Remember Batman’s Night of the Owls way back in February? Turns out it’s the first in a new trend for DC’s reboot books, being a graphic novel cobbled together from separate parts of each adjoining series and putting them all into one smooth, streamlined reading experience. At least it’s better than the old days, where if five ongoings crossed over then you needed to buy five separate books and a reading companion just to get the particular event all in one place.
But here, in one of their more intelligent moves, DC’s opting to have all the parts under one cover. Might mean you’ve got to buy twice as many books in order to have all the numbered volumes of your favourite titles too, but what are DC if not penny-pinchers?
Anyway, Rise of the Third Army acts as the penultimate chapter for Geoff Johns’ amazing Green Lantern run, tying in parts from his story, Green Lantern Corps, Red Lanterns and Green Lantern: New Guardians just to make sure every colour on the spectrum of DC’s super-cops is represented equally. You’d be forgiven for thinking this’ll just be a giant superpowered smackdown, or that the Guardians are being possessed by an otherworldly force to be made the villains, or that the A-list cast of characters smooshed together in one book will lead only to a giant conflict that is easily resolved by a quick jab of the reset button afterwards.
You’d be wrong.
Following Hal Jordan and Sinestro’s disappearances at the conclusion of The Revenge of Black Hand, Earth’s Green Lantern protectorship falls to former Arabic car thief Simon Baz after a theft gone horribly wrong that leaves his brother comatose. While he adapts to his significantly altered new life, Earth’s surviving three green bug-zappers – Guy Gardner, John Stewart and Kyle Rayner – face problems of their own as the Guardians launch their Third Army, kind of a fusion between a golem and The Matrix‘s Agent Smith. Finally, seemingly separated from the main conflict, Atrocitus and his Red Lantern brood undergo changes that could very well have a profound impact on the rest of the universe.
Where Night of the Owls was more like a series of vignettes stitched together loosely under the broad umbrella of a 24-hour onslaught by Gotham’s Illuminati wannabes, Rise of the Third Army is a much more coherent, structured piece that manages a really rare balancing act with its content. This is a story, not a collection of short ones, and despite the shifts between characters and plot points every now and then it all feels strongly connected. Simon Baz’s introduction to the world of Lanterns segways nicely into Guy Gardner’s excision from it, as he loses his ring and struggles to live life as a formerly-superheroic bystander (though, obviously, that one doesn’t last too long). The inner conflict in former GL saviour Kyle Rayner, as he struggles to wrangle the power of all seven major Corps into one amazing technicolour dream-spandex, ties into Red Lanterns lead character Atrocitus’ inner turmoil at possibly using the very weapons that killed his past as a means to safeguard his future. The Guardians’ overarching attack on everyone wearing a power ring comes full circle by story’s end, and the payoff at the book’s conclusion – leading to the final Johns-era book, Wrath of the First Lantern – is simply marvellous.
The pacing for Rise of the Third Army is spot on, effortlessly executed yet subtly and beautifully layered. Everything is relevant. Everything is connected. Disparate characters who we haven’t seen in a while (oh hello there, B’dg) come to the fore as heroes we hadn’t even imagined they could be. The real villainy behind it all carries a degree of understanding and, if it weren’t for the Borg-like Third Army zombies assimilating anything with two legs and a beating heart running around everywhere, can possibly be seen as not so much “villainous” as “misguided”. Granted, you’re definitely rooting for the rainbow Lantern brigade to kick their scrawny, wrinkled blue asses, but the fact that their actions are motivated by their own natural growth and realisation – rather than someone possessing or influencing them into being evil asshats – adds another satisfying layer of narrative assurance that no, it’s not going to be an easy fight against these guys because there’s no central power lording it over them. If the Lanterns defeat the Third Army it won’t just be a reversion to status quo – you’ll still have these immeasurably old midgets feeling grumpy and pissed off about the universe, and it’s a problem that can’t just be willed away by a wave of a magic power ring.
On a similar bend of goodness, the art’s pretty awesome too. As to be expected from a book with so many writers, artists and titles jostling for position, it can be a little eclectic but on the whole is fairly consistent. I find I like the illustration here more than I did the stuff in Revenge, but maybe that’s because every Lantern Corps is on display and I just like all the pretty colours. I’m simple that way.
Dialogue is decent, if at times a little too comicky. I get that Rise is supposed to be a grand space opera adventure with plenty of swashbuckling hero moments alongside the sheer dark terror of its eponymous villains, but the amount of wordiness going on gets a little overwhelming sometimes. Battle scenes in particular, such as the Gardner family machine-gunning zombies or the one which closes out the book, seem to have our heroes talking more than could be reasonably said in time that short. Unless the Third Army moves ponderously around and machine guns fire one bullet every three seconds, it’s a little unrealistic.
But who the hell am I to bitch about realism in a book like this? Rise of the Third Army is a grand, larger-than-life epic leading into another larger-than-life epic meant to close out a giant, years-spanning larger-than-life epic. It ascends above the quality we’ve expected of penultimate chapters – usually an exercise in setting the dinner table for the feast of a finale – and manages to be highly entertaining in its own right. The way every piece fits together beautifully makes it an event book worthy of your time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go read Age of Ultron and hold it to the same benchmark. This could be fatal.
BEST QUOTE: “I think you blueholes have been given enough chances to keep screwing things up! You tried to destroy me, you tried to destroy my Corps–and that I will not abide! Been running from emotions all your lives–how about now? DO YA FINALLY FEEL SOMETHING NOW?!” – Guy Gardner