Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, Track 2: Green Lantern #0 Review

EDITOR’S NOTE: Comic Reader of Earth: You have the ability to overcome great spoilers.

The most obvious thing I can say about Green Lantern #0 is that new Green Lantern Simon Baz is the unluckiest son of a bitch in comics history.

If Simon Baz didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. Black cats must go days without sleep in order to find him just to cross his path. The next time Spider-Man whimpers about “The ol’ Parker luck,” he need only look at Simon Baz to know that a dude with a high-paying engineering job who has banged a supermodel should really just learn to shut the fuck up; Spider-Man could have gotten his powers by being gang assaulted by radioactive lepers and still count himself luckier than Simon Baz.

His luck is so Goddamned bad that it stretches the bounds of logic. Which is the only downside to an origin issue, with a generally likable character, that is packed with character-building story points… even if a lot of those points require you to believe that the hero has luck so crappy that if he won the lottery, he’d die of a gangrenous paper cut from the winning ticket before he could collect.

So let’s talk about Simon Baz’s luck. First of all, he was born into a Muslim family and is alive, in the Midwestern United States, after September 11th, 2001. That’s two strikes right there, as writer Geoff Johns hammers home in a page-long montage where Simon gets harassed by strangers, schoolmates, and the TSA… although to be fair, Simon looks kinda cut, and rumor has it the TSA takes that into account when they choose who goes through the naked body scanners.

Anyway, we discover that Simon has been laid off from his job at an automobile manufacturer, which has reduced him to stealing cars, which he is apparently good at since we also learn that he has a history as a street racer… a history that got Simon’s brother-in-law killed in a wreck that Simon caused. Simon winds up stealing a van that just happens to have a giant terrorist bomb already ticking in the back. So, being in Detroit, Simon doesn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of valuable property that the city values, so he drives the bomb to, well, the newly-abandoned factory from which he was just laid off. And before you can say, “This only looks like jihad,” Simon gets an all-expenses paid trip to Cuba, where the ‘boarding does include water, but does not involve waves.

That’s a bad day. And it’s a bad day that accomplishes a couple of things, the first being to establish Simon’s bona fides as being able to overcome fear, making him qualified to be a Green Lantern. Johns uses the situation to lay the groundwork for a character whose been kicked in the teeth repeatedly by life, and who responds with more courage and grace than most would; God knows that the last time I got laid off, I got bombed… but let’s just say that C4 was not involved.

The story also shows Simon as not only courageous, but reckless. Johns establishes Simon’s history as a street racer who drives hard enough to get his brother-in-law killed. He has problems with authority; Simon fights soldiers in Guantanamo Bay even though he’s got no way of escape that doesn’t include a magic green ring, and he got a tattoo even though apparently his dad was a total dick about it. He drives a van with a bomb in it while talking on his cell phone – that’s illegal, buddy! So what we’ve got is a Green Lantern with an obsession for speedy machines tied to a personal tragedy, and a sneering attitude toward authority. I’m sure Simon and Hal Jordan will be pals, sometime after the inevitable ten-page fight scene.

So Johns does excellent work laying out a nuanced character in just a few pages of story. The problem is that that story spins out a coincidental sequence of events so unlikely it almost beggars belief. So Simon steals a van that had been stolen a few days earlier… did he not notice the already-sprung ignition? But let’s assume that the actual terrorists stole a van with keys in it; how did Simon not notice the bomb with the glowing green digital clock in the back? The sequence happens in the dark, and all I know is that when the blue LED on my TiVo in my bedroom is lit, it lights the place up like Dr. Manhattan just took his pants off. But let’s further assume that somehow Simon couldn’t notice the bomb until he did; he just happened to be less than one minute away from the one building in Detroit he could blow up to look like a terrorist? It’s not like abandoned blocks are going out of style in Detroit these days.

Look, I get that Johns needed to set Simon up as a falsely-suspected terrorist for the inevitable manhunt where A.R.G.U.S. claims that the Green Lantern ring is a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist (admit it: you know this is going to happen). And I get that this is a comic book, which means that we want to see the setup for that misunderstanding in an action-packed sequence, rather than via some FBI sting involving a recorded phone call taken out of context or something. But it requires you to believe that every possible thing that could go wrong for Simon does. It’s Murphy’s Law writ large by a cackling sociopath, and while it’s great for setting up the character, by halfway through the issue I found myself saying, “Come on, really?”

Doug Mahnke’s art with Christian Alamy’s inks continues to be generally good, if disconcerting to my eye in places. There are next to no superheroics in this book, requiring Mahnke to draw more mundane, Earthbound fare, which he does very well; in particular the closing pages of the car chase are well-drawn, with excellent use of smaller panel size to speed up pacing in the final moments, with increasing size to linger on the moments before and after the explosion. Further, his facial expressions are transparent; you see real regret on Simon’s face when he calls his sister to tell her what’s about to happen, and his look of apprehension when the ring chooses him is clear and emotive. But I’ve finally figured out what throws me about Mahnke’s and Alamy’s collaboration: it’s the eyes in closeups. Often, these guys draw eyes as almond-shaped with heavy lines and accentuated irises, and they are a dead ringer for the way Steve Dillon draws eyes. Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but while I loved Dillon’s work on Preacher, I’ve never found his style particularly satisfying in superhero work. So when I see those eyes, they just don’t work for me… but your mileage may vary.

In the final analysis, Green Lantern #0 does the most important thing that an origin story needs to: it establishes Simon Baz as an interesting, relatable protagonist. It accomplishes that extremely well, and this comic makes me look forward to seeing how this guy grows into the role of a superhero. But it does so by stringing together a sequence of unlikely events and coincidences that make the story itself more than a little difficult to believe. If Simon’s luck is really this bad, at some point the power ring will cut off circulation to his middle finger, requiring amputation and forcing him to verbally tell cops to fuck off.

But the most important thing is I liked Simon. You probably will too. Suspend that disbelief and give it a shot.