"Red Lanterns" is a title that surprised me when it was initially announced as an ongoing at the outset of the New 52. Incoming writer Charles Soule's work on "Red Lanterns" #21 has surprised me just as much -- and pleasantly so.
As a regular reader of "Swamp Thing" under Scott Snyder, I was ready to cut bait when the "Batman" writer traded "Swamp Thing" in for "Superman Unchained," but decided to give Soule a shot. Soule won me over on that book strongly enough to lead me here. I have dipped into "Red Lanterns" from time to time, mostly to cover the book for reviews and certainly never because I enjoyed the characters, but Soule bringing Guy Gardner onto the cast deserved another check-in. Peter J. Tomasi did some fine work Gardner, turning him from a one-note also-ran to a strong character and, quite honestly, my favorite of the Geoff Johns-era Lanterns. Soule doesn't have the same control over Gardner, but this issue is a study in Guy finding control over himself. Tasked by Hal Jordan to infiltrate the Red Lanterns, Guy Gardner wrestles with whether or not he wants to, providing Soule with the ultimate inroad to defining his take on Gardner. It's not as infectious as Tomasi's take, but Soule doesn't throw everything out for sake of his own thoughts.
Despite some unevenness throughout the issue, like Atrocitus' teeth going from sharp daggers to lipless horse jaws afflicted with periodontal disease, Alessandro Vitti's artwork launches this book with a visual spectacle. Thankfully there is a wide range of aliens and characters for Vitti to draw, as his rendition of Guy Gardner is real close in appearance to Green Lantern Lee. Luckily Gabe Eltaeb distinctively defines Lee's coloring. Eltaeb's been coloring books in the Lantern sector of the DC Universe for a while now, but his work in "Red Lanterns" #21 is impressive.
Sure there are still energy auras and rings projections, but there is also one panel on a page where Vitti draws Guy's right hand around the neck of a green beer bottle. Eltaeb uses a nice array of verdant hues, but he applies a glow on the ring that makes it darn near audible. Vitti mixes his style and line work nicely, dropping in richer, more consuming shadows on the characters and landscape of Ysmault. Clearly the artist is finding his way into the minds and bodies of the Red Lanterns, with nowhere to go but up. Vitti has put down a solid foundation; he just needs to smooth it out a bit before building on top of it.
All in all, "Red Lanterns" #21 is a solidly constructed start for the new direction of this title. Soule defines the motivation for the title and the Red Lanterns, maps out their mission and identifies just why Guy Gardner is involved. Of the new directions for the Lantern titles that I've paid interest to (and reviewed) "Red Lanterns" #21 is the best of the bunch. There's room for improvement and growth, but at least the story is interesting and the art is solid.