Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story makes its way into bookstores today, adding yet another unique tale to DC Comics’ ever-growing young adult line of graphic novels. The story reimagines the titular Green Lantern’s status quo, crafting a tale where she is a young teenage girl living in Coast City as part of the DACA program. When the realities of a xenophobic immigration system forever change Jessica’s life, she must rely on her inner strength — and the influence of some magical ancient gods — to become a hero. While the story might be slightly different from the comic book storytelling that Jessica fans are used to, the result is incredibly profound and relevant.
Bringing Unearthed to life are author Lilliam Rivera and artist Steph C., whose work creates a story that narratively and visually stands out in the DC Comics landscape. In celebration of Unearthed‘s debut, ComicBook.com recently got a chance to chat with the team about their take on Jessica’s story, her dynamic with other characters, and what they hope readers get out of the story. Warning, mild spoilers for Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story are below! Only look if you want to know!
ComicBook.com: What drew you both of you to Jessica Cruz, and what made you want to tell this story with her?
Lilliam Rivera: I was called by DC Comics, and they said, “Oh, would you be interested in writing a comic book?” And I was like, “Of course.” And then I was just like, “Which character?” And for me, because I am a Latina, I only wanted to write a Latina character. And I really gravitated towards Jessica Cruz, because I love her story. She seemed so real to me. She has real fears and anxieties that play with her being a superhero. And I loved that, and I was really interested in talking about what that origin story would look like, and where she came from, and what her friends and family life is like. It was just a really fun project to get into and write about.
Steph C.: Yeah, I would say same for me. I knew a little about Jessica Cruz, and I had read her stories. And they reached out to me to see if I wanted to make some tests for a comic book, I was like, “Of course I want to.” And then it was Jessica, and I was really, really excited. The whole story was to capture her as the person she is before she gets the ring, before the powers. I felt that it’s really important to express that personality, and that sense that superheroes also have and deal with these anxieties and troubles in their life. At the end of the day, anyone can be a hero no matter who they are, right? So, it’s really exciting for me to be able to just draw her and bring this story to life with the illustrations. It was really fun.
I love the decision to not really have super powers be a part of the story, and just focus on how Jessica can be a hero on her own. I was curious about that decision, and re-imagining her origin story in that kind of way.
Rivera: I am really interested in just the history. I feel like everything that I’ve written has some sort of history flashpoint in the background. And so for Jessica, I wanted to know where she lives, and I wanted to know what her friends are like, and I love that she was a intern at this museum and the connection she had with the gods in there. It was really kind of freeing to be able to not be tied to “Oh my gosh, she has these superpowers. She was born with it.” I was just like, no, it’s this way of “There are no coincidences.” Everything that happens to her in the graphic novel is going to inform her future.
It was really freeing in that way, because then you really see her saving the community and saving her city. You get a hint of her becoming this leader. That, to me, is really powerful, just to see a Latina do it, but also a young woman. Here she is at the cusp of what she’s going to be, a really powerful leader in her community, in her city, and beyond.
For Steph, how did the grounding of the story influence your art style? It’s so fantastical at certain moments, but it’s also so grounded at other moments.
C.: Like Lilliam mentioned, this is pretty much her origin story, so to speak. She’s part of this community in the city where she lives and her friends. She has a life inside in this place. This is where she grew up. For me, it was really important to demonstrate that this is the space where she’s from.
The fantastic part comes more from where she has to express her emotions, which just build and come out of her. But they also come into her in her knowing that she has the support and she has the mediums to move forward, when she meets the gods and all that. So, trying to keep that balance with the fantastic side and having a more sort of casual story or casual setting, I think it plays amazingly. You have this setting in which she expresses herself, this is where she lives her life, but it’s been affected directly by second parties. And this other reality that exists with her, it’s there trying to support her and give her the emotion that she needs to navigate a real world. I really love to play with her real world and her inner world.
I loved John Stewart’s role in the book. That was kind of a pleasant surprise to have him be there. I was wondering if you both could speak to your approach to him, because I just love seeing this younger version of him.
Rivera: It was really exciting for me, to be able to like, “Oh, let’s bring him in to the story.” I felt that he was almost the heart of the story in a lot of ways, because he gives Jessica a little bit of this idea of, “You can open up to someone. You can share what is your greatest fear, and that you’re not alone.” That was key. It’s this concept of “You’re not alone,” when it comes to these kind of huge burdens and realities that young people have to face. He brings not only levity, but just emotions of, “I can be this friend.”
It was really kind of great to be able to include him in the story. I felt like it was needed. And they’re both are at the very beginning of their journey of what they’re going to be.
C.: It was really fun to draw him, especially because he compliments Jessica in this story so well. Jessica is a little bit more reserved. She’s a little bit more cautious of who she lets in. And then you have John’s character, and he gives her a safe space to express herself. “Listen, I know that maybe you don’t feel safe enough to open to people, but I understand. And either way, I’m going to be your friend, and I’m going to support you. When you feel comfortable enough to let me know what you’re going through, I’m going to be there to support you, but I’m also going to support you by trying to make you feel safe.”
I really liked that contrast, where he’s a little bit more chill. He has more body expressions, and he talks a lot with his hands, but also in the moments when Jessica needs him to be serious, he is. So, I really wanted to capture that for him. He knows where the balance is between, “Do you need me to be the chill friend today?” and “That’s your safe space where you can finally open up and feel safe.”
What do you both hope that readers take away from reading Unearthed?
Rivera: I just hope that they fall in love with Jessica Cruz, that they discover another layer of what makes her kind of tick and just be surprised by this story. Because I’m sure it kind of deviates to what some people or some comic book readers might expect, but I love that. I do feel like more than anything, Steph’s illustrations, the way she created this kind of other world. The way that she depicts Jessica’s world, when she connects with the gods, just the artwork is more than enough. It’s just so stunning and so beautiful, the work that she created. And I feel, story or not story, if you’re a comic book fan, you’re going to love the illustration alone.
C.: Thank you! I’ve been really, really humbled to hear that and to be part of this story. I expect that, yeah, they fall in love with Jessica and with Lilliam’s story. I really want readers to take away from it that their true power doesn’t come from being a superhero or like a magical element that you get. It comes from being yourself. At the end of the day, Jessica is a young Latina lady living her life and fighting for what she wants and for her rights and just existing. That is a superpower. And I want them to feel like, “You know what? If Jessica, the Green Lantern, went through all of this and made it, then I can make it, too. It’s worth it that I am here.” I want for them to feel like that, because it made me feel like that. I would love for them to have that feeling, too.
The way that Unearthed ends, it kind of sets the perfect ground for a potential sequel. If you both got the opportunity to tell more stories with this Jessica, are there any other heroes or characters that you’d like to see her interact with?
Rivera: Oh man. I didn’t think about it, but I feel like I would always want her to go back to the gods. I feel like there’s so much left to explore in that world. It would be amazing to see what that looks like as it changes, as she gets older and becomes more of an adult. What is her relationship with those gods, and how does that change? That, to me, is where I would go.
C.: Yeah, same. I would love to explore more of her world, the gods. I would love to have like a story where maybe we’ll get to learn that the gods also were like [tied to] some of the rings. I would love to do something like that.
Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story is available now wherever books are sold.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.