Were you quaking in your boots when you first met Big John? We won't tell. This guy is big 5 foot 8 and pushing 180—and he's no gentle giant.
He's big, he's strong, he's more than a little mean: "He was like a shark. He had the blood lust. The victims were hunched and trembling, walking the gangplank" (7.7). And you should see him throw a baseball.
But we have to ask: how much of his baseball skill is well, skill, and how much is just intimidation? Are people just too scared of him to hit the ball? The fact that he resorts to throwing a frog at Maniac sort of backs up our argument here. Giant John only cares about staying on top at any cost, making sure someone is scared of him, even when he can't achieve that within the rules of the game.
So as if being huge and mean weren't enough to intimidate us, Big John leads a gang. And they're not called the Puppies, or the Goldfish. Nope, they're the Cobras. So why would a 12-year-old join a gang?
Well, let's look at Big John's roots for a second, shall we? He's got a Dad who appears to be drunk a majority of the time. He lives in a house with poop (poop!) lying around. He has two little brothers to be responsible for, but no role model or instruction on how to do so. Big John is more than a little lost.
So what's a five-foot-eight 12-year-old with a mean streak to do? Why, start a gang of course. There, he gets the support that he can't find elsewhere.
One last thing: Giant John is also a little bit of a cautionary tale. Just like Grayson is one version of Maniac's possible future, so is Giant John. If Maniac weren't good at heart, he could easily become someone just like Giant John. But we're sure glad he didn't.