REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS ARES
With the DC Universe line of action figures from Mattel now largely based on monthly releases on MattyCollector in the DC Signature Series, which I highly recommend, and the DC Unlimited line which is largely based on the "New 52" incarnations of the DC characters -- which I categorically don't recommend -- I've been doing a little bit of backtracking on a few figures from the DC Universe line that I missed the first time around.
While some of these figures do date back a ways, I figure they're still worth a review. There's an old saying out there that, "Any book you haven't read is still a new one", and what the heck, if I can still find these figures through online sources and/or collectors' markets, then anybody can.
One recent addition to my collection is the DC Universe figure of ARES, based on the character from mythology, and a frequent opponent of Wonder Woman.
Why did I not bring Ares in before now? It wasn't out of any dislike for the character. Unfortunately, Ares was part of a particular assortment of DC Universe figures that became notorious for assembly problems. I learned a lot from that assortment as to the sort of things to watch for, to make sure I was buying properly assembled figures. My first Nightwing had reversed knee joints. And it took me four tries to get a Captain Atom that was properly assembled.
That was such a fiasco that I actually sent a letter to Mattel -- with pictures -- as to the problems that were occurring. Reversed knee joints, transposed upper arms, transposed lower arms -- it's one thing for this to happen if the figure is designed to look like he's wearing loose-fitting clothes, where a gaffe like this might not make much difference. It's another matter entirely if that figure is wearing super-hero rights, and basically the form of the figure is designed to resemble human musculature. You just can't get away with switched limbs and such at that point.
When it came to Ares, I literally could not find one that was properly assembled. And I even started hearing from other collectors that it was nearly impossible to find one that was properly assembled. Switched arm parts were the most common reported problem.
So, I put the acquisition of Ares on the back burner. But he was still in my mind. Certainly, it was an impressive-looking figure. If I could find a good one.
Then I saw an Ares in an online auction. The picture accompanying the auction was a good one, that I could magnify and study. The legs were properly assembled, and I was about 80% certain that the arms were. Since Ares is a rather darkly-covered figure, I couldn't entirely tell for sure. But I was confident enough to bid on the figure, and I won him. When he showed up, I carefully opened him, hoped for the best, and much to my surprise and delight, he was fully and properly assembled. I had my Ares!
And now, I will present him in this review, but let's first have a look at the background of the character, as he appears in DC Comics. Since Ares represents a being who was originally part of ancient myth, this backstory will be his DC Universe version. Interestingly enough, Ares has also appeared in Marvel Comics, in a very different form, and briefly served as a member of the Avengers, and was prominent enough to be produced as a "Build-A-Figure" in the Marvel Legends line. So it is possible to have both the DC and Marvel versions of Ares, in more or less compatible action figure versions. I can't think of any other character off the top of my head where this is the case.
But for now, let's focus on his DC Comics incarnation.
Ares is a supervillainous Greek god appearing in DC Comics publications and related media. Based upon the Greek mythological figure of the same name, he is the god of war and one of the major adversaries of Wonder Woman.
Ares first appeared in Wonder Woman #1, volume 1, published in the summer of 1942, written by Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston. In the very next issue, he reappeared under his Roman name, Mars. He would retain this name until February 1987, when comics writer/artist George Pérez restored the Greek name Ares as part of his reboot of the Wonder Woman mythos.
As the narrative continuity of the Wonder Woman comic has been adjusted by different writers throughout the years, various versions of Mars/Ares, with various personalities and physical appearances, have been presented. He has appeared in one of two guises - either as a muscular blond man in contemporary clothing, with red eyes and a scarred torso; or as a demonic Greek warrior clad in black and blue battle armor, face hidden by a hoplite helmet.
During most of the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Bronze Age, Ares was called Mars and was one of the most recurrent enemies of Wonder Woman. He was depicted as a Greco-Roman warrior in orange armor. Unlike the contemporary version of the character, his face was visible.
