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Villains

 

Steel Sterling

Created by:

Abner Sundell & Charles Biro

Real Name:

John Sterling
Joined Mighty Crusaders:

In an untold story prior to Archie's Weird Mysteries #3
First Appearance:

Zip Comics #1 February 1940

Origin: John Sterling, an experimenter who plunged his body into a cauldron of molten metal. That gave Sterling the powers of invulnerability and flight.

History:

MLJ Comics:

Like most people, John Sterling wanted to do something about smashing crime. His desire was made even stronger by the fact that he saw his father's fortune swindled out from under him by racketeers who later brutally murdered the elder Sterling. To be effective at smashing crime, he needed an edge. To quote the text of his first recorded case; "He knew that one man alone could not fight the law's battle against gangdom, unless this one man was forever protected against the underworld's bullets." (Zip Comics #1)

He began a series of experiments to create a solution to make him invulnerable to any bodily harm. He finally came up with the chemical solution that would make him invulnerable, but there was a catch. The catch was that after coating himself with the solution, he had to dive into a vat of molten steel that had the solution mixed into it. He coated his body with the chemical solution and then added the solution into the vat of molten steel. He then dived into the molten steel, knowing that he could very easily die the instant his body hit the molten metal.

But instead of being incinerated on the spot, Sterling survived and emerged unscathed. He found that his body had become as hard as solid steel giving him not only invulnerability but also limited super strength as well. He also found that by simply rubbing his fingers through his hair, his body could generate a magnetic field that allowed him to defy gravity practically giving him the power of flight. With his newly acquired powers, John Sterling launched his one man crusade against crime as the red and blue clad gangbuster known as Steel Sterling; the Man of Steel.

In his first case, Steel Sterling went after a gang of bank robbers only to encounter the felon who was to become the most persistent of his early foes, the Black Knight. He was initially trapped by the Black Knight in a pit filled with huge rats, but he escaped by smashing hand and foot holds in the wall with his steel-hard fists and climbed out of the pit in order to confront the Black Knight. Sterling left the felon to die as his booby-trapped castle exploded and apprehended the Black Knight's men as they tried to escape from the castle's destruction, retrieving the stolen money as well. He left the captured felons with the police as he left the scene on a "borrowed" police motorcycle (Zip Comics #1).


The Black Knight would escape from the exploding castle and would return to bedevil Steel Sterling four more times in the course of Sterling's first year in the crime-fighting profession. Shortly after their first encounter, the Black Knight broke out a group of criminals from a maximum security prison and used his new hirelings in a daring hijacking of a huge gold shipment from Alaska. Sterling tracked down the Black Knight and his men to his hidden Artic fortress, only to be incapacitated with tear gas and weighed down by heavy chains. Sterling escaped from the fortress and later apprehended the Black Knight and his men and recovered the stolen gold (Zip #2). He would also smash the Black Knight's plot to conquer the nation of Brazoria in South America (Zip #3); break up his plot to steal shipments of Radium from various hospitals (Zip #4); and finally, smash his plots to commit acts of sabotage using a "zeta ray" (Zip #5).

During this time, Steel Sterling - as John Sterling - became a private detective and created the deception that he and John Sterling were twins in order to divert any unwanted attention from the underworld or from the authorities. He helped improve his relations with the law-enforcement community by befriending a few police officers during his work as a private eye, most notably a stocky, Irish-American patrolman known as Clancy. A woman named Dora Cummings managed to come into his life as well. She more often than not showed distain for John's less-than-sterling (no pun intended) attitude (which was part of Steel's ruse). They were soon joined by former circus fortune teller turned would-be PI Alec Ben "Looney" Lunar. The gauntly built Lunar would act as a Stan Laurel to Officer Clancy's Oliver Hardy and to Steel Sterling, they would turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Incidentally, Steel Sterling would have a hand in launching the career of another noted superhero; Inferno, the Flame Breather. But at the time they first met, Steel was tracking him down for activities he committed while he was on the wrong side of the law.

Earlier, Steel Sterling had apprehended a crooked India-rubber man named Twisto for committing a series of murders in order to acquire the circus he worked at and to make his wife Lilli - a female lion-tamer - the star of the circus. Steel also managed to prevent him from killing Lilli (by turning the big cats she worked with into killers by feeding them meat tainted with his own blood) and Dora Cummings (By trying to stab her) as well (Zip #9). Twisto escaped from jail shortly afterward and forced Inferno - a fire eater - and Hefto - a strongman - to work with him by threatening to turn them in for their past crimes. With his two reluctant partners, he planned a series of crimes that would bring the city to its knees.

