After DC Comics shook the foundation of its relaunched universe last week with Superman and Wonder Woman kissing, today the company is introducing its first high-profile Arab-American hero — Simon Baz, the newest man to wear the Green Lantern ring.
In the story, Baz is a Dearborn Muslim and laid-off auto worker wrongly accused of terrorism when he steals a van that, unbeknownst to him, contains a bomb.
It’s part of the company’s focus on origin stories this month with four weeks of special zero-numbered issues.
“Green Lantern” No. 0 is written by DC creative chief and Metro Detroit native Geoff Johns, who’s of Lebanese descent. Johns will be in town this weekend for a book signing Friday at Green Brain Comics and for two programs Saturday at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.
“(Baz) is not a perfect character. He’s obviously made some mistakes in his life, but that makes him more compelling and relatable,” Johns says. “Hopefully (it’s) a compelling character regardless of culture or ethnic background. … But I think it’s great to have an Arab-American superhero. This was opportunity and a chance to really go for it.”
Museum researcher Matt Jaber Stiffler, who worked on the character with Johns, agrees.
“Any time you have a positive representation to combat the multitudes of negative representations, it’s a good thing,” he says. “He took his time; he’s done his research. He came to us to make sure this character isn’t going to reinforce stereotypes but will break them down.”
In the main DC Universe line, the Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force, and several people from Earth have worn the ring that gives them their powers. Baz joins a group that has included Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner and John Stewart, one of DC’s most prominent African-American characters. Alan Scott, who debuted in the 1940s, wore a different type of Green Lantern ring and was recently reintroduced as gay in a parallel universe.
Stiffler says one thing he appreciates about Baz is how he goes against the typical mainstream portrayal of Arabs and Arab-Americans.
“Arab men have typically been portrayed as meek and small in stature, so just to have a muscular-looking Arab male is unique in popular culture representations,” he says.
“I think it’s great,” says Green Brain Comics owner Dan Merritt. “I think it’s a move in the right direction. It’s part of the evolution of comics. We’ve been a little bit too male-white-American oriented.”
On the cover, Baz is coming toward the reader with an angry look and a gun, leading some readers on online forums to wonder if DC is trading a common “angry black man” stereotype for an “angry Arab” stereotype.
“They want to get people intrigued, for sure,” Stiffler says. “I shared it with a couple people on staff here. We talked about it. We thought about it from all the different angles. Once you read it, you’ll see it’s a thoughtful portrayal that blows a lot of stereotypes out of the water.”
Green Lanterns are usually chosen for their potential heroism and ability to overcome fear.
“When the Green Lantern ring lands on your hand, you’re a Green Lantern at that point,” Merritt says, “whether you’re holding a gun or holding a fire hose or holding a spatula.”
The story includes a flashback to a younger Baz watching the 9/11 attacks on television.
“Obviously, it’s affecting everybody,” says Johns, who grew up in a Lebanese Christian household and got into comics when he discovered his uncle’s old collection in his Arab grandmother’s attic. “One of the things I really wanted to show was its effect on Simon and his family in a very negative way.”
Baz also has a tattoo of the Arabic word for “courage” on his arm. Tattoos are forbidden in Islam, a point mentioned in the book but left for later development.
“I like it because I’ve been reading a lot of fan pages,” Stiffler says. “People are mixed about it,” ranging from skepticism that DC is just introducing Baz to be PC to being glad DC is introducing the character but hoping they “get it right.”
“I can assure you, it does,” says Stiffler, who has had peeks at what comes after this week’s issue. “All will be revealed.”
Baz isn’t just a one-shot character, either. He’s been mentioned in blurbs for upcoming DC comics, including an upcoming story arc running through the company’s four “Green Lantern” titles, and will play a prominent role in next year’s new “Justice League of America” book (along with the return of Vibe, a hero from Detroit).
“It’s not going to be a one-off character,” Stiffler says. “I think that’s why they spent so much time getting it right.”
Other Arab or Muslim heroes
Baz is not the first Arab or Muslim character to grace — or menace, as has historically been the case — the comic world.
Kahina the Seer: An Iranian woman with precognitive powers recently introduced by Geoff Johns as a member of the international super team the Others in DC’s “Aquaman.” She was killed by the villain Black Manta.
Dust: A young Afghan woman whose mutant ability is to manipulate sand and dust, part of Marvel Comics’ “X-Men” books.
Nightrunner: A young Muslim hero of Algerian descent reared in Paris, part of the global network of crime fighters set up by Batman alter-ego Bruce Wayne in a 2010 DC comic.
“The 99”: A team created by Naif Al-Mutawa as part of a broader mission to bring Islamic heroes and principles to the comic world. The U.S. educated psychologist from Kuwait has been gaining followers across the globe since the 2006 debut of the comic book that spawned a TV series. “The 99” is named after the number of qualities the Quran attributes to God: strength, courage, wisdom and mercy among them.
Meet Geoff Johns
The DC Comics creative chief and Metro Detroit native will make three local appearances:
Signing at Green Brain Comics
5-7 p.m. Friday
13210 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
Limited to first 125 people who purchase comic at the store between today and Friday and receive a ticket. Fans also are limited to having no more than two items signed.
Presentations at Arab American National Museum
1 p.m. Saturday, creating comics and superheroes for youth 11-14
Invite only, but a few spots may be available by calling (313) 624-0205
4 p.m. Saturday, Geoff Johns career retrospective and QA
Free and open to the public
13624 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
The Associated Press contributed.