Thursday, June 28, 2012

Team Superman Secret Files & Origins #1- Steel Profile Page (May, 1998)

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Written by Christopher Priest with art by Denys Cowan and Tom Palmer.

In my not remotely humble opinion, Steel was the best of the Supermen, and that includes when Kal-El turned up with a mullet. I carried the Superman titles for a few months after Clark Kent turned out to have just taken a really super-intense power nap, but he was frankly more interesting dead than alive. Tom Grummett quit drawing The Adventures of Superman so that he could launch a Superboy solo series that lasted the better part of a decade. Dan Jurgens managed to knock out a three issue prestige format Doomsday mini-series every year or so in addition to his Superman duties. Supergirl got a nice mini-series, and then an ongoing by big names like Peter David and Gary Frank.

Steel got a series too, but his best artist and co-creator Jon Bogdanove only co-plotted it with fellow creator Louise Simonson. They produced some of the least adept and most embarrassing work of their careers, plus they were gone before the end of the book's second year. Chris Batista drew it for a while, and he got better as an artist with time, but Steel looked very low rent from the beginning. The title was a mess of conspiracies and plotlines dropped without resolution, as Irons hung out with his extended family in a Washington D.C. neighborhood and fought goofy villains and black ops agents. It was like Hardware for remedial students. Once all the primaries had abandoned ship, the book was written by random moonlighting assistant/editors, and drawn by whoever could hold a pencil for base rates. It was probably the worst looking mainstream book ever to be printed on that really nice glossy stock the companies used to justify a price hike in the late '90s. Somebody overdosed on "urban" cinema like Menace II Society and Juice, so that pretty near the entire Irons family had been wiped out by gang violence/drug abuse/etc.

Three freaking years into the book's run, actual African-Americans took over. Writer Christopher Priest has accused artist Denys Cowan of phoning in his entire run, which was often incongruously inked by Bronze Age Marvel bullpen favorite Tom Palmer. Despite this, Priest turned in what was easily some of the finest work of his criminally under-appreciated career, and Cowan's art did a good job of showing what a rough town Steel had to patrol in Jersey City. Priest used the excesses of previous writers to strengthen the bonds between John Henry and his niece Natasha, who herself received a personality transplant that made her one of the funniest and most caustic characters in comics. This team's Steel only lasted about a year and a half, and aside from a trial run as a team-up book with Guy Gardner: Warrior that ended up dumped into a couple of Showcase issues, the crew was unceremoniously canned after obligatory participation in the "Millennium Giants" crossover. Thankfully, the essence of the book was repurposed into the critically acclaimed Marvel Knights Black Panther, although I feel that book never quite reached the same heights. I cannot more strongly recommend tracking down Steel #34-52, which has never been collected.

Steel Flies & Orbits More Radical Profiles


John Henry was a Reignin' Superman,
He's worked since nineteen & ninety-three,
"Raise 'em up bullies and let 'em drop down,
I'll beat Eradicator to the bottom or die."

John Henry said to Doomsday:
"You are nothing but a base foe,
Before that Cyborg shall beat me down,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand."

John Henry said to Team Superman:
"You must listen to my call,
Before that Cyborg shall beat me down,
I'll jar this Engine City till it fails."

John Henry's Mongul said to him:
"I believe this Coast City is caving in."
John Henry said to his Mongul: "Oh, Lord!"
"That's my hammer you hear in the wind."

John Henry he said to Mongul:
"Your plot is getting mighty slim,
When I hammer through this Engine City,
Oh Mongul will you walk in?"

John Henry's Doomsday came to him
With bony protrusions from his hand,
He laid his hand on his shoulder and said:
"This belongs to a steel driving man."

John Henry was hammering on the right side,
The Cyborg drilling on the left,
Before that Doomsday could beat him down,
He hammered his fool self to death.

They carried John Henry to the mountains,
From his shoulder his hammer would ring,
She caught on fire by a little blue blaze

I believe that Engine City's caving in.
John Henry was lying on his death bed,
He turned over on his side,
And these were the last words John Henry said

"Bring me my cool sidekick before I die."
John Henry had a sarcastic niece,
Her name was Natasha Irons,
He hugged and kissed her just before he died,
Saying, "Nat, do the very best you can."

John Henry's niece heard he was dead,
She could not rest on her bed,
She got up at midnight, donned her own remote armor,
"I am going where John Henry fell dead."

They carried John Henry to that new burying ground
His Niece robot was decked in gray,
She laid her hand on John Henry's cold face,
"Steel, I'll been true to you."

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