Their first crime was to eliminate John Sterling. Steel -as John Sterling - learned of their plan to kill him through Looney and he successfully faked his own death by their hands by allowing them to ram him against a wall with a truck. Thinking Sterling was dead, the "unholy three" (as Sterling called them) began plotting their next move. Steel then broke out of his grave and quickly contacted Dora Cummings. He revealed to her that he and John Sterling were one and the same and the reasons for the ruse. He also explained how he was able to fake his own demise (through catalepsy, an ability that allowed him to stop his heartbeat at will). After he explained all that to Dora, he waited for the trio to make their next move.

He didn't have to wait for long, as Twisto and his two accomplices managed to take over the local power plant and cause a power blackout that left the city open for them to loot at will. Sterling arrived at the power plant and fought against the trio. During the battle, Twisto and Inferno escaped after Inferno temporarily blinded Sterling with a blast of flame from his mouth. Hefto perished while trying to escape from Sterling when he fell from a balcony while trying to leap from one balcony to another. With Twisto and Inferno still on the run, Steel found himself with the difficult task of tracking them down before they could cause any more harm (Zip #10).

Fortunately Steel managed to pursue both Twisto and Inferno. He managed to apprehend Twisto and tailed Inferno to a dive in the seedier side of the city. Using a disguise, Sterling managed to gain Inferno's confidence which led to Inferno deciding to reform and turn himself in for his crimes. But before they could make any moves, they ended up coming across a criminal named Pig Panwood, better known as the Rattler, one of the earliest "super-villains" to emerge. They fought against the Rattler, but Steel allowed the villain to escape in order to save Inferno from dying from the poison that the Rattler injected him with (Zip #11).

They managed to pursue the Rattler as he tried to rob a fur warehouse. But he managed to elude capture by injuring Inferno once again. They got wind of the Rattler's latest scheme through Dora Cummings after she checked out a suspicious novelty jewelry store that opened next to the U.S. Sub-treasury. They found that the Rattler and his men were building a tunnel underneath the sub-treasury and planned to rob it after the tunnel was completed. Steel and Inferno managed to fight and apprehend the Rattler and his men just as he was about break into the sub-treasury. Inferno then turned himself in to the authorities wanting to pay his debt to society for his previous crimes (Zip #12). Shortly after leaving prison, Inferno - on the advice of the judge who presided over his trial and in emulation of Steel Sterling - donned a colorful red and yellow costume and used his fire-breathing powers to launch a career as a crime fighter (Blue Ribbon Mystery Comics #13).

Surprisingly, Steel Sterling not only managed to become a vigilante who the police and the government approved of, he also managed to become a major celebrity in the process. His newly acquired celebrity status led him to be asked by the U.S. Government to make a goodwill tour of South America as part of the Good Neighbor Policy of that period. So with Clancy and Looney along for the ride, Steel began traveling throughout South America acting as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S.A. . During his travels, he began smashing plots by Nazi German agents in that region. He first smashed plans by Nazi agents to discredit him and the U.S., in order to win a vital commercial airline contract for Germany (Zip #19). He then found himself trying to find a hidden Nazi airbase in South America that was being used to attack Allied shipping in that region, which he eventually found and destroyed (Zip #20).

His most unusual mission took him to Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Shortly before that attack, Premier Itoki - a high ranking Japanese official - warned his fellow officials that an attack on Pearl Harbor would be tantamount to suicide because of fear of bringing the full wrath of the United States armed forces on them. He threatened to bring others in the government to turn against the militarists in the Diet (the Japanese Parliament). But Baron Watanabi - another official - had other plans. He had Itoki's grandson kidnapped and succeeded in framing Clancy and Looney for the crime. By showing that Americans were not to be trusted, Watanabi gained Itoki's trust and had him sign the declaration to launch the Pearl Harbor attack.

