Minorities in cartoons: Steel

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Updated on December 10, 2021

This week’s entry is John Henry Irons, the DC Comics superhero known as “Steel.” Irons first appeared in “Adventures of Superman” #500 in 1993. He was created by writer Louise Simonson and artist Jon Bogdanove.


Irons‘ backstory: A brilliant scientist and engineer, Dr. Irons found his former employer, AmerTek, was using weapons he designed for nefarious purposes, while trying to coerce Irons into staying despite their actions. Upon seeing AmerTek pursue aggressive/sinister behavior against himself, Irons faked his death and moved to Metropolis to become a construction worker.

Superman later saved John Henry’s life at a construction site. This motivated John Henry to take up the Man of Steel’s crime-fighting mantle during the “Death of Superman” storyline. Irons created a high-tech, mechanized battle suit of his own design. He also created an equally high-tech sledgehammer, akin to his “John Henry” folklore namesake.

During the “Death” storyline, Irons became one of the four fake Supermen seen in Metropolis. However, Irons never claimed to be the actual Man of Tomorrow. Irons, now known as “Steel,” continued to fight crime even after Superman’s resurrection (and with Superman’s encouragement).

Steel soon became popular enough to get his own ongoing series. Steel’s comic focused on his family (including his niece, Natasha Irons) and his ongoing fight against AmerTek. (Evil comic book weapons manufacturers apparently don’t let up.) John Henry also appeared in various major storylines and Superman-related titles through the 90s and 2000s, as has Natasha (who also became a superheroine herself).

Steel also participated in the 1994 “Worlds Collide” crossover with DC and then-a-separate-imprint Milestone Comics’ line (whose heroes include another armor-wearing African-American hero, named “Hardware”).

John Henry survived the “New 52” reboot, and has appeared in the revamped Super-books.

Steel’s also appeared in “Superman Family Adventures” as a member of the “Superman Family.”

Other media

Steel appeared on the 90s cartoon “Superman: The Animated Series.” He also appeared on “Justice League Unlimited.” Michael Dorn voiced John Henry.

Shaquille O’Neal starred in a 1997 movie about Steel. Unfortunately, the film was a major flop.

(Updated 11/16/16)

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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