Sam Humphries Talks Green Lanterns, the Phantom Lantern, and Valthoom (Part 1)

Sam Humphries has been delivering a fun spin on the Green Lantern mythos with Green Lanterns starring Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, two characters who while not new, haven’t had a lot of the spotlight.

The second volume of the series introduces a new spin on the infamous ring with the introduction of the Phantom Ring and the Phantom Lantern along with a familiar foe who’s pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

I got a chance to talk to Sam about the series and what’s to come. In this first part, we discuss the series and the second part tomorrow, we’ve got a big reveal!

Graphic Policy: Green Lanterns is interesting in that it’s a buddy cop story at its core and Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are both finding their strength through their weaknesses. For you, who are Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz and why do they stand out from the Green Lantern Crops.?

Sam Humphries: It’s interesting because these aren’t brand new characters but they’re essentially new in the long timeline of the Green Lantern legacy. That was something that was extremely attractive to me as a writer. The more I thought about Simon and Jessica, the more I was really and truly interested on them as characters and focusing this book on them. To me, Simon and Jessica certainly have a lot of differences and we mine those differences for a lot of character interaction in the book, but one of the biggest things that they have in common is that these are two characters who never give up. They both have had some pretty formidable obstacles in their lives. Things they couldn’t avoid. Things that they didn’t bring on themselves. Life in different ways threw them in different pits and both of them climbed their way out and I think they’ve displayed not just what a Green Lantern is, but what a hero is.

GP: The second volume introduces the Phantom Lantern and Phantom Ring who’s being manipulated by Valthoom. Instead of just using Valthoom, where’d the idea of using the Phantom Lantern and Phantom Ring come from?

SH: Geoff Johns run on Green Lantern is legendary. It’s something I read at the time and I reread before starting to write this book. One of the great things about his run is the way he took the concept of Green Lantern and expanded it to Green and Yellow Lantern and then all the colors of the spectrum. And then the Black and the White. But, it’s all still the Green Lantern mythos. I didn’t want to just add another color to the rings because that’s something Geoff did and did well. I wanted to take the Green Lantern mythos and extend it in another direction. I wanted to go a different direction and rotate the concept a little bit and look at it from a different angle. And the way I wanted to do that was with a new ring and new character. Frank Laminski is someone who has a lot in common with Simon and Jessica but he goes about his life and what he wants in a very different way. It was very attractive to me to give a character like that an unlimited access to the spectrum. Kind of somebody who didn’t earn it or you might say didn’t deserve it. Then you have people like Simon and Jessica who earned the ring and fought for it only having a sliver of the spectrum. It felt like a great character dynamic and a great drama dynamic.

GP: The volume starts off at Simon’s home with Jessica hanging out. The volume starts exploring Simon’s history and how it impacts his family life. Then you pivot to this new character and his history and legacy. It felt like a natural flow from one to the other.

SH: One of the great traditions of superhero storytelling is the supporting cast and bringing in the supporting cast showing them with the main characters and helping illuminate something with the main characters. Bringing something forward the readers might not have seen before or the characters may not have seen themselves. Everybody also loves an origin story so being able to go right in what’s almost a stand alone issue with Frank Laminski becoming the Phantom Lantern was a lot of fun for us to do.

GP: With the addition of the Phantom Lantern and this Guardian… as a comic series with so much history to it, do you find it difficult as a creator to add new layers to it as you go along?

SH: I don’t know. To me, it’s not just part of the job, but part of the tradition. The tradition is not just the continuity but expanding on the continuity. The tradition is to not write like Geoff, but do what Geoff did which is find new territory in the same legacy. So, to me it’s a lot of fun to look back at these stories, Geoff’s stuff or the old Polaris storyline, a very old villain we found a new take on him. That’s part of the fun for me and I know if I can find something in these old characters or legacies like Valthoom. If I can get excited about that, then the readers can get excited about that.

GP: I loved the Polaris story, it was fantastic.

SH: Awesome.

GP: We’ll do an interview for volume three I guess.

SH: Yeah exactly, we’ll table that for now.

GP: Another thing that has stood out to me about this volume is that you have this interesting discussion as to what it means to be a hero. You have Frank go and save a girl and her dog. Then Jessica and Simon still have to confront him and even they debate it a bit. That discussion of what’s a hero, was that something you set out to do?

SH: For me it came out of Frank the character. He desperately wants to be a Green Lantern. He sees characters we regard as heroes and says he wants to be like that. But, because of his own personal demons he doesn’t deal with, his own execution is flawed and faulty and downright dangerous. In day to day life when dealing with people like that it’s not always apparent, they don’t wear signs around their necks. I thought it would be natural for Frank to copy the surface aspect of being a hero without having the deep down understanding of what it means to be a hero. So he might do what appears to be a hero, but long term it was all going to fall apart.

GP: You’re reintroducing Valthoom who’s been on the sideline for a bit. Where did you wanting that character come from?

SH: Valthoom’s going to be around for a long time. We see some of that in volume one. We start to see him more in volume two with his appearance. We talked about this earlier, but part of the tradition of this job is being able to look back at the story before you and see a character like Valthoom and see something no one has seen before or see something that hasn’t been on the page before. With Valthoom I saw somebody who had the makings of a great tragic character. Somebody who has undoubtedly become a villain but didn’t start out to become a villain. The more I thought about it, there was a lot of glimpses of history but not really a definitive history. I started to connect the dots of him being here at this point and there at another point. This guy is all powerful and he’s tragic and the story, not just his origin story, but the story we’re telling got bigger and bigger and bigger. It started in volume one and really starts coming to ahead in volume two and then in volume three and four get really big. Volume two is about the Phantom Lantern but it really kicks off what happens in the next couple of volumes.

GP: For this iteration of Green Lantern, what are some of the things you really enjoy about writing about Simon and Jessica?

SH: I don’t know if any of this is visible on the page. I love writing Jessica when she has anxiety or is feeling anxiety and is covering it up. Does that make sense?

GP: Yeah absolutely.

SH: She’s making an effort and I think that comes from myself and my own experiences with anxiety. With Simon, I really enjoy writing him when he’s with his family but also when his family is on his mind. When he’s trying to balance his family with being a superhero. He’s trying to balance these relationships he has that are sometimes are rewarding and sometimes they’re trying and balancing them in his new role that sometimes is rewarding and sometimes is trying.

GP: So, on to the reveal….

Tune in tomorrow for the big announcement and reveal!