I guess with Vibe being in the news at the moment, there's some interest in the JL Detroit; coincidentally or not, Todd recently posted a question on the last storyline of the original League:
I have a question for you. As you said, at the end of issue #260 Commander Steel turns off Steel's life support and Steel dies. That would be confirmed by the flat line shown but i've read web sites (Inluding DC's) that states that Steel didn't actually die until Justice League of America #38 when Despero returns to earth and finds Steel's body in the chamber and rips it to pieces. Justice League #260 indicates that he died once the life support is shut of but Justice League #38 indicates that Steel didn't die until Despero took him out of the machine and ripped his body apart indicating that Steel was just comatose the whole time but still alive. What gives? Which is it?I knew the issues Todd was referring to so figured I'd go back to them and see what they say.
First, Justice League of America #260. Steel's been hideously injured by Professor Ivo's android and is carried back to the Detroit bunker by Martian Manhunter where Steel's grandfather, Commander Steel, makes a hard decision:
Click to enlarge the pictures for the dialogue but the EEP EEP EEP * accompanied by the monitor showing a flatline seems fairly conclusive: Steel's dead.
Fast forward three years to Justice League #38 and we find Despero returning to Earth, planning to wreak revenge on the members of the League that had defeated him before they fell apart.
Read that? Despero can feel Steel's presence in his mind. Surely that implies some sort of life?
He see's Steel's "soul-essence" but upon tearing him from the chamber, Despero realises he's "Already dead" and that the machine was "some sort of life-support device" all of which points to Steel being alive in the machine and dying as Despero's tears him out of it (though he's mercifully dead before Despero rips his head off.)
However, the very next page has this panel:
"Steel may have had the good fortune to die while I was gone" (my emphasis) This clearly reads as Steel being dead before Despero removed him from the machine.
It's a little confusing and needlessly so - after all, J.M. DeMatteis was the writer on both storylines so should have been able to keep it straight.
Unfortunately, Todd, it seems there's no clear answer here; my take on it would be that Steel dies in JLoA #260 (backed up by Commander Steel's actions, the EEP sounds finishing, the flatline on the monitor and Despero's own words above) but that Despero was able to detect Steel's "soul-essence" when he returned in JL #38. Whether that counts as Steel being alive at the time of Despero's return is, I guess, something only you and the religion of your choice can answer.
Thanks for the question, though!