STEEL STERLINGMedium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ/Archie Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Abner Sundell (writer) and Charles Biro (artist)
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Comics' original "Man of Steel" appeared almost two years after Superman. In MLJ's Zip Comics #1 (February, 1940),
John Sterling tried a daring experiment. Protected only by a coating of a chemical he'd formulated himself, he plunged naked into a cauldron of molten steel. As is often the case when comic book characters do things of that nature, he emerged super-powered instead of dead. With the strength and durability of the metal itself, he re-named himself "Steel" Sterling (aka "The Man of Steel"), put on a colorful costume, and started saving people from deadly menaces.
He continued to do so, not just in Zip Comics, but also as a cover feature of Jackpot Comics, which from 1941-43 contained several of MLJ's most popular characters. In late 1941, he began sharing the Zip Comics cover with his fellow superheroes, such as Black Jack and The Web. In 1943, a more comical superhero named Red Rube actually started up-staging him, and in '44, a couple of issues went by where Steel didn't appear on the cover at all. Zip Comics ended with its Summer, 1944 issue, and the Steel Sterling series ended with it. The publisher soon re-named itself after its most prominent character, Archie, and didn't do superheroes again for more than a decade.
Steel hadn't been gone long before DC Comics swiped his nickname, "The Man of Steel" (Superman's original nickname had been "The Man of Tomorrow"). For the record, the original user of that sobriquet was Steel Sterling.
In 1965, Archie Comics revived almost all the old MLJ superheroes, at least for a walk-on in its Mighty Crusaders comic book. Most appeared only in crowd scenes, but Steel had several adventures of his own, and was even a member (with Mr. Justice and The Jaguar) of an extremely short-lived group called The Terrific Three, before the line folded, in 1967. Archie revived the superheroes again from 1983-85. This time, Steel had his own comic. It lasted all of four issues.
Today, Steel Sterling is just like The Comet, The Black Hood, and all the rest of the superheroes owned by Archie Comics — a mostly but not quite entirely neglected property. He's seen in the "Mighty Crusaders" section of the Archie Comics Web site, and very occasionally does a walk-on in comic books, but is mostly forgotten.