On Thursday, Bleeding Cool reported on the latest DC Comics defection of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov leaving two Green Lantern books before he started due to a surprise editorial plan to kill off John Stewart, one of the medium’s most definitive black characters.
Thanks to the immediate online reaction to the news, Bleeding Cool is now reporting that this plan has been scuttled. But why was it brought up in the first place?
Death, of course, is cheap in comics, and it’s hard to determine if a character will be resurrected before they’re gone, borne up by fan outrage, or in the next very-special book everyone needs to buy two years or six months later.
Dick Grayson, the original Robin to those who don’t breathe and sleep this stuff, was going to be the now-prerequisite marquee corpse in the company’s “Infinite Crisis” event, until the editors got an earful from fans. Then again, if there’s any superhero secret-identity non-fans do know it’s probably Robin, though John Stewart has even higher stakes as a cultural milestone.
He was introduced in the early 1970s, when the company was looking for a replacement Green Lantern (members of an interstellar police force) for Earth, and the strip’s artist, Neal Adams, howled when it turned out the editors felt that, for the third time a GL had been chosen by the force’s alien overseers, they could only find a white guy to fill the position. Adams refused, co-creating Stewart (also stopping the powers-that-were from naming the character with the minstrel-showish “Lincoln Washington”)—and race representation took a leap in comics. Those were the days; many decades later an outraged writer knows just to show himself the door.
Though an auxiliary of an existing iconic white hero, Stewart became THE Green Lantern to a generation of readers (myself included), and defined the role in both 1980s comics and the high-profile Justice League TV cartoons. There was also something about Stewart’s everyday assumption of the Lantern mantle that made him much less a monotone token as characters of color went in the era he was created—many black heroes could only be just that (and usually had to have it in their name), whereas John Stewart was the intergalactic working stiff who could be you.
DC’s taken a lot of identity-politics heat already for its decrease in female creators (conspicuously responding with moves like hiring Ann Nocenti on high-profile books, though following that with firing Gail Simone off her one remaining—and megahit—comic, Batgirl, and enraging fans everywhere with bimbo-ish makeovers of superheroines, etc.). Mainstream comics’ economics call for escalated tragedies and headline-grabbing gestures, and though life itself isn’t taken seriously in the superhero cycle of rebirth and reboot, the sensitivities that are grated by the symbolism of an icon of equality being eliminated briefly got the company into its latest, erm, crisis.
Given the interchangeability with which characters are killed off, a less loaded candidate could have been chosen to take it for the team this month—though if DC’s aim was to get fans actually caring about the ritual, the folks in Accounting can call this a success.
Adam McGovern’s dad taught comics to college classes and served as a project manager in the U.S. government’s UFO-investigating operation in the 1950s; the rest is made up. There is material proof, however, that Adam has written comicbooks for Image (The Next issue Project), Trip City.com, the acclaimed indie broadsheet POOD, and GG Studios, blogs regularly for HiLoBrow.com and ComicCritique and posts at his own risk on the recently launched Fanchild. He lectures on pop culture in forums like The NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium and interviewed time-traveling author Glen Gold at the back of his novel Sunnyside (and at this link). Adam proofreads graphic novels for First Second, has official dabblings in produced plays, recorded songs and published poetry, and is available for commitment ceremonies and intergalactic resistance movements. His future self will be back to correct egregious typos and word substitutions in this bio any minute now. And then he’ll kill Hitler, he promises.