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After several issues of teasing us with John Stewart, he finally gets the spotlight shone on him for a whole issue. Green Lantern #49 also includes more on the journey Ray Palmer, Mera, and Black Lantern Jean Loring make into the dark matter network linking all the Black Lantern rings.

There have been a lot of comments from fans of John Stewart about his lack of presence in Green Lantern since Green Lantern: Rebirth. And while John as a character is certainly better off as a result of Hal’s return he hasn’t been really utilized anymore than he was during the Kyle Rayner years while Guy has benefited by co-starring in Green Lantern Corps. Geoff Johns has done John Stewart good service by integrating the Marine Corps aspect from the Justice League cartoon into his history because, in my opinion, John Stewart was probably the least interesting character of the four Earth Lanterns and needed to have something done to add some layers to him.

That groundwork pays off well here as John Stewart searches out the owner of the Green Lantern power battery he found on the reconstituted Xanshi in Green Lantern #47. During my review of the issue I speculated that the being wearing the green and black ring was Katma Tui, but I was wrong there – it’s Driq, a Green Lantern killed in the past whose ring would not allow his life force to leave, essentially an undead Green Lantern.

The following two-page spread captures the essence of John Stewart in a nutshell. One of the strengths of Johns’ writing is his ability to boil a character down to its core and showing us who that person is. Some would say that he tells us without showing us, but I disagree. In Stewart’s case, he is a no-nonsense man who in this issue faces his past and moves past it – he won’t forget his mistake on Xanshi, but it is the past and while it shapes him it doesn’t chain him down.

John Stewart is a bad-ass here as he uses Driq’s battery against the oncoming horde of Black Lanterns. And then Katma Tui-Stewart shows up. For those who aren’t familiar with Katma, she was one of Sinestro’s followers and eventual successor when he was found guilty of his crimes against the Korugarian people. She eventually fell in love and married John Stewart, only to die at the hand of Star Sapphire.

Black Lantern Katma Tui uses the intimate nature of her marriage against John, exposing his greatest fear. Geoff Johns crafts a bit of a backstory for John that didn’t exist before and it works well for him. John is sometimes so serious that he’s hard to relate to, but given his past and the horrific things he did as a Marine we can understand why John Stewart is the kind of guy who’s emotions will always be in check. We see John as a marine putting it all on the line to rescue a fallen comrade in the heat of battle in a foreign land. As a sniper Stewart has one of the most horrific duties in the military – his weapon’s ability to strike at great distances means that he has to see the result of his accuracy play out in front of him at close range in full living color. He has seen the horror of death at his own hands many times over and has had to embrace his duty with the weight of the burden it brings with it.

Johns embraces John Stewart’s new Marine roots.

If I have a complaint here it’s that the drama between John and Katma isn’t played out a little bit more, but I can understand that the pacing of the story would be dragged down a bit and Geoff decided not to dwell. If anything John Stewart’s response reinforces the notion that he’s moved on. Ed Benes and Marcos Marz give us a beautiful two-pager of John surrounded by a ring created squad of Marines as they begin to take on the ever-increasing numbers of Black Lanterns created from the dead Xanshi populace.

John realizes that the Black Lanterns seem more concerned about keeping John on Xanshi than in trying to kill him. He decides to go join the rest of the Corps and leaves Xanshi only to discover that the whole time he’s been on the planet it has been moving and it’s now near Earth, bringing millions more Black Lanterns within striking distance. This moment dovetails into Blackest Night #6 and leads to next issue’s visit with Black Lantern Spectre in what will certainly be a call back to Emerald Twilight.

It looks like John Stewart will be playing a bigger role in Green Lantern post-Blackest Night. Geoff Johns recently tweeted, “Thanks for the kind words on GL #49 – yes, John Stewart IS a badass. Can’t wait to see his scene in BN #8 play out and… …in the storyline post-Blackest Night in Green Lantern: NEW GUARDIANS.” While we’ve heard that Green Lantern Corps will be getting a co-feature in 2010, I really wish that DC would give the main GL book a John Stewart co-feature so that he has more face time.

The Birth of Nekron is a small back up story at the end of the issue that follows up some of the events from Blackest Night #5. Mera, Ray Palmer, and Black Lantern Jean Loring entered a Black Lantern ring and have since traveled through the network of dark matter that connects the Black Lantern rings. The story serves to give us more information on Nekron, whose backstory has never really been divulged. What we do know about him is that he was the ruler of the Land of the Unliving.

John kicks ass in this issue.

Jean Loring expands on the history of the universe as we are seeing it from the perspective of Nekron. Geoff Johns recently talked about this perspective during an interview at Newsarama and, as he explains it, “Nekron isn’t sadistic or malicious. His position is that life is a cancerous growth on the universe. Nekron wants peace. And it hasn’t been like that since life first came into being. ….Space was here then life came and messed up everything. In truth, life is chaos and death is order.”

I find a couple of things very interesting in learning about Nekron’s past. Part of that is in the Guardians and how they appointed themselves the protectors of the universe. I wonder if this is not based on the story of Krona as we’ve always been led to believe, or if it really has something to do with Nekron and the first war of light. Secondly, if Nekron was manifested as a guardian to defend the darkness against the infestation of life, then how did he get to the Land of the Unliving. I think that both of these things could be tied directly into what Black Hand has been referring to as the Guardians’ great lie. I have some theories about this that I’ll be posting in the next few days.

In terms of this issue, I think that this issue was way more about character exploration and very little about telling a plot-oriented story. It reminds me of watching a movie that you enjoy watching, but when you walk out of the theater you realize it wasn’t about anything. And that’s fine because this issue is an action film and like an action film you enjoy the action for what it is. But in the end, I think that while it was fun to read I was left a little unfulfilled.

Seven out of ten lanterns.

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