Now's as good a time as any to mention that I kinda love New Guardians. Tony Bedard is leaving the book, nearly two years after its launch as part of the New 52, and I have a sense that things aren't going to be the same. I'll be honest with you, and I know I'm going to sound like an insane person, but this is the book that kept me from dropping the entire DC line from my pull list a few months ago (as written about here, and DC has only gotten loopier since then).
Yes, I guess Batman is a "higher-quality" book overall, but Batman's always going to be Batman. I could skip a handful of issues in Scott Snyder's excellent run, return after a couple of months, and find that all of the pieces of that world would still be intact. He has to maintain a certain amount of status quo because Batman's got nearly a dozen books to support (Batman, Detective, Batman Inc., Batman and Robin, Batman: The Dark Knight, Nightwing, Batwoman, Batgirl, Batwing, etc, etc...). He's almost carrying the entire DC line on his broad shoulders right now, but enough about Batman...
New Guardians was a title starring a character who should have served no purpose in the New 52 - Kyle Rayner. I mean, if you're going to relaunch an entire universe, why keep the 90's replacement Lantern around anymore? The gimmick of the New Guardians, at least through the early solicits, was a "rainbow" team of Lanterns trying to get along through all of their conflicting personalities and philosophies. What the book has really been great at is finding a distinct reason for Kyle Rayner to exist, especially when Hal Jordan is clearly back for good as Green Lantern.
This was the book I couldn't give up on, and thus, I couldn't give up on DC. Bedard was never aiming for a hip re-invention of the wheel, but a propulsive, cosmic action-adventure that managed to capture the flavor of the old DC during a time in which NEW! NEW! NEW! was being forced down all of our throats. Every month was a simple pleasure - unique characters in unique situations, solving problems. The first problem was figuring out why a handful of various Lantern rings were being drawn to Kyle Rayner, and the second big problem was Rayner's struggle to master each individual color in the Lantern spectrum. Both stories were expertly plotted, dishing out just enough intrigue to have me saying, "dammit, I guess I'll pick up one more."
I said this month after month, with the book always on the cusp of falling off my monthly pulls (because who cares about a New 52 Kyle Rayner, right?), and every month I'd get hooked back in for another issue. At some point (probably the #0 issue* - a highlight in an otherwise abysmal month of muddled origin-themed comics), I had to seriously consider why New Guardians was winning me over like this, when I'd already dumped more critically-acclaimed titles like Action Comics and Aquaman. What was it about this C-list book that had me so addicted?
Part of it was the unpredictability. Like I mentioned above, Batman's always going to be Batman, but anything could happen to anybody in New Guardians. There's no Arkillo and Robin, no Larfleeze-Girl, no Kyle Rayner Inc. to worry about. As such, when Bedard raised the stakes, they mattered, because this was a title that was still forging its own identity. It had to bear the trappings of the Green Lantern universe, but other than that, anything was game and no one was safe. Rayner's eventual conquering of the spectrum to become the White Lantern wasn't something that seemed inevitable when the book began, but the process to get there was organic and a natural extension of the events that had been taking place since issue one.
Now, the Bedard era on the book is coming to a close, and I'm a little sad about it. I found it to be one of the few books in the New 52 line to actually get better over time (others have been more consistent across the board - whether good or bad; most got worse). New Guardians never let me down, and it surprised me more often than it didn't. Underrated and overlooked, the Kyle Rayner book proved to be the best of the Lantern line, and fans who wrote it off after an issue or two deprived themselves of a grand little space adventure. I look forward to re-reading them in a marathon session someday**, at least to remind myself that I'm not insane for loving this book.
*(I think the #0 may have been Aaron Kuder's first issue and the collaboration between this soon-to-be-a-superstar artist and Bedard is when the book really started to sing. Not to take anything away from Tyler Kirkham, but Kuder's more in line with my sensibilities.)
**(I started last night, and, boy, issue one is pretty threadbare. I don't blame folks for never sticking with it. It got much, much better fairly quickly.)