Robot 6

Steel #1 and the state of the superhero comic

There’s so much I find fascinating about Vaneta Rogers’s Newsarama interview with Steel #1 writer Steve Lyons that I hardly know where to begin. I suppose I’ll start by saying that there’s a lot to be excited about in the comic, which kicks off DC’s “Reign of Doomsday” event. For example, I’ve long argued that Steel is one of the most undervalued characters and designs in DC’s pantheon. Iron Man’s powers, Thor’s hammer, Superman’s cape, and an African-American folk hero’s name? That’s pure gold. And seriously, what a great design: The Alex Garner cover to the issue — itself part of DC’s genuinely awesome iconic-cover line-up for the month of January — is practically payoff enough. Plus, in a genre often (and accurately) decried for its lack of strong non-white heroes, John Henry Irons is an armor-clad, hammer-wielding, ‘S’-shield-wearing super-genius whose role in Metropolis’s scientific and business community is basically “the anti-Lex.” Tough to top that.

Similarly, at nearly two decades’ remove from the controversial “Death of Superman” storyline, I’m much better able to appreciate Doomsday him/itself. He’s no longer just the out-of-the-blue newcomer who got to deliver the coup de grace to the Man of Steel over more “deserving” villains like Lex Luthor (and set sales records in the process). Rather, he is to the villainous side of the superhero genre what the Hulk is to its heroic half: The power fantasy in its purest form, i.e. giant unstoppable guy pounds the crap out of everyone in his way. On an inner-eight-year-old level, that’s a thing of beauty. And remember how in his original appearances he slowly shedded a Kirbyesque jumpsuit-and-goggles look to reveal badass bone spikes and claws jutting out of every possible place on his body? He’s basically a microcosm of the direction of the entire superhero genre from that period, a walking symbol of ’90s excess at its boldest and best. Finally, in story terms, he accomplished the pinnacle achievement for any DCU villain: He killed Superman! Okay, so he got better, but still. As I believe Geoff Johns has argued, Doomsday’s name alone should scare the crap out of every character in the DC Universe. As such he’s a terrific basis for a crossover event.

Finally, writer Steve Lyons is an unknown quantity as far as DC goes — this is his first ever work for the company. But he apparently comes with a recommendation from Paul Cornell, his colleague from the Doctor Who universe, and as such is part of DC’s promising, risk-taking outreach to new writers (of which Cornell himself is of course a part as well). It’s kind of exciting to see DC take a flyer on a brand-new writer for a high-profile event launch — it’s like something Nu-Marvel would have done ten years ago.

But…Well, actually, I don’t know if I should start this portion of the post with a “But” at all. The comic isn’t out yet, so it’s way too soon to tell what effect all the things Lyons talks about in his interview will have on the final product, if any. But it seems to me that the real-world logistics behind Steel #1 bear noting, both for what they say about this comic specifically and what they could indicate about how superhero comics are made today.

First of all, when DC approached Lyons and asked him to pitch some ideas, the one upon which Steel #1 would eventually be based didn’t have Doomsday in it at all. The original villain was Metallo, who in fact was named as the book’s antagonist in the initial solicits for the issue. “Then, everything changed,” says Lyons, and voila, Steel vs. Metallo became Steel vs. Doomsday and the launchpad for a crossover that also involves Superboy, Justice League of America, and Outsiders. Lyons himself isn’t involved with any of those issues, or with the overall direction of the crossover, which is being overseen by editors Matt Idelson and Wil Moss. Indeed, Lyons says “even I don’t know the full answer” to why Doomsday is attacking Steel in the first place. It strikes me as a pretty remarkable situation for the writer of a comic not to be privy to the motives of the antagonist in the comic he’s writing — the apotheosis, perhaps, of working as a writer in the top-down event-comic era.

Speaking of which, you may recall that Doomsday too died at the end of “Death of Superman,” killed by Kal-El in a mutual-destruction scenario. Of course, you can’t keep a good superhero-comics character down (or even a lousy one, these days), and Doomsday didn’t stay dead for much longer than Superman himself did. (Actually, I think he was revealed to be alive first!) What’s interesting about Doomsday starring in an event now is that he was dead again as recently as two years and one Superman era ago — beaten to death by the people of Kandor in November 2008′s Action Comics #871, during the “New Krypton” mega-story. That event had its cake and ate it too when it came to Doomsday, killing him for effect, then almost immediately revealing that his body was in the possession of the evil General Sam Lane (Lois’s wingnut dad), who turned it over to Lex Luthor for “improvements.” Apparently, whatever Lex did was good enough to get Doomsday up and running in time to headline his own event comic just a few short months after the one in which he “died” ended. If you want to make the argument that death and resurrection are devalued currencies in contemporary superhero comics, you probably need look no further than ol’ Bone-Brows.

Moving on, the identity of the villain isn’t the only thing that changed since Steel #1′s conception and solicitation — so too did the identity of the artist. The book was originally slated to be drawn by Sean Chen, but “[t]he revised schedule interfered with his other work,” according to Lyons, and Ed Benes has drawn the issue in Chen’s stead. Benes is a DC mainstay and fan favorite who’s worked on multiple marquee titles for the publisher, so he’s certainly about as good a “fill-in” artist as one could hope for, but he’s not Sean Chen, he’s Ed Benes. That’s another big change, and I think it may speak to how thin the top talent — writers and artists with craft chops, personal style, and a dependable work rate — can be stretched at the Big Two.

Finally — and I’m extremely hesitant to go here because, again, the book isn’t even out yet — but there’s every indication that Steel may not survive Steel #1. Lyons understandably plays this one coy, as a writer really ought to if he hopes to maintain some suspense about what will happen in his action-based comic book. But given readerslong-standing and vocal dissatisfaction with the treatment of non-white characters in the DCU, killing off one of the company’s most prominent such characters — the one who wears the Superman ‘S’ on his chest and cape to boot — would surely touch off a firestorm of controversy. (Sorry, Jason Rusch.) Discretion is no doubt the better part of valor when it comes to potentially spoiling the outcome of your big “Death of Superman”/”Reign of the Supermen”-based hero-villain grudge match, but the same can probably be said about (unnecessarily, I hope) freaking out your audience that yet another bastion of DCU diversity is about to bite the dust.

So, when the Steel coin is finally flipped, how will it land? Heads — a fun, exciting face-off between two underrated superhero-comic characters brought to you by a promising newcomer and a talented veteran? Or tails — a trail of odd production hiccups leading to the death of a beloved character in service of comics’ umpteenth event? Or will it land on its edge, with vocal fans arguing mightily to push it to the side of their choosing? I’ll say this much: I’ll be reading it to find out.

(via David Uzumeri)

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Comments

47 Comments

I think that if Steel is going to die, DC ought to announce it now to a) goose sales, and b) get out in front of the news of killing another minority character.

Even better would be Steel not dying, but – Lyons is sure saying similar things to what DC said about Blue Beetle Ted Kord a few years ago, isn’t he?

I agree with Mark – this whole thing smacks of Ted Kord. I really hope they don’t kill Steel off, but at the same time I won’t be surprised at all if they do.

I asked my shop to order this for me thinking Sean Chen was drawing it, and, had I known Benes was, I wouldn’t have ordered it at all, as Benes is one of those artists I actually try to avoid as much as possible. I ALSO wouldn’t have ordered it if I knew it was just the first part of a story that would continue into a bunch of other books I’m not reading.

That would be pretty insane if they killed off–pretended to kill off–Steel. Didn’t they kinda sorta do that in “Our Worlds At War?” And at the beginning of James Robinson’s run, wasn’t there some suspense over whether or not Atlas killed Steel (Did he put him in a coma or something…?)

That chick with the glasses is EVERYWHERE

Great piece, and what a bizarre circumstance. Why would they launch a book just to kill the lead? I feel like DC has been making a LOT of bad decisions lately, and this would be one of the worst.

“Iron Man’s powers, Thor’s hammer, Superman’s cape, and an African-American folk hero’s name?”

Something seems to missing there. Maybe DC should give him Wonder Woman’s tiara or a GL ring as well?

Steel was my favorite of the characters to come out of the Death of Superman Saga, though I feel he hasn’t been used that well since (with the exception of his storyline in “52″). I don’t think they will kill him off unless it is to replace him with his niece (who HAS used the Steel identity before.) But DC has long lost my good faith- the company, not the characters- because they continue to sell upon cheap stuff like murders and rape; heroism and wonder just don’t seem to be enough anymore. So unless I see reason to believe that this will change in the near future I won’t be buying this comic. We’ll see.

Oh and Doomsday doesn’t impress me anymore anyway, because he has been reduced as a character- not that he was much of one anyway- as he has been beaten so often since then that he just doesn’t inspire that “OHMYGOD HE KILLED SUPERMAN!” sense of dread he had once. Of course, a good writer can make anybody work- now let’s see if DC will allow that to happen.

“would surely touch off a firestorm of controversy. (Sorry, Jason Rusch.)”

- Could you contextualize this pun for me? I’m not so up to date on my dead non-white heroes, but I could tell there was something clever going on in that sentence.

