REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS COMMANDER STEEL
Mattel's superb and increasingly impressive collection of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures continues with Series 8, a series which, I suspect due as much to the influx of various action figure lines based on summer movies, was a long time coming. But it's finally here, and one of the entries in this particular series is COMMANDER STEEL.
These days, the name "Steel" in the world of DC Comics is likely best known as the superheroic identity of one John Henry Irons, an African-American who created and donned an armored uniform following the apparent death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday, and took on the name of "Man of Steel". This was later shorted to "Steel" after Superman's return, and the character went on to enjoy a level of popularity of his own, as well as his own comic book title for a time, as well as membership in the Justice League of America (and a Mattel action figure under the precursor to DC Universe Classics, the DC Super- Heroes line).
However, there was a Steel before this Steel. In fact, there's something of a family lineage involved here. Although generally these days, to differentiate from Irons, the characters are known as "Commander Steel" or the more modern "Citizen Steel".
Let's see what Wikipedia has to say about this particular Steel.
Commander Steel (also Steel or Citizen Steel) is the name of three fictional characters, superheroes published by DC Comics, all members of the same family. The first Steel appeared in Steel, The Indestructible Man #1 (1978), published by DC Comics and was created by Gerry Conway and Don Heck. His stories were set in World War II. The two later characters called Steel are his grandsons.
Steel first appeared in his series set in 1939, Steel: The Indestructible Man, written by Captain America writer Gerry Conway. However the series was canceled after only 5 issues and Steel later made a guest-appearance in Justice League of America.
The World War II version of the character, Henry Heywood, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps prior to their involvement in the war, but was injured when saboteurs attacked his base spearheaded by the man who would become Baron Blitzkrieg. Heywood had been a biology student under the tutelage of Doctor Gilbert Giles, and his former professor performed extensive surgery on him, enhancing his damaged body with mechanized steel devices that gave him superhuman strength, speed and durability. At the request of Doctor Giles, Heywood kept his newfound gifts a secret, and was returned to service in a desk position.
Frustrated at his inability to help more directly, Heywood adopted the masked-hero persona "Steel", and was attempting to steal armaments from the military base where he worked -- to send to those more directly in the war's fray -- when some fifth columnist saboteurs broke into the base. Heywood defeated the saboteurs, and embarked on a career fighting foreign threats and other criminals before America went to war.
Heywood entered more directly into World War II as a secret weapon before he allied himself with the All-Star Squadron. In that time he was commissioned Commander Steel by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. His membership in the Squadron was only for a brief period as the Crisis on Infinite Earths caused him to shift from his native Earth- Two to the Post-Crisis Earth, wherein he retired from his superhero career as there were no active costumed heroes at that time on his new home.
Years later, as a wealthy industrialist, he incorporated the same mechanized components into his grandson Hank Heywood III.
After his grandson's death, Heywood resumed the mantle of Commander Steel and died battling the supervillain Eclipso, while a member of the Shadow Fighters. He did come to a heroic end - detonating the Sunburst 300 (a device meant to destroy Eclipso) as his teammate Nemesis escaped.
The second Steel was the late Henry "Hank" Heywood III, grandson to Commander Steel who, as a wealthy industrialist, incorporated the same mechanized components into his grandson much to his grandson's disapproval. Heywood III was a "Justice League Detroit" team member, and was mortally wounded in battle against an android belonging to one of the team's classic foes, Professor Ivo. His body remained preserved in the JLA Bunker until it was discovered and destroyed by Despero. Although it was originally stated that Heywood performed unnecessary surgeries on his grandson, it was later stated in Justice League of America #260 that if he hadn't made his grandson into Steel, "Hank would have been dead... years ago."
The relaunched Justice Society of America features another member of the Heywood family. During an interview to Newsarama, new series writer Geoff Johns announced him as a brand new character with new powers. He debuted in Justice Society of America #2 with the name of Nathan "Buckeye" Heywood.
Nathan is the grandson of Henry Heywood and cousin of Henry Heywood III. Formerly a football star at The Ohio State University, Nathan retired after shattering his kneecap and having his leg amputated due to an undiagnosed infection.
While attending a Heywood family reunion, he is attacked by the Fourth Reich, a team of metahuman Neo-Nazis ordered by Vandal Savage to wipe out the bloodlines of Golden Age heroes. Despite the Fourth Reich's effort, they fail to completely destroy the Heywood bloodline, as both Nathan and a number of children manage to survive. Both Nathan's brother and mother are turned to metal statues by the villain Reichsmark.
Nathan jams his crutch into Reichsmark's mouth, causing him to spit liquid metal blood onto Nathan. Hawkman takes him to Dr. Mid-Nite, who notes that the metal is being absorbed by Nathan's skin.
