Mar 22 2013 11:10am

Rants Brew Over Reported John Stewart/Green Lantern Death

John Stewart death Green Lantern DC Comics

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, the acclaimed indie broadsheet POOD, and GG Studios, blogs regularly for 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. 

Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
Frankly I'm happy to see creative stand up to editorial mandates. Then again I'm a crotchety old man who thinks that gimmick comics, event comics & reboot comics are all boring, why in my day we'd go WHOLE YEARS without a company wide reboot, uphill, both ways!
Jason Malcolm Stewart
2. Jason Malcolm Stewart
It is good to see creative talent take a stand against so-called "change" based on sensationalism. As a long time comics fan, I feel it's becoming cliche to kill or revamp characters with a eye towards cheap headlines. Did anyone stop to think if there was a story in this editorial pronouncement to kill John Stewart? Creativity by group fiat is one of the reasons maintream comics are struggling mightly. Pick a creative group and let them breathe for once.

P.S.- I readly admit a personal fondness for John Stewart, but think overall this practice of micro managing comic talent is the larger issue.
James Whitehead
3. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
My kids would be pissed if they killed this GL. 'Cause of the JL animated series, he's their GL & not Hal Jordan. They know Jordan is another GL but they do like Stewart best.

Chris Long
4. radynski
I learned the Corps Oath from Hal Jordan. He'll always be my Green Lantern.
Jason Malcolm Stewart
5. BDG91
John Stewart is the best GL, honestly can't understand why people enjoy Hal more outside of rose-tinted glasses.
marian moore
6. mariesdaughter
I loved DC Comics when I was growing up in the 60's. Lately, they seem determined to kick themselves in the teeth. Kudos the artists and writers who continue to serve the readers. May they find more appreciative homes.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
5. BDG91

Fandom is an incredible conservative group, I find. By which I mean resistant to change, not Republican.

& not for nothing but the best Green Lantern is clearly Alan Scott.
Jason Malcolm Stewart
8. AO
The nu52 solidified the fact that DC is *only* about cheap, thoughtless stunts. Anyone surprised by what they do, or think, hasn't been paying attention.
Jason Malcolm Stewart
9. LouG
I look forward to the day when our heros are treated equally, and by that I mean, all are equally in danger of death. For now, aparently, only white male characters can be killed.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
It's not that John Stewart isn't eligible for death, it's about the context. And the context for DC comics, is that they have had many of these FAILS recently in respect to representing marginalized individuals, so to take the step of killing off their largest marquee POC character doesn't reflect well on them. When they have reached parity in how marginalized people are represented within their comics, killing off a POC lead in a big name comic won't be a big deal. When was the last time this mess happened with a Marvel title? I can't think of an instance, and I think that's because overall, Marvel does a slightly better job at this representation. And they are more responsive to the things that have upset their fans, see James Gunn's misogynistic "satire" that he and Marvel quickly responded to when it started to raise a stink.
Jason Malcolm Stewart
11. LouG
I agree it's about context.

I generally feel the context of the story should outweigh anything else. If he was meant to go out saving the planet (or the universe, or reality, or something else equally impressive), then I can think of no better reason than a hero like Stewart to go out.

Conversely, it seems the only reason he isn't dying, is the outcry over the death of an African American.

It seems like compromising the story to appear racially sensitive.
Chris Nelly
12. Aeryl
The author seemed to feel that killing him compromised the story and quit. I'll take his opinion on the matter.
Jason Malcolm Stewart
13. LouG
Actually... you're right.

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