John Henry Irons (Steel)

Happy Easter everybody! Today we select a fan-loved superhero from Lucy W.‘s list, one of the many who debuted as a replacement for the deceased Superman and who later became a widely popular hero on his own: Steel. This unlucky hero made his live action debut in one of the worst superhero movies ever, Steel indeed, where he was portrayed by NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. In the movie, John Henry Irons is a weapon designer for the US Government, who quits his job after his weapons cost his friend Susan Sparks her legs; when a rogue military officer, Nathaniel Burke, starts selling Irons’ weapons on the black market to criminal gangs, the engineer builds himself a suit of armor and a futuristic hammer to fight him and his new clients. This version of the character is extremely different from the original one, in both backstory and powers: let’s see together what the real Steel is made of.

John Henry Irons was born in Washington, D.C., and he was orphaned when he was still a kid, since his parents got killed in a robbery. Moving to his grandparents’ house, John became quite obsessed with protecting his family and his dear ones, and he came to the realization that the only way he could achieve it was by becoming rich and powerful. Gifted with an impressive physique, John became an athlete in high school, and he earned a scholarship that brought him to Yale, where he studied to become an engineer. Brilliant and creative, he was hired immediately after his degree by Amertek Industries, a renowned (and infamous) multinational company that was looking for a gifted ballistic expert. Irons started designing and developing advanced weaponry for the Government and for its contractors, and earned all the money he was looking for, sending quite an amount of his salary to his family: finally, he could say he had achieved what he wanted in his life. Then, some of his high-tech prototypes, the BG-60s, were stolen by a terrorist group from Qurac, causing a massive battle that killed hundreds of innocent civilians. Irons was sent on the scene to identify his weapons, and upon realizing what his work truly led to, he resigned, disgusted by himself… but not before destroying the remaining BG-60s and the blueprints of their perfected version, the BG-80s. He then went into hiding in Metropolis, changing his name into Henry Johnson and finding a job as a steelworker: surely he worked twice as harder as before and his genius wasn’t rewarded in the slightest, but this way he could make amend for his past, and nobody was hurt by what he did. One day, one of his colleagues fell from a high-rise and John, trying to save him, fell as well. The workers were both saved by Superman, who grabbed them in mid-air and brought them to safety: when he thanked the hero for saving his life, Superman told him to make it count, and left. This single encounter deeply influenced John and when, months later, Superman was killed in battle by the monstrous Doomsday, the man realized it was his time to make something to honor the fallen hero.

Naming himself the Man of Steel, Irons used his advanced engineering to build himself a suit of armor, jet-boots and an experimental weapon, then he tailored a red cape with an “S” on it, ready to take Superman’s place; a psychic, Rosie Kratz, even declared that she sensed Superman’s soul was now inhabiting the Man of Steel’s body. In that time, other three wannabe successors were presenting themselves as Superman’s heirs (SuperboyCyborg Superman and the Eradicator, all calling themselves with different monikers previously attributed to the original Superman), but Irons had a precise target: someone had found his BG-80s blueprints, and was selling advanced weapons to the street gangs, someone he needed to stop so that his work didn’t kill anybody else. That “someone” turned out to be his previous coworker, Angora Lapin, who had become the arms dealer White Rabbit: it was while chasing her and her product, the Toastmasters, that Irons first met and battled the Eradicator, who called himself the Last Son of Krypton and pretended to be the real Superman, while killing criminals in cold blood. The battle for the right of being Superman’s successor escalated when Cyborg Superman destroyed Coast City trying to blame the Eradicator for it, forcing the Man of Steel and Superboy to join forces against him. Unexpectedly, the duo was soon reached by a reborn Superman, this time the real deal as confirmed by Lois Lane, who thanked them for keeping an eye on Metropolis while he was gone; Superman renamed Irons “Steel” for short, and along with him and Superboy made a move on Cyborg Superman: while Superman and Matrix Supergirl fought the Cyborg’s ally Mongul and Superboy stopped some missiles aimed to Metropolis, Steel himself battled Cyborg Superman, stopping his machine and halting his plan… only to have his armor wrecked by him in retaliation. Saved by Superboy, Steel lent his hammer to Green Lantern, who used it to defeat Mongul while Superman beat the Cyborg. After the battle, Irons came back to Washington, believing that his career as a hero was over now that Superman was back… but in the capital he was caught in a gang war between Toastmasters users and Tar users, a situation that forced him to rebuild his armor and resume his Steel identity to protect his city and his family…

John Henry Irons is a selfless and altruistic man, who’s been moved his entire life by the urge to help and protect the ones dear to him; his sense of guilt for his past actions lead him to an often solitary crusade against weapons dealers, a task that he always considers a personal matter. As Steel, he’s a genius engineer specialized in weapons manufacturing: this allowed him to create a high-tech armor that allows him to fly and grants him superhuman strength and durability (nearly on Kryptonian levels), while his trademark Kinetic Hammer is controlled vocally by him, and can stop in midair to return to its owner; the hammer is a weapon that increases its impact strength by storing kinetic energy, and that can emit electromagnetic pulses with a variety of effects. Mainly powered by his incredible intelligence, Steel is a capable leader and a compassionate hero, possibly the best replacement for a living legend like Superman.


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