Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Simon Baz recharges Green Lantern

Green Lantern Simon Baz, by Doug Mahnke and Alex Sinclair

Lately I’ve been pretty complimentary of Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke’s work on Green Lantern. Honestly, this is something of a shock. It’s not that I don’t like Johns, Mahnke, or GL — far from it — but the book has sneaked up on me, going from a nice habit to a must-read, and the new Lantern has a lot to do with it.

Green Lantern Simon Baz debuted in September’s Issue 0 as an Arab-American caught up in various schemes, who of course demonstrated the ability to overcome great fear. He wears a ring containing messages from the dead-ish Hal Jordan and Sinestro, but he carries a gun in case the ring fails him; the first fellow Lantern he encounters is B’dg, the extraterrestrial squirrel. Simon endures it all with courage and spirit, and in short order he’s kicked GL into another gear.

Simon’s introductory arc concludes this week — sort of, SPOILERS FOLLOW — with Green Lantern Corps Annual #1, the final installment of “Rise of the Third Army.” However, this just paves the way for “Wrath of the First Lantern,” which goes for the next couple of months. After that, April’s Lantern titles may not be part of an overarching story — at least, not one with a “_____ of the [Numbered] _____” title — but these plot threads apparently won’t be resolved before then, either.

Chaining together dire-consequences arcs goes back several years in Green Lantern, and frankly it had gotten wearying. After “Sinestro Corps” (2007) and “Secret Origin” (2008), the other Lantern colors were introduced, followed by 2009-10′s Blackest Night, 2010-11′s Brightest Day, and 2011′s “War of the Green Lanterns,” all before the New-52 relaunch. The Guardians of the Universe, who hadn’t been entirely trustworthy at least since 1990 (when Gerard Jones wrote ‘em), have become downright manipulative. This too goes back to their actions in “Sinestro Corps,” if not before.

(Again, SPOILERS for Green Lantern #0-16, GL Corps #16 and GL Corps Annual #1.)

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That’s part of what appeals to me about Simon Baz. His four predecessors each have a particular relationship with the Guardians, but he doesn’t. Hal Jordan used to revere the little blue guys until his various crises of conscience (which these days probably don’t include the “hard-traveling” years with Green Arrow, but still). John Stewart succeeded Hal after seeing the effect a GL career could have on one’s Earthbound life; and when he started policing Oa’s “Mosaic” community, got a good idea of what the Guardians had to go through. Guy Gardner was recruited by a more militant faction of Guardians during Crisis on Infinite Earths, and so got to see firsthand one of the rare schisms in Oan history. Of course, the last surviving Guardian recruited Kyle Rayner to be the last Green Lantern.

Now Simon comes to the Green Lantern Corps at a time when the Guardians themselves have turned against it. Considering that one of his first acts as a GL involves pushing the ring’s capabilities where they’re not supposed to go — perhaps even into territory that got Hal Jordan into trouble — he may well be the first real post-Oan GL.

Even so, it’s not that hard to question the Guardians’ authority, as it’s largely self-proclaimed, and because the Guardians are so old and so well-established, their dictates went unchallenged for millennia. DC lore holds that when the Oan named Krona dared to gaze upon the origins of the universe, his experiment ended up unleashing evil forces upon it, and from that act the Oans decided to balance the scales by setting up an intergalactic peacekeeping force. Accordingly, the Guardians’ authority was no doubt accepted largely because a) they were wise enough to be right most of the time, and b) they had the power to back up their judgments. However, they exist primarily as patrons of the Green Lantern Corps (and, before them, the android Manhunters), not as any kind of superseding government or judiciary.  As such, their function is relatively narrow, even if their jurisdiction covers the known universe.

