The New Guardians get their own Big Bad as Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham continue to produce the only title in the Green Lantern franchise that genuinely feels like it offers something new and exciting. It’s an issue that focuses on character as the emerging team of ring-bearers split up to investigate the mysteries of an artificial solar system.
For my part, Green Lantern: New Guardians has been the breakout star of the New 52 era of the Green Lantern franchise. That’s not to say I haven’t continued to enjoy Green Lantern as much as ever. But it’s basically the same book it has always been under Geoff Johns. Sinestro being the lead character is nothing new. It’s just more honest about that now. Meanwhile, Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns have not exactly impressed me. This book definitely has, though. It’s built upon a relatively new idea and features characters who haven’t seen a lot of spotlight. And now, it introduces a threat that, for once, does not stem from some dark secret of the Guardians’ past.
It’s a dark secret from Larfleeze’s past. But hey, I will take it.
The strength of this particular issue comes from how well it balances focusing on the characters while still moving forward with the plot. The plot doesn’t proceed along in leaps and bounds, but it does progress more than enough to avoid feeling like we’re just spinning our wheels here. The mystery of the artificial solar system deepens as the New Guardians find some really strange things on some of the planets within it, and the force who put it all together is revealed. That’s a pretty decent amount of story movement for an issue primarily focused on fleshing out the characters and their group dynamics.
That focus pays off in interesting ways too. Bedard is building a very compelling team dynamic with this cast, and seeing it develop will absolutely be one of the selling points of this series. Saint Walker and Atrocitus seem to be forming a tense odd couple sort of relationship. Fatality helps hint at the Indigo Tribe’s secrets with her in-character observations of Munk. Glomulus ably secures his role as team mascot. And Bedard manages to do a better job at pulling off Bleez’s dip in the blood pools of Ysmault than Red Lanterns did in what felt like three issues of inane droning.
Bedard is also doing a great service to Larfleeze and Sayd, even though they only appear briefly in this issue. Johns really dropped the ball on Sayd, having her willingly enslaved by Larfleeze and then seemingly forgetting about her entirely. It’s nice just to have a writer actually remember how she now serves as Guardian to the Orange Lantern Corps. It’s also nice to have a writer pull back from treating Larfleeze like a purely comic relief character. Oh, he still provides comic relief, but he is also treated as a powerful threat in this series. That’s not really something we have gotten from the character since Blackest Night.
Admittedly, the actual reveal of the big new villain is a letdown. At first glance, the design of Invictus is a bit goofy in an over-the-top, ‘90s way. The axe shoulderpads are probably the most glaring flaw. It is definitely a design that is just trying too hard and not the only one either. I haven’t hated Fatality’s redesign, but it hasn’t exactly won me over yet either. Honestly, it’s just hard to understand why a costume that is being generated by her ring has so many buckled straps and a big, unused zipper. It fails to really gel with the other Lantern looks. I don't dislike Kirkham's art, but quite a few of this book's flaws do seem to stem from it. His art would really benefit from him moving away from the excessive '90s-like style that leads to things like the aforementioned character designs and Kyle Rayner having the muscles of a professional wrestler.
Green Lantern: New Guardians has become my new favorite Green Lantern series. While I’m not sold on this new villain, the cast and Tony Bedard’s strong grasp of their characters really succeed at winning me over. Tyler Kirkham keeps the pages looking great as well, even if I have problems with some of his design choices. This is turning out to be an excellent series that feels like it is genuinely trying to inject something new into the franchise while still working within the confines of the mythology DC has established these past few years.