REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS DESAAD
It is appropriate enough that the villainous DESAAD be included as part of the Twelfth Series of Mattel's superb DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures. After all, the Collect-and-Connect figure in this series is his master, Darkseid. Ironically, though, Desaad is the only figure in the wave that does not come with a Darkseid part. He comes with a display stand. That stand is worthy of comment on its own -- a little later on in this review.
The DC Universe Classics line has not been shy about including a generous number of the New Gods characters in its population, roughly one per wave. Desaad is the individual character for this wave, although certainly we must also count Darkseid.
So, who Desaad? At his core, he's a cowardly lackey to Darkseid, and a master torturer as well. However, a more complete profile is called for, and can be provided with some online research.
Desaad is one of the followers of Darkseid from the planet of Apokolips in Jack Kirby's Fourth World series. He first appeared in Forever People #2, in 1971.
Darkseid's master torturer, his name is a play on the Marquis de Sade. At one point Desaad had an assistant named Justeen, a reference to de Sade's novel Justine, although she bore little resemblance to the title character.
Desaad's first recorded appearance in the history of the DC Universe was as a hanger-on at the side of Drax, heir to Apokolips. He had already taken his "god-name", which he claimed to have taken in tribute to a being from the future "who has taught me much in my chosen field".
Desaad's origins were revealed during Darkseid's chess game with Eclipso, Darkseid shared how he had corrupted an innocent youth by tricking him into believing the youth's cat had killed his other pet, a bird. Goading the boy to avenge the bird, Darkseid manipulates the youth into burying the cat alive. The bird returned, having flown off, and in a rage, the youth killed the bird and left New Genesis to become Darkseid's lackey.
Desaad appeared to be helping Drax with his attempt to master the Omega force. In fact, he was plotting with Drax's brother Uxas. As a result Drax was presumed killed, and Uxas mastered the Omega force, taking the god-name Darkseid. Desaad went on to serve as Darkseid's torturer.
Desaad is a sadist and a coward. He is naturally treacherous, but is sufficiently afraid of Darkseid that he will not turn against his master unless someone else takes the lead (and will probably switch sides again if it looks like they will fail).
Desaad was seemingly killed during an attempt by Darkseid to penetrate the Source. He was subsequently found to have "bonded" with Orion, causing the latter to become cruel and manipulative. They were later separated. While missing, his second-in-command Justeen plots to overthrow Desaad's position and become closer to her beloved Darkseid.
In the Superman/Batman story Torment, Desaad is tasked by Darkseid to retrieve Highfather's staff from the Source Wall, and use it to restore Darkseid's waning powers. Working with the Batman villain Scarecrow he brainwashes Superman. However, when the time came to recharge Darkseid's powers, using the staff as a conduit to the Omega Realm, Desaad betrays Darkseid and tried to take the power for himself. The Omega Effect, however, possessed a horror within it that Desaad could not stand, and Darkseid simply siphoned the energy off him.
At the end of issue #25 of Countdown to Final Crisis Desaad, who had captured and tortured Professor Martin Stein, is able to take over the mantle and the power of Firestorm for himself. He is defeated and separated from the Firestorm matrix by the Atomic Knights, but flees before he could be captured. After disrupting a battle between Darkseid and Mary Marvel, Desaad gives Darkseid a compound that was unsuccessfully used to access the Anti-Life Equation. Desaad is then released from Darkseid's service. However, Desaad has transported the Pied Piper to Apokolips as Brother Eye arrives. Desaad claims the Piper can channel the Anti-Life Equation and control the planet. Before the Piper can do so, Brother Eye finishes assimilating Apokolips. After recovering, Desaad confesses to masterminding Trickster and Piper's ordeal. However, they are attacked by an OMAC and Piper is captured. Desaad continues to pursue Piper and convinces him to finally play. However, Piper's first act is to try to kill Desaad.
In Salvation Run, it is revealed that Desaad oversees the training of the Parademons of Apokolips on a planet where Amanda Waller's Suicide Squad had dumped the exiled villains. When he discovers them on this planet, he arranges for the Parademons to eliminate the least powerful villains so that he can train the stronger ones for an unknown goal. Ultimately, the villains escape back to Earth.
Desaad has no powers of his own, relying instead on his intellect, inventiveness and scientific skill along with Darkseid's protection. He is immortal as all New Gods are.
Desaad appeared in two of the 1980s incarnations of the Superfriends cartoon, The Legendary Super Powers Show and Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, and was voiced by Rene Auberjonois.
Desaad appears in Justice League where Rene Auberjonois reprised the role, but portrayed it more seriously. In the Justice League episode "Twilight", Desaad's careless criticisms of Darkseid's most recent military action to gain the Anti-Life Equation, which Darkseid had already afforded him considerable leeway in voicing, earns Darkseid's wrath and a quick death from his Omega Beams.
