Saturday, May 31, 2008

Baron Death

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I can't write a comprehensive history of Steel, The Indestructible Man's first villain, as I only own his first appearance. Still, good luck funding reference anywhere to Baron Death, absent from the web when not confused with Commander's Steel's other major foe, Baron Blitzkrieg. As I understand it, Steel supplied the acid the concentration camp prisoners of the sadistic Nazi commandant Reiter eventually used to blind and scar the future Blitzkrieg. That Baron in turn brainwashed Steel into an assassination attempt against FDR, and one wonders if perhaps there were after-effects, given Heywood's troubled later life. Regardless, that was another baron.

Baron Tödlich and his henchman Bruno attended the German medical conference in August of 1939 where Doctor Gilbert Giles and his student assistant Henry Heywood mounted a disasterous presentation. Heywood had developed a biological "retardent" that allowed damaged limbs and organs to be replaced surgically without rejection. No, the rejection instead came from the German scientific community. "How may you Americans accomplish what the Reich's finest surgeons cannot?" The men were declared frauds and were demanded to leave the country. Tödlich however was not so blinded by nationalism. "I believe Doctor Gilbert Giles... He may prove useful to us, someday-- when we make our-- visit-- to America!" Heywood noticed Tödlich as well, but didn't care for the sight.

A few months later, off the shore of Long Island, a black U-Boat fired a torpedo-shaped missile at the shoreline. A hulking figure rode atop it, then drug the device with him onto the beach, where he met with three Fifth Columnists. "We were told to expect a weapons drop from off-shore... but nothing was said about a new saboteur... Particularly one dressed as flamboyantly as you!"

"Ignorance excuses your insubordination this time, schwein. No warning was given of my arrival because my mission is an ultra-top secret... known only to Hitler and Göring themselves! As for my costume, it will prove necessary! And as for my name-- IT IS BARON DEATH! You will find the name most appropriate once you have used-- these! Experimental weapons to be tested here in America for their effectiveness against the U.S. military machine! Each machine gun may fire up to two hundred rounds a minute-- four times as fast as the fastest American gun! If these weapons work, Germany will use them to smash America-- and then the world! Heil Hitler!"

That same night, Hank Heywood uncovered saboteurs while in boot camp, and was caught in a near fatal explosion. Months later, he had transformed into the cyborg super-hero Steel, and his first tussel was with some of Baron Death's men. "We have a mission, to steal American weapons for comparison with our exprimental ones..." These men carried only conventional machine guns, whose bullets bounced right off Commander Steel. Essentially defenseless, Steel made short work of the trio, and left them for the MPs. Baron Death would have to be dealt with at a later date.


Luke said...

Baron Death was not overly interesting in his first or second appearance. I suspect that Conway was setting him up to be the Big Bad Ratzi Bastard who would torment Steel for some time from behind the scenes before the two had their inevitable blowoff. But as it is, he pops up in the first issue, and then has a hand in the second, and then really doesn't do much.

Later Steel baddies have solid potential as foes but not as archnemesiseses. Mineral Master has a ton of power, and the idea of a pacifist as a bad guy is always fun. Sledgehammer would have made for a good recurring domestic threat, as a break from the wartime villains; and it's par for the course to fight gangsters in the late 30s, right? Gadgeteer didn't do anything for me, unfortunately; I mean, Steel is not like Superman who will play along with Toyman's game, he'll just punch the SOB and end it. Baron Death, at least, had some legitimacy about him as a guy whom you could buy pulling the strings and arranging acts of sabotage. Unfortunately for the good (bad) Baron, not even Roy Thomas remembered him fondly enough to give him a second at-bat.

Frank Lee Delano said...

"...the idea of a pacifist as a bad guy is always fun."

Yeah, I always dug Flag-Smasher in his initial appearances, when he was more of a misguided peacenick attacking Captain America as a symbol of nationalism. That sort of thing is pretty impossible to sustain though, since it nullifies any direct threat, forcing writers to actually think (perish the thought) of innovative applications. Villainy in the real world is typically indirect in this manner, but that makes it hard to punch, so what use is a super-hero?

I spotlighted Baron Death because a) I had the issue and b) he's the only Steel villain I knew of. He also had that tenuous tie to the origin, though one wonders if he wasn't behind the saboteurs at the actual explosion as well. The design was fairly laughable though, so it may be for the best that he faded to oblivion instead.