[SPOILER ALERT: This article talks about major plot points from Green Lantern and Justice League comics, focusing on the history of Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. Keep going if you want to get up to speed on these characters!]
Let’s talk inside baseball for a moment: this was a bizarrely difficult article to write. The original idea was to discuss Jessica and Simon’s respective histories for new readers, but I went through five different drafts and several thousand words trying to pin down my feelings about them. I think they can be best summed up via the words of my friend and librarian colleague Kristin Lalonde, who once said of Aquaman:
In the New 52, Aquaman is aware that everyone thinks he’s dumb, but he’s still going out and saving people’s lives all the time and they’re not, they don’t really fully understand everything that Aquaman does for them cause they’re too busy, “oh Batman, he’s so cool,” whatever. Aquaman is out there saving your bacon, he’s keeping all these undersea creatures from coming up and murdering everybody, he’s doing his darn job, but he’s under-appreciated.
The Green Lanterns are among the few superheroes who are actually doing a job with their powers. There’s an hierarchy of ranks, an out-of-touch governing body, a loyalty pledge, the works. Batman, Ms. Marvel, and Squirrel Girl all chose to use their abilities the way they did: Green Lanterns were chosen and assigned. The promise of following two relatively new members through their “first shift” as buddy cops gets me excited, enough to merge a couple of Lego sets to improvise a Jessica Cruz minifigure.
There’s plenty of backstory for new readers to wade through for some scenes’ context to make complete sense. As Jessica Plummer noted about the most recent issue of Green Lanterns, “Good for newbies? Eh, you can work it out but you’d really have to want to.”
If you want to work it out, I made some notes based on scenes from that issue.
Jessica Cruz spent three years in her apartment
Jessica’s anxiety attacks and agoraphobia stem from an incident in which she and some friends were hunting and happened upon a body disposal. Her friends were chased and killed, and she holed up in her apartment for fear of being killed next. Her sister, Sara, invited her out of her shell the entire time. Jessica’s turn toward fear is what attracted the evil ring of Volthoom to take over her body, though she was able to eventually subvert its control and become worthy of induction into the Green Lantern Corps by the end of Justice League: Darkseid War. Her story arc of victimhood leading to partial control and triumphant self-actualization was peppered with assists from Batman, Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), and Cyborg, but her ultimate act of courage was entirely her own.
Simon Baz received his ring in jail
Simon was arrested under suspicion of terrorism when he crashed a van containing a bomb into an abandoned car factory. Simon stole cars for money following the economic recession, but had no idea about the car bomb and purposely steered it into the factory to avoid loss of life. With federal investigators breathing down his neck threatening torture, a green lantern ring bursts through Guantanamo’s walls to bestow itself to Simon. He flies away, but is later given an offer by Amanda Waller to clear his record in exchange for serving on the Justice League of America.
Jessica’s social anxiety and sisterly help
After saving the world as Power Ring, she’s still a nervous wreck in crowds. Nonetheless, she’s made a lot of progress, thanks in no small part to her sister. Superheroes with families are infinitely more endearing to me than lone wolves bent on avenging a distant memory, and I appreciate that Jessica, like Simon, has family to lean on. (Also, way to pass the Bechdel test!)
Simon wielding a car battery, his history with cars, and his gun
I think we can all agree that the “KONG” was an extremely well-placed sound effect, but why did Simon’s imagination and willpower summon a car battery? One of my favorite things about the light constructs of the various corps is how they reflect their owners, and this moment is no different. Simon used to street race until an accident put his brother-in-law Nazir into a coma. Combined with his time stealing cars for money, it’s no wonder that he knew how to wield automotive hardware.
Simon packed a sidearm strapped to his leg. Why would someone who can invoke thoughts into reality need a gun? Well, the Green Lantern Corps saw their share of sabotage and failure in their rings and lanterns during the past few adventures, and Simon didn’t want to lose an offensive edge in the heat of battle. Solicits for future issues claim this issue will come up again, and I hope Simon has further justification than “sometimes you just gotta shoot bad guys.”
Simon will “never be truly free of the federal government”
Coming from a Lebanese-American Muslim suspected of terrorism, this statement was already true without the Green Lantern shenanigans. The United States, home to so many superhumans, wants intelligence and countermeasures. Simon’s ring is too great a weapon for ARGUS (Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans) to ignore.
Simon’s parole officer Agent Fed, sister Sira, and her husband, Nazir
Agent Fed serves as a liaison between Simon and the federal government, despite evidence confirming Simon’s actions were not terrorism. He and his sister Sira were bullied in their youth following the events of September 11, 2001, including harassment from police and authority figures. Sira’s husband Nazir was in a coma owing to Simon’s street racing, but Simon was able to revive him with his green lantern ring.
If every Green Lantern has a unique feature among their powers, then Simon’s is the power of faith. He is the only Lantern who’s been able to heal with a ring. During Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion, Simon was the first to breach a mysterious, inter-universal portal during a losing battle, sending enough of a signal through to convince everyone else in the corps to follow. Now, with this Emerald Sight business, Simon seems to have the power of dramatic foreshadowing.
Senior Green Lanterns Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, and John Stewart have all been portrayed as practicing, if not reformed, Christians of various denominations, but it was Simon whose faith became an aspect of his ring’s abilities. I am very interested to see how this angle develops and hear more from Simon and his family about Islam. For example, his father has already commented on the inappropriateness of Simon’s “Courage” arm tattoo written in Arabic.
(Side note: Simon debuted in Green Lantern #0, released September 2012. In the second most recent issue, he told Hal he’s been a Green Lantern for three weeks. How compressed is the DC timeline here?)
Red Lanterns, hell towers, and the rage seed
Hal Jordan made an uneasy agreement with the Red Lanterns, led at the time by Red convert Guy Gardner, to inhabit and protect Earth’s sector of the galaxy in the absence of the Greens. However, the Reds need a constant supply of blood to keep their rage strong and induct new recruits. The Hell Tower seems like a first step toward terraforming (rage-a-forming?) Earth as a new base of operations. I’m split on how the Reds, particularly their leader Atrocitus and his subordinate Bleez, have been portrayed so far. On the one hand, they’re X-treme to the max, vomiting lava, spreading anger, and hoarding the blood of their victims. Atrocitus held Bleez by the throat for her entire appearance, chalking up another abusive dynamic in comics. On the other hand, they also seem like the Team Rocket of lantern corps, chasing a cartoonishly exaggerated goal to the exclusion of everything else. Earthlings are perfectly capable of generating rage on their own, thank you very much.
I have no clue what a rage seed is or how it interacts with a hell tower. They sound like objectives in the latest Doom videogame.
The most enjoyable parts of Jessica’s and Simon’s origins to me are not the seemingly grimdark themes in the murder of Jessica’s friends nor Simon’s criminal background, but their families and personal limitations. I want to see Simon’s family continue to be there for him when federal authorities bristle against his better nature. I want to see and hear more about Jessica’s family, including details about her parents and Mexican heritage.
Neither of them were happy-go-lucky career winners born with silver spoons in their mouths. They’re fallible, scarred, spunky alternatives to Hal Jordan.