I SUPPORT BLACK SUPERHEROES [Belser-Verse, Part 5]: ‘In Blackest Night…’

JaDarrell “The Belser”
@TheBelser

Space! The Final Frontier.. (come on, you know the rest). Space exploration has seen its fair share of real-life African American innovators like astronauts Robert Henry Lawrence Jr, Guion Bluford and Mae Jemison. For this article, the space explorer in question is the one of the very first African-American superheroes in DC Comics, John Stewart.

[NOTE: Most of the notes of this article come from a previous Belser-Verse article “GREEN LANTERN vs. NOVA: Two Of A Kind“]

John Stewart’s debut

John Stewart was created by the late Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams in Green Lantern #87 (December 1971/January 1972). Adams himself originated with the idea of a back-up Green Lantern. However, a conversation between Adams and then-editor Julius Schwartz resulted in making the character an African American. Adams states the world’s diverse racial makeup was a major factor in the decision: “We ought to have a black Green Lantern, not because we’re liberals, but because it just makes sense.

John’s initial design is based on the first African American male actor to win the Oscar, Sidney Poitier.

Origin

John Stewart starts out as an architect from Detroit, Michigan. (NOTE: John was later “retconned” into a U.S. Marine). John was selected as a substitute for Green Lantern Hal Jordan by The Guardians of The Universe. Jordan himself objected to John’s selection and saw him as a stereotypical ‘angry black guy’ because Stewart had a rebellious attitude toward authority figures.

Despite Jordan’s objections, The Guardians stood by their decision and actually chided Jordan for coming across as ‘bigoted’. Jordan explained that he just felt Stewart had “a chip on his shoulder bigger than the rock of Gibraltar” and it made him question Stewart’s integrity for the task of being a Green Lantern.

John was the first Earth Green Lantern to forgo a secret identity (“This black man lets it all hang out! I’ve got nothing to hide!”).

Stewart’s first assignment was to protect a racist politician from an assassination threat. At one point, an assassin shoots at the politician and Stewart does not intervene. Jordan is suspicious of Stewart but John had a good reason for his non-response: John was stopping a gunman from killing a police officer in the outside parking lot at the event; the assassin Jordan was pursuing was a merely a decoy.

Stewart also explains that the politician had staged the attack for political advantage. Jordan then concludes that Stewart was an excellent recruit and has proven his worth.
Starting with this issue, John Stewart becomes the primary Green Lantern for a period in the 80’s

From 1984 to 1986, John became the primary character of the Green Lantern comic from issues #182 through #200, when Hal Jordan relinquished his place in the Green Lantern Corps. He continued to star in the book when the title changed to The Green Lantern Corps from issue #201 to #224 (1986–1988). He would continue to make key appearances in Action Comics Weekly.

Stewart eventually gets his own title

After the cancellation of The Green Lantern Corps comic in 1988, John was the lead character in the comic Green Lantern: Mosaic from June 1992 and November 1993. In this storyline, John became the caretaker of the “Mosaic World“, a patchwork of communities from multiple planets that had been brought to the planet Oa by an insane Guardian. Stewart eventually becomes The Master Builder, the first mortal Guardian of the Universe.  

Cartoon Network’s Justice League

John’s first significant multimedia portrayal comes from the 2001 Cartoon Network series Justice League. When the lineup for Justice League was announced, The Green Lantern of this series was revealed not to be Kyle Rayner (the current Green Lantern at the time) or Hal Jordan (the best known Green Lantern), but John Stewart. He was indeed the most controversial choice of the group as he was relatively unknown to the general public.

Bruce Timm explains his choice of John Stewart: “One of the things we really wanted to avoid was having a group of characters who were all pretty much interchangeable. Going back and rereading a lot of the Silver Age Justice League comics, they really are all the same character—Batman [had] no different a voice than Superman or Flash. They’re all kind of the same character; the only thing that differentiates them is what colors they’re wearing and what powers they have. So we really wanted to make sure they had a much more interesting group dynamic than that and that they all had different personalities. Going back to the original version of John Stewart from Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ day, the thing that made him interesting to us was that he was quite a bit more of a badass. If you go back and read those, he comes across as a stereotypical, angry, young black man. We knew we didn’t want to do that exactly, but we still wanted to keep a little bit of that edge to him so that he would be one of the more strident of the characters. We hit upon the idea of the Green Lanterns being kind of a paramilitary force, so we said, ‘Ah, marine. Okay, Louis Gossett Jr., Samuel Jackson.’ So that became our take on him” (2015, ‘Why John Stewart Became A Marine”, Comicvine)

