Sunday, 9 September 2012

Green Lantern #0 review

So here's the debut of DC's latest Green Lantern, Simon Baz. We meet him on September 11, 2001, a young boy watching the Twin Towers atrocity on TV with his family. As the years pass, we see the climate of suspicion facing Arab Americans. And then it's today, and Simon has stolen a van and is being pursued by police. That's when he notices that there's a timer counting down ... the vehicle contains a bomb.

He manages to steer the van to a deserted factory and leaps out before the explosion. Arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay as a terror suspect, he's fighting back against an interrogator's brutal assault when a Green Lantern ring appears, declares Simon to have the ability to overcome great fear, zaps him with green energy and whisks him away, unconscious.

This puts Simon on the radar of the Justice League, Amanda Waller and some blue monster. As Simon sleeps on a beach, his ring glows with a message. And out in space, Green Lanterns Sinestro and Hal Jordan are lost.

As this is his first appearance, it's tough to assess what kind of a man Simon is - brave, certainly, given his resistance at Guantanamo (he has the word 'courage' tattooed on his arm, perhaps to inspire him). And he loves his family. But stealing motor vehicles? He's not mugging anyone, but every crime leaves a victim; unless the GL rings are as twisted as the current version of the Guardians of the Universe, why pick Simon as a member of their intergalactic police force? Courage is good, but shouldn't honesty - or, giving Simon the benefit of the doubt, good judgment - be a given?

This issue also introduces us to someone I'm guessing is a new character, Agent Fed, a name Simon properly notes as tautological - as a sub-editor by day, that rather endears him to me. Fed is in Amanda Waller's favour, and his son died on 9/11, according to his obnoxious younger boss, Crippen (oh please!). There's also Luis the torturer, who may wind up the first person to feel the glowing green fist of the latest Green Lantern.

The script's not bad, but it doesn't make me anxious to follow Simon's journey. I found it hard to just settle into Green Lantern #0 as a story. DC's media campaign - 'Hey, we got a Muslim guy now' - feels crass, risking that Simon will be an issue rather than a character. It's fair enough to set out to illustrate that good men and true can come from any faith background, insultingly obvious as that notion is. But introducing Simon as a car thief and having him carry a handgun in promotional art muddy the messages somewhat. Oh sure, he's been laid off from his job as a car engineer and needs money to help his single parent sister (betcha her kid is sick). And he's holding a prison guard's gun when hit by the Oan energy, so perhaps the sidearm becomes linked to him. But still, Simon's a car thief with a gun. And he's going to be wearing a rather sinister mask. I dunno.

I also dunno why the fifth Green Lantern from Earth has to be a guy - can't the rings work with the human X chromasome?

And tying his origin to 9/11? While that may make Simon seem more real-world, linking heroes to non-fictional events is simply daft, as Marvel found after having Reed Richards and Ben Grimm fight in the Second World War and Tony Stark injured in Korea. You either have to occasionally update the references to more recent wars, or forget them. Given that writer Geoff Johns isn't stupid, I suspect Simon Baz isn't intended as a long-term deal. 

Penciller Doug Mahnke draws Simon as a good-looking guy, and his storytelling shines, with three inkers not harming the overall look. I'd like to have seen the new Green Lantern in costume and action, but that was never likely in this age of drawn-out tales. What we do see on the page is compelling, especially the scene showing the arrival of the ring.

Well-crafted as it is, I didn't enjoy this book enough to guarantee I'll be back next month. I really don't see why another male Green Lantern is needed - it's not like the stunt background couldn't be applied to a woman. And I'm not invested in current Oan events, into which this book wll be tying (I just want one GL book mostly set on Earth and not constantly feeding off the GL mythology). But I'll watch for Simon in upcoming Justice League comics, and see if I take to him.

21 comments:

  1. I actually had to Google this the first time I heard about it to know for sure it wasn't a gag.

    The Muslim faith doesn't allow tattoos, he wears a balaclava - a garment traditionally associated with terrorism and armed robbery - as a mask, the opening salvo in his origin is to reference 911, he's waving a gun at the face of the reader on the cover and that's the first image we have of him... cautious optimism is one thing, but sometimes it's okay to call BS. Crass and ill-conceived, no matter what is done later to salvage the premise by other writers, it doesn't change that this is a book where an Arab waves a gun at readers while the story reminds them all about 911. God almighty.

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    1. I never knew that about tattoos and the Muslim faith, Brigonos - I wonder if Geoff Johns will address this.

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    2. Islam also has a dress code that emphasises modesty, so this being DC, I'm not sure it would have been much better if their new Islamic character had been female. Remember popular star of children's cartoons Starfire and how that turned out in the reboot?

      I sometimes wonder if I worry too much about unimportant details of superhero funnybooks about people with laser eyes or talking space horses, but if you're going to do something with a social impact and go out of your way to push it as such in the media, I think the details are very important to get right, like when Paul Cornell reached out to female Muslims before he put Faiza Hussain down on paper, just in case he missed out on some nuance of experience of being a female Muslim in the north of England and it came through on the page - though I don't know if it makes it better or worse that Cornell put that effort in for a character in a fringe title while DC can't manage the same for one of their flagships.

