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Real Name: Henry "Hank" Heywood
Occupation: Biology Student, Soldier, Adventurer, later Industrialist
First Appearance (Post-Golden Age): Steel, the Indestructible Man (March 1978)
Little is known of the like of Hank Heywood prior to 1939,
when he was a Princeton student working under famed American bio-engineer,
Gilbert Giles. Giles and Heywood
traveled to Germany in the summer of 1939 to attend a conference on
biomaterials, where Giles’ work was largely rejected by the arrogant German
medical establishment. After being dismissed and Heywood’s intervention in a
street fight where some brown shirts were roughing up an old Jewish man, the
two traveled back to America by steamer.
By the time they had arrived, Germany had invaded Poland, leading to
Europe’s entry into World War II.
Though Giles and his daughter (and Heywood’s fiancée) were somewhat isolationists, Heywood was inflamed by his experiences in Europe and joined the Marines. He drained aggressively and one evening after a spat with Gloria Giles, joined his colleagues at a local bar. On the way home, he spies saboteurs laying explosives near the base and before realizing it, punches on of them into the plunger, setting off the explosives. Arriving MPs found everyone dead but Heywood, who was critically injured and scared.
While he recovered, he convinced the visiting Giles that his only chance was to apply some of the research they had been doing. After some resistance, Giles had Heywood transferred to a private hospital, conducting an extensive series of prosthetic and restorative procedures. Heywood’s recovery produced something better than before – a largely indestructible man. He new muscles and bones could withstand injury, move at high speed and lift 100’s of pounds effortlessly. His artificially allowed him to remain submerged for at least 30 minutes and his skin was largely resistant to piercing or chemical injury. Giles wanted Heywood to remain discrete about their work but Heywood had other ideas.
Working in Giles lab in secret, Heywood created a patriotic steel alloy costumed and new nom de guerre – Steel, the Indestructible Man! Needed weapons, he slipped into an nearby armory and collected several firearms. Leaving, he sees the entry of several sabaoteurs in the employ of Nazi agent Baron Death. Quickly engaging them, he found his new found strength and speed an easy match for the saboteurs and left them in a neat pile, unconscious for the arriving police. He later tracked down the remainder of Baron Death’s operation but the Baron himself escaped (Steel the Indestructible Man #1).
Over the next several months, Steel made his presence known,
attempting to insulate himself into the military’s graces as a special war
operative. In the process he battled a
series of bizarre criminals including the Mineral Master (Steel #2),
Sledgehammer (Steel #3) and the Gadgeteer (Steel #4). Eventually Gilbert Giles
deduced that Heywood and Steel were one in the same, causing the elder man to
suffer a heart attack. As he lay in the
hospital, he instructed Haywood to abandon his activities as Steel or to leave
his daughter forever. Despite Heywood’s
rebuttals, Giles was adamant and Heywood left the Giles family, vowing never to
From there he traveled to London, where on a nightly patrol
he spied German agents murdering two guards at the Ministry of War and dropped
to the ground among them. After a melee
with the henchmen and their leader the Black Assassin, Steel emerged victorious
just as the secretary of war, Winston Churchill emerged to investigate the
ruckus. Impressed by Steel, Churchill
took him into his confidence and asked him to join a secret effort to
infiltrate Germany itself and kidnap Adolph Hitler, a plan to which Steel
Steel and commandos with the British army landed behind
German lines near a concentration camp headed by a man known only as “The
Butcher”, who was expecting the Fuhrer to visit soon. Steel and his comrades
were quickly captured by the Butcher and his men and taken to the camp, where
Steel awakened in the mud. His friend
had been taken to a “hospital” where medical experiments in living subjects
were conducted and racing to save them, he ran into an ambush and was
subdued. The fates of his comrades are
Awakened by the Butcher and his doctors, Steel was
interrogated as to the source of his powers.
Once fully conscious, he again broke free and grabbing a bottle of acid
as a weapon, left through a window where a bullet grazed his skull and again
rendered him dazed. The bottle rolled
out of his hands and into that of a young Jewish prisoner, who smashed into the
face of the Butcher, blinding and maiming him just as Hitler himself
arrived. Steele leaped toward the German
dictator but was subdued and the prisoner who had maimed that Butcher executed
on the spot.For months, Heywood remained captive in the camp, kept healthy
until the Butcher could recover and exact his revenge in person. The Butcher underwent a series of experimental
procedures resulting in a new identity, Baron Blitzkrieg, Steel underwent a series of procedures design to implant post-hypnotic suggestions that would turn him into a living weapon (originally Steel #6 but later revealed in All-Star Squadron #8-9).
Steel remained captive in Blitzkrieg's cam for the better part of the year while the Baron recovered. In the Winter of 1941, Steel was sent to the United States, ostensibly as a free agent. He arrived just as another of the Baron's agents, the Black Assassin, was targeting Winston Churchill Steel interceded, preventing an explosion with his body that killed the Assassin but saved Churchill. He was revived and feted, given the new named "Commander Steel' as a result of his bravery. Hours later, however, Baron Blitzkrieg activated the suggestion, seeing himself in Steel's mind and controlling his actions. The controlled Steel attempted to assassinated Roosevelt and Churchill but was stopped by the All-Star Squadron when Robotman went toe-to-toe with him and Firebrand used her flame powers to blind him, causing a psychological feedback on the Baron that freed Steel's mind (All-Star Squadron #9).