Ares, who eventually became known as Mars, sought to realize his vision of eternal war and conflict in the world of man. He was chiefly opposed by Aphrodite, goddess of love, who sought to realize a contrary vision of loving civilization. Meanwhile the men who worshipped Ares killed each other and their weaker brothers, selling women cheaper then cattle. When Ares taunted Aphrodite with the success of his plans, Aphrodite molded from clay and breathed life into a new race of women, the Amazons, who built a city-state called Amazonia in which they created a women-centered civilization for spreading the gospel of "Aphrodite's Way". They were stronger than Ares' men.
Enraged at the success of the Amazon nation, Ares, now known chiefly as Mars, called upon Hercules to steal the golden girdle of Hippolyta and enslave the Amazons. He was defeated by Hippolyta after challenging her to personal combat, but tricked her by pretending to have a peaceful talk with her, and stole the girdle when asking if he could touch it, binding the Amazons to heavy chains.
Aphrodite answered the prayers of the contrite Amazons and allowed them to break free, then sent them to a new hidden home they would call Paradise Island, but she told them they must wear wrist bands to show the folly "of submitting to man's domination". If an Amazon allowed a man to chain her she would become as weak as an ordinary woman. After he mocked Aphrodite that he ruled the whole world as it was at war at the time, she sent an Amazon champion to help America win.
During a period when the Amazons of Earth-One sent a champion, named Artemis, into man's world as a champion for justice and peace, Mars manipulated circumstances so that Artemis would slowly drift from a path of trust and love, ultimately setting her up to appear to have betrayed the hidden location of the Amazons' interim hidden home called Themiscyra.
Mars eventually created a home base on the planet of Mars, with its superpowerful population enslaved to serve him and his chief deputies, the Duke of Deception, Lord Conquest, and the Earl of Greed. Mars' aide-de-camp is General Destruction. He used Mars as an interplanetary headquarters, supplementing the enslaved Martian population with the spirits of the dead he collected from war zones on multiple planets, including Saturn and Earth. Slave spirits became embodied after being ferried to the planet Mars, where they were subjected to strength tests to determine how they would best be used, whether as gladiators in slave games, personal slaves in the retinue of Mars himself, or employees in the War Factories, one of which included the Lie Factory run by the Duke of Deception. The very strongest would be trained and given new bodies to be sent to wage future wars on earth. He also set up the Injustice Court for humiliating slaves and meting out punishments. Mars' Earth base was beneath Mount Olympus and run by Lord Conquest.
From this base, he sought to defeat the Allied cause in World War II, sending thoughts of conquest, deception, and greed into the Axis leaders with the use of astral projection, but he found himself repeatedly thwarted by the Amazon champion Wonder Woman.
Mars repeatedly tangled with Wonder Woman on Earth-One and Earth-Two. During a period when Diana abandoned her powers to live among the world of men as the Amazons retreated temporarily to another dimension, Mars (calling himself Ares this time) and his children Phobos, Deimos, and Eris battled the Amazons to secure from Hippolyta the secret to domination of all dimensions of existence.
His final scheme before the history-changing battle of the Crisis on Infinite Earths was to ally himself with Hades and the Anti-Monitor to subdue the Gods of Olympus. As Wonder Woman engaged him in final battle, Steve Trevor freed the gods and Hades' wife Kore appealed to her husband with a message of love, leaving Mars isolated.
Follwing the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Ares' backstory was overhauled somewhat. Despite being Zeus' son, Ares never fit in with the other gods of Olympus and created his own realm, the Areopagus. Aphrodite, the patron of the Amazons, swore that her women would save the world with love from the hatred and warfare of Ares, meaning he opposed their creation.
Ares did his best to destroy the Amazons, using Hercules against them, who sacked the island, but Diana was born and raised just in time to fight Ares as Steve Trevor's plane, driven by one of Ares's human puppets, crashed into Paradise Island. His plot was to fire the missiles between the United States and Russia at the same time, provoking World War III, but Diana managed to make him see, trapped in her magic lasso, how this chaos would lead to his own disappearing, with Ares having no one to worship him. He then tasks her with "saving mankind from themselves", promising to return if she fails, essentially acting as a continuous test of her success.
