Displaced Personhood: Peter Milligan’s “Red Lanterns #10”

No doubt DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns left an imprint on the Green Lantern. He’s gone on record many times saying how for him the Justice League (the first major impact crater of the Silver Age) really begins with the reconceptualization of both the Green Lantern and the Flash. His run on Green Lantern (circa 2005-2011, and now continuing through the New 52) certainly stands out among one of the most powerful, singular visions of the Green Lantern and his milieu.

The story goes something like this. Green Energy, that mysterious quintessence which fuels the Green Lanterns and gives the space-cops their power, is not unique in the universe. Green Energy can be summoned and shaped by will. But there are other Energies, pinned to other emotions. Since the New 52, the Red Lanterns, the Lanterns empowered by rage, have been delved into by the keen writer’s mind of Peter Milligan. And it’s now, with “Two Lanterns”, issue #10 of Red Lanterns, that the opening phase of Peter Milligan’s work on this book seems to conclude.

In addition to Red Lanterns, Peter’s also taken over as writer on Stormwatch. These past two issues of the books, last month’s Stormwatch #9 and this month’s Red Lanterns #10, run back-to-back as it were. The artwork in both is delivered masterfully by Miguel Sepulveda. If you’ve read Stormwatch’s “The Da Vinci Coda” last month, you’ll know why Red Lantern Skallox is in the custody of Stormwatch. And if you’ve been reading Red Lanterns regularly, you’ll know why the Reds are losing their power, and why Bleez has fomented a rebellion.

The beauty in “Two Lanterns” however, lies in its thirdness. An idea of Charles Sanders Pearce’s, thirdness speaks to how instantiated agents relate to regularized behaviors. If I as such an instantiated agent partake in the behavior of drinking coffee, thirdness is the series of questions around how I drink that coffee, how frequently, why, under which conditions, to what ends.

The thirdness with “Two Lanterns” lies in the parallels to be found between primary Red Lantern Atrocitus and novitiate Lantern Jack Moore. On opposite ends of the Red Lantern hierarchy, they both contend with exactly the same difficulties. Moore is giving a hazing that, because of the innate violence of the Red Lanterns, will ultimately end in his death. Atrocitus hunts down, mistakenly, traces of Red Energy that he believes will lead to the cause behind the corruption of the prime power battery. To save his life, Jack Moore must acquiesce to his fury. While Atrocitus, to preserve the dying embers of his power, must restrict his rage.

To survive, in other words, each must displace their own sense of personhood. Milligan’s crafting of this parallelism is as beautiful as it is profound. Holding it in my hand now, Red Lanterns #10 is brimming with the promise of the unexpected. I feel like I picked up an oldtimey Ellory Queen’s and instead found Dostoyevsky.

The only thing left to be said here is this. By some strange and illusive magic, I actually feel a little cheated in having read Stormwatch’s “The Da Vinci Coda” first. It’s a powerful, moving piece and it deserves to be read. But… Peter crafts so powerfully an in media res-drama, an opening in the middle of the action, with Red Lanterns #10 that I want to savor this moment, and savor its craft.

This entire issue is about velocity rather than ferocity. It is a constant and sustained moving ahead, a surging forward, a sense of being impelled rather than compelled. To open with Atrocitus speeding through space after the end of last month’s “Exodus” is just a wonder. And as with any wonder, as with any classic, I want to go back in time and relive that experience over and over again.