The History of Green Lantern John Stewart, Explained - Nerdist
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The History of Green Lantern John Stewart, Explained

The Green Lantern series on HBO Max was first announced back in 2019, and was originally meant to focus on many members of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps. But now, they’ve announced that the series is refocusing on one character — Green Lantern John Stewart. Many of you out there might think Green Lantern is just that guy infamously played by Ryan Reynolds once. But we’re here to tell you all about the 50-year legacy of John Stewart. And why he’s one of DC Comics’ most important characters.

Green Lantern John Stewart in the 2000s era of DC Comics.
DC Comics

John Stewart, contrary to popular belief, was not DC Comics’ first black superhero. That honor belongs to Mal Duncan, one of the early members of the Teen Titans. A few months before Stewart appeared, Jack Kirby’s Forever People hit newsstands, which included the character Vykin the Black. Regardless, it’s safe to say that John Stewart is DC’s most prominent African-American superhero today. He has totally eclipsed the earlier debuting characters.

John Stewart’s Historic Debut

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87, the first appearance of John Stewart.
DC Comics

The creative power duo of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams created John Stewart, appearing in 1971’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87. This creative team reinvigorated the Green Lantern comics starting in 1970, making it more socially relevant (and allowing DC to compete with Marvel). Despite the existence of the black superheroes previously mentioned, there was no one headlining a book, even for an issue. John Stewart did that, making his debut historic.

The story “Beware My Power” introduced John Stewart as a headstrong young man, an architect who had a distaste for authority. So Green Lantern Hal Jordan and John butted heads from the very start. Especially seeing as how Hal was essentially a space cop. But because of John’s fearlessness, the Guardians of Oa chose him as Hal’s backup Lantern, because of his current backup, Guy Gardner, sustaining serious injuries.

Hal Jordan creates John Stewart's new costume in Green Lantern #87.
DC Comics

One of John Stewart’s first assignments as Green Lantern was to protect a racist politician. Despite his personal issues with the politician, Stewart completed the mission successfully. And he exposed the same politician for various crimes while doing so. This impressed Hal Jordan, who then realized the Guardians of the Universe made the right choice in choosing Stewart. Sadly, readers wouldn’t see much of Stewart after this debut on a regular basis. At least not for some time.

Becoming Earth’s Primary Green Lantern

Green Lantern John Stewart in the 1980s.
DC Comics

After that issue, for much of the 1970s, John Stewart only appeared sporadically. DC had created a cool new character, but didn’t seem to know what to do with him. Finally, in the early 1980s, Hal Jordan quit the Green Lantern Corps. This meant John became the GL for Sector 2814 full-time. He headlined the Green Lantern series, and was the prominent GL of Earth during Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was during this time that John ditched the mask and secret identity. And he let the entire world know who he really was. He also began a romance with a fellow Lantern, Katma Tui, from the planet Korugar.

John Stewart as a Guardian of the Universe in Green Lantern: Mosaic.
DC Comics

After this point, they would never sideline John Stewart again at DC Comics. He headlined the Green Lantern Corps team book, which put him side by side with Hal Jordan and other Lanterns. After his wife Katma was murdered, John lost his way. In his arrogance, he accidentally let a planet die during the DC event series Cosmic Odyssey. The weight of these actions would bear heavily on him for years. He finally headlined his own series, Green Lantern: Mosaic where he became the guardian of the patchwork world of Oa. And achieved nearly godlike powers. Although it only lasted 18 issues, it was critically acclaimed.

From Green Lantern, to Darkstar, and back to Green Lantern again

Green Lantern John Stewart in the pages of DC Comics
DC Comics

In the mid-’90s, John Stewart and all other Green Lanterns became depowered, when Hal Jordan lost control and became the villain Parallax. He destroyed all the power rings but one, which went to new character Kyle Rayner. For a few years, Rayner was the only GL in the universe. But he sought mentorship from John Stewart, preserving his presence in the DC Universe. Stewart was now part of another intergalactic peacekeeping force, the Darkstars. But When Rayner decided to create new rings and expand the Corps, one of the first people to get a new ring was Stewart.

Justice League, and Mainstream Stardom

Green Lantern John Stewart as he appeared in the Justice League animated series.
DC/WB

John’s biggest boost in popularity came in 2001. After several years of waiting, the creators of Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series brought the DC heroes together for Justice League. When they were deciding which Green Lantern to use for the team, series creator Bruce Timm chose John Stewart. He reinvented the character, making him a no-nonsense ex-marine. (The comics would later adopt this aspect of his backstory.) The popularity and wider reach of the TV series made it so, for many kids, John Stewart was the Green Lantern. After nearly 30 years since his creation, John finally broke into the mainstream consciousness,

An Entire Generation’s Green Lantern

Green Lantern John Stewart in the '90s.
DC Comics

The arrival of the Justice League cartoon coincided with a surge in popularity for the Green Lantern brand at DC Comics. Stewart became the lead in a new Green Lantern Corps series, and was a central figure in company-wide events like Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night. Using his architectural skills, he even designed the new Hall of Justice for the Justice League. In other media, although only mentioned at the end of the only season of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, he appeared in Young Justice, Teen Titans Go, and several animated films. Just this year, he starred in his own movie, Green Lantern: Beware My Power. Interestingly, Aldis Hodge provided his voice, who played another DC hero, Hawkman, in Black Adam.

Green Lantern: Beware My Power cover art.
Warner Bros. Animation

If the John Stewart-based series on HBO Max actually happens, it will be the biggest spotlight the character has ever had in media. And a well-deserved reward for a character who was once just thought of as another hero’s “backup guy.” John Stewart long ago outgrew that, and is now one of the most prominent heroes of the DC Universe.

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