HERO HISTORY: Green Lantern John Stewart

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Or – “It Takes A Real Man To Be A Superhero AND Host The Daily Show!”

In a way, it’s kind of astonishing that in an industry that started in the mid-1930s, there were virtually no superheroes of color until the 1970s. Though today’s Hero History entrant wasn’t the first black superhero (that place is held by The Black Panther, circa 1966) nor the first African-American character to headline his own book (that honor goes to Dell Comics’ Lobo, a cowboy type who will probably make for a fine Retro Review soon enough), but John Stewart predates either Luke Cage or Black Lightning, and his backstory is considerably less embarrassing than that of The Falcon.  Chosen for his strength of will, his fearlessness, his honesty and character, he also brought a new attitude to the role of Earth’s protector, and never failed to do the right thing, regardless of what anyone thought of his methods.  Indeed, his heroic example eventually led the immortal Guardians of the Universe (not known for changing their minds) to alter their “one Lantern per sector” rule for the first time in eons, and overcame one of the greatest tragedies that any superhero has ever had to bear.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of John Stewart of Earth, the third man from his world to patrol sector 2814 as Earth’s Green Lantern!

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As with most things, the history of John Stewart starts with a seemingly unrelated series of events.  On patrol one fateful afternoon, Hal “Green Lantern” Jordan’s attention is drawn to a slight earth-tremor.  While doing his standard-issue damage control, GL finds a school bus full of innocent kids trapped at the edge of a collapsing bridge, with one little girl in grave danger on the edge of the broken pavement.  Luckily, she is being saved by her teacher…

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…one Guy Gardner.  (That sound you heard was young Spoilerites around the world going “Whuuuuuuut?”)  Guy, aside from being a bland-and-pleasant school teacher and the kind of schlemiel who can actually run himself over with his own bus, is also the backup Green Lantern of sector 2814.  Though Hal’s quick intervention kept the situation from being fatal for “Mister Gardner,” his injuries are quite severe…

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As established in an earlier issue, every Green Lantern has a designated backup in case he or she is injured or incapacitated, and with Guy out of action, Hal is sent to Detroit where he witnesses a confrontation between an angry young man and a police officer.  The Guardian informs him that this is his new backup, but Jordan isn’t sure he likes the idea of a Green Lantern who back-sasses the law…

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You have to respect John’s cool demeanor here.  Confronted with a superhero who is also an intergalactic police officer, told that he’s been chosen to join their ranks, and he’s all “Thass coool, baby.”  He even manages to throw in a joke about Black Lanterns that is much harsher in the context of recent stories, both in-universe and out.  John’s induction into the GLC is accompanied by the first of several definitive uniform choices on his part.

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John’s quick learning curve allows him to master the power ring enough to act on his own as they try to ferret out an assassin targeting a presidential candidate.  John doesn’t trust the (obviously pretty racist) establishment goon, while Hal doesn’t like John’s methods.  Amazingly, when things get tense, it’s Hal who makes the first move, grabbing John by the shirt and accusing him of being a disgrace to the Green Lantern uniform.  John slaps his hand away, and drops some knowledge on Hal, curtly telling him, “You’re gonna have your OWN lesson, teacher!”

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Even in his very first mission, John Stewart proves that he has what it takes, standing up to the man who GAVE him his power ring rather than accept an injustice.  In his career as alternate, John’s smarts and resourcefulness repeatedly come in handy, even when the primary Lantern falls short…

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Though, in his earliest years, John’s calls-to-arms were admittedly limited, he never failed in his duty, even when Hal Jordan was incapacitated not by monsters, aliens or Sinestro, but by his own Ed Grimley style shenanigans…

JohnStewart7Of course, things get a bit more complicated when it’s revealed that Hal’s mission isn’t a Green Lantern solo mission, but in fact an emergency call from the Justice League of America.  Given their recent history at this point in time (The Joker is only the biggest name to have broken into their team fortress) the League is a bit stunned to find a different Green Lantern in their midst.

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Check out that third panel again.  John Stewart is confronted by SUPERMAN, and not only doesn’t blink, he tells the Last Son of Krypton to cool his jets, a move that takes pure confidence, and perhaps a bit of brass in certain bits of his anatomy.  As the team goes into action, it becomes clear that John may share ring and role with Hal Jordan, he has his own expectations of what the role entails…

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The Leaguers end up butting heads with The Key, a villain who has booby-trapped an entire neighborhood to ruin Christmas (or something), and the team finds themselves too late to stop the bomb, and instead quickly evacuates the area of civilians.  While Superman and company handle that, John Stewart channels his architectural background into a little bit of urban renewal, Green Lantern style!