Later, it is revealed that the metal has grown out from where Nathan's amputated leg once was, forming metallic bone, muscles, and flesh. Waking in his hospital room, Nathan is shown to have superhuman strength. Dr. Mid-Nite informs Nathan that he is now a being of living steel, due to an unknown reaction to Reichsmark's blood. However, the steel tissues do not give Nathan tactile response, meaning he cannot feel textures or temperatures, nor gauge exerted pressures, and his weight has greatly increased causing his footsteps to crack the ground. He is given a costume, a "second skin" of a stainless steel alloy developed by Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific specifically to restrict his movements and reduce his strength to a more manageable level. They chose the costume's colors because of Heywood's heritage. He then joins the Justice Society to defeat the Fourth Reich.
Afterwards, the press asks if he is the new Commander Steel but Nathan denies it saying that he is just an ordinary citizen, and so he is christened "Citizen Steel" by Power Girl.
In one notable adventure, when the mysterious being Gog appears, Nathan is one of the JSA members who sides with him, hoping that Gog can restore his sense of touch. It is later revealed that Gog is rooting himself into the Earth, which would cause its destruction if he ever left, and when the unconverted JSAers battle him, they are blown away by winds created by Gog. Nathan alone is able to withstand the winds. Gog offers Nathan his greatest wishes fulfilled if he sides with him, but Nathan refuses, and joins the fight against him. For this act, Gog induces in Nathan excruciating pain. Nathan then tears off his suit, and unleashes his full strength against Gog, actually managing to topple the giant. Following the defeat of Gog, Nathan realizes he feels a sense of satisfaction.
Following Gog's defeat, Nathan takes time off from the JSA to be with his family. This consists of survivors of the attack on the reunion, various children, most whom call him 'Uncle Nathan', or 'Uncle Nate'.
As to his powers and abilities - Originally Commander Steel could only lift 1000 pounds but when he appeared in the pages of the All Star Squadron he was attributed 'super human' strength without an exact limit. He was by no means as strong as Superman or Wonder Woman but he was able to hold his own with Robotman and Baron Blitzkrieg.
Citizen Steel's metallic body grants him superhuman strength, and allows him to take direct blows from opponents as powerful as Gog, and remain standing.
I find it interesting that the character was created by Gerry Conway, who is well-regarded as one of the writers of Marvel Comics' Captain America. Steel is, visually, at least, probably the closest equivalent to Captain America that the DC Universe has, although his costume design uses more red than blue.
Now, technically, the figure's name on the package is "Commander Steel", and the brief character profile on the back of the package card does cite the character's World War II origins and background.
However, the costume design for the modern-day "Citizen Steel" is virtually identical to that of his wartime ancestor, and at the moment, there aren't really any other DC Universe Classics figures to my knowledge that hail specifically from the World War II era that no longer exist in the present day. So, if one is so inclined to portray this figure as "Citizen Steel", there's no real reason why that wouldn't be workable.
So, how is the figure? Very impressive. One thing that concerned me at the outset when I learned of this figure being in the works, and based on some photos which I assume were of a prototype figure, is that the Steel costume has a very distinct metallic look to it. Easily one of the best portrayals of this is a painting by famed comics painter Alex Ross, who made the character look virtually chromed in red, white, and blue, from head to toe.
Obviously, managing that would have been nearly impossible for the figure, but a metallic finish would not have been out of the question. A couple of figures in the line already, notably Captain Atom and Booster Gold, have heavily metal-finish costumes that are pretty all-encompassing.
Curiously, the early pictures of the Commander Steel figure showed a figure that had blue metallic trim on the uniform, but the red and white regions, which comprised the bulk of the costume, looked rather flat. I was a little concerned about this. While trying to pull of a metallic white is darn near impossible -- one tends to end up with silver -- a metallic red, while difficult for some reason (at least in my customizing experience with metallic red paint), is not impossible. What would the figure really be like?
Well, I'm pleased to say that he's more metallic than the early pictures tended to indicate. The entire figure has been molded in a somewhat metallic red plastic. While it doesn't really "shine" like the blue trim on the figure, neither is it entirely flat like most figures who are portrayed wearing "fabric" costumes.
Moreover, the figure has been molded in this red color -- not painted. I have no objection to a good paint job, as long as it's done neatly. However, it's also true that sometimes, a figure that is painted from head to toe can not only have a higher likelihood of paint glitches, but if the paint works its way into the articulation joints, he's going to be stuck, literally. That sort of thing is a lot less likely on a figure that's molded in the primary color of his costume, and painted only where necessary.
Commander Steel is a fairly colorful fellow, in a patriotic way. As I said earlier, I am convinced that the intention behind the creation of this character, especially given the distinctly American look of the uniform and the World War II origin, was to give the DC Universe its own version of Captain America -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
The one problem with doing a distinctly American superhero is -- you can't dress him up specifically in the American flag. That's sort of against the proper rules of conduct regarding the use of the American flag. Marvel's British hero Union Jack can dress up in a costume that is indeed just that -- the Union Jack, an accurate depiction of the British flag. But the American flag isn't supposed to be used that way, and honestly, given how complex the design of the flag is, I'd hate to try to wrap it around a superhero regardless.
