Sunday, March 12, 2006

Stewart's First Words

I got my hands on the first John Stewart story -- Green Lantern #87 (Volume 2). To be honest I was expecting to hate it, but I wanted too badly to see John's creation. I think my low expectations may have been because of Winick's heavy-handed run on Green Lantern, but that's enough material for a whole other post.

Instead, I'm going to show first panel of the first page that featured John, and share two thoughts about it.

Notice the word Guardians is in strong text. Hal and Guy were both chosen by a desperate dying Green Lantern. So was Sinestro. John is the first character personally selected by the Guardians. The intention may have been to show that this was standard practice, but it's the first time we've seen it. I think this was a subtle characterization fo Hal. O'Neil essentially said that Hal would never have picked Hohn, even if the ring outright told him that john was the best choice. The higher-ups had to specifically step in and tell him "You will train this man."

I like how Adams subtly characterizes the "Good Cop" in this panel. He positions him directly beneath the halo. He's standing up straight, standing back from the wrong that's occuring and holding a book that resembles a Bible. Meanwhile, the "Bad Cop"stands on a darkened doorstop and shakes his weapon threateningly. These characters only appear for half a page, but he sets up the basic personalities very clearly.

Finally, I may be stretching a bit here, but it's funny that John's first words in print are "Good Advice." This is pretty much the role John plays as a Lantern now. He gives good advice. He was basically a mentor and advisor during Kyle's tenure. Now that he's back to active duty, John still only appears in the advisor role. He relays information from other heroes and spouts exposition to Hal, who then goes and deals with the action.

Hell, even in Mosaic John's personal story, John was there in an advisory capacity. He was there to try and get everyone to learn to communicate and live together, and keep problems under wraps -- but all John could really do was advise. The communication and learning of the Mosaic was in the hands of the residents. This may be because, from the very start, John tends to be portrayed as more intelligent, stable and thoughtful than the characters around him. He's generally not the person in need of advice, so writers use him to give it to the other characters. This probably contributes to his being shoved into the background.


  1. If there is so much symbolism in the depiction of the two cops, what does it signify that the good cop is surrounded by garbage? A comment on police corruption, perhaps?

  2. Marionette: maybe the garbage is where it is because it's the best place for it in the visual composition of the panel? Just a thought.

    Ragnell: this is a remarkable find. I think you're right about the intended symbolism of "Good Cop versus Bad Cop" but I certainly never spotted the visual gag in the dozens of times I've reread that story over the years. And then you spot it first time! Isn't it just the way? Ah's the sort of insight that will forever change the way I see that panel.

    There was some fan outcry over this story at the time it came out...not due to any racial issue, but because O'Neil had retconned the nature of the "reserve Green Lantern" from the original Guy Gardner story. Gardner had never previously been presented as a substitute or backup GL; he was just the other candidate Abin Sur found as a potential GL, purely by chance a bit further away than Hal when the dying GL needed to appoint a successor immediately. At the end of that story Hal made a point of meeting Guy, but even then the prospect of Guy as a potential backup wasn't raised. O'Neil needed to reconfigure the relationship to make his story work...and that struck some readers as playing with the net down. Easier, perhaps, but where's the sport in it?

    (BTW, that original Guy Gardner story raises another question: it told how Gardner, using a route through space that Hal never used, rescued an entire planet of warring children partly through his skills as a teacher. But the adventure never actually happened; the story is Hal asking the ring what would have happened if Gardner had been chosen instead. Does that mean those poor kids never got rescued?)

    It's also a bit jarring to think how far these characters are now removed from their origins. I've never seen anything of the fiery radical John Stewart from this story in any of his later appearances. We have the frankly boring Stewart of the comics and the "Sam the Eagle" authoritarian from the Justice League cartoons...and neither one seems the same person who sprayed a bigot with oil and sneered at him about "picking cotton." At least they have the "brain damage" excuse to use with Guy...

  3. Well, first, John Stewart on the show is a distinctly different character than the comics one. The JLU guy is a combo of John, Hal and Guy, without any of the artistry of Kyle and, well, comics John.

    And John's not a fiery activist now, but it was hardly a mis-characterization or radical recasting. A lot has happened to him to mellow him out over the years: notably settling down with a good woman (or two), becoming a guardian, losing a planet, being crippled, and, well, everything with Hal.

    I like that John is a better, if more boring, person for his trials, as opposed to right back where he started (see Hal). I'm all for characters changing over time, particularly the non-icons like John, who can.

    Though a moment of his old radical self peeked out when he was possessed by, sigh, the yellow space worm ret-con thing.

  4. The Garbage -- I figured on it being there to indicate the poverty and destitution, but corruption works. Whatever it is, he's surrounded by it.

    John's radical self -- It's possible to have a better balance than we have now, though. John's been something of a doormat the last few years by comparison, like the core of the character was lost. The fiery activism can be reignited without losing the solid rock state that marks his maturity.

    The Yellow Retcon Thingy -- was in the vein of classic Silve Age Green Lantern menaces. A Giant Yellow Bugmonster from Outer Spaaaaaace!! *Ahem* that Controls Minds. Would have fit right in there with the John Broome stuff.

  5. Oh, and I just noticed the angle of the buildings (man, this panel is full of stuff). It seems like they are leaning over the guys playing dominoes. It gives the overall feeling of oppression.

  6. Oh, yeah, I agree that the character right now is kind of boring, and a little more fire would be a good thing...

    but I like that his mellowing was a natural progression over time (as opposed to space-bug) and would hope that a return to political activism be spurred by an equally natural cause.

    If his wife leaving him for being boring didn't do it, then maybe witnessing a Katrina-like event, where the victims were dispropotionately black, might remind him that race relations in this country have hardly been solved in the last thirty years.

    I also like Kalinara's post on the subject, and post on her blog to tell her so if I wasn't sure she'd read it here.

    p.s. I LIKED Rebirth. Fundementally disagreed with the retcon behind it, but thought the series itself was better than its inspiration.

  7. Thanks. I'm now rushing to get out my GL/GA tpbs and scan all of Neal Adam's panels for hidden symbolism. :)