Steel is the name of several DC Comics superheroes, though the best known is the third.
Henry "Hank" Heywood versionThe first Steel debuted in the series Steel, The Indestructible Man in the 1970s (though it was set in World War II.) Henry "Hank" Heywood was an American soldier who, after being badly hurt, was remade as a cyborg with "indestructible" skin. Still having a human appearance, he developed a secret identity as a superhero wearing a costume based on the American flag. He first appeared in Steel, The Indestructible Man #1 (March, 1978), created by Gerry Conway and Don Heck.
The original Steel series only lasted 5 issues, ending in November, 1978. The cancellation was part of the so-called DC Implosion, the abrupt end to over 24 series. The character was not forgotten. He became a regular in the All-Star Squadron, a series devoted to Golden Age heroes. Using the alternative codename Commander Steel. In the "present" day, Hank turned very much alive in 1980s tales of the Justice League of America. He went on to become one of several heroes fighting against Eclipso, in a series spotlighting this villain. He was finally killed in Eclipso #13 (November, 1993).
Henry "Hank" Heywood III versionThe second Steel was Henry "Hank" Heywood III, a grandson of the original. He debuted in Justice League of America Annual #2 (October, 1984), created by Gerry Conway and Chuck Patton. He was part of the Justice League of America during the series' infamous "Detroit" period. Having suffered an accident, his grandfather -now a rich corporate head- had him rebuilt as a similar cyborg and goaded him into becoming a hero; he also provided the League's new headquarters.
Sadly the younger Steel had to retire when severely wounded in Justice League of America #260 (March, 1987). He was left surviving on life support. He was Killed Off for Real in Justice League America #38 (May, 1990). His old foe Despero located the comatose body of Hank and "shredded him limb from limb."
Henry has been used in subsequent years. But only in retro tales set in the Detroit period, or tales involving time-travel, or undead characters. A Nathan Heywood (cousin of Hank III) went on to join the reformed Justice Society of America, but as Citizen Steel, to distinguish him from John Henry Irons. In the New 52 continuity reboot, Hank Heywood Jr/Captain Steel is an Earth 2 hero, who is something of a Composite Character of all three Heywoods (a soldier like the first Steel, a descendent of Hank Henshaw Sr given his implants by his slightly insane [grand]father like the second, and bonded to a weird metal like Nathan).
John Henry Irons version
In any case the character first appeared in The Adventures of Superman #500 (June, 1993), created by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove. This Steel was John Henry Irons, a construction worker whose life had been saved by Superman once, and who decided to become a hero to uphold his legacy. As it turned out, Irons was actually a former weapons designer hiding from the government; the use of weapons he had invented by some street gangs was also part of the reason why he created a suit of Power Armor to fight crime with (along with a really big hammer.) There was also a hint that Superman's not-quite-dead soul had linked to Irons, keeping a hold on this world before returning to life. Of the four beings claiming the title of Superman, Steel was also the only one who freely admitted that he was not Superman (nor a clone thereof), but was working to uphold his legacy in his honor.
Steel was also obviously partially based on the legend of John Henry, and happens to be the first black character to be major part of the Superman mythos (though his armor hid this fact from the public.)note Later on, Steel would join the Justice League of America, and his identity would become public. His niece Natasha, who like him was a Gadgeteer Genius, also became a power-armor heroine (and later gained actual powers as part of an Evil Plan by Lex Luthor in the series 52.)
Steel starred in his own comics series for 52 issues, from February, 1994 to July, 1998. He had a movie based on him (starring Shaquille O'Neal) that however cut off all Superman references. Steel has also appeared in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited. The animated version also had to have his origin tweaked, because The Death of Superman never happened in Superman The Animated Series.
Tropes regarding the first Steel:
- Captain Patriotic: A flag-wearing patriot. He started off as an embodiment of this trope, but became a subversion when his grandson took up the mantle as a member of the JLA. The original Steel is now shown to be quite an ultra-conservative and a bit of a bigot (although he did get better eventually), and his fierce patriotism is played as a negative character trait.
- Cyborg: He was a heavily wounded biology student under the tutelage of Doctor Gilbert Giles, and his former professor performed extensive surgery on him, enhancing his damaged body with mechanized steel devices that gave him superhuman strength, speed, and durability.
- Expy: Of Captain America. A World War II Super Soldier, with a uniform based on the American flag.
- Killed Off for Real: He was a member of the Shadow Fighters in 1993 and was killed fighting their Arch-Enemy, Eclipso.
- Remember the New Guy?: He was created in the 1970s, but was established as having been active during the 1940s and was established as having fought alongside the members of the JSA.
- Super Soldier: A cybernetically enhanced World War II soldier.
- Wearing a Flag on Your Head: The original Steel Uniform displayed the colors red, white, and blue. Along with a prominent white star on his chest. Rather clearly based on the flag of the United States.
- We Can Rebuild Him: He was supposed to die but was rebuilt as a Cyborg.
Tropes regarding the second Steel:
- Cyborg: His body was enhanced with mechanized steel devices.
- Killed Off for Real: Killed by Despero in 1990.
