Monday, April 28, 2008

The Many Loves of John Stewart

Kalinara and I joke endlessly about how John Stewart is only interested in alien women. But from my log of back issues I know this wasn't always true. There was a point in the O'Neill run where Hal was incapacitated and they needed John to take him to Oa. They found him in bed with a black human woman (I can't find the issue, so I don't know her name). I thinks he was meant to be John's first love interest, even though she never appeared again.

Later, when Englehart took over the series and John got activated as the center, he didn't have much of a supporting cast. He was briefly involved with Tawny Young, a black female reporter who spilled his identity on national television. I recall she felt guilty afterwards. The story was just plain annoying, because it retconned a piece of John's character away. In his first appearance he'd thrown the mask away, saying he had no reason to hide. It was one of those actions that establish personality. John was honest and forthright. For that storyline, he had to hide his origins and his name until he was forced to go public.

After that came Katma. The love of his life was an alien woman from Korugar. Katma was assigned as trainer (there seems to be some sort of 1417-2814 exchange program going on in the Corps) after John complained he hadn't been properly trained by his predecessor. The two clicked. Katma made a considerably better trainer than Hal. Hal's one of those people who's very physically-minded, who automatically focuses and concentrates without much thought into the process. A "Just do it like I do" teacher, which works for basics but it incomplete in the end. Katma was more cerebral and trained by explaining how the energy worked.

And in return for teaching him about Lanterning (for lack of a better word), John taught her about human culture. Especially mating rituals.

They were evenly matched, and complimented each other. After Crisis on Infinite Earths they turned into one of those annoying couples who wear matching outfits and are never seen separately.

Katma's death was followed by a focus on Hal and apparently a long dry spell for John until Mosaic. Mosaic was when a Guardian set up a zoo on Oa with populations from planets across the universe. John was the lucky guy who got the job of keeping them from killing each other. The population from Earth contained Rose Hardin, an ex-love interest of Hal's. The relationship with Rose seemed to be mainly about providing a father figure for Rose's son and winning a power struggle with Hal. He turned her over the second something better came along came back to life.

When Kyle took the lead in the mainbook, the end of Mosaic seemed to be soft-retconned away. John resurfaced as a member of the Darkstars. The editorial direction in Green Lantern at the time was something of a "Scorched Oa" policy, and just sending John off to space wasn't enough for them. I haven't read the issue (though it has to be Kyle's fault somehow), but in a fight John was paralyzed from the waist down. He returns to Earth with his brand new girlfriend from the Darkstars, Merayn.

The less said about Merayn the better. She was a pretty blue girl with no substance whatsoever. The relationship consisted of John brooding and her hanging on his shoulder. She didn't seem particularly restless on Earth until John got the use of his legs back. When Kyle left Earth and John got re-activated as the Earth Green Lantern, Merayn left him.

He hasn't had a love interest in the comic books since.

In the JLU TV show, John dated one alien woman (Hawkwoman) and one human woman (Vixen).

There's an interested pattern here. The first two, the girl who got left halfway through the night and Tawney Young, were the only black women John ever dated. Neither were substantial relationships.

Katma and Merayn both seemed to be coded white to me. There might be some argument with Katma being coded differently in the 80s, though.

Rose, a white woman, was the only substantial human relationship John was in and he turned her over for Katma in a heartbeat at the end of Mosaic.

I always wonder about this pattern. John didn't get a proper supporting cast when Engelhart wrote Vol 2 in the 80s. Tawney was introduced like a tailored Lois-Lane-style-love-interest and then established as untrustworthy. Much of the book was still dedicated to following Hal and Carol around while he was active, and the points with John had him interacting with the GLC and Hal's supporting cast.

The next time John took the spotlight in Volume 3 and in Green Lantern: Mosaic, he was surrounded by aliens. The local human settlement was a small town mostly populated by white people.

When Winick was writing Vol 3 a few years ago, and John got the Earth job he was still the supporting cast. Most of the paneltime was on KYLE'S ADVENTURES IN OUTER SPAAACE, John got a single issue (where Merayn left him) and some Meanwhile... paneltime. The rest of his time was spent in the JLA. Not a great place to build a character base and a supporting cast all his own.

I love Katma to death (and to resurrection if anyone at DC is reading), but something is really off about this pattern. It seems like John is uncomfortable with anyone but superheroes and aliens anymore. And while there's been backstory mentioned in narration, no one from his pre-superhero days (living in a majority-black neighborhood in Detroit) has popped up.

Do they worry when John even only half gets the spotlight, that they'd make the book too black if they bring his family in?