Jason Rusch is the second Firestorm (get it?) and happens to be an African American. He’s kind of been smushed together with the revived original Firestorm Ronnie Raymond.

Well, it’s a wicked pun, but isn’t it not a totally coherent metaphor? Because the African-American incarnation is still alive and active? Or was there a similar race-related discussion when Rusch became mashed up with older, white incarnation (the white original literally subsuming the minority “interloper”, or a similar theme?)

I agree that Steel is an underused character. I’ll likely pick up the book if they don’t kill him, or give him metagene powers.

As someone who enjoyed Steel throughout his appearances in JLA and 52, I’m going to be massively disappointed if he’s shock-killed to start off this crossover. And can’t we think of a more original plot device for making the bad guy look bad? The fact that most of us think that he’s not going to survive says something about the state of comics I think.

I really like Steel and think he is the best “replacement” Superman to come out of Reign og the Supermen. I especially liked him in Grant Morrision’s JLA. I really thought about picking this up but I am not going to buy a comic whose first issue is part of some cross-over event. These vents are what drives me away from titles, not towards them (I realize I might be in the minority on this).

There was a similar race-related discussion regarding Rusch. Partially because it happen at the same time when a number of minority legacy heroes were dying and being replaced by the original version (e.g., the Ryan Choi Atom being replaced by Ray Palmer), and partially because when Ronnie and Jason were joined together Firestorm resumed his classic (i.e., white) appearance.

“Steel vs. Metallo became Steel vs. Doomsday and the launchpad for a crossover that also involves Superboy, Justice League of America, and Outsiders.”

PASS.

I guess we’re finally feeling the effects of Bob Harras’ influence? This company is headed towards Marvel circa 1997.

I bet you ten Bucks DC kills Steel. Why? i don’t know. I read DC comics and keep seeing all these Super cool Characters like Steel, Hardware, Red Arrow, Cyborg you name it and they keep getting mishandled. DC comics just dose not get it. I swear Steel Will Die and Dc will have wasted another great character.

What they should be doing is pushing Steel to be the first in a wave of conscious efforts to TRULY diversify and strengthen their non-white characters. It should start with Steel and branch out. There’s at least 10 non-white characters that could support a Justice League level team on any given day. Come on DC!

“Finally — and I’m extremely hesitant to go here because, again, the book isn’t even out yet — but there’s every indication that Steel may not survive Steel #1!”

I’d imagine that it’d be a bit tricky killing off the main character at the end of the first issue of an eponymous four part mini-series.

I assume Lyons is being coy because there is a big crunching cliffhanger ending to the first issue making you wonder if he survived or not. Saying he will rather weakens this. Even if it appears he is dead at the start of issue #2 you can’t have three issues containing a funeral and people looking sad so, he’d have to make some kind of triumphant return, as I can’t see DC surviving some white guy turning up and donning the armour as a tribute to John Henry Irons. If he does die die, for good (or a year or two) then it’d seem obvious that his niece Natasha would pick up the mantle (she has been known as Steel before), would the initial presence of Metallo (who she has connections with) suggest this was the plan all along? If so it might not be such a PR disaster. Or it might still be I suppose.

I’ve never been able to accept that DC allows Steel to run around with Thor’s hammer. (Blatant rip-off from the company that sued Captain Marvel to death when he was nothing like Superman.) Instead of inventing a fresh minority character, DC just cut and pasted one into existence from the parts of other characters. B-o-r-i-n-g. And with a name as plain as Steel, it feels like he should be one of the Metal Men, along with Iron and Lead.

And Doomsday? Ho hum. He already did his thang. And since Superman didn’t even stay dead, Doomsday should have his name changed to Nap-for-a-while-day.

Just imagine if DC was totally honest in their promotion of this “event”: A bland, unoriginal, second-string hero gets yet another reboot to fight a bland, second-string villain who has already proven ineffectual. I can’t wait to not buy this!

DC — The House of No Idea.

Emperor, it’s not a four-issue miniseries, it’s a oneshot heading off a five-issue crossover event.

“and partially because when Ronnie and Jason were joined together Firestorm resumed his classic (i.e., white) appearance”

Firestorm isn’t white though, he’s a blend of both and his coloring reflects that (which has also been shown in Batman: Brave & the Bold). Jason also shares being Firestorm with Ronnie Raymond and they switch on who controls the body.

Except for the Atom, can someone please point out all the other minority characters that were killed off and replaced with a white character?

