Or – “How Citizen Steel Got His Groove Back.”


With apologies to boss-man Stephen, of course… The story of Nathan Heywood took a backseat in the first several issues of JSA, and was sidetracked entirely by “The Lightning Saga,” but now that things have returned to (relative) normalcy, the grandson of Commander Steel is entering the spotlight. After the tragic ends of his grand-pop and cousin, (both of whom were killed in acton in their red, white, and blue battle gear) the loss of his leg due to medical incompetence, and the massacre at his family reunion, Nathan has had more than enough tragedy in his life, and deserves a shot at the big time. Given the… how can I put this? …phallocentric issues regarding the Alex Ross cover, I wonder if the story inside might get ignored. I truly hope not,because it’s a well-done and touching issue, one of the best JSA’s yet.

JSA1.jpgPreviously, on Justice Society of America: Vandal Savage took it upon himself to assassinate the patriotic heroes in an attempt to undermine the superhumans of America. General Glory, Minute Man, Mr. America all paid the price, but when it came to the family of Hank Heywood (the WWII hero known as Commander Steel) they fell afoul of Hawkman. During the battle, a neo-Nazi schmendrik called Reichsmark attacked young Nathan, but found himself on the receiving end of some cosmic justice. After being struck the villain’s liquid metal blood, Nathan Heywood fell into a coma, and even Doctor Mid-Nite was shocked to see the results: his lost limb was growing back. Not only that, but his entire body has gone through some changes. This issue starts with Nathan awaking from his coma, still hallucinating Captain Nazi and the Fourth Reich attacking his helpless family. He rips a huge monitor machine out of the wall, hurling it like a toy, as Doctor Mid-Nite dodges shrapnel and tries to calm him down. “Why am I… Why am I standing?” a perplexed Nathan asks…


“…you weren’t the only survivor.” I really like the detail of the reflection in his newly metal hands, there. Doc takes him to a nearby childrens’ hospital, where a few of his young cousins (none older than eleven) have been kept since the massacre. Only the oldest, who Nate identifies as Nicole, has even been able to speak, and even she only requests food for the others. Nathan is overcome at the sight of his family, and turns to rush in and greet them, but with muscles of steel, he’s in a whole new world…


Nathan realizes, to his horror, that he can’t even hug the kids anymore, for fear of hurting them with his immense strength. “After everything they’ve been through, I can’t even get CLOSE to them!” Doc informs him that the JSA may have something to help… Meanwhile, at Opal City’s Sunshine Sanitarium, young Starman has returned from saving a bus full of children. When a doctor congratulates him, he tells him that it should be a good day for EVERYONE, since it’s Wednesday, and Wednesday is sloppy joe day. Gathering his food, Starman may or may not be surprised to find himself in the presence of an old friend…


There’s obvious relief in Superman’s face that Starman recognizes him, since they haven’t seen each other since they were both kids a thousand years from now. I like the enthusiasm that Starman has for his new surroundings, even with his brain chemistry issues. As for Nathan and the JSA’s solution to his problems, it’s a novel one, requiring the combined efforts of Hawkman, Mr. Terrific, and Doctor Mid-Nite, combining medicine, mechanics and metallurgy into a bit of lateral thinking…


Hawkman is ready with the fire extinguisher, trying to cool Nathan down enough to keep from cooking them all, and as he steps out of the cooling chemical cloud, Nathan is distraught to see that the shell he wears is a dead-ringer for his Grandfather’s uniform. “What.. did you do to me?” he asks, grimacing as if physically injured…


Power Girl’s gambit works where the more subtle words of Doc, Mr. T and the Hawk fail, and Nathan accompanies the JSA into the field.. Meanwhile, back at the sanitarium, Superman has gathered his lunch, and tries to get meaningful information out of the former Star Boy. The answers seem to be there, but Thom just can’t quite put them together as anything but subtle clues. “Why didn’t you go back with the other Legionnaires,” asks Superman. “I wanted to. But I can’t! I’m here to help.” Superman wants to know WHO, and Starman cryptically answers “Myself, and Earth, too!” Was that ‘earth, too,’ or ‘Earth 2?’ He speaks of a man who is to come (Kal-L?) and how it’s up to the JSA to show the way.


Did he just say XS? Apparently Thom’s Legion has a version of her as well, making last week’s Hero History oddly prophetic. I like that, actually. While Big Tom Welling (or maybe George Reeves?) tries to get the man in the starfield suit to make sense, Power Girl leads the Wildcats, Damage, Cyclone, Stargirl and Nathan into battle. Nate finds himself lagging behind. “I haven’t WALKED in over a year. The weight of this metal on me makes it impossible to run.” Power Girl remembers that he was a football player, and tells him to stand where he is and catch what they throw him. The second-to-last Kryptonian (or is it fourth to last now? I can’t remember…) leads in her mostly rookie team, and they start chucking Nazis out the window to Nate. He catches every single one, taking a moment to crush their little swastika chest-plates before chucking them into a neat pile for the police (as seen up top.) “How’d I do?” he asks Power Girl, and she replies that he was perfect. Suddenly, the press arrives, descending on the new hero.


Nate makes his way down the hall, and a doctor loudly protests. Doc Mid-Nite reminds him that the Justice Society will pay for any damages, and when he doctor again tries to keep Citizen Steel out, Mid-Nite shuts him down with his Achilles heel. “Please, doctor… You know what these kids have been through.” The doctor concedes his point, and Mid-Nite tells Nate to go in. “You’re not going to hurt them…” At the sound of his vice, the silent and sullen Heywood children light up, recognizing their hero cousin in Grandpa Hank’s old colors. Some of them even smile as they swarm over him for hugs, and Citizen Steel unconsciously returns to the near-fetal position in which we first saw him.


I honestly teared up a little at that, as Nate Heywood regained a little bit of his humanity. Dale Eaglesham’s art is picture perfect (and even the Alex Ross cover worked for me as the isolated and lost looking Nate stares at his new metal shell in confusion and horror. Geoff Johns has crafted a really well-done and touching story, as a new hero is born out of loss. I really hated the Fourth Reich in the first four issues, and that continues here, but at least their stupid stereotypical jackassery has borne some sort of storyline fruit. As a fan of the original Commander Steel and the All-Star Squadron, I like the return of his legacy (especially remembering that the “Commander” was an honest-to-Winston-Churchill battlefield commission bestowed by FDR himself) as I’m one of the nine guys who misses the Detroit-era Steel. This issue is an excellent example of how to get it right, and how to put the man back in superman, both with and without the capital ‘S’. It’s an amazing work, scoring a whopping 4.5 out of 5 stars…


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Brent F.
    July 14, 2007 at 12:57 pm — Reply

    I think you may have misinterpreted Starman’s rant about XS. He mentions a “Legion of Three Worlds” and meeting two other versions of himself. I think that’s suppose to indicate that the classic Legion, the first reboot, and the second reboot co-exist now, but on separate Earths.

  2. July 14, 2007 at 3:32 pm — Reply

    I’m really dying without my comic book shop.
    This is my favourite “must buy” and it actually hurts a bit not to be getting it on time.
    I also just had an operation on my knee, so I think I might actually identify with Citizen Steel at this time:)

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