The Retro Cover Of The Week is a racial milestone: introducing John Stewart in Green Lantern #87

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Green Lantern #87, 1971, DC Comics, Cover by Neal Adams.

The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its celebration and examination of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the Seventies, a decade when squeaky spinner racks were full of comics costing 15-20 cents, and some were starting to tackle the social issues of the day.

Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were making headlines with their groundbreaking superhero/social commentary on their version of Green Lantern. They used the pairing of the intergalactic cop/Conservative Green Lantern/Hal Jordan with his color-coordinated pal Green Arrow/Oliver Queen, a Liberal, to provide differing viewpoints and expositions on race, pollution, over-population, religion, drugs, and more. It was a remarkable run of a little more than a year that made national news, and even bucked the Comics Code Authority.

In issue #87, O’Neil made the bold choice to create the first black superhero for DC. The story followed up on the notion that the Green Lantern of Sector 2814 needs a back-up should he ever become incapacitated. It had already been established in an earlier issue that Guy Gardner was the chosen Green Lantern alternate. But when Guy is seriously injured when he is hit by a bus, the Guardians choose another alternate, and Hal doesn’t approve.

To Jordan’s credit, it wasn’t the color of John Stewart’s skin that he objected to, but the “chip on his shoulder the size of the Rock of Gibraltar” and the way he challenged the authority of the police if he felt his neighbors are being racially profiled or hassled.

Stewart’s spirit and attitude is communicated very plainly on the cover, as well as his disdain for wearing a mask, a trait that was carried through years later when Stewart became a regular character in the DC Universe. The plain white background forces all the attention on the figures, as always excellently and realistically rendered by Neal Adams.

Curiously, Adams’ original cover illustration was not approved by editors, and I do have to admit that in this case, the second effort on this powerfully simple POP Cover Of The Week is a definite improvement.

Next week: A cover from the Bronze ‘80s!

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