Wole Parks as John Henry Irons/Steel on Superman & Lois
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Credit: The CW

Superman & Lois just introduced a new man of Steel, the Arrowverse's latest comic book hero

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May 27, 2021, 8:45 PM EDT

Looks like there's a new man of Steel in town.

The latest episode of Superman & Lois, saw the show not only reveal that one of its regular characters, Wolé Parks' Captain Luthor, is not a Luthor at all (phew), but also that he's actually John Henry Irons, aka Steel, the latest big character to fly out of the DC comics and emerge in The CW's Arrowverse

Created by Louise Simonson and artist Jon Bogdanove, the character first appeared in 1993's The Adventures of Superman #500, as part of DC's famed "The Death of Superman" story. When Superman sacrifices his life to Doomsday, genius weapons engineer John Henry is inspired to build a suit of super armor, transforming him into Steel. However, the television version of the character has a whole other agenda: attempting to kill Superman, as shown in the CW show's latest episode, "Man of Steel."

Turns out John Henry's from a parallel Earth where Superman not only went rogue and created an army of superpeople to help take over the world, but also one where he killed Lois Lane, John Henry's wife and the mother of their daughter Nathalie. Filled with rage and grief, he builds a battlesuit with Nat's help (though there is a slight mix up with the AI, which was originally meant for Lex Luthor). Only when he heads out to kill Kal-El, he somehow ends up on Earth-Prime instead.

Credit: The CW

Now here, he tries to kill Superman "preemptively." And he almost succeeds — if not for Jordan and Jonathan, who save their father's life and help send John Henry/Steel behind bars at the DoD. 

But according to showrunner Todd Helbing they didn't always know that "Captain Luthor" would turn out to be John Henry, or that he wouldn't even be a Luthor. 

"We knew from day one that we just didn't want to do a classic villain. We wanted to do something cool with Luthor," Helbing told Entertainment Weekly. "And then it was pretty early on where it was pitched by our writers' assistant, Adam Mallinger, that we should make him Steel... It was just one of those pitches where you're like, 'Oh my God, this just takes it to a different level! And then we can do Nat, and we can just expand this family'... The story got so much richer and deeper."

Parks says when he'd first auditioned for the character, he'd thought he was trying out for Lex Luthor, only to have Helbing later tell him that he would be playing Steel instead.

"I actually got kind of emotional about it, because I remember when that comic came out," says Parks. "I was about 10 or 11. And I remember seeing that as a kid. And you know how it is: Back then, there wasn't a lot of diverse representation. So for this little Black kid to see this Black guy who was a superhero in his own right, that was amazing. I felt overwhelmed and appreciative."

Steel (2011) #1 (Cover by Alex Garner, Courtesy of DC Comics/Comixology)

 

It also impacted how Parks approached the character in terms of his performance. 

"My perspective on him changed," he says. "He got a lot darker. I remember Todd [said], 'He's on a mission. He's on a mission"... But I understand that, because for him, he's lost everything. He left his daughter. He lost his wife, his friends. The idea of having to fight a bunch of Supermen is crazy, if you really think about it. So for him, the only thing he has driving him is his hatred for Superman. And in a way, if he loses that, what is his identity? That's another journey he has to continue going on as the season progresses."

Helbing says that viewers will definitely see Tayler Buck's Nat — who becomes a superhero in her own right in the comics — again. "I think you'll see her. There's some cool stuff coming up. I'll just say what we always go back to is family. So, how does Natalie influence John Henry in the past, and is she able to influence him in the future?"

Superman & Lois airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.