Black History Month 16: Pay Homage to the Man of Steel

February 16th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , ,

What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
You’re the pretender
What if I say I will never surrender?

—Foo Fighters, “The Pretender”

Yeah, that’s right. I’m allowed to do these articles too. hermanos said I could. So there.

When I think about black history and comics, I have to talk about the history of one of my favorite black comic characters, Steel. My first memory of the character is seeing a poster for Reign of Supermen near my local arcade back in the early 90’s. It asked the question of which one of those four S-shield-wearing superguys was the real Superman. It seemed obvious to me that it was either the cyborg guy or the dude with the visor. The George Michael one looked too young and that guy with the hammer looked nothing like Superman.

I didn’t read the whole Death and Return story for well over a decade after it came out. For a while, the only experience I had with it was that SNES game, which I still declare as good. As fun as it was, the story aspect of the game was ridiculously lacking. No Green Lantern, no Supergirl, no Lex Luthor Jr. and strangely no Mongul. All I could figure from what the game showed me was that Cyborg Superman was evil for some reason and by merging Eradicator with Black Costume Superman with his arm cannon, he returned Superman back to his normal red and blue self.

I didn’t expect much when I read the actual comic, and yet I found it to be one of my favorite Superman stories. As long as it was, everything (except a lot of Funeral for a Friend) clicked. It was a good mystery with good character moments and good action sequences. What really sold it for me was that I really like all four of the false Supermen. Each one has his own appeal. I still think it’s absolutely criminal how little DC uses Eradicator, especially after how rad that one Dan Abnett Majestic story was.

I could go into detail on a lot of fantastic Steel moments, but the thing I remember him most for is taming the Eradicator and teaching him heroism through pounding the crap out of him. It takes place during Reign of Supermen in issues Action Comics #689 (Who is the Hero True?) and Superman: The Man of Steel #24 (Impact).

Steel is the one Superman who didn’t claim to be the real deal, both out of nobility and because, let’s face it, he’s just a huge, black human in a suit of armor. It would’ve been a hard sell anyway. What he didn’t have in appearance, he had in spirit. Almost literally, but I’ll get to that in a second. Steel was the only natural hero among the four pretenders to the point that he coached Superboy into being more than Booster Gold Version 2.0.

Eradicator was the opposite. Physically he looked the part and although his power set and weaknesses were different, he was easy to accept as being Superman after something odd and comic booky happened to him. I mean… that’s how we got Superman Blue, right? It’s just that emotionally, he was a cold bastard and had no qualms over murder or maiming. Guy Gardner loved him for it. At the time of this issue, his mission is to find anyone who pretends to be Superman and eradicate them.

Steel is in the middle of dealing with a gang of armed hoods, who find that his armor deflects every one of their bullets. One of them sneaks behind Steel and aims a shotgun. A second later, he’s vaporized by the Eradicator. He fries the others’ guns and decides to let them run off as he’d rather confront Steel.

Lois storms over and shows them what their little brawl has done to Metropolis. Steel immediately comes to realize he was in the wrong and owns up to it. Eradicator, more driven by his unease from being near Lois, also apologizes.

“You know, I never laid claim to the name of Superman. I wear this shield and this cape to honor a man who gave me back my life. Can you honestly look me in the eyes and say that you find anything wrong in that?”

“Put in those terms… No. I cannot. I am sorry…”

Right when the two have an understanding, a process server runs over and hands over some cease and desist papers for using the Superman trademarks, owned by Superboy’s employer. Eradicator fries the papers and prepares to fry the server for his insolence. This time, it’s Steel who runs into the fight by grabbing Eradicator and flying off in order to protect that poor weasel’s life.

The thing to remember here is that within the story, they went and made it pretty clear who was stronger than who. Cyborg Superman is stronger than Eradicator, who is stronger than Superboy, who is stronger than Steel. Steel is heading into battle against an enemy out of his league.

Without thinking about casualties, Eradicator drives Steel back towards the Earth and spikes him into the ground. They end up in Coast City and the fight begins anew.

He got through to a piece of intergalactic hardware through passion and a helping of metal fists. How great is that?

Even though we know the facts of the story in hindsight, at the time of this fight, there was another dimension to it. Earlier issues of Reign of Supermen suggested the concept that both Steel and Eradicator were the real deal in different ways. Eradicator was physically Superman, but Steel was a host for Superman’s ghost. Obviously, this wasn’t true in the end, but I’m sure at the time it made this incident a bit more interesting.

What did this fight lead to with our two super friends here? Eradicator got toasted by Cyborg Superman and came back a few issues later, finally discovering his true identity and successfully helping Superman win the final battle. But before that all happened, there was this.

Not only is his dialogue snappier, but… it almost looks like he’s smiling.

As for Steel? He ran into another guy claiming to be Superman, despite a different power set and a different appearance. At first, Steel remained cynical. As time went on, by seeing the true hero behind the black tights and 90’s mullet, Steel came to realize that unlike the immature teen, the callous killer and the metal megalomaniac, this Superman was indeed legit.

Last I checked, Eradicator is in a coma, under Steel’s care. You’d think they would have done something with that by now.

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5 comments to “Black History Month 16: Pay Homage to the Man of Steel”

  1. The men thanked John Henry for his help. He just smiled and said, “A man ain’t nothing but a man. He has just got to do his best.”

    I love the guy. Being a Hero is more than a powerset. Good fill in Gavok.

  2. It’s true – Steel was the only Superman of the Reign to do what Superman would do.

    He didn’t lie.

  3. Back when I only had like 20 comic books, I had that issue with Steel beating the crap out of eradicator. I had no idea what was going on other than that Superman had died (I had the trade) and that these were the new supermen.

    I read that book until it totally fell apart.

  4. I like this article a lot because the Eradicator is one of my favorite characters in DC and I agree with you that he is so underappreciated by DC Comics. What made Eradicator such a cool character was that he was anti-Superman unlike Steel, Superboy and Supergirl who were just miniature versions of Big-S himself. Too bad the writers didn’t know what to do with him and any attempts to make him interesting were limited.
    For example, I would have liked to have seen the Eradicator face off against the Cyborg Superman again after all the times he kicked his ass bY reappearing during the Sinestro Corps War-I mean if Supergirl, Powergirl, Steel and Krypto were present then, why wasn’t the Eradicator there to help Supes against the Henshaw and Superman Prime? Also, I would like to see Eradicator and Hal meet seeing as how they both felt guilt for not being able to stop the Cyborg and Mongul from destroying Coast City. Plus, I like the point about the chemistry between Majestic and the Eradicator-Maybe they could have put him in the Wildstorm Universe if they couldn’t find a use for him in the DC one.
    Again, there are so many angles to work with in regards to Eradicator but unfortunately, he has Ben Reilly and Jean-Paul Valley status in which people want to forget about him.
    I had the game as well and you’re right that they should have included all the people who made that story arc crucial. It was an enjoyable game but they could have made it better-Although it was much better than that god-awful Superman/ Doomsday DVD that came out 2 years ago.

  5. I got good news, Gav, the Eradicator is set to return in the Outsiders book this year in his “Reign Of The Supermen” costume as a representative of Krypton in Markovia for Geo Force.