When I was 6 years old, one of my favorite TV shows was Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Even they were cartoons, they had writing which was as good if not better than most live action TV shows, both the villains and heroes were round and complex characters who had compelling motives. Among those characters, my favorite was the Green Lantern, John Stewart. Stewart, from my six year old perception, was awesome, he had a tactical mind which was on par with Batman and powers which were on par with Superman. He was strong willed and always tried to do the right thing, no matter how hard it was. Since I was a child who had not knowingly experienced racism, I did not realize how important Stewart’s presence was. I recently rewatched Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. I’m 21 now and I’ve have experienced racism almost every day of my life. Thus, after seeing the portrayal of John Stewart again, I saw why he was so important.
John Stewart was created in 1971 by Dennis O’Neil; he debuted in Green Lantern Vol 2 #87, illustrated by Neal Adams. He was a social activist, architect and marine corp sniper who was chosen to be a green lantern for his courage and willpower. Stewart is essentially Malcolm X with a green lantern ring. Unlike the other Green Lanterns who mostly deal with threats in outer space, he fights systematic oppression on earth. In his first appearance he took down a racist politician. He fights for those who have been marginalized by the system. He does so through his power ring and activism too.
“Maybe that’s my mission here. To find my own voice. To find a voice for all these creatures and let them speak in harmony.” This quote from Stewart in Green Lantern Mosiac vol 11 is why, as I begun to read comics more and more, he became a role model for me. Stewart’s mission is to protect the voices of all people. Though he is a space cop who has to help protect the entire galaxy, he focuses his attention on marginalized groups. He fights their oppression. He stands up to the racism in his community when he does not even have to; he could just go to OA( Green Lantern home world) and simply battle aliens. It would probably be an easy job. He doesn’t because it is the right thing to do. Stewart is more than just a Green Lantern. He is someone who struggles for equal rights of all people no matter what.
What makes John Stewart so special is his powers and how it relates to his skin color. Stewart’s green lantern ring is powered by his willpower. Since Stewart willpower is extremely strong, it makes him one of the most powerful Green Lantern. The strength which his willpower gives him is a metaphor for the strength and determination for the black community. Stewart’s willpower allows him to make indestructible constructions of energy. The black community’s willpower has allowed us to survive. We have lived through slavery, Jim crow laws, and white supremacy. Today, we still deal with institutional oppression and white supremacy. To be black in America is to have something or someone try to kill you every day. Yet, we are still here. 400 years of oppression but we are still here. Like Stewart energy construction, we do not break.
John Stewart is important for the representation of black Americans. Hopefully, D.C comics will stop sidelining him for Hal Jordan. Hopefully, he’s the main Green Lantern in the DCEU as it’s important for people to see characters who look like them depicted in the media. John Stewart was and is the role model for my childhood and could be the same for so many other black boys.
Author: Jaylen Pearson
Editor: Han Angus
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.