Michael Holt is still Mr. Terrific. The Question is still Renee Montoya. The Blue Beetle is still Jaime Reyes. Jakeem Thunder still controls the Thunderbolt. The Invisible Kid is still black. Judo Master is still Asian. Jacques Foccart is now the Invisible Kid again. John Stewart is still a Green Lantern. Fire is still Hispanic. The new Aqualad is black. Black Lightning and his daughter Thunder are still alive. So is Cyborg (who is now in the JLA). Dr. Light is still alive.

Aren’t they also planning on incorporating the Milestone characters into their universe as well?

So where is this “DC kills off too many minority characters” issue come from?

@Emperor: Actually it is a one-shot, vs. a four-issue miniseries.

Wow DavidH, you mentioned, what, 15 non-Caucasians? Well done. But when you kill/replace even just two or three of such a small number, it’s a big percentage.

Look at when Robert Kirkman killed his Freedom Ring character. He acknowledged he got rid of “20% of the gay characters at Marvel by killing off this ONE character.”

Want me to list the white guys and girls they have there? Might be here all day.

HOLY CRAP!! I had no idea Steve Lyons is writing Steel. And I adore the hell out of his Past Doctor novels and his part in Big Finish’s Klien trilogy.

Colour me sold!!!

DC comes out with great stuff, so I try to ignore some of their dick moves. If they kill Steel, I definitely wouldn’t be able to ignore that. I’d be done with DC, just as I’ve been done with Marvel for a long time.

@Wow!

Steel is named after John Henry, who carried a hammer, similar to the one that Steel himself wields. No Thor rip-off in this case.

OMG! God forbid DC kills their Iron Man rip off/Superman rip off character! Such a loss!

If people want to complain about minority characters why don’t they start buying more of their books instead of posting mock outrage on a fucking message board.

Unknown Soldier was one of the best books to come out in years and was canceled due to poor sales so I could give a shit less if some superhero dime a dozen character gets killed. They are ALL replaceable.

@ ill street,

Everybody knows the folk hero John Henry swung a hammer. But he didn’t use Thor’s hammer! Look at it — except for the length of the handle, it looks exactly like Mjolnir. If DC wanted to give Steel a hammer, why didn’t they design one of their own instead of “steeling” Kirby’s design?

I’m a big, big Steel fan, and in all honesty, I wouldn’t mind if they kill him.

Would I like there to be a quality Steel book on the stands right now? Of coarse. But the truth is that no on but me would support it, and if they need to do something drastic to the character to get people talking about him, I’ll go along for the ride (and they can always bring him back). He’s a re-telling of the John Henry story, who dies at the end of the story by his own determination. For everyone who would complain about bad story, what would be more appropriate for the character than to have him die by the ultimate technological beast, just like the legend of John Henry actually comes from? Not to mention the character who brought Steel into existence- it would make sense.

And as for the fact that he’s black… I mean a double standard is a double standard. Steel deserves a heroic death, just like Superman deserves. It wouldn’t make DC racist, they just need to bring Steel to peoples attention anyway that they can. In truth, I thought it was really weird when people called DC racist for killing Ryan Choi, when his death lead the way for Titans, a book that has a muslim, an african american and an asian american that were supported by the brightest day banner. I want good steel comics, and if the issue where he is killed is a good issue than I’ll but it and enjoy it.

Get rid of this rip-off, 4th rate character! Tis a shame that all but two characters were kept from the first Superman/Doomsday storyline. Superman himself and Cyborg Superman. Every other character should have been killed then and there!!!

@Wow!

Steel’s hammer looks like… um… a sledgehammer to me. But hey, I’m no hammer expert.

“If people want to complain about minority characters why don’t they start buying more of their books instead of posting mock outrage on a fucking message board.”

If they’re only going to be treated as a marginal token or mere fan-bait, why should anyone bother? I’ve been seeing this rushed-out Doomsday crossover as DiDio’s ‘Plan B’ to clean house on the Superman line ever since JMS walked off away from “Grounded”. One should also keep in mind that the last two titles in this crossover remain unannounced, and SUPERGIRL is also about to go through a fill-in shuffle. There may be more than one character casualty before this mess is over.

I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that Steel is “beloved”, but he certainly is a good character. I’m tired of good characters being killed off for effect, or because writer X doesn’t like them or doesn’t know what to do with them. Don’t kill off Steel. Have hime leave town or move to the moon or something.

John G, Wow!, TomThumb, and Jason are all clearly the same moron. Ignore them.

