REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE/MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE BIZARRO/BATTLE ARMOR FAKER TWO-PACK
Two of Mattel's top action figure lines are unquestionably DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS, and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS. The former presents the characters of the DC Universe in a superb 6" action figure format, highly detailed and highly articulated. The latter takes the popular characters from Mattel's Masters of the Universe line of the 1980's, and presents them in updated forms, maintaining the spirit of the original characters in new, highly detailed, highly articulated formats.
Both lines are designed and sculpted by the highly talented individuals at the Four Horsemen Studios. Both lines are very nearly compatible in size, although the Masters figures are bulkier in proportion, given the nature of the original line.
So it wasn't all that surprising -- although it was certainly very cool -- when Mattel announced that they would be producing a DC UNIVERSE/MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE action figure line, that would feature one DC Universe character facing off against one Masters of the Universe character. This also enabled the otherwise MattyCollector.Com exclusive Masters line to see some presence at retail.
The line has featured some interesting team-ups, or challenges, if one prefers. He-Man vs. Superman. Lex Luthor vs. Skeletor. Aquaman vs. Mer-Man. Green Lantern vs. Zodac.
It's been reported that the line has largely run its course. That is unfortunate, but if it must end, then it certainly has come to a conclusion on a very peculiar note. One final set was turned out. Initially intended to be available at the Toys "R" Us booth at the San Diego Comic-Con, the sets didn't arrive in time. And no one quite seemed to know what would happen after that. Would they be available in stores? Or on MattyCollector.Com? Where?
Finally, the set turned up, several weeks after the San Diego Comic-Con, on ToysRUs.Com. The set features DC's BIZARRO, facing off against a previously unheard-of BATTLE ARMOR edition of Masters of the Universe's FAKER!
Talk about a twist. Both characters are skewed versions of Superman and He-Man, respectively, who were the characters in the very first DC/Masters set. They are not so much "mirror universe" versions. For that, as far as DC is concerned, you'd have to check with the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. And Masters of the Universe never really did a "mirror universe" story, except for some aspects of a comic book story published during the 2002 era when an evil Man-At-Arms turned up at one point.
Bizarro and Faker are, for all intents and purposes, evil individual versions of their respective counterparts. Interestingly enough, both are artificial constructs. Bizarro has the more extensive history, so let's start with him.
BIZARRO - First introduced in Superboy #68, in October of 1958, and created by Otto Binder and George Papp, the original incarnation of the character was little more than a Frankenstein monster type of creation that possessed all the powers of Superboy. Shunned for his bizarre appearance, the teen version of Bizarro only appeared in a single comic book story.
An adult version, however, followed soon after, debuting in the Superman daily newspaper comic strop, of all places. The character proved popular, and soon turned up in the comic books, appearing in Action Comics #259, in July 1959. He would go on to actually star in the backup feature in Adventure Comics for fifteen issues.
Within the comics, Bizarro came into being when Lex Luthor constructs a "duplicating ray", that creates imperfect duplicates of whatever objects it strives to duplicate. A red rose might come out black and smell like an onion, for example. Luthor uses the duplicating ray on Superman, hoping to create a being as powerful as Superman that he can control.
The Bizarro that is created, however, is dull-witted, and uncontrollable. He states, "Me not human... me not creature... me not even animal! Me unhappy! Me don't belong in world of living people. Me don't know difference between right and wrong - good and evil!" For Bizarro, this was pretty much a valedictorian-level speech.
Luthor is forgotten as Bizarro attempts to emulate Superman, creating havoc in Metropolis and almost exposing Superman's secret identity as Clark Kent. When Bizarro falls in love with Lois Lane, she uses the duplicating ray on herself to create a "Bizarro Lois", who is instantly attracted to Bizarro. The Bizarros leave Earth together, determined to find a home where they can be themselves.
Superman later encountered the couple, discovering that Bizarro - now called Bizarro #1 - has used a version of the duplication ray to create an entire world of Bizarros, who now reside on a cube-shaped planet called "Htrae" (Earth spelled backwards).
This pre-Crisis Bizarro was not really specifically evil. He had, as much as anything, a largely backward set of values, which combined with his limited intellect and Superman-level powers, made him an occasional threat simply because the big oaf didn't know any better.
