Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Discount Bin Finds -- "Steel, The Indestructible Man" #2
My blog-pal Frank asked if I could take a look at Steel #2 after he looked at the first issue. Frank, ask and ye shall receive!
Our story opens with Hank Heywood, USMC, writing in his journal about reconciling with his pacifist girlfriend Gloria, daughter of Dr. Giles Gilbert, who helped Hank become Steel thanks to their "bio-retardent" formula. Gloria doesn't want to think about the war, pretty handily setting her up to get dumped at some point, I imagine. Anyway, Dr. Gilbert himself ponders how the vigilante Steel showed up right after he helped "fix" Hank... but how there just couldn't be a connection between the two events.
Meanwhile, everyone's second favorite Commander Steel nemesis who happens to be a Baron -- that is, Baron Death, out of costume -- and his henchman Bruno pay a visit to Dr. Moag, an America First member who was researching a strange device he happened to create which could transmute inorganic matter into animated, controllable golems. Thinking that selling this technology to the Germans -- oh, excuse me, the Prussians -- during wartime is a bold move for peace, Moag gives them a demonstration. But when Bruno tries to push the doctor away and steal the device, Moag is shoved into the beam (of course!), and trans-morgified into a blue-and-black skinned brute. Luckily, his clothes also morphed into a supervillian costume, as he quickly found that he could control and transmutate any item with any mineral content, and dubbed himself the Mineral Master.
Checking back in with Steel, Hank is performing a stunt to show off his usefulness to the Brass. (Huh?) Leaping from one plane, Steel body-glides down to a lower plane, almost losing it in a cross-wind but utilizing his iron-grip to grab the wing and make it. Once on land, we get to meet some more members of the supporting cast, including the doubting Senator Kulhammer, his daughter and obvious rival love interest Kathy, and her wormy newspaper-man beau Edward Runyon. The Senator blows the whole thing off, claiming it was a trick, while Kathy slips Steel a note documenting her interest. Steel is not left much time to ponder this, though, as Mineral Master hits the scene to destroy an airplane hangar. Ranting about how he would destroy the world's machines of war, he was confronted by Steel, who the Master called a "war hawk" in his rage. Battling on a rising ledge of stone, Steel eventually took a spill, but luckily the Senator's car broke his fall.
The Mineral Master would pop up the next day, taking over a radio station and broadcasting his ravings for all in the New York metropolitan area to hear. Hearing this from his desk at the base, Private Heywood snuck off, leaving his requisition forms behind, and ran from Long Island (although, I am not sure what USMC base is on Long Island) to Manhattan in 20 minutes. Busting in on the still-ranting Mineral Master, Steel rushed his foe, crashing through the wall and into the thin air of 40 stories up. The Master used his powers to transmute a handy save, while Steel, remembering how he gripped the plane's wing, digs his hands into the exterior wall and slows his fall. Unfazed, Mineral Master pulls a Green Arrow and busts out a trick arrow, transmuting a lamp post into a small ballista to attack The Indestructible Man. Steel redirects the projectile, only for Mineral Master to demonstrate his superiority by once again transmuting the arrow into twittering birdies. Showing surprising insight to a guy he had been in contact with for about 10 minutes all told, Steel deduces that the Mineral Master needs to be in contact with the Earth to be at full power; one heavy fist-fall later and Steel had hoisted the Master up above his head, pressing him straight up. For twelve hours, Steel presses Mineral Master high, until slowly his foe's powers fade, and he is unceremonously dumped on the street. Steel, exhasusted from his exertion, is left only to consider that love and being a soldier, indestructible or otherwise, just cannot mix.
This issue was my first proper introduction to Steel, and I just happened to find it in the 3/$1.00 bin at the Borderlands sale in 2007. Luckily, Dr. Gilbert helpfully retells the hero's origin for those of us who came in late. Anyway, it's pretty plain that this is a second issue; with the origin done and recapped, we get the introduction of a new villian, the ongoing machinations of the "big bad," a general idea of the series formula, and a few new supporting characters to round out the cast. Conway has a lot of enthusiasm for the character and the story, and doesn't play things too far from the norm for a patriotic-type character. This portrayl is aided by Don Heck's pencils, which give the story a vintage much more, how do you say, "classic" than the 1978 publishing date would typically suggest. The Captain America influence shines through all the way, but in a good way that is not too derivative, overall -- at least as non-derivative as these things can be given the ubiquitous nature of Cap.
Mineral Master is a pretty good villian, his goofball appearance not withstanding. The twisting of a pacifist into a lunatic is something of a novel change of pace from your typical Ratzi-goon types who normally get punched out by WW2 era heroes. His powers make him a formidable opponent, and his weakness would allow him to easily have returned had the series not gotten the axe. Interesting also is how Steel defeats him; it's commonplace in Superhero comics to showcase how physically strong your hero is, or his great durability, or agility, or intelligence. But it is a relatively rare case where you see his absolute endurance, as you do here. It is a cool switch-up which plays to further round out Steel's powers (and a bit of character as well) moreso than if he had simply punched Mineral Master into submission.
There's some awkwardly handled elements as well, unfortunately. The interplay between Gloria and Hank is stiff and blatant; it's obvious that they cannot be together because of her isolationist pacifism and his moral outrage. So the reader simply marks the time that they are together and moves on, since we know that he'll meet a girl better suited soon enough. And soon enough comes quickly indeed, as we are introduced to Kathy Kulhammer (in tow behind her milquetoast fiance) not even 10 pages later. Yeah, it's early on in what I am sure Conway thought would be a long running story, but the interplay is rough. Similarly, Dr. Gilbert's denial of Hank being Steel just sounds silly, although that storyline would at least turn itself around fairly quickly.
All in all, though, this issue was more than enough to make me a fan of the character and drive me to learn about the dubious legacy that he has had. Using this as a template to the series formula, I have no doubt that, as I said on Frank's Justice League Detroit blog, had the DC Implosion not gone down, that Steel, The Indestructible Man would have probably run for about 50 issues of hardcore, Nazi-busting action. Not the greatest run, but certainly respectable, especially given the relatively tough sell of WW2 era stories in general.
Commander Steel is waiting for the right concept for a revival. After his disaterous series of appearances in Justice League of America, he needs a new lease on life to redeem him. I think Frank has a point in the Commie-Smasher concept. But even if it's just the further adventures of the man busting up Fifth Columnists or smashing things up behind enemy lines, there's more Commander Steel stories to be told, and the concept is just sound enough to deserve it.
Now, if you will excuse me, I need to work on my pitch.