Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Jon Bogdanove (penciler), Dennis Janke (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)
Summary: Henry Johnson entertains a group of kids with the story of John Henry. Nearby, the gang war between the Sharks and Dragons continues. One of the kids, Zoid, is killed in the crossfire. Henry tries to stop the killers’ car but is knocked against a wall. After recuperating, Henry designs a steel armor. Inspired by Superman, who once saved his life, he vows to clean up Metropolis. Agents of the White Rabbit, angry at his interference in the gang war, set his apartment building on fire. Henry uses his armor to rescue his psychic neighbor, Rosie. She speculates to the media that Superman’s spirit is in the Man of Steel’s body. Steel soon interrupts an arms deal between the gangs, but his potential informant Dutch is killed from afar by White Rabbit. Meanwhile, Lois runs into Jeb Friedman, as Lex Luthor contemplates recruiting Steel to his side.
- Steel won’t gain his true superhero name until later in the event. For now, he’s referred to as “Man of Steel.” Steel’s real name seems to have been retconned over the years. “John Henry Irons” is a nickname the local kids call him, while his real name is Henry Johnson. His online profiles today identify him as John Henry Irons, however.
- White Rabbit recognizes Henry inside the Steel armor.
- Henry is familiar with the “toastmasters,” which are high-tech, military weapons (Liefeld guns) that have somehow appeared on the black market. In the future, we’ll learn Henry’s connection to the weapons, and the White Rabbit.
- The debut issues of the four new Supermen must be happening simultaneously. Steel makes his public debut in the middle of this issue, even though Lex Luthor has already seen news reports of all four Supermen in the previous chapter in Action.
Total N00B: I have no clue who Jeb Friedman is. He dresses like a cowboy and he’s already actively pursuing Lois just a few weeks after Clark’s apparent death.
Review: Everyone seems to have accepted Steel as a character over the years, but I wonder how he would be received if he were created today. Would DC face criticism for having two white creators launch a new black hero from the inner city? Would we see editorials on the major comics sites, listing all of the minority creators who could’ve received the job? Is establishing Steel as an inner city hero fighting gang violence already too much of a stereotype? Would there be internet backlash for assigning Jon Bogdanove, the most cartoony of the Superman artists, to draw the black hero? These questions weren’t likely to be raised in 1993, or if they were, the internet (as we now know it) wasn’t around to give much of a voice to them. Yes, Steel is widely viewed as a positive role model now, but I would be curious to know if readers today would give him a chance before dismissing him as either a stereotype or a token.
Reading his first full appearance today, it’s obvious that Steel is intended as the most likable of the new Supermen. The John Henry parallel is easy to make, and addressed in the very first pages, but Steel isn’t defined by the old folk tale. He helps local kids, he’s kind to his neighbors, and he’s an engineering genius, but he also has a secret from his past, one that’s driving him to make amends. Future issues will reveal Steel’s origin as a blend of Iron Man and the Prowler, which is a decent enough starting place as far as heroic motivations go. The visual of Steel is great, one I wish DC had never abandoned. I love the giant hammer, and Bogdanove does a fantastic job incorporating Superman imagery into an armored suit. It’s a shame Shaq never got to wear the real Steel costume; I’m sure the Steel movie would’ve sucked anyway, but at least the trailers might’ve looked cool.
As for the larger event, the issue gives a somewhat half-hearted effort to sell the idea that Steel could be Superman reincarnated in another body. The premise is that Henry Johnson possibly died during the Doomsday rampage, and that his empty body became a receptacle for Superman’s soul after he was killed defeating Doomsday. The theory is advanced by a psychic already portrayed as a bit nutty, however she does seem to have some paranormal knowledge, so the theory isn’t totally discounted. I guess DC felt the need to at least open the door for Steel to be the real Superman, but it’s obvious that the true red herring in the titles is the Eradicator. The reincarnation bit feels like it’s tossed out there in order to fulfill some editorial mandate. The story would work better without it, to be honest.