When Vietnamese-American writer Minh Lê began thinking about writing a story within the Green Lantern corner of DC, it occurred to him that he already knew someone strong-willed who wore a green ring …
That heritage has informed Lê’s new graphic novel, Green Lantern: Legacy, which introduces the first Vietnamese-American Green Lantern - a teenager named Tai Pham who inherits his strong-willed grandmother’s jade ring.
Green Lantern: Legacy incorporates existing members of the Green Lantern Corps into its story, but it also expands the mythology by introducing readers to the rich community surrounding Tai and his family.
The book is Lê’s first graphic novel, coming to DC after writing several books for young readers. Newsarama talked to Lê about how his grandmother inspired the story of Green Lantern: Legacy and what readers can expect as young Tai Pham becomes part of the Green Lantern Corps.
Newsarama: What was the genesis of this idea to Tai Pham, the new Green Lantern who has a magical jade ring in Green Lantern: Legacy?
Minh Lê: When I was invited to pitch an idea for this new line of graphic novels for young readers, I looked at all the different characters, and there was something about Green Lantern that really resonated with me. I was trying to figure out what it was.
And then I realized that we were talking about a character who has a strong will and has this magical green ring. I had this flash, like, “Oh! I know somebody like that!” - someone with a strong will and always wears a green ring. And I had this picture of my grandmother, whom I grew up with here in the states, and she is very much one of the heroes in our family story.
Once I had that idea of framing a character inspired by her based in the Green Lantern universe, the rest of the story started to fall into place.
So it was very much that initial realization of, there’s a hero in my life who actually fits this criteria. And then things kind of unfolded from there.
Nrama: Let’s talk about how a grandmother’s inspiration ends up translating into a story that’s aimed at young audiences. It’s her grandson’s origin story of sorts, right?
Lê: Yeah, and I always think that superhero origin stories lend themselves well to a young audience. I’ve been talking to people about that dynamic. When you’re growing up, you’re learning about your innate powers, right? You’re figuring out how to navigate the world. And that’s very much what an origin story is about.
You might not have a ring that lets you fly through space, but it really is an exaggerated version of a coming-of-age story. The underlying emotions, I feel like, are the same.
So our story is about a character who is becoming a Green Lantern and learning about the tradition and history of the Green Lantern Corps, but also about his grandmother.
And then how does he move forward from there, once he realizes that he has all these new powers and he has all the responsibility that comes with it?
I think it’s a perfect dynamic for young readers, and it’s something that, on a very fundamental level, resonates with what all children are going through as they are getting older.
Nrama: As you said, he has to face not only the challenge of his powers and the Green Lantern Corps, but all the responsibility he’s now inherited. But he has some unique talents that inform the type of Green Lantern he he can become. Can you describe Tai Pham?
Lê: I would describe him as someone who’s creative and has a very strong, if developing, sense of right and wrong. There are points throughout the story where he is sticking up for people, and he wants to do what’s right. And I think the idea of a ring being drawn to someone with a strong will - he is demonstrating those attributes at a very young age, and those get stronger as he goes along.
I like the creativity part because, to me, the ring has the ability to make these constructs, and a lot of that is related to your creativity and your ability to think on the fly, and your ability to problem solve quickly. So for him to be an artist as well, and someone who likes to draw, I thought it tied in well - that combination of creativity and willpower and a sense of justice. I thought those three pieces fit nicely for a burgeoning superhero.
Nrama: For long-time Green Lantern fans, will they see members of the Green Lantern Corps that they might recognize?
Lê: Yes! One thing I wanted to do, when writing this, was create these new characters but fit it in, as much as possible, into the existing world and the existing tradition, and to make it as seamless as possible within the larger Green Lantern Corps.
I love that there is so much history there, so I tried to draw in a couple other Green Lanterns, like John Stewart, who becomes a mentor of his, and when we’re talking about the potential conflicts coming up, the Yellow Lanterns and Sinestro come into play.
But yeah, I definitely wanted to figure out how to take a different angle on the Green Lantern story, but one that still stayed true to what has occurred in the past and what I loved about the Green Lantern Corps and what drew me to it.
Nrama: One of the unique things about the powers of the Green Lantern Corps is that anyone can acquire them — like you say, based on willpower. That plays an important role here, too, doesn’t it?
Lê: Yeah, and I love that you picked up on that, because I think that is a powerful idea, that it’s not something that you’re necessarily born with - there’s a potential within everybody.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the art. What was the idea you and the editors had for the look of the book, or was it a matter of trusting the artist to bring these characters and the story to life?
Lê: Yeah, a lot of that credit goes to Andie Tong, the illustrator, because he did a lot of amazing work with the character designs and the outfits. But it’s exactly the kind of look I wanted. His artwork is so dynamic.
I love that there’s a mix of the grounded, kind of community-based - there’s almost a storyline there that could exist without the ring at all. But then you’re mixing that up with these elaborate action sequences and things that really up the ante on the visual storytelling.
But yeah, Andie and the rest of the team did such an amazing job pulling this together and making this world come to life.
Nrama: You mentioned the Yellow Lanterns of the Sinestro Corps. Can you talk about what threats young Tai comes up against in this story?
Lê: I don’t want to spoil too much, but there are some other characters who appear and provide a counterpoint to the Green Lantern Corps. And Tai is forced to choose and make some tough decisions.
Some of these outside influences can be very appealing.
So it forces Tai to choose between the responsibilities of being part of his family and in the Corps and something that may be newer or flashier.
Nrama: You mentioned the community that Andie’s art helps portray. There seems to be a theme of family and community throughout the story. Was that part of your thinking when you created the story from that initial idea about Tai’s grandmother?
Lê: Yes, and I think it plays in well with the Green Lantern Corps itself — the idea of being part of something bigger than yourself. And for Tai, that’s him discovering the Green Lantern Corps and all that entails, but also realizing the collective strength of his own family and his own community.
Origins, a lot of times, it feels like you’re on your own and you’re figuring out all this stuff about yourself, but we wanted to show that other people can make you stronger.
I think that idea of family, both literally family but also community was something I definitely wanted to weave into this story.
Nrama: Now that this book is completed, was it left open for more stories about these characters?
Lê: I definitely wrote it and wanted to end it on a note that would at least leave that possibility open. And, like any writer, I’m always bouncing around ideas in my head. So yeah, I definitely didn’t want to close things off and tie things up too neatly at the end of this first book.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell readers about the book?
Lê: Yeah, when I talk to students about this and other readers, I hope this is a story that has those superhero elements, but in a way that makes you think about the heroes that are in your life currently - the everyday heroes that are around you. That was something I was hoping to thread through this story. And I hope they enjoy it.