Zero Hour Strikes! Men of Steel

Bass and Siskoid cover Adventures of Superman #516 and Steel #8, two very different Zero Hour tie-ins – in fact, one of them mistakenly didn’t get a ZH banner! – introducing the Alpha Centurion, and also a bunch of ’90s morts you’ve never heard of.

Listen to the Zero Hour Strikes! Episode 11 below!

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Relevant images and further credits at: Zero Hour Strikes ep.11 Supplemental

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11 responses to “Zero Hour Strikes! Men of Steel

  1. The Alpha Centurion never quite hit the heights of Gangbuster for me, but I liked the character well enough. He served more as a fly in the ointment/maybe he’s going to hit on Lois thing, remember how he was with her in the alternate reality sort of character. He eventually started working with the Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza (who took over LexCorp shortly before Lex returned around Underworld Unleashed, married Lex, had his kid, and was killed by Lex when he was elected President) and turned Team Luthor into the Centurions. His big moment with Team Superman was during The Trial of Superman where the creators played with this whole, “Is he the Cyborg in disguise?” thing, which worked well before the reveal and then just sits there on the re-read because you know the outcome. He was a sign of the deluge of supporting characters that swamped the Superman books in the late nineties. Neat to hear he’s been brought back.

    Steel. I love John Henry Irons as a character. The fact that this book didn’t have a Zero Hour banner across the top combined with me not paying attention to solicits like I eventually did meant that I started picking up Steel much later than Superboy. His first two years of comics are ROUGH. LIke…Simonson had an idea but didn’t execute it well. The various artists that worked on the books, the best being Batista, leaned hard into the early nineties tropes, just as the rest of the DCU did in that two years after Zero Hour until everyone woke up with a hangover in 1996 and said, “Wait, we don’t have to do this.” I like John’s family, especially Natasha, who went on to become a great hero on her own until Infinity Inc. in 2006 and…that was bad.

    Bass said that they didn’t do much with John and if you weren’t reading the books I can see where he would think that. Eventually Christopher Priest and Denys Cowan took over the book and gave John a new set of armor with a modified S (which Morrison got some traction out of) and the book came alive. Too little, too late it seems because it didn’t last long after that. Morrison brought him into the JLA and his moment to shine was during DC One Million, where the main heroes were off in the future, so Steel, Big Barda, and Huntress took on the Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman roles and it was one of the better parts of that event. In the 2000’s John created Steel Works and started building non-lethal tech for the SCU in addition to being part of Team Superman. Things got murky towards 2002 and the character was off the table for a good, long while. He’s popped up here and there. Steel was part of the Reign of the Doomsdays story that closed out Superman before Flushpoint. He was there right at the beginning in Morrison’s Action Comics and eventually began dating Lana Lang, but it wasn’t the same.

    Steel deserved better. But, I am glad I got as much of him as I did.

  2. Nice discussion as usual gents. I kind of liked Alpha Centurion here…but I recall thinking he wore out his welcome once he showed up in the main timeline. But those later years of the triangle days are a bit foggier for me, so maybe I should give him another try. I do recall his very presence made some trouble for Superman and Lois’ relationship.

    And I think it should be “Metropolis’ Greatest Hero”, with no additional “s”. But I may be wrong.

    I liked Steel a lot In “Reign of the Supermen”, and was excited for his solo series, but yeah…it just didn’t…sing. Not sure why. I agree Bognadove coming over to his title like Grummet did on Superboy would have helped, although I like Batista’s work here just fine. I didn’t like his new armor as well, until a few years later Kenner/Hasbro released a figure of this version, that was all-chromed up and vac-metallized (that’s not a word, but toy folks use it). That is one sharp looking figure, and retroactively sold me on this particular armor.

    Kenner Steel from Man of Steel toy line

    I had never really considered that John Henry SHOULD be DC’s go-to black “tech” hero in the Justice League, instead of Cyborg, but dammit, you’re right. He works well in that capacity in the comics and in JLU (which we’ll get to shortly). I honestly think the stink from the Shaq movie has damaged the character. Hopefully it’s been long enough now that we may get to see him move past that in other media.

    Chris

  3. Agree with you guys on Steel. I haven’t ready tons of books with him in them, but I often felt that nobody really had a good grasp on him – not even Simonson. The “street” origins wore REALLY THIN after a while – see the whole “toastmasters” or whatever the illegal arms were called during his origin run.

    Alpha Centurion is, well, there. For the millionth time, Bass, Superman is not sporting a mullet. If Clark can pull ALL his hair into a ponytail, it’s not a mullet. Think Adrian Paul from Season 3 of the amazing Highlander: The Series show. Who does Bass hate more – Thanagarians or men with long hair?

    Good analysis on what are a couple of just OK issues. Looking forward for the long month ahead for the next installment of ZH.

  4. Thanks for another great episode.

    I was more of an Eradicator guy than a Steel guy in the Reign of Superman but was thrilled he got his own book. I liked how he was a family man in this crazy DCU. And like Jon, I look up to Superman, so liked that he remained a part of the Superman family. His book was, as Siskoid says, ‘okay’ which is sort of a shame.

