The Man of Steel has long been a nickname for Superman; the newest movie was named after it. In the 1990s, though, we were given a whole new character who took that name to heart and inspiration from the original Man of Steel to become Steel, taking up tools to create a suit of armor to help protect the world. So who is Steel and where did he come from? Let’s find out!
John Henry Irons had a knack for engineering, and that led to him building some advanced weaponry for the major corporation Amertek. His greatest creation at the time was the BG-60 “Toastmaster” that was to be sold for use by the U.S. military. Unfortunately they ended up in criminal hands in large quantities and caused horrible devastation. Seeing the massacre they created, he destroyed all the prototypes along with the blueprints and plans for an upgrade. Quitting Amertek in disgust and shame, Irons moved to Metropolis under a fake name to work construction instead.
Working in such a dangerous job had John’s heroic nature show itself when he rescued a coworker from falling off a building they were working on. Too bad John then ended up taking the fall instead, but this is Metropolis. Who falls to their death anymore? Superman arrives just in time to save John, and when John tells Superman he owes him his life, it’s Superman’s response that inspires John. Superman tells him to make his life mean something. Later on when Superman fights the deadly Doomsday, John is nearby in the all out brawl. He tries to help Superman, but is trapped in a collapsed building in the chaos. When John escapes the wreckage, it’s too late, and Superman is dead. The world mourns and wonders what it will do without Superman.
John knows what he is doing. Using his skills he builds a hi-tech suit of armor and dons the shield crest of Superman. Witnesses call him the Man of Steel or just Steel. Too bad all the gangs of Metropolis know what to do in Superman’s absence, as well; without a hero to keep them in check they run rampant in committing crimes. Soon Steel meets three other heroes claiming to be the return of Superman (John sees it as a way of bringing back the hope if he goes along with the idea that he really may be Superman at the moment). Lois Lane believes that Steel may be the real deal, and sides with John in the ensuing social battles, and sometimes physical battles. Eventually the real Superman returns, and Steel aids him in trying to regain control, but his armor is destroyed in the process. While fighting the gangs he notices the upgrade he thought he’d destroyed before leaving Amertek. This influences his decision to move back to the city that needs him, Washington D.C.
Back home after five years, John’s family is dealing with his nephew, Jahmal, having joined a gang who uses the upgraded toastmasters. John’s return brings with him a new armor, sans the Superman crest since he didn’t want to tarnish Superman’s ideals in case he had to fight dirty against Amertek and the gangs. In one fight, the gangs end up paralyzing another of John’s nephews, Tyke. This outrages Jahmal and he uses a new superpower-granting drug to try and fight back against the gang he was in. Using information he’d been gathering, John is able to help bring down Amertek and stop his nephew from killing anyone while on the drug.
Continuing to protect D.C., Natasha Irons arrives (John’s niece who proves adept at technology as well). During a fight, John’s identity is revealed, causing his whole family to become a target. His grandmother becomes a casualty in one of the attacks on his family, causing the rest to go into hiding. Reassembling their lives in Jersey City, John continues being Steel, but on a more global scale. Eventually he is asked to join the Justice League of America, and moves with Natasha back to Metropolis to start a workshop called Steelworks that focuses on non-lethal weaponry. Injured in battle, John retires from combat and works with his niece to build her a suit of armor so she can continue on the Steel legacy. His retirement is short-lived, and there are two Steels until John destroys Natasha’s armor out of fear of her being killed since it nearly happened in a battle.
At one point, Lex Luthor infects John with a disease that makes him become a man of living steel. Not in his right mind, he nearly kills Luthor until Natasha steps in, in full armor. Their relationship still shaky due to destroying her original armor, and now his new organic steel armor that he has not been able to explain is not of his own doing, John is desperate to make amends. When the effects of his new armor begin to wear off, John learns that Luthor has kidnapped Natasha, and uses his old armor to stop Luthor. He is able to make amends with Natasha, who now has her new armor made by John, and both run Steelworks together.
In the New 52 Irons was originally working with the U.S. government on technology to protect Earth from alien invasion. When his work is used by Lex Luthor to imprison Superman, John resigns and uses a hidden project of armor to aid Superman in fighting a real alien invasion. Steel helps maintain control and repairs Metropolis while Superman takes the fight to space.
I always liked Steel, with his armor like Iron Man and a cool hammer like Thor. He was able to fight Superman-level threats, and still deal with all sorts of problems like gangs and super villains of all kinds. I enjoyed his new introduction since his old one is very much tied to the Death of Superman run, and just having him be inspired by Superman in a way that doesn’t involve his death is great.
The Adventures of Superman #500
Dr. Alexander Bustos