on October 4, 2013
Phil LaMarr is largely considered “The Voice” of Green Lantern John Stewart. This incredibly talented individual has been seen as a regular on MADtv, and has been heard doing voice acting work on many popular cartoon shows, such as Samurai Jack, Static Shock, Young Justice, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and, of course, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited as Green Lantern John Stewart.
Interestingly, Phil LaMarr is also a fan of comic books and was familiar with the character before he began working on Justice League. He recounts his memories with Green Lantern, courtesy of toonzone.net:
“I wasn’t a huge Green Lantern reader. I think I got into Green Lantern via Justice League, and Justice League via Batman. Batman was my core hero. I think I discovered John Stewart in the ‘80s, when they brought him back and sort of revamped the character. Then the reprints of the classic Green Lantern / Green Arrow series came out and I started looking at those because I had a huge affinity for Denny [O’Neil] and Neal [Adams’] work on Batman. Once I was able to get a hold of reprints of Green Lantern / Green Arrow, that’s when I went straight to John Stewart.”
The cartoon version of John Stewart is sometimes accused of seeming like a totally different character compared to his comic book counterpart. Being familiar with both iterations, Phil LaMarr doesn’t totally see it that way:
“In my mind, the John Stewart on Justice League is [still] the [character created by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams]; he just has gone through a military life as well. I think he is a little older, but he still has that level of energy. He suffers no fools and he’s still very no-nonsense, but he’s also a little tempered. This is also a different time, too. The social wounds aren’t as raw, so the anger is not as present.”
One of the most fascinating traits of John Stewart is how he feel like he’s lost touch with humanity after being out in deep space for ten years. Upon returning to Sector 2814, and Earth specifically, it feels as alien to him as many of the foreign worlds he explored when among the stars. This isn’t lost on Phil LaMarr:
“[The creative team] went back to his hometown in the ‘In Blackest Night’ episode very early on, and you got to see a little of where John was from. […] There is always a question of can you go back. If you move to a white neighborhood and get a big house, are you still truly black? If you have the most powerful weapon in the universe and you can travel throughout the galaxy without the aid of a ship, are you still a human being?”
A trading card of Green Lantern autographed by Phil LaMarr.
Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are huge successes and John Stewart continues to resonate and inspire millions. Phil LaMarr humbly admits that John Stewart’s popularity is due to the writing, and how the writers took advantage of not being bogged down by decades of continuity. He appreciates that, within the DC Animated Universe, John Stewart is the undisputed Green Lantern, not the second, not the third.
Speaking as a fan, that does make a lot of difference. John Stewart on Justice League is so compelling because he’s depicted as such a major hero, the equal to the likes of Batman and Superman. In the comic book continuity, under certain writers, John Stewart hasn’t enjoyed that level of care, focus, or esteem.
Making John Stewart the primary Green Lantern of his world might seem as though the creators were merely turning him into Hal Jordan, but using a different race. On that topic, LaMarr states his views:
“It is interesting because [the creative team] rewrote the character in many ways. At first I thought John was just going to be Hal Jordan in brown skin. I figured, ‘Okay, he’s the Green Lantern, he’s the hero who’s always been Green Lantern,’ but they gave him a different background and a different personality. Hal is more of a guy’s guy than John Stewart is.”
Other major aspects that make John Stewart so engrossing on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are his relationships with other characters. On the show, John Stewart forms his strongest bonds with the League’s two redheads, The Flash and Hawkgirl. On the Flash and Green Lantern relationship, LaMarr states:
“This John Stewart [originally didn’t] have any buddies in the League. [His relationship with the Flash] is interesting, because Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were two guys who were the same age and they seemed to be from relatively the same background, and they sensed they would be buddies. But this is Wally West as the Flash, who’s younger, and John Stewart as Green Lantern, so they have a grudging buddy relationship. It’s like [John is] thinking, ‘This guy I work with is so annoying, but he’s kind of fun.’”
John’s relationship with The Flash (Wally West) is especially interesting, because, even though John often acts annoyed by Wally, Wally has what John doesn’t – a strong connection with his humanity and the people he protects. In the episode “Comfort and Joy,” there are multiple instances of regular citizens socializing with and simply talking to The Flash as if he is a normal person, too. In the episode “Only a Dream,” we learn that one of John’s greatest worries is losing what it means to be one of his own people (human), and that he has no life outside of being the Green Lantern.
Speaking of Hawkgirl, LaMarr says:
“The courtship between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl was one of the most mature relationships on television. The characters didn’t fall into bed. They had a courtship that went over two or three story arcs. The one Christmas episode had just a really sweet, romantic dating scene between the two of them.”
Though the brilliant writing plays a huge part of the success of the Green Lantern/Hawkgirl romance, I can’t say enough complimentary things about the stellar deliveries of Phil LaMarr and Maria Canals on voice work.
I’ve said it more than once on this website, but I believe the greatest, most gripping romance to be found in the super hero genre is Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. It was unexpected, the characters play off each other perfectly, it is entirely organic, and… it’s totally believable! The way it progresses, how, at a point, there is an understanding among the characters that something is there, but they don’t admit it, how many things were left up to the viewer to pick up on… That is a triumph not just in the realm of cartoons, but for television in general. To find something so complex and mature in what some consider a kids cartoon is very surprising.
Phil LaMarr also spoke against the DC Comics editorial edict to kill John Stewart. From robot6:
“This is tricky because it plays on two things in comic books that I feel strongly about. I think that for comic book stories to maintain their vibrancy, the artists and writers cannot be slaves to continuity or fanboy conservatism. On the other hand, black characters have such a history of being treated shabbily that my first thought was, ‘Watch, John will be the one guy who STAYS dead!”
While further offering his opinions on the subject, he also gives credit to other creators who worked on John Stewart and made him into a major star:
“Obviously, I have a strong affinity for the character of John Stewart, and I think what Dwayne McDuffie, Bruce Timm and all the other writers on JL/JLU did with the character was a primer on how to remake a minor character into a major hero. I would hate to see their work, as well as that of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, be tossed aside for a one-month sales bump. But, we’ll have to just wait and see.”
Whenever I read John Stewart in comic books, fanfiction, or what have you, I can’t help but imagine Phil LaMarr’s voice speaking for John Stewart. The rich baritone he imparted to the character is so distinctive, makes such an impression, and plays a really strong role in defining the character for millions of people.
Phil LaMarr’s range is so vast. One would never think that the voice of Samurai Jack is also the voice of John Stewart. His talents are greatly showcased in the Static Shock episode “Fallen Hero,” in which he plays the roles of both Static and Green Lantern, and remarkably manages to sound like two completely different people. Interestingly, in Young Justice, Phil LaMarr voiced Aquaman, but did not speak for John Stewart. Kevin Michael Richardson, who is ironically the voice of Static’s dad, supplied the voice of John in Young Justice. Fortunately, Phil LaMarr reprises his role of Green Lantern John Stewart for the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us.
I admire Phil LaMarr so much. He is such a smart, funny, witty, and passionate individual. He has helped define John Stewart for generations of people and continues to strongly support the character today.
Phil, myself and countless other fans would like to thank you for all your superb work, and we seriously hope we’ll hear you speaking for Green Lantern again in future projects!
Here is a video of Phil LaMarr reciting Green Lantern’s oath:
And a great interview with Phil LaMarr can be seen at CBR TV right here.