Who is Agent Liberty? This flashback-fueled episode details how college professor Ben Lockwood came to hate aliens and started a movement against them.
Though not a direct influence, the effect of this episode is not unlike the various villain spotlight issues written by Geoff Johns during his run on The Flash that explored the backstories of various villains, inspiring sympathy for them even as we seem them doing some truly indefensible things.
If the DEO has an alarm capable of detecting Kryptonite anywhere on Earth, why wasn't it triggered before Mercy Graves seeded the atmosphere? (Presumably the Kryptonite was being contained somehow before it was utilized?)
When the DEO finally detects Kara as she's falling, why don't they call J'onn on his phone instead of just trusting on him being able to find her before she hits the ground?
How is J'onn talking to Alex later when he catches Kara and his hands are full if he does have access to his phone?
The idea of Nth Metal replacing steel is somewhat humorous, given that Nth Metal is supposed to be one of the rarest metals in reality in the modern day DC Comics Universe. Indeed. its origins supposed lie in The Dark Multiverse and the properties of Nth Metal are said to alter based upon the user.
Ben Lockwood misquotes Winston Churchill's famous "Never give in" speech at his father's funeral.
Xander Berkeley gives a brief but memorable performance as Peter Lockwood, managing to seem like a likable, working-class man... right up until the bigoted dialogue starts.
Sam Witwer turns in a stunning performance as Ben Lockwood. Somehow, even as he becomes more and more bigoted, he remains a sympathetic character, right up until the point he actively decides to kill a helpless alien. Even then, he is still a more complex villain than he originally seemed to be, as he does showcase a stronger moral code than The Graves siblings, refusing to kill a believer in his cause as a "loose end."
The episode title - Man of Steel - is a play on a common nickname for Superman - and a nod to both Agent Liberty and his father, who operated a steel mill.
The character of Agent Liberty first appeared in the comics in Superman #60 (October 1991). Agent Liberty was a former CIA agent named Benjamin Lockwood, who left the organization after becoming disgusted with what he saw as unethical practices. Lockwood came to distrust the American government and joined a militia group called The Sons of Liberty, who outfitted him with an armored suit that offered him the ability to fly short distances and generate a force-field. He left the group when they plotted to assassinate politician Pete Ross, and Lockwood exposed the group's true beliefs to the public with the help of Clark Kent. He went on to become a reserve Justice League member and helped Superman defend Metropolis on several occasions.
The Arrowverse version of Agent Liberty is similar in that his armor is given to him by Mercy Graves and he comes to lead a militia group after attempting to turn people against aliens as an activist. He has not been revealed to have any super-powers or advanced technology as of yet, but he does seem to be being manipulated by Mercy Graves as the comic book Benjamin Lockwood was manipulated by The Sons of Liberty into becoming their figurehead.
Ben Lockwood's dad complains about how his steel mill is losing business to an Nth metal mill run by aliens. In the DC Comics universe, Nth Metal is a rare metal with strange properties, utilized by Hawkman and the alien Thangarians. Among the many abilities conveyed by Nth metal are the ability to defy gravity. The metal has also been said to increase the strength of anyone who wears an object made of it, enhance their natural healing abilities and protect them from extreme heat or cold. Weapons made of Nth metal can be used to break magical barriers, strike incorporeal creatures such as ghosts and negate the natural healing abilities of metahumans with a healing factor.
In the recent Dark Nights Metal mini-series, the powers of Nth metal were increased exponentially, with it being said that the properties of Nth Metal change based upon the person who possess it. It can enhance magic or negate it. It can activate the metagene in humans. If fueled Hawkman and Hawkwoman's continual reincarnation. It was also used to make The Helm of Fate, the mask of The Psycho Pirate and can be used to violate the laws of physics.
During the Daxamite invasion, faced with a lack of supplies in their home, Ben suggests they try and work around the Daxamite checkpoints to try and reach Coast City. In the DC Comics Universe, Coast City is a city in California and home to Hal Jordan, Earth's first Green Lantern. Depending on the era, Coast City is either an analog of San Francisco or San Diego.
The DEO has a Kryptonite contamination alarm that can detect the presence of Kryptonite anywhere in National City.
