Thursday, April 13, 2017


"Fuck 'em up, Tim!"

A few months back, I wrote, of the character Crash Kid from Cannonball Comics, that I had never seen a Golden Age story which read more like an homage to the Golden Age. Every panel and word balloon seemed like a distillation of the essence of the two-fisted, fast-paced, manic escapist tough -guy superhero comic.

Well, The Steel Fist -- which, I know, sounds like a hardcore reggae band -- is the one Golden Age comic I've ever seen which reads like an Eighties-era deconstruction of Golden Age superhero comics.

Like, I'm put in the mind of the Blackhawk revival from DC in the late Eighties, a Howard Chaykin joint that was handed off to Martin Pasko and Rick Burchett for the ongoing incarnation. In that book, the gender and ethnic diversity of the Blackhawks were enhanced, and the embarrassing caricature that was the team's Chinese-American member Chop Chop was retroactively declared a portrayal that only appeared in the in-universe licensed comics.

That's actually a glove, man.
Steel Fist has that same feeling, where the superhero segments already feel like the imaginary additions to a comic book retelling of a crimefighter's life. Hell, there's even a Chris Ware/Dan Clowes feeling to the superhero sequences, like a representation of a merry but thoughtless portrayal which reflected whim and not reality.

Timothy Slade is a wartime steelworker and proud patriot. When a bunch of Ratzi sonsabitches show up to sabotage the steel plant, Tim stands up to them -- only to be overpowered and punished with a gruesome retaliation. They shove his right arm into a vat of molten steel. Like Johnny Tremane, assuming you put some Nazis into Paul Revere's workshop.

Recuperating in the hospital, Tim is visited by "the mystical figure of justice," who grants his steel arm mobility and tremendous power. She is almost literally a moistened bint lobbing scimitars at people. I'm proud that a wasted adolescence pays off in this small way.

This all seems relatively normal, in a folk hero manner -- Tim seems to be a patriotic Joe Magarac. If they'd left it like that, with Joe working in the steel factory and occasionally slugging Nazis tae fuck, it would have been a fine serial. Instead, they put him in a costume with a cape (although he can't fly or does any jumping or anything) and a mask (even though his identity is well known) and a steel skullcap (which doesn't work because he gets knocked out with a shot right to it) and the whole thing is yellow and blue and I don't know what that's supposed to represent except maybe he's really into The Minions?

In fact, he's goes as far as to introduce himself to the Nazis who wrecked his arm, with his real name, so the costume is a weird conceit. Obviously it was done because, you know, it's de rigeur for the era, but the parts without it work just as well.

He randomly found a cop AND a soldier.
He's spoilt for choice!
For the most part, Tim's adventures start and end with the steel factory, where he continues to work his shift. On some occasions, his right arm remains all-steel while he's in a civilian disguise, and on other occasions it reverts to a normal hand (and in one issue, he goes out of his way to hide his right arm at all times until he's in his Mike&Ike outfit). When he does show the hand, it does a lot of heavy lifting -- he uses it to deflect bullets and slug dudes even though they got guns. His primary power is not getting murdered. I couldn't do that, it's a legit superpower after all! Also, sometimes he slugs people with his normal hand and you have to wonder what's even the point of having a steel hand if you're just gonna use your meat fist?

But Steel Fist is another really enjoyable entry in the Blue Circle Comics line, with one exception: In his third appearance, a different writer (and, I think, artist, and that may be the same person -- H.C.Kiefer is the only credit attached to the stories) takes over, and changes the formula. Tim now has a suit-and-tie job at the factory, and picks up a sidekick with the worst gimmick: He's an effusive taxi hack named Ned Pyle who always carries a thermos of coffee with him wherever he goes, earning the nickname "Thermopyle." I had been hoping he was a Greek character named Ther-MOP-o-lee but, no, he gives the accurate pronunciation and it's so dumb.

But he gets back to what he does best after that, which is getting dressed up like a short-lived mascot for the San Diego Chargers and slamming a metal mitt into bad people's faces. After six appearances -- one of which was published as an inventory tale in another publisher's book -- The Steel Fist retires, or possibly got his other hand stuck in molten steel and just died, or was shot for dressing up like a banana who joined the United Nations peacekeeping force, or something. Maybe he could have had a V8 and knocked his own brains out while dealing with the shock. Or he died in some other way that having a steel hand can kill you, like a thoughtless masturbation session. I know, but you were all thinking it.

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