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Sarge Steel (Charlton comics)

Sarge Steel

(Profile #1 - the Charlton era)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Charlton Comics is a minor publisher that existed from the 1940s to the 1980s. Super-heroes and related material were a small part of the output. A lot of Charlton’s output was formulaic, aping better stories or exploiting well-trod genres and conventions. But of course it is possible to find a lot of intriguing material if one digs.

When Charlton died, DC Comics bought the intellectual property, in no small part because DC Comics’s managing editor Dick Giordano had worked at Charlton as a young artist. It was shortly before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which allowed to “inject” many Charlton characters into the DC universe as if they had always been there. For a detailed example, see our guide to the Question.

Hard-nosed general-purpose tough guy Sarge Steel was one of the characters who gained new fame after joining the DC. But let’s first explore what he was *before* the Crisis on Infinite Earths, back when he was a sort of dime novel mixture of James Bond and Mike Hammer.

This profile is continued in our character profile for Sarge Steel in the DC Universe.


Background

  • Real Name: Captain Sergeant “Sarge” Steel (ret.) (that is, he’s a former Captain with the US Army whose first name is Sergeant)
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: None
  • Group Affiliation: Former trooper of the US Army, member of an undisclosed US intelligence agency
  • Base Of Operations: New York City
  • Height: 6’1” Weight: 196 lbs.
  • Eyes: Dark grey Hair: Black
  • Distinctive features: Solid steel fist replacing his left hand, scar starting under his left eye and ending on the bridge of his nose.


Powers and Abilities

Sarge Steel is a highly-trained and experienced Special Forces man.Furthermore, he was in intelligence work, and has experience as a private detective. He’s been described as a guerrilla ace. He is extensively trained in several martial arts, including fencing and hand-to-hand combat techniques to defend against armed opponents.

The captions describe him as hitting people with “judo chops”. We can interpret as Steel being trained in jujitsu (which is credible since he probably was stationed in Okinawa before he was sent to Việt Nam).

Sarge Steel is also trained in judo. The comics included featurettes of Sarge Steel demonstrating judo techniques as they existed in the US during the mid-1960s.

The man with a fist of steel

His left fist is made of solid steel, and can be used to block bullets (!). Sarge Steel has been known to position his fist in such a way as to have the bullet ricochet back at the firer or into another opponent (in DC Heroes RPG terms, Reflection/Deflection).

Sarge Steel recap panel

In game terms, his is best done against mediocre shooters and by spending some Hero Points . His APs in Reflection/Deflection are not that great, but on the other hand this likely will be a Blindside attack against the target unless they are fully aware that Sarge Steel can do that.

Sarge Steel’s signature fist can break solid metal (such as swords or even steel gates, if he hit the lock). In DC Heroes RPG terms his Unfettered Fist Schtick represent this odd ability to hit with what is indistinguishable from superhuman strength.

Other assets

Sarge Steel is a B&E and security specialist. He knows how to infiltrate well-secured perimeters (though he’s not world-class in that respect) and is very good at sentry removal (usually using non-lethal techniques). He has been trained by a locksmith, and can often opens doors using his steel fist as the only tool. He does that with a “smart rap” on the lock.

Steel is also a very perceptive man who swiftly and unhesitatingly takes correct actions after spotting threats. Furthermore, he has a fantastic instinct when it comes to danger. He also demonstrated exceptional resilience toward proven methods of brainwashing, to the point of having missions rely on him resisting such treatments.

As a Special Forces man, Steel is qualified with numerous land and sea vehicles. He’s also able to pilot small planes, though he usually requests a professional when he needs to fly a helicopter or a jet.

Oh boy, you’re such a ladykiller, super sexy mister

An important part of the early — and terribly formulaic — Sarge Steel stories was that there almost always was a beautiful and particularly curvaceous young woman with some sort of tie with the enemy. She who would always fall in love with Sarge Steel, and would always provide something Sarge Steel used to defeat the villain of the quarter.

This receded as stories became more complex and movie-like.


Continuity is the barrel of a loaded gun

Sarge Steel is originally a Charlton character. Those have a slightly bizarre continuity. Here’s a handy recap to keep your anatidæs a row:

  • Sarge Steel appears as one of the action heroes of comic publisher Charlton in the 1960s. He had eight issues of his own mag, then appeared regularly in back up features (primarily in Judomaster). These are the appearances that are covered in this entry, which only discusses the Charlton material.
  • In the early 1980s, DC comics gets the rights of the Charlton material. Back then, the DCU is a multiverse comprising the original versions of Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, etc.. The Charlton material (the Question, Peacemaker, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Judomaster, etc.) is then declared to be Earth-4 in this multiverse.

Sarge Steel, the toughest man in the world !

  • In 1985 a Crisis among these Infinite Earths collapses most of these worlds into a single world of super-heroes, New Earth. On Earth-4, the Charlton characters take part in the events of this Crisis, and they then continue to exist on New Earth.
    However, their entire history and timeline is retconned to fit into their new milieu. These persons have been turned into updated version of themselves who have always lived on DC’s New Earth and are contemporaries of DC’s own heroes.
  • Sarge Steel reappears shortly after the Crisis (in early 1987) as an intelligence man ; his career on New Earth is covered in our second Sarge Steel writeup.

History

The records about Sarge Steel start in the early 1960s. He was an officer with the Special Forces — presumably meaning the 5th Special Forces Group  — operating in Southern Việt Nam.

How long he spent there is unclear. But he seemed very familiar with the ARVN  and the realities of the country. It is likely that Steel was one of the “advisors” who arrived in-country from 1957 onward. Steel was assigned to Army Intelligence operations, and worked in close contact with Central Intelligence Agency operatives in Saigon.

Steel mostly worked to counter Việt Cộng intelligence and terror operations in Saigon (later Hồ Chí Minh City), where he repeatedly ran into the work of Chinese agent Ivan Chung (no, really). In a daring operation, Steel managed to capture Chung, but this made him a target for Chung’s entire network.

Maimed

The American survived a first assassination attempt. But while he was on furlough enemy agents tossed a grenade at him through a window. Steel grabbed the grenade to get it out of the room, but it was covered in a sticky substance. The explosion didn’t kill him, but blew up his left hand.

This ended his Army career. Yet, Army doctors replaced his missing hand with a solid steel fist before he was formally discharged.

Sarge Steel punches a bald enforcer

After he came back stateside, Steel became a private detective. By 1964, he was already well-established, with an office, a secretary and the like. His business seemed quite successful. Steel kept extensive contacts within intelligence agencies and the military, who considered him a war hero and a close ally.

He also cultivated a network of rich clients for whom he did security work. Thus, during the 1964 World Fair  he was one of the security consultants.

Gumshoe

During his first documented case, Steel encountered his old foe Ivan Chung (no, really). Chung was now running some sort of mob in New York City. A dame named Lin Ying came to see him about her missing father (who had been kidnapped by Chung’s men). The case ended with Chung being arrested again, and Steel getting the girl.

Steel would clash several more times with Chung, with the villain (“half-Chinese Tong, half-Russian saboteur !” the covers helpfully explain) acting as a criminal or as a Communist agent.

During the second case, Sarge Steel was contacted by a former Captain of the Third Reich’s Navy and an Italian beauty who had hijacked a fully armed Polaris nuclear sub. Using Steel as a go-between, they ransomed New York City under threat of nuclear obliteration. They then had Steel accompany them to Monaco to run a similar extortion schemes against selected millionaires there.

However, the Italian eventually turned against the Nazi. In the nick of time Steel managed to cripple some key systems within the submarine with his steel fist – and evacuate to the surface using the launch tubes (!). The damaged Polaris is thought to have been stopped or destroyed by the US Navy.

Sarge Steel blocks a bullet with his hand

Sarge Steel also clashed with minor quasi-super-villains, such as the Smiling Skull or Lynx. Furthermore, he was contacted by the President to bodyguard an important (and very rich) sheikh visiting the USA. Steel was successful in this mission (with a little help from the US Air Force) and the White House made him an offer to work for the government again as a special agent.

Steel accepted the offer. Yet officially he was still a private detective, to maintain deniability and cover.

Secret agent man

Steel soon became one of the best agents in the service. He worked intelligence and counter-intelligence during the second half of the Cold War. He stopped or destroyed criminal/terrorist organisations, James Bond-style villains, KGB plots and the like – essentially, he was the equivalent of a 00 agent.

Occasionally, he took breaks from the service to work as a PI, but that was a minority of his cases.

During this era Steel fought such menaces as quasi-supervillain Mister Ize, or KGB master spy Irena Dubaya. He also once operated alongside an unusual ally, the fearless French paradog.

The adventures of Sarge Steel were only chronicled from 1964 to 1967. What happened next is unknown. 20 years later, the Crisis would reboot reality – resulting in a new version of Sarge Steel for a brave new world.


Description

Sarge Steel seems to be at this point in his early 30s. He dresses well ; though he follows conservative manners of dress (almost always wearing a suit, a tie and a hat – or a tux in social events) his wardrobe is chromatically varied and he often goes for rich colours and contrasts.

Some panels depict the steel fist moving like an actual hand, but these are rare and likely were artistic oversights.

The art in this writeup is by Dick Giordano , back then a young artist.


