“The lights are going out…and a great darkness is descending on the
world. America will soon be the last bastion of freedom. That’s why
I’ll go on fighting the forces of fascist tyranny until the day I die!
That’s why I became Steel!” – Hank Heywood.
That’s the mission statement of the hero who premiered in Steel, the Indestructible Man #1
(March, 1978, by writer Gerry Conway
and artist Don Heck
Hank Heywood was just a Princeton biology student, on tour in Europe in
1939 with his mentor, Dr. Gilbert Giles, discussing their bio-retardant
formula that would allow surgical replacement of damaged limbs and
organs….and the pair were witness to Nazi brutality. This so shook
young Hank, that after returning home, he informed his fiance, Gloria
Giles (the doctor’s daughter) of his need to enlist in the Marines and
help convince America to prepare to fight the coming war in Europe.
While training, Private Heywood stumbled onto some Nazi saboteurs, and
while he tried to stop them, they blew themselves up and severely
When Hank awoke, he convinced Dr. Giles to use the
formula, in combination with steel alloy tubing to replace his crushed
bones, micro-motors in his damaged joints and a new artificial lung to
replace his burned one, all under regrown skin thanks to the formula.
The doctor wanted to keep the success of the operation a secret and Hank
agreed, being rebuilt better than before, and didn’t tell Gloria.
Private Heywood was reassigned duty in the Marines as a desk jockey, but
Hank wanted to do more for his country. Hank fashioned a flexible
steel alloy suit for added protection, and labeled himself Steel, the
Indestructible Man. With his new strength, speed, endurance and
toughness, he then decided to arm himself (sadly, breaking the law to
get advanced weapons from the Westchester Federal Armory), where Steel
faced more saboteurs directed by Baron Death…but, this time, Hank, in
his costume identity was victorious against them.
his next four issues, Steel faced the Mineral Master (a Dr. Moag, who
stumbled onto the “Omega” field, which he was immersed in, and changed
the doctor, and allowed him a mastery of minerals), Sledgehammer (Emil
Sledgeski, a Chicago mobster with half-ton hands that allowed him to
toss Steel around), the Gadgeteer (Col. Roger Romaine, an army engineer
who thought the army needed more inventions but struck out on his own as
a thief and fought Steel with an ultra-sonic stunner, a prototype
laser, and an auto gyro), and the Marsh Monster (and his brother, hiding
out in the swamp with a few deadly secrets with the Hawk brothers).
Steel fought these menaces with a modified flare gun (his flash gun,
to blind his foes), an anesthetic dart rifle (which fired mercy bullets
to stun his foes) and a modified mountain climbing pike to allow him to
cross long distances (by grappling between buildings)…all with his other
enhanced abilities, to keep fighting for his country.
A Bitter Ending...Almost
wasn’t easy for Hank, as Dr. Giles collapsed from a heart attack
(brought on by stress, and the realization that Hank had gone against
the doctor’s wishes becoming Steel), and Gloria grew more distant from
Hank as his fervor to fight the forces aligning against America grew.
Though, with the last published issue, (#5
Steel had retrieved more of the bio-retardant formula (needed by himself
because of injuries he suffered in an explosion caused by the Gadgeteer
and to aid Dr. Giles recovery), Steel faced the worst doom of all,
cancellation! This, thanks to the DC Implosion…a collapse in the comic
market that doomed many titles.
Still, even that couldn’t hold Steel down, as DC published what would have been Steel, the Indestructible Man #6
in the second issue of the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade
(though only in photocopied black and white), and Roy Thomas
used most of the story (with slight redrawings by Jerry Ordway
, and a few changed words and missing pages) in All-Star Squadron #8
in 1982. Here, we learned Dr. Giles recovered and told Hank he knew
that Hank was Steel…and issued an ultimatum, that he should give up
being Steel or leave his fiance, as the doctor wouldn’t have her engaged
to an “overzealous, patriotic fool”. Hank then left Gloria, and ended
up in London, and got an assignment from Prime Minister Winston
Churchill to kidnap Adolf Hitler! Steel went behind enemy lines in
January, 1940, realized he may have taken this suicide mission a little
too easily (perhaps because he did not want to live without the love of
Gloria) and ended up being captured and tortured in a Nazi concentration
camp (where he inadvertently allowed the Nazi super-menace of Baron
Blitzkrieg to be created).
I Shall Return
In the updated parts of All-Star Squadron #8
we found Steel in Canada, saving Churchill again (this time after Pearl
Harbor and the USA getting involved in what would be World War II), and
how Baron Blitzkrieg planned to use Steel to kill Churchill and then
President Franklin D. Roosevelt! The All-Stars helped save the Allied
leaders, and FDR even rechristened Hank as Commander Steel, and Hank
joined the All-Star Squadron soon after in January, 1942. Sadly, Steel
found his mentor has passed away and Gloria had blamed Steel for his
death, and moved on, marrying soldier Brad Farley, who was shipping out
to Europe. Commander Steel had a few adventures with the All-Star
Squadron (included a team-up through time, meeting the Justice League
and Justice Society in Justice League of America #207-209
and All-Star Squadron #14-15
where they faced time-foe Per Degaton and the evil Crime Syndicate of
America…and this reunited Commander Steel with his original creative
team of Gerry Conway
and Don Heck
, at least for the JLA issues, wherein he teamed with other Conway
creations Firestorm and Power Girl!). Gloria even returned into Hank’s
life, telling him of how her husband disappeared on a mission in
Europe, and Hank, still in love with her, did the right thing and headed
to Europe to save Brad Farley.
But, in another twist, in All-Star Squadron #50
Steel did free Brad Farley in April, 1942, but thanks to dimensional
stresses caused by the Crisis on Infinite Earths, ended up on Earth-1
(from his home on Earth-2), in April, 1942, where there were no
super-heroes yet (as the Justice League of America had yet to be), so he
retired for a time, concentrating on making a new life for himself
without Gloria, and saving his country by beating the Nazi menace.
Commander Steel lost his mentor, his girl, and even his world, and he
soldiered on…for his country! That’s a super-patriot!
Commander Steel had a legacy, and that…can be looked at on a future date!
I liked Commander Steel, but overtly patriotic characters don't do well at DC.ReplyDelete
As of 2017, Commander Steel received a better fate in the TV show, "Legends of Tomorrow." At least he didn't go crazy and force his grandson to undergo cybernetic implants.ReplyDelete