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Amazingly, he not only found a loophole in the Guardians operating procedures, he gains the respect of Green Arrow (Hal Jordan’s close friend) and the Darknight Detective himself!  John maintains his role as secondary superhero, but that doesn’t keep him from a life of his own, and even a little bit of (*Ahem*) female companionship.

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He’s a complicated man, and no one understands him but his jewelry…  I heard he’s one bad moth– SHUT YOU MOUTH!

Just talkin’ ’bout John, is all.  He even keeps his cool when people repeatedly maintain that he needs supervision, even though he learned to adjust to the power ring quicker than anyone we’ve seen other than Jordan himself.

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John Stewart’s life takes a big change, however, when he relocates to Coast City, California in order to take a job with Ferris Aircraft, a commission to rebuild their damaged compound (trashed during, somewhat ironically, a Green Lantern super-villain battle.)

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Of course, THAT new job isn’t the only big change in John’s future, as Hal Jordan (frustrated by what he sees as the Guardians constant interference in his role, including a long-term exile from Earth to cover other parts of his space sector) tells the little blue guys from Oa where they can stick their bauble of power…

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Hal tries to return to a normal life at Ferris Aircraft as test pilot and boss Carol Ferris’ boy-toy, but clearly hasn’t thought this through.  When asked to find the most worthy man in the sector, the Guardians of the Universe didn’t even have to check their day-planner…

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The new Green Lantern quickly makes a splash, learning how to use the ring day-to-day, and coming up with a few brilliant ideas on the go.  But, when he needs assistance, he immediately petitions the Guardians for guidance, leading to one of the most important introductions of his life…

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Remember that bright purple face, as we’ll get back to her soon enough.  Unlike his predecessor, John isn’t particularly taken by any expectation of the classic “secret identity”, still feeling the confidence to “let it all hang out.”  This leads to a shocking moment for the superhero old guard, and Hal Jordan himself…

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John’s response to being outed?  Turns out he never liked that mask anyway, and ditches it for the second tim in his career.  John is also the Earth’s resident Green Lantern when the greatest disaster in the history of their universe erupts all around them.  Red skies, burning seas, Earths exploding, total chaos.  And when the mysterious Monitor decides it’s time to take action to save all the worlds in the multiverse, he needs heroes of power and will.  You and I both know who’s going to make the cut for his first hand-picked wave, don’t we?

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Putting this in context, The Monitor also chose the most powerful sorcerer in the history of history, and some of the most seasoned and powerful beings on all the multiple earths and the Earth-2 Superman (you know, the ORIGINAL superhero).  John stands alongside these mighty champions without doubt or fear, even trying to suss out the secrets of the Monitor himself!

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When things get tense on the satellite, John keeps his cool even as more experienced heroes flip out (although, to be fair, Geo-Force is not exactly Mr. Cool-Calm-And-Collected in any situation.)

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And soon, after, The Monitor gathers ALL the heroes (or at least all the heroes who have had their own features at DC Comics, which is pretty much close enough.)  John Stewart is somewhere in this panel (which you can click to embiggen… I’d make some pretense of this being absolutely key to John’s history but, to be honest, I just love this awesome giant George Perez double-page spread.)

JohnStewart21During the Crisis, even the legendary Guardians of the Universe lose their $#!+, with their unified front fracturing for the first time in eons, and renegade Guardians empowering Guy Gardner (now suffering from psychological damage from his previous injuries) to act in their stead.  Forced to face down his own predecessor, a man legendary for his willpower, John Stewart steps up to the metaphorical plate…

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…and drops Guy Gardner like a bad habit.  The Crisis redrew the boundaries of the universe, merged many Earths into one, and (most important for Green Lantern) shattered the Guardians beyond repair.  They lift their restrictions and regulations, allowing the Green Lanterns to decide where they patrol and live, leading John (alongside a re-empowered Hal Jordan, Katma Tui and others) to set up their own citadel on Earth as the new Green Lantern Corps!

