By Brian Truitt, USA TODAY
The Green Lantern Corps loves Michigan, just like comic-book writer Geoff Johns.
He uses his home state as a backdrop and inspiration for the newest Green Lantern, an Arab American from Dearborn named Simon Baz who debuts in a special zero issue of Green Lantern drawn by Doug Mahnke that's out today in comic shops and digitally.
It's a personal character and origin for Johns, who grew up in the Detroit area in a Lebanese-American family.
"You can see Michigan and everything in it, from the cars to the closed factories to the city to the diversity," John says of the zero issue. "I'm hoping to create a really compelling character who's from Dearborn that people from Dearborn and the surrounding area are really proud of and excited about."
The suburb of Detroit is home to the Ford Motor Company and also the largest population of Arab Americans in the USA - many immigrants from Lebanon and other countries came to work in Detroit's burgeoning auto industry in the early 20th century.
Baz reflects that background, too, as he's an out-of-work automotive engineer who - in trying to do the right thing for people close to him - has become a car thief when the Green Lantern power ring chooses him to be a cosmic cop. And Johns grounds him in reality, too: Baz is seen watching the events of 9/11 unfold on his TV as a 10-year-old, and dealing with the aftermath that Muslims faced in America.
"It's just a part of creating a character who's different than every other character in the DC Universe. Most of our characters were created in the '40s, '50s and '60s," John says. "The concept of fear in the world ties into what Green Lantern is as a metaphor about overcoming fear that's a part of his life.
"On first blush, a car thief doesn't feel like he should be the next chosen Green Lantern member, but you'll see why he's chosen and he grew out of that."
Baz also sports a tattoo of the Arabic word for "courage" on his right forearm, even though tattoos are forbidden under Islamic law - something he's reminded of by both his father and a federal agent who deems him a terrorist.
The tattoo was important for Johns to give a sense of where Baz comes from as well as why he's chosen to be part of an intergalactic police force who are all about courage and willpower. But for accuracy, the writer worked on the script with the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and asked for feedback.
"It's run by a very diverse group with different religious backgrounds, so it was great to get different perspective," Johns says. "We just wanted to really get this right. We want to create compelling characters and we want to get all the subtleties of who he is correct."
The unlikely hero is going to become one of the DC Universe's prime-time players, and issue zero is just the first chapter of his ongoing story.
Fans will see how he embraces his new fate and what kind of Green Lantern he'll be beginning in October's Green Lantern issue 13, which is part of the major "Rise of the Third Army" story line that finds the Guardians of Oa looking to build a legion of law enforcement to take out Lanterns of all colors.
Baz is the first Earth-born Green Lantern rookie since Kyle Rayner in 1994, and joins the likes of superhero stalwarts such as Hal Jordan, John Stewart and the abrasive Guy Gardner (who played football at the University of Michigan). Unlike those guys, though, Baz will wear a mask that covers most of his head - a plot point that will become evident soon, Johns says.
"The most unlikely of people get picked for the Green Lantern Corps because it's what's beneath the cover, what's at the core of the people, that the rings really respond to."
The new Green Lantern will meet other members such as Sinestro and Kilowog, the Blue Lantern named Saint Walker, and the Guardians as he's thrown into the DC Universe proper, and Baz also will be a part of Johns' Justice League of America series beginning next year.
"The Justice League shows up very soon, there's a war in space going on, so this young guy from Dearborn who's jacking cars is about to get sucked into an intergalactic battle where everyone's trying to save the universe," Johns says. "So yeah, it's going to be a pretty big shock to the system for him."
The writer also is coming home to Michigan to show off his newest character this weekend. Johns, who lives in Los Angeles, will be signing comics at Dearborn's Green Brain Comics on Friday and be the star of two events at the Arab American National Museum on Saturday.
"There's something really nice about that, to go celebrate comic books with other Michigan fans and see friends and family. It'll be really cool to go to the place where Simon's from," Johns says.
"It's really a product of the area, hopefully on every single level."