The DEO adapted the anti-Kryptonite shield developed by Astra so that it could leech the Kryptonite out of a Kryptonian's system.
Lena develops a radiation-controlled proto-environment housed in a vacuum-sealed mechanical exoskeleton, contained in a spring-loaded two-millimeter disc. This is a temporary measure designed to contain Supergirl safely until the atmosphere can be detoxified.
Ben Lockwood: People thought textiles would be the end of modern society, but The Industrial Revolution - it created unprecedented opportunities-
Peter Lockwood: I'm not one of your students, Ben! And I'll remind you, it was called a revolution for a reason.
Ben: Is it... is it bad?
Alex: (cooly) Not half as bad as what you and your friends did to that Bravik.
Ben: What? No! No! I was just... I was trying to help. But our guys are just angry. They are scared. They're-
Alex: Your guys?
Ben: My family. We own the steel factory across the way. The workers.. they are very good people!
Alex: Oh, they're lucky people. Because Supergirl went very, very easy on them.
Ben: Ever since the beginning, our leaders have been obsessed with progress. But can you tell me what's so great about it? (deeper voice) "Well, the discovery of The New World.That's progress, right?" (switching back to his normal voice) For Spain and Columbus. Not so much for the Native Americans. President Marsdin's Alien Amnesty Act. Is that progress? I think it's progress, right? Of course it is! But I know some Americans who don't think so. In fact, I know some Americans who are worse off for it. So what's my point? The next time someone tells you about how great progress is, I want you to stop a moment and I want you to think about who paid the price for it.
Ben: Let me just blow your mind, here, okay? Home Owners' Insurance. Did you know that it doesn't actually cover alien invasions? Who knew?!
James: We did. Because we covered that in our business section.
Ben: Right! And that's all the way in the back. And it turns the common person into numbers and statistics. I am here to tell you that there are people behind these numbers. People who are hurting. And it would be so very helpful if you would just tell their stories.
Student: This isn't nativism. It's xenophobia!
Ben: Well, I can't say I'm surprised to hear that from someone with your completion.
Peter Lockwood: I came here on purpose, Ben. This is my home. And this steel - it's my life. Always has been. Now it's time is over and so is mine.
Lena: I understand that you're angry, okay? But you can't go down this path, blaming other people for your problems. You will just end up like my brother.
Ben: They're not people.
Brainy retrieves the anti-Kryptonite shield the DEO adapted from Astra's technology to save Kara.
The first flashback shows Ben Lockwood at the time of Kara's speech to Earth in 120. It is said this occurred two years before the events of this episode.
Ben Lockwood lives with his wife Lydia, son George and father, Peter.
Ben Lockwood is a professor of history at National City University.
The Lockwoods own Lockwood Family Steel - a steel factory.
The slang term for calling aliens roaches came from the belief that they survived their worlds being destroyed only to emerge someplace else where they weren't wanted.
Lockwood Family Steel just lost a contract with Luthor Corporation.
Peter refuses to upgrade Lockwood Family Steel to make Nth-Metal/Steel composite metals.
There are two dozen publicly known alien worlds capable of supporting life that have made contact with Earth.
Nth metal is the strongest material brought to Earth by alien immigrants.
Ben Lockwood is accidentally shot by an alien spike while trying to stop a riot between his father's steel workers and the alien employees of an Nth Metal foundry.
Alex is the medic who treats Ben Lockwood.
Braviks are an alien species who grow spokes out of their forearms. The spikes can be shot defensively when they are threatened.
Ben Lockwood approaches Lena Luthor about his family's contract as Lena is in the middle of changing the name of the Luthor Corporation. to L-Corp. Lena says his father can upgrade his factory or fall behind.
The next time-jump in the story takes place following the events of 218, where we hear a story about Supergirl fighting Biomax. It was at this point that Lockwood Family Steel was shut down, just as the Daxamite invasion began.
At this point, Ben hates Supergirl and is dismissive of her truly wanting to help people but he does correct his son when he refers to aliens as roaches.
The Lockwood family home is destroyed in a fire, which is started by a battle between Martian Manhunter and a Daxamite soldier.