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Kilowog looks pretty weird there, doesn’t he?  It’s his first appearance, though, so we can forgive them.  (A little bit, anyway.)  John and his fellow Lanterns find Earth to be as challenging as outer space, but (as always) he sets the bar high, even for his own team.

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Most importantly for John, time spent with the new Corps means time spent with Katma Tui of Korugar, a relationship that quickly goes from colleagues to friends to more-than-friends, and leads them to a whole new level of partnership.

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To his credit, John isn’t fazed by his lady-loves magenta flesh, nor her alien origins, and is proud to bring Katma home to meet his friends and family…

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(Why Joe Staton chose to draw her wearing just a veil and her uniform, however, is beyond me.)  Speaking of uniforms, though, it should be noted that each of Earth’s Green Lanterns chose to redesign their togs, save for stick-in-the-mud Hal, and John and Katma choose matching uniforms to show the strength of their union.  Their marriage is so strong, in fact, that is survives the very end of the Green Lantern Corps itself!

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With all but a few power rings entirely destroyed, John and Katma return home to Detroit, with John returning to his career as an architect.  Unfortunately, not ALL the Lanterns have any idea how to live life as a normal human being. *coughhaljordancough*

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John’s wedded bliss, having lasted for a couple of years (our time, which could be anywhere from 3 weeks to actually 2 years in their world), ends abruptly as Carol Ferris, again possessed by the alien Star Sapphires, suddenly returns for bloody revenge on Green Lantern…  ANY Green Lantern.

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Using her gem, Star Sapphire brutally murders Katma, leaving her dismembered body on their kitchen floor for John to discover…  Brrr.  So much for the power of eternal cosmic love.  The horror of the situation causes John Stewart to completely lose his cool for what may be the first time ever…

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Carol’s plan is byzantine, and when John is brought to trial for the murder of his wife, she continues her psychological torture of the former Green Lantern, having already taken out Hal Jordan, causing his ring to seek out John per its former programming.

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Star Sapphire uses her powers to frame John Stewart for HER OWN MURDER, sending John Stewart on the run, fleeing the authorities to the African country of South Nambia, where he is once again framed for a crime.  Today’s lesson:  Y’can’t win for losing in the post-Crisis DCU.  Thankfully, Hal Jordan pulls off the save, retrieving John’s old ring from Oa, and giving his old friend the means to save himself…

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John is understandably hesitant to take on the mantle of Green Lantern again, but frees himself, takes down a terrorist cell and once again clashes with his predecessor and friend.  Having proved to Hal the error of Hal’s own ways, he tries to return the power ring to its owner, but even ‘The Greatest Lantern Of Them All’ recognizes how important his former understudy is…

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Sadly, as dark as John Stewart’s life has gotten, things are about to get worse.  (As Otter Disaster is wont to remind me, things are always darkest before they turn pitch black.)  That wave of darkness begins with a summons from the White House for Green Lantern and a few fellow heroes…

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The heroes break up into team, setting out across the galaxy to save the world from the Anti-Life Equation and certain doom.  John is teamed up with a fellow J’onn, The Martian Manhunter, and sent to the far-off planet Xanshi.  Upon arrival, he seals up the Manhunter in a force bubble to protect him, and brazenly confronts the nihilistic mastermind behind Xanshi’s incipient demise…

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“Nothing can stop me!”  Nothing, sadly, except for the yellow impurity inherent in every single power ring.  A weakness that, had John not been overconfident, would have been easily overtaken by the Martian Manhunter’s combo platter of massive super-powers.

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John Stewart watches in horror as an entire planet dies due to his overconfidence, a situation only made that much worse when the Martian Manhunter (who, it should be noted, is a little bit sensitive to the death of a whole culture, given his own history) gives him a (deserved) dressing-down…

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With the death of millions on his conscience, John Stewart struggles to find a way to consider.  He even comes to his lowest point, taking an alien frap-gun and placing it to his temple, seemingly contemplating the most terrible way out of his guilt.  He decides against it, just as the Manhunter arrives for some alien tough-love…

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For all his severity here, J’onn seems genuinely please when John Stewart decides that he has no choice but to live with the consequences of his actions, returning to action as Green Lantern and carrying the burden of his guilt.  Some time later, he is summoned to Oa by the Mad Guardian, Appa Ali Apsa…

