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.