(Hank Heywood, 1940′s)
Developed by Iron Man artist Don Heck and former Spider-Man writer and Firestorm creator Gerry Conway, Steel is obviously a mirror to Marvel’s Captain America in many ways designed to fill a gap for DC Comics. I’ve always liked the character simply because, like Captain America, there are some very interesting stories that can be told about devotion to a cause, altruism and the complications of politics that compound a patriotic hero.
In the case of Hank Heywood, he was a scientist who was working with a colleague on ground-breaking biological research who got wrapped up in the global war after the Nazi’s attacked Poland. After becoming nearly completely crippled by an explosion while serving his country in WWII as a Marine, he offered up his destroyed body as a way to continue his research. His completely wrecked limbs were empowered by steel implants and micro-motors that gave him near indestructibility and super strength. Sheathed in a uniform of steel mesh emblazoned with the colors of his nation, Heywood re-entered the fray as a super soldier named Commander Steel.
The hero starred in a mini-series set in the days of WWII with some success. This was during a time when DC Comics was publishing mini-series to both establish long-standing third-tier characters such as Red Tornado and introduce new characters such as Steel and Vixen. Ironically, both Steel and Vixen would join up as members of a new Justice League years later… in a way.
(Hank Heywood II, 1980′s)
As sales and inspiration for the monthly Justice League of America series seemed to be drying up, the decision was made to completely re-invent the team with new members and a new direction. Looking for new members, writer Gerry Conway was struck by inspiration and decided to introduce an aged Hank Heywood as the new financier of the team after the loss of of the satellite HQ. Headquartered in Detroit, Heywood offered up his resources to support the team so long as they accepted his progeny Hank Heywood II.
Rather than waiting for an accident to occur that would demand the use of similar technology to revive the crippled Hank Jr., Heywood systematically replaced his grandson’s bones and muscles with steel reinforced material over the course of several painful operations. Manipulated by his father into the role of superhero, Hank Jr. also existed in torment due to the many brutal enhancements done to his body. Despite the obvious setbacks, Steel II proved to be an exemplary member on the new JLA and lent his strength and durability to becoming the resident strong man and bruiser of the team.
(Nathan Heywood 2000′s)
With the latest volume of the Justice Society of America, writer Geoff Johns decided to explore thew legacies of the DC Universe. Looking to the Heywood family, he created Nathan Heywood. Rather than serving in the military Nathan was a star football athlete until a tragic accident that broke his kneecap. An undiagnosed infection robbed him of the leg from the knee down left the youngster a pill-popping wreck.
During a family reunion that usually centered on his accomplishments on the field (taking after his predecessors who entertained the family with war stories and superheroic tales before him), a group of Nazi-influenced super villains attacked and nearly wiped out every Heywood present in an attempt to wipe out the entire blood line. This was a master stroke by the nearly immortal Vandal Savage who sought to destroy the JSA who stood in his path to greatness.The battle led to a form of liquid steel bonding with Nathan Heywood’s body.
The result mimicked the procedure developed his great-grandfather Hank Heywood I and left Nathan with super strength and near invulnerability. It also regrew his missing leg out of the same steel-like material. However, his Nathan’s strength came at a price and proved to be so powerful that it had dulled his sense of touch, leaving him a danger to all. The resident geniuses at the JSA designed a suit of solid steel that would somewhat hamper his movements enough to slow him down. Designed after Commander Steel’s uniform, Nathan reluctantly entered service as the latest in the family legacy. While he considered himself just a regular guy, the moniker Citizen Steel was applied to him.
All three versions of Steel have been somewhat tragic and driven to a cause, be it one of self-worth or nationalism or in the case of Nathan Heywood a devotion to his family. With so few younger siblings remaining in the Heywood bloodline, it falls to him to ensure that the name does not die out. Once a star on the grid iron, he is now the protector of a household.