John Stewart Was The Real Star Of Justice League (EDITORIAL)
Green Lantern John Stewart first appeared December 1st 1971 in Green Lantern #87. Created by Dennis o’Neil and Neal Adams, he is – without doubt – best known for his role on Justice League (2001-2006). More than just one of the founding members, he is the show’s core and I’m here to tell you why.
Throughout the show’s run, especially during the first two seasons, John Stewart was featured in and is the focus of more stories than any other leaguer. This was amazing, given at the time, Stewart was relatively unknown to T.V. viewers and was not the central Lantern in the comics; however, much of that would change with the success of Justice League.
Believe it or not, Justice League got its start on Batman Beyond. Once execs at Warner Bros saw the two-part episode “The Call”, they asked Bruce Timm and company to do a pilot for a new Justice League show. Even back then, Stewart was included in early test footage. WB was so impressed they picked up the show immediately for Cartoon Network and gave the team free reign for the most part.
Soon after, Justice League was announced and the official line up was revealed. Unsurprisingly, there was some backlash – because you know the internet. Many were upset with the inclusion of John Stewart, mainly because Hal Jordan had previously appeared in Superman: The Animated Series. Others also felt that Hawkgirl’s spot could have gone to a more popular character and the casting of Maria Canals-Barrera to voice her was a cheap attempt at diversity – because only on the internet is diversity a bad thing.
As much free reign the show runners had, there were still limitations to what they could and couldn’t do. Many of Superman’s and Batman’s rogues and supporting cast were off limits. It’s the reason why characters like Lois Lane and the Joker appear in so few episodes. DC/WB wanted to limit their appearances to shows like Smallville and The Batman and these restrictions got tighter over time. This meant, Timm and staff had to be more creative with their stories, pulling villains like Mongol and Vandal Savage and focusing more on JL members Wonder Woman, Hawgirl and John Stewart.
John soon became best buds with The Flash (making a classic comedic pair) and he and Manhunter would often be referred to, jokingly, as “the two Johns” by the other leaguers. Other characters had their origins tweaked to have more connections to Stewart. Rex Mason was reimagined as an old friend of Stewart’s. His tragic origin as Metamorpho has more heft, given that it soon brings him into direct conflict with Stewart. John also benefited from an updated background. Gone were his days as an architect, replaced with time as an US Marine before spending years in the Green Lantern corps. He was an experienced hero, in space and back home. However, it was John Stewart’s relationship with Hawkgirl, Shayera Hol, that would become the longest running thread of the show.
When they weren’t bickering they were sharing intimate moments. It was clear the two had chemistry. Their budding interactions began early in season one, contrasted later, when Hawkgirl got to meet John’s old lover, Katma Tui, in “Hearts and Minds”, culminated with their passionate embrace at the end of “Wild Cards Part 2” and seemingly ended with Hawkgirl’s betrayal in “Starcrossed”. It was a romance audiences could not only believe in but were generally invested in. When the show re-launched as Justice League Unlimited, not only did Stewart return with a new look, but also a new lady, seemingly picking up Vixen on the rebound. Even though Vixen and Hawkgirl would get along fine once she returned to the league, things would get strange once Stewart travels to the future and meets his son, Warhawk. Stewart was interesting to watch and genuinely propelled the action in the majority of episodes he was featured in.
As a result of Justice League, Stewart shot up to new levels of popularity. Stewart had become so popular many fans were confused when Ryan Reynolds was cast to play Hal Jordan in the 2011 film. Still, in the years since Justice League went off the air, DC and Warner have been pleased to mostly let Stewart sit on the sidelines. In the nineteen direct-to-release movies WB Animation has released since 2007, John Stewart has appeared in none of them. No Stewart appearance in the short lived Green Lantern Animated series either. He is featured somewhat prominently in the second season of Young Justice, however that show is more about the younger heroes than the Justice League.
On the comic side, Stewart has remained a recurring character. He shows up often enough and is frequently switched out on various incarnations of the Justice League at times, not so much in the New 52 so far. Most of the time he’s sharing pages with Guy Gardner in the various Green Lantern books, but for the most part Stewart has not been a leading character. It’s a shame. Luckily, things are looking up. since Green Lantern Corps #22 (2013) Stewart’s taking a more leading role, in charge of a new batch of Lanterns, as they track down a mysterious race of shape-shifters in a galaxy that trust the lantern corps less and less. For an entire generation of fans, John Stewart is their Lantern and if there was a Black DC character who could hold down their own book solo, it would be John Stewart. DC/WB should give the man his due.