And in the old days, that was fine, because the Guardians functioned basically as facilitators. They’d tell Hal where to go and what he needed to do when he got there, Hal would do it, and that would be the story. The Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams stories played off those roles by having Green Arrow question the Guardians’ various pronouncements, and from there the series developed in new directions. The more out-of-touch the Guardians seemed, the easier it was to make them antagonistic, until here we are — one set of Guardians wanting to destroy their erstwhile agents and eradicate free will, while a heretofore-hidden, ostensibly-benevolent faction waits like a government in exile.

Although the Guardians’ latest heel turn draws on decades of GL stories, both the Third Army and Simon Baz have simplified the plot considerably. Superficially the Third Army is reminiscent of Blackest Night’s undead horde — both nigh-unstoppable and able to “recruit” with extreme prejudice — but Blackest Night sought further to weave a whole new layer of cosmology from GL lore. While “RO3A” has its obscure bits (like a First Lantern named Volthoom, referring to the patron of Earth-3′s evil GL), generally it’s pretty straightforward. Hal and Sinestro have been “killed,” Simon has their ring, and the GL Corps as a whole is in danger from their suddenly-diabolical masters.

Considering the aforementioned string of storylines, Green Lantern needed some simplicity. While discussing the GL movie’s performance, the screenwriter Todd Alcott observed that “Green Lantern isn’t a character, it’s a job.”  Alcott explained that “without knowing who the character was,” no one would want to see “a $200 million movie called Intergalactic Beat Cop”:

In order to sell the Green Lantern concept, you have to get the audience to understand that this is not a movie about “Peter Parker, who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and thus becomes Spider-Man.” Rather, you have to get the audience to buy the idea that there is a job, out there, somewhere, called Green Lantern, and this is the story of Hal Jordan, who gets called to fill an opening in that job.

To be sure, when Hal debuted in 1959, it was probably enough to feature “the job,” i.e., the thrill of superheroics. After that, “the job” became a known quantity, at least for casual readers. At first John Stewart and Guy Gardner were both supporting characters, so they had to be distinctly different from Hal; and this allowed their characterizations to take precedence over their GL-hood. I don’t know if the same applies to Kyle Rayner, who was pretty much thrown into GL-dom with almost no preliminaries; but again, casual readers would have known about Green Lantern generally, and would have known further that Things Were Different.

In that respect Simon’s introduction went further than any of his predecessors’. September’s GL #0 spent almost the whole issue laying out Simon’s various personal entanglements, such that he got the ring only near the end of the issue and the costume early in the next one (Issue 13). Apart from a fight with the Justice League in issue #14, his adventures with B’dg in Issue 16, and his role in Green Lantern Corps #16, those personal problems — mainly allegations of terrorism and guilt over his brother-in-law’s fate — have predominated. This hasn’t exactly pushed the Third Army into the background, but it has made Simon a better protagonist. There is a hint of Mary-Sue-ism in #16 (and in GLC Annual #1), when Simon pushes the ring past its stated capabilities, but generally Simon’s story has more to do with him than with the fate of the universe.

And it’s a pretty compelling story too, inviting comparisons to John Stewart’s debut. Like John did back in the early ‘70s, Simon has to deal with petty prejudice; but unlike John, Simon has made some bad choices.  Those, plus his recent unemployment, turn him into a car thief — and when he steals a bomb-laden van, a suspected terrorist. Given the summary disposition of the terrorism subplot in issue #15, and Simon’s future in the government-sponsored Justice League of America, you have to think those charges will simply become part of his backstory. Agent Franklin Fed, the Sam Gerard to Simon’s Richard Kimble, is still somewhat two-dimensional — family killed on 9/11, regrets having to waterboard — but presumably we’ll get to know him better once the Third Army is taken care of.

(That also reminds me — early in Johns’ GL tenure, Hal rejoined the Air Force under a commanding officer knew he was a Green Lantern. To me this was a potential conflict of interest, but that group of characters pretty much went away after “Sinestro Corps.” However, a similar storyline might arise through Simon’s new government connections.)

