Secret Origins #9 Review

on January 30, 2015

Secret Origins #9

For the first time ever, John Stewart’s origin is re-imagined. This is a really big deal. Before now, the only time a John Stewart origin story was told was the 1971 Green Lantern/Green Arrow story by Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil that introduced the character. For quite some time, fans did not know how John came by his power ring, because that story has since been wiped out of continuity. Also, in debates about Green Lantern’s role in the DC Cinematic Universe, Hal Jordan fans have argued that John Stewart cannot be done without Hal Jordan, because John’s previous origin relied on Jordan’s presence. With the New 52 continuity washing away much of John’s past, Green Lantern Corps writer Van Jensen uses the opportunity to remedy some of the perceived issues that have been holding John back.

Van Jensen has certainly earned the right to pen this incredibly crucial part of John Stewart’s lore. Jensen has taken the time and interest in extensively researching John Stewart’s history. He has read every (or practically every) key appearance and run for the character. He has watched and studied the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoon series. He has touched base with John Stewart’s fans and knows what they want to see and what they don’t. He is the ultimate John Stewart writer. There is no one I would trust more to write John Stewart’s revised origin than Van Jensen, and he doesn’t disappoint me here. He pulls through with flying colors. If you’re a John Stewart fan then this origin story is sure to please you.

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We see more of John’s mother, Shirley Stewart, in this story.

Van Jensen is joined by his usual collaborator, Green Lantern Corps colorist Marcelo Maiolo, who brings his usual bright, eye catching flair to this story. Like Jensen, Maiolo is one of the greatest John Stewart creators of all time, and he is the best colorist working in comics today.

A really interesting addition to the creative team is artist Pat Broderick. Broderick is no stranger to Green Lantern John Stewart. He drew the character regularly in the 1990 re-launch of Green Lantern. Broderick returns to John Stewart decades later, and I was really looking forward to seeing his work again when I heard he’d be coming back. Though Broderick was never one of my favorite Green Lantern artists (from his era, I would have preferred M.D. Bright), some of the work he did in the 1990 series was quite exceptional. I’m disappointed to say that Broderick contributes the worst art I’ve ever seen from him for this story.

I’m not sure why Broderick returned to mainstream comics to put out work of this really poor level. It could be that he was out of practice, but still, as a professional artist, he ought to have an eye for what is aesthetically pleasing and what is not. It could also be that he’s trying his hand at a considerably more exaggerated style than what he did on Green Lantern in 1990. Perhaps digital coloring just does not compliment his style. What it really looks like is that he just didn’t try all that hard. In any case, I don’t care for the art, but it almost doesn’t matter because Jensen’s script hits all the right spots.

Here are some key points right off the bat:
John Stewart is nobody’s “backup.” He is a legitimate Green Lantern right from the start. He is not an understudy or part timer.

Hal Jordan is nowhere to be seen. He plays absolutely no role whatsoever in John Stewart’s origin.

Hal Jordan does not need to happen first for John Stewart to have an origin.

This revised origin is very respectful to John’s history and does not betray the character in any way, shape, or form.

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John and the boss lady, Carol Ferris.

Over the decades, John Stewart has been treated incredibly shabbily by DC Comics writers who apparently didn’t know or care about what message they were getting across to Black fans. The message, in a nutshell, was that the comics were by and for White people. John Stewart, the Black hero, often got little focus, and when he was showcased, it was frequently by way of a tragic storyline in which he suffers life crushing fates. He was the whipping boy of Green Lantern. To me, this became totally unacceptable after millions of people became acquainted with John through the Justice League cartoons and loved him. Yet, on it persisted… Until Van Jensen took over writing duties on Green Lantern Corps and thus John Stewart’s direction.

Van Jensen has done a lot to repair and advance John Stewart, bringing him out of the muck that previous writers have mired him in, and this story is one of the greatest, most important contributions Jensen has made in that endeavor.

Secret Origins #9 also includes the origins of Swamp Thing and Power Girl, but this review is only for the twelve page John Stewart segment.

The legend of John Stewart begins with John and his mother, Shirley Stewart, at a protest that comes very close to turning violent. John is ready to attack the police, but his mother stops him, reminding him that isn’t the way they do things. They change the world peacefully. I like this moment because it shows John standing up for the disadvantaged, which is what he did in the original Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams story from the early ‘70s. It also carries over some of the anger John had against the establishment in the ‘70s story, but adjusts it for the modern day. This scene also shows the impact Shirley Stewart has on John, which I think is the main point of it.

