2012 has been an interesting year for Green Lantern with the negative impact of the motion picture's performance weighing down the pop culture status a bit from the high point when Green Lantern symbols seemed to be everywhere during the heights of Blackest Night. Perhaps nothing could have brought attention back to Green Lantern in a major way like the "Green Lantern is Gay" headlines that were screamed from the mountain tops by every media outlet but the launch of a new gun-toting Arab American Green Lantern is certainly a close second. As a part of DC Comics' "Zero Month", which provides back story to fill in missing details changed by the "New 52" relaunch and/or jumping on points for new readers, this week's Green Lantern zero issue introduces us to Simon Baz, a Green Lantern for a new era filled with different sensibilities in a post 9/11 world.
Through a series of one panel vignettes we see the life of Simon Baz unfold before us, offering us glimpses of a reality that most of us cannot relate to. Simon is a young Arab-American whose life straddles two cultures at odds with each other, a child of both and a child of neither. At once horrified by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then a victim of the backlash his life follow a path not many of us have walked and his life is colored by a pedigree that he has no control over. In present day Baz is desperate and in those hard times he's made some bad choices and now he's caught stealing a van which is unknowingly packed with explosives.
|It becomes apparent very quickly that this is going to be a thought provoking exploration|
Realizing he's in a bad situation Simon races the van to a place where the inevitable detonation will not kill anyone else and manages to elude death only to find himself in the arms of the law and convicted in their eyes by genetics and the bad decisions of his past. Cast as a domestic terrorist, Simon is whisked away and interrogated by federal agents who take liberties with his liberties. He tries to defend himself and make it clear that while he did steal the van he was unaware it was already stolen and rigged to be used as a bomb, but in the jaded eyes of his interrogators they've heard this kind of story too many times to accept it even if it is true.
Baz attempts in vain to free himself and just as it appears he is about to be killed the power ring that was re-created from the ones worn by Sinestro and Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern Annual flies into the room, still spouting error messages, and lands on Baz's finger, whisking him away. We learn that Amanda Waller is somehow connected to this as she seems to be connected to everything. The event sparks communication among the Justice League given Hal's disappearance since he quit the League in last month's issue of that title. As the book draws to a close we see a member of the Third Army foraging for people to assimilate and Simon Baz laying on the ground unconscious with his ring informing him of a message he has waiting for him, presumably one from Hal and Sinestro. In an epilogue we see that Sinestro and Hal are in someplace very dark indeed.
|Justified or not? One of many philosophical challenges that Johns puts on the table|
The Writing -
While I think that Baz's story is told a little heavy handedly it is nonetheless compelling and it only takes a few pages to realize that we are going to be taking a very interesting journey with Simon Baz. It's clear that for Geoff Johns this is a very personal story for him and as we've come to expect he's taking his time to craft a story that will unfold over time. It may seem that not a lot happened in this issue, and in fact it was a very fast read, but this issue is designed as letting us in on the ground floor and it's more about planting seeds than telling a self contained story.
As a white middle class American living in rural upstate New York who can trace his roots back to colonial Massachusetts this is a world as completely alien to me as Oa, but for many other people being pre-judged by their own historical DNA is a much different experience than the assumption that my life is easy because of my heritage and skin color. We all have to make out of our lives what we can and some people just have a harder time escaping the labels foist on them, and despite the life Simon may have dreamed for himself he has something less than that. Yet despite all that baggage he's still trying to do the right thing even if his modus operandi is all wrong.
What makes this all the more interesting is the notion that Hal and Sinestro have somehow managed to will the ring to find someone who not only has the ability to overcome fear, but is an amalgam of their personalities. Whether or not Hal and Sinestro prevented the Guardians from gaining possession of the ring or if the Guardians chose Baz intentionally remains to be seen, but I'd say that it sounds like Hal and Sinestro were able to prevent the Guardians from gaining possession of it.
As for Sinestro and Hal it's no surprise that they awake where they are since they were sucked into Black Hand's ring. Johns was smart not to take the two completely off the table since these two are arguably the two most iconic characters in the Green Lantern universe. While their journey is taking a backseat to Baz's I'll admit that even though I'm interested in how his journey unfolds I'm more excited about seeing what happens to the two of them.
|A journey into the darkness begins|
I'll admit I'm not keen on adding yet another Earth Lantern to the mix, let alone someone who totes a pistol, but I have enough faith in Johns to know that the gun may only be temporary and he has himself stated that Baz has a gun early on simply because he doesn't trust the ring. This is the start of his journey and where we end up could be somewhere very different - and somewhere along the way I hope that a fifth Green Lantern book is created so that all the Earth lanterns have more breathing room, and I hope someone redesigns Baz's uniform.
The Art -
This issue was really tailor made for someone like Doug Mahnke who has a particular talent for facial expressions and visual storytelling. Johns was smart to trust in that talent to convey so much emotion in those opening panels that really spoke volumes without ever saying a word. Throughout this issue we were able to learn so much about what was going on inside the heads of the characters despite what the word balloons were telling us and it took Johns' script to a whole other level. While I really don't like the costume Mahnke has created for Baz, this issue was great looking.
What Do I Think?
I'm not sure why we need a new Green Lantern when we already have four from Earth and many fans are concerned that some of them don't get enough attention as it is. While I don't disagree with that notion I also think that this is a great opportunity to grow the brand and appeal to an audience that perhaps doesn't connect with Green Lantern right now. I'm not sure putting a pistol in his hands helps with the stereotypes Johns is examining here, but I can also see how doing so furthers the whole intellectual conversation despite the fact that it seems pointless when you've got the most powerful weapon in the universe in your other hand.
That being said Green Lantern #0 is a great jumping on point for people who don't know much about Green Lantern. As things unfold for Baz they will for everyone else and so long as all the characters are handled well and given their moments there should be plenty of room in the universe for one more. In the words of Saint Walker I think "all will be well". Four out of five lanterns.
As a side note there is an interesting bio of Hal Jordan in the back of the issue which lists his first appearance being Justice League #1. Some fans have questioned that and I don't think it's a matter of DC saying that nothing published before the relaunch happened as much as saying that from a timeline standpoint that's the first appearance of the character in the books published in the post-Flashpoint DCU.