    As for Alpha Centurion, I did like all the Roman Empire cultural bits that were littered in this issue. I don’t know if I liked that some version of him survived post Zero Hour. He seemed a bit haughty. Perhaps that is why he was a good foil for the Man of Steel.

  5. I listened to most of the episode while doing inventory at work, so did I miss the part where you explained the first 423 issues of Adventures of Superman? Regardless, I started reading the Newperman title with #12 because I pulled it off the dinged discount rack at Third Planet. Aside from a three-pack of Man of Steel I passed on at Circus World, I don’t recall seeing any of the revamped titles before picking up that issue and progressing to must-buy status on the two Byrne series for a hot six months or so. Isolated images aside, like the homage cover to #424, I just don’t respond well to Jerry Ordway’s Superman. I think it has the unfortunate distinction of owing too much to Wayne Boring for having such a realistic style. It’s ironic given that two of my favorite Superman artists are McGuinness and Bogs, but they draw him huge and cartoony, so that he’s more of an icon than a rendering. Ordway’s Superman always looked too bloated and distinct, like a proto-Alex Ross. He feels too modeled and specific, like how Perez decided late in his career that every super-hero had to look like someone he had photo-reference for. The Superman of my heart doesn’t look like Bill Fagerbakke with water retention.

    The good thing about the pre-triangle number period is that while there was obviously still continuity between Adventures and the other titles, it felt like I could safely opt out of the book that didn’t grab me. Surely Byrne’s domineering meant nothing too essential would be allowed to occur there. I think I only ever bought #436 for the Millennium tie-in. By 1988, I was back in Texas, where they didn’t seem to cotton to no Superman on the newsstands. I located a shop in 1989 when “Exile” was already in progress, or that Kerry Gammill art might have lured me back into the fold. Probably for the best though, as Jurgens’ taking over Adventures and eventually becoming the “star” creative on the line would have inevitably soured me.

    Aside from that one issue where Lobo beat up on Supes, all the times I bought Adventures as a back issue were a bust. I was today years old when I realized Tom Grummett took over with #480. I was loving his stuff with Al Vey on New Titans, but they kept up with Ordway’s old-timey covers for nearly a year, so I never even noticed that he was pulling double duty. I didn’t help that Ordway kept inking the covers, when Doug Hazelwood was a better match for Grummett and Superman. He didn’t have that Chromium Age sheen of Vey, but when they tried Art Thibert over Jurgens, it showed that approach doesn’t fit the Man of Tomorrow anyway. Part of why I hated Jim Lee’s runs, too.

    I finally committed to following the title with the infamous #500, burster of bubbles, harbinger of doom. I think I added either “semi-translucent” or “opaque” to my vocabulary thanks to the solicitation copy for the dumb rubbery sticker on the gimmick cover that I will always be too much of a child to leave alone. I still can’t believe I didn’t peel the Doom Patrol #1 from a few years ago. Grummett was easily my favorite of the Superman artists in recent memory, as I hadn’t warmed to Bogs yet, nor expanded my taste beyond the times. So of course his is the title with the most annoying of the Reigning Superman, the Metropolis Kid. Snow-perman had the prettiest book with the ugliest ’90s Brian Austin Vanilla Ice protagonist. Then when I was hoping to finally settle in to Grummett on the returned Man of Steel, they announced with prismatic foil enhanced fireworks that the art team was bailing for the Superboy spin-off series. I’d been buying it for the arc and the art, so I only gave some of the worst work of Barry Kitson’s career an issue or two before tapping out.

    One of the primary reasons that I dropped Power of Shazam was the inappropriately “moody” yet flat art of Peter Krause, which is little more welcome here. It was a bit too palatable for my expectations, and then I saw Jackson Guice inked it, so that must be why. Alpha Centurion definitely looked better in his later (Immonen?) costume. I never really got his whole deal, so I’m glad this episode helped clear up that he’s basically Terra-Man with tzatziki sauce.

    P.S. I’m going to go against Clinton and the entirety of formalized English language by stating my contempt for adding ‘s to singular nouns. I abstain from adding the extraneous “s” in protest. I’m ride or die with C-Franks on this.

    1. You did miss my explanation. It was brief a I think most of the FW audience is in my age group and generally DC heads.

      Immonen sounds right for the Centurion redesign. I agree that I didn’t like Kitson on Superman.

  6. “Iron John,” as one early cover unfortunately called him was immediately and easily my favorite of the Reign Supermen. A popular theory at the time was that each of the Supermen had some aspect of the “Real Steel Deal,” with the Eradicator seeming to be the body, Cyborg the mind, and John Henry Irons the soul. The Metropolis Kid was the stain on the mattress. In the years since, I’ve made the argument that Steel is actually an amalgamation of the big three Avengers. He’s got the armor and advanced tech of Iron Man; the physical dimensions, cape and flung returning hammer of Thor; and the manner/heart and brawling tendencies of Captain America. I still love this character, and have several of his action figures.

