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Moving Comic Moments #1

In DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke makes a valiant attempt at creating a single world where the Golden Age and Silver Age characters coexist and, in fact, transition from one to the other. This six-part miniseries is set in USA of the 1950's, in the background of McCarthyism and the Ku Klux Klan.

The book shows the world through the eyes of well-known DC characters - from the Challengers of the Unknown to all the members of the Justice League. Cooke also puts his own spins on many of the characters - usually for the better.

But the most moving tale is the retelling of the story of John Henry Irons, known in the mainstream universe as Steel.

The black John Henry Irons is a blacksmith who lives in Mississippi and, as was common during that period, watched his house burned down by the KKK, killing his wife and children.

John Henry Irons put his steel driving skills to use and became an avenging hero, using his metal hammer to rain down wrath on the racists who had wiped out his family and countless others.

As his story is told, the famous American folk song John Henry: The Steel Drivin' Man is recited in the background.

John Henry was a steel drivin' man,
He died with a hammah in his han',

Buy me a nine pound hammah
An' I'll drive this steel drill down,
An' I'll drive this steel drill down.
Cap'n said to John Henry,
You've got a willin' mind.
But you just well lay yoh hammah down,
You'll nevah beat this drill of mine,
You'll nevah beat this drill of mine.

But things do not end happily ever after for this Man of Steel. Finally, the KKK track him down and beat him to within an inch of his life. The battered hero runs until he finds a shed where a little girl with baby blue eyes is sitting. Desperate, he takes off his mask and begs her to help him.

They took John Henry to the White House,
And buried him in the san',
And every locomotive come roarin' by,
Says there lays that steel drivin' man,
Says there lays that steel drivin' man.

Desperation, innocence lost, despair and the sense of impending death - all on one page. Beautiful - and heart-rending.

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