Steel Sterling is the name adopted by John Sterling after he covers himself with a chemical concoction and dives into a vat of molten steel. It does not change his appearance in any way, but gives him the “resistance, magnetism and strength of steel.” He did this to avenge his father’s murder by gangsters, though he never actually gets around to doing that.
His powers endow him with great speed, though exactly how is never explained. They also allow him to fly. He does this by rubbing his hair, which causes a magnetic attraction to phone wires. And that lets him fly. Yup. His most entertaining power is to send and receive short wave messages by rubbing his tongue on his teeth. The panels depicting this usually show him with his tongue sticking out and bolts of electricity shooting out of his mouth.
I have made the visuals sound awful, which is unfair. Irv Novick provides the art on the series, and though it is not that impressive at the start, over its run it becomes very bold and dynamic. It never looks like Novick’s later work, but it is certainly above par.
Steel spends his first five stories fighting the Black Knight, who always appears to die at the end. Guess the fifth death was real. By this point, he had gained a supporting cast: Dora Cummings, the daughter of a scientist and his romantic interest, Officer Clancy, an overweight cop, and Looney (Alec Ben Lunar) who is basically comic relief.
Zip Comics 9 – 13 are the best issues of the run. They deal with two criminals from a circus, Twisto, a rubber man, and Inferno, a fire eater who can breathe fire. Twisto is the dominant, and more malevolent of the two, while Inferno winds up changing sides, and even willingly goes to prison to pay his debt to society in issue 12, after helping Steel take down the Rattler, a murderous mob boss. Steel winds up in prison himself in issue 13, to uncover who is behind a series of escapes, and Inferno helps him find the corrupt guards allowing it to happen.
Amid this, Steel sheds his “secret identity.” He has been pretending that Steel Sterling is the brother (presumably identical twin) of John Sterling, and Dora never figures out this is a lie. As part of his plans against Twisto, he allows him to think he has succeeded in killing John. He reveals the truth to Dora, but leaves his John identity dead.
Steel and pals head to Hawaii for a story that would have been released shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, in issue 22. Of course it does not reflect these events, but does lead Steel to China in the next issue, facing off against the Japanese. After a trip to Alaska in issue 24, in which he does an impressive job repairing a cable car line by himself, and a journey to ancient Greece caused by touching a victory cup in issue 25, Zip Comics 26 features a story about the bombing of Pearl Harbour, putting Steel right in the middle of the action.
The series then becomes very World War 2 oriented. Looney becomes a lieutenant in the army, and Dora gets relegated to the sidelines. She makes only one final appearance, in Zip 29, complaining about how Steel is always busy fighting the Axis instead of taking her out on dates. Boo-hoo.
Steel fights Baron Gestapo, Der Hyena, the Werewolf of France the Creeper, and a host of other Nazi villains, while travelling to Czechoslovakia, France, Lisbon, North Africa and of course Germany.
The series shifts back to homegrown crimes with issue 39, and the last few issues see Steel pitted against Amazons, elves, living shadows and zombies.
Steel Sterling returns at some point, probably the Mighty Crusaders series in the 60s.
Steel Sterling: Zip Comics 1 – 47 (Feb 40 – Summer 44)
Jackpot Comics: 1 – 9 (Spring 41 – Spring 43)