    I made it five issues into his solo ongoing before bowing out on account of its being awful. The two main problems were that Louise Simonson shouldn’t have written it and Chris Batista shouldn’t have drawn it. The primary appeal of Steel was that, despite Jon Bogdanove being a white dude, his art was Afrocentric. His caricatures felt authentically urban, and a sort of Milestone take on a Superman satellite was novel. But Milestone already had Hardware in his own series four months before Steel had even been introduced, with a fully legitimate approach to an African-American Iron Man, written and drawn by notable Black creators. Even if Simonson wasn’t reading Hardware, she trod so closely to the same storytelling territory with a more “comfortably” passive protagonist as to read like whitewashed plagiarism. Also, frankly, Simonson was borrowing heavily from black-oriented media of the time, and there’s only so much mileage you can get out of reskinning Boyz n the Hood. This even before you factor in an aging white lady trying to speak to an alien experience McDuffie and Cowan were intimately familiar with, on a book out by the same company at the same time. Meanwhile, Batista’s work was in no way Afrocentric, and was trading on imagery of violent “thugs” barely removed from a Charles Bronson movie. Obvious good intentions aside, it read like corporate appropriation with an unintentional right wing strain of respectability politics. Steel was “one of the good ones” protecting white society from “the bad ones.”

    Even setting aside the miserable optics, it was obvious that no one involved knew what to do with Steel. It was a “street” book, so there was a lot of obligatory gangbanging between anonymous men wearing do-rags over their dreads, differentiated by Toastmasters and the super-steroid Tar as weapon of choice. There was that one yawn of a rejected Man of Steel outer space arc with Maxima. Then the vastly inferior Phil Gosier took over on art, and three years of publishing were eked out pretty much solely by Superman Family completists. As a person who cared about Steel and DC Comics running a shop throughout these years and getting into long conversations with (usually non-white) customers about characters like Steel, I can tell you with some specialty knowledge that nobody liked this book then or now. It sucks. It is objectively worthless and undesirable to read. No continuity escapes its pages.

    And then two black creators that helped draft the story bible for Milestone took over, and made it probably the best book DC was publishing in that last year. But that’s more a Steel #0 discussion.

    Steel: The Forging of a Hero was released in 1997 to capitalize on the release of the movie. Aside from the 4 page prelude in Adventures #500 and his debut story inn Man of Steel #22, it collects the already established as bad material from Steel #0-8 .

    I find Hazard proximal to memorable because he was a playable character in the Overpower collectible card game and because I tried to draft my own Secret Files and Origins pages for minor DC characters in the early 2000s. Thank God Almighty that wikis relieved me of that burden. DC was disadvantaged against Marvel in Overpower because they only had two releases, so there were few and mediocre Specials. Hazard was actually a pretty decent character, especially since the DC series so heavily favored Intellect applied mostly to Gotham City types. Hazard had a level 7 (of 8) base energy attack/defense for power cards, plus a level 7 energy special attack that immobilize a target for one turn (if successful.) He also had a 4 energy attack special that dealt +2 additional damage if successful. Basically, he gave you a bunch of extra energy attacks if you were angling to K.O. by spectrum. His costume design was decent and all the art on the cards was by Chris Batista on a good day.

  7. I wasn’t a fan of Superman in general at the time-
    “Not the big 3 in my DC” phase was in full swing-
    I am in general a fan of your show-
    So when I say;
    “I got more enjoyment from your podcast then I ever have from the issue themselves.”

    We probably shouldn’t ack surprised-

  8. Similar to others, I liked Steel in Reign of the Supermen, but his solo series didn’t click for me. However, I loved his time in JLA a lot. Ah if only that could have been channeled into an ongoing series back then.

    I stepped away from the Superman titles somewhere during Alpha Centurion’s role in the series, and while a little interesting, that was the extent of my opinion on him. But this alternate timeline is vastly more interesting from the questions it raises. Has AC taken over the police/security of Metropolis, what with 9-1-1 being replaced with 1-0-0? (which took me too long to realize refers to “century”) Is AC secretly ruthless, like Lex Luthor, since he can afford that building? How does he treat women, what with having handmaidens catering to him? Why doesn’t this bother Lois, a staunch feminist in mainline DC? Does his “hot tub of healing” slow or stop aging? There’s so much to explore, and one issue doesn’t scratch the surface. I even suspect Kesel didn’t have his full story figured out, but just threw a lot of ideas out there as he usually does, and it almost makes it *too* interesting because no follow up is ultimately disappointing. Still, it made for a fun “what if” or “imaginary tale” issue.

    Thanks for the great show, guys!

  9. Impressive pod cast. Most impressive. Ah I had made a charter called Centurion once… well Alaph Centre. Not the same. But, this is cool. Hmm, I wonder if he’s basted on the Samaritan. No idea. It was a cool one off story. As was young John Henry helping current John Henry. Also…don’t watch the Steel movie. Shaq is awesome…but, not in that. It’s just no. unless you watch it in a MST 3000 sort of way. Or a rift tracks sort of way.

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