John Stewart has felt the esprit de corps for a long time — first in the Marine Corps and now as a member of the galactic Green Lantern Corps.
He's currently the main star of DC Comics' Green Lantern Corps series, though he's stuck in the middle of all sorts of drama alongside his fellow power-ringed intergalactic cops and with Fatality, one of the chief female Star Sapphires.
While Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner have also been A-list Earth-born Green Lanterns, John stands apart due to his thoughtful, intellectual nature, according to Van Jensen, Corps co-writer alongside Green Lantern scribe Robert Venditti.
"He's heroic in a very traditional sense in that he has a personal code, and he's very dedicated to protecting the weak and standing up for those who need help and maybe who don't have a voice," Jensen says of John Stewart. "But in addition to that, he's not just like, 'I'm gonna go knock heads' and be a hero through beating people up."
The character, who first appeared in 1971 as one of DC's first major African-American superheroes, is dealing with the same turmoil as the rest of the Green Lanterns.
Illustrated by Bernard Chang, Green Lantern Corps No. 23 (available Wednesday digitally and in comic shops) features a depowered Stewart and a few Lantern rookies dealing with Khundians and their power rings on the fritz, while Fatality, the Star Sapphire with whom he's had a literal love/hate relationship, tussles with the alien Durlans.
The iffy rings are a big nuisance for the Green Lanterns since their safety and ability to police the universe depends on the reliability of their cosmic jewelry.
The other issue: a ridiculously large public-perception problem.
In the aftermath of former Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns' "Rise of the Third Army" and "Wrath of the First Lanterns" story lines, the Green Lantern Corps is not looked upon fondly in space due to the recent actions of the Guardians of Oa. Rather than law enforcement, the galactic denizens view them as a threat.
"When they see a Green Lantern come," Jensen says, "it's not 'Oh, great, a Green Lantern's here to protect us.' They're saying, 'Oh no, a Green Lantern's here. Are they going to destroy our planet again?'
"The Green Lanterns can't trust their rings, and the people of their universe don't look at the Green Lanterns as heroes. It's this totally different dynamic that they're facing, which has been a lot of fun to play with."
The situation is a universal one, in more than just a cosmic sense.
"It's something that everyone, no matter what your job is, can relate to — how do you do your job when you don't have the things in place that you need to do the job well, and how do you navigate that? It's just a central piece of human existence," says Jensen, the Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer creator who started on Corps with issue 21.
Fatality has also played a more integral role since Jensen started on the book, and there have been different interpretations of her character since her 1997 comic-book debut. At one time, she was a warrior who hunted and killed Green Lanterns after holding Stewart responsible for the desctruction of her planet, but feeling the love of the Star Sapphire Corps has made her almost "new-agey" in her view of the universe.
"There's this really extreme contradiction inside her," Jensen says. "Going forward, we're going to see more of that with her as she balances these two very distinct sides."
Hardships are coming for her beginning in issue 23, but on the whole, the Green Lanterns face a new and formidable foe in Relic in Green Lantern Corps No. 24, a part of the five-part "Lights Out" crossover in October in the four Green Lantern-centric books.
Venditti introduces the baddie out to destroy all the colored corps in Green Lantern No. 23.1, a September one-shot that's part of DC's "Villains Month." Jensen finds him one of the more fascinating villains in a long time, he says. "It's not that he is just a bad person who wants to kill and destroy. He has a true purpose that he's working for, and that purpose just happens to put him at odds with the Green Lanterns."
"Lights Out" on the whole is "a completely redefining story," he adds. "It totally changes the paradigm of what the Green Lanterns are all about."
Fans will also learn a lot more about John Stewart in November's Green Lantern Corps No. 25, a special issue that ties into Scott Snyder's "Zero Year" story line in Batman.
An integral story for where the Green Lantern is right now but also looking at his future, it focuses on a couple of pivotal moments in his past, one of which took place in Gotham City when he was in the Marine Corps.
"I don't think there's been a Green Lantern story that's ever been told like it," Jensen explains. "He is at this point right now where the Green Lantern Corps has lost its way and doesn't have the leadership it had — the Guardians did some terrible things and we've seen that John is really doubting the mission of the corps.
"We'll see a somewhat similar point in his life in the Marine Corps where he began to doubt the mission, and we'll see how one shapes and influences the other."
Fans will also see John Stewart confronting the philosophical question of whether Green Lanterns should have a license to kill, a central issue that Johns brought up in his run but will come up again soon as the group tries to right itself.
Someone like Stewart with his history as a Marine and architect, "that's as good a background as you can get for having to rebuild," Jensen says. "But in addition to that, he's someone who's really asking the big-picture questions."