Saturday, May 28, 2011

Green Lantern: The Problem with John Stewart


At the beginning of the "War of the Green Lanterns" arch, we where warned that one of the Earth-based Green Lanterns would die at the end. I've been trying to figure out who, and I just can't escape the signs all pointing to John Stewart. Solicitations for future issues seem to indicate that Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner come out of the war alive. It wouldn't be the first time cover solicitations have been altered to maintain the surprise. Some of them are legitimately confusing the issue, with one cover showing John with Kyle's broken mask, but again the next month's issue shows Kyle alive and well. So we can't trust the solicited covers. There are other facts supporting my thought that Stewart is the one who's going to die. If Guy and Kyle are safe, it's down to Hal and John -- and with a big-time summer movie just about to hit theaters, I really doubt DC is going to kill Hal Jordan (again!).


Why would DC want to kill off John Stewart, then, you might ask? He has a lot of things going for him, from fan familiarity from the Justice League cartoon series, to the simple fact that he's one of the more higher profile African American Super Heroes. Not saying being black makes John immune to the grim reaper, but the subject of race forces it's self into the discussion. He was so recognized on the Justice League TV show that many people who don't read comics where confused as to why they changed Green Lantern into a white guy for the movie. That confusion, right there, might be a factor as well.

The clincher, for me, if any of the human GLs are going to die - is the simple fact that John Stewart has been floundering ever since Hal Jordan's return. Geoff Johns made a real effort to keep John relevant to the GL book, even as Hal invariably took center stage - but John is invariably still playing second fiddle to Hal Jordan.


John Stewart first appeared in older Green Lantern/Green Arrow issues. The book dealt with several social problems facing society, and John Stewart was a way to address the subject of race. The Guardians decided they needed another Green Lantern to help out on Earth, and appointed building architect John Stewart. Hal was actually called a racist for objecting. While race might have been the starting factor as to John Stewart's creation, it really turned out great, giving us one of the best Green Lanterns to date. John immediately set himself apart from Hal by refusing to wear a mask and hide his identity. The most deciding factor that made John different was his questioning authority.


When Hal Jordan gave up being Green Lantern at one point, John stepped in as the full-time Green Lantern. During this time he met and married Katma Tui. The beginning (for lack of better term) scar-ification of John Stewart began when he lost his powers, and his wife Katma Tui was murdered by the Star Sapphire during a scheme of Sinestro's. John was falsely accused of killing Carol Farris, the alter ego of the Star Sapphire. He was later accused of theft and tortured for weeks by the South Nambia. He was eventually freed and re-powered with the help of Hal Jordan.

With so much of his life falling apart, John Stewart left for the stars. It was during a cross-over event called the Cosmic Odyssey that John faced his worst and most defining tragedy, when he failed to save the planet Xanshi. John would blame himself for years to come, as the destruction of that planet could have easily been prevented, if John hadn't refused help from the Martian Manhunter, feeling he could save the planet himself. When he arrived to find the machine able to destroy the planet, John was horrified to find it was colored completely yellow -- his ring being completely ineffective against that color. John was unable to stop the planet's destruction.


After the destruction of Xanshi John became a much more stoic and complex hero, his failure perhaps grounding him a bit more than before; he simply would never act as arrogantly as he did on Xanshi again. This new attitude served him well when he became caretaker to Mosaic World, a patch-work set of alien lands from across the universe which where all brought together on Oa. These various peoples and societies where spirited away from their home worlds to find their neighborhoods and towns now next to any number of different alien cultures. John's talent and skill helped keep this fragile society together, and earned him the respect of the Guardians. So much so, that he became the only human Guardian of the Universe, known as the Master Builder. John was even rewarded by the Guardians by being reunited with his wife Katma Tui. The good times would not last, as around this time Hal Jordan became Parallax, destroying the Central Power Battery and the Guardians, robbing John of his powers and his revived wife.


Johns found new life, though, when he accepted an offer from the Controllers (an off-shoot of the Guardians), who wanted to create a replacement police force for the now destroyed Green Lantern Corps. John would command this new group, called the Darkstars. Yet in a continual string of horrible tragedies, John was crippled in battle against the villain Grayven.


From there John's story becomes that of a supporting role, bound in a wheel chair. He didn't lounge about, though -- he began focusing on his career as an architect, helping to build locations like the JSA Headquarters.

