The sympathetic villain isn’t an easy task to pull off. Make the character too sympathetic and it makes the heroes look like the bad guys; make the villain not sympathetic enough and it ends up just diluting the character. As a result, I appreciate what Robert Venditti and Rags Morales are attempting in “Green Lantern #23.1: Relic” as they try to show what’s going on from the perspective of relatively new nemesis Relic. While I think on some level they definitely succeed, there’s one big problem with this issue that keeps it from being too successful.
Venditti dives right in, telling the story of Relic’s past and his fear that using any of the Lantern lights is slowly draining the universe of its life force. It’s a smart tactic in creating a new adversary; after all, Relic isn’t going after the Green Lanterns (or any of the other Corps) because he hates them, but rather because he’s trying to save the universe. We get Relic’s past failure to stop the Lanterns played out in full detail, and how Relic ended up in the present day trying to save the universe again. All in all, when it comes to a basic idea for “Green Lantern” #23.1, I like where Venditti is going here.
What doesn’t work, though, is the storytelling style. It’s all told in the past tense, and with no dialogue, just an omnipresent narration. That’s ultimately the big flaw, because it detaches readers from the story that’s being told. With narration attached to a series of splash screens, we end up with a slow-moving story that’s lacking in energy. An all-splash-page comic can work when it’s a lot of huge events and (presumably) lots of action with which to fill up all of that real estate on the page. Here, this might as well be an old-fashioned slide show with Relic talking about his summer vacation.
Morales’s pencils look nice here, and I’ve missed seeing on a regular comic. He clearly is having fun drawing all the various alien species, and his depiction of a collapsing universe (coupled with Andrew Dalhouse’s colors) looks suitably dramatic. But Morales’s art, just like Venditti’s script, isn’t suited to an all-splash story. Most of these pages feel like establishing shots, one that don’t need all of that extra room. This isn’t a comic that’s playing to Morales’s strengths, and the end result is that we’ve got a bunch of beefy aliens who sit around all day. It’s also worth noting that Dave Sharpe’s lettering for Relic’s narration uses a font that’s not friendly to the eye; I don’t mind a custom set of lettering to try and make a character’s voice a bit different, but readability needs to be the primary goal.
“Green Lantern” #23.1 sets the stage for next month’s “Lights Out” crossover, so it achieves its goal. I just wish that it could have done so in a slightly more dramatic, or even attention-grabbing way. Something with some actual interaction could have done the trick; this lecture just doesn’t quite hit the mark.