Andres Guinaldo grabs a pencil and tags in to illustrate Peter Milligan’s latest red-hued installment of “Rise of the Third Army” in “Red Lanterns” #16. The first thing that struck me about this was the lack of fearsomeness present in Guinaldo’s rendition of Atrocitus. The alpha Red Lantern’s teeth are not the needle-sharp choppers that readers have become accustomed to from Ed Benes and Ivan Reis. Atrocitus isn’t monstrous or bulky. As a matter of fact, he’s less threatening and more pitiful, like Darth Vader with his helmet removed at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”
Guinaldo’s art style would be great for a war comic or “All-Star Western” or maybe even a street-level hero, like Nightwing or Vibe, but these characters are based in feverish absurdity and need to be visually pushed over the top. Realism simply won’t cut it here. Rain Beredo’s colors are equally as adequate, washing the issue in reddish tones instead of soaking the pages in scarlet. Aside from the “Justice League Unlimited” cover homage, this issue flat out lacks visual punch.
The fact that Atrocitus is on Ryutt trying to subjugate the Manhunters to his mission speaks volumes of the character’s desperation and also accentuates the lack of intimidation the character exudes. Essentially, Milligan has broken Atrocitus down into an uninteresting conniving has-been with one last play at his disposal. The non-Atrocitus scenes in “Red Lanterns” #16 are equally uninteresting and seem to be dragging along without conceivable resolution. Essentially, with Bleez is throwing herself at Rankorr and Ysmault apparently attacking Ratchet, we have Red Lanterns struggling to be Red Lanterns, questioning their motives and their devotion to the cause.
With one-third of this issue dedicated to Atrocitus’ struggle, the cumulative feel this story gives me is that it is simply treading water, perhaps waiting for the conclusion of “Rise of the Third Army.” When this series started, the characters struck me as exceptionally shallow to maintain monthly adventures and “Red Lanterns” #16 certainly adds credence to that theory. Atrocitus’ involvement in the battle against the Third Army is gimmicky at best and to have the character so desperate as to essentially resurrect a zombie army of his foes against a different set of foes falls unbelievably flat. Maybe once the galaxy is free of the Third Army this title will find a direction for itself once more. For now, the red in “Red Lanterns” #16 means stop. Put the book down. Read something else.