The story jumps a few years into the future, and we see John leaving his mother to join the Marine Corps so that he can pay for college, despite his mother having reservations. While in the Corps, he becomes a master sniper. We also revisit John’s confrontation with Lieutenant Tasker from Green Lantern Corps #25. John disobeys orders and questions his superior officer, but has no regrets, because it was ultimately the right thing to do in that situation. Still, the incident costs him his military prospects, but he manages to leave with an honorable discharge.

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John Stewart as Green Lantern.

Later, John graduates from college and moves to Coast City to work for Ferris Aircraft as an architect. There, he meets his boss, Carol Ferris, who tells him that he has a job with Ferris for as long as he wants it, due to his stellar work. He admits to her that it seems like there’s something more he should be doing with his life.

This whole time, the Guardians have been watching John and offering commentary about him, as they mull over inducting him into the Green Lantern Corps. They decide to test that notion by sending a Manhunter robot for him to deal with. An explosion suddenly rocks the Ferris Air grounds where a damaged Manhunter lands. The robot repeatedly asks where Green Lantern is. It roughly grabs Carol Ferris, demanding to know the whereabouts of its target. She swears she doesn’t know. John leaps to Carol’s rescue by whacking the robot over the head with a piece of debris, which causes it to let go of Carol and turn its attention to John. I find it really interesting that Carol Ferris is the damsel in distress here and she is saved by John Stewart, but it feels right.

It’s at this point that a power ring recognizes John’s ability to overcome great fear and fastens itself to his finger. John is immediately clothed in the standard Green Lantern uniform, and quickly figures out how to wield the ring. With his new powers he strikes the violent robot hard. When it is down, he forms a helicopter construct to get Carol to safety. She bids John to be careful before she leaves. The robot quickly recovers and counters the new Green Lantern. John becomes concerned because no matter what he does, the Manhunter just keeps coming, until he gets an idea and lures his assailant into a hangar bay. He tears the building apart, using girders to wrap around the robot to subdue it, and then he exploits a structural weakness he noticed in the Manhunter’s damaged armor to take its head off. One aspect about how Jensen writes John that I really like is that he often has John using his head to defeat enemies, instead of just bashing things.

Once the Manhunter is beaten, the ring rockets John Stewart into space and then to Oa, where he meets Kilowog, who takes him directly to the Guardians. Interestingly, the Guardians want to see him right away, which is unusual for a new recruit. They introduce themselves and their cause to John, and explain that what they see in him is that he desires peace, but does not shy away from battle. They were impressed by him confronting a foe he had no hope of defeating in order to save someone else. They tell him to go master his ring so that he will be prepared for the great challenges that lie ahead.

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John Stewart standing before the Guardians of the Universe.

After dismissing John, the Guardians are a little wary of him, because they know that he will challenge them if he sees a just cause in it. They decide to keep it a secret that they are the ones who sent the Manhunter to Earth. The story ends with a shot of John Stewart smiling as he flies across Oa.

This story really has everything that it should. It is very easily adaptable to other mediums with some fleshing out. Jensen only has so much space to work with here, but he hits all the right beats. As a big John Stewart fan, I don’t think this could have been handled better from Jensen’s end. Jensen incorporates John Stewart’s “for the people” social justice background, further develops his relationship with his mother, explains why he joined the Marine Corps, honors his history working as an architect for Ferris Aircraft, keeps intact that he was chosen specifically by the Guardians to join the Corps, unlike most Green Lanterns who are chosen by their rings, and makes him a totally independent character.

What else I like is that even though John is stoic at times, he is also happy and adventurous. He delivers one liners, and is thrilled at the idea of being a Green Lantern.

This is a huge triumph for John Stewart. The New 52 reboot winds up being very beneficial for him by allowing the opportunity for this revised history. The only negative thing about this story is Pat Broderick’s art. I implore all John Stewart fans to check this out. There is a lot of insight into the character here, and all fans should be familiar with his origin.

Thank you for listening to John’s true fans, Van Jensen, and doing what is genuinely best for the character.

4.0 out of 5 stars.

Read Green Lantern Corps #38 Review.
Read Green Lantern Corps #37 Review.