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, as part of Superman's "Man of Steel" reboot by John Byrne, a new Bizarro was created. Lex Luthor orders his scientific team to create a clone of Superman. However, wrongfully starting from the assumption that Superman is a human with metahuman abilities, as his Kryptonian origin had not yet been publicly revealed, the process results in a flawed copy, which Luthor sneeringly dubs "Bizarro" and orders disposed. He escapes, however, and after causing some measure of chaos, is destroyed when he collides with Superman in mid-air.
The current Bizarro featured in DC's comics -- at least pre-Relaunch -- was actually created by the Joker, when the maniac managed to steal the powers of the fifth-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk. Creating a twisted version of Earth called "Jokerworld", a perfect cube with Joker's image on each facet, the villain designates Bizarro to be the planet's greatest hero and leader of a reimagined JLA -- standing for "Joker's League for Anarchy". When Mxyzptlk regains his powers, he allows Bizarro and several other beings to remain on the restored Earth.
Much like the original Bizarro, this one is not so much evil, although he is certainly capable of it, as he is dim-witted and easily tricked into performing evil acts, mostly by other super-villains. Arguably the most annoying thing about him is his backwards speech pattern. He says "Goodbye" when he means "Hello". Telling Bizarro that someone is his "best friend" will cause him to attack that individual as his worst enemy. And good luck translating any full sentences he speaks into anything that remotely makes sense without giving yourself a colossal headache in the bargain.
During the Infinite Crisis, Bizarro is tricked into joining the new Secret Society of Super-Villains by Flash's enemy Zoom -- someone else with an annoying speech pattern of running all his words together -- and during a battle with the Freedom Fighters, Bizarro somewhat accidentally kills the Human Bomb, constantly hitting the hero to observe the flashes of light that are produced from the kinetic energy of the blows.
Later, wishing to create a home for himself, Bizarro travels into deep space to a solar system occupied by a blue sun. After creating a cube-shaped planet, filled with abstract versions of various buildings and locations on Earth (one sort of wonders if the Bizarro version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands perfectly straight), Bizarro is still lonely. The blue sun, however, gives Bizarro a new ability called "Bizarro Vision", which allows him to create new Bizarros. When this fails, Bizarro kidnaps Jonathan Kent, Superman's adopted father. Superman rescues his father and helps Bizarro become his world's greatest hero.
Bizarro later appears on the planet Throneworld, eventually befriending and aiding Earth hero Adam Strange and allies Prince Gavyn and Captain Comet. Together they participate in the Rann-Thanagar War, and against villains Lady Styx and Synnar.
Bizarro also turned up during the events of Blackest Night, confronting a Black Lantern version of Solomon Grundy. Bizarro eventually destroys Grundy by driving him into the heart of the Sun. Well, given those two, I didn't expect that they started a debate club.
Bizarro has, for the most part, the same powers and abilities as Superman. However, some incarnations of the character have shown evidence of certain "reversed powers". These would include freeze vision instead of heat vision, and heat breath instead of freeze breath.
Then there's the matter of Kryptonite. As one would expect, green kryptonite doesn't affect Bizarro. But there is a variant of kryptonite, blue kryptonite, that does. Depending on the time period and the incarnation of the character, blue kryptonite either weakens Bizarro in the same fashion that green kryptonite weakens Superman, or, in some more recent stores, has the very bizarre effect of making Bizarro polite, good-natured, and highly intelligent. Hearing Bizarro speak like a Rhodes scholar is almost as strange as his usual speech pattern.
Bizarro has managed to get around a fair bit beyond the comics. There was a Bizarro-Superboy in the live-action Superboy series; Bizarro has appeared in the Smallville series, and much to my surprise, there's even a Bizarro feature film in some stage of development. One would assume it's a comedy.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. Technically, this Bizarro figure first appeared in the DC Super-Heroes line, the precursor to DC Universe Classics, which was a more Superman/Batman-centric line. The figure was still designed and sculpted by the Four Horsemen, and has the level of detail and articulation expected.
Bizarros are known for whitish skin, and angular, exaggerates, rough features. Certainly this Bizarro qualifies. He has a prominent brow, exaggerated, angular cheekbones, and a jaw that Jay Leno would envy. His black hair is a ragged mop, and his eyebrows are just as bushy and unkempt.