I was expecting a little more Simon in “Rise of the First Lantern,” the story in GL Corps Annual #1 which bridges “Rise of the Third Army” and “Wrath of the First Lantern.” However, it’s more about wrapping up subplots from the other GL titles. Guy helps his fellow Lanterns fight back, John watches Mogo’s reconstruction, Kyle and the other “rainbow Lanterns” join the fight on Oa, and the Red Lanterns sic the Manhunters on the Guardians. Simon and B’dg are in the Annual long enough to enter the Book of the Black to try and rescue Hal and Sinestro, which presumably will continue in next month’s Green Lantern #17.

Before that, though, Guy emphasizes to Simon that yes, the fate of the entire universe is at stake, since the Third Army will assimilate everyone in just 27 days if left unchecked. Clearly this puts Simon’s personal subplots on hold. Still, you have to think that Johns has invested in them sufficiently over the past few months not to forget about them while the Guardians are on the rampage. Mahnke’s work has especially brought Simon and his family to life, in part by drawing Simon and his sister Sira as somewhat wide-eyed and innocent. (Indeed, the very first panel of GL #0 shows the Baz family agape at the events of 9/11, with the last panel of that page showing the blazing Twin Towers reflected in young Simon’s eye.) At times they practically tiptoe through delicate situations, like when Sira reports for work at the State Department the day after Simon has become a terror suspect. These are melodramatic situations, but after establishing that post-9/11 context Johns and Mahnke neither exploit nor elide them. Instead, each piling on the last, almost at arm’s length, until Sira is suspended from her work but reunited with her husband, and the feds aren’t after Simon but Black Hand is.

The next few months will show how Simon Baz functions as a rookie Green Lantern, both in GL and in JLA. Meanwhile, though, the clock is ticking for Hal and Sinestro to return, perhaps sooner than we think. Naturally I’m curious about that subplot, and the rest of the ongoing Guardians/Third Army/First Lantern scrum, but now I’m hoping for more with the Baz family and Agent Fed.

Of course, this is the classic Green Lantern dramatic tension of “Earth attachments vs. space-sector responsibilities” which caused Hal so much trouble back in the day. Here, though, Simon has more pressing concerns than the fortunes of his girlfriend’s aircraft company. By navigating Simon through those troubles, and keeping the focus on him, Johns and Mahnke have made Green Lantern a book to look forward to. If they can maintain a good balance between the cosmic and the (relatively) mundane, this run of GL will be one to remember.

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Green Lantern vol. 5 nos. 0, 13-16 (November 2012-March 2013) were written by Geoff Johns; pencilled by Doug Mahnke; inked by Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Marc Deering, Tom Nguyen, and Doug Mahnke; colored by Tony Avina and Alex Sinclair; and lettered by Dave Sharpe, Dezi Sienty, and Steve Wands.

Green Lantern Corps vol. 3 #16 (March 2013) was written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Fernando Pasarin, inked by Scott Hanna, colored by Gabe Eltaeb, and lettered by Dave Sharpe.

Green Lantern Corps Annual vol. 2 #1 (March 2013) was written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Chriscross, inked by Scott Hanna and Marlo Alquiza, colored by Wil Quintana, and lettered by Steve Wands.

All issues were edited by Matt Idelson, with Wil Moss as associate editor.

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Comments

30 Comments

Not a bad review, but Johns’ GL has kind of played out for me. Adding another American GL in the last few issues distracts from who I want to read about (Jordan), and having Yellow, Red, Indigo etc. Lanterns out there was fun at first but now there’s just too much filler.
Back to basics would be great.

Geoff Johns?
BLAH!

I agree, Baz is awesome and his creation has kept Green Lantern on my pull-list.

Baz’s story has been enjoyable. .I was expecting a female earthling GL however. I’d thought this was long over due! Nice article btw! :)

Unfortunately, “grumpy” and “old” have taken precedence over “fan” for me, but I admire your perseverance in face of such adversity, Tom. it can’t be easy these days.

