NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Green Lanterns #17
When DC launched its New 52 continuity with a host of new heroes and books, those written by Geoff Johns, DC's Chief Creative Officer were all worthy of note, for a variety of reasons. The new Green Lantern Simon Baz was of particular interest, with his Lebanese-American ancestry - shared by Johns himself - and the unique challenges or prejudices he and his family faced in their home of Dearborn, Michigan (a stone's throw away from Johns's own hometown). And when the fear he was shown capable of overcoming was cultural fear in a post-9/11 America, hopes for the hero, and the book were high.
But Simon Baz was the subject of some controversy, as well. Johns made sure to show that Simon was no martyr, and not even what one would expect from a superhero (introduced stealing a car). He also had a problem trusting in authority figures he didn't know personally - meaning the ring awarded to him by the Guardians of the Universe wasn't taken as all-powerful, or even all that reliable. Simon instead strapped a gun to his hip as backup... and the comic book community began a charged, and socially relevant conversation.
It's hard to know if that was Johns and DC's intention all along, since Simon's sporting of the same weapon worn by peace officers the world over was seen differently. Yet the gun persisted, and in the current crossover story with Batman in Green Lanterns, the Dark Knight let it be known that he didn't approve of Simon's service weapon. Sam Humphries was saving the resolution of their impromptu gun control debate for Issue #17 - when Simon Baz got to the bottom of his gun problem, and finally set it aside.
Batman Wants Green Lantern's Gun
For clarity's sake, it was technically Jim Gordon who first voiced his concerns over Green Lantern's gun when he and his partner Jessica Cruz arrived in Gotham at Batman's request. Not on ethical grounds - Batman would soon take care of that - but due to the fact that, in his city, nobody is allowed to display a pistol on their waist without the proper documentation. We can only assume that he would ask the same of any superhero who possessed a weapon, but... well, few others do.
Batman soon took over in an argument well-crafted to show that his stance was still a practical and pragmatic one, not necessarily political. Bruce Wayne has sworn off most guns since one was used to kill his parents, but that's a personal preference. With Simon, his concerns were voiced as purely practical: bringing a gun into Gotham City never works out well for anyone (and let's be honest, introducing handguns into a world in which villains rely on riddles and elaborate schemes raises some difficult questions). The two came to a heated argument over Simon's belief that he was in the right to carry whatever weapon he liked, but the sudden emergence of a Batman villain supercharged by Sinestro Corps fear meant their bout was put on hold.
Issue #17 sees them tackle that threat head on, after handling the unfortunate business of Alfred Pennyworth being corrupted by fear, stealing Simon's gun, and placing it against his head (Batman wins this round, it seems). The fact that his gun had been used against him wasn't lost on Simon, but the real crux of the issue had to do not with why Simon kept a gun, but why he felt he needed one in the first place.
Simon Chooses The Green Over The Gun
Simon is fairly famous for his temper, and it's put on full display as he attempts to explain himself, begrudgingly, to Batman. He concedes that the reason for his backup fun is fear: fear that the ring will stop working, the ring will encounter threats it can't defeat, and fear that only a weapon he's familiar with can ease. Never one to miss a teachable moment, Batman notes that fear is the problem (he's kind of an expert on the subject), but not the fear Simon is using as an excuse.
Batman's had enough experience with Green Lanterns and their rings to know that they can achieve impossible feats, provided the willpower behind them is capable of it. And by that reasoning, Simon is only afraid that he'll be the reason the ring isn't enough. That his lack of willpower, or his inferiority will do him in. The twist accomplishes two story feats: it brings Simon much closer to his partner, Jessica, who has struggled with her own feelings of inadequacy, but it also implies a commentary on the use of firearms directly. Simon is afraid that a weapon powered by hope, will, and belief in one's self won't function for him as it should... so he relies on a gun, instead.
Humphries seems to be focused more squarely on the development this realization brings to Simon, as opposed to a larger comment on guns in America, and who relies on them for safety. So when Simon is plunged into absolute terror, and reaches for the steel on his hip, it's the words of Bruce Wayne that echo in his mind, leading him to believe in himself, and take the risk he's been too afraid to try to this point. He uses his ring, instead.
Lantern's Gun-Toting Days Are Over
The heroes win the day (obviously), with Simon ending the fight on his knees, gazing at the gun returned to his hand, and seeing it in a new light. As the weapon that tempted him to resist the risk of being strong enough on his own, it's harder to see it as a tool, so much as a crutch. His internal dialogue voices this realization by stating that "Without fear... I have no limits." And the decision he is about to make becomes a straightforward one that will cement his ascension to a higher state of self-realization.
Whether he's simply responding to Simon's earlier statements, or actively trying to convince Simon to believe in his decision, Batman explains that he's no stranger to fear. Nor does he use it only as a weapon. Batman lives in fear of losing his city, losing the fight - but his will to keep on fighting is what makes him the kind of hero that intimidates Simon, Jessica, his villains... and everyone else. Batman's strength is his devotion, and as Simon offers up his gun as a weapon he no longer needs, he states that his strength is his willpower (even if its' a harder thing for him to see, feel, or trust).
It's the final choice needed for Batman to pull Simon aside and claim that he'll be needed in the future, having proven himself as a Lantern to be trusted, and whom he can work with. The mission that Batman sees coming may have been teased in another DC book, but for now, Simon Baz is more liberated, confident, and at peace than he's been in modern memory. Where he goes from here is something fans will have to see for themselves.
Either way, it's one less gun for Batman to worry about.
Green Lantern #17 is available now.