Steel Sterling found out about the kidnapping and not only managed to find Premier Itoki's grandchild, he also managed to save Clancy and Looney from being executed by a firing squad. He then explained the frame-up to Premier Itoki who then dragged a confession out from his maid by threatening to destroy her husband's "belt of a thousand stitches" (which in the Japanese culture and the Shinto faith would cause the destruction of her husband's honor and his soul). She confessed about the plot and Itoki went to confront Watanabi in the Diet and get him to retract the orders to attack. Watanabi then killed Itoki by stabbing him in the back and allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to commence.

Steel then went to the Diet only to find Premier Itoki dead with Baron Watanabi's dagger in his back. After hearing Emperor Hirohito's announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Steel promptly flew to the Emperor's palace and attacked the Emperor and his aides as they announced the attack. He then shouted the following speech to the assembled Japanese;

"Roar like a lion, now! But you soon will be mewing like sick cats when we get through with you! You called the turn - we tried to shake hands across the ocean and you thought you saw a swell chance to slip the cuffs on us!

"Okay, make the most of your inning - our time at bat will come soon. My Uncle Sam has a funny way of remembering things!"

"And just to make myself clear, here's a language you and your scavenger Nazi friends will soon understand to your everlasting sorrow!" He spoke as he skywrote a V and ... - (the Morse Code sign for the letter V) and flew off. Thus began Steel Sterling's personal war against the Axis (Zip #26).

After the incident in Japan, Steel Sterling began his one man war against the Axis in earnest both on the home front and abroad. Among his celebrated battles with Axis forces include such missions as the occasion in which he - aided by Sgt. Alec "Looney" Lunar - paved the way for an Allied invasion of North Africa by smuggling in several key Allied commanders and in the process wrecking a Nazi plot to kill them (Jackpot Comics #8). He would also travel to occupied France to investigate a series of murders by a werewolf which turned out to be a Nazi plot to obtain skin and bone grafts by murdering French citizens (Zip #32). In addition, he helped save the life of the nephew of a Chinese scientist from being killed by Japanese agents and kept the scientist's invention from falling into the hands of the Japanese (Zip #36). Not to mention three encounters with the most persistent of his later foes, the Nazi agent known as Baron Gestapo (Zip #s 27 & 28, Jackpot #6).


Throughout his career, Steel Sterling encountered many colorful criminals, including some of the earliest "super villains" to appear on the scene. After the Black Knight and Baron Gestapo, his foes included such felons as Twisto, the Puppet Master, the Rattler, and the Hyena among others.

The celebrated career of Steel Sterling lasted until the end of World War II. After that, his postwar life became shrouded in rumor. These rumors started when Steel began resurfacing in later years, still looking much like he did back in the 1940's. Besides fighting evil on his own, he also aided the Mighty Crusaders on two occasions, the second time as a member of a Crusaders offshoot group - along with Mr. Justice and the Jaguar - called the Terrific Three (The Mighty Crusaders [first series] #s 4 & 5). According to some, the Steel Sterling who showed up in recent years was the original or was a descendant of the original. If the Steel Sterling who showed up in recent years was the original of the World War II era, his still youthful appearance could be easily explained by the fact that the chemical and steel bath that gave him his superpowers had somehow slowed his aging process to a trickle. Whatever the case may be, the world has definitely not seen the last of Steel Sterling.
 

Powers & Weapons:

Steel Sterling has magnetic powers, muscles of steel and he has virtually invulnerable skin and the ability to fly.

Checklist:

MLJ Comics:

Zip Comics 1-47
Jackpot Comics 1-9
Roly Poly Comics 1, (2-15?)

Mighty & Radio Comics:
Archie...Archie Andrews, Where Are You? Digest 9
Fly Man 39 (1st Silver Age app. 9/66)
Mighty Comics 44, 46, 49
Mighty Crusaders 4, 5, 7

Red Circle & Archie Comics:
Blue Ribbon Comics (vol. 2) 3
Mighty Crusaders (vol. 2) 9, 10
Shield 1, 2
Shield/Steel Sterling 3
Steel Sterling 4-7
Archie's Weird Mysteries 3, 14

 

TEXT BY: Kelso

ART BY: Charles Brio

MICRO BY: CopperAge, Darrin Wiltshire and Rik Offenberger

 

Everything on this site is TM & © 2012 by Archie Comics unless otherwise stated. The Fly, Lancelot Strong, Spiderman and American Shield are TM & © Joe Simon. Shieldmaster TM & © Jim Simon, All Rights Reserved