Sunday, June 10, 2012

Green Lantern: The New Guardians - 52 Catch-Up

I haven't written anything about New Guardians since my review of the first book because this title is very difficult to review in a monthly format.  To say the story here is decompressed would be putting it mildly as most of the series thus far has seemed like one big extended fight scene, with a plot twist at the end of each issue changing the dance card for the next fight.

I'm not convinced this is entirely the fault of writer Tony Bedard, who has written many great character-analyzing stories in the past  Indeed, his first issue focuses upon Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and retells his origin within the context of the New 52 universe.  The problem is that the vast majority of our protagonists early on are either one-dimensional (the vengeful Sinestro Corps drill-sergeant Arkillo, the ever-optimistic Saint Walker) or largely incapable of normal speech (the Orange Lantern Glomulus, the Red Lantern Bleez).  There's not much for the readers, particularly new ones,  to latch onto in terms of personality and this series lacks a lot of the emotional punch of the other Green Lantern titles as a result.

The plot kicks off as Kyle Rayner is attacked - first by a series of rings belong to the other Lantern Corps then by various members of the other Corps who have come seeking the stolen rings.  Unable to convince Bleez (Red Lantern), Munk (Indigo Tribe), Arkillo (Sinestro Corps) or Fatality of the Star Sapphires (a.k.a. Yrra Cynri, though this name is never used, though she says she is no longer Fatality) that he is not responsible for the theft, things are looking grim for Kyle until the arrival of Saint Walker - first of the Blue Lanterns.  The two of them escape and plot a course to Oa, hoping that the Guardian Ganthet - who helped to start the Blue Lanterns and chose Kyle Rayner to be a Green Lantern - might have some answers.

A quick note about the art.  Regular penciller Tyler Kirkman is joined on issues #2-4 by current Green Arrow penciler Harvey Tolibao and the cohesion of the book suffers for it.  Ignoring my own personal dislike for Toliabo's style which has already been discussed in some detail in my Green Arrow reviews, the two artist's styles do not mesh at all and the designs for various characters look completely dissimilar from page to page.  Consider Kyle Rayner in the above scan (Tolibao) and in the one below (Kirkman).

Issue #3 opens with Kyle having been possessed by the rings and suddenly lashing out at The Guardians.  The rest of the Corps members arrive shortly thereafter and another fight ensues between the Lanterns and the Guardians.  This continues until the arrival of the one party conspicuous in his absence - Larlfleeze, a.k.a. Agent Orange.

He joins the fight in opening half of Issue #4, claiming  that someone tried to steal his ring too.  Having disguised one of his Orange Lanterns - the Slimer-like Glomulus - as a power ring, Agent Orange let it follow the other captured rings while his slave - the former Guardian Sayd - tracked the power that was stealing the rings in the first place to a gigantic orrery in space.

Reluctantly, the assemble band of "New Guardians" as Agent Orange calls them agrees to investigate the orrery, as the party splits up to investigate the differing worlds making up the gigantic solar system model.  They discover several amazing things, such as an entire planet of Tamaranians (i.e. Starfire's race) and another world claiming to be Okaara - the world where Fatality trained as a hunter and warrior years earlier.  Perhaps most astonishing, however, is a temple depicting Larfleeze as a monster called "The Beast" - sworn enemy of The Archangel Invictus, whom the temple is devoted to.

In Issue #6, Invictus himself shows up and begins beating seven kinds of hell out of the team.  For a moment, it looks as if Saint Walker's desperate attempt to use his ring to relieve Invictus of whatever burdens he has might prove effective.  Alas, it turns out that whatever Invictus is, he is far beyond the ability of a Blue Lantern ring to manipulate.

Thankfully, he is all too eager to tell his story to our heroes before they die.  Thus Issue #7 opens with Invictus explaining his own history with Agent Orange and how - millions of years ago - Agent Orange was responsible for undoing all of the good works his people attempted to bring about in the Vega Star System.  If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should - Vega is one of the few systems Green Lanterns are not allowed to enter and the place has become a wretched hive of scum and villany as a result.

Trapped outside the universe after Agent Orange turned his own followers against him, Invictus is newly returned and constructed the gigantic orrery as a means of restoring Vega to its' former glory... as soon as he is done destroying the current inhabitants and Agent Orange himself.  In the middle of all this discussion, it is revealed that for all of his power Invictus is unable to take a power ring away from it's wielder.  This too leads our team to realize what most of the readers had already guessed - Agent Orange was lying his crooked yellow teeth off.  Eventually a truce is reached and Invictus agrees to let the group live if they will accomplish one task - Kill Agent Orange.

As Issue #8 begins, the team is split once more, as everyone parts ways to head to their respective homeworlds and recharge their rings.  The rest of the issue is not as action heavy as previous ones, mostly focusing on plot details as it sums up what we already know of the plot in this book and explains recent intergalactic events to those few people who are reading this book but aren't reading the main Green Lantern title. 

Chief among these events are Sinestro's rejoining the Green Lanterns and shutting down the fear-empowered army that bore his name.  These events are recanted to Arkillo by The Weaponer of Qward, who gives Arkillo a new yellow power ring and battery that will act independently of the old Sinestro Corps Central Power Battery.  We also learn from the Star Sapphire commanders that someone in this universe had to be working to help Inviticus escape... but they have no idea who.   

Issue #9 primarily focuses upon Saint Walker and the Blue Lanterns as they defend their home base from an invasion of Breach soldiers, a.k.a. The Outer-Space baddies responsible for creating Jamie Reyes' armor in Blue Beetle and for the first time in months, Bedard seems to be writing up to his usual standard.  The action sequences of The Blue Lanterns are excellent but what really sells the story is Bedard clarifying the powers of the Blue Lanterns as the story progresses.  The Breach, for instance, take the Blue Lanterns seriously as a threat even though they are thought to be the weakest of the various Lantern Corps.  While it is true that they lack the overt offensive capabilities of most of the other Corps, The Blues are far from helpless as Saint Walker demonstrates.

Kirkman's prowess as an artist is proven in this issue as is the skill of the coloring team.  It would have been all too easy for this issue to become a muddy mess of blues, since the Blue Lantern uniforms and the Breach Soldiers uniforms look fairly similar.  Still, inker Batt manages to keep things separated and Kirkman's designs are distinctive enough to be differentiated  from a distance despite having the exact same palette.  Thankfully, carefully applied glow effects mark the Lanterns easily enough.

Can I recommend this comic?  Yes, but only if you are already a fan of the Green Lantern mythos.  Ironically, this book is not newbie friendly despite the amount of pages Bedard's devotes toward trying to explain everything to new readers.  Bedard's also at his best when he is focusing on individual character conflicts rather than on epic action sequences, as the two most recent issues have shown.  This book has taken its' time getting warmed up but it's finally turned into something worth reading.  And Kirmna's pencils, as ever, make it something exciting to look at.

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