From then on, Steel became a steady member of the All-Star Squadron, participating in cases that are well-documented such as battles against Hastor (All-Star Squadron #10-12), and the Ultra-Humanite and his allies (All-Star Squadron #18, 21-26). He also participated in the first criminal excursion against Brain Wave, tho the villain did not make himself known (All-Star Squadron) and join the Justice League and Justice Society in a time-tossed case against Per Degaton which was erased from the timeline when Degaton was defeated (All-Star Squadron #14-15 and Justice League of America #207-209). He attempted to re-establish connections to his prior life but learned that Gloria had married and that Dr. Giles had died. Rather than attempt to return to that life, Steel told Gloria that Hank Heywood had died (All-Star Squadron #13).
Later in 1942, Steel traveled secretly to Berlin to rescue the husband of his former fiancée Gloria Giles Farley, U.S. Army Officer Brad Farley. Bursting in on Nazi scientists he holding him, he is initially captured but when the Crisis energy being monitored by the scientists goes awry, he uses that moment to escape. Attempting to save one of the scientists captured in an energy surge resulted in a explosion, flinging . Steel and the dead scientist to what he later learned with Earth-One. Realizing there was nothing waiting for him back on Earth-Two, Steel decided to flee Berlin and re-start his life on the new earth (All-Star Squadron #50). What became of Brad Farley is unknown.
Once on Earth-One, Heywood appears to have largely abandoned
the Commander Steel identity and it is unclear who, if anyone, knew his full
history though he was found in his costume and some almost certainly knew. He became a fighter pilot in WWII and Korea
who originally rose to Chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff but how he could have
passed a physical without detection is unclear. It is also unclear whether he never used the
identity at all. He maintained some
contact with Earth-Two allowing him to be aware of the existence of Infinity
Inc. over the years (as revealed in Infinity Inc #19) but the nature and
frequency of this contact is unknown.
In 1965, America was deep into the Vietnam War and Heywood’s
son, Hank Heywood Jr. had followed his father’s footsteps as a fighter
pilot. Heywood was delighted to welcome
his grandson – Henry Heywood, III – but his world came apart when his son was
killed in Southeast Asia and his daughter-in-law died the following year of
breast cancer, leaving Heywood and Dale Gunn, his son’s best friend, to raise
young Henry. As America entered more
liberal years, militant Heywood became increasingly bitter, believing that the
legal system lacked the vigor of that he was raised in. At some point in the 1970’s, Heywood committed
his teen age grandson to a series of surgeries, replacing his bone, skin and
muscle in muscle the same his own had been replaced nearly 40 years
before. His rationale for doing this is
unclear. His grandson thought it was
purely experimental and that his grandfather was quite mad (Justice League of
America #238). Heywood himself claimed
that it was in part due to establishing his own heroic legacy and in part
because he had was traumatized by the loss of his son and was desperate the
Hank III not suffer than same fate (Justice League of America #246). He later
stated without the surgeries, Henry III would have been long dead but it is not
clear of what.
Heywood re-emerged in the mid-1980’s as the head of Heywood
Industries in Arlington, VA. He along
with Gunn had designed a facility called the Bunker outside of Detroit, which
he gifted to the Justice League for when his grandson joined. Not realizing
that the Justice League had elected to de-globalize its operations and that
most of the more powerful members had gone inactive, he resolved to correct
matters directly. Using Mekanique, he travels to Earth-Two and deceives that
members of Infinity Inc into joining him on Earth-One and attacking the Justice
League, allowing him to kidnap his grandson and perform more surgeries. He wanted to defeat what he saw as imposters
while making Steel II even more worthy of his code name. Infinity Inc eventually because wise to his
deceit and the elder Heywood was undone by the arrive of the elder members of
the Justice Society, whose combined strength defeated Mekanique. He was left at
the mercy of his grandson, who delivered a several beating (Justice League of
America #243-244, Infinity Inc #19). The two later achieved a measure of reconciliation
(Justice League of America #246). During the end of the Crisis, Professor Ivo’s
androids launched an assault on the Justice League, mortally damaging Hank
Heywood III. His final wish was to be
returned to his grandfather, who eventually shut off life support when he
realized nothing could be done (Justice League of America #260-261).
The final fate of the Earth-Two Commander Steel remains unrevealed.
Powers and Abilities
Steel's power were the result of extensive modifications of his body with a series of mechanical and novel experiment organics called "Bio-retardants". The mechanical parts conveyed the speed and power of machinery include the ability to run in excess of 60 mph, to lift several thousand lbs and to survive underwater without supplemental air for up to 30 mins. The organic parts allow his body to withstand the forces imposed on it by his mechanical implants and also conveyed a resistance to injury up to at least the force of exploding grenade. His adaptations also allowed him to wear a uniform of heavy mesh that would have rendered ordinary immobile under its weight and this uniform also allowed Steel an added later of resistance to injury such as small arms fire. Finally, Steel was highly trained soldier and marksman and had the biology expertise of a high level student at Princeton with research expertise.
Weaknesses and Limitations
Steel's limitations are not full established but he is not immune to fatigue and some degree of injury when met with sufficient force. The extent of that force has not been delineated.
In the post-Crisis Timeline, the history of Commander Steel was though to be largely similar to his Earth-Two/Earth-One timeline. After the death of his grandson, he resumes the identity of Commander Steel for a mission against Eclipso, in which he is killed along with several other adventurers known as the Shadow Fighters (Eclipso #11-14)
It was later revealed that he had multiple children and grandchildren beyond those disclosed in other timelines. One of them Nate Heywood, is exposed to a liquid metal with the Fourth Reich attempts to murder the entire blood line of the original Steel and eventually adopted the identity Citizen Steel (Justice Society of America Vol. 3). Whether these individuals had Earth-Two counterparts is unknown.