Welcome back to another DC History. In the wake of the New 52, we’re looking at the history of some of the people and groups being reintroduced to the DC Universe. Only by looking back at what came before can we understand where we’re going.
This week, we’re looking at DCU’s resident inventor and action hero, Steel!
Steel, whose real name is John Henry Irons, started out as a weapons engineer. He was brilliant at it. His designs were revolutionary and his genius helped him do very well in his field. Irons’ concern was with the design of his products. He consciously turned his mind off to what happened to his weaponry after it left his sight. However, when he learned that his design of BG-80s, handheld canons also known as Toastmasters, was being used by unscrupulous governments against their own civilians, Irons quit his job. Filled with guilt, he fled to Metropolis where he got a job on a construction crew.
While working on a high-rise skyscraper, Irons fell off after saving a fellow worker’s life. Superman, who had happened to be nearby, noticed the save and was able to catch Irons before he hit the ground.
This moment was the turning point in Irons’ life. Inspired by Superman to do good, Irons looked to those around him and helped out where he could. He spent time with disadvantaged youth at his local gym and when he found out that Metropolis gangs were beginning to use Toastmasters on the streets, he went ballistic. Seeing those guns in people’s hands, along with Superman’s death, drove him to become Steel.
Irons, with Superboy, the Cyborg Superman, and the Eradicator, attempted to fill the void left by Superman’s death during the ‘Reign of the Supermen’ storyline that worked its way through the Superman titles in 1993. Of these four characters, only Steel had nothing in the way of super powers. He was just a genius in an armored suit, trying to make up for past mistakes.
After Superman returned with a mullet, Irons got out of town. These two items may not necessary be related, but it feels like something that should be pointed out. Irons returned to live with his grandparents and his extended family in Washington, D.C. Among the family members was Natasha, Irons’ niece who will show up again later in this history. This new status quo made for a nice change of pace as it showed a close-knit African-American family in the pages of a mainstream comic book. It was like Family Matters, if Carl routinely got into a metal suit and fought street crime.
While he was in D.C., Irons took the ‘S’ symbol off of his suit as he felt that he didn’t deserve to wear it. He wasn’t Superman; he was just a guy trying to do right by his community. This sort of humble attitude spoke highly of Irons’ character.
The Toastmaster problem followed Irons out of Metropolis. Local D.C. gangs got their hands on a cache of new Toastmasters styles along with an intense, short acting steroid known as ‘tar.’ Steel had his hands full trying to keep the streets of D.C. from degrading into an all out war zone.
Steel’s solo series had a bit of a tone problem. While many of his early stories were street level adventures, Steel did spin-out of the Superman line of books which can go to some pretty exotic places. Irons found himself battling a multi-dimensional madman and an alien invasion only a few issue after he’d taken down a ruthless weapons manufacturer. This problem really showed itself when Steel appeared in a storyline that had Superman being held captive in outer space. All of Superman’s super powered supporting cast followed him and in a brilliant moment of insanity, Irons turned Superboy’s cosmic motorcycle(!) into the basis for an asteroid that could move at near lightspeed.
As the years went on, Steel’s solo series was canceled. However, around that same time, Irons was asked to join the JLA at Superman’s insistence. There he would completely leave the street level behind and help battle villains like Queen Bee, Mageddon, the General, and an ex-Justice Leaguer named Triumph. It was this last villain that gave Steel his greatest moment in the League. After having his armor destroyed while fighting Triumph at the League’s moon-based Watchtower, Irons made his way to a secret control room which gave him full access to the entire building. Every defense system and automated device was now at his fingertips. Triumph was quickly defeated.
After years of fighting as Steel, Irons decided to hang up his armor. He moved back to Metropolis where he set up a factor called ‘Steelworks.’ There, he helped both the community and Superman by inventing new technological marvels. It was also there that Irons gave his niece Natasha, previously seen in this article sitting next to her uncle at the dinner table, her own Steel suit. Irons decided he was done with the superhero gig but supported Natasha following in his footsteps.
Infinite Crisis, and the disappearance of Superman immediately afterwards, changed Irons’ mind. Once again seeing the hole that Superman’s absence left in Metropolis, Irons got back in his armor to help protect the city. Lex Luthor also jumped at the opportunity that a Metropolis without Superman gave him. Lex developed a formula that gave people super powers, but he had the ability to take those powers away at a moment’s notice. After a seemingly ungrateful Natasha had her armor removed by Irons, she jumped at the opportunity that Lex’s formula presented her. In an attempt to show dominance over Irons, and to drive a wedge between Irons and his niece, Lex secretly injected the formula into Steel as well. Natasha took the code name Starlight and Irons got steel-like skin. They also got into a super powered family squabble.
Irons and Natasha would eventually lose their powers due to Lex’s meddling, but Natasha’s would sort of come back when she was a member of the second Infinity Inc.
Superman eventually returned to Metropolis, which meant that Steel went back into semi-regular retirement. Steelworks continued along and Irons keep the technology rolling out.
In the final days of the old continuity, Steel would step up to the plate one last time. When Superman was off walking across America, Doomsday reappeared in Metropolis. This time, instead of wanting to throw down with Superman, Doomsday wanted a piece of Steel. Doomsday also appeared to be sporting organic steel plated skin, an ability he’d never shown before. Irons, in a desperate attempt to save the city, went toe-to-toe with the killer but inevitably went down.
Eventually, with the help of Superman and every other super powered being on the planet, this Doomsday and its fellow creatures were defeated.
So, where is Steel in the New 52? John Henry Irons has already appeared in Action Comics, but Steel is finally showing up in issue #4. He’s looking a lot like the Teen Titan’s, or should I say the Justice League’s, Cyborg. I’m just happy that Steel wasn’t forgotten in the hubbub of the relaunched Superman titles.
Jeff Reid’s first serious collecting bug hit during the ‘Reign of the Supermen’ storyline. Man, he loves those characters. Help him figure out how many personalities the Eradicator had on Twitter.