artist: Doug Mahnke
What's most impressive about Green Lantern these days may be obvious, but it needs to be stated, because I think it's being taken for granted: the introduction of an entirely new human member of the Corps. Since last September's #0 we've been following Simon Baz, alleged terrorist and man riddled with guilt over an accident that left his sister's husband in a coma.
I want to contend, finally, that Simon is the most interesting addition to the Corps since Hal Jordan. Yes, this means that I think he's more fascinating than John Stewart and Guy Gardner (who only became interesting when he developed a chip on his shoulder), both of whom were basically not Hal Jordan. Simon is more compelling than Kyle Rayner, even, whose claim to fame is being the "alley rat" (Sinestro's description) who was at one point the last Green Lantern. Simon is the first one since Hal to have a story happening to him that has nothing to do with being or becoming Green Lantern.
Some critics have found caveats to the character, that he is both inspired and hackneyed. I'd go with the former rather than the latter, obviously. He's the first significant Arab-American, post-9/11 or otherwise, in mainstream comics. That Geoff Johns paints him as a suspected terrorist, even if due to circumstances more than personality, is a much-needed addressing of the times we live in, whether related to 9/11 or the Arab Spring. The truth is Americans are still grappling with their relationship to the Middle East, regardless of the twin wars that have been fought there for the past decade. Simon is one way to finally get working on this.
In the two issues being considered here, Simon is still learning the ropes any new member of the Corps must figure out, including the limits of the ring's charge and discovering their colleagues. As usually happens in comics, the circumstances are less than ideal. Simon has just tracked down the man who actually loaded the truck full of explosives he himself was caught driving, unaware of the cargo, and Agent Fed (who I'm still hoping will be developed into a distinctive supporting member of Simon's cast). The ring runs out of juice, the Guardians' Third Army attacks, and a Green Lantern who happens to look like a squirrel shows up.
The middle detail is just one element of why Geoff's approach is working so well. He's chosen to keep Simon out of the "Rise of the Third Army" crossover event, allowing Peter Tomasi and Tony Bedard in other books from the franchise to run with that story. Simon is firmly focused on his own. Most writers would have preferred the traditional trial by fire, yet Geoff remains firm. Simon has a specific mission in mind, his personal redemption, first in clearing his name, and then in #16 making good for his brother-in-law.
That's a crucial, defining moment as well. B'dg cautions him that he can't use his ring like that, but Simon persists, concentrating all his will on the man in the coma. Incredibly, significantly, he's successful. Each Green Lantern, every human Green Lantern, has a distinctive story, even if their arc takes some time to explore, and a particular approach to using their ring. They have individual strengths, which was something Geoff developed as far back as Green Lantern: Rebirth. This is the first sign that Simon continues that tradition.
B'dg also helps him access messages from Sinestro and Hal, currently lost in a nether region, warning of the threat the Guardians pose. Sinestro also reveals that he instructed the ring to find someone like himself, which should add an interesting wrinkle to future stories. Like Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, or the arc Sinestro has taken, there may be dark times ahead in Simon's future, which makes it all the more significant that he follows this message with the big moment of saving his best friend.
I've been saying since the start of this New 52 reboot that this is arguably the strongest material of Geoff's tenure with the franchise, which may sound odd considering how long he's been at it now and the big stories he's already told. Sometimes it's not the big stories, though. He's only now getting to the heart of Green Lantern, and he's using a new character to reach it.