Friday, July 14, 2006

The Drowning Room (DC comics)
Steel #28 When: July, 1996
Why: Peter J. Tomasi How: Andrew Robinson

The story so far...
Ever since John Henry Irons was outed as Steel, life's been just that much more hectic.
When Steel starts having nightmares about his family, he decides to move out, but not before real in-house fighting is caught by reporters -- literally leaning into their house!

Cut to "elsewhere," where in an abandoned warehousey type set-up, Plasmus just happens to be watching a TV on a diving board, while he tries to chill in the swimming pool.

Plasmus kidnaps Steel's niece Natasha, and when Steel catches up to the giant melting man, his plan becomes clear. He wants to be saved. From himself.

Recommended reading:
52 #1+: DC Universe without it's top heroes for a year. Features Steel.
Villains United #1-#6: If there's a more specific good Plasums read, let me know.
Steel #21: Steel battles Superman villain, Metallo.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Plasmus 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Steel 5 (Professor)
Speed: Steel 2 (Average Human)
Stamina: Steel 5 (Marathon Runner)
Agility: Steel 2 (Average Human)
Fighting Ability: Steel 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Plasmus 2 (Projectile Weapon)

I'm going to immediately confess a degree of ignorance where Plasmus and his abilities are concerned. Obviously there are some innate and self-explanatory powers and strengths, but my palette of Plasums references just isn't strong enough to quote. Sorry about that.

You have a pretty basic set-up here of a guy in a suit of armor and a guy who's big, strong, oozy, and burning hot. They are Steel and Plasmus respectively.
You have to ask yourself a certain set of questions regarding this kind of situation.

What capabilities does the armor have?
He may have produced weapons in a past life, but Steel is not Iron Man. His armor is far less on the tech side, and more on the suspension-of-disbelief, with a twist of old fashioned elbow grease and manufacturing pride.

Offensively Steel uses his easy-to-carry extendo-hammer, and wrist-mounted projectile shooting rivet gun. While these are pretty decent basic offenses, against a guy made of burning goop, they're not going to be of great use. In fact, there's every possibility tiny rivets would probably melt to slag before doing any damage.

Steel's armor is clearly strong and versatile, but you'd have to think heat would be a real issue for him. Likewise, the armor only does so much where his strength is concerned, and physically you'd have to think Plasmus has the greater bulk of offense.

If it comes down to it, Steel's an incredibly smart and industrious guy, and no doubt he could think his way around the gooping Russian miner.
It might very well be that element that lends Steel the distinct advantage, but it would still no doubt be a mighty close bout.

What went down...
When Steel's niece is set upon by a stampede of reporters, things look pretty unpleasant, but it gets worse. Steel is on the scene just in time to see the sidewalk ripped through, and a big pair of pink mittens drag his niece into the sewers below.
No, it's not Krang, it's Plasmus!

Steel suits up and heads down, but in that short time Plasmus has managed to stash Natasha someplace else. He's pretty quick for a guy who's losing his physical integrity.

Steel takes a swing, and sizzles his hand -- but it didn't melt, so we'll take Plasmus' word for it, and assume that is a good thing.

Ignoring the pain, John Henry opens up an old fashioned can of whoop, and pounds Plasmus into an unrecognisable, gelatenous mountain of slop, but the heat is still a problem.
Plasmus counters, snatching Steel's hands in his, and squeezes.

Plasmus yaps on some more, and Steel finally manages to swing his feet up, unleashing a blast from his jet boots, and turning the momentum around on Plasmus.
Pushing the hulking mass of... bleh... Steel drives him through a wall, and into a mass of sewer water stuff.

With a wiclked grin, Plasmus swims his way to Steel's feet, and then allows some of his gooey mass to solidify in the cool water, effectively weighing the armored hero down Mafia style.
Working his way to the surface, Plazzy then melts a bunch of brick onto the surface of the channel, where it solidifies into a thick crust.

Using his rivet gun, Steel blasts himself free, and then rocket boots his way back up, crashing through the surface seel with a, "SHAKOOM!" -- which reads quite a bit like Shaq and Doom put together. Sorta like the movie... Haw!

Anyway, burnt into the wall is a message, "She is safe unless you follow. Make suit. I be in touch." The message comes complete with a burnt in arrow, which points to a note left, marked specifications.