When Kyle Rayner became Ion, with supposedly god-like powers, Kyle set to work correcting many wrongs. Before giving up the power of Ion to restore the Central Power Battery, and the the Guardians of the Universe, Kyle helped give John back the use of his legs. Apparently an intervention by Hal Jordan, before he died and repented for his actions as Parallax, had tried to cure John Stewart's crippled body. It supposedly should have worked, but John remained bound in a wheel chair. Delving into John's past, it's discovered there's yet another tragedy he had tried to block out. When he was very young, John had gone joy riding in a car, with a puppy in the back seat. He had crashed the car and the puppy had been killed. It was soon revealed that it wasn't a puppy, but in fact John's little sister. This tragic memory, combined with all the tragedies he already suffered, prevented John from wanting to walk again. With Kyle's help John was healed. Before going off into space, to continue helping to rebuild the Green Lantern Corps, Kyle left John a power ring, asking him to mind the store while he was away.


The return of John as a Green Lantern was due in part to the Justice League cartoon series. His uniform now matched the cartoon, and while Kyle was off in space John served for a long while in the Justice League of America. This was probably the best point in the character's life - as it seemed like the tragedies he had where left behind him.


When Hal Jordan came back, the question of what to do with John Stewart came up. In the revived Green Lantern Corps all sectors now had two Green Lanterns, with John being Hal's partner. Geoff Johns took elements the Justice League cartoon show, like John's military background, and worked that into his character. John Stewart's architectural side wasn't lost, but further expanded upon - showing that all of his constructs where extremely detailed.

Still, what made John's character so good in the Justice League cartoon was that he didn't have to play second fiddle to anyone else. He was the only Green Lantern on the team, and that served to make him an important and powerful character. He further became more and more popular, especially regarding his romance with Hawkgirl.


Ever since Hal's return, though, John Stewart just hasn't been the same. There have been some valiant efforts to include him in the GL stories, like his continually dwelling on Xanshi, and wishing he could use his willpower to restore it. This might have made good character drama - but I think it hurt the character tremendously. Dwelling on the past was simply trapping John in a state of continual depression - which isn't very fun to read. During the Blackest Night mini-series Xanshi was restored, but rather as a nightmare planet made up of Black Lanterns. In a much needed turn around - John fought back against the darkness, triumphantly declaring that it was time to put Xanshi behind him, and finally move on, and Move Out!


From there John has appeared in issues of the Green Lantern Corps - which now leads to where we are now: the War of the Green Lanterns. I was cautiously optimistic that Xanshi, and all the tragedy in John's life where actually finally behind him -- but recent events in War of the Green Lanterns have brought us right back to where we started.


When the villain Krona took over the Green Lantern Corps, and infected every member with the yellow light of fear, making all GLs brain-washed zombies, Hal, John, Kyle, and Gardner abandoned their Green Rings in favor of other colored Lantern Rings. John took the Violet Light of Compassion. During their battle against the mind-washed GLs, John and Kyle embarked on a mission to free one of the most powerful Green Lanterns, the sentient planet Mogo. Mogo is instrumental to the GL Corps, as he directs all Power Rings across the universe. Yet Mogo was completely in Krona's control - and more and more tainted power rings where spreading accross the universe, threatening to destroy it. Warned of the dire implications, and how unstoppable Krona would become with each new recruited Green Lantern, John made the tough decision. He channeled the power the Black Lantern energy, and used it's awesome power to destroy yet another planet. Just like Xanshi, Mogo was annihilated - but this time it was all on John's hands. The situation had indeed called for that kind of action, but it's yet another scar to the already impressive list of tragedies to John Stewart's life.


The concluding chapter of War of the Green Lanterns comes out next month. Maybe I'm wrong, and John won't be the one to die; DC has been accused over the last year of not taking enough care to keep minority characters alive and kicking. But, right now, it's John Stewart who's the most directionless Green Lantern of the bunch. Either way, it just feels like DC has taken a great character - and impressively tarnished him at every single turn. If you play that rough with you're toys, eventually they might break. Which is what I think DC is doing to John Stewart.

UPDATE

The concluding chapter of "War of the Green Lanterns" finally came out - and I have to give credit to DC; they really did surprise me. Warning, Spoilers!

5 comments:

  1. If you're right about Stewart dying, I'd say DC is making a big mistake. Why can't they just kill that arrogant bastard Gardner? Stewart's military background and habit of questioning authority makes him a better GL than that loose canonball Gardner. And he's more cooperative and friendly too.

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  2. I hope John won't die. He's too great of a character to die! -ealperin

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  3. If they Kill John Stewart. They will loose alot of fans. He is not a cocky over privlaged kid like Hal Jordan or a cokcy trouble maker like Guy Gardner. He is a nice even characer who gets the job done.

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  4. Black African American Green Lantern!!!!!! da BEST ONE! THE ONLY ONE!

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  5. John and Shayera is the best love story going...

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