Interesting that the same actor that voiced Desaad in the 1980's returned for the same character in the more modern Justice League. But that's hardly the only connection to be made here. There are some in the toy as well.
So, how is the figure? Very interesting, on a number of fronts. For starters, there is no way in the world that Desaad could have possibly fit into the existing "male hero" body molds that are used for many of the DC Universe Classics figures. Desaad is neither especially tall nor muscular, and his traditional garment is not spandex. He's somewhat short, rather slight of build, and customarily wears a reddish purple robe with a hood.
This required the sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen to craft a completely unique figure for Desaad, and they have done so abundantly well. Desaad stands about 6-1/8" in height, and from what one can see of it given the folds of the robe, he's rather slender. The robe has been expertly sculpted, and hangs well on his body, as does the hood. His face and hands are exposed, as are his boots.
The face is excellent. Certainly many artists have drawn Desaad over the years. At the same time, the character is a Jack Kirby creation, and that's not the easiest style in the world to translate into three dimensions, let alone the fairly realistic, straightforward style of the DC Universe Classics figures. However, the sculptors have done a superb job. Desaad has a relatively ordinary human-type face, which may have made it that much more of a challenge. The end result is an excellent likeness, with somewhat sunken, suspicious eyes, a bit of matted hair showing (that robe's gotta be hot on Apokolips), rather bushy eyebrows, and a nasty sneer that's probably the most Kirby-like aspect of the face.
Desaad looks to be slightly hunched over -- probably has back trouble from being whacked around by Darkseid every so often. The robe is broken up a bit by a belt across the middle, and then hangs down to about the calf. It has a darn purple border around it, and the seam is open on the sides up to the waist.
The boots that Desaad wears are typical of Kirby's tendency towards ornate design Light brown in color, they have multiple black straps around them that have copper discs on the front. Desaad's trousers underneath the robe appear to be a dark purple.
The figure is just about as fully articulated as any other DC Universe Classics figure, although he lacks the mid-torso point. This is not a big deal, and I think it would have been nearly impossible to incorporate it into the design of the figure. He is very capably articulated at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. The robe is somewhat of a hindrance to the leg articulation, but honestly, not all that seriously. The paint work is mostly restricted to the face and boots, but all of it is very neatly and superbly well done, especially the face.
Now, I said there was a certain irony in the fact that actor Rene Auberjonois voiced this character in both the 1980's Super Friends show, and in the modern Justice League program, and that this irony could also be traced to the toy.
It's been no secret whatsoever that the fine and highly talented folks at the Four Horsemen Studios, as well as some key personnel at Mattel, are fans of the Super Powers action figure line. This is entirely understandable. After the unfortunate demise of Mego in the early 1980's, super-hero action figures were pretty much up for grabs. It didn't take too long for a couple of major players to do something about that.
Mattel, at the time, actually landed the Marvel license, and turned out a line called "Secret Wars", which tied into and possibly inspired a 12-issue limited series of comic books. No small irony, Hasbro is reissuing those comic books with new versions of the figures as part of their Marvel Universe line today. The Secret Wars figures were capable, but nothing really outstanding, and there are some reports that they were used as much as anything as making some space between Mattel's Masters of the Universe and other companies' action figure offerings at the time.
Conversely, the DC Comics characters went to Kenner, then a separate company and not at all affiliated with Hasbro. Kenner had seen massive success for quite a few years with their Star Wars line, but in 1984, that was starting to fade. The last movie, "Return of the Jedi", had come and gone, and the animated series based on "Droids" and "Ewoks" were rather limited. Thoughts of any sort of "Expanded Universe" weren't really on the table. Kenner needed a new hit, and they found it.
Kenner's Super Powers line presented 5" (approximately) action figures, beautifully sculpted for the day, of all the top names from the DC Universe. Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman -- as well as a host of characters that the previous king of the action figure world, Mego, had never gotten around to. Finally, popular heroes such as Flash and Green Lantern were brought into the figure world.
The line had a very healthy three-year run, with plans to go beyond that sadly never happened. However, in the second year of the line, the New Gods made a major impact, in both the toy line and in the animation, which was now tying itself rather closely to the action figures. Darkseid turned up, and he brought a number of his cohorts with him, including Desaad.
Now, there have been some people that have compared the DC Universe Classics line to Super Powers. Personally, I think this is a valid comparison only insofar as both represent excellent action figures of the DC Universe. As one might expect, the DC Universe Classics line represents larger, more articulated, and more detailed figures. However, the comparison is nevertheless there, to the point where some fans have been keeping a running tally of how many Super Powers figures have made it into the DC Universe Classics line.