Tom, I’ve been reading your misnamed column for two years now, and I have yet to see any “grumpiness.” No matter how crappy DC’s comics get, no matter how they ruin their characters, you still condone DC and apologize for them. I’m beginning to wonder if you are covertly a paid DC employee.

Sure, you can continue writing fluffy columns, trying to make sense out of senseless comic books, trying to find direction where there is none. But I encourage you to let your GRUMP out, brother. A little righteous anger is good for you. There must be something you can’t stand about the nuDC. There must be something you feel they have done wrong. Don’t hold it in. I’d like to read your pointed critique.

I whole heartedly agree!

The great introduction of Simon Baz in GL has made me jump to grabbing the monthly issues for the first time.

I normally trade-wait GL, and cherry pick the stories that ‘count’. This has been the most compelling GL has been in a long while.

Haven’t liked Baz or been interested in his story in the least. So I’ve stopped reading GL for the first time since Johns started. The zero issue was a big yawn fest, and then we go into ANOTHER big pointless GL grouped crossover that makes you read 4 seperate series a month over 4 months. Just like it did a few months before the big nu52 reboot. That was a crappy and boring crossover, and this one was too (so I stopped!).

Buying GL was my last Johns book (JL is unreadable, and Aquamans 2 arc was neverending and felt like it went on for a year! And could of easily been another 4 parter like the first. No thanks to your decompression bullshit Johns!). But unfortunately not even Mankes amazing art will make me buy GL anymore. :-( He needs to be the artist on a Lemire series! One of DCs only good writers at the moment. Snyder is good, but he needs to lighten up a little with his stories. So serious all the time.

I agree, I’ve really enjoyed Baz’s introduction. I was a big fan of Kyle back in his day, and I get a similar vibe from the rookie, struggling to know what to do as he’s dragged into a huge new world.

I also really enjoyed the Baz storyline, more than I was expecting. I agree that this has brought GL up at least a notch or two. Thought I would miss Mahnke’s Hal but his Baz is just as good.

The conclusion of Rise of the Third Army was kind of an Oh No Here We Go Again moment but given how solid things have been to this point I am willing to give it a chance.

Also I suspect that Baz will remain Earthbound for the foreseeable future (after Wrath of course) due to his participation in the JLA.

I’m proud of DC for introducing an Arab American hero.
Not a fan of Johns’ GL but I picked up the Baz introductory storyline for the historic significance.
Though at times a bit heavy handed and poorly plotted (the Feds are so inept they didn’t bother to try to investigate the real owner of the van full of explosives?!?!), Johns heart is in the right place here and Baz is a noble character.
I’m actually surprised Baz hasn’t created more of a media stir beyond the very initial coverage when his design was released mid2012. Seems DC should be getting a bit more credit for the effort.
But on a side note it’s time for other creators to guide GL.
The books have been spinning their wheels with fights between Lanterns and Guardians.
Time to make the focus about policing the universe and discovering new worlds.

My problem with the Green Lantern comics is this: The “Rise of the Third Army” cross-over just ended in the Green Lantern Corps annual without actually resolving anything, and immediately kicked-off the “Revenge of the First Lantern” cross-over (or whatever it’s called). And when that storyline ends? Will there be any closure then? Or will the story continued unresolved into yet another crossover.

I want to read self-contained stories with a beginning, middle, and end. They can be one issue, six issues, or eighteen issues, but they have to end at some point. Whereas the Green Lantern comics have just been a blur of incident for several years now.

I think Simon is a fine character. I like Kyle and Hal and Sinestro, but I think I’m going to be dropping the various Green Lantern books.

I was starting to get tired of the Michael Bay-ish quality of Johns’ recent works, but since his greatest strength is building up new and obscure characters, he has succeeded with GL. I was close to dropping it too, before the introduction of Baz.

