Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Steel Sterling #4: A License To KILL!

When I saw the house ad for Steel Sterling #4 (January 1984) in a copy of Thunder Bunny I knew I had to get it just for the image shown of the car and passenger. It's by Robert Kanigher so it must be cool and crazy as heck. I was wrong and I am sorry I did. It isn't cool-crazy, it's just crazy. Okay, it's also kind of cool.
Because the morning headlines were too tame!

Published under the Archie Comics imprint of Red Circle Comics, Steel Sterling was a short-lived attempt by that company to enter the "serious" comic book market. The Mighty Crusaders, The Fly, Mr. Justice were all accomplished (or aided and abetted) mainly by veterans of the comic book industry and even some relative new-comers at the time like Trevor Von Eeden. Red Circle didn't last long. Of what I have read of those series it was probably because they aped the worst of late 70s Marvel one-off morality tales.

Written by the insane master Robert Kanigher the Sterling series was part Haney Brave and the Bold, part 70s Marvel Team-Up and part Utter Confusion. While every issue of Steel Sterling was inconsistent, Steel Sterling #4 is even more so as an overwrought PSA against drunken driving that is bizarre even by Kanigher standards. While drunken driving is no laughing matter Kanigher sure tries to make it so. A person can't seem to step outside their front door without an out of control vehicle taking them out. Pedestrians are violently smeared across the landscape like extras in the film Deathrace 2000.

The story opens with Steel Sterling regaling the "Steelers" (his kid side-kicks including an unfortunate stereotype or two) about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for no apparent reason at all. He's just that kind of cheery fella. When a comic book story opens like that you know you are deep into Kanigher-land. Steel then stops a car driven by an intoxicated teen from killing a group of bystanders, makes time with a young mother, vehemently defends feminism, uncovers a plot to kill a CIA agent with a booby-trapped skateboard, gets schooled by a Black Canary stand-in who is going to work with him in a movie and up-staged by a dog. All this in just a few pages.
"Where's her head?" "IN THIS BAG!"
This is why Bob Kanigher is awesome and should have written the lyrics to rock operas.

The big twist in the story comes when one of the Steelers parties too hard one day and while boozed-up and behind the wheel, kills the driver of another car. In the real world this would mean a prison sentence but justice works a bit differently in Kanigher-land. Instead of jail the drunk driver is sentenced to be in the custody of the parents of the young man whose death he caused and live his life "until he is forgiven." Now that's some creative jurisprudence right there. Basically, Kanigher was sentencing the boy to Hell by having him take the place of the young man killed in the drunken driving incident. A sentence like that is pretty much open-ended as forgiveness from the parents could be an eternity.

It isn't that the issue is awful and it probably saw an up tick in sales as copies were sent out to schools and churches and AA meetings. A lot of stuff happens and there is plenty of action for the kiddies but it seems like there are 4 or 5 particularly dull stories rolled up into one. But it's Robert Kanigher so you just strap in and go through the Dark Ride and come out the other side a bit more confused than when you went in.

If you must, you can read the whole thing here at this link: Steel Sterling #4.

Best line from the issue: "Give me the feminine angle! And MILK IT!"



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