by Michael DeLaney and Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Michael: Sam Humphries has passed the Green Lanterns torch but the flame still burns strong. Green Lanterns 34 marks Tim Seeley’s second issue with Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz and explores how hard it is to maintain a steady job while you’re on call to save the universe 24/7. More importantly, it highlights the ugly truth that no matter how heroic you are, if you’re brown in America you’re still seen as second-class citizens.
Seeley and Ronan Cliquet contrast Baz and Cruz’s heroic and civilian lives in the most drastic ways possible. The story opens with Baz bringing someone back from the dead and Jessica saving an entire race from mass suicide — epic feats that not even Superman encounters on a daily basis. But the end of the issue finds the two heroes unable to nail down jobs they are both overqualified for. Jessica gets a job at diner but due to her agoraphobia and anxiety, the manager has opted to keep the newly-personable Lantern in the kitchen. Simon, on the other hand, gets flat-out rejected as a pit crew member at a racing track because of his criminal record and his Arabic tattoo.
The pit crew manager doesn’t see the inherent irony in her fear of being seen as cowardly for breaking the news to Simon over the phone, when it’s just as cowardly to do it to his face. Even worse, she admits that it has nothing to do with his criminal past and false association with a terrorist cell. She, in no uncertain terms, is choosing not to hire him because he’s Muslim. This has always been an essential piece of Simon Baz’s identity as a Green Lantern: the great fear that he has to overcome is the fear that his ethnicity and religion inspires in the ignorant people of the world.
Baz really ties a ribbon around their problems in the above panel. While Simon’s problem is certainly more racially-based, you can’t discount that Jessica’s race might also have to do with her placement in the kitchen. After all, how often do you see people of Hispanic descent working behind the scenes as line cooks or busboys?
More to the point both Simon and Jessica were prematurely judged on extraneous situations that didn’t pertain to the jobs they were interested in. Simon’s race and Jessica’s anxiety are fundamental facets of who they are, not to mention facets that they both have embraced and learned how to cope with, respectively. Last issue Jess and Simon presented their pasts openly to their prospective employers and essentially got punished for their honesty.
Seeley and Cliquet do a great job of bringing the second part of “Work Release” back full circle to the first part in Green Lanterns 33. Previously, Simon’s sister Sia was giving him a hard time for not seeking out a real job and how he was more concerned with his “little toy cars on plastic tracks.” Simon takes that criticism and turns it into something positive by escorting the Molites away from their doomed planet in a lifeboat Hotwheels construct. That’s a beautiful example of the Green Lantern philosophy: taking your fears/flaws and transforming them into strengths.
There’s also something beautifully hilarious about the Molites begging Jessica to stop saving them let them meet their destruction. The Molites worship the core of their planet as a god, and they believe that it is the core’s will that they perish with it. Being blinded by your religion and leaving logic by the wayside — what a crazy concept!
Speaking of gods — Simon’s kind of got some messianic business of his own going on, doesn’t he? His latest resurrection is Liseth AKA “space Miley Cyrus”. Being the heroic martyr he is, Baz speculates that this extraordinary power is a gift he’s been given to make up for all of the pain he’s caused. There’s obviously a larger plan at work for our boy Baz — might he turn into pure will like Hal Jordan recently did?
Mark, what did you think of Green Lanterns 34? Do you have any interest in the secret Ungurian plot? Seems like another example of racism — albeit more extreme. Jessica’s ring has always had a little bit of a personality, but has it turned into a sentient being? I got some creepy vibes from it in that panel after she goes to sleep. And what about Bolphunga? Do you think every GL worth their salt has to eventually face one of the Lantern’s most notorious villainous jokes?
Mark: There’s certainly something creepy about Jessica’s power ring taking on a more corporeal form (it’s got a real Unabomber vibe going on), and it’s not something I ever remember seeing before. Simon is also exhibiting strange healing powers that most Green Lanterns don’t possess, so it’ll be interesting to see how they develop.
With his first two issues of Green Lanterns, Seeley has done an impressive job of laying out what it is that makes Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz unique, and valuable, members of the Green Lantern Corps. Superhero dual identities are often a case of having one’s cake and eating it too — billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and vigilante crime fighter Batman and go-getting reporter Clark Kent and otherworldly perfect specimen Superman spring to mind — but for Simon and Jessica, life behind the ring is easier than their real world lives, lives where they aren’t even trusted with menial jobs. One minute they’re flying around the galaxy saving entire civilizations, the next they’re using their ring to set an alarm for 5 in the morning so they can get up and work in the kitchen of a coffee shop.
Seeley draws specific attention to Jessica and Simon’s racial and religious backgrounds, and it’s a refreshing change. Not to diminish John Stewart, whose early stories were very much interested in exploring his experiences as a black man (albeit as written by white men), but in more recent history his identity is based mostly around his military background — a rather generic turn. And while it would definitely be optimal for someone of these races and religions to have the opportunity to tell Jessica and Simon’s stories, I appreciate that Seeley is raising the issue in the first place.
Jessica and Simon’s stories are pretty unique in the DC pantheon; outside of the Green Lantern Corps they both lead difficult lives. At the end of the day they don’t get to return home to the idyllic family life of Clark Kent or the comforts money affords Bruce Wayne. Jessica lives every day with crippling anxiety. Simon may have living quarters on a Lantern space vessel, but it’s the equivalent of a crappy New York City apartment. Neither gets to live a glamorous life, but that just makes them easier to root for. They’re relatable in a way superheroes rarely get to be.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?