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The former Old-Timer has gone El Bonzo Seco (which, given the tendency of his people to utterly lose their minds, was one of the first times that I wondered whether they weren’t an entire race of infinitely powerful sociopathic lunatics) and has begun gathering patchwork chunks of other worlds to Oa to serve as a proving ground (or, more accurately a killing jar) for his plan to unite the universe.  The Green Lanterns manage to stop Apsa, but with the Mosaic world assembled, they find no way to return the denizens home.  John Stewart decides that he must become the caretaker of the strange patchwork society, and makes another symbolic change to his uniform to prepare for the herculean task before him…

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Relocating to Oa, John immerses himself in the Mosaic World, interacting with the aliens that live there, and finding a strange sort of poetry in its uneven architecture.  His immersion in the makeshift alien melting pot has an unusual effect on his bearings (and, seemingly, his sanity…)

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As the bizarre life on the Mosaic takes its toll on John, he finds inexplicable and uncanny things happening around him.  (Maybe it’s NOT the Guardians that are mad.  Maybe Oa just makes you go around the bend?)   One of the strangest moments comes, however, with the sudden maybe-resurrection of Katma Tui.

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John’s guardianship of the Mosaic becomes literal, as he channels the powers of the Guardians themselves, finally becoming a Guardian in power and aspect.  He remains on Oa when the alien known as Mongul attacks Earth in concert with one of the men claiming to be Superman returned from the dead, leading to the death of Coast City in his engines.  When Hal Jordan faces his own inner demons, he seemingly lacks John’s core strengths, descending into madness, murdering the Green Lantern Corps and shattering the central power battery on Oa.  This also causes John’s Guardian powers to suddenly cease, leaving him essentially powerless on an alien world.

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Enter: The Controllers!  A long-lost faction of Oans themselves, the Controllers have found themselves trying to duplicate their brethren’s success as cosmic peacekeepers, empowering agents known as Darkstars to pick up where the Corps left off.  With the destruction of the GLC and Hal Jordan’s transformation into Parallax, the Controllers offer John a position in THEIR organization.  It’s a familiar role, but with a diametrically opposite set of uniform colors…

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John uses the resources of the Darkstars to return the cities of the Mosaic to their home-worlds (just in time, as well, as Hal Jordan destroys Oa soon after) and serves as their comptroller, using his experience and seasoning as a Green Lantern to the betterment of his new Corps.  Unfortunately, the Darkstar powers fell somewhat short of what John was used to handling, a weakness that proved nearly fatal when he faced Grayven, apocryphal son of Darkseid!

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John’s wounds prove grave, and he is left paralyzed from the battle.  Fortunately for the world, the last Guardian, Ganthet, was able to smuggle one last power ring off Oa to empower one last Green Lantern.  Kyle Rayner’s interactions with John before his injuries are catalyzing for the young Lantern, and even after being taken down physically, John Stewart lends his wisdom and experience to the galaxy’s last peacekeeper.

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For several months, John Stewart is hospitalized, his body seemingly unable to heal itself from the critical New-God-induced injuries.  Enter: Parallax!

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Though driven mad by his own shortcomings and emotions (or, in the current interpretation, possessed by an alien fear entity), Hal Jordan still has the heart of a hero under his  unwieldy and inexplicable new armor.  When the Final Night crisis causes Earth’s sun to slowly extinguish itself (or possibly be eaten by a baby Sun-Eater, I forget), Hal decides to use his powers to reignite it, a seemingly suicidal task.  Before leaving for space, he visits his old friend and offers John Stewart a boon of his new, nigh-boundless powers…

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Though physically healed, John still finds himself having difficulty walking, until he comes to terms with his survivor’s guilt over Xanshi, over Katma, and over his long-lost sister, who apparently died in a car accident when he was young.  With help from Kyle Rayner, he confronts his demons, and exerts the awesome will that made him a hero in the first place…

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Sometime later, Kyle Rayner inherits Hal Jordan’s old power ring after an accident involving a time machine and a contraceptive and bequeaths it to the one man who has proven himself more than capable of protecting Earth in the past…

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For the next few years, John serves ably, even without a Corps, while Hal Jordan escapes karma one more time by becoming the new host for The Spectre.  Eventually, it looks as though Hal/Spectre has lost his mind again, and the Justice League mobilizes to protect the world against their own lost member.  It’s John Stewart who gives his old friend the benefit of the doubt, even standing up to the hyper-judgmental Batman…

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Oh, snap!  There aren’t very many people who could stand up to the Dark Knight like that, in any world.  As Hal returns from beyond, he brings with him the menace of Sinestro, mobilizing the remaining members of the Corps to stop him and/or assist their fallen comrade.  John stands alongside the greatest Green Lanterns of the modern era and holds his own in combat…

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Even the Guardians of the Universe return from their exile, and John, Hal, Kyle and Guy Gardner come together to form the nexus of a new Green Lantern Corps, rising from the ashes of the old one (albeit with a few false starts along the way.)

