You might want to take a closer look at your grandmother’s jewelry box…
In Green Lantern: Legacy the exciting new original graphic novel by writer Minh Lê and artist Andie Tong, a young Vietnamese-American boy named Tai Pham discovers there’s a lot more to his grandmother’s jade ring than he ever could have believed when he’s chosen to succeed her as a member of the Green Lantern Corps. Written with younger readers in mind and set outside regular continuity, Green Lantern: Legacy is a thrilling, occasionally emotional introduction to DC’s flagship sci-fi hero that also features Corps regulars like John Stewart and Iolande, a surprising new villain and a powerful message about the everyday heroes around us.
Legacy keeps the heart of the Green Lantern universe intact, offering a story that will ring true even to longtime Lantern fans. However, it’s also an insightful and surprisingly gentle look at what it means to be an immigrant and a part of a diverse community. After all, the Green Lanterns often work independently, but they’ve always been at their most effective when they come together.
We were so taken with this recent book that we caught up with Lê to ask him how the project came together, what unique challenges an adolescent Green Lantern might face and why the Green Lantern Corps is the perfect superhero realm for a refugee story.
You’ve never worked with DC before this book. How did you get involved with our kids line?
It came out of the blue for me. (VP and Executive Editor) Michele Wells reached out me. My background is in picture books, so when she first reached out, I thought she had the wrong guy. But she said that she was familiar with my work and was inviting me to pitch her a story for the new line.
When I was looking at all of the different characters—and it’s an amazing invitation to be like, “Take a look at all of the DC Universe and see what you can come up with.” That’s about as amazing and intimidating of a blank slate as you can be given. I was familiar with Green Lantern, but I hadn’t done a deep dive before. Reading about a character who had a really strong will and a green ring, there was something familiar about that. I realized that it was because I knew someone who fit that description. I had this picture of my grandmother who always had her jade ring and she’s one of the strongest people I know. So, once I had that image of her as a Green Lantern, the rest of the story fell into place. I’m just grateful for DC for letting me run with it.
Having such a young Green Lantern is pretty new territory, even for a non-continuity kids book like this. What was the process like in figuring out what an adolescent Green Lantern would be like?
It seemed to fit pretty well because much of the origin story, construction and tropes fit with a typical coming of age story. Thinking about middle grade age kids, they’re coming into their own and figuring out how they fit in with the world around themselves. If you’re talking about puberty, you’re trying to figure out how you’re coping with all these new things that you’re facing. The idea of someone like Tai, who’s 13, getting this ring and suddenly having all of these powers—it fit in with a lot of the dynamics that I think are core to a middle grade audience. Of course, they’re exaggerated because of all of the powers that come with it, but the underlying messages are very similar.
I think part of the reason I focus so much on the relationships between Tai and his grandmother, his parents and his friends is because those are relationships that everyone has. You have those dynamics, but you throw in a Green Lantern ring and you see where that takes you. But hopefully, a lot of the relationships feel organic.
Tai is also an artist. When did that become part of who he is as a character?
That’s one of the things that drew me to the Green Lantern universe—the idea that you have this ring and the only real limitation is the power of your imagination. With a character like Kyle Raynor who’s an artist, that really spoke to me. If, as a young person, Tai is going to figure out how to use and wield this power, a fun entry point would be the fact that he likes to draw. He has this creative side already.
So, you have this combination of Tai having this nascent strong will, but also this creative side. I’m not an illustrator now, but as a kid, I loved to draw. I was always doodling. That idea of losing yourself in your drawings and turning that from a potential weakness to how you tap into your own strength I thought was an interesting entry point.
The other big themes of the book are the experiences of being an immigrant and being part of a community that’s made up of many different races and nationalities. It makes a lot of sense since the Green Lantern Corps is made up of many different races as well. Was that one of the things that drew you to Green Lantern—the way it offered you a chance to write about that experience?
It went hand in hand. As you mentioned, the Green Lantern Corps is very diverse and has been throughout its history. The fact that there were already so many different kinds of Green Lanterns, it made sense that, given the opportunity, I could create new characters that fit into this larger universe rather than recreating the whole thing.
For me, the idea of focusing on an immigrant refugee story was compelling because as a Vietnamese-American, I come from a family of immigrants and refugees, and as a kid I would read all of these comics looking for stories of heroism, but it wasn’t until I was older and looking back that I realized those stories of heroism I was looking for were part of the fabric of my own family and community. We’re talking about people fleeing from war and coming to a new country. A lot of times you lose sight of the fact that what they had to go through is as heroic as you can imagine. For me, it’s looking back a bit to put it in the Vietnamese community, but I know that today there are families that are going through the exact same thing. It was such a natural form of heroism that was staring me in the face. It just made sense to write about it.
When did Andie Tong get involved with the book? Did you know him before?
I didn’t know him before. He was brought to the book. But as soon as he was brought onboard, from the first concept sketches I saw from him, I knew it was his book. He managed to take these early outlines of characters and bring them to life in a way that I couldn’t possibly imagine. He’s so talented with the way he uses the panels and pages. Everything is so dynamic. I was joking with someone earlier that working with an artist like Andie is almost like having your own Green Lantern power ring because you have these images in your imagination and these stories, you give them to Andie and they’re suddenly brought to life. They become more than what was in my head.
It’s so much fun to watch it unfold. As a picture book author, I’m used to working with artists, but the way that this works with comics is a different level of collaboration. It’s super fun.
I was wondering about that. Is there a big difference between working with an artist on picture books versus working with one on a comic? They’re both closely collaborative.
There are similarities since I’m used to working with an illustrator (in picture books) to have my story conveyed through the art as much as possible. My hope is always to write a script that’s going to unleash something in the artist. I want to give them space to create. All of these illustrators are such creative storytellers in their own right, I don’t want to be too direct. It’s an interesting balance of trying to provide enough detail in the manuscript so that they can understand what’s going on, but leaving enough space for them to flourish on their own. Especially with a book like this, where there are so many cultural details.
Andie really did a lot of work to get everything just right. In Legacy, there’s a Jade Market where the grandmother shops. I was out with my boys, who are 7 and 4, and we went into a Vietnamese grocery store, and my 4-year-old said, “It’s the Jade Market!”
I told Andie that he must have gotten the details just right because he managed to convince my son!
Without spoiling anything, you certainly leave Green Lantern: Legacy open for more adventures for Tai. Would you like to write more stories for him?
I would love to! I definitely tried to write it in a way that was a complete story, but left room for more. It’s fun writing an origin story. That gives you a taste of the characters and it would be great to see where things go from here.