While Steel does his best Flashdance montage, working the steel into a suit of armor that will hold Plasmus together -- Natasha helps the sympathetic villain, pouring water into his abandoned swimming pool HQ.
As Plasmus heats up, the waters ceases to be effective, and when Natasha gets a little to close, the hose catches alight! Bummer!

Plasmus grabs her leg as punishment, scorching his way through her French Toast denims. Being Russian, no doubt he was thinking to himself, 'my pain, you taste bitch.'

Steel turns up with a big pile of metal, and it passes the melting test.
Plasmus doesn't let Natasha go just yet, though, wanting to try on his new togs, presumably to see if they fit, or make his melting arse look big.
When all is well, Plasmus turns the girl over to her uncle. But wait!...

When Plasmus starts to bubble and boil his way through the gaps in the suit, he curses up a bloody storm, "You will both die for this! Your entire family will die!"

Steel fires off a rivet as he flies away with Natasha, striking a button on the chest which in turn unleashes a shot of liquid nitrogen -- TO THE BRAIN!

Steel decides to leave him for STAR Labs to take care of, but feeling a little resentful toward her captor, Natasha decides to get a piece of her own back, smashing Plasmus to pieces with a stray crowbar.
Ironically, she cites him as a murderer, but for any concerned readers, he has showed up in Villains United, so... There you go.

The hammer...
I got to talk about it briefly the last time I featured an issue of Steel [Steel #21], but damned if this isn't one great, thoroughly underused character.

During the nineties Steel was a character I bought pretty regularly, and was certainly the only DC title I was reading. This was a time of electric Superman, and other wacky business, and for whatever reason, I just hadn't quite reconnected with DC after living life as a Marvel fan.

Really, it doesn't make a lot of sense that Steel would be the guy I would like, either. I mean, here's a guy who's atypical of bad minority characters, derving himself from another character. Obviously some efforts were made to give him his own direction, and I think losing the Superman S had to be one of the best things to happen to the guy, but that stigma is still there.

Then you look at the stories. This guy never came close to reaching his potential.
These stories are, even to the most generous reader, average. A lot of pretty standard superhero action, with some pretty standard nineties ghetto superstar swirls.

Still, there was just something about this character. Something mysterious that made him enjoyable right through all those early, cheesy, ugly stories.
Maybe it's the armor, or the cape, or the fact that, like Batman, this guy is just all the more impressive for earning his place amongst the Gods. Even with all that meta-human nonsense that worked it's way into things.

He's the 'Black Superman,' and a character of great inspiration and all that rah-rah, but just purely as a character, ignoring the angles... He's the crossroads of humanity and super-humanity. He's technology and magic. He's brain and brawn.
He's a great character who has just so much potential, and I think it's great that 52 to casting a spotlight on that.

I just hope Steel can live up to the Steel I would like to see.
It's an opportunity that shouldn't be missed, if you ask me.

I mean, this is a guy you could literally go anywhere with, I think.
I didn't read a lot of the later Priest issues of the solo series, and I know the character shifted a little. He seemed to become a little more mature, but I'd like to think those varying character traits and faces just load the guy up with more potential.

I see him ranging everywhere from senior mentor, guiding voice of reason -- to very much an everyman, standing awkwardly with rookies in a room with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
He's the kind of guy who can seem so right with these guys [JLA], and yet, as a veteran of only a decade and a half, sticks out like a sore thumb. He's got the power to roll with those guys, but the touch to stay down on the streets.

I'd love to see an on-going mixing it up in exactly that fashion.
Put him somewhere where you can regularly throw super villain overflow in the mix, but at the same time let him deal with common crime. Put him in a world of character driven dilemma, and let him deal with the streets.
The first order of business, surely, has to be getting him out of STAR Labs, which I assume 52 is doing.

Not that he has to remove himself entirely from the group.
Maybe STAR Labs could provide some of the supporting cast and sets, ala the Flash TV series. There's just so much to draw upon, and I'm really failing to highlight that with specifics, but maybe next time Steel comes around, I'll be better prepared.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 4.5

NEXT: Face the face! The bat-family do combat with one of Batman's oldest foes -- together again for the first time!

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