Baz, Geoff Johns, and Dearborn: Green Lantern #0

September is ‘Zero Month’ for DC, a gimmick where all the titles in their main superhero line–the New 52, a reboot of their universe–are given an issue zero.  A lot of these are flashbacks revealing the updated origin stories of their characters.  In that regard, Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke’s Green Lantern #0 isn’t particularly original.  What is different, is that it’s the origin of a brand new character who is taking over the title from Hal Jordan, a Muslim named Simon Baz (This has led to some minor uproar in the comics community, though nothing as serious as H.E.A.T.), and takes place in the present.  I wrote a review here, so I’m not aiming to talk about the issue as a whole.  Rather, I’m more interested in the brief (and I do mean brief) use of the setting of this issue:  Dearborn, Michigan.

From Green Lantern #0

The Bazs on 9/11. Putting them in an otherwise nondescript living room, while making them undeniably of Arab descent, is one of the few smart choices in The New Normal‘s handling of this subject matter.

When the first page’s text declares the setting, I was actually a bit impressed.  Michigan is one of those places rarely remarked upon in the world of mainstream fiction, unless as part of some nebulous concept of the MidWest (small town, rural plains filled with “values voters” entirely innocent or ignorant, depending on whether audiences are supposed to sneer at or be in awe of them, of the trendy, “Big City” living of the coasts) or to show Detroit as a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Dearborn itself is part of the Metro Detroit area and has the largest Arab population in the United States, which does make it a unique setting for a superhero comic*.

From Green Lantern #0, by Johns, Mahnke, et al

Simon Baz over the years. And here is where the issue’s problems start…

Disappointingly, there’s hardly any effort on the part of Johns and Mahnke to illustrate the lives of Baz, his family, or what it’s like to be a Muslim in Dearborn beyond the entirely perfunctory examples of post-9/11 bigotry.  There’s the vandalized Islamic Center of America, but no sign of any Muslims other than the Bazs; we discover later that there is a closed auto factory, which Simon worked for, but no attempt is made to demonstrate such blue-collar culture, or even which of the Big Three owned the plant in question (probably Ford, since their corporate headquarters is also in Dearborn, but nothing in the issue indicates such); the city itself only appears to exist in a series of nondescript streets in the background of the issue’s action.  Tellingly, it’s all in close-up, often with the dialogue pretty much explaining to us exactly where Baz is going, because Doug Mahnke can’t be bothered to draw an establishing shot.  The New Normal breezes through Baz’s backstory and then he’s packed off to a CIA prison in another country (equally nondescript, but for plot reasons).  It’s here that a Green Lantern ring interjects and saves him from being tortured–a sequence that feels tacked on to justify making this a Green Lantern story as opposed to a terrorist thriller plot–leading to Baz’s escape.

Title page from Green Lantern #0

From Geoff Johns’ miserable highlights of Baz’s life on page 2, we cut to the man in action, being chased by police.

That right there is the problem:  everything about this issue is tacked on, and this goes doubly for the city of Dearborn.  Rather than introducing us to Simon Baz, his family, and what his life is like, readers are given the barest of Cliff’s Notes–all related to 9/11 and terrorism, nothing about how these people lived as a family, practiced their faith, or what their regular lives were like–before being dropped in media res into an action scene.  Dearborn is home to the Henry Ford Museum and has a history of attracting immigrants (including German, Irish, and Polish) along with the Arab population, but nothing is made of this.  Perhaps Johns plans to do this as we learn more about Baz and his family, but considering he thinks the only elements of his personality worth mentioning are that he’s defined by discrimination and cars (he was a street racer and auto worker, and is currently a car thief), those also seem to be the only things Johns and Mahnke are interested in as far as Dearborn is concerned.  Considering how little effort they took in fleshing out their own creation, it’s amazing they even bothered with tying him to Michigan.

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