“Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” didn’t just introduce the world to the New 52 version of Aquaman. It also gave us the first appearance of Superman’s Hammer of Justice, Steel. If you got up to use the restroom or checked your cell phone at the wrong time, you might have missed what could become a defining moment in the new DC Animated Universe.
In what amounted to under a minute of screen time, John Henry Irons wields a large hammer on what appears to be a construction site. Wearing a yellow hardhat, he defends his co-workers from an army of Atlantian attackers. Just as he is about to be overcome by his assailants, Superman swoops down and saves him. We are witnesses to the defining moment when the seeds of a new super hero are planted – Steel.
According to the DC Comics Database, the most widely known Steel is a weapons engineer named John Henry Irons who became a super-hero to emulate Superman, fighting crime as a member of Team Superman. Designing an advanced exo-skeleton, he wields a number of technological gadgets including a Kinetic Hammer. His niece Natasha Irons has also taken up the identity. He has also been a member of the Justice League, S.T.A.R. Labs and the Suicide Squad. Steel was created by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove, first appearing during 1993’s the Reign of the Supermen storyline in Adventures of Superman #500.
The character was given an update along with every other hero for DC Comics’ New 52 initiative. John Henry Irons first appears in Grant Morrison's Action Comics as a young scientist working on the government's "Steel Soldier" program. He retaliates after seeing the mistreatment of Superman by Lex Luthor (who was under the command of General Sam Lane to torture him). Irons immediately quits. When John Corben goes on a rampage after donning the government's "Metal 0" suit, John Henry aids Superman in fighting him off by using his own prototype armor for the first time, uploading a virus into the Metal 0 suit that he designed specifically to shut it down in the event of the user going rogue.
Over the years, the hero has appeared in different animated forms on television. He was first seen in “Superman: The Animated Series” voiced by Michael Dorn (Worf from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”). Phil Lamarr (“Static Shock,”) did double-duties by voicing Steel and Green Lantern / John Stewart in “Justice League Unlimited.”
Steel came to life portrayed by NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal in an ill-fated big-screen adaptation in 1997. Even with all its good intentions of diversifying the super hero playing field, the movie was critically blasted for bad acting and bombed at the box office. His only other appearance in a feature was as a young comic book-reading boy in the animated “Justice League: The New Frontier.”
In “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis,” John Henry Irons is voiced by actor Khary Payton. He’s no stranger to the DC Animated Universe, having portrayed Cyborg for “Teen Titans” and Aqualad for “Young Justice.” With all that experience and more, he seems to be the perfect choice to play the character on a long-term basis if need be.
Does his appearance in “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” point to John Henry Irons becoming a member of the Super Friends? Not necessarily, but we shouldn’t count him out yet. Maybe it’s time for the rise of a new Man of Steel!
“Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and as a Digital Download.