.
In Green Lantern: Rise of the Third Army, the titular "Third Army" is almost a secondary concern to the various, often-internal struggles of the characters, and that's just the way it should be. Third Army is an airier crossover than War of the Green Lanterns, allowing each title to project its own identity but still making most parts relevant to the whole; this is a better organized crossover than most. It's hard to fully recommend this book, missing pieces as it is, but like the Batman: Night of the Owls collection, for your second or third read or a long plane ride, this seems a good book to have on hand.
[Includes full covers, character designs and cover sketches]
Coming up, a review of Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Iron.