Personality

Sarge Steel is a virile, manly he-man of masculinity ! He’s got a gun, and a fist of steel – literally ! He emits macho vibrations that make women woozy at the knees, and they all go nuts about Sarge Steel. But of course they can’t marry him ’cause Steel wants to remain free ’cause he’s a man of action !

He’s got a prestigious, bright red, specially-built muscle car ! He’s a Special Forces hard man ! He’s got more self-confidence than all the USMC men put together ! Woo woo !

So, haracterisation wasn’t a priority of the story. Steel was the standard manly, super-competent protagonist.

Early Steel is a typical noir detective (with dames, whiskey, an interest in rich clients, protagonist’s voice world-weary narration, an office with a pretty secretary, etc.). On top of that there various male power fantasies elements welded on and some obvious James Bond influences (the Sean Connery version – Roger Moore was in the 1970s).

Hard men making hard choices

He’s hot-blooded and aggressive, and will often hit enemy henchmen just to let off steam.

He’s also an avowed sucker for a beautiful woman (though he will usually realise he’s being manipulated before it’s too late), which can be a problem since most women he encounters mysteriously happen to be amazingly gorgeous. Most nights, the handsome Steel is out clubbing and dating.

Sarge Steel doesn’t kill casually, though. This is a Comic Code Authority  book.

The stories being a typical product of their time, Steel is a racist and a male chauvinist. Middle-Eastern men are, quote, “camel jockeys”, Asia is full of beautiful and devious-yet-submissive dragon ladies, most foreign villains are Communists and they all work together, etc.. Likewise women are largely treated like children and are irrational, emotional and easily seduced then abandoned.

However, this is more tied to common mid-1960s American perceptions of how a “real man” should behave than to the character itself. Thus, it made sense for Sarge Steel to shed these attitudes as more enlightened attitudes gradually prevailed. There’s little original characterisation for Sarge Steel to retain, anyway, since he’s quite vigorously an archetype.


Quotes

(Narration by Steel as his assistant wakes him up) “My secretary, a real doll who I’d hired before I even found out she could type, ruined a gorgeous dream – but Bessie was a dream in her own right !”

(Narration by Steel) “I forgot about caution and used the steel fist the medics had given me ! The door was thick, solid oak — by my left fist is thick, solid steel !”

“Leave your phone number with my secretary, beautiful… I’m in a hurry !”

“I’ve got the green light from Washington to take any steps I think are necessary to protect King Abhim while he’s in this country !”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Sarge Steel (in his youth)

Dex: 05 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Thrill
Int: 07 Wil: 08 Min: 07 Occupation: Private dick, then special agent
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 06 Resources {or Wealth}: 004
Init: 020 HP: 035

Skills:
Detective (Counterfeit recognition, Legwork, Police procedure): 06, Martial artist (incl. Techniques): 06, Medicine (First aid): 03, Military science: 05, Vehicles (Land, Sea): 06, Vehicles (Air): 03, Thief (Locks and safes, security systems, stealth): 06, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 06

Bonuses and Limitations:
Sarge Steel’s Military Science (Danger recognition) can be used even in the most un-battlefield-like circumstances (+2)

Advantages:
Attractive, Buddy (Bessie Forbes, his secretary), Credentials (US intelligence community, Medium ; US armed forces, Medium), Familiarity (Military equipment and protocols, Parachuting, SCUBA diving), Iron Nerves, Rich Friend (US gov’t), Schtick (Precise Blocker (Steel fist))

Connections:
New York City high society (Low), US Intelligence community (Low, from Credentials), US armed forces (Low, from Credentials)

Drawbacks:
MPR (Sarge Steel’s left hand is a solid, inert steel fist)

Equipment:

  • STEEL FIST [BODY (Hardened Defences) 09, EV 03 (05 w/STR, 07 w/Martial Artist), Reflection/Deflection: 05, Schtick (Unfettered fist), Bonus: Reflection/Deflection can Reflect attacks at other targets than the attacker, Limitation: Reflection/Deflection has no AV (use DEX instead), Reflection/Deflection can only be used against bullets and certain exotic energy attacks (-1)]. Some panels strongly imply that there’s some sort of electrical isolator between the fist and Steel’s arm.
  • A charge of gas was built by the CIA into Steel’s steel fist [BODY 02, Knockout Gas (No Range): 05, Ammo: 02], as well as a Single-shot Gun [BODY 02, Projectile weapon: 04, Range: 02, Ammo: 01, Limitation: Projectile weapon has No Range, use the listed Ranged instead]. The first spurts a small cloud of KO gas in the opponent’s face. The second fires a .38 Special round. Both Gadgets are built into the STEEL FIST and protected by its Hardened Defenses. These gadgets were built in 1966, some months after Steel becomes a special agent.
  • Rechambered .45 Luger P08 pistol [BODY 04, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 08, R#02]. Usually carried in a high-quality concealed shoulder holster. Sarge Steel pretty much always packs heat, even when he’s at a party. This is a special model — only two are known to exist — using a silver alloy coating. Presumably it was originally in 9mm Parabellum and was later converted to .45 ACP.
  • SPECIALLY BUILT XK-150 JAGUAR [STR 05 BODY (Hardened defences) 08, Running: 07, Skin armour: 02, R#02]. Since it’s specially-built I would assume it can got to about 275 km/h or so (about 170 mph). The XK-150 was one of the fastest production cars of the early 1960s. This automobile is, of course, bright red.
    This Jaguar is blown up during an adventure but soon replaced by another, with a black body. While the first one wasn’t armoured (BODY 06) the second one was heavily reinforced, as per the stats here. Steel keeps a Colt Trooper .357 magnum revolver with a 6” barrel [BODY 04, Projectile weapon: 05, Ammo: 06, R#02] clipped under the dashboard, which can be used to cripple engine blocks.

Gear of (Cold) War

Sarge Steel also uses mission-specific gear — usually between 1 and 3 pieces of equipment per mission — that seems largely inspired by James Bond movies. This has been kept separate from his normal equipment, since these pieces of gear are usually observed but once.

  • SCUBA diving equipment, professional mountain climbing equipment, and other military surplus gear
  • Jump jets [BODY 02, Jumping; 03, Ammo: 02, R#04]. This looks like a small jetpack, and silently launches the user in the air, usually to jump over a wall. This is a leftover prototype for a gadget developed for the Special Forces.
  • EXPERIMENTAL CONCEALED VEST [BODY 06, Blunting: 07, Limitation: Blunting only vs. bullets]. This new-fangled flexible nylon body armour can be hidden under a T-shirt and will stop rifle-caliber bullets. However the experience is very painful and several 7.62R impacts will incapacitate even Sarge Steel. This vest is very hot and uncomfortable to wear.
  • Sleeping gas pellet [BODY 01, Knockout gas: 05, Grenade drawback]
  • Wailing wallet [BODY 01, Chemical attack: 06, Ammo: 01]. This trick wallet can release a dense, stable cloud of tear gas. It can be used to either incapacitate an opponent a close range, or thrown much like a CS grenade. Agents who might be issued this can be quickly mithridratised  against the gas.
  • Plastique shoe [BODY 03, Bomb: 10, Grenade drawback]. An ordinary shoe laced with high explosives. The wired laces are connected to the moveable heel, which is then slid back – how far it is pulled determines the delay before the charge explodes. It has the power of a large satchel charge.
  • During a mission in Germany, Sarge Steel was issued an extensively tricked-out MERCEDES-BENZ 330SL, presumably issued by the BfV [STR 06 BODY (Hardened Defences) 10, Running: 06, Projectile weapon: 10, Notes: Projectile weapon has Ammo: 05 and Area of Effect (0 APs).
    It consists of a mortar launcher with one shell in the front grid (allegedly a 208mm shell (!), but more likely a 81mm M374 HE shell) and four free-flight rocket tubes in the trunk. These weapons can only fire, respectively, straight ahead and straight behind the car.] This powerful, heavily armoured car can take a period 37mm shell without major damage and sports several concealed heavy weapons. It is possible that it had further gadgets built in.
  • Knockout cigarette [BODY 00, Knockout gas: 04, Ammo: 01]. This trick cigarette is closer to a miniature blowgun projecting a small cloud of knockout gas. It has practically no range.
  • Lighter torch [BODY 01, Ammo: 01]. This lighter is tricked out to function much like an acetylene torch, and can cut through high-carbon steel bars quite quickly. The Ammo is sufficient to get rid of a half-dozen bars of robust steel.
  • RFD case [BODY 02, Detect (Radio emissions): 03, R#02]. This Gadget is kept at Steel’s office, disguised as a cigarette case. It is chiefly useful to detect active bugs, for instance for Steel to scan for any bug on his person.
  • Miniature artillery shell [BODY 01, EV 08, Ammo: 01, Limitation: Ammunition load for the Luger]. A highly miniaturised HEAT shell that can be fired from a .45 ACP firearm, and is meant to destroy engine blocks at a dozen yards.

Private investigation

Before he was a special agent, Steel spent some years as a private detective. Even back then, though, he had a semi-official status with the US military and the US intelligence community, giving him Low Credentials. His Wealth was a 005, but he had no Rich Friend.

While he takes other breaks from the services later on, these are too short to affect his Connections or Wealth.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Charlton comics

Helper(s): Darci

Writeup completed on the 11th of February, 2011.

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