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Without Fear: How DC’s Green Lanterns Explores Modern-Day Anxieties

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Without Fear: How DC’s Green Lanterns Explores Modern-Day Anxieties

During his influential run as writer and caretaker of DC Comics’ Green Lantern franchise, the best thing Geoff Johns did was to change the idea that to be a member of the Corps, you had to be without fear. Johns subtly tweaked it so that members of the Green Lantern Corps have the ability to overcome great fear in order to be deemed worthy to wield the ring. What that specifically means has differed from Green Lantern to Green Lantern, of course, but in the pages of DC’s current “Green Lanterns” title, writer Sam Humphries and artistic collaborators such as Robson Rocha, Ed Benes and Neil Edwards have explored what it means to wield a ring in relation to social anxiety, agoraphobia and fear of failure in meaningful and touching ways.

The most iconic Green Lantern is and will always be Hal Jordan, but his style of Rock Hudson-esque square jawed machismo isn’t the most relatable way to discuss the concept of overcoming great fear. Guy Gardner has no problem overcoming great fear either, and while John Stewart and Kyle Rayner’s most defining moments are rooted in their defining failures, their characters speak to different generations and different fears to those of today.

RELATED: Hard-Traveled Tales: Is Green Lantern/Green Arrow Still Relevant?

That’s where we get to Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, the two stars of “Green Lanterns.” Both characters were created by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke during The New 52 era of comics; Simon debuted in “Green Lantern” #0, while Jessica Cruz was teased in the pair’s final issue on “Green Lantern” and later made her debut in “Justice League” #30 as the new wielder of Earth-3’s Power Ring, which seeks out the most fearful individual it can find.

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When Simon Baz was first introduced, it was a pretty big deal. He was the first major new Green Lantern since Kyle Rayner, and Doug Mahnke’s cover depicting a Muslim man wearing a balaclava and wielding a gun was provocative, to say the least. Johns’ introduction of him as petty crook mistaken for a domestic terrorist was more than a little rote when it came to depictions of Muslim superheroes in comic books, but Simon grew into his role as a hero, occupying a unique place in the Green Lantern Corps while Hal Jordan was indisposed.

Jessica, meanwhile, was introduced as the only survivor among a group of friends after they were attacked in the woods. This incident caused her to develop severe agoraphobia, to the point she remained housebound for four years and became somewhat of a doomsday prepper, waiting out the events of DC’s event series “Forever Evil” with her stockpile of supplies. Jessica’s origin was also more than a little cliché, and the idea that a female superhero has to have endured some traumatizing attack on her person in order to overcome it is one that has been tired for decades.

In the pages of “Green Lanterns,” both characters’ anxieties have been explored in ways that have allowed them to make genuine character growth and establish themselves as mainstays within the DC Universe. At the beginning of the book, Jessica was unable create a light construct despite having a Green Lantern ring, which opened up the seemingly obvious idea that having the ability to overcome great fear and actually overcoming great fear is a completely different thing.

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For people that live with social anxiety, the smallest things can be victories. Getting out of the house, going to a concert, going on a date; things like these are big wins and achievements to be proud of. What Humphries has done with Jessica is take that feeling of victory and accomplishment, quantifying it into the green energy of will.

Perhaps the most important thing Humphries has done with Jessica is show that isn’t a case of “one win and then you’re cured,” something that is extremely hard for people without social anxiety to understand. You could be flying high for days or weeks at a time, only to be brought down to Earth for no reason at all. Jessica is never shown to be “fixed” by her ability to create Green Lantern constructs, because she’s not broken. When she does manage to wield her ring successfully, she shines brightly as a symbol to everyone like her that might be struggling to be as strong, and reminds them that they are.

Simon Baz, on the other hand, has a different set of fears and anxieties, though they’re no less relatable or important. Simon’s predominant fear is that of failure, whether that be his failure as a teammate, failure as a son or brother, or the literal failure of his Green Lantern ring when he needs it most. Much has been said about the character’s decision to wield a gun, and “Green Lanterns” has addressed that aspect of his character head-on, establishing that he carries a firearm because his ring failed him once and he doesn’t trust that it won’t fail him again.

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Simon also has the ability to overcome great fear, but “Green Lanterns” sets up that as long as he’s carrying the gun, he’s not living up to his potential. Whereas Jessica’s fear is external and focuses on all of the things that could happen to her, Simon’s are more internalized, and the way he manages to overcome them is by giving up the gun and trusting both his ring and partner to have his back.

Trust and support is a huge theme in “Green Lanterns,” because while Simon and Jessica don’t get on at first, they quickly establish a support system for each other that many people will recognize as vital in surviving the modern world. Everyone has their own support networks, whether it be a group-chat of best friends, a sibling they can tell anything to, or a partner that helps them when they need it most. Simon and Jessica’s friendship has become more than being about being partners in Sector 2814; it’s about helping each other stay strong and keep going.

Characters with mental health concerns that exists within superhero universes are typically portrayed as out-of-control, such as the Avengers’ Scarlet Witch, or the X-Men’s Legion. It’s something Humphries is currently addressing in “Green Lanterns'” current “Polarity” arc, which features classic GL villain Doctor Polaris struggling with his own demons and attempting to overcome them. However, the magnetically-powered bad guy is never shown as being evil due to his mental illness; rather, he uses it as an excuse to be evil. It’s not the most perfect depiction, in all honesty, but it fits in with “Green Lanterns” approach of showing how three-dimensional these characters are, and how they aren’t defined by anxiety or illness, be there hero or villain.

Telling stories like these in the context of superhero comics is extraordinarily difficult, but important. Not only does it help build two new characters beyond the wireframe personalities they had at their inception, it improves DC Comics’ Green Lantern mythos exponentially. By examining what it means to be able to overcome fear in 2017, Sam Humphries has breathed new life into the entire franchise, making “Green Lanterns” a must-read book along the way.

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