- Legacy Character: He was granted the mantle of his grandfather.
- We Can Rebuild Him: An ordinary human rebuild as a Cyborg.
Tropes regarding the third Steel:
- Anti-Hero Substitute: Inverted; the other Superman pretenders trying to replace the Big Blue Boyscout after his death were varying degrees of Anti-Hero, but Steel is just as heroic as the original, if not MORE so. Which may be related to why he had the best reception of them all. It also probably helped that unlike the others, Steel never actually claimed to be Superman or his substitute, but was just operating as best he could in Superman's memory and honor.
- Affirmative Action Legacy: He really wasn't trying to be (he only wore the "S" in Superman's honor), but that didn't stop many people from calling him "The Black Superman" during the Reign of the Supermen.
- Appropriated Appellation: He began as "The Man of Steel", a literal version of Superman's famous definition. Superman himself found it too long and called him just "Steel" and it stuck.
- Arm Cannon: The original armor packed a wrist-mounted rivet gun.
- Badass Baritone: Is described as sounding "like Darth Vader" in the comics, and was voiced in his appearances in Superman: The Animated Series by Michael Dorn.
- The Blacksmith: He has many elements of this, including being a weapon engineer and making iron armor.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: John Henry ended up becoming this after taking up the Entropy Aegis armor, a special Power Armor designed by Darkseid using the shell of a Imperiex Probe.
- Brought to You by the Letter "S": Played with. When Superman returns, John removes the "S" from the pentagon on his chest. Superman tells him he earned the "S", and says he's perfectly fine with him wearing it.
- The Cape: Out of all four Superman pretenders, he is the only who can be considered unambiguously good. Put this together with the fact that he's simply an ordinary man working a blue-collar job, and you'll see why some consider his heroics to be even more impressive those of the big man himself.
- Character Witness:
- In the Steel movie.
- He's kind of this in the comics too. Who knew saving one high-steel worker would pay off so well for Superman?
- Drop the Hammer: He started with a normal sledgehammer, which was lost to the combination of a pissed-off Green Lantern and Mongul's face. His subsequent hammers tend to be more high-tech.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: In his introduction, there is a flashback in which Irons, working high steel, prevents another worker from falling, only to be the one needing rescuing. When he is rescued by Superman, we get the following exchange:Irons: "I owe you my life!"Superman: "Then make it count for something!"
- Empowered Badass Normal: He may be most known for his awesome Power Armor, but he's got an astonishing natural physique and more than enough combat aptitude to be a Badass Normal even if he lacked it.
- Expy: Hardware
- Genius Bruiser: He's a brilliant scientist, and is more than capable of kicking ass without his armor.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Half his gadgets in his armor are his own inventions.
- Gentle Giant: Despite everything he still considers himself a scientist and not a fighter.
- Good Counterpart: In the New 52 continuity, he's envisioned as this to John Corben (Metallo). The two of them start out as colleagues in the US military's "Steel Soldier" project, which was created to neutralize the perceived extraterrestrial threat of Superman. Irons resigns in disgust after the military has Superman tortured, and steals the project's prototype armor to rescue Superman when he's in trouble; Corben stays loyal to the military until the end, and is driven insane by his armor's alien technology.
- It Is Pronounced Tro Pay: Dr Villain. "Will-hane. It's French."
- Let's Get Dangerous!: When a young boy was killed by a Toastmaster gun, a weapon he designed years ago, enough was enough and it would motivate him to create the first Steel armor.
- A Master Makes Their Own Tools: Forged his suit of power armor in the very same way as Tony Stark in a cave with a pile of scraps - however, he was a techie living in a major city and working out of his basement, and probably could have arranged some better tools than a hammer and anvil.
- Meaningful Name: John Henry of legend and the famous song was a "steel-drivin' man", a rock driller note who worked on railroad tunnels and raced against a steam-powered rock drill. He won the race, but "died with his hammer in his hand".
- My Greatest Failure: When John Henry was part of the US Defense, he had designed high-powered weapons, only to have the designs stolen and sold on the Black Market. He ran and changed his name to get away from this... only to find out the weapons were being used in Metropolis. When one killed a young boy, that was enough.
- Never Be a Hero: Steel to Natasha.
- Not That Kind of Doctor:
- Has to deal with this off-frame in one issue when he's visiting a friend's hospital during a busy period.
- When he was employed by a hospital in the Christopher Priest run, he objected to being called "Dr. Irons", because it was misleading. The hospital administrator said it was good publicity.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: His helmet is more or less molded like his face (similar to Destro). Thankfully, only his family recognized him.
- Powered Armor: His suit is powered armor powered by many sources.
- Scary Black Man: Averted in his out-of-armor hours, he's the most noble of Superman's expies. He does tend to scare the shit out of his enemies, however, and for good reason.
- Steven Ulysses Perhero: The "Irons" aside, it's also a shout-out to American folklore hero John Henry.
- Take Up My Sword: Inverted when Superman returned, Steel briefly quit wearing the S-Shield. Superman was quick to tell him that he had earned the right to wear it.