Green Lanterns Might Be DC’s Most Important Book
By: Robert Starsmore (@Jono616)
It does not contribute to the overall Rebirth/Watchmen mythos, it does not star the company’s most popular character, but Green Lanterns might be the most important book DC is putting out right now. The mission statement of the Rebirth initiative was to go back to basics and hone in on the core concepts of the DC characters with a smaller, more focused line of books centering on characters like the original Superman, or a Green Arrow that feels like he belongs more in comics than on The CW. Green Lanterns, written by Sam Humphries, stands out because it stars two characters who are immensely flawed and don’t look like anything else DC has on the stands.
The first of these rookie Green Lanterns is Simon Baz, a Lebanese-American Muslim man, who has a bit of a checkered past but does not lack for confidence in his ability to protect the Earth. In fact, his biggest character flaw is his overconfidence and hunger for more power, sometimes bordering on anger issues. When it comes to facing villains or space aliens, fear is not in his vocabulary. So what has been the one thing we’ve seen to make him run away and hide? Trying to bake cookies for his mother. No, really. In some great character work, we find out that the person Simon is trying the hardest to impress is his mother who he feels he has been a disappointment to. When the Green Lantern ring first chose Simon, he was in prison, and as it turns out, him getting arrested has brought some unwanted attention on his Lebanese-born Muslim mother and their family (a real stretch to imagine, I know). Simon is now on the straight and narrow but it is not the fact that he is protecting the Earth with Superman and Wonder Woman that impresses her, it is that he made Ma’amoul cookies for Halloween and they actually turned out good. On the surface, Simon is the definition of an ultra-macho hero figure, but it is his relationship with his new partner that begins to soften him for the reader.
Simon’s partner is Jessica Cruz, a Mexican-American woman with severe anxiety problems. She is constantly afraid, she lacks confidence, and she is not able to make constructs with her ring – she really does not fit the mold of the typical Green Lanterns who have always been said to be without fear. All of those character flaws are what makes Jessica so charming. I can only speak for myself, but I am sure there are many other comic book fans who can relate to Jessica’s anxiety issues, which is what makes her such a great choice to be one of the leads for this book. This is a character who has an easier time fighting Darkseid than dealing with the social interaction of meeting Simon’s family. If you are only going to try one issue to see if this series is for you, I highly recommend issue #15 called “A Day in the Life.” It is a wonderfully done issue that shows just how debilitating anxiety can be. Even after she’s gained confidence from her superhero adventures, Jessica still has days where getting out of bed feels like a herculean task. And that’s where the real story of her courage comes in – knowing that she is not the bravest, she still makes herself get up and face the world. It’s a great message for the audience: a magic ring does not solve issues like anxiety overnight, it is a long journey made easier by a good support system.
The real heart of this series comes from the partnership that develops between Jessica and Simon. When Jessica is struggling in issue #15, who shows up to support her and make her pancakes? Her partner. In the beginning of the series, they want nothing to do with each other and their mistrust of each other almost prevents them from saving the world. The relationship that develops between them in such a short amount of time feels completely organic and shows that neither one of them could have been successful as a Green Lantern on their own, nor do I think this series would have been nearly as successful without either of these characters in it. They needed to rely on each other’s strengths and weaknesses to realize their full potential. It is also incredibly refreshing that the dynamic between them never reads as a “will-they-won’t-they” romantic situation – to have a man and woman have a pure friendship is something that is rare in all of pop culture not just comics.
Narratively, the success of the series comes from the fact that Green Lanterns plays with the existing mythos but does not get bogged down by the weight of it. Hal Jordan and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps are off having space adventures in their own book, while this series focuses on the two rookie Green Lanterns learning to work together and trying to keep the planet safe. Much like the Kyle Rayner revamp in the 90s, this series feels fresh and offers a great jumping-on point for the franchise. Humphries’ writing style really adds to the book’s accessibility in that he eschews modern decompressed storytelling tendencies to tell individual issues that can stand on their own, even when part of a larger arc. The issues almost feel like throwbacks at times, with each issue starting off with narration boxes explaining who the characters are and what peril they are facing that issue. Humphries also adds great moments of humor to the series that help keep the book feeling light even when they are facing serious threats.
In a time where the need for diversity has become a rallying cry in the comics industry, a book like Green Lanterns shows exactly why characters like Simon and Jessica are needed. Just about anybody can pick up this book and find something to relate to. It is fitting that one of the main villains they have fought so far is a white man whose biggest flaw is that he feels entitled to the power of the Green Lantern ring. The Phantom Lantern says he wants to be a hero and even makes attempts at performing heroic acts but his downfall is that he is literally privilege personified. Simon and Jessica’s success as Green Lanterns comes from them questioning why their rings chose them. Jessica is worried that she is not enough for the ring while Simon is worried that the ring is not enough for him. The balance they find through their partnership creates a comic that has the potential to impact so many different people.