Simon Baz forms the newest addition to DC Comics’ Green Lantern series, but does his character have any longevity or is his purpose solely to appeal to an Arab audience?
“In brightest day, in blackest night, let no evil escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lanterns light.”
This is the Oath of ‘The Green Lantern Corps’ – an organisation of intergalactic protectors of the universe, aided only by their will-powered rings forged by the Guardians of the Universe (a group of eight or so small blue Yoda-like aliens). The Corps members originate from a multitude of planets spread across the galaxy, each member specifically chosen by their ring to bear its power. Yes, the ring chooses! But the basis of the rings’ choice? Will power. The rings are attracted to those with strong will power, enabling them the powers of flight, space travel, and the ability to give any construct they imagine physical form. Bullets, cages, giant baseball bats – anything. The Green Lantern is easily one of my favourite comic book superheroes.
Another key attribute of the Green Lantern is that there are many of them. The rings choose whoever they want, unbound by space, but their numbers are limited. As one bearer dies, the ring finds a new crusader to continue to fight the good fight. The comic book series has had numerous characters play the Green Lantern since its first conception, all sharing the same general powers but each coming from a different background. Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern primarily used in the early comic books and in the 2011 film, was a US Air Force Pilot who watched his father die in a plane crash while he was young. Guy Gardner was a pretty rough-edged Green Lantern, but one who still acts for the side of good and the Lantern Corps. John Stewart, an African-American who formerly served in the US Marines, was the Green Lantern selected for the Justice League TV show that aired in the early 2000s (a superhero team of Superman, Batman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, etc). Kyle Rayner, the most recent Lantern and the second most recent Lantern used in the comics, is a struggling graphic artist, also from the United States. And we can’t forget Alan Scott, the original character created to wield the ring.
The newest Lantern created by the writers is Simon Baz, an Arab-American from Detroit whose journey towards becoming a Green Lantern was sparked by 9/11 and the backlash on his community. The first pages of the comic show briefly the chain of events from 9/11 to the present day that helped mould the character, like having to clean graffiti off the side of his Islamic centre, protecting his sister from prejudiced mobs, and growing accustomed to racial stereotyping causing the necessity for routine searches at the airport.
Simon Baz may have the background and upbringing necessary to build a strong character, but the key difference between him and other Lanterns is that the others have pretty much been ‘All-American’. Hal Jordan and John Stewart served in the US Air Force and the US Marines respectively, whereas Simon Baz finds himself held captive in Guantanamo Bay. Simon Baz, however, is and does consider himself an American, an aspect of his character that’s made apparent in a little back and forth with his interrogators whilst held in Guantanamo. His academic background is another intriguing feature, as he holds a degree in automotive engineering. His history interestingly influences how he uses his ring and what he chooses to create with it. With two soldiers and a graphic designer all in the ranks of Earth’s Green Lanterns, a more technical and calculated ring bearer arises!
But was this a strategic ploy by DC to increase their appeal to the Arab consumer? As a fan of the character in general, I don’t think so. The deviations from the core allegiances and character traits of most of the other Lanterns gave the writers more avenues to explore a different kind of hero’s story. But does the character have longevity, or will he be another mediocre hero? This will depend on many factors. For example, Simon Baz’s costume; even amongst the designs of the other Lanterns it falls short, but this is trivial. I believe the key factor as to whether a character will genuinely have longevity is a combination of the character’s personality, upbringing, ideals and the writers’ ingenuity in creating stories to test the characters mettle.
Simon Baz’s personality, having fought most of his life, isn’t as strong as some of the other DC characters, but his Lantern era has only started. He has had the kind of upbringing to build a strong character, but comparing the events of his upbringing against some of the more traumatic events that writers have created for other characters, Simon seems to fall short. For example, Bruce Wayne, or Batman, has one of the most well-known character stories among all superheroes, while Simon Baz’s journey from 9/11 to the Lantern ring seems like too smooth a ride. But then again, it’s only been the first issue, and I’m sure the writers have incorporated other events in the character’s background to make it more interesting.
In conclusion, does Simon Baz as one of the first Arab-American superheroes have the longevity to become a genuine fan favourite? It depends, and we’ll only be able to figure that out as the character’s story is told. This is more an opportunity for a new type of superhero, as opposed to his conception only being geared towards appealing to the Arab community. I’m sure he will appeal to them as characters such as John Stewart appealed to me when I was a kid, though I hope this superficial reason isn’t the only reason for Simon Baz’s creation, so fingers crossed. His costume still sucks though!
Image from: http://www.comicvine.com/simon-baz/29-84895/all-images/108-644071/gl_13/105-2503574/
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