Friday, May 30, 2008

Steel, The Indestructible Man Vol.1, No.1 (March 1978)

The story was titled "From Hell Is Forged ...A Hero!" I was wondering "what the hell" myself, so at least that's one question sorta-kinda answered. I mean, not only did this nostalgic World War II patriotic throwback arrive too late to cash in on the Bicentennial celebration, but coming after Watergate, he just seemed naively trite. Heck, even "The Six Million Dollar Man" had been cancelled the same month as this first issue's cover-date. Maybe Conway's prior run on Captain America was too brief for his taste, or perhaps Commander Steel was intended to be the first dedicated super-hero of Earth-1? Regardless, he saw cancellation after a scant five issues, based as much on lack of creative merit as the general casualty of all "DC Explosion" titles that were snuffed by economic reality.

As depicted by Gerry Conway and Don Heck, remarkable Princeton biology student Henry "Hank" Heywood visited Munich, Germany, a city and nation he spends four panels venting against. Comparing Nazism to the Black Plague, and rightly disparaging Prime Minister Chamberlain's appeasement policy, Heywood moaned in his journal "God, I wish I'd never let Doctor Giles talk me into coming with him to this German medical conference... Why did we ever bother? The Germans won't even listen to the Doctor's discoveries..." As one, the German doctors decried Giles as a fraud... or actually, as five, their balloons somehow more hateful than Heywood's journal entries. Heywood and Giles exited the auditorium as German professionals pumped their fists and demanded their departure from Der Fatherland.

On their way to the airport, Heywood spied a pair of Brownshirts beating an elderly "Juden pig!" Hank let his own fists do the talking from there: "Forget the old man, Ludwig-- WHY DON'T YOU TRY STARTING WITH ME?" The Jew thanked Hank for his foolish bravery, then pulled a Yinsen, drawing Goosestepper fire while the hothead escaped.

The pair returned to the States in August of 1939, where Doctor Giles was met by his daughter, Hank's horse-faced girlfriend Gloria. The fiery mare presented Hank with a newspaper announcing Hitler's invasion of Poland. "Then that madman's going to spread his hate across Europe... maybe the world! There'll be more old men like that Jew in Munich... Perhaps... millions!" Dr. Giles didn't feel this needed to be America's war, but Heywood's vision of the future compelled him to enlist. "Why I chose the Marines, I'll never know. Maybe because they were the toughest... maybe because of old Victor McLaughlin* movies... or maybe because the young intellectual had something to prove to himself." Gloria Giles neighed heartily at this turn, "Play soldier if you want-- but don't expect me to be waiting when you're finished with your toys!" In her defense, Heywood was quoting scripture at her to validate his decision.

Heywood drowned his sorrows with his boot camp buddies at a local bar, but was gripped by self doubt on the lonely walk back to base. "Maybe Gloria's right. I have been playing this like Gary Cooper playing Sergeant York... Am I kidding myself? Grand-standing-- for my own ego? NO! This is something I believe in!" Just then, Heywood spied Ratzi saboteurs planting dynamite along the base perimeter, and introduced one's face to his knee. Another was dealt a hay maker right into an explosive plunger, blowing the lot of them to kingdom come. Oopsie-doodle.

Investigating troops scraped up what was left of Heywood, who miraculously survived. "Regaining consciousness was like slipping into a vat of boiling oil. Everything hurt so much, I could barely see straight... until I saw Gloria..." The poor thing was in tears over her hurtful parting words, while her father discussed with Hank the pseudo-science the pair specialized in that would make Heywood whole again. "Every day, there were operations... and more operations! Using the bio-retardent[sic] we'd developed together during my years as his student, Giles rebuilt my ravaged body from the skeleton up... First there was steel alloy tubing to replace pulped bone in my arms and legs and ribcage... Then a metal casing to protect my skull... and micro-motors in all my joints to help me move all that steel... Then more substitutions-- an artificial lung for the ruined one... and back-up devices to aid my damaged heart... and finally, most-- most painfully, the bio-retardant was used to induce skin-regrowth over the burned areas... covering the whole patchwork contraption with a flesh that made it my own..." By November on '39, Heywood had gone from invalid to superman. The new lung could sustain Heywood for a half hour underwater, he was super-strong, and nigh impervious. These breakthroughs remained a secret.

"I returned to duty, but with a hitch. Because of my recorded 'medical disability,'
I'd be a desk jockey..." Gloria continued to fume and threaten Heywood; "She hates war-- and so do I. But I'm still going to do my part somehow--" Heywood fashioned a uniform and dubbed himself Steel, The Indestructible Man! "This outfit may be colorful, but it's also far more-- flexible steel alloy, not strong enough to protect an ordinary man from gunfire-- but just tough enough to give me a crucial edge!" Steel then stole weaponry from the Westchester Federal Armory that he could later modify for his own purposes. First though, he happened upon yet another group of Fifth Columnists on his way out. "It's no movie, Nazi-- and I'm no Clark Gable!" Steel chuckled as he brutalized the baddies, going so far as to use the body of one to strike another. "Ever go bowling, friend?"

"Slipping away was easy-- a ten foot leap, and a 50MPH dash into some convenient foliage... Maybe this is why I survived the bomb-blast, to fight rats like the boss of those saboteurs... Baron Death! ...I'm going to use those powers and abilities in my own private war, until America wakes up to the menace of Hitler and Stalin and Tojo and Mussolini. It may be a lonely war, it may be unpopular just now-- but it's got to be done, and I'm the guy cut out to do it!"

Also of note, an interesting article on the anachronistic costumes of 40's retconned characters, including Steel, Baron Blitzkreig, and more.

* Presumably, he meant Victor McLaglen.

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