In yesterday's Green Lantern #0, DC Comics introduced an all-new hero that will henceforth be wielding one of the most powerful weapons in the galaxy. His name is Simon Baz, and he's an Islamic car thief from Dearborn, MI. You can see what he's going to look like in the cover images that accompany this post, although, to be fair, he doesn't actually appear in costume in this particular comic.
Baz's introduction has caused a bit of a stir in online comic communities. There are a number of reasons fans could be skeptical of the character. For one, comic readers are notoriously resistant to change; the legacy of Green Lantern himself has a history of inspiring ire in fans. (Were any of you around when Kyle Rayner took over for Hal Jordan?) But beyond the fact that yet another newcomer's stepping up to fill Jordan's shoes, there's the issue of who Simon Baz is. To some, he seems like a character custom-built to rile up conservative readers and attract curious buyers. In putting Simon Baz front and center, is DC Comics exploiting ethnic and religious minorities?
Earlier this year, The MindHut addressed the growing trend of LGBT heroes in comics, and we concluded that it was a good thing—that despite the fact that making Alan Scott gay and marrying off Northstar to another man might be seen as publicity stunts, at least our LGBT friends have more representation in superhero comic books. That's definitely a good thing.
But is the same thing happening here? Look again at that picture of Baz. It seems custom-built to play off negative stereotypes of dark-skinned people. Ignoring the fact that he's decided to construct basically a ski mask for his headgear, why on Earth is the Green Lantern wielding a gun? When you have a weapon that can make anything you can think of, do you really need that gun? Again, we should point out he doesn't use it in the issue, but if this is just an inflammatory image stuck up on the cover, doesn't that make it worse?
Reading Green Lantern #0, it almost seems as if Geoff Johns ran down a checklist of hot-button issues. The Baz family lives in impoverished Dearborn, MI, where—yep—Simon worked at an auto plant until it closed down because of the economy. He turns to car theft to make a buck, but one day somehow steals a van wired with explosives. The cops think he's a suicide bomber and take him to an unnamed off-shore prison where the US tortures its inmates. And, if you were wondering, the issue definitely opens with the Baz family watching the events of 9/11 on their TVs; it's heavily implied that these events and the intolerance that follows make life unbearable for Simon and his family.
But, to come to Johns' defense—these things happened, right? We can conceive of an Islamic US citizen whose life was made hell by 9/11 because things like that actually took place. Auto plants actually closed down in Michigan, ruining families. Facilities like the detention center at Guantanemo Bay really do exist.
So where's the line between exploitation and good storytelling? Again to Johns' credit, Green Lantern #0 is really quite good—at least, if you can get past the sociopolitical manipulation. Baz is an underdog trying to do right who gets caught up in bad business. We want to like him. Artist Doug Mahnke brings a weathered but intense humanity to his characters. The issue builds nicely off the cliffhanger left by Green Lantern #12 and does a good job feeding into the larger story Johns has been crafting in the book over the past year. This comic makes you want to read more, to spend more time with the guy.
But should we? That's the question. Is Simon Baz a Green Lantern worth following? Or is he the result of DC Comics trying to cash in on as many social issues as they can at once?