clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Star Trek’s Michael Dorn says his DC Steel book harkens back to the real John Henry legend

Steelworks is Dorn’s first ever writing credit

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

John Henry Irons/Steel faces Natasha Irons on either side of a wide page, with a collage of Steel and the superfamily doing super stuff. Image: Michael Dorn, Sami Basri/DC Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Star Trek’s Michael Dorn voiced the first TV version of the superhero Steel in two episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, and I wouldn’t blame him for forgetting. The show was made a quarter of a century ago (aired in the wake of the 1997 release of the Shaquille O’Neal Steel movie) and Dorn was busy enough evolving his best-known role of Worf through the latter seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

But when DC Comics reached out to the actor, Dorn tells Polygon, he absolutely remembered the role. “It stands out because he is a Black character.”

This June, DC will publish Steelworks, a new series written by Dorn and drawn by Sami Basri centered on John Henry Irons, the engineer who built his own supersuit to protect Metropolis in the wake of Superman’s death. Like Iron Man, if he wasn’t an asshole. For Dorn, the series is all about John the superhero and John Henry the American legend.

Dorn told Polygon that aside from Steel’s rarity as a Black superhero role in the 1990s, he remembered the Superman voiceover gig because of his own vivid memories of the American folklore figure John Henry, specifically in George Pal’s rather haunting 1946 stop-motion retelling.

“John Henry was this guy who could drill railroad spikes faster than anybody, and he goes against the machine;” Dorn said, “he beats the machine but he dies in the process.” As a child, he remembers finding John Henry’s death disappointing and upsetting, and only later developed an appreciation for the legend’s enduring theme of the necessity and dangers of fighting more metaphorical machines.

“Ain’t no machine made can beat a man,” John Henry declares in Pal’s short, “once a man got a mind he can beat that machine.” For his John Henry Irons, Dorn says, the machine — the competitor John must best without losing himself in the process — is his own supersuit.

Steelworks opens with John Irons exactly where recent Superman comics have currently placed him: CEO of the Steelworks technology giant, unveiling his plan for the future of Metropolis. But John’s plans might not be what readers, citizens, or even the Superfamily might expect. Namely, that he wants to try doing it without the suit (naturally, that’s exactly when a vengeance-minded supercriminal sets their sight on Irons, his loved ones, and his company).

John Irons lowers the gleaming steal faceplate of his super suit from his face on the cover of Steelworks #1 (2023). Image: Mikel Janín/DC Comics

Dorn says that if there’s one thing he wants readers to know, it’s “for them to to get a sense that this is going to be different. It’s going to be in the wheelhouse — we’re not going to see him turning into a fashion designer or something. But we will have twists and turns in there that we probably haven’t seen before. I’ve delved into the comics and I’ve seen that there’s a certain feel that they have, that I’d like to just kind of tweak a little bit. Not so far out that [readers] go ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ But just the idea that people will look and go, ‘Oh, look at this! Yeah, it’s beautiful, but did you see what he said?’”

Dorn, who has long had creative aspirations beyond the role of actor, seems thoroughly delighted about the making of Steelworks, from working with Basri to bring the characters to the page to getting feedback and guidance from DC editors. But he’s also simply delighted to have his first official writing credit.

“I’ve written maybe four or five screenplays and people liked my writing and blah, blah, blah, blah, but nothing’s come to fruition. The big thing [about Steelworks] is, I’m a paid writer,” he said, laughing. Gone are his days of conversations that go: “Oh, I’m a writer.” “What have you done?” “Oh, nothing, but I write.”

“No,” Dorn said with a chuckle. As he puts it, his new answer will be: “‘Written by Michael Dorn.’ And we sent him money.”

Steelworks #1 will hit shelves on June 6.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon