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The Strength of Stewart: Returning an Iconic Green Lantern to Life

The Strength of Stewart: Returning an Iconic Green Lantern...

By Joshua Lapin-Bertone Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

United we stand, divided we fall. We’ve heard that phrase countless times throughout our lives, but after watching Green Lantern: Beware My Power, it seems to take on a deeper meaning. The recent DC Universe animated movie, which is now available on HBO Max, tells the story of an intergalactic war between the planets Rann and Thanagar. John Stewart, a veteran trying to forget the horrors of Earth’s wars, finds himself thrust in the middle of this conflict when he’s chosen to be the next Green Lantern. As you can imagine, this is a lot to take in.

“Obviously, he’s a reluctant Lantern,” supervising producer Butch Lukic says, discussing the film’s original take on Stewart. “He’s learning and the ring is telling him information that he has to grasp before he can understand how it’s used and what it’s used for.”

Often described as the most powerful weapon in the DC Universe, a Green Lantern ring brings with it some significant responsibility and the relationship between Stewart and his new ring is very much at the heart of the film.

“We’ve read a lot of Green Lantern comics, and they always gloss over that part where the space ring comes down and starts to talk to you,” explains co-screenwriter Ernie Altbacker. “Mostly it’s over in a page or two. We wanted to make more of a meal out of that.”

Adds director Jeff Wamester, “What we wanted to do with Green Lantern was throw him into a situation that he had never been through. One of those things was being exposed to something that has to teach you how to do stuff.”

From the very beginning, the filmmakers realized it was essential that they get John Stewart right, since he was not only one of their favorite characters, but one of the most important heroes in the DC Universe.

“That was the most exciting part about it—being able to tell the story of someone that hadn’t really had their history told and giving them real weight,” shares Wamester. “Batman is a good example. We know exactly what motivates him. We know exactly what brought him to where he is and why he’s there. No one has really done that with Green Lantern in the animated universe.”

“He is DC’s first real Black superhero,” co-screenwriter John Semper is quick to remind us. “For a whole generation of kids who watched Justice League on TV, he is their Green Lantern, so I think this is long overdue.”

John’s military background, something that was well established in his previous animated iteration, proved to be a big driving point for his character development in this film.

“John has got a unique upbringing,” muses Altbacker. “With are a lot of superheroes, for some reason you need to be rich or very well connected. He comes from the inner city and he had military experience, which gave him PTSD. I think that’s very unique.”

Black Adam’s Aldis Hodge, who voices John Stewart in this film, can relate. The child of two Marines, Hodge was born on a military base, a background that helped him understand the character he’s voicing.

“People go into service because of who they are as people and what they value,” he shares. “They’re human beings—people with real hopes, drives and desires. You pull from the human aspect of figuring out and building who he is, what his personality is, as opposed to a caricature of that.”

“His emotions drive the ring,” inserts Lukic. “Instead of a straight beam that shoots out constructs, it’s jagged and rough, because he’s just learning at this point. Plus, his PTSD is probably carrying through his emotions. What he creates with the constructs is what his sense is at the time, which is dealing with his problems with the war in Afghanistan.”

Green Lantern: Beware My Power is more than an origin story for John Stewart, however. It’s a redemption story that allows Stewart to put his past behind him in a journey that has echoes of his similar path in the comics.

“The ring represents his new path, potential and faith,” Hodge says. “The ring chooses him before he chooses it. In this story, he has to go through figuring out whether or not he wants to accept this new destiny, and whether he wants to really step up to his own true potential. I love the fact that he goes through that, because he’s already a superhero before he puts on the ring. The ring chose him because he’s a hero.”

Of course, every hero needs their own super friends. John is joined by Green Arrow, Hawkgirl and Adam Strange. However, don’t expect this group of heroes to start out as super-buddies. Green Arrow is good friends with Hal Jordan, John Stewart’s Green Lantern predecessor, for example. So, how does he feel when someone shows up with his friend’s ring?

“First, it’s alarm,” admits Jimmi Simpson, who voices Green Arrow. “Then it’s wrapping your mind around replacing your friend. But you have to, and that’s where that buddy pic act comes in.”

Simpson acknowledges that in a world of intergalactic space battles, Oliver Queen might be out of his depth, but he quickly reminds us not to count the Emerald Archer out. “That’s classic Green Arrow right there,” he says. “Everybody else has their souped up stuff, but I’ll figure it out. It’s weird to have Green Arrow in space, but like every other situation he’s thrust into, he figures it out. He’s kind of like the MacGyver of superheroes to me.”

“Very early on, it was decided that this wasn’t going to be the traditional Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman situation,” Semper recalls. “We had one meeting where (producer) Jim Krieg just said, ‘Let’s not go there. Who else can we use?’”

“We didn’t want to have the big three in this one, because then John Stewart becomes a bit player in his own origin story,” echoes Altbacker. “Having Oliver Queen does two things. John is kind of intense and we have PTSD. It’s not a laugh riot. Jimmi Simpson playing Green Arrow could be a little bit of levity. He’s the most unsuited person to take into space. He has a bow and arrow. Sometimes writers do like to give themselves a challenge.”

If Green Arrow brought levity to the story, then Hawkgirl brought tension.

“Hawkgirl is integral to the story,” says Semper. “I’m very happy that she’s in it. She’s a strong female presence. She provides a tremendous amount of conflict, and that’s where we get a lot of drama from.”

The idea of teaming up with the other heroes is something Hawkgirl is initially opposed to. “I don’t think she wants to, but what makes the story compelling is that she’s forced to work with her enemies,” reveals Jamie Gray Hyder, the voice of Hawkgirl in the film. “She’s forced to reconcile with the fact that she might have something in common with them, and that they may actually have common goals, as it turns out.”

The presence of Adam Strange causes some conflict with Hawkgirl, since both heroes are on opposite sides of the Rann and Thanagar war.

“They meet, they’re on opposite sides of the war,” shares Adam Strange voice actor Brian Bloom. “They don’t trust each other, but Adam Strange knows something that Hawkgirl doesn’t know. I think everybody in this story is on shaky ground with one another until they finally realize that the enemy of my enemy scenario is being brought to bear here. There is a lot of mistrust, a lot of misunderstanding, and they all need to overcome that to solve this problem.”

This film helped give the actors a deeper appreciation for the DC Universe.

“It’s an honor, but once you realize she’s a badass that has existed since 1940, it becomes a bit daunting,” admits Hyder, before adding, “That’s what was so amazing when I was doing research, I didn’t realize that she had been around that long. To know that there is eighty years of history that you need to honor while also putting your own take on it as an artist can be challenge. With passionate fans like the DC fanbase, you just have to strive to do the best job that you can and hope that it resonates with people who have lived in this world for that long.”

Of course, having the right performers is crucial, but they’re only part of the mix. The rest falls on the writing and production team. Reassuringly for John Stewart fans, in the case of Green Lantern: Beware My Power, they seem more than well suited for the task.

“What’s fun is getting the right characters in the same room at the same time,” admits Semper. “The friction that’s caused or the attractions that result—that’s what makes it worthwhile. If you’ve got good strong characters, which these are, you end up with a really great scene, a really great subplot, and a really good movie.”
 

Green Lantern: Beware My Power is now streaming on HBO Max and is also available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray and Digital.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.