What I Remember:
Steel was my least favorite of the “New Supermen.” In my 4th grade brain, it didn’t make sense that he was the real Superman and I immediately crossed him off the list but I still followed his storyline.
John Henry Irons was trapped under a building during the Doomsday Massacre. Upon realizing that Superman is dead, he seeks to carry on his legacy in a suit of literal steel and protects Suicide Slum, a neglected neighborhood in Metropolis. Suicide Slum is overrun with gangs brandishing highly power “Toastmasters,” guns that Irons himself help develop. Now he’s committed to taking them off the streets!
Superman: The Man of Steel #22 “Steel”
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Superman Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95
Re-Collection Price: Beaten Up Original
The story begins with Henry Johnson (Irons) telling the story of John Henry to a couple of kids, Keith, Henry and Zoid. As he finishes the story of one man taking on a machine, the kids leave and walk right into a drive by. Henry saves Keith and Henry but Zoid is killed instantly.
Henry chases down the car and even manages to break the gun before get scrapped up against a wall and left for dead.
When he wakes up in the hospital, he’s visited by Keith and his mom. Henry blames himself for what happens, since he thinks he shooed the kids out. Keith doesn’t blame him but wishes Superman was still around to stop things like this, since Superman saved him a few times.
We then flash back to Johnson working on a construction site where Johnson saved a coworker only to find himself hurtling off of the skyscraper and is saved by the Man of Steel.
Week later, he was trapped in the basement of a collapsed building, a victim of the Doomsday incident. He did all he could to stay alive and when he escaped he was still looking to help Superman.
After his release from the hospital, he runs into the fortune teller that works in his building, she offers him a reading but he refuses and heads into the basement.
Johnson is working on a steel suit, using the building’s furnace as a smelting furnace. As he suits up the building is firebombed by Dutch and his hoods that shot Zoid. The Man of Steel escapes and saves the psychic.
Lois Lane covers the Rosie’s news conference and she meets up with Jeb Friedman, apparently an old flame and immediately starts putting the moves on a woman who just lost her fiance.
Lex Luthor II watches the news conference and is informed by Happersen that the bombing was a retaliation against Henry Johnson, who was caught in the middle of a gang war and that the highly powered weapons they’re using aren’t Luthor’s. Luthor wants to know who’s they are.
Steel catches up with the Mustang that shot him and takes out the gang while taking a toastmaster shot to the chest. Dutch gives up the White Rabbit as the supplier and conveniently she’s on a rooftop with Steel in her sights. She recognizes the voice as John Henry Irons. She shoots Dutch before he talks too much and spares the Man of Steel, because she sees profit in him.
Continued After Ad:
Watching the recent Luke Cage series reminded me of this book. There’s some elements from the Man of Steel-White Rabbit story that appears in the Netflix series. The story seems to take place in Metropolis’ version of Harlem, there is a bulletproof black superhero (Cage’s skin is bulletproof, Irons wears a bulletproof suit), there’s drive by's with highly powered weapons, and Irons seems to fit both the Pop role to the kids he mentors, as well as the Cage role as the hero.
The White Rabbit is a cool villain, she feels like she’s straight out of a Blaxploitation film. She’s the only main white character in the story, all the rest have bit parts. She runs her own gang right under Luthor’s nose. She also looks really cool with white hair and an ever-present cigarette on a holder. I would love to see DC use this version of the character again, although I'm sure she'd have to lose the cigarette.
As an adult, it’s interesting to see an "urban" Superman. You never really see Superman taking on gang violence in the mainstream stories. It’s almost as though those things just don’t happen in Metropolis.
I imagine being a Superman writer during this time was fun, a chance to tell almost an Elseworlds story in the mainstream continuity. What if Superman was a black man in the ghetto? What if Superman was a cocky horny teenager? What if he was a fascist with no qualms about killing criminals? What if he was an evil Cyborg? Each one of these Supermen is like Superman but slightly off. Steel may be the most like Superman in personality, but is the least powerful of the 4 men but he has Superman’s drive to help people.
Superman as a teenager with a leather jacket and and undercut? We check out the first full appearance of the future Superboy, It’s The Adventures of Superman #501! See you next week!