Those who’ve read previous reviews, or listened to the Comic Vine podcast with any regularity, know my feelings on Guy Gardner. Or not so much the character himself, but his portrayal in the last couple of decades. Though he was originally created with all seriousness in mind, in the 1980s his character was changed by the legendary Steve Englehart and Joe Staton to be a parody of the anti-commie, ultra-jingoism permeating the country at the time (see: Rocky IV for a non-parody point of reference), but somewhere along the way, his uber-machismo, much like Lobo’s, began to be taken seriously again. He became the consummate B-lister who thought he was an A-lister, the problem being that no one ever corrected him and other characters believed his hype. So I’m as shocked as anyone that Charles Soule, a new writer on Red Lanterns, has made the character more relatable and, yes, self-aware than he’s been in years. And that makes him so much more likable.
The story opens on the hellish alien world of Ysmault, home of the Red Lanterns, where Atrocitus has discovered that one of his agents had a Green Lantern monitoring device planted inside him. With the device destroyed, Hal Jordan seeks out Guy to become a man on the inside of the Red Lanterns, a role Guy takes to, but not for any reason Hal may have guessed. Soule writes all the characters, and there actually are quite a few, with a great deal of panache and verve, but he deserves special acclaim, especially near the end, for perfectly threading the needle on Guy Gardner’s inner-workings. He constructs a great narrative and fully justifies why Gardner is on Ysmault, makes the Red Lanterns more interesting, even gets in a couple of pages of Gardner playing bartender, one of the few times he seems truly happy and juggles a great many different scenes with absolutely great pacing.
Alessandro Vitti handles the pencils and ink while Gabe Eltaeb slings colors and Taylor Esposito letters, and let’s talk about that last one for a moment. Letterer, even more than inker, might be the most underrated, unsung profession in this business, but in this issue especially it makes a huge difference. Between the multiple rings talking, the various aliens gabbing, and different narrative voices, lettering actually makes a huge difference and is handled with great gusto. Not to undersell the visuals, which are absolutely top-notch. Books like the Lantern titles need special attention paid to things like colors and this book does an amazing job, in addition to the absolutely fantastic panel control and pacing. The visuals know when to elevate the characters and when to drag them through the muck.
The fight scene near the end of the book is a little stiff and the characters are, on some pages, overly blocky in terms of their design. These are both VERY minor quibbles that by no means wreck the book.
Red Lanterns #21 is my surprise hit of the week, if not the month. I went into this book ready to dislike it, if not for the book’s previous reputation than for it’s starring character, but I can absolutely recommend this for fans of the Red Lanterns, Guy Gardner or even the Green Lanterns in general. It helps fill out their universe and is a great jump-on point for new readers.