As I sat and read through Geoff John’s polarizing new Green Lantern #0, one word kept coming to my mind, over and over, like a splinter:
As in, “Why do we need a new Green Lantern of Sector 2814?” We already have four, or five (depending on whether or not you count Alan Scott as a Green Lantern of 2814, considering his Lantern is powered by magic, but I digress) – do we really need a sixth Earth-born Lantern? Also, why does Hal Jordan have to be so unceremoniously pushed aside for this new Green Lantern to make his debut? Guy Gardner and John Stewart have their own book (the incredible Green Lantern Corps), as does Kyle Rayner (my personal new favorite - Green Lantern: New Guardians) and the rage-filled Red Lanterns. If Geoff Johns and the powers that be at DC Comics really wanted to create this new Lantern, Why not just give Simon Baz his own book? In all honesty, I feel that this would have been the best way to go: those of us who love Hal Jordan wouldn’t have to put up with this ridiculous “he’s dead-oh wait-he’s really-just-in-limbo” stunt, and Johns could still have his new Lantern. Everyone wins.
But as it stands, Green Lantern #0 left me cold. Besides being somewhat needless (again, why?), Baz is an extremely unsympathetic and underwritten character. Johns seems to rely on staggeringly offensive stereotyping of both Arab-Americans and White Americans to give Baz a backstory. Johns’ law enforcement agents are shown to be merciless tormentors who actually go so far as to waterboard Baz. And Baz is shown as playing to the stereotype of being a car-bomber (I couldn’t believe when I read Baz’s words to his sister’s voicemail, “It’s not what it looks like”). As a middle-class White American, I was offended at the treatment of both ethnic groups in Johns’ hands. He went with an easy shock-factor to try and get us to automatically be on Baz’s side, and it backfires in the sense that the story – and character – suffer for it. If Johns wanted to really tie Baz’s story into current events and give him a reason why the ring would choose him, he could have made Baz an Arab immigrant who was fleeing the Taliban because he refused to become one of their suicide soldiers, or Johns could have written Baz as an Arab-American veteran of the war; either of those would have made Baz truly stand out as a more courageous, well-rounded, un-stereotypical character.
Another point of contention I have with Simon Baz is that he is a criminal, plain and simple. Sure, you can argue that he’s doing what he’s doing (stealing cars) to provide for his family after losing his job, but there are probably a hundred other avenues he could have taken to provide for his family that would have been more courageous and admirable than stealing cars. And I really disliked the way Johns tried to paint Baz as a hero for driving the stolen car – which happened to have a bomb in it, unbeknownst to Baz – into an unpopulated area for the bomb to detonate. Sure, he kept people from being hurt, which is a good thing. But he still committed a crime, with or without the bomb. Period. The great thing about Green Lanterns up until Green Lantern #0 is that even though they may be rough and reckless at times, they have never been criminals. Deep down they’ve always been good guys who want to do the right thing, no matter the cost. And that’s where Baz fails: he wants to do the right thing in providing for his family, but he’s not willing to count the cost – he settles for the easy way out (stealing cars).
In conclusion, it has been pointed out that one of Geoff Johns’ greatest gifts as a storyteller is how his characters grow over time. Hal Jordan isn’t the same man he was when Johns started his saga in Green Lantern: Rebirth. So despite some glaring problems with Simon Baz, there is hope that Johns can redeem the character’s otherwise unimpressive origins in this issue by having him grow into a true Green Lantern I can root for over time. Until I see that happening, I reserve the right to be extremely skeptical and unenthusiastic about Simon Baz and this new arc Geoff Johns has started.