Do they think they'll offend people by giving him a black girlfriend? I can see some reader's eyes bugging out at this thought, but I've heard this complaint when a writer creates a love interest of the same race of a hero who's not white, like that because he's [race X] and has a girlfriend who is [race X]. Never comes up when a white hero gets a white love interest, but for some reason a lot of fans are suddenly worried about the lack of interracial couples in comics if the hero isn't white. It's possible the writers and editors think that way.

But then, if John gets a white girlfriend and a white supporting cast, it becomes really obvious they're white-washing him. So John gets alien girlfriends.

Which is pretty depressing.
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  1. That's all right, John didn't get that first woman's name either.

    If they want to avoid offending anyone, why not just get John involved with Pieface?

  2. What's John have for a family? Mother, father, sister, brother? Or is all of that unestablished, like the rest of his supporting cast?

    Going from Detroit to Alpha Centauri is a huge leap. I'd be curious to see how that was, or will be, dealt with.

  3. Gerard Jones established in Mosaic a grandmother, an asshole of a grandfather, and that his father I think was a pushy "Study your ass off and make something of yourself" type of parent, and his mother was religious and was sick while he was growing up. I think only the grandparents appeared on panel during a dream sequence (Although it could be argued that all of Mosaic might be a dream sequence -- which would suck because it's the only place where we got to substantially explore John.)

    Judd Winick established in Vol 3 that he had a gay brother. Referred to once, never named, never shown on panel.

    Winick also established that he accidentally caused his sister's death as a child, in a story that was not only bad but also completely unnecessary. I mean, after Cosmic Odyssey and Katma's death, does John really need another tragedy to fuck him up?

    Somewhere I got the idea he has a living sister. I don't know who put it in there.

    Every writer who's handled John has dropped little pieces of his personality and past in the stories to try and flesh out this character because they think he's a cipher who needs details rather than someone who simply needs some exposure, depth, and exploration. t makes him kind of fun, though. Like a puzzle.

  4. In a fairly recent Batman-Superman story (#28 through #30?), John is depicted as planning a date with a human black woman who also happens to be a doctor or scientist of some sort. John apparently has tickets to Zumanity in Vegas, Cirque du Soleil's notoriously adult show at the New York, New York casino. Of course, John and the doctor in question get attacked by an alien threat, so the date doesn't occur.

  5. John's lovelife has been pretty crappy. On the other hand ALL of the Green Lanterns seem to have crappy lovelifes. And for the love of GOD, keep Winick as far away from all of them as possible.

    Heck, at the moment, with the exception of Hal (and isn't it ALWAYS Hal) they are all pretty lonely.

  6. Well... they're not necessarily lonely. I can see a nice bromance developing between Kyle & Guy. :)

    And there's only one way I would be okay with Mosaic being a "dream sequence"... that would mean Ch'p is still alive!


    Poor, poor Ch'p. I think John is even worse than Matt Murdoch when it comes to people dying around him.

  7. I think a bit of the issue is time and space. In the end, as much of an equal John is considered to other Green Laterns, he's used more of a guest star or roster-filler than anything else. And part of that is that writers want to focus on the developments they had planned for the Green Lateran books, and probably don't think expanding John's personal life is a high priority in the 22 pages they get every month.

    So we get an odd compromise of people bite-size characterization bits, like John's one-sentence gay brother. It's better than nothing, but it's also not much else. Personally, I think for this issue to get really addressed he needs another limited series with real consequences attached to it, but DC's probably worried on how it could sell.

  8. Re: Katma being coded white . . . I remember back in the Tawny Young days, that when Katma came to Earth to train John, she used her ring to disguise herself as a black woman to interact with humans. I somewhat recall that her "disguise" was what initially led John to see Katma in a new light, romantically speaking. It's been a long time since those issues, though, so my memory may be playing tricks.

  9. Interesting analysis. Some notes though:

    It wasn't Englehart that introduced the reporter Tawny Young and forgot John didn't wear a mask - it was Len Wein. He also forgot that John and Hal knew each other's identities, so all of a sudden John kept wondering who his predecessor was...when any GL fan worth their salt knew otherwise. Whoops!

    Wein intended John's tenure to last only until he could resolve the Hal/Carol/GL traingle, so Tawny was never intended as a love interest - just one date is all it was.

    Wein quit the series a few issues after making John a full-fledged GL, and DC brought in Steve Englehart. Steve changed course and tried to fix everything. He brought in Katma as both trainer and love interest, and decided to have both Hal and John as GLs, which led to the GLC experiment.

  10. LGF -- Y'know, for some reason I always forget Len Wein's writing. I have the same problem when I discuss Wonder Woman.