Friday, November 09, 2007

Lethal Tendencies (DC comics)
Steel #20 When: October 1995
Why: Ruben Diaz How: Roberto Flores

The story so far...
John Henry Irons was a man with many skeletons in his closet. Having moved to Metropolis to escape his past as an advanced weapons designer, he unceremoniously finds the BG-60 energy cannon in the present as part of a gangwar. Inspired by Superman, he turns his expertise to developing a suit of weapon that makes him a man of steel.

Having overcome humble beginnings in the ghetto; Irons is emotionally motivated to investigate when a high school coach, who was crucial to steering him away from violence and drugs, goes missing. He fears the worst, having discovered the coach's car hidden in the backyard of the Voodoo Crew.

Instead of a deceased friend, Steel discovers the slaughter of the entire crew, along with a brutal vigilante calling himself Lethal. Despite their ethical differences, the two heroes team-up to the follow the clues, finding a sleezy sociallite, and a restaurant venture that is dying to have the heroes for dinner...

Previous Form:
Steel (#24): Victories over Metallo, Plasmus & Lex Luthor.
Lethal/Felipe Declaude: Making their debut in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Steel 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Steel 5 (Professor)
Speed: Lethal 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Steel 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Lethal 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Lethal 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Steel 2 (Projectiles)

- John Henry Irons is a brilliant technician and scientist, particularly affluent in the field of engineering and machinery. Though Irons has a close history with the design of elaborate weapons, as Steel he employed lo-tech options.
Though various iterations have existed, Steel's armor typically enhances his strength and durability, grants flight capabilities, carries a wrist-mounted pneumatic rivet gun, and carries his collapsable sledge hammer.

There has been vague suggestion that Steel was born with natural advantages as a 'meta human.' He is known for having exceptionally powerful arms, marrying his exceptional intelligence with muscle and skill.

- The man called Lethal is a ruthless vigilante whose methods buck against a prison system that all too often sees the same crooks back on the streets to reoffend. In an effort to stem the flow, Lethal boasts what his name suggests.

Wearing a suit that includes bladed weaponry, wrist-mounted projectiles, and a variety of other technologies; Lethal combines his small arsenal with fight training and a well conditioned body. Little more is known about him.

- Hidden beneath the facade of WASP, faux-French entrepreneur, Felipe DeClaude, is the dark identity of Royce DeClaude; a monstrous undead creature capable of raising an army of zombies.

Little is known about the origins of the creature, but he is capable of transforming from a hideous, fanged green creature, into the more kocher blonde fop that greets bookings at his restaurant - Man's Food.

The Math: Steel/Lethal The Pick: Steel/Lethal

What went down...
Following information obtained from the local police precinct, Steel arrives at Man's Food with a string of accusations and the intent to place Felipe DeClaude under citizen's arrest. DeClaude's denials of Steel's accusations are quickly squashed as the bombastic Lethal enters the scene.

Tossing a bodybag from the kitchen, Lethal parades soylent evidence infront of patrons ready to unwittingly devour the delicacy of human meat. The maneuver is enough to provoke DeClaude to reveal himself as he truly is, a self-described savage, who apparently feels persecuted by the hero's intrusion.

They're REAL and they're SPECTACULAR!... The zombies, I mean...Seeking a final taste of vengeance, DeClaude snatches the girlfriend of the criminal foreman who had couriered the harvested meat of dead humans.
The waiting staff removed their masks to reveal decaying green faces, launching into combat with Steel and Lethal while their master toys with the woman.

Morally exonerated by the undead status of those that attack, even Steel willingly indulges in lethal force, as the pair of heroes cut through their pale green opposition. Steel knocks a jaw away, while Lethal cuts with blades.

Steel makes light work of the agile, but slow moving zombies, fully recognising the liklihood that they serve little more than a distraction.
Not wanting to allow himself to be distanced from the kitchen, Steel finishes the job with his rivet blaster, only to turn to discover DeClaude with his talons buried in Lethal's bloody chest.

Despite his injuries, Lethal manages to deliver a slash with his wrist-blade that tears through DeClaude's olive chest and stuns him sufficiently to send them both tumbling through the restaurant's high-rise window.

Steel leaps out after them, hoping to use his jet-powered DeClaude recognises his peril and cries to Steel for aid. Despite his greatest attempts, Steel proves too slow to catch the bulky undead villain in his descent.

The armored hero has no choice but to pull back barely a meter from a delivery van that makes for a harsh landing for DeClaude.

