Created by Pat Mussili, Joe Gill and Dick Giardino
"A cool knowing man who savors danger... who will not make one concession to fear... and whose fees may be as little as a smile from a pretty girl!"
-- cover blurb from the first-ever issue of Sarge Steel--Private Detective.
6'1", 198 pounds, blue eyes, black hair and a left hand made of solid steel clenched into a permanent fist, SARGE STEEL isn't your run-of-the-mill private eye.
Then again, considering some of the characters flying around in the comic universe, Sarge is pretty down to earth. And that's where you'll find him, in a series of comic books from back in the sixties by Charlton and various cameos ever since in Superman, The New Titans and other DC publications.
Steel enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1960, and soon joined the Special Forces. Although the nickname "Sarge" stuck, he actually rose to the rank of Captain.
That's one version -- but of course in the shape-shifting world of comics there's rarely ever one version. Another is that he was never a sergeant in the army at all. His nickname is Sarge because his real name is "Sargent." His military career was always spent as a commissioned officer. The confusion is understandable, given the general pick-and-choose sloppiness of comic book continuity, and the fact that Sarge was a Charlton character who later moved to over DC.
Somewhere along the Charlton line, Sarge received training in martial arts (he's a black belt in several of them, and several of the issues included a three-page back up feature entitled "Sport of Judo," wherein Sarge demonstrated assorted judo moves), gymnastics and boxing. He was quick with his wit, and not too slow with his fists or his trigger finger. He specialized in busting up operations involving war profiteers, which led to several assassination attempts. It was one of those that resulted in his losing his left hand. He was sent Stateside where he received a steel fist and a pat on the back from Uncle Sam.
Not content to settle down, Steel decides to become a private eye, opening a small detective agency in New York City. He hired Bess Forbes as his Gal Friday and sets out to do battle. However, his rep in the Special Forces seems to attract some pretty bizarre cases, involving spies, master criminals and super villians (hey! we're in the comics, remember?) from all over the world. With all his training and that lethal left hook, Steel is nobody to mess around with. Perhaps because of his dealings with various "super" types, he doesn't have much use for any of them. Or maybe he just doesn't like men in pantyhose...
Always a bit of a hardass, Steel has few friends, save for Bess, who's remained remarkably true to him through the years.
Most of Steel's cases seemed to involve various international conspiracies, and eventually, Steel became an official government agent, and the book was retitled Sarge Steel--Special Agent, starting with issue #6, and eventually just Secret Agent, perhaps hoping, as Jim Doherty theorized (see below) that "a generic title... might generate higher circulation figures than a title identified with a particular character." It didn't help -- it only lasted a few more issues.
But it's hard to keep a guy like Steel down. He followed his co-creator, comic legend Dick Giardino, over to DC where -- no longer a gumshoe -- he still shows up now and then, although his title now is U.S. Director of Meta-Human Activities, a sort of regulatory body for superheroes run by the CIA. He eventually becomes the liason between the U.S. government and assortred super-types, including Wonder Woman and the New Titans, but none of that has much to do with being a P.I.
-- Jim Doherty
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