Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hero Tune-Up: Steel.

What atonement is there for blood spilt upon the earth?

Steel did it first.

Dr. John Henry Irons was an engineering genius with a simple dream: to create weapons that would make the waging of war entirely undesirable. Unfortunately his noble intentions led to the creation of armaments whose hideous potential for destruction made them the hot-ticket item for would-be warlords, despots, and gang-bangers when the company he worked for sold them on the black market. Faking his death for fear the immoral corporation would coerce him into making more weapons for criminals Irons went underground, building a new life as a steel worker in Metropolis. Saving a friend from a fall from a skyscraper under construction led to Irons' nearly plummeting to his death, only to be saved at the last minute by Superman. Wanting to know how best to express his gratitude, the Man of Tomorrow simply asked him to live 'a life worth saving' and then flew off. A few weeks later, Superman died fighting the monstrosity known as Doomsday(he got better, but that's another story).

Recovering from injuries sustained during Doomsday's rampage, Irons discovered to his horror that without Superman to protect the streets Metropolis was descending into a gang war, a war whose armament of choice was a weapon of his own design. Shaken by Superman's death and wanting to honor the legacy of the man who had saved his life and so many others besides, Irons designed a suit of powered armor and took to the streets, doing his best to protect the weak and the helpless in a world without a Superman. Originally dubbed 'The Man of Steel' by Lois Lane, the title was eventually shortened to simply 'Steel', and upon Superman's return from death (comics everybody), he became a valued ally. Steel would go on to fight crime in his native Washington, D.C., and eventually become a member of the fabled Justice League of America.

He's been in his own solo series, the awesome crossover event known as 52, and has been a member of the JLA during one of it's most glorious creative periods. He's an armored super-genius attempting to atone for the use of weapons he designed falling into the wrong hands. Sound a little familiar? He's the best parts of Iron Man and Superman(with a neat little nod to the legend of John Henry) and he gets to wield Thor's hammer(okay, not mjolnir, but Steel's hammer is nothing to laugh at; he can control it's trajectory and has kinetic enhancement technology embedded inside it that makes it's blows feel less like a sledgehammer and more like an oncoming train). So why is it this guy can't seem to break out from the minors to the majors?

There are very, very compelling elements to the character of Steel but for all that there's been a lack of what I would call a hook, something to hang the character's personality upon and build upon until he stands completely on his own merit. For me that hook is the need to atone, to make up for the lives destroyed by his own actions and creations. True he never fired one of his weapons, but he designed them, made them as lethal as he could from the (somewhat laudable) reasoning that if they were so horrible, no one in there right mind would dare conceive to use them. Unfortunately, not everyone shared John's world view and as a result his weapons caused death on a massive scale. Every action he takes, whether it be in his armor or as the head of the philanthropic scientific think-tank Steelworks is to build a better world, a safer and happier world. Much like Iron Man, Steel is a futurist and wants a better world. With a bevvy of some of the DCU's brightest minds and most philanthropic backers (Wayne Enterprises and KORD Inc. in particular) he's going to build it, one girder at a time

Marry to that a desire to redeem others as well. Given a second chance by the world's greatest hero, I think that John would reach out and offer the chance for others to get their lives back together, particularly when it comes to the various 'mad scientists' of the DC Universe. Working with various prisons like Belle Reve or Blackgate, Irons would gain access to some of the DC Universe's most brilliant (albeit unbalanced) minds. The deal offered is simple: work with Steelworks and not only gain years off your sentence and the possibility of an early parole, but gain the recognition and respect you feel you were cheated out of. Villain being villains there are doubtless a few who'd think nothing of playing the teary-eyed penitent in order to play Irons for a chump. That said, trying to outwit the guy who designed the defence grid for the Justice League's headquarters and provides the heavily-armed Science Police with a variety of weaponry (non-lethal) capable of downing Solomon Grundy in four shots. . .well, best of luck with that. Steel is optimistic, not naive.

Steel in many ways is the anti-Lex Luthor. Where Luthor uses his brilliance to ensure his wealth, power, and dominance of others, John Henry uses his genius to make his city and the world cleaner, safer, and more secure. He fills a role that DC doesn't really have much of; that of the Reed Richards super-genius. Most of the scientists in the DCU tend to either fall into the Mr. Exposition or Mad Scientist archetypes, but Steel provides an example of a scientist who is not only brilliant, but capable as well. If any of Steel's experiments were to run amuck, he has the tools to deal with it. Well, one really big tool anyway.

It's of interest to me that Batman and his extended family can have a slew of titles and yet Superman and his merry crew seem to have difficulty sustaining any book without a kryptonian (or half-human clone thereof). Steel is a character rife with storytelling potential, and in the right hands could be one of the DCU's starting lineup with very little modification from his core concept. It'd be one of the books I'd write for free and without hesitation. And I haven't even mentioned ideas for storylines, like the resurrection of Tomorrow Woman, or the ascension of Amazo from brute thug to master villain. . .those would be pretty awesome tales to tell, no doubt.

DC, have your people call mine. We'll do lunch.