Back in the restaurant; Steel discovers holding pens hidden within the industrial refridgerators. Contained within are the many kidnapped, including Coach Burt Lawson, the man that had connected Steel to the bizarre scenario in the beginning.

The hammer...
Well, we can close the file on this case, with Steel and Lethal walking away the victors. Even though they were zombies, let the record show kill stats for the pair, four/three respectively.

Now, yesterday we discussed at some length the industry mystery of how Marvel continues to fail to capitalize on the multi-media success of everyone's favourite vampire-hunter -- Blade.
Here, we find ourselves staring down another bizarre mystery, this time one unique to the Infinite Wars. See, Bahlactus shon the spotlight on Steel during the week, and even though we're too late for the FNF, it was the perfect excuse to pull this Halloween hangover issue out for our holy day of fighting.

Thing is, presumably by pure coincidence, the Infinite Wars have suffered an uncharacteristic dip in hits every time I've featured Steel. Granted, it's only been three times [Steel #21, #28 & 52 #42], but it seems very peculiar that we'd make notable dips each time! I guess you could say missing out on FNF referrals is a good opportunity to see if we can break the curse.

I like Steel! Though much of the series is characterized by cheesy afterschool morality specials, and the epitomy of mindless 1990's action, it has a strange left-field appeal to it. During a period where Batman and other prominent DC icons didn't have an appeal to strike me, I delighted in taking full advantage of Steel's lack of popularity, sifting through longboxes to find the dismissive bargain purchases that came with the territory.

Ironically, I probably missed out on what many consider the best of the book, having drifted away during the mid-thirties. For me, instead of Christopher Priest hospital drama, Steel is typified by weird guest characters, and what seems like experiments with tech-savvy contemporary villain concepts and similar experiments with digital effects in comics. Granted, this was presumably going on across the entire DC line, taking full advantage of the acquisition of Wildstorm Comics and their digital colourists.

Lethal is a prime example of the atypical nineties "EXTREME" characters and storytelling getting a platform in Steel. The wise-cracking, murderous vigilante, equipped with tech and 'tude, is the very epitomy of the post-grim and gritty characters that mischaracterize the 90's as a lost cause.

This issue, with a fill-in creative team, sits obscurely as a stand-alone tale that has no effect on Steel past, present, or future. Lethal, who makes his first appearance here, literally teleports out of the issue, never to be seen again.
Likewise, Felipe DeClaude registers a one-time appearance with, like Lethal, no developed history, or depth as a character. As a monster, DeClaude at the very least benefits from associated motivation, even with a hilariously benign European villain-name.

Lethal, in an incestual sort of way, reads a lot like a non-specific knock-off of Deadpool. I wouldn't imagine that's the case, but I would love to know the circumstances behind this story that feels so bizarrely out of context.

Double would be an obscure guest-character that I would recall more fondly, appearing with the familiar grounding of mystery men similar to The Shadow, or The Sandman, albeit with a modern tilt. Double had the benefit of making a small handful of appearances throughout the series, best noted for aiding Steel in relocating after his identity was exposed, and family endangered.

So, what is it about this issue that affords a concession that Ultimate Spider-man #96 doesn't receive? It may very well be an unfair double standard, but on the merits of the work and the context of the period, it's hard for me to come down on this book with too much venom. It never really has the potential to rise to the heights that an Ultimate Spider-man does. It isn't reinventing the wheel with the benefit of hindsight, in fact, it's blindly groping around an industry being led by flashy gimmickery, instead of more cerebral conceptuals.

By definition, the pencil-driven EXTREME of books like these never even pretend to have the soul of a lasting character or title. The action struggles to conform to any kind of spiney expectation, with word balloons and action spilling in and out of neighbouring panels like a game of snakes and ladders.

This comic succeeds in being fun. The oddities contained within it's pages are what makes it interesting to me. The critic could not deny that it fails to fully capitalize on the format or potentially iconic character that is Steel, but as we begin to examine zeitgeist more as 2007 closes, we can look back on this issue as being borne of it's time, and it's role.

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4

It should come as no surprise that Steel has not been collected in paperback by DC Comics, who have been notoriously slow to tackle even the most critically acclaimed issues in it's 1990s back catalogue. You can find Steel currently starring in the 52-spin off, "Infinity Inc." For a history lesson, you might like to check out the Death of Superman, which inevitably gave birth to Steel!

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