by Sean McPhillimy Taylor, the CBU’s Green Arrow
Our west coast brother reviews DC’s Green Lanterns Rebirth series, and makes a very compelling case for this run written by Sam Humphries.
There has been much debate in recent years over the push for more diversity of characters, from different races to different sexual preferences to religions. With DC’s Rebirth, one of their two Green Lantern universe books, titled Green Lanterns, DC went with two minority leads: JESSICA CRUZ and SIMON BAZ, the latter not only being Black but also a Muslim. Both characters had been briefly established by Geoff Johns during DC’s New 52 era; Simon more so than Cruz, who was only in Johns’ final Justice League arc, whereas Simon existed for the entirely of the New 52 era. Neither had been the true star of their own book.
While DC had certainly used New 52, especially their DC You initiative post-Convergence to increase their diversity of creators and characters, would this new Green Lanterns book truly be a book with fully developed characters that happened to be non-White, and for that matter, end up having to deal with issues that affect people of color? And in America, the prejudices that Muslims face? Or would they be minority-in-skin-color-only with some cliché stereotypes? And would they truly be ingrained in the mythos and core of who and what the Green Lanterns are? How tied to the larger DC U would they be made?
In the Green Lantern: Rebirth One-Shot issue, co-written by Geoff Johns and Sam Humphries, they start with a Guardian having created something, but needing to keep it secret, and currently being chased. As the scene plays out, narrated is the history of the main four Green Lantern characters that at various times have held the mantle as The Green Lantern of Earth: HAL JORDAN, JOHN STEWART, GUY GARDNER, and KYLE RAYNER. In doing so, they explain how each was unique and the differences they brought to the Green Lanterns Corps and why each was important at the time. What this does is allow Humphries to distinguish what makes Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, who end up tasked with guarding earth together with a shared power battery by Hal, special and unique.
Johns and Humphries quickly establish rather strong emotional issues for each; as the run goes on, at times these emotional issues become debilitating weaknesses, often at the worst possible time where the one suffering has to be saved by the one still going strong. While this can feel repetitive a bit for the first 15 or so issues, it also makes sense. No one who suffers from extreme anxiety (Cruz) and self-doubt (Baz) ever truly overcomes it permanently. It is an ongoing battle for most of one’s life.
Giving Green Lanterns extreme anxiety and self-doubt is arguably the most fascinating choice DC could have made, because the entire point of being a Green Lantern is the ability to overcome great fear. Here we have two characters that struggle daily with, as far as the ring is concerned, a lack of willpower, which is the true power that drives the Lantern rings, yet both were chosen despite that.
Humphries was not afraid to immediately make relevant Simon Baz’s Islamic faith and the issues of prejudice that creates for him and his family. When we first see him, he is getting rid of the word “terrorist” that was painted on his sister’s garage—for the third time. While this does not stay a theme in the book, it is at least shown and I would hope gets addressed again at some point. I have no problem with a super hero book tackling current, real life truths.
Adding another layer, Sam Humphries has involved their daily lives with their families throughout his run. Simon’s strenuous relationship with his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew; Jessica Cruz with her sister. The point is, DC and Humphries did not simply create some kind of token minority-in-skin-color-only characters that end up being some sort of cliché, but rather fully developed people with different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Nor are they relying on legacy characters to bail them out of trouble consistently; they continually have to figure things out together and help build each other up.
Intertwining Cruz and Baz into the Lanterns Mythos
Sam Humphries started his run with a fairly straight forward arc pitting Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz against the Red Lanterns who were causing havoc on earth, but ended it with a nice successful building block of working together for the duo and began the larger arc weaved throughout the run to date (issue 25) that began in the Rebirth One-Shot, involving RAMI, the ROGUE GUARDIAN who had been “banished forever ago for doing . . . the unthinkable.” What he did was build The Phantom Ring that could be used by anyone who picks it up. It can also activate the entire Lanterns color spectrum, giving the wearers dominant emotion at the time.
After a brief two-issue arc (#s 7 and 8) of developing the families of Cruz and Baz, a man named FRANK LAMINSKI is created and given a back story of always following the various Green Lanterns, always wanting to be one. It becomes his life’s goal. Laminski ends up manipulated by VOLTHOOM, the First Lantern, to go after the Phantom Ring. After getting it, Cruz and Baz have to deal with Laminski, facing each color lantern in the process as he is not capable of controlling the ring and its reactions to his emotions.
As this continues, all while the Green Lanterns are still unaware of Volthoom,
series writer Humphries is continually building the background of the Lanterns’ GUARDIANS OF THE UNIVERSE, Rami’s relationship to them, and Volthoom’s back story. Meaning, while developing and growing two new characters, Humphries is also exploring the core of the Green Lanterns mythology, making them a part of the extension, or continuation of it.
In a two-issue story (#s 17 and 18) where BATMAN calls them for help with a situation in Gotham, at the end, Batman tells Simon Baz the reasons he never liked, or could never work with, Hal Jordan or Guy Gardner, but that in Simon Baz, he felt like he finally had a Green Lantern he could operate with. That made it beyond clear that DC plans for Baz and Cruz to be firmly woven into the DC Universe to work with the legacy characters of the DC U, not simply always be bailed out by them (even if yes, at times, the legacy characters give them some helpful mentoring advice). They are being developed to stand on their own. It also says a lot that both are in the current ongoing Justice League book, developing friendships and trust with the premier team.
Eventually Humphries writes three-issue arc (#s 22-24) where Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz finally get called back to the planet Mogo, the official home of the Green Lanterns, for official Green Lantern training. While Baz had already done it, it was time for him to be trained further. This was Cruz’s first time. In an interesting choice, Humphries paired Cruz with Guy Gardner and Baz with Kyle Rayner. This made for some interesting and entertaining moments that certainly helped make Cruz and Baz better Lanterns. It was also an opportunity for Jessica Cruz to meet the rest of the Green Lanterns, such as KILOWOG, John Stewart and Hal Jordan, let alone Rayner and Gardner.
With the 25th issue out last week, it finally starts what should be the final arc of dealing with Volthoom, the First Lantern. I look forward to the culmination of Sam Humphries’ woven overarching arc throughout his run. I am excited to see what he has planned next.
Saving the best for last, I need to say that to date, the best part of Sam Humphries run has been the friendship, the deep bond Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz are developing. He is building their friendship with kindness, empathy, and mutual respect, with a heartfelt sense of being there for one another when needed. He is doing all of this without any sense of pawing for one another, or romance at all. No cliché CW love angle here, just simple friendship and camaraderie as fellow heroes. Not every male and female friendship actually ever becomes more, and the fact that Humphries is willing to not take that cliché route is a testament to his writing and the quality of the story being told.
The other strength of Humphries run is that he is intelligently developing the antagonists in a way that makes them actual people with depth and motivations. They are not simply some blank canvas stand-in villain of the moment. He understands that great stories do not require the main characters to be “on screen” at all times, only experiencing the story through their lens. Experiencing the other side of a story gives it far more depth and impact.
Sean has read and enjoyed comics avidly for about 5 years now. His favorite genre is Sci-Fi, just like with TV and movies. Despite him never doing Sci-Fi, his favorite writer currently is Cullen Bunn. One thing Sean definitely laments is the excessive covers practice of the industry.