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Wrath of the First Lantern continues from Green Lantern as Volthoom comes calling on Guy Gardner, and Peter Tomasi puts it to good use in further fleshing out Gardner’s New 52 history as a disgraced former police officer. However, it also begins to expose one of the major weaknesses in this event.
So the apparent gimmick of Wrath of the First Lantern is that Volthoom can look into the histories -- or life constellations as he calls them -- and alter reality or at least the person’s perceptions of that reality right now. In this case, the story spends its time showing us the tragic event that cost Gardner his career as a cop. And really, that is exactly the kind of thing writers should be doing with this gimmick.
Volthoom picks out three events in Gardner’s life to toy with in order to feed of his emotions. The first is a near death incident with his brother and sister during their childhoods. This scene doesn’t really do anything to inform us on Gardner’s history, but it does do an excellent job of showcasing exactly what it is that Volthoom is capable of doing. Because this incident is so personal and not over-the-top, it’s very easy to empathize with what Gardner is being put through as Volthoom makes him live through a scenario where his failure turns him into an only child. This is easily the most effective of the three scenes.
But while less emotionally effective, the next scene is much more informative. We knew that Gardner used to be a Baltimore cop in the New 52 continuity, one of the history changes I think actually did a lot to benefit a character. But now, we get to see how that fell apart for him. A very tough decision to stop a suicide bomber in an airport ruined his career, and I’m not sure how I feel about this. For starters, it seems a little extreme. Gardner seems more like the type who should have gone out because he got caught bending the rules or using excessive force to get some criminal who was above the law. This is an entirely different, and extreme, situation. Also, it’s a bit black and white. The story depicts Guy as being in the right completely. His only other option was to allow something far worse to happen. I like that he makes such a hard call, but I would have liked it much more if we got some context on the incident that showed he did actually do something wrong too. Like it was somehow his fault the bomber got as far as he did or escalated the situation. Characters, especially early on, aren’t supposed to be perfect. They’re supposed to grow. Showing me that Gardner was basically always in the right from the very beginning is, honestly, a boring way to go.
While I have my criticisms of the second event, both it and the first do pack some good emotional drama. They make it easy to feel what Volthoom is putting Gardner through. Unfortunately, that all gets lost in the third and final part.
Lastly, Volthoom makes Gardner relive when he became Red Lantern during Blackest Night and then escalates things to such a level of violence it really just gets cartoonish. Gardner just starts killing everybody to such an insane degree that any emotional connection to what’s happening is completely lost. It gets a little confusing too when he starts whipping out yellow constructs along with his green and red ones. I don’t know. It was just silly, and because of it, the story ends weaker than how it began.
This issue also exposes the weakness in Wrath of the First Lantern that I think is probably going to bite other parts of the story too. The main gimmick here is exploring and altering characters’ histories. But here’s the thing. DC doesn’t know what its new history is. We’ve already seen many signs that DC has barely a clue of what has and hasn’t happened in its new five year history, but now, we’re starting to see that here too. There’s a big splash image that’s basically a collage of Gardner’s history as Volthoom starts in on him, and it is so disappointing. Pretty much all the images are things from the recent era of Green Lantern history. These aren’t Gardner’s greatest hits. They’re just what DC could come up with in a way that avoids actually figuring out any new history for the character. There’s even part where you see a line of earlier versions of Gardner going all the way back to his childhood, and the artist uses the original designs. Really? We’re saying Gardner had all those dated looks in the New 52 too? He still sported that bowlcut for awhile?
This is really so disappointing. I assume every character will be getting these big double page spreads when Volthoom clamps onto them, and they really should be the major highlights of this event. What a great way to get a taste for the New 52 histories of these characters. I would’ve loved to see Gardner’s Warrior look in the New 52 or some intriguing snippets of his altered history. Instead, I get this big image that has been phoned in. No, I’m not ragging on Fernando Pasarin as the artist. No doubt this took a lot of skill and effort to put together. My problem is that DC didn’t get him anything worthwhile to draw. What a waste.
Seriously. If you aren’t going to be real thought into these characters’ histories, why are we even having a story that highlights those histories?
The second part of Wrath of the First Lantern is a solid character study of Guy Gardner, revealing a key part of his new history and packing some emotional weight. It does unfortunately start to fall apart as the issue goes on due to Tomasi going more and more over the top when he would have been better off keeping things restrained and personal.