Friday, March 24, 2006

Steel #21 When: November 1995
Writer: Louise Simonson Artist: Phil Gosier

The story so far...
John Henry Irons was a disillusioned former weapons designer, when he fell from a building construction site.
Rescued from his fall by Superman; John Henry was inspired by the hero's apparent death, and used his mechanical knowledge to fashion a suit of armor - becoming the black Superman, the man of Steel.

Setting out to right the wrongs of his past, Steel moves to Washington DC.

In the aftermath of Underworld Unleashed, an event that saw the wishes of villains globally granted by Neron; Steel struggles to control a city gone mad. It only gets worse from there.

Tale of the tape...
Being a Steel fan has proven to have a lot of unique pros and cons over the years.
Though involved in the hype of the Death of Superman, I didn't get into the character until his solo series began, and even then, I don't remember how that came about.

Steel's a character that, for me, goes against type. Generally speaking, I don't warm to spin-off characters that rely heavily on the characters they are derived from. This is perhaps why Steel has succeeded in raising my interests where characters like Superboy and Supergirl have failed.

When Steel lost the S, he essentially severed any immediately obvious connection to his Superman origins. Not only his appearance was distanced, but because of the very nature of the character, his powers and abilities were greatly removed.

Strength: 4 (Steroid Popper)
Intelligence: 5 (Professor)
Fighting Ability: 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: 2 (Guns)

Though peaking on similar beats to Superman, Steel operates on a much lower field. That's not to say he's a weak character by any means, but his strengths are comparably lower than other Superman characters, and often different.

Against an opponent like Metallo, Steel has some very initial obstacles to overcome. His arsenal is entirely composed of metal, from his strength enhancing armor, to his wrist mounted pneumatic rivet shooter, or even his big ol' steel sledgehammer.

Packing a mean punch thanks to Neron, even beheaded, Metallo can reconstitute a makeshift body out of any available metals. Considering the nature of most populated areas the characters operate in, even if Steel manages to hold on to his armor through metahuman means, there's still a lot to worry about.

Strength: 5 (Super Strength)
Stamina: 6 (Generator)
Energy Powers: 3 (Explosives)

Potentially Metallo remains a volatile character regardless of whether he specifically incorporates explosives into his body, or if he just brings a full tank with him when he reshapes a nearby car.

The hero of the story always has an X-factor edge, especially a character with as much heart as Steel. That said, on paper and by the numbers, this is a fight Metallo should win.

What went down...
They say ignorance is bliss, so Steel must've been in seventh heaven while he scrambled across DeeCee trying to help those in need, narrowly avoiding being hit with a couple of rockets.

On the way back from saving a few people in distress, Steel finds himself on the receiving end of an electro-cannon fire blast. Understandably, our hero was beginning to feel a little perturbed as he spun around to face his mystery attacker.

Steel wastes no time beheading Metallo, recalling Superman's previous encounters with the metallic fiend. Unaware, of course, that by knocking his head into a scrap yard, he was loading Metallo up with a whole new bag of toys.

Absorbing portions of nearby cars, Metallo finds his new torso with a full tank of gas. Not terribly bad news for a character who doesn't use heat vision, but unfortunately some jerk conveniently left a cigarette lighter lying around. Those are Metallo's words, not mine.

From a shoulder mounted hose, Metallo lets the petrol fly, covering Steel in flames. The hero, however, remains unphased, laying claims to a new strategy of pulping Metallo's head, rather than just removing it.
Steel swings in with his hammer, but Metallo is able to catch it, and swing back with a running motor for a fist.
Locked up, either character is unable to move, prompting Steel to throw a hydrolically empowered leg up to punt Metallo's head a coinsiderable distance.

The head comes to land in a river, leading our hero to believe the threat of Metallo was now officially averted. Unfortunately inner city attitudes had led to considerable pollution in this particular river, giving Metallo adequate materials for a body strong enough to reach a boat looming overhead.

While helping firemen fight a fire, Steel finds himself struck once again my a mystery blast. Lamenting on the origin of his new powers, Metallo attempts to absorb Steel's own armor into his body, but is unable to budge it, giving Steel the chance to send the head bouncing once more with a super right hook.

Steel leaves the head with police, to resume serving the public at a neo-Nazi bomb threat. Of course, it's not long before he's struck again by a mystery attacker.

Metallo begins making plans for Superman, as he fires off a laser cannon at Steel, who just happens to be carrying the terrorist bomb.
Steel blasts Metallo with his jet boots, and attempts a further get-away, only to be pursued by his new, ever persistent nemesis.

Making it to a clear area, Steel prepares to toss the bomb loose, but Metallo has other plans. He strips the casing, and prepares to make himself a living bomb, until Steel delivers some rather grim news - "... the explosive mechanism's plastique."

The hammer...
Whew! Well, that was a long one.
As you hopefully guessed, this time Metallo wasn't coming back, making Steel our winner. Which is pleasing, because I always like it when my favourites win. It's true.

As I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of interesting advantages and disadvantages to being a Steel fan. One of the few Steel fans at my preferred comic store. Which, as you can imagine, meant prospective prices as issues moved off the shelves were considerably less than other titles, which meant I could buy up on any I missed.

Of course, this lesser demand also meant there were less issues available.
Likewise, it also meant the title began disappearing, most notably from local venues, like newsagencys, where the title had previously been sold.

The supply versus demand pendulum was an on-going theme, it seemed.
Perhaps what I find most peculiar about the character, is that despite being relatively unpopular, he not only endured, but also extend beyond the point of most nineties DC characters.

Another prime double edged example was the Steel feature film.
Positive, because this was a time when very few new DC properties, let alone most comic features, were making any leeway in effort to get to the big screen.
Unfortunately, Steel went the way of the Batman films, and was really quite a substandard effort. Shaq maintains a season record for most shitty films in a decade.

Still, peculiar highpoints would continue. Steel would be the only other superhero featured in a Superman action figure giveaway at McDonalds, and there would be great Steel action figures, and even a video game appearance. Eventually the on-going series was finally cancelled, but the character still maintained appearances as part of JLA, which is pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Now, as Infinite Crisis bleeds into 52, John Henry Irons prepares to have another shot at the big time. I hope, this time, the character has more consistent success.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 3

NEXT: The Boy Wonder versus the Girl Mutant!

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