Although Ares abandoned his plans that time, he managed to possess an unimportant criminal, Ari Buchanan. Possessing his body, he changed his name to Ares Buchanan. He began climbing the business ladder by providing hi-tech weapons for gang wars. As Buchanan, he had a relationship with his lawyer Donna Milton (who was Circe in disguise), conceiving a daughter named Lyta Milton. Lyta has been shown to possess a great amount of magic, which she is still practicing. However, Ares did not care much about Donna, shooting her while she was pregnant. Circe, as Donna, later tried to help Diana out of a trap he laid. She used the last of her forces to shoot a gun, which produced a sort of mini-black hole and absorbed Ares into it. She, Diana, and the child survived.
As opposed to ancient times, the role of various gods were shown to have altered somewhat according to modern practices and beliefs. Because of this, the actual faith-based power Ares' father Zeus received proved to be very much diminished. On the other hand, other gods such as Athena, Aphrodite, and Ares began to gain more power due to the appearance of the computer age, love never diminishing, and conflict remaining consistent. Thus the three godly siblings eventually took over Olympus as the godly home's new masters.
Realizing that conflict proved to maintain his strength over the output of war, Ares changed his title to the God of Conflict. To celebrate this change he altered his appearance to a more approachable visage. His rule under this name proved to be short-lived though as the god Hades was also overthrown and Ares was all too eager to take up the mantle of God of the Dead.
Realizing that a crossroads for the gods of Olympus was at hand, Ares confided in his half-sister Cassie Sandsmark about a future war. In exchange for additional powers, the only wish he requested in return from his sister was her love. He then traveled to Themyscira and kidnapped his daughter Lyta who was under the protection of the Amazons. Discovering this fact, Circe confronted Ares and was surprised to learn of his new godly title. She agreed to remain as his consort and to raise their daughter Lyta in the Underworld.
During Ares' family bonding with Cassie, he blessed her with a powerful lasso able to expel Zeus's lightning in times of anger for her to use in her persona as Wonder Girl. Ares has since appeared to Cassie repeatedly in order to warn her about "the coming war." In one story the Teen Titans were thrown ten years into the future, where Cassie had inherited the mantle of Wonder Woman after Diana's death. She was also referred to as "Ares' champion."
Ares later appeared to Cassie informing her that the gods were leaving this plane and Zeus was taking the power he had granted Cassie as well. In exchange for acknowledging their siblinghood and becoming his champion, he offered her some of his power, saying only that she would be "more powerful than [she's] ever been." The full extent of Cassie's powers has not been revealed, though there is some indication that she has retained all of her former powers at this point.
As do all the immortal Olympian gods, Ares possesses tremendous strength, though he is now perhaps the strongest of them, rivaled only by Heracles. Moreover, he is a master of conflict and strategy with centuries of experience in the field, and has complete telekinetic command and mastery over any weapon. He also possesses superhuman speed and superhuman agility equal to that of Hermes once he absorbs massive amounts of the psychic energies that give him his powers. Pertaining to his being a war god, violence, anger, hate, death, and bloodshed make him stronger and heals any wounds he may receive as his soul is able to absorb the psychic energy created by such events. His armor is virtually indestructible and his weapons are greater than mortal ones. He can shapeshift his being into any form he wishes and can teleport himself and others. He is now also recognized as the Death God of the Greek Pantheon and thus has control over the dead and is able to resurrect and command a whole army of undead from The Underworld to do his will and then send them back whenever he wishes. Being a god, he is also immortal and cannot be harmed by mortal weapons, only magical ones.
So, how's the figure? Exceptionally impressive, and also obviously clearly based on the version described as "a demonic Greek warrior clad in black and blue battle armor, face hidden by a hoplite helmet," although I personally thing "demonic" might be a bit of an overstatement.
What we have here is an extremely ornate figure that, while more or less the same size and general physical build of a standard DC Universe male hero figure, required a whole lot of distinctive, individual parts in order to pull off his look. Offhand, I'd be inclined to say that the only pre-existing parts used to make Ares were the upper arms and upper legs -- ironically enough the ones that seemed to be most prevalent in the figure's widespread assembly problems.
It may be just as well for the sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen that Ares doesn't have much of a face. It allowed them to put their great and intricate detail work everywhere else on the figure. Ares' face is almost completely enshrouded by a very ornate helmet. All that shows through is a largely featureless region of black, with two red eyes, which are quite striking against the rest of the figure, which is entirely dark blue and black.
