Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Black Superheroes: Green Lantern IV

I can't say I approve of that hair cut
Real Name: John Stewart

First Appearance: Green Lantern #87 (1971/1972)

History: Born and raised in Detroit John Stewart escape the ghetto by joining the Marine Corps. He eventually left to become a full-time architect. One day the Guardians of the Universe, leaders of the intergalactic peace keeping force known as The Green Lantern Corps, came to him with a recruitment proposition; to replace the injured Guy Gardner as the back-up for this sector’s primary Green Lantern Hal Jordan. Stewart agreed and became an ally of Jordan for years. Eventually he would be promoted to a full-time Green Lantern and become not only one of the most reliable and respected veterans of the Corps but also a valued and key member of the Justice League.

Beta Says: Not to be confused with the host of the Daily Show John Stewart was created by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams. He was one of the first black superheroes created at DC Comics, even if he wouldn’t become a full time superhero for a few years. Interestingly John has, like Cyborg, greatly benefited from his appearance in a 2000s cartoon. When Justice League became a hit DC greatly increased the character’s relevance to the point that he was a regularly member of the comic book version Justice League of America’s roster for much of the decade (Beforehand Stewart was not majorly affiliated with the team). In fact the cartoon was so popular that in 2011 when the Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern movie came out I heard a sizable amount of non-comic book fans wondering why they changed Green Lantern into a white guy. That’s hilarious.

More on John Stewart after the jump.

There is no Green Lantern more badass than this man
Because of this and also because of the nature of the Green Lantern Corps (which has literally thousands of members who all share the “Green Lantern” identity) I believe that John Stewart is the most successful example of Minority Replacement, the phenomenon where creators replace a well-known white character with a person of color in order to expand diversity but doesn’t take into consideration the feelings of the fans of the original. John did indeed replace Hal Jordan as Green Lantern for a while but unlike War Machine (Iron Man) or Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel) he eventually achieves equal standing with his predecessor in the superhero hierarchy. While DC has been trying to shoehorn Hal as “Just As Important As Batman/Superman” with varying results I think it’s clear that depending who and where you ask people will tell you “Oh yeah, Green Lantern’s real name is John Stewart. He’s awesome.” No one would make that comment when talking about Iron Man and Jim Rhodes. Hell, I’ve even heard that the “Maybe It Will/Maybe It Won’t” 2015 Justice League movie may be using John Stewart on their roster rather than Hal Jordan, which would make sense seeing as Hal’s movie was a failure. If that does happen that might actually spell the end of Hal’s tenure as “main” GL in the DCU in favor of John. I’d be okay with this.

Anyway John has had something of a rough journey. His character was pretty racially charged when he was first created as typical with black characters created in the 70s, so things tended to be somewhere between goofy and offensive in his earliest days. At some point he starred in his ongoing series called Green Lantern: Mosaic where he was appointed the protector of an artificially created patchwork world. The thing is that the book was popular. Hell, the first issue sold over 210,000 copies. To put that in perspective that’s almost twice as much as the average highest selling comic today on a typical month (though to be fair back in 1992 the highest selling books would have been much, much higher than that). It was canceled not because of low sales but because the higher ups at DC Comics personally didn’t like the book and wanted it off the shelves. That is crazy…and now that I think about it eerily familiar sounding g as far as modern practices.

Holy shit, guys; this book looks f**king amazing!
Later when Hal Jordan murdered the Guardians and destroyed the GL Corps (Yeah, as a kid I only knew Jordan as the mad villain Parallax which I’m sure has affected my view of the character today) Stewart, now without his ring, was a member of the Darkstars who acted as a sort of replacement for the Corps. But he would eventually be crippled at the hands of Darkseid’s son Grayven. A few years later he was regained the use of his legs after being cured by Parallax (and furthered helped by my favorite GL Kyle Rayner when he briefly was the god-like entity Ion) and was given a place in the restored Green Lantern Corps where he’s been ever since.

As mentioned Stewart really had his stock raised by the Justice League cartoon. Now the creators of the show have admitted that they picked him over then current GL Kyle Rayner (who previously appeared in the Superman cartoon that shared a continuity with this new one) because they wanted to throw a black dude on the team. And you can tell as the creators take a lot of liberties with the character, including not only jettisoning his past an architect but also  used to the Green Lantern Power Ring in very uncreative ways (one would imagine his ability to create objects with his skills as an architect would have been his main draw as a Green Lantern). But thankfully, due to the extremely strong writing of the show John was greatly characterized to the point that DC important several of his cartoon traits to the comic. Also Phil Lamar is pretty much always good.

John Stewart, as with all of the human Green Lanterns, is featured in the various Green Lantern books, specifically the ongoing  title Green Lantern Corps . Thankfully his role in the DCU doesn’t seem to have been altered too badly in the recent reboot though much of his superhero career simply couldn’t have happened in the span of five years. Plus his stint as a member of the Justice League is improbable too. Still John does have the benefit of being pretty well known among casual fans which is more than a lot of other, arguably more iconic black characters, can say. 

Anytime Hal Jordan's not in the picture it's a win for me
Next time we’ll wrap up our look at Black Superheroes with a character set to be introduced to the general public in an upcoming film…too bad Marvel botched his origin. However for more on John Stewart click here.


  1. how do you feel about how John Stewart has been used in GL v4 and v5? I was pretty dissapointed at how he seemed to get little character development and was at times treated like wallpaper. I thought it was telling that Johns let Sinestro, a mass murderer, get more panel time than Stewart got when he was supposed to be Jordan's partner at the begining of GL v. 4. He didn't even get a new origin which is ridiculous and he won't be showing up in the GL cartoon since it's been cancelled. It's almost like DC doesn't care about John Stewart at times which is a shame because he's a pretty cool character.

    1. I'm not a fan of the way DC has been using him. If I were to guess I'd say they don't have a clear idea what to do with him since they're not interested in him as the main GL. Does DC care about him at all? Probably, but not enough to invest more time in him. It's a waste of a good character, but at least they haven't decided to just kill him off. Yet.


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