      The Baz character could be a lapsed or not very devout Muslim, admittedly, but then why push him as "Muslim" in all their hype if that element of his personality is so unimportant to who he is? As I say, it seems crass and unthinking, but after the fact retcons (once all the hype has disappeared) can work wonders...

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    3. I didn't know about Paul Cornell's research re: Faiza in MI:13 - he's a good chap, isn't he?

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    4. The tattoo issue is actually addressed in the comic - Crippen (or Fed, can't remember) mentions that tattoos are forbidden in Islam, and Simon replies "you sound like my dad".

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    5. Thanks Neil - now I remember, I meant to look up 'haram'. An editor's note would've been useful!

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    6. It was Fed - though he just says "I though tattoos were haram in Islam?" and it's never followed up or explained (or as you point out, Martin, the meaning of the word "haram" is not explained to the reader).
      The Cliff Notes version is that (deliberate) permanent changing of Allah's creation is frowned upon in Islam, so no cosmetic surgery and definately no tattoos, which are viewed as being an emulation of the appearance of unbelievers and considered unclean and deceptive because they cause infection and obscure the body.

      Of course, Islam also forbids theft, so we could be supposed to think that Baz isn't a real Muslim, but then why promote him as one?

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    7. I've seen a fair few news stories around how Geoff Johns is selling this book to Arab-Americans, and people have seemed interested. But are there any reviews from A-As who've actually read the issue, Brigonos?

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  2. In brightest day, in blackest night, No cliche or trope shall escape my sight....Thanks for the review Martin, this issue sounds like one to avoid...

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  3. I thought it worth a shot. Oh well, it looks like I won't get a GL book I live anytime soon.

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  4. It would have been so amazingly awesome, to me at least, if the ring had chosen a Moslem woman, and not from the USA, but from an actual Islamic nation. It's almost insulting to the intellect at this point that the GL Rings only choose American humans, not to mention all male humans, to be Green Lanterns.

    There would be an amazing amount of personal drama if a writer could tackle, with tact and class, the inner turmoil such a woman might face in becoming a Green Lantern while trying to put her own cultural and religious restrictions into practice.

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    1. Hi Hector, thanks so much for your comments. It really is weird that DC's Green Lantern default is American citizen, it's not like they don't know that they have a huge international audience. The scenario you suggest would prove fascinating.

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  5. Well here is a surprise. Wasn't expecting you to review this at all. The allure of Green Lantern can never be escaped! Bwa ha ha ha ha!

    *Cough* Anyhow, I just realized something. This week was the final week for Night Force, a mini-series that has been forgotten by most everyone but still exists regardless. If you read it, what did you think? Good wrap up? I'm getting it in my orders this week.

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    1. Ive been a Green Lantern fan since I was a little boy, I'm always hoping for a chance to hop back on the Oan bus. Sadly, this isn't the time for me.

      I'll get to Night Force tonight, with luck. maybe do a wee review tomorrow. But I've been enjoying this series enormously.

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  6. Good call on Night Force's old school thrills!
    I'll similarly shout out for Transformers: Regeneration, as it has a resonance for old-school Marvel UK fans seeing as it continues Simon Furman's plots from the UK weekly and his brief stint wrapping up the US monthly series. I normally don't care much for the various TF books, but this one seems unashamedly aimed at chasing older readers with an optimism that borders on insanity.

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    1. I've never read a Transformers comic, but I do like the sound of the new series, Brigonos.

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  7. I think right on him not lasting too long; i give a year tops as soon as Hal & Sinestro are back good buy Baz.

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    1. I wonder if Ladbrokes are taking bets ...

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  8. This book sounds horreendously politically correct to the extreme.
    For the past several years Ive been trying to get one of my best friends, who is actually Muslim [yes, yes, I KNOW that sounds like the worlds biggest cliche, but its actually true] to read comics, a medium she was unfamiliar with for a long time.
    She loved Witchblade, and recent runs of JLI, Batwoman and worships at the feet of Wonder Woman [but then, dont we all *wistful sigh*] but will I recommend this turd after these negative reviews? Will I bollocks [and I have lovely bolloc...er, changing the subject]. Itd be better if she dosent see this travesty.
    No doubt DC are patting themselves on their collective backs for this most appalling line in promoting 'Diversity'. Ive seen two pages online and it reads like some New Labour box-ticking diversity project dreamt up by someone who feels 'uncomfortable' at the lack of Muslim/black/Asian [continue to fill in any appropriate blank depending on what youre pissed off by on any particular day] and wanted to rectify the matter. From the little Ive seen this is insensitive at least, offensive at worst.
    I wont be recommending it to her, needless to say.
    Right, Im off to Harrods.

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    1. If you have only seen little, how much do you really know about it?

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    2. Harrods, eh, Karl? I can't wait to se what you get me.

      Nice one on helping your friend get into comics. I dunno about keeping GL#0 away from her, it might be interesting to hear her perspective. You could always show her a copy without recommending it. Heck, I could send her my copy!

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