Steel Co-Creator Louise Simonson: Shaq Did A Fine Job

steel6During a recent CBR interview in support of her upcoming IDW Publishing/Cartoon Network miniseries Super Secret Crisis War, famed Superman and X-Factor writer Louise Simonson made an observation about a comic book movie that it's distinctly possible nobody has ever said out loud before:

She said that basketball star Shaquille O'Neal wasn't bad in Steel.

It's notable, of course, because Simonson co-created the character of Steel with Superman: The Man of Steel artist Jon Bogdanove as part of the "Reign of the Supermen!" storyline that spun out of Superman's death and return in the early '90s. The character starred in that title for a few months during the storyline, until Superman was re-established and the characters who had taken his place were scattered to other DC Comics titles. Steel got his own, monthly series (written by Simonson) from 1994-1998. A feature film very, very loosely based on the comics, and starring O'Neal, same out in 1997.

steel16Steel scores just a 12% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and it made only about 10% of its $16 million budget back in theaters. Demand for the movie is small enough that the only DVD release it's ever received was as part of the Warner Archive custom-print program. It's often discussed in the same breath as films like Jonah HexCatwoman and the pre-Marvel Studios versions of Captain America and The Fantastic Four and, of course, O'Neal takes a lot of the blame. A massive star across pop culture in 1997, the NBA All-Star landed the gig and the film -- about a former weapons engineer whose high-tech designs fall into the hands of street gangs, making his hometown unsafe -- was loaded down with jokes about missed free throws.

That's not O'Neal's fault, though, says Simonson.

"Honestly, Shaq took a lot of flak but I think he did a fine job," Simonson said, adding, "My problems were with the script and the costume. The costume was terrible on that one. Oh god it was awful! [Laughs] Today they could do a better job. I could do a better job with the character myself."

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  1. I agree with Louise, basically. Look, I'm sure even Shaq would admit he's no great actor-- and the lines he was given were part of an infamously lame script that was not only disrespectful to the comics character, but blithely absent of anything more than a passing awareness of who and what Steel was. But, if you can look past the insulting script and slap-dash, 70s TVish production, you can see a young athlete with heart, giving it all he had. 

    My understanding of the movie's genesis is that Shaq, who is well-known to be a fan of Superman (check out his tats), really dug "The Death of Superman" and identified immediately with Steel. I believe it was Shaq who was responsible for the creation of the movie, insisting on it as a follow-up to “Kazam”. Clearly, Shaq and John Henry Irons share many physical traits, so it was not unreasonable physical casting. Despite his lack of acting ability, Shaq had both earnestness and heart— traits he shares with our character. The fact that Shaq lacks John Henry Iron’s eloquence is something that could, perhaps, have been compensated for by a screenwriter who gave a rat’s ass. 

    In the hands of a responsible, interested producer and writer, “STEEL”  could have been a fun, passably good superhero movie— certainly good enough to make a decent profit. Had the writer and director cared enough to recognize and understand the character and Shaq’s obvious strong feelings, they might have been able to work around Shaq’s acting deficiencies and maximize his strengths— and Steel’s. They could have made a profitable, lasting, low-budget superhero kid’s movie with heart. 

    Sadly, the only people who seemed to want that was Shaq himself, and Steel’s two creator’s. I’m sure both Louise and I could have easily helped salvage that movie, and gladly would have. But of course, we were never even consulted.

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