What I like about Baz is that he’s a minority character. It’s good to see someone who’s not just another white male. I say that as a white male. I want diversity in the comics I read. And, he’s a well-written character too that someone took more than a minute to flesh out. He’s not a stereotype. Johns has become hit and miss due to his writing abilities with DC but he’s got a strong script hand still with GL.

I agree with Brian and Drew melbourne.

I’m a fan of Baz and his potential, just not a fan of John’s 2 new event as it seems formulaic and uninspired.

As a huge fan of all the GL titles, my only disappointment was that Baz was another male American GL from earth. Try another country and the opposite sex and you’ll have a whole new set of stories and interesting circumstances.

Sorry, I just don’t have any interest in a fifth male Green Lantern. Four was already plenty enough.

They stopped the really entertaining Hal & Sinestro buddy cop show to bring in yet another male lantern from Earth. A token minority male lantern from Earth,

I’m failing to see why they would do this when we already had some pretty cool tales with Hal and Sinestro happening.

As a white male, I welcome NEW ethnically diverse characters. As a long time white male comic fan, I can’t stand existing white male characters being replaced for the sheer sake of having different skin colors in a book. I also can’t stand an existing male character replaced with one that has nothing more to bring to the story than breasts. We don’t need an Arab Iron Man. We just need new characters from other cultures that don’t suck like Hardware, Icon, etc.

It’s too bad Johns doesn’t seem interested in telling stories about Hal Jordan anymore, because that’s what I signed up for and I’ve since dropped the book because Baz doesn’t interest me at all.

I wouldn’t call an Arab-American creator (as Johns is) introducing an Arab character into his book tokenism. Johns clearly wanted to see his own culture and experiences represented in the books/DCU. You may not like that results, but they’re a far cry from the shallow, patronizing “minorities as window dressing” approach that charges of tokenism usually imply. Simon is an interesting, flawed character, and he’s thrown a real wild card element into a series I’d gotten tired of. The book needed that shot in the arm.

Ballistic Haggis

February 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm

An excellent, well thought-out article.

One niggling detail though: Simon Baz is actually the sixth human to join the GL Corps. We mustn’t forget the late Charlie Vickers, who became a Lantern way back in 1967.

All the best.

BC

I think Baz would have been better off as new hero rather than the next green lantern because it gives him less bagagge than taking over for Hal.

My only question is if Baz has Hal and Sinestro’s rings will they want them back from him when they come back?

I’m currently reading GL because of Simon Baz. I’m actually glad that DC introduced an Arab character for this role, although I will miss the Hal Jordon and Sinestro buddy cop stories because they are fun to read, but overall Baz deserves my attention, but I will question why he would join the JLA? because the government never did anything right for the whole Muslim community. Baz should have joined the JL instead, maybe in the future I hope.

A lot of folks expressed a lot of Baz when he was first introduced. I liked his character from the very first issue he was introduced. I like him more and more each issue. I miss the days when GL was about Hal and co. being space cops and they took care of things BESIDES other colored lanterns. Don’t get me wrong, I love the emotional spectrum and all the characters Johns has introduced along the way, but I miss when everything wasn’t a grand the-entire-universe-is-in-peril event every second. I would like to see more Kanjar Ro’s and Bolphungas – threats that aren’t related to a corps of some kind and smaller in scope. Baz has been a refreshing reprieve from all of that.

hate… people expressed a lot of hate for Baz when was first introduced.

I don’t mind who the GL is as long as the story and artwork are good. Like some, I wouldn’t mind the stories dialing back on the “universe is facing a major crisis” plots that have been around for a few years.

As for Baz joining the JLA, why wouldn’t he? He is American after all.

@beane2099: hate… people expressed a lot of hate for Baz when was first introduced.

In truth, people expressed a lot of hate for Geoff Johns writing.
And not without some reason. ;)

people are trying to turn Baz in some type of martyr. that’s laughable.

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