The flip side of that particular coin is that Mattel and the Four Horsemen have not only made no secret of their affection for Super Powers, they've even acknowledged it here and there. One forthcoming figure is named Cyclotron, a robot who was introduced in the Super Powers line. I've heard rumors that Samurai, a character introduced in the Super Friends series and worked into the Super Powers line, may be in the works for DC Universe Classics, as well as Golden Pharaoh, a character created specifically for the Super Powers line who was never even in the Super Friends series!
But if you want some seriously obvious comparisons, look no further than Desaad. Of course, Desaad is Desaad. There's only so much you can do with a runty guy in a purple robe. But there are two things you can do to seriously acknowledge the Super Powers connection.
One of them is to give him the same piece of oddball equipment. Desaad is packaged wearing this -- machine. I'm not sure what it's supposed to do. The sheer number of assorted insidious gadgets that Desaad came up with -- for all I know this is an Apokoliptian portable jukebox. But it does have a rather distinctive appearance to it. And it looks a whole lot like the same contraption that the Super Powers Desaad is wearing.
I own most of the Super Powers figures, so I got our my Desaad to make a few comparisons. Obviously the figure is shorter. Interestingly, the weird boots go all the way up to the hips. The Super Powers Desaad's face and hands are far paler, almost greenish in color. Honestly, that's not terribly accurate. Desaad has usually been portrayed as having a normal skin tone.
Molded as part of the figure's torso is this huge -- device. Vaguely trapezoidal in appearance, it is chrome plated, and has two string-like cables that link to some sort of activator devices in Desaad's hands, and have two additional cables that attach to either side of Desaad's head. Two thick pipes sweep around the figure's torso to the back.
The DC Universe Classics version of this machine is pretty close, but there are differences. For starters, it lacks the cables that link to his head, which is probably just as well. Secondly, the thick pipes are adjustable. Thirdly, it's not chrome plated. It's a dark metallic grey, with assorted minimal colored details. And it is more detailed than the original Super Powers version, as one would expect it to be. Most significantly, it's detachable. Desaad doesn't HAVE to be wearing it, which I think is important, since obviously, it's not something he wears constantly (if one reads the comics), and the thing is bulky enough so that I'm pretty sure it would ruin whatever's left of his spine. The poor guy's already a bit hunched over. This would cripple him.
However, the inclusion of the device makes for a very nice nod to the Super Powers line. But it's not even the most blatant one. Remember that display base I mentioned at the top of the review? One one that Desaad comes with instead of a piece of Darkseid? Unlike most of the display bases which have come with DC Universe Classics figures, which have generally been molded in clear plastic, this one is molded in transparent blue. And it has the SUPER POWERS logo imprinted on it in full original color! There it is, the bold blue lettering with the white outline, and the field of yellow stars trailing off in red back to the logo!
I was honestly stunned. This was, in its own way, even wilder than a slightly modified MASK logo appearing on the G.I. Joe package card when Hasbro added Matt Trakker to the G.I. Joe team. At least both of those were products of the same company, at least after Hasbro acquired Kenner. But Mattel NEVER had any aspect of Kenner, and NEVER had any link to Super Powers! One must assume that the name and logo are property of DC Comics, and so Mattel had access to them.
It's still pretty wild, though -- and cool, made even moreso because it's not something that Mattel HAD to do. They could have just as easily provided a plain clear base. Tracking down the Super Powers logo, rendering it suitable for use on this product -- whatever that may have entailed and it might have been fairly considerable since it's a pretty intricate logo -- and then doing whatever was needed to actually imprint it on the base... that took some extra effort. And it's sincerely appreciated. A very nice tribute.
For those wondering if kids today will "get it", I think it's worth noting that Mattel is marketing the DC Universe Classics line as being intended for "Adult Collectors" these days. And most of them -- will get it. The package clearly says "Adult Collector", and the new little bonus of a pinback button -- complete with appropriate warnings on the package about a "functional sharp point" and as such how the toy shouldn't be given to anyone under four years in age (which was the recommended age for the line anyway), have shifted the focus of DC Universe Classics somewhat. Honestly, I don't really mind, and it's also understandable, as Mattel continues to venture further into the DC Universe to turn out amazing action figures of characters that, unlike Superman, or Flash, or Green Lantern, aren't as well known, especially to small children.
So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. Desaad is one of the most despicable lackeys in this or any other universe, but he certainly got a very impressive action figure. I am impressed that Mattel and the Four Horsemen didn't skimp at all in the creation of an entirely new action figure, including with regard to articulation. The very blatant connections to the 1980's Super Powers collection are a nice nod to the action figure history of the DC Universe. And if you're going to have Darkseid, you really need to have Desaad, as well -- and vice versa. I'm glad to have both in my collection.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of DESAAD definitely has my highest recommendation!