Diversity in DC Comics: The first Arab-American Green Lantern
This month DC Comics announced its newest Green Lantern, Simon Baz, and made history by featuring the first Arab-American superhero. As a Lantern, Simon upholds a fairly progressive tradition among The Green Lantern Corp, featuring heroes such as the African-American John Stewart and Alan Scott, the Golden Age Lantern who was recently reintroduced as gay. To all the good ol’ boys out there — still clutching their pearls over Miles Morales becoming Spider-Man or Carol Danvers getting pants as part of being promoted to Captain Marvel — who may be confused by this very important distinction between Regular American and Arab-American, let me reiterate why this is important.
Simon Baz is very much an American character: Raised in Dearborn, Michigan, the home of Ford Motors and America’s largest Arab-American population center, Simon grew up under the very long shadow of 9/11. As a child, he and his family were subject to the violence and stigmatization that Muslims and Arab-Americans suffered in the years after the attacks. Now in his 20s, Simon is an out-of-work automotive engineer, facing poverty in the fall-out of the automotive industry crisis. In order to survive Simon becomes a car thief, until inadvertently stumbling into the middle of a terrorism probe, when he ends up chosen by the Lantern Corp to take on the mantle.
Granted, as a hero, he comes from darker beginnings. Simon isn’t perfect, by far. As creator and DC’s chief creative officer Geoff Johns explains,
He’s not a perfect character. He’s obviously made some mistakes in his life, but that makes him more compelling and relatable. Hopefully (it’s) a compelling character regardless of culture or ethnic background. … But I think it’s great to have an Arab-American superhero. This was opportunity and a chance to really go for it.
Simon isn’t the first Muslim or Arab comic book character, either. DC already has Nightrunner and Marvel Comics has Dust, while Naif Al-Mutawa has worked to bring Islamic heroes to the mainstream with The 99. But, historically, these characters have largely been portrayed as villains, terrorists and other menaces to the very white world of superheroes, while post-9/11 racism and Islamophobia still affects the lives of Arab-Americans across the country. Frank Miller, for instance, in his graphic novel Holy Terror, purposefully fueled the flames of jingoism and Islamophobia in comics.
This is why having an Arab-American hero in the forefront is so important. As the readership of comics continues to grow and expand into all walks of life, cultural inclusion is becoming more and more crucial to not only reaching people, but keeping a firm grasp on both their attention and their wallets. Simon Baz is no different than many of his contemporaries: He comes from humble middle-American beginnings, and has overcome hardship and adversity in order to find his true potential. He just, you know, happens to be Arab-American. As Johns goes on to say,
[Being Arab-American] doesn’t completely define the character but it shapes the character. My biggest hope is that people embrace it and understand what we’re trying to do.
If you’re still clutching your pearls, I’m sorry? Meanwhile, the rest of us will be giving this comic a shot. Also, he has a pretty cool-looking action figure, so.