Phil Lamarr, the voice of John Stewart in the DCAU

John was voiced by LA-based comedic actor Phil Lamarr. Lamarr is best known as the ill-fated ‘Marvin’ in Pulp Fiction and one of the original cast members of the Fox 90’s sketch comedy series MADTV. Phil has gone on to a very prolific voice acting career, lending his talents to shows like Family Guy, Futurama, and Samurai Jack. For the voice of the character, Phil took inspiration from simply looking at a sketch of the character: “I chose to give John Stewart a very deep, powerful voice. For me that couldn’t be avoided, given the way Bruce designs characters. You have this gigantic chest and that says to me this guy has a huge resonating chamber [and] his voice has to boom” (2004, “Green Lantern”, Toonzone.Net).

John Stewart as he appeared on Justice League

Little is known of John’s early history other than he was born in Detroit. He has at least one relative (an uncle) who got him into reading Justice Guild Of America comic books. John believes he developed much of his heroic characteristics from reading these comics. John’s ‘weakness’ is his favorite movie Old Yeller (an in-joke on how his power ring’s weakness is the color yellow).

Young John Stewart in the US Marine Corps

Per the series, Stewart left home to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at a fairly young age. He continues to wear a high and tight’ fade haircut as a reminder of his Marine past. Relatively little is known of John’s military service other than he met and befriended Rex Mason during that time. NOTE: Rex would eventually become a superhero in his own right: MetamorphoThe Element Man.

John as a member of The Green Lantern Corps

At some point, he was recruited by the Green Lantern Corps on the planet Oa. Early in his Corps career, John would train under the veteran Green Lantern Katma Tui (who eventually became his lover). The show states that John has been a Green Lantern for least ten years prior to the events of the show. His most unique physical feature would be his glowing green eyes (a result of years of power ring energy exposure). As Sector 2814 was already under the protection of Green Lantern Abin Sur, John was eventually reassigned to another space sector.

After the death of Sur, John was reassigned to return to his home sector. Sur’s chosen successor, Kyle Rayner, still required training before being assigned a sector of his own. Stewart was therefore sent to stand guard over Sector 2814, while Rayner was sent to Oa for training.

John and The Justice League

Not long after John’s homecoming, he would answer the fateful summons to join six other heroes (including Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) in saving Earth from an alien invasion. In the aftermath of that crisis, John readily agreed to Superman’s suggestion that the seven heroes band together as the Justice League and John became a founding member.

His most frequent team-ups were with The Flash (Wally West). The opposites of their personalities ( Wally’s carefree and funny; John is stern and serious) made a great Odd Couple dynamic between them.

John’s most important League relationship came in the form of a romance with Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol). Their shared military/space police backgrounds brought them closer together. In the episode “Comfort and Joy”, they even spent a Christmas together by first having a super snowball fight and then getting into a friendly bar fight at an outer space cantina.

After a near death experience involving The Joker in the episode “ Wild Cards”, the two officially became romantically involved with a passionate kiss aboard the Watchtower.

This brief romance is all but destroyed by the Thanagarian invasion. It is revealed that Hawkgirl has been a spy during her entire time in the Justice League and she has been regularly reporting back to them about her teammates and Earth’s defenses. It is also revealed that Shayera is ‘promised’ to Commander Hro Talak, which is the Thanagarian equivalent to an engagement for marriage.

After Shayera defects to Earth and the Thanagarians were defeated, the League votes whether to reinstate or revoke Shayera’s Justice League membership but she quits anyway.

They have one last goodbye on a mountain cliff and Shayera declares that the love she felt for John was not fake. As she flies away, John whispers “ I love you too”.

Justice League Unlimited

During the continuation series Justice League Unlimited, the League has a major recruitment drive and expands far beyond the original seven heroes. John, like the other founders, becomes a senior member put into a supervisory mode and overseeing missions. He also serves as a mentor to younger heroes like Static and Supergirl.

John gains a new look as well, trading in his fade for a shaved bald head and a goatee (a very similar look to another space hero, Captain Ben Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).
John even has a new girlfriend, fashion model/superhero Vixen.
John’s new relationship is made awkward by the return of Shayera Hol to the Justice League. Even more so, Vixen and Shayera actually like each other, swapping stories of John’s quirks and initiating a friendly rivalry for John’s ultimate affections (a sort of Betty and Veronica relationship with John in the place of Archie).

During a time travel mission with Batman in the episode “The Once and Future Thing”, John discovers that he is also the father of future Justice League member Warhawk. Given the young man’s mulatto nature and the facts he utilizes wings to fly, it confirms a startling fact: John will ultimately conceive a child with Shayera at some point in the future.

