Who the Clix? is a series of articles featuring information on comic book characters that have been made into figures for the popular tabletop game Heroclix. These articles are meant to help Heroclix players learn more about the characters behind their favorite pieces.
He made good on the promise of living a life worth saving: Steel
Appearances in Heroclix: Superman/Wonder Woman, Superman, Origin, Hypertime
First Appearance: The Adventures of Superman #500 (June 1993)
Team Affiliations: Justice League, S.T.A.R. Labs, Infinity, Inc., Suicide Squad
Powers/Abilities: Genius engineer and inventor; Powered armor grants:
Superhuman strength, durability, and endurance; Flight; Wields seemingly indestructible mallet
Created by: Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove
Dr. John Henry Irons is a brilliant weapons engineer for AmerTek Industries for many years. He becomes disillusioned with his career when the BG-60, a cannon he designed, falls into the wrong hands and results in the death of innocents. Determined not to be used as a pawn, John fakes his own death before traveling to Metropolis. While in Metropolis, his life is legitimately saved by Superman. John asks the hero how he could ever repay him and Superman’s reply is simple, “live a life worth saving.” John endeavors to do that and even attempts to help Superman battle Doomsday with a simple sledgehammer. He is buried in rubble for his trouble.
After recovering from his brush with Doomsday, he discovers that the gangs of Metropolis have grown bold without Superman to keep them in line and are using upgrades of his old designs. He soon discovers the gangs are receiving these weapons from the White Rabbit, an old colleague and lover from his AmerTek days. Determined to put a stop to this, he builds a suit of power armor and adopts the moniker Man of Steel. In the wake of Superman’s death, Henry is considered to be a resurrected Superman by some though he never claims it himself. When Superman returns, he begins calling John “Steel,” which the new hero readily adopts.
When Superman returns, Steel leaves Metropolis to return home to his native Washington, DC. He is surprised when AmerTek attacks his home in an attempt to force him to return to work for them. He reforges his armor in order to take the fight to his former employers but does not use the S emblem, not wanting to sully the symbol with what he might have to do. After several trials and tribulations, Steel is able to stop AmerTek and the gangs using his weapons, leading him to the group Black Ops which had been distributing the weapons.
Steel continues to adventure and helps Maxima, also developing the strange ability to teleport his armor on and off himself. While he is thankful for this upgrade, he is unsure of how it develops. A bounty hunter named Chindi attacks Steel until he learns that Hazard, Chindi’s would be employer, is experimenting on children. This leads the hunter to aid the hero in his crusade. Steel leaves Earth for a short time to help Superman against charges of destroying Krypton.
Upon his return from space, the war against Hazard and Black Ops escalates. Irons’ family is targeted and his secret identity is revealed to the world when he is forced to teleport his armor away. In a final confrontation with Hazard, John learns that he can actually teleport himself as well before destroying Hazard and his safe house.
This does not stop the harassment, however. Villains continue to attack John and his family, even killing his grandmother. This is the last straw as John contacts a friend, Double, to place the family in hiding. After this, he has to battle a strange large mutated form of his armor but is ultimately victorious.
Steel relocates to Jersey City, New Jersey and builds a new suit of armor with the S emblem. He begins working at Garden State Medical and finds new foes as well as allies there. Soon after this, Steel is recruited to the Justice League to add more intelligence to the team. He is a crucial member of the team and even leads the reserve team during the contact with Justice League One Million. He soon retires from adventuring and relocates to Metropolis with his niece Natasha, founding a workshop he calls “Steelworks.” He reveals that he knows Superman’s secret identity and helps him build a new Fortress of Solitude.
John sustains incredible injuries during the Imperiex War. Placed in the Entropy Aegis, armor built on Apokolips, The armor nearly devours John’s soul during complicated confrontation with the Black Racer and an attempt to release Doomsday to use against Imperiex. Superman faces Darkseid in single combat with the condition that if Superman wins he will never tell anyone but Darkseid will free John from the Aegis. Superman wins and rushes John back to Earth for medical care. At this point, John chooses a full retirement and builds a suit of armor for his niece while also aiding Superman with inventions when necessary.
This retirement is short lived, however, as John dons his armor once again to aid in the Battle of Metropolis and clean up that follows. Seeing how younger heroes are behaving, he becomes embittered and forces Natasha to stay and help with clean up rather than run off for an adventure. As she continues to resist his orders, he eventually destroys her armor. He also positively identifies a corpse as that of an alternate reality Lex Luthor, which exonerates this Earth’s Lex Luthor of a number of recent crimes.
During the next few weeks, he learns that he has been secretly injected with Luthor’s exo-gene therapy. This is causing John’s skin to transform into steel and back again, making his own skin a new kind of armor. This causes a further divide between himself and Natasha, who calls him a hypocrite before going to work for Luthor. The two come to blows at a massive party with John begging Natasha to come home. She replies by throwing her uncle into Metropolis bay.
John attempts to build Natasha a new suit of armor as a peace offering but realizes it is too late. He also soon discovers that Luthor has a kill switch that allows him to remove any powers granted by the exo-gene treatment. He also soon realizes that the treatment only grants temporary powers. John, alongside the Teen Titans, attacks LexCorp in an attempt to rescue Natasha. After having his armor destroyed, John is nearly defeated by a Superman-level powered Luthor only for Natasha to use her uncle’s sledgehammer to create an electromagnetic pulse that deactivates Luthor’s exo-gene. Reunited, John and Natasha re-build Steelworks.
John helps Natasha establish Infinity, Inc. and asks as a mentor to the younger heroes. Due to their exo-gene powers, they are captured by the Dark Side Club and held captive. Because Apokoliptian tech cannot track or detect exo-gene powers, any meta human with those powers are a dangerous wild card. John vows to find his niece and her friends no matter what.
When the Dark Side Club is eventually destroyed, Miss Martian contacts John so he can arrive and reunite with his niece. Following this he continues to aid his old friend Superman on several adventures, even ending up in a coma for a time after one such adventure. John is among those members of the “Superman Family” attacked and captured by Doomsday clones. They are all held in a extra-dimensional prison designed by Lex Luthor as he attempts to secure the power of the Black Lantern Ring. The heroes are eventually able to work together to free themselves.
On the New Earth, John is a scientist working on the government’s “Steel Soldier” program. After seeing Lex Luthor torture Superman, John immediately quits. When John Corben puts on the “Metal 0” suit, Irons dons his own prototype and helps Superman defeat Corben. John soon aids Animal Man fight the Rot before aiding Lana Lang to cure Superman of the “Doomsday Virus.” John is used as an infiltrator to defeat Warworld.
John and Lana begin to date, working together as a super power couple defending Metropolis. Natasha soon joins them both and things seem to be going well until Lana nearly dies from using her powers. Though she heals, she seems to lose her powers causing a significant amount of mental stress. John, Lana and Natasha travel to Smallville to try and have some quiet time to recover. However, Lana continues to feel inferior without her powers and struggles with returning to a normal life. Lana eventually comes to grips with the situation and the three return to Metropolis. With the help of a testing chamber, they are able to restore Lana’s powers to her.