Now, I don't think you're going to top Captain America in the design department. The largely blue uniform with the center white star and the red and white stripes wrapped around just plain WORKS. And Cap is certainly a far more iconic image than Steel. And trying to get too close to Cap's design would -- well, it would do just that. Get too close. You're not really going to top Cap, costume-wise, so what has to be done is to come up with a costume that looks suitably patriotic, suitable iconically American, and doesn't step on Cap's toes.
Does Commander Steel's costume do this? Yes, I believe it does. Steel's likeness will never be as well known as Captain America's. If nothing else, Captain America REALLY DID start out in World War II, whereas Commander Steel was sort of "retconned" in during the World War II-era adventures that were being published in the late 1970's. Steel already has a 40-year disadvantage. Never mind the fact that you're not going to top a name like "Captain America", but that's an entirely different matter.
Popularity contest aside, Commander Steel does look impressive, and it's to the distinct credit of his designers that he does look as distinctive and as patriotically American as he does, without stepping on Cap's toes. And he does this very well.
The smartest thing that the costume design does is switch the main color emphasis from Cap's blue to Steel's red. The bulk of the costume is red. This includes the shirt, leggings, and mask/helmet. The gloves, trunks, and boots are a very metallic blue. It's really a very cool color, and reflects the metal finish in the paint to a distinctly greater degree than the somewhat metallic red plastic.
There is a blue fin on the top of the helmet, and blue circular earpieces. There is also a white "V" shape on the helmet that goes around the edge of the fin front and back.
The one thing Commander Steel's costume does have in common with Captain America's is a white star, dead center on the chest. This has been painted extremely neatly on the figure. The star is within a metallic blue circle. Three thick blue lines radiate out from the circle. The two topmost go over his shoulders and meet in the back, tapering down to the trunks, and the third blue line heads down the front and stops at the trunks.
The white trim on the costume, which is not metallic, is paunly on the chest, and is a triangular shape that starts at the shoulders and ends just below the belt. There is a shape at the top, similar to a bird's head, giving this white centry trim the vague shape of an eagle with its wings pointed upward, but it's pretty stylized as such. Nevertheless, it looks good. The remaining white trim consists of a partial belt, and white stripes down the sides of the legs, and the front of the boots. Somewhat curiously to me, there are no white stripes on the arms.
The headsculpt is very nicely done. Steel wears a mask/helmet which only allows his eyes and lower face to appear, and to be perfectly honest, I really don't know what he looks like unmasked. The second Steel wore a costume that left the top of his head exposed, and he had reddish hair, and if memory serves, so does the modern Citizen Steel. We can probably assume that Commander Steel also had reddish hair, but that's speculation on my part. At any rate, I doubt he'd be as recognizable as Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent regardless, so let's just say that the sculptors did a really nice job designing the head.
Steel's facial expression is what I've come to call "heroic determination". The brow beneath the mask is downturned somewhat, and the mouth is slightly open, showing a row of white teeth, in a mild grimace that certainly seems to say, "Bring it on!" to anyone who wants to challenge him or mess with America.
Here's a side note -- the row of teeth is a single stripe of white. There's almost but not quite a Kirby-esque look to it. Of course, the legendary Jack Kirby is one of the best known Marvel artists and he certainly had an impact on Captain America. But he did a lot of work for DC (just ask the New Gods), and while I have no idea if he ever drew Commander Steel, I do wonder, just a little, if there's a slight nod here in this sculpt.
Anyway, moving on to other details, Commander Steel's eyes have also been superbly painted. It always impresses me to see how the toy companies can manage to paint something as intricate as fully painted eyes -- and by that I mean whites, irises, pupils, light reflections, and outlines -- on figures in this scale range and even smaller, and do it as well as I've seen it done. And Commander Steel is no exception.
Articulation is, of course, superb. Commander Steel uses the same "male hero" body molds as many of the DC Universe Classics figures, and it's really an amazing overall design, that presents at once a cool figure as well as a level of consistency to this line that I sincerely appreciate. Commander Steel is, of course, fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Everything is fully movable without being overly loose, just as it should be.
Commander Steel has no accessories of his own, but he is packaged with the torso of the Collect and Connect figure for this series, which is a particularly large female by the name of Giganta, who tends to go around wearing Tarzan's leopard-skin leftovers. There's any number of bad jokes I could make about that particular "accessory", but hey, this is a family Web Site...
So what's my final word here? This is an immensely cool figure. Commander Steel, or, if you prefer, Citizen Steel, since I think that's just as workable an appelation for this figure, is not what one would really regard as an "A-lister" in the DC Universe. However, he has had a reasonable prominence in recent times, especially in the pages of Justice Society of America, and I am certain that we haven't heard the last of him.
And this really is a cool figure of what I sincerely believe to be the DC Universe's version of Captain America. Even setting that aside, he's still a good figure with a cool look to him. The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of COMMANDER STEEL definitely has my highest recommendation!