Unsung Comic Book Heroes: John Stewart’s Green Lantern
John Stewart is the third Earthling to have been selected as a member of the Green Lantern Corps. His first appearance is back in Green Lantern #87; the Guardians of the Universe picked John after Hal Jordan went on leave from the Corps and his replacement Guy Gardner is out of commission due to serious injuries. As for The Guardians of the Universe, they are beings that have essentially been around since the beginning of time and are the creators of the power battery which powers all of the Green Lantern’s rings.
Getting back to John Stewart, he’s from Detroit Michigan and has quite the resume before becoming a Green Lantern; he was an architect and a former member of the USMC where he received full combat training and even became an expert sniper (he initially wanted to go to school to be an architect but decided to join the United States Marine Corps First). This desire for greatness and joining the USMC stemmed from witnessing his father, a drunk, beat John’s mother until he eventually ran out on both of them.
The character of John Stewart was created by writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams; he was one of DC’s very first black superheroes. The idea for the character came about from a discussion O’Neal and Adams were having, where Adams decided it was time to finally have a black superhero. During the time of Stewart’s creation, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. This was one of the main reasons for him coming to be as a way to help start the integration of more black characters in the comic medium.
One of the more interesting and distinct things about the character, and what really separates him from other black characters that were to follow him, is that he doesn’t have the word black anywhere in his name or title; (he’s actually the very first black superhero not to have “black” in his name) which many of the other African-American characters had during that time period as their big selling point. To further separate John Stewart from other black characters of his era, he was created to be a superhero rather than a “black superhero,” This was done by his creators avoiding black stereotypes and blaxploitation style stories, which were very popular among black comic characters back then. He did deal with racism and race issues a lot during his original run, though.
Another original aspect the to the character O’Neil and Adams created was how he would be one of the Green Lanterns who does not wear a domino mask to protect his identity. There’s a good sequence written where during John’s training with Hal, they get into an argument about John not wearing the mask. John’s strong-willed response to Hal’s argument is, “This black man lets it all hang out! I’ve got nothing to hide!” This line gave a great picture of Stewart’s moral character and his brutal honesty as a man.
Like all the other Lanterns from Earth, his sector to patrol is 2814. But throughout his time as a Corps member, he eventually goes to spend a majority of his time on OA; the home base of the Green Lanterns. And on several occasions, he even becomes the Corps leader. Also, one of the things that makes John Stewart so believable as a hero and capable leader is how he’s willing to make the difficult decisions in any given situation; even if it means him living with the consequences of those actions.
One of his most popular appearances, and what a lot of people know John Stewart from, is the Justice League cartoon from the early 2000s. He was also in the sequel series, “Justice League United” and was a focal point and main character throughout most of the two series.
He was such a popular character in the cartoon that whenever the Green Lantern movie with Ryan Reynolds was being made, a lot of fans were upset—feeling as the studio white-washed the character—not even realizing John Stewart was actually the 3rd Green Lantern from Earth. Though, I do admit it would have been cool to at least have had a cameo or easter egg involving Stewart in that movie.
There is good news, though, as it appears John Stewart will finally be making his big screen debut. It was announced the next Green Lantern movie will have both Hal Jordan and John Stewart in it, which should make for an interesting story. I’ve been trying to think of different stories they could try to tell in this new movie, but any of the really good ones are going to need way too much setup.
So, what I think they should do is take elements of these great stories to make a larger, more comprehensive movie plot which only glosses over their origins. A good beginning could be something like the two of them (John and Hal) starting the movie off by wanting to kill each other because they annoy each other so much. But then throughout the movie they grow to respect each other and become some of the best Lanterns that ever donned the power rings. Of course, this would lead to sequels that hopefully further the adventures of the characters and introduce even more.
While John Stewart may not be the most famous Green Lantern, or even have the title of the greatest Green Lantern, he’s definitely one of the more interesting and relatable ones. And if you are a GL fan but never read his books, you should know he has had a lot of good stories and looks to have a very bright future ahead; in both the comics and other media. He’s a character who really deserves more shine, and hopefully DC gives him his just dues in the new movie universe.
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You can find more about John Stewart here.