To the people complaining about the hammer.. Wow! and others.. Get up to date on your folklore, the hammer is as much a part of the Steel driving man as Mjolnir is a part of Thor.

http://www.nps.gov/neri/historyculture/john-henry.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_(folklore)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQXJt2cE-8c&feature=related
http://www.johnhenryrockdrill.com/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y42Xy1KHEQ0

I wonder if this isn’t exactly the kind of reaction that DC was hoping to get. The subtle hints that they might kill off yet another POC character are definitely going to get people talking. And as we know, DC editors and publishers seem to think there’s no such thing as bad publicity. (Hence the spinning of “strong reactions” to such duds as Cry for Justice and Rise of Arsenal as indication that they must have done something right.) It’s just kind of sad that rather than decide to do anything to fix the blatant lack of diversity in their books they would harness this kind of legitimate concern from fans in order to generate interest in an event.

It’s not had to imagine a DC editor saying, “Hey, maybe we don’t need to actually kill a character to launch this event. We can just let people think that we’re going to and then they’ll buy it to find out if we did.”

Will B, if you feel there isn’t enough minority characters, that’s one thing. If you feel DC isn’t utilizing the Milestone characters the right way (like using Icon in the JLA instead of Mon-El or Supergirl), I would say you’re right.

But, the question was about DC killing off minority superheroes and replacing them with white ones. Again, except for the Atom, who are the other superheroes being replaced with white ones?

In fact, except for the Atom, how many minority characters have been killed in DC over the last five or six years? Since the complaint has been about the Didio regime.

I read the interview with the writer with great interest. When it came to the point of Steel’s future, his non-answer also made me feel Steel would not survive the event. Me, I’m tired of all the hero deaths. After Infinite Crisis and Blackest Night, I think we’ve had enough for a decade. I was hoping DC would feel the same way. We’ve already lost Ryan Choi for no reason.

Back to Steel. I was pleasantly surprised to hear DC was making a Steel special. I too feel he needs more exposure. Grant Morrison did a great job with Steel in Morrison’s run of JLA. (I’d ultimately like to see Steel back on that team.) Now, after the interview, I am not sure. I know this. Now I will be leafing through the comic before buying it. If Steel dies, no sale.

I wouldn’t really miss Steel,but I’ll PISSED if Supergirl dies.

Steel was the first ongoing comic book I ever read. I grabbed most of the back issues and started his series at #15.

From there, I branched into Superboy, which lead to Superman proper, which eventually led to just about everything DC publishes.

All the while, Steel remained my absolute favorite character. From his time in Morrison’s JLA after his series was cancelled, to his time in Man of Steel when he moved back to Metropolis and first created the Steelworks (later Iron Works), to his underappreciated arc in 52, and even to the recent dreck of New Krypton where he was whomped on by Atlas for reasons I still can’t remember.

No exaggeration. No internet crying-wolf hyperbole. If Steel dies, I’m done with DC comics.

@ Debaser, who says, “John G, Wow!, TomThumb, and Jason are all clearly the same moron.”

Sorry, sir, I’m nobody but myself, and I have an IQ in the 140′s, so you are wrong on both counts. But do feel free to ignore me, or anyone else who has an opinion different than yours.

Steel is a character that would not be missed much at all. How could he be when he’s been used so little, and a new book with him wouldn’t sell. The storyline involving his daughter was awful. He isn’t close to being ironman. The hammer ( whatever ) is a joke. The only time he was well used was when connected to the JLA, and not in costume. Should he be killed? Maybe not, but needs to get out from under the Superman cover. Also color isn’t the main issue here, it’s that his name already belongs to someone. Steel, or Commander Steel, it doesn’t matter. While C Steel has been poorly used in JSA, he’s a better character. The DC universe is over crowded and the mess DC made with the archie characters trying to add them to it just shows they don’t know what to do with them all.

I was originally going to get this one shot, before I realised it wasn’t actually a one shot, but part 1 of a 5 part story! (of which I’m not getting any of the other series).

Steel is a great and underused character at the moment, but he has also had some major spot light too. I was there for his first appearances in Man of Steel, his series (Batista and Priest are awesome!), his return to Man of steel in 2000-2001 (with Manke on art!!), 52 and Infinity Inc!!

Maybe this is the first steps to another series, ala Superboy. But I would have prefered his own mini. ;)

Steel is not valued by the current DC hotshots who can’t get their heads out of the behind of the Silver Age. If he was a Silver Age character beloved by whatever dunderhead has the keys to the kingdom, he would be all over the place.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they killed Steel. DC and Marvel seem to have a problem with how to handle African American characters.

I’ve always been a big fan of Steel, since he came out during death and return of superman. When the kids in his community were getting hooked on “tar”! SO I’m just happy he’s back!

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