Saturday, July 13, 2013

Great Issues: Superman: Man of Steel #22

Steel's in-action intro (following a splash page featuring the traditional new
costume splash page) from Superman: Man of Steel #22. 
One of Superman's greatest assets is a rich collection of supporting characters beyond the Daily Planet and rogues gallery. Something the books of the late-Eighties and early-Nineties did well was to tap into this and organically add to this collection of relatable characters. It is this diverse cast that makes selection of a "great" Superman issue without Superman not nearly as difficult as one would think.

It was the Nineties, so naturally
there were two covers: this one by
series artists Jon Bogdanove
and Dennis Janke. 
Lost in the ether that was the "old" DC comic book universe, as is everything in continuity that happened prior to the advent of the "New 52" initiative, Superman: Man of Steel #22 is a great issue that came during one of the most significant storylines in modern Superman continuity: the Death of Superman. The storyline was the genesis for a number of characters including Doomsday, Cyborg Superman and Steel, each of whom would become important members of the Super-family of characters for years (decades?) to come and would also be candidates for an eventual return in one form or another in the New 52. Created by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove, Superman: Man of Steel heralded the formal introduction of John Henry Irons, and his heroic alias, into the DC Universe.

Also by Bogdanove and Janke,
this is the special die-cut cover.
Ever the fanboy, I have both.
Though clearly an urban take on Marvel's Iron Man (and therefore a spin on DC's own Batman), Steel differentiated himself from both the other "reigning" supermen (Superboy, Cyborg and Eradicator) during Superman's "death", by embracing a street level purpose. In this issue, written by Louise Simonson, John Henry Irons dons his Steel persona for the first time (Irons appeared in a previous issue that included the events that inspired his creation of the costume, also recounted here) with the intent of cleaning the streets of weapons--weapons he had designed. Unlike the other Super-books being published at the time, the scale of the  world in which Steel operates, as established in this issue, is small, local and personal.

The art of Bogdanove (pencils) and Janke (colors) gave Steel a unique look; exaggerated and "gritty". The presence of slightly distorted physical features (a staple of Nineties comic book "art"), suggested power rather than deformity, while the overall style appeared purposeful in reflecting the urban tone. Thankfully absent from the character design were the multiple pouches prominent in comic books at the time, though the villainous gang weapons, Irons' "Toastmaster" guns (visible in the left-most panel below), do bear a striking resemblance to the Cable-esque Rob Liefeld guns also popular at the time.

Though it seems so common now, in 1993 Simonson's plot was not so standard.
Having enjoyed the adventures of John Henry Irons in Superman: Man of Steel so much, I followed him from that title into his own (Steel ran for 53 issues from 1994-1998) once Kal-El made his inevitable return. Simonson and Bogdanove continued the adventures of John Henry Irons into the solo series, and I always had the sense that their affinity for (and dedication to) Irons' cause contributed greatly to the character's presentation.

It's difficult to talk "Steel" without mentioning the movie adaptation , which for many is there only knowledge of the character. All it takes is one bad (well, really bad) movie adaptation to derail the potential film life of a character that shows great promise. Just ask Shaquille O'Neal and John Henry Irons. The real shame about the failure of Steel (1997), was that there was really some solid source material to draw from, as evidenced from the characters first appearance in Superman Man of Steel #22. (To be fair, some character elements were retained for the movie so maybe just plain bad execution was the culprit!)

But, don't let your lingering memories of this mediocre film effort dissuade you from catching up with the real Man of Steel via trade paperback or, as is my preference in single issues which are surely available in most back issue long boxes at your local comic shop.

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