It’s man versus machine as a new hero inspired by Superman shows up in Superman: The Man of Steel #22.
Superman: The Man of Steel #22
Triangle Number 1993 – 13
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
The story of the Man of Steel begins with the story of John Henry, a man who fought a machine and won, though it cost him his life in the end. It’s a story told to the kids of the Children’s Home by a large man named Henry Johnson, and it’s a story that would help to define Man of Steel’s place in “Reign of the Supermen.” For much like John Henry, Henry Johnson would soon go up against machines that should surely beat him, deadly new guns that have hit the streets of Metropolis.
Sadly, as the children leave his gymnasium the reader is shown the terrible aftermath of what these guns can do as Keith’s friend Zoid is caught in the crossfire of a drive-by gang shootout, and all that is left of the poor boy is a smoking skeleton. Johnson manages to run down the car with the assailants and wrestles one of the guns away from them before he’s smashed into a wall, left to ponder how these weapons made their way to the streets of his city.
When Myra and Keith visit Johnson in the hospital, Johnson recounts to Keith the time that Superman saved his life, too, shortly before the Doomsday battle. Superman saved Henry from falling to his death on a construction site after Henry did the same for a coworker, and then told him to make his life count for something.
As he returns home from the hospital, Johnson ruminates on that message. He holds himself accountable for Zoid’s death, though the reader doesn’t know exactly why yet. In the basement of his tenement, we see him forging armor out of tempered steel, as the gang members are set to welcome him home with a Molotov cocktail. As the building burns, Bogdanove and Janke deliver a fantastic first splash page of the Man of Steel. This is the one Superman we know for sure is not the real deal, but he’s also the one that feels the most like Superman out of all of them. This is a man who has taken what it meant to be Superman and made it into something he could strive for.
Johnson saves his neighbors, including the “psychic” Rosie, who claims that while this may not be the body of Superman, it indeed is his spirit. While covering the fire, Lois is taken by surprise when everyone’s least favorite political agitator shows back up. Indeed, Jeb Friedman is back, and just barely even acknowledges Lois’s dead fiancé before trying to take her to the Bahamas. He continues to be the most insufferable character in an otherwise stellar cast.
As Johnson confronts the gang members that have twice tried to kill him and who have caught innocents in the crossfire of a turf war, he’s confronted himself with the horrors of his own past. The man named Dutch fires one of the superguns at the Man of Steel, blowing away one of his own allies in the process. This is where Johnson’s history comes to light as he has flashbacks. He’s the one that designed the Toastmasters that these gang members are using to slaughter people. His design is a tool of death, and he holds himself accountable for each and every life they take.
As he interrogates Dutch, the scene cuts to the arms dealer, the albino woman from the preview in Adventures of Superman #500. As Dutch says he got the guns from the White Rabbit, the woman ruminates on her own history with the man whose voice she recognizes as not Henry Johnson, but John Henry Irons. Before Dutch can spill any more, she kills him, leaving the Man of Steel to challenge her another day.