The Reign of Doomsday storyline started this week in the one-shot Steel #1, written by Steve Lyons and drawn by Ed Benes.
In some ways, I feel for Steve Lyons, a writer I haven't heard of before. The initial solicit for this issue, released in October, had Steel fighting Metallo. At some point, I assume after October, the Doomsday storyline came into being and the decision was made to make the Steel issue the opening volley. I wonder just how much of Lyons' original story made it through to this issue. I guess that some of the battle pages could be very similar. But I think that the nature of the story, especially the outcome, gave Lyons little room to explore Steel's character.
In fact, the issue is predominantly Steel getting trashed by Doomsday. And while Steel's resilience, his unwillingness to accept defeat is admirable, he is little more than a punching bag here.
The issue opens mid-battle with a dented and scratched Steel falling beneath the raining blows of Doomsday.
Now I admit that there is a lot of Doomsday history that I am not up to date on. I didn't collect the Superman titles (for the most part) from 2002-2007. So to see him screaming Steel's name seemed like an upgrade to me. I know at some point he gained intelligence. But the last I saw him (I think) was his getting pummeled to death by the swarming Kryptonians in WONK. I believe the body was handed over to Luthor for study. Could this rudimentary intelligence be Luthor's work?
Regardless, there also seems to be a personal vendetta here as Doomsday isn't mindlessly destroying Metropolis like a force of nature. He wants Steel, and Doomsday adapts his attacks to get to him.
We then flashback to Steel first learning of Doomsday's attack. Donning the armor, he tells Natasha that he is obligated to fight Doomsday. He cannot wait for other heroes to arrive.
It leads to a nice recap of the Reign of the Supermen, including shots of the other 'new Supermen' from that story - Superboy, the Eradicator, and the Cyborg Superman. I especially liked how Steel talks about how it was his heart and soul that was most like Superman. I remember when in Reign of the Supermen, when Lois is trying to figure out if one of the new guys is the real Superman, that Steel's morals and actions were most like the true man of steel.
Another new wrinkle about Doomsday manifests itself during the battle.
As Steel tries to slow down Doomsday with hammer blows, Doomsday suddenly grows a more metallic appearing armor.
Doomsday's powers include the ability to resurrect himself without the weakness that led to his prior defeat. So this new power certainly is plausible. Maybe this new armor would have protected him from Alura who bludgeoned him to death.
As the battle rages through the city, Natasha follows along, trying to help the injured and deal with the small street-level stuff. It is a nice way to again show just how brave Natasha is. She has had some ups and downs in her comic history, even being part of Luthor's Everymen project. That said, in New Krypton and War of the Supermen, she definitely was one of the good guys.
But I don't recall that she lost her powers. Does anyone remember where that happened?
Here is one part of the book that I think probably was a remnant from the original Metallo script.
Barely hanging on, Steel lures Doomsday in close and fires nanobytes into the him. Somehow the nanobytes short-circuit Doomsday's nervous system. The monster is suddenly paralyzed.
Now doesn't that attack make a lot more sense if you are fighting a robotic/metallic foe more than Doomsday who I think has no internal organs or discrete nervous system?
Regardless, the nanobytes only work temporarily. After a short breather, Doomsday is on the move again.
And in a remarkable demonstration of lucidity, Doomsday turns to attack Natasha knowing it will bring Steel to him. Doomsday using strategy?
Was it really necessary to bring Steel to him given that Steel is basically helpless on the ground? In fact, Steel is basically cringing on the ground for almost the entire book.
With one last gasp, Steel throws himself into Doomsday, saving Natasha. But once within the clutches of Doomsday, Steel is finally defeated, falling beneath of barrage of punches and elbows.
In another nice show of just what this Doomsday can do, he retracts the new armor knowing that the battle is over. Hmmm ... could this new armor power somehow be related to the proximity to Steel and his armor? Is Doomsday becoming Amazo-like? Will he gain the Eradicator's energy blasts or Superboy's TK next?
At least Steel doesn't obviously die at the end of the issue. Doomsday picks up his battered body and flies off. I did like this closing panel, a nice homage to the famous Death of Superman image of Superman's cape draped over the wreckage of the city from Superman #75.
So my feeling for this issue are split and it basically depends on what I was hoping to get out of this.
If I wanted a dramatic opening to the Reign of Doomsday, this worked relatively well. It re-establishes Doomsday as a powerful villain, near unstoppable. It also has the added wrinkle of new powers, at least rudimentary intelligence, and a personal vendetta. And it ends on a nice cliffhanger. From that viewpoint, it was at least moderately entertaining.
But if I was hoping to see a nice showcase of John Henry Irons, a true Steel issue, the first solo issue in a while, if I wanted to see him in action (he was sort of on the sidelines in New Krypton and War of the Supermen), then I am disappointed as he basically gets the snot kicked out of him for 22 pages. Sure, we see the level of his heroism, how he continued to throw himself into a battle where he is obviously outmatched in hopes of saving people. But there was little to cheer on here.
Lyons seems to have a nice grasp of Steel's voice as his internal dialogue read very well.
Ed Benes art seemed like a pedestrian effort for him. I have to admit, it has been a long time since I have been floored by Benes' stuff.
And I am very happy that Steel didn't outright die here. I was worried.
I remain conflicted about how I feel about this though. I was hoping Steel would really be showcased here.
Overall grade: C+/B