Superhero Spotlight – Green Lantern (John Stewart)
In 1971, it was clear things needed to change in the comics industry. Frankly, they had needed to change for decades, but things move at a snail’s pace with most American institutions. One of the most significant changes made at the end of 1971 was the introduction of DC Comics’ first black superhero with John Stewart. He was the newest Green Lantern, temporarily replacing the book’s main character Hal Jordan for a short bit. Stewart would become an integral figure in the Green Lantern title as well as the DC Universe.
John Stewart was an architect from Detroit, Michigan, chosen by the all-powerful Guardians of the Universe to serve as the back-up Green Lantern when Hal Jordan couldn’t perform his tasks. The previous substitute, Guy Gardner, was seriously injured, and John met all the requirements. Jordan expressed his disapproval after seeing Stewart’s belligerent attitude towards authority figures. The Guardians, much more progressive than Jordan, chastised him for being racist. Their first mission together forced the Lanterns to protect a racist politician who was being targeted for assassination. Stewart appears to intervene when the assassin fires at the man, while Jordan swoops in to block the bullet. Stewart meanwhile rushes to save a police officer outside the building who is under assault. He also reveals that he discovered the politician had staged the assassination attempt to gain public sympathy. Jordan comes around to Stewart and apologizes for his earlier behavior.
Throughout the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s, Stewart will fill in for Jordan with some extended periods of service. Eventually, Jordan quit the Green Lantern Corps, and Stewart became Earth’s full-time GL. He was assigned a partner in Katma Tui, a Krougarian, the same race as the Green Lantern villain Sinestro. Their time together led to romance, and Katma would make herself appear as a Black woman to blend in on Earth and live with Stewart. During this time, Stewart’s daytime job was that of an architect for Ferris Aircraft, which played into his particular use of the ring. He liked to build his energy constructs like a building, leaning into engineering rather than Jordan’s often aggressive style. In the mid-1980s, Stewart was the chief Green Lantern involved in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, helping in the battle to stop the Anti-Monitor.
In the wake of the Crisis, the Green Lanterns didn’t see much continuity resetting and continued expanding the book to an Earth-based Corps. The Guardians retired from overseeing the Corps and left this universe. Stewart and Katma settled into a citadel in Southern California with other Lanterns like Arisia, Salaak, Kilowog, Ch’p, and Hal Jordan. The partners were married and seemed poised to live out their days happily ever after. However, the villainous Star Sapphire returned to Earth. She was formerly Jordan’s girlfriend Carol Ferris, who had become possessed by an alien power. Sapphire murdered Katma in the ensuing battle, but Stewart was blamed for the death by authorities. Stewart ended up in a South African prison where Jordan visited him, but he refused to take back his ring. Instead, Stewart became involved in the uprising against apartheid in South Africa. Eventually, John took back the ring but left Earth to do some soul-searching and recover from the death of Katma.
During this period, he was involved in the Cosmic Odyssey event. Darkseid and Highfather attempted to stop Anti-Life from consuming the universe and recruited several heroes, including Superman, Batman, Starfire, and Stewart. Stewart was partnered with Martian Manhunter to protect the planet Xanshi from the Anti-Life wave about to hit. The bomb causing the attack was made of yellow metal, and that color was a weakness to the Green Lantern rings due to an impurity in their construction. Stewart watched as millions were murdered, and his mind snapped. He fled further into space to try and atone for his mistake.
This was followed by what is, in my opinion, Stewart’s best moment as the Mosaic World’s overseer. Stewart was kidnapped by a Guardian who had gone mad. He forced Stewart to protect Oa as inhabitants of other worlds were abducted and settled in the planet’s ruins. Eventually, the Guardian is defeated, and Stewart tries his best to get the people of this new world to get along. The story is one of the most esoteric things DC has ever published and seems like a Vertigo title that escaped into the main DCU line. By the end of the story, Stewart is imbued with new powers and becomes a new form of Guardian. That, however, was not to last for long.
Hal Jordan went insane after Coast City was destroyed by Mongul & the Cyborg Superman. He went to start stealing rings and killing the Corps members so he could amass enough power to recreate his home. Jordan ascended into the being Parallax and vanished from the universe. Kyle Rayner, a graphic designer in Los Angeles, was made the singular Green Lantern in the universe. Meanwhile, Stewart had been restored to his human form and ended up as a member of the Darkstars. The Green Lantern Corps gone, the Controllers unleashed their alternative, The Darkstars. In this capacity, Stewart met Rayner, and they developed a friendship. When Rayner gained the ability to forge new rings, he made sure Stewart got one.
Stewart was involved with the redemption and resurrection of Hal Jordan and the return of the Corps. Stewart shared jurisdiction over Earth with Jordan. Shortly after that, the Infinite Crisis event occurred, and Stewart became the chief Lantern in the Justice League. While Stewart and Jordan were on a visit to Oa, it was attacked by the newly formed Sinestro Corps. Led by the infamous villain, its members wielded yellow rings that would invoke their target’s greatest fear. Stewart had a background in the US Marine Corps, and this experience proved handy in the war that followed. He used his ring to create a sniper rifle to take on Bedovian, the Sinestro Corps’ chief sniper. Stewart was affected by the rings by being forced to relieve his failure at Xanshi, watching the aliens on that planet die again and again. Stewart and the others escaped to Earth, where they rallied the heroes against Sinestro’s oncoming onslaught. It was Stewart’s idea to use the Warworld planet as a mobile grenade and hit the resurrected Anti-Monitor.
From there, Stewart has taken on a training & leadership role among the Green Lantern Corps. He briefly wielding an Indigo ring powered by compassion. With the New 52 reboot, Stewart lost his architect background and was retconned as a military man. I personally hate that change because I loved the architect angle combined with the ring construct. At one point, the Green Lantern Corps is sent back millennia to a pre-Earth period in the universe. John was a part of that Lost Army and helped them return to their real place in time. With the recent Infinite Frontier reboot of DC continuity, Stewart is poised to be the main Green Lantern in that title and will be partnered with the Teen Lantern, helping her with her training and figuring out where her gauntlet of power originated.