His eyes are yellow, and lack pupils. This is an odd painting choice in my opinion, since Bizarro has always had pupils. It just doesn't look quite right to me, and I suspect that after I photograph this figure for the review that you're reading, I'll be making a slight modification to him courtesy of my Micron art pens. They're great for this sort of tiny work.
Bizarro's body is not a straight copy of Superman's. In fact, most of the upper body is an entirely distinct mold. Bizarro is physically larger than Superman in this respect, with a decidedly exaggerated appearance. His upper body is massive, with exaggerated but well-defined muscles, and arms which, while not as enlarged as the chest, nevertheless have an exaggerated appearance to them.
From the mid-torso down, Bizarro uses the same body molds as the Superman figure, including the distinctive belt and boots.
Bizarro's uniform is a bizarre version of Superman's own. The colors are somewhat darker, but it's still blue and red, with a yellow belt and yellow trim in the emblem. The cape is a ragged mess. Bizarro looks like he's using way too harsh a laundry detergent on it, assuming he washes the thing in the first place.
Most notable is the emblem. It's a backwards "S", but otherwise is identical to Superman's. I recall a Silver Age story where Bizarro was doing his best to be a "perfect" imperfect copy of Superman, and he realized that one of the changes he needed to make was to the symbol. He had previously worn a correct "S". So he turned it backwards. There's Bizarro logic for you.
Bizarro is also wearing a chain with a small plaque on it, an uneven piece of who-knows-what that has the words "Bizarro #1" scrawled into it. The thing looks like he picked it up at a yard sale held by the Flintstones. Somebody needs to tell this guy about those little "Hello! I'm..." name tags that you can get at any good office supply store.
But, odd eye paint notwithstanding, this is a very impressive version of Bizarro, who prior to this had not actually been inducted into the DC Universe Classics line. So if you missed out on him during the DC Super-Heroes run -- as I did -- this is a great chance to finally add this peculiar character to your collection. Now, let's consider the Masters half of this set --
BATTLE-ARMOR FAKER - Unlike Bizarro, Faker doesn't have nearly as extensive a background. This isn't terribly surprising, since the original Masters of the Universe characters weren't really supplied with extensive backstories, nor did the original Filmation animated series do all that much in this regard, although a certain amount of history and continuity did develop among the major characters over time.
That didn't really include Faker. Arguably, the first Faker figure was a cheap way to reuse some existing molds to create a new character -- specifically the He-Man molds and the Skeletor body armor. The figure was remolded with blue skin, brown hair, purple loincloth and boots, and given Skeletor's separate armor piece, which had been remolded in orange. The only really new piece for Faker was a printed sticker put on his chest and designated the fact that this was in fact a robot, an evil pseudo-He-Man under the control of Skeletor.
Technically, Faker did appear in the Filmation animated series, but except for the eyes, which were painted solid red, he was otherwise colored to look like He-Man. Changing colors for the toy is one thing. Trying to pass off a blue-skinned, brown-haired robot as He-Man over the course of an animated episode with the characters interacting with each other and not ONE of them noticing some rather extremely obvious discrepancies would have been pushing anyone's "willing suspension of disbelief".
For some peculiar reason, Faker has gone on to be somewhat legendary in the Masters Universe. Don't ask me why. I don't dislike the character, but -- maybe it's just that opposite number, mirror universe concept again. It's certainly popular in and of itself. If memory serves, there was even a poster or print or some such available from the comics publishers during the 2002 run, that featured not only Faker, but Faker-colored versions of Man-At-Arms and Teela, as if there was some entire -- Faker-verse out there somehow.
Faker was dropped from the original action figure line for a time, but then was brought back, with some extra wording on his package, "He's back!" So even then, the character had garnered some popularity. During the 2002 run of Masters of the Universe, Faker was a special exclusive, not available in stores. And fans were delighted when the character made his way into the Classics line. And now we have a previously unknown version of him, called "Battle Armor Faker".
Any toy line concept that develops certain major characters is going to want to keep those characters available to some degree. Granted, this is a delicate balancing act that can backfire as often as it works. One does sort of have to question if the world needs all of the variant Batman figures that have been produced over the years -- or Spider-Man, or several others. I can think of any number of G.I. Joe fans who don't care if they ever see another Snake-Eyes or Storm Shadow. And in my opinion, one of the major factors that killed the 2002 Masters of the Universe line was the insistence on somebody's part on keeping some version of He-Man and Skeletor available at all times -- while short-packing everyone else. When you get in box after box of six (fill in the blank) He-Man, six (fill in the blank) Skeletor, characters that are already gathering dust on the shelves, and maybe one Roboto and one Evil-Lyn -- you're not going to be happy about it.