Warhawk, John’s future son with Hawkgirl

John tells this experience to Shayera but chooses to remain in a relationship with Vixen, stating he would not be destiny’s puppet and leaves it at that. Indicating she still has love for John, Shayera privately goes to Batman, John’s partner in the time travel incident, with only one request: ‘Tell me about my son’. John is last seen chasing down the Secret Society with the other members of the Justice League.

Static Shock:

John Stewart made a number of appearances on the DCAU series Static Shock. The series dealt with a young teenager named Virgil Hawkins as he balances his life as both a superhero and a regular teen (like the early Spider-Man comics). However, with Virgil being African- American, the show was able to tackle issues with the black community like gangs, gun violence, racism and drug abuse. Another underlying narrative is Virgil’s longing for an African American superhero mentor/role model. NOTE: Both Static and John Stewart were voiced by the same actor: Phil Lamarr.

John giving advice to young hero Static,

• “Power Play ”: Virgil states that his favorite superhero is John Stewart, the Green Lantern and he would pretend to be John when playing with friends.

• Static finally meets John Stewart in the two parter “ A League Of Their Own”. Here, Static and his best friend Richie (now a tech-based sidekick name Gear) are invited to their HQ, The Watchtower, at Batman’s suggestion for a special situation: A cosmic super string has drained most of the power from the station’s generator. As a result, the station’s thrusters are failing and the station will fall out of orbit. So, they need Static’s powers to charge their generator– which would save the day and free The League from the control of guest villain Brainiac. In parting, John Stewart tells Static: “For a rookie, you did well, Static. But I can tell you’re gonna be a handful when you join the League”. This leaves Static with a big smile at his possible future in The Justice League.

“Fallen Hero” : Static hears the news that his hero is going on a rampaging crime spree. It is discovered that the Green Lantern on a rampage is actually his arch enemy Sinestro in disguise. Sinestro has stolen John’s power battery and he leaves the real Green Lantern behind to take the fall for his crimes. Soon after, the real powerless Green Lantern comes to Dakota by train. Static confronts him and helps put Green Lantern in jail. Static is hurt on a personal level, as he so looked up to the Emerald Knight.

  • Static later discovers Green Lantern’s power ring in his own pocket and goes to talk to the disgraced hero. Realizing what has happened, Static teams up with John and provides a power source to recharge his Green Lantern ring: Static’s own electricity. Together, the heroes take down Sinestro, expose him as the culprit and restore Green Lantern’s reputation. With Static’s own faith restored in his hero, Static and Green Lantern salute each other as respected comrades and bid one another farewell.

The CW Arrowverse

For years, a persistent fan theory has been spreading where many fans believe that Arrowverse character John Diggle is actually John Stewart, The Green Lantern. The Arrowverse TV shows have made a number of Easter Eggs to illustrate this point:

  • The Elseworlds crossover: The Flash from Earth-90 arrives through a portal from another dimension to warn this world’s heroes. He immediately looks at John Diggle and says “Hello John. You’re not wearing your ring? Things must be different here”. This is the first indication that Diggle’s doppleganger on Earth-90 is the Green Lantern, John Stewart.
  • Another nod takes place in the season seven episode “Spartan“, where Diggle’s stepfather is revealed to be named Roy Stewart (portrayed by Ernie Hudson).
John Diggle: The ‘John Stewart’ of the Arrowverse?
  • Arrow series finale episode, “Fadeout“; An object falls from the sky as he prepares to move for Metropolis. It turns out to be an unmarked metal box. When Diggle opens the box, the item inside is not shown to the audience, but is glowing green, letting the audience assume that it’s a Green Lantern power ring as Diggle gives a narration”.…this universe is far bigger than any of us could ever imagine…‘.

Legacy

John Stewart’s popularity rose greatly as a result of his inclusion on the Justice League cartoon. He became the focal point of many JL episodes and arguably became that show’s breakout character. IGN ranked John Stewart as the 55th greatest comic book hero of all time describing him as one of the first dominant African-American heroes in the pages of DC Comics; IGN also stated that John Stewart has gone from “semi-obscurity in the mainstream to absolute recognition” thanks to his starring role in the acclaimed Justice League cartoons. (2011, “John Stewart (Green Lantern) is number 55″, IGN).

UNTIL NEXT TIME!!!

-JaDarrel Belser

References:

2015, ‘Why John Stewart Became A Marine”, Comicvine. Retrieved from https://comicvine.gamespot.com/john-stewart/4005-10451/forums/why-john-stewart-became-a-marine-bruce-timm-1640812/
May 17, 2011.”John Stewart (Green Lantern) is number 55″. IGN.

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