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As a Lantern, John Stewart showed himself to be unique and noteworthy, taking a leadership role, and even showing that his willpower EXCEEDS WHAT A POWER RING IS CAPABLE OF DOING, and given that power rings are nigh-all-powerful, one has to question exactly how strong John’s will to overcome adversity actually is…

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With the new Corps established, John’s time in the Green Lantern Corps (as well as his until-this-point seldom-mentioned service in the Marines) serves him well as a leader and a hero.  His experiences with Xanshi and in the military lead him to take a more pragmatic approach to the life of a Green Lantern, making him a go-to guy when things get serious in space.  When the alien Sinestro Corps starts spreading fear throughout the world, John is the only one who recognizes the severity of the threat, and is the first Lantern to strike back against their counterparts, taking out the sniper, Bedovian.

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Still, no matter how well-adjusted one is, causing deaths will always weigh on your conscience.  For John Stewart, the losses at Xanshi will never be far from his thoughts, and that failure tempers his actions as a Green Lantern.  When Nekron’s Black Lantern Corps begins to mass their forces, Lanterns across the galaxy are forced to come face-to-face with the ghosts of their past, and no one has more ghosts than John…

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John works to try and forgive himself, standing together with his own Corps and others to face down the Black Lantern Corps in a cosmic war for all the marbles or some such, finally coming to terms with the deaths he has caused and helping triumph over the forces of Nekron’s undead army.  (Clickery is encouraged here, as well.)

JohnStewart56John’s status as the steel in the Green Lantern Corps’ spine forced him to face down any number of foes, but it also made him a target for the evil Cyborg-Superman’s plot to take over the Corps through the use of its cyberneticized Alpha Lantern Corps…

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John proved too tough to alpha-betize (or however one would describe it) and even stood alongside his fellow Earth Lanterns when their own power rings were rendered inert due to malicious manipulations of a cosmic nature…

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Though most Indigo Tribe welders find their mind overwhelmed by a group-think, John’s individuality asserts itself even past the influence of his power ring, once again showing that his will is superior to the alien technology that empowers him.  And when Green Lantern Mogo (who, by the way, is an alien PLANET) is corrupted, John Stewart is forced to relive his worst nightmares in order to safeguard the universe…

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Will he be able to overcome his own greatest failure, reliving a traumatic moment for the greater good of the universe?

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Using the power of the Indigo ring, John uses his massive willpower to subjugate the energy of the dreaded Black Lanterns to his ends, finding the strength to take the shot, confronting his own worst memories and sacrificing a brother-in-arms in order to preserve the lives of millions.

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Thankfully for John, even the repeated re-formation of the universe hasn’t dulled his willpower or changed his nature, and he continues to stand alongside his compatriots against threats big or small.  John even manages to pull a win or two from the jaws of defeat…

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Even as the Guardians of the Universe (once again) flip out and turn on their warriors again, John is able (with the help of Fatality, the last survivor of Xanshi) to undo a great wrong…

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There are many who would claim that Hal Jordan is the best ring-slinger in GL history, others who would argue for Kyle Rayner, and a few loonies who want to tell me about some schmuck named Sodam Yat, but for my money, the real heart and soul (you should excuse the expression) is a product of the mean streets of South Detroit.  No matter the challenge, no matter how far or how often you knock him down, John Stewart will get up, and probably slap the taste out of your mouth for your troubles.  His indomitable will eclipses even that of his predecessor, leaving John as a strong contender for the post of Greatest Green Lantern of Them All…

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**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero Histories” in the “Columns” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys and gals who are likewise awesome as heck. The adventures of John Stewart, Green Lantern, are published by DC Comics, and even the Flashpoint retcon hasn’t dimmed his awesome…

Next up:  Sweet Christmas!

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