Red Lanterns Vol. 4: Blood Brothers is the best the series has ever been, faithful to what came before while swiftly realizing its potential in a way the book never did before. I'd thought Red Lanterns warranted cancellation for a while, but it's unfortunate that the book is about to be cancelled now that it's become so good.
[Review contains spoilers]
It's always a crapshoot when a new writer takes on Guy Gardner whether the character will keep the nuance he gained in Beau Smith's legendary Warriors run, or whether Guy will return to his bad-tempered, knuckle-headed roots. Writer Peter Tomasi did an exceptionally good job with Guy in Corps and Emerald Warriors and especially at the conclusion of Tomasi's run on Corps. Putting Guy in the "rage-y" atmosphere of the Red Lanterns was fraught with difficulties, but Charles Soule gets it right; his Guy is sarcastic but duty-focused, troubled but heroic. At a latter point Soule needs Guy to turn paranoid to a degree not really true to his character but warranted by the story, but even here Soule grounds it all in such real and long-standing aspects of the character -- Guy's insecurity about his role in the Corps in general and playing second fiddle to Hal Jordan in particular -- that it all feels like a true and authentic evolution for Guy.
I've discussed at length what I didn't like about Peter Milligan's Red Lanterns run, not in the least that these damaged, vengeance-fueled warriors that Johns once used to explore issues like the death penalty basically gazed at their navels and bickered for three collections. Soule pleasantly neither sugarcoats nor runs from this, but rather allows Guy as an outsider to the Red Lanterns to voice the problems. Among other things, Soule's Red Lanterns has a biting sense of humor, and Guy's surprise that the fearsome Red Lanterns live in squalor and follow former-leader Atrocitus blindly is a great moment.
In story, Guy allows the Red Lanterns free will, creating a sort of Red Lantern democracy, and it immediately makes the characters more interesting than they've ever been. Again, Soule doesn't reinvent anything, preserving existing Red Lantern characters Bleez, Skallow, Zilius Zox, Ratchet, and Rankorr. The characters gain a new vehicle and new roles, and with them personalities -- Zilius is the engineer, Skallox manages the weapons, and so on -- and again, there's a funny and endearing scene as the alien Lanterns get drunk together with varied results. Rankorr, the first Earth Red Lantern, was a favorite of mine previously because of his own outsider status, and Soule too keeps him much the same and sparks a friendship with Guy that reflects well on both characters.
Red Lanterns, finally, turns to the topic of vengeance. Guy loses control and kills a space pirate, and then has to reconcile within himself whether murder can ever be justified. The Red Lanterns set out to spread their version of justice across the cosmos, and their battle with the tyrant Gensui both finally gives the Lanterns something to do, and is a great space-faring heist story at the same time. And Soule wisely shows that the Red Lanterns newfound camaraderie is not without consequences; Red Lantern Ratchet actually dies because his care for his fellow Lanterns outshines his rage. The reader is left to question the limits of anger in the face of these characters who can never let go of their trauma or even truly connect with one another, else they'll cease to be.
I was quite surprised, coming out of the "Lights Out" crossover, to find that the Red Lanterns had now been ceded control of Sector 2814 by Hal Jordan. The Green Lantern titles are so connected that I'm astounded it's mentioned nowhere else -- not in the other titles, not in Justice League, etc. -- that Green Lanterns are now forbidden to approach Earth and the Red Lanterns are in control. This is quite the coup for Soule and offers plenty of the "purpose" that Red Lanterns has been lacking, but it's such big news that it seemed off that Hal wouldn't have mentioned it to Green Lantern John Stewart along the way in another book.
Next time around, I know Supergirl is joining the Red Lanterns book, a development I was also skeptical of, but seeing what Charles Soule did in Red Lanterns Vol. 4: Blood Brothers, I'm more than willing to trust he has it under control. Though I hope Red Lanterns ultimately ends with Guy Gardner back on the side of the Greens, I'm excited about the next volume of this book and eager to follow it to its pending end.
[Includes original covers, Alessandro Vitti sketchbook section]
Later this week, Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever.