Green Lantern #0 Introduces First Arab-American Protagonist [Exclusive Interview]
A new breed of superhero is born. Geoff Johns sits down with Buzzfeed to talk about Simon Baz and writing a Muslim Lantern.
BF: So when Simon enters the continuity on September 5th, the Earth Lanterns are in somewhat of a state of disarray, from what I read?
GJ: Exactly. Right before this new guy is recruited to the Corps, the Guardians of the Universe who created the Lanterns billions of years ago have decided it was a big mistake and they're going to shut them down. That the best thing to do is to convert everyone to a hivemind sentient being called the Third Army.
BF: So wait, there's like the Borg now? They're going to assimilate everyone?
GJ: They're behaving kinda just like the Borg. They think free will is a mistake. Sentient beings get to make choices and that causes problems. They shouldn't be able to make choices, they should just live in harmony and more of an insect hive. They think that's going to be a better way, which clearly it's not…
BF: Best of intentions though!
GJ: Yes, so that's where we end up when this guy, Simon, who's an out of work auto engineer turned car thief is sucked into this whole crazy universe, this intergalactic war.
BF: Now I don't want to give to much away but Green Lantern #0 definitely deals with some heavy, sensitive issues for Americans. How and why did you come up with that particular backstory for Simon Baz?
GJ: I really want to create a character, you know I'm from MIchigan, so I really wanted to create a character that was from Dearborn and the culture, the ethnic background, everything associated with that, from the fact that he's an automotive engineer to being Arab American. I worked with the Arab American National Museum; I got them the script beforehand because I wanted to give it a sense of authenticity.
BF: That's awesome you went through so much research to make sure it was an authentic representation of Arab American culture.
GJ: Absolutely. You know my father is Lebanese, so I'm Arab American on that side. However, I was raised in a Christian household and Simon was raised in a Muslim one and I really wanted to explore the difference between. Not everyone who is Arab American is Muslim and not everyone who is Muslim is Arab American. I think there's a lot of misconceptions about what Arab American culture is and so when creating a character who I think is, by far and away, the most prominent Arab American superhero in DC if not in all of mainstream comics here in the US, it was really important to me to work with the Arab American National Museum to make sure it was represented correctly. To make Simon's cultural not define who he is but make it a part of the DNA of the story and be a part of what he deals with in his life. It took a lot of research, both personal and talking to a lot of other people about it and running the script by them and really making sure it was as good as possible.
And then also trying to make Simon a compelling character. Because at the end of the day, it needs to be a compelling character story. So many characters that we've created in comics were made in the 40s-60s, that creating a character of our age that grew up in a post 9/11 world was important to me. And the character is not perfect, he's a flawed character that obviously makes bad decisions. He makes a really bad one up front.
BF: I thought it was a very good read. The dialogue and the fluid backgrounds really kept the story flow going.
GJ: You know what's funny, is when I was going through the black & white the first time I got it and making notes on the dialogue, I forgot I was reading a Green Lantern comic for a little while and I liked that. I like that we started with just a normal story and it's really not until the end that it turns into a superhero comic, that last page with Sinestro and Hal. I really put that in there to let people know "No this is Green Lantern, it's just part of a bigger story."
Green Lantern has had such a great history of tackling issues of it's time, like with the creation of Jon Stewart. The whole Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, when Speedy was dealing with drug addiction. And that's what I really wanted Simon to be, was a character of our time.
BF: Speaking of characters of our time, while I was reading the issue I was really excited because Baz is a modern character, and I know with the Green Lantern Corps the only female Earth Green Lantern headliner we've had was Jade, and she was temporary. Do you know, if now that she's off doing the White Lantern thing, if there is a possibility of getting another lady fitted for a ring?
GJ: I will just say this: there's a lot of twists and turns coming up in the next year of Green Lantern. And that's all I'll say.
BF: I'll take that as a promise of not necessarily no.
BF: Earth seems to produce a lot of Lanterns. I mean, this an organization that spans thousands of worlds. Does Earth actually churn out more Green Lantern material than other planets or because we're talking about Earth's story you just don't see the other 7200 members from the alien worlds?
GJ: Obviously there have been a ton of Earth guys recruited and they still have rings. Which is hilarious. But it also, story wise, in the real world we create a human Lantern to be introductory to the bigger world but in the story Universe itself there is something inherently interesting about human themselves and why there are so many, the ring just is drawn to them because for all our faults as a society and sentient race, I think human beings have a very amazing capacity for emotion. That turns into drive and willpower, courage and compassion. I really believe in that. There is an intangibility to emotion you can't measure. Like fear. The thing I love about fear and challenging fear is it doesn't actually exist. It's all in our own heads. So the idea of fear is intangible and the same thing happens with courage and every other emotion we feel. It's something beyond our complex brains, a energy we give off and other people and animals can sense that. Not to get too philosophical but I do think there is something unique going on with us that in the comic book allow us, as humans, to become Green Lanterns.
BF: Just for fun, which Green Lantern is your personal favorite?
GJ: Oh…wow. Like, non-human Green Lantern?
BF: No, no. Out of ALL of them. You have to choose. This is your Sophie's Choice moment.
GJ: This is really hard. It's a total copout answer but my favorite Green Lantern is usually whoever I'm writing. BUT. I will say that my favorite Green Lantern is the team of Hal and Sinestro. I think those guys together are just magic. They are fun to write. The dynamic between them; they get on each other's nerves but they know each other better than anyone else. But, it's been really really enjoyable to write Simon Baz.
BF: If you were recruited into a Corps of Lanterns, what color would you be?
GJ: Green. Green for sure, with a touch of Blue. But predominantly Green. How about you?
BF: What? Oh, God. Um…as a kid I always wanted to be Green because I felt the comic book was squandering his power. Like, he can make ANYTHING he can imagine with his willpower but he always chose to do the simplest thing, like create a hammer out of energy. I'd look at that and think, "I could do sooo much better. Why have a hammer when you could make a fiery green monster chimera to eat villains? I wanted to be Green for the infinite power, which probably means I'm closer to an Orange Lantern. If you want infinite power you aren't a Green Lantern.
GJ: But that'd be a momentary lapse, right?
BF: Um, yes, of course. Anyway, is there anything you'd like to add before I let you go?
GJ: I'm really excited about the introduction of Simon Baz. I'm really proud of the book. Everyone worked really hard on it, to make it something special. And beyond introducing a new character, it also spawns into a crazy comic book cosmic insanity that is the Green Lantern Universe and it's gonna be a lot of fun.
Green Lantern #0 hit shelves today.
Bonus! Simon Baz joins the other Earth Lanterns on the cover of Green Lantern #18!
Buzzfeed: So Buzzfeed users are a mixed bag, with some of them being very comic savvy and others not so much yet, so could you could just give us a quick recap of what the Lantern Corps has been up to since the New 52 relaunched?
Geoff Johns: Sure. For people that don't read it, I think they don't realize Green Lantern is actually the Green Lantern Corps which is an intergalactic police force made up of different recruits throughout the Universe, including humans. And there have been many humans who have been inducted into the Corp and gotten a ring and become a member of this peacekeeping army; Hal Jordan, Jon Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner. Simon Baz is the newest recruit from Earth to join their ranks as Hal Jordan and Sinestro run into some problems.
BF: In other words, Green Lantern isn't just Ryan Reynolds.
GJ: Yes. You know it's interesting because Green Lantern is one of the few worlds that more than one person is the main character.