Cat Grant is seen in a press conference as President Marsdin's new Press Secretary, which is said to have occurred 12 months ago. It is at this time that Ben Lockwood meets with James Olsen, placing the meeting as occurring during the events of 301.
CatCo Media won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of The Daxamite Invasion.
The Lockwoods lost their home as their home owner's insurance did not protect against alien invasions.
Ben overhears that Lena Luthor now owns CatCo Worldwide Media after James cuts his meeting short to take a call from Lena.
Ben Lockwood is fired from his professorship after a rash of student complaints about his anti-alien rhetoric in his lectures.
Reference is made in the alien bar to "that freaky Goth chick" (i.e. Reign) attacking Albatross Bay, setting this episode after the events of 310.
Ben Lockwood follows one of his alien students to the alien bar. It is here that he runs into Kara, who shows him the door after he gets aggressive.
Ben Lockwood is reduced to handing out flyers with his theory that Supergirl and the FBI are working together round up political dissidents. One of his flyers is picked up by Otis Graves, just before the attack of The Daughters of Juru during 323.
Peter Lockwood dies after being crushed in the rubble of his collapsing steel mill.
Peter Lockwood's favorite quote (and the only one he knew) was Winston Churchill - "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
Ben alters this quote somewhat, saying "Never give in. Never give in. Never --in nothing, great or small, large or petty--except in consideations of honour and good sense. Never yield to force or the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy that confronts you. Never. Never ever give in."
Lena Luthor shows up to Peter Lockwood's funeral to offer to set up a fund in Peter Lockwood's name to help out his workers. Ben tells her off.
Ben hires some of his dad's old workers to patch up the steel mill.
Ben leads a group of workers to burn down the Nth Metal plant while drunk.
Ben winds up beating a floor manager at the Nth Metal plant to death, after he flees the fire. It's the same alien who accidentally shot him with a spike two years earlier.
The Dean who fired Ben loses her own home following the Daughters of Juru attempting to terraform Earth. She and her wife are reduced to living in student housing. When Ben runs into her later, she is much more sympathetic to his views and takes one of the flyers for the "support group" he is forming.
Mercy Graves covered up Ben Lockwood's beating the Bravik to death and killing a pair of Maaldorian twins. She provides him with the Agent Liberty armor. She also gives him the information needed to track down and kill Fiona Byme.
The mask for Ben Lockwood's Agent Liberty costume comes from the face of a statue from his father's foundry.
Lena is brought in to help save Supergirl, since she is too weak to move outside the atmosphere.She devises a containment suit that will protect Supergirl from the atmosphere until it can be cleaned.
Mercy wants to kill Agent Jensen but Agent Liberty, after protesting that they should not kill their own, convinces her that he can be used to get them back into the DEO.
National City, at varying points over the past two years.
The Bottom Line
A surprisingly deep and topical episode that does more to develop Agent Liberty than any villain in the show's history. Touching upon real world issues such as the closing of steel mills in America and increasing xenophobia, a dark undercurrent is cast upon it given that Ben Lockwood's speech about the word Nativist unintentionally seemed to mirror a speech by given by Donald Trump earlier in the week on how he was proud to call himself a Nationalist.
There's several levels of irony here, with Ben Lockwood coincidentally encountering nearly every member of Team Supergirl at some point in the past two years at a point where a moment of compassion might have changed the course of his path to becoming Agent Liberty had he not chosen the worst possible tactic for approaching each respective character, such as when he tries to get Lena to bail out his family's steel mill by pleading to her sense of family loyalty or tries to win James Olsen's sympathy by attacking the free press.
In this, the episode seems to condemn its heroes for letting their hearts lapse in a key moment when one minute to let a man vent or listen might have changed him. This seems to be preaching the message of mutual respect and civility which is a fine thing when you aren't dealing with someone who is beating people to death with a pipe because of who they are. On the other hand, the episode makes it clear that Ben's problems are a result of his own obsession with the past and his and his father's refusal to change. We are shown why Ben feels the way he does and allowed to feel sympathy with him up until the point that he kills the alien who accidentally injured him.
One thing is for sure - this episode will get people talking, one way or the other.