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In Search of John Stewart--Green Lantern

Find out what John Stewart means to GREEN LANTERN CORPS writer, Van Jensen.

I was going to kill John Stewart.

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This was March 2013, and I had just been named the new writer of GREEN LANTERN CORPS from DC Comics. I’d been trying to break into writing mainstream superhero comics for a few years, and this was my shot. It just so happened that my shot came amid rumors that I’d been brought in to murder a Green Lantern.

The reality is that no one at DC ever told me to kill John or asked whether I would do it. From the moment I was hired, we were planning out the future of the book with John as the main star. (As always, I can only speak to my own experience. If John ever was supposed to die, that notion was thrown out before I came onboard.)

But the rumors wouldn’t stop, and I found myself tasked with writing John Stewart as his most passionate fans were primed to hate me. But in the midst of the tumult, I had a realization: John’s fans were stepping up in a big way, expressing their love of the character, rallying to his side. And rather than hide from them, I could pay attention to what they were saying. I could learn.

As I rushed to get caught up on the Green Lantern universe that greats like Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi, and Tony Bedard had created, I also dove into the very message boards where John Stewart fans were cursing my name. Here’s what I saw:

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The fans love John for his passion, for his intellect, for his heroism. They love that he is an African-American hero, but they don’t love him because of the color of his skin. They love him for his strength, but also for his flaws. They love him because he’s complex, a man full of seemingly incompatible traits. And again and again, I saw them refer back to GREEN LANTERN: MOSAIC, an oddball series from the 1990s that saw John become overseer of a patchwork world of various alien cultures. As I was looking up the series, I realized I had encountered it almost 20 years before.

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I didn’t have much access to comics growing up, and on road trips, I would load up with whatever I could grab. One trip, I picked up GREEN LANTERN: MOSAIC #3 on a whim. It was the cover that grabbed me, John in a strong pose, his eyes piercing, plucking the wings from some fairy-like alien.

I only had that one issue, so the larger scope of the story eluded me. (Why were all of these aliens crammed into one place? Who is this Sinestro guy?) But, still, I read and re-read that issue till—like most of my comics—it fell apart. I re-drew Cully Hamner’s art over and over. It wasn’t the action so much as the characterization of the lead character that pulled me in. John Stewart wielded the most powerful weapon in the universe, and yet he wasn’t a brawler. He was a thinker, a tactician.

Writer Gerard Jones also crafted John a man so deep in thought he had become lost, his struggles to escape his own head driving the tension in the story. John’s psyche splits and manifests, the metaphor turned literal.

John had a dynamic tension inside him, he was both builder and destroyer, always pulled between the two personas. He would create a better world during the day, then tear it apart at night. Heady stuff for 10-year-old Van.

As much as I loved the issue, I couldn’t find Green Lantern comics, and so I drifted away from the universe, from John. I forgot that lone issue of Mosaic, until John and I were reunited.

Back to 2013: I hunted down the full run of Mosaic on eBay and tore through them. It’s a flawed series—Jones himself calls it “pretentious,” so I’ll note only that I concur—but it captures what makes John great. It’s the foundation for the interpretation of John that later appeared in the Justice League animated series, earning John a whole new generation of fans and adding in the great new wrinkle of his service as a Marine. Both of which became the base for me to build up my take on the character.

John is the most challenging character I’ve ever written. I’ve never worked so hard or been more uncertain of the results. I had a lot of help along the way, from Robert Venditti, from my editors (Matt Idelson, Chris Conroy, and Darren Shan), and from the incredible art team of Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo. Beyond that, I also had John’s fans, who weren’t shy in voicing their opinions and frustrations, or their praise.

And it means so, so much to me that those fans seem to have enjoyed my run. I did my best to do John justice. And I couldn’t be happier that my last issue of GREEN LANTERN CORPS, issue 40, delivers a major moment in John’s history, one that will help shape his future.

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I don’t know what’s next for John, or whether our paths will ever cross again. Wherever my career takes me, I’ll always remember that John was there at the beginning.

John pushed me, challenged me and inspired me. And, in turn, I ran him through the ringer—almost killing him, breaking apart his relationship, straining his friendships, testing his mettle. But no matter what I threw his way, he came out stronger on the other side. Because, well, that’s John.

Van Jensen wrote GREEN LANTERN CORPS issues 21-40. An omnibus of his first comics work, PINOCCHIO, VAMPIRE SLAYER, was released in 2014 from Top Shelf and he is currently writing THE FLASH with Robert Venditti.