The balancing act for Masters worked a little better in the 1980's. New characters were readily available, and when it was determined that He-Man and Skeletor needed to return to the fold, Mattel made an effort to make it interesting. The first such variants were known as "Battle Armor" He-Man and Skeletor. Designed with new torsos, the figures had thick armor covering their torsos, with spring-loaded chestplates that rotated around to show various levels of battle damage.
These were also the only two figures to ever have Battle Armor editions. There has never been a Battle Armor Faker before now.
The Masters of the Universe Classics line has replicated both Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Armor Skeletor, which as much as anything is what has allowed for Battle Armor Faker. Since the spring-action feature with the rotating chestplate could not be duplicated in the new figure format, an alternative means of showing the various levels of battle damage was devised.
The chest armor is removable, and a panel in the chest armor can be snapped out, and swapped for one of two replacements. Just as with the original Battle Armor figures, the three options available include clean, unmarked armor, one with a single long slash/dent representing a heavy sword strike, and one with two such slash/dents, representing the fact that maybe the armor-wearer should consider a hasty retreat while he still has the chance.
So. how's the figure? Really excellent. Battle Armor Faker is just what he should be. The figure uses, for the most part, the He-Man molds, but the figure has been given the proper blue skin, brown hair, red eyes, purple loincloth and boots, and dark silver belt and wrist bands.
Not surprisingly, he is wearing an orange variant of Skeletor's battle armor. The armor has some black trim along the sides and back, and is superbly detailed. There is a small skull on the front, just below the chestplate, and a bone a little further down.
The chestplate itself has the emblem of a bat on it -- nothing for the Gotham Knight or Hordak to get upset about, it's an entirely different design, and many of the details on the armor have been highlighted in a bright metallic orange.
Faker comes with the two additional chestplate pieces, which can be easily swapped in by removing the chest armor, which is an easy enough procedure. And yes, Faker has the illustration on his chest that indicates that he is a robot. However, as with the standard Masters of the Universe Classics Faker, it's imprinted onto the chest, not a sticker. He also comes with an orange version of He-Man's sword.
Any complaints? Just one -- his feet are a bit loose in their sideways motion. I've encountered this on Masters figures before, but not for a while, and not usually to this degree. The foot is not in danger of falling off -- I don't think -- and I really don't know what causes it. I think I'd need an X-ray machine to determine that. However, he stands well.
His backstory, as much as he has one, is presented on the back of the package on the scroll-like bio card. It reads as follows:
FAKER - Evil Robot of Skeletor
Originally built by Man-At-Arms to cover for He-Man when Prince Adam is needed, Faker was abandoned in the royal junkyard after his first mission and salvaged by the evil warrior Tri-Klops. At the request of Skeletor, Faker was reprogrammed to replace He-Man and convince the people of Eternia that He-Man had betrayed King Randor and turned to evil.
And painted himself blue, apparently. There's just two things that really stand out to me on this bio card. First of all -- abandoned to the junkyard after his first mission? How badly did this guy screw up? And secondly -- ROYAL junkyard? Is that really necessary? I'm not certain that everything needs the royal seal of approval, you know?
The set also comes with a small poster that shows Bizarro and Battle Armor Faker facing off in the vicinity of Snake Mountain. It's a decent poster, but it's got one huge glitch. Bizarro's "S" emblem is facing the proper direction. Really, somebody should've caught that.
So, what's my final word? This is an immensely cool set. You get Bizarro, who hasn't been available for years, and you get a previously unknown version of Faker, a decently popular character from the Masters universe. If this is the end of the DC Universe/Masters of the Universe two-packs, at least it's ending on a very cool note, if admittedly a slightly peculiar one. I'm very glad I was able to acquire this set, since I didn't have Bizarro, and this version of Faker is certainly impressive, as is Bizarro himself.
The DC UNIVERSE/MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE set featuring BIZARRO and BATTLE ARMOR FAKER definitely has my highest, most enthusiastic recommendation!