Today, yet another Earth-based Green Lantern makes his debut in DC’s “New 52” universe, and this time what makes him different is his civilian identity: Arab-American Simon Baz, a U.S.-born citizen of Lebanese descent. When he receives the GLC ring in Green Lantern #0, he instantly becomes DC’s most prominent Muslim character.
He is likely to become a lightning rod for controversy from many sides, for a couple of reasons. Once again, DC seems to be hoping that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I haven’t had a chance to read the comic, since it is being released today, but some details are out there.
Let’s start with the comic’s cover. Yes, that is a gun in the left hand of the new Green Lantern. And a GL ring on right hand. Now, there is surely no reason whatsoever for a GL to carry a silly little handgun from Earth when he has the most powerful weapon in the universe in other hand. A GL ring makes a gun worse than a useless joke. So why does he have it? Is it just to make him look “cool” or “badass” on the cover?
Even if one were to argue that a new GL might not be fully aware of the capabilities of his ring, why does the cover need to depict Baz brandishing the gun? Can’t it be in a holster? And that hood covering his head certainly is new for a human GL. It makes him look rather menacing doesn’t it?
But the “thug” portrayal is not the only thing that is guaranteed to be controversial about the newest galactic policeman on the block.
Baz is what we call a “complicated” character, in that he is not all good. In fact, Baz is introduced as a criminal: He resorts to stealing cars after being laid off from his automotive engineering job. And, this being a comic book, he steals the wrong car and ends up being embroiled in a federal terrorism probe. And then the ring finds him.
Baz is the brainchild of Geoff Johns, DC’s chief creative officer. Like Baz, Johns is of Lebanese ancestry and comes from the Detroit area (which boasts one of the largest Arab communities in the country) so Johns knows what he’s writing about. DC cannot be accused of racism or taking advantage of religion — Johns was raised Christian.
As Johns told The Associated Press:
“He’s not a perfect character. He’s obviously made some mistakes in his life, but that makes him more compelling and relatable. Hopefully [he’s] a compelling character regardless of culture or ethnic background. But I think it’s great to have an Arab-American superhero. This was an opportunity and a chance to really go for it.”
However, it does seems to me that this character has been intentionally designed as a lightning rod for fury. In addition to being a gun-toting criminal, Baz sports a tattoo (reading “Courage”) on his right arm. Tattoos are forbidden by Islam. So Baz pisses off Muslims and non-Muslims alike. He’s an equal-opportunity offender. He should certainly cause bloggers to spill some metaphorical ink. Is that what DC wants?
I don’t get why Baz has to be a car thief. It would be much more interesting if he were unemployed when he got the ring. Maybe he could be at a job interview, being told he’s “overqualified” for a position, or “Just not what we’re looking for right now.” Then, BOOM — the Green Lantern Corps comes calling, asking him to join the universe-spanning cosmic police force!
Also, religion will be a factor in the series. Baz is shown age 10 on Sept. 11, 2001, watching TV in horror as terrorists fly airplanes into the World Trade Center. Baz and the rest of his Muslim family then find themselves under suspicion, like so many other Muslim-Americans.
While Baz is a Muslim, according to Johns:
“It doesn’t completely define the character but it shapes the character. My biggest hope is that people embrace it and understand what we’re trying to do.”
What Johns — the longtime writer of Green Lantern who has been lauded for penning some of the best GL stories ever and redefining the character and his place in the DC Universe — is trying to do is shake up the status quo at DC. And he is certainly doing that. In February, Baz will join the Justice League of America, where he will play with bigwigs Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
And you thought making original GL Alan Scott gay was controversial…