The answer? Jo Mullein, the rookie-ish protagonist of “Far Sector,” available Wednesday from the Young Animal imprint at DC and illustrated by DC Comics rising star artist Jamal Campbell.
A Green Lantern ring, the most powerful weapon in the DC universe, helps the superheroes police their respective sectors (the sections of space divided up among them to protect). “Lantern Mullein,” as Jo is referred to in the first of “Far Sector’s” 12 issues, is so far out in deep space, her sector is off the books. She’s investigating a murder in a place where one hasn’t taken place in over five centuries, giving her innumerable suspects in a city that has gone to great lengths to void itself of emotion to prevent such crimes.
By putting a black woman front and center in the Green Lantern universe, Jemisin said there’s a chance to showcase those who might normally be relegated to side character roles, not given a chance to save the day in a sci-fi-esque story. That, to Jemisin and Campbell, is much more important than the celebration of them as a black writer/artist team behind the launch of a new black character assuming the mantle of a well-known superhero. (Though it’s worth noting that such a collaboration in itself is a rarity in mainstream comics.)
“A lot of times what people mean when they say diversity, it’s like a little smattering,” Jemisin said. “What it ends up resulting in is, once you’ve got the black guy, people stop. We’ve already got a black person, we don’t need another black person, and it usually seems to be a black man. It’s kind of rare to see the lone black person be a woman.
“Once you start to get to the point where you have actually more than one given set of people, maybe then you’re beginning to actually move beyond the sort of tokenizing effect of superficial diversity, and maybe you’re starting to sort of graduate into something more complex, more realistic, more holistic,” she said.
Jemisin and Campbell’s new Green Lantern, who both admit takes inspiration from the Afro-futuristic styles of singer/actress Janelle Monáe, isn’t officially a part of DC Comics legend just yet — all the other Green Lanterns don’t know she exists. She and her mission are a secret.
“She grew up in a world that had [Green Lanterns] all around her. But she doesn’t want to be a part of the Lantern corps due to some circumstances that happened, which we’ll see in flashbacks,” Jemisin said. “When she’s given the chance to be a Lantern but not a part of the corps … she actually leaps at the chance, because she’s thinking it’s her chance to do justice without all the bureaucracy and without all of the organizational politics. Whether she’s right or not is something that the series will explore.”
Jemisin says keeping the heroics of Mullein hidden in her first story was influenced by reading the comics for research and realizing the “Guardians,” blue aliens that serve as the big bosses of the corps, weren’t always honest with their green-ringed officers.
“It was really kind of clear from the jump that the Guardians are super shady,” Jemisin said with a laugh. “And I wanted to play with that a little bit.”
Campbell — who also earlier this year helped co-create Naomi, another new black female superhero at DC, with writers Brian Michael Bendis and David Walker — said this Green Lantern’s freedom from the rest of the corps allowed him to experiment artistically with the character’s style (including a unique ring design) and the worlds that surround her without having to adhere to a template.
“While this has roots in Green Lantern lore, it’s not situated directly inside of it. [That] gives me the chance to create environments and the [alien] races and all these new things that aren’t beholden to things that happened in the DC universe before,” Campbell said. “And it’s just extremely freeing and also kind of nerve-racking because you have to do it all from scratch. You don’t have a background to fall back on, but also you can do whatever you want with it as well.”
Jemisin and Campbell can’t divulge whether Mullein will one day join the rest of the Green Lantern Corps, but both say anything is possible. For now, they remain pleased with what her new green light represents.
“I simply like seeing futures in which everyone exists,” Jemisin said.