Ares is wearing a very fancy and ornate helmet with incredibly intricate sculpting on it. I doubt very much that the photographs I have taken for this review truly convey the level of detail. You can get eyestrain studying the details of this figure. One of the more prevalent themes across Ares' entire armor is skulls. They're on the helmet, they're on his arms, they're on his boots -- it's a wonder Skeletor doesn't sue for infringement.
Ares' torso is covered by a form-fitting metallic blue armor that has numerous small dents in it, as if made to look as though it were pounded out by hand. It really gives the figure an impressive "ancient" look, and the detail level is nothing short of astounding. The armor also includes flared shoulders with jagged details.
Ares' arms are black, but he is wearing gauntlets that pretty well go overboard with the skull detailing, no less than eight skull images per arm, and have these intricate metallic blue lines of detail that are not only sculpted, but very carefully painted. I can only guess what the paint stencils for this figure's arms must look like.
Ares has a sort of dark blue tunic or skirt wrapped around his waist, with a thick black belt, very finely detailed, black but with a certain amount of silver "battle wear" on it. The tunic-skirt is multi-layered, and again, the level of sculpted detail is nothing short of astounding.
Ares' legs are black, but once again, we come to very ornate boots, metallic blue, with skull images on them, and wrapping cables on the back, much like the lines of detail on the lower arms. And as before, they are very precisely painted.
I find myself thinking that one of the reasons this character might have been added to the DC Universe lineup in the first place was because the Four Horsemen wanted to show off their considerable sculpting and design skills, and this guy was certainly a good contender. Must have given the paint people at the production facility absolute fits, though.
Completing the "evil regal" look of Ares is a cape, dark blue in color, with a metallic clasp on the front, although the cape is technically secured on the figure's back, typical for most caped figures in this line.
Although the figure seems to have a very limited color range -- blue and black (red eyes notwithstanding), there are actually several shades of blue involved, including a couple of metallic blues. There's actually more variety of blue here than is readily apparent.
Overall paint detailing is almost frighteningly precise and extensive, especially on the sculpted cables on the arms and legs. Similarly, the helmet has been given a very slight black wash, not enough to make it look dirty or weathered, but just enough to bring out the very intricate sculpted details.
As one would expect, Ares has the traditional level of articulation that the DC Universe line is known for. He is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. The leg articulation is rather hindered by the tunic-skirt, but I don't think Ares is the type to routinely sit down for a friendly chat. He wants to be standing up in battle.
If this fancy figure and his fancy armor aren't enough, Ares also comes with two accessories. These are a sword and an axe. What's interesting about them as far as their basic appearance is concerned is that, whereas Ares has a somewhat "antique" look about him, the two weapons have a more futuristic appearance. Frankly, it looks like Ares raided the armory on Eternia. Come on, just once, hold the sword up and yell, "By the power of Grayskull" and let's see what happens...!
However futuristic they may look, both the sword and the axe are very extensively detailed. They both have black handles and silver blades, with little metallic blue studs on them. There are hooks on Ares' belt which he can hang the axe from, but he has to hold the sword in his hand, and can do so with either hand. Must be nice to be ambidextrous. The sword is nearly 5-1/2" long, the axe is 3-1/2".
So, what's my final word here? Ares was worth the wait. I'm glad to have him. The detail level on this figure is way above average, and extremely impressive. Now, if you go looking for an Ares of your own, be sure to check the assembly. The best way to do this is to study your existing DC Universe Classics figures. Remember this phrase -- Memorize the Musculature. Especially pay attention to the arms and legs, Sketch them if you can. However similar it may look, the musculature is distinct from one arm and leg to another. I have artistic experience, so perhaps that made it a little easier for me once I knew what to look for, but it is something that can be learned.
And this Ares is proof that it IS possible to find a fully, properly-assembled Ares. I cannot possibly have the only one in existence. They're out there, and this is an extremely impressive addition to the DC Universe collection. If you find one, get him. You won't be disappointed.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of ARES definitely has my highest recommendation!