DEARBORN — “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.”
For decades, that oath has been spoken by Green Lantern, a DC Comics superhero who is also a member of an intergalactic police force called The Green Lantern Corps.
In 2012, a man from Dearborn became a Green Lantern: Simon Baz, a Lebanese American Muslim, created by Dearborn native Geoff Johns, whose father is Lebanese.
During a Sept. 8, 2012 presentation at the Arab American National Museum, Johns, chief creative officer at DC Entertainment, said he couldn’t think of any existing Arab American superheroes.
“That kind of bummed me out, actually,” he said. “So I decided to create an Arab American superhero. I didn’t want that to define who he was, but I wanted it to be in the DNA of who he is.”
Johns also spoke about Baz last July, at an event called “Greenest Night”, when he was honored in Los Angeles for his nine-year run on “Green Lantern.” In an “Evening with Geoff Johns” interview, he said he wanted to talk about cultural fear in “Green Lantern.”
“The best thing about Green Lantern— and this is for anyone who ever writes the character— is that fear is never going to be out of date,” Johns said. “Dan DiDio [co-publisher of DC Comics] said something that was really smart. He said Batman’s parents could have died 70 years ago or tomorrow, and he’s still relevant. Superman can land here 70 years ago or today and it’s still relevant. And I think Green Lantern, as long as you’re dealing with fear, it’s always going to be relevant.”
Members of the Green Lantern Corps are supposed to be without fear. Johns has addressed that emotion in various ways, including in the six issue mini series “Green Lantern: Rebirth”, which he said grew out of 9/11.
“9/11 happened and two years later I’m writing about fear,” Johns said in the “Evening with Geoff Johns” interview. “I mean it’s obviously connected. That affected everybody in so many ways.”
He said Simon Baz was the next step to that. Johns added that a lot of his family members on his father’s side have had to deal with different concerns in the wake of 9/11.
“Just getting on a plane is a pain in the ass,” he said. “So I wanted to write something about cultural fear, so Simon grew out of that. And I knew I was going to get some flack for it from certain groups, from, personally, I think racist reactions.”
Simon Baz isn’t the first Geoff Johns creation to have been inspired by his own family. In 1999, he created Courtney Whitmore— Stargirl— who was named for his late sister. Whitmore first appeared in the series “Stars and Stripes”, which concerned a stepfather/stepdaughter superhero team. Since his introduction two years ago, Simon Baz has somewhat faded into the background at DC Comics, perhaps due to the fact that not long after the character appeared, Johns ended his run as writer of “Green Lantern.”
But what sort of impact did Simon Baz have, locally? Dan Merritt, owner of Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, said Baz was widely popular among his customers.
“Not only was he well received by our regular customers, but he was also a huge draw for people from the surrounding Arab American communities that may not have been exposed to comic books up to that point,” Merritt said via E-Mail.
He added that Baz’s first appearance in “Green Lantern” #0 in 2012 was Green Brain’s best selling comic since the “Death of Superman” storyline in 1992.
“Throughout his run in the series, it outsold Batman in our store,” Merritt said. “Sure, it’s because Simon was from Dearborn and was strongly identified with the Arab American community. But also because it was a great story, with a strong lead character, and dynamic art from Doug Mahnke.”
When first introduced, Simon Baz— who’d grown up in an anti-Arab/Anti-Islamic post-9/11 world— has resorted to stealing cars after having been laid off from his auto industry job. One night, he steals a van, only to discover it contained explosives about to detonate. With no clue how to disarm the explosives, he drives the van into the now-abandoned factory where he used to work, leaving a “this isn’t what it looks like” message to his sister, Sira, as he does so.
Simon is able to flee from the van in time, but is arrested and— he’s certain— detained somewhere outside the U.S. The feds, including an agent named Franklin Fed, assume Baz is a terrorist because he drove the stolen van into factory where he’d worked. Baz replies that he did so because he knew the factory was empty.
“I’m a car thief, not a terrorist.”
A Green Lantern’s power ring finds its way to Baz as he’s about to be tortured and Baz escapes, determined, among other things, to prove his innocence. Baz later discovers that the real terrorist was a man named Edward Wale, who had left the van under a railroad bridge with the explosives timed to go off when a train passed over. He proves this to Agent Fed’s satisfaction, but all the evidence of his innocence is destroyed. Soon after, Baz becomes involved in more “big picture” stuff involving the entire Green Lantern Corps.
According to Merritt, creative changes in the “Green Lantern” series pushed Baz even further away from the spotlight.
“It’s tough to say why DC pulled back on a character that they wanted to push so enthusiastically,” he said. “Maybe he didn’t ‘test well’ in the bigger market. Maybe, as Bruce Timm attests when speaking on the subject of superhero animation aimed at girls, it didn’t sell enough merchandise. Whatever the reasons, the current storyline in the Green Lantern mythos is selling a ridiculously small amount comparatively.”
He added that there may be, “a small ray of green light” shining though.
“Geoff Johns teased back in June, that though the ‘Justice League of America’ title was slated for cancellation, there are plans at DC for Simon Baz,” Merritt said. “According to solicitations, an upcoming story in the Red Lanterns series will feature Baz. Let’s hope this might lead to a bigger role for our hometown hero.”
For his part, Merritt said he believes Simon Baz is a great character who, “showed very positive character traits, a very unique appearance, and plenty of potential for character growth.”
He also pointed out that Baz is loyal to his family and friends and is a very strong-willed individual (a requirement for a Green Lantern). Baz’s loyalty to his family extends to his risking capture by using his ring to awaken his best friend and brother-in-law— who was in a coma as a result of a crash while drag-racing with Baz.
“And more importantly, the ability to learn from his mistakes and come back smarter and stronger,” Merritt added. “In this current media landscape, far too few lead character can claim all of those characteristics.”
Merritt also believes Simon Baz was a “no-brainer” for success in Dearborn and metro Detroit.
“Sure his ethnicity played a big role in that, but Simon was also street smart,” he said, adding that Baz was a classic rebel who made some bad decisions early on. “But he came back from that. Sure it was a struggle, and plenty of folks around him weren’t too sure he could do it. Simon proved to himself, his family and the whole world, that he could come back from a setback and be a true hero. That’s where his real appeal lies.”
While Simon Baz is the first major Muslim superhero published by DC Comics, he’s not the first Muslim superhero to have a metro Detroit connection.
Although the characters of Cheops and Shamal weren’t from Detroit— or even the United States— they were created by the publishers of the metro Detroit-based Caliber Press and appeared in Caliber’s offshoot, Gauntlet Comics.
In the early 1990s, Gauntlet Comics published a short-lived series called “U.N. Force”, as well as a companion series called “U.N. Force Files.”
The members of the U.N. Force were based around the globe and were of varying ethnicities, political ideologies and faiths. Cheops was Ahmad Mahfouz al-Aqqad, an Egyptian genetic engineer, whose powers came from three different helmets, representing a falcon (flight), a hippo (strength) and a fox (telepathy).
Shamal was Ibn Muhammed Hassan el-Saud, a prince of the Saudi royal family. He had the ability to emit enormous bio-electrical fields and to fly.
Last year, Marvel comics introduced Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old girl from New Jersey whose parents had emigrated from Pakistan. Khan— who has shape-shifting abilities— has taken on the mantle of the new Ms. Marvel. Her adventures are being penned by writer G. Willow Wilson. Merritt said his biggest hope with respect to the character of Simon Baz is that, “one day the Green Lantern of Dearborn will once again be a main character of a great story and the face of a strong and proud city, instead of a fading memory of a once strong drive for cultural diversity.”