REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS EL DORADO
Something that I have always appreciated about the creators of Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures, whether you're talking about the Mattel or the highly talented sculptors and designers at the Four Horsemen Studios, is that they are distinct fans of all aspects of the DC Universe. I really think it helps if you really enjoy what you're working on.
They also know its history, including some of its quirkier aspects, which is why, with Wave 18 of the DC Universe Classics line, we're getting a number of figures that might seem a little -- peculiar. Certain modern-day fans who might rather see other, better known, or more contemporary characters might raise an eyebrow or scoff at these, but honestly, I'm glad to see them, because to me, it lends these characters a certain legitimacy that, admittedly, they've struggled with.
The characters I am referring to are four super-heroes that were developed specifically for the Super Friends animated television series, which was developed by Hanna-Barbera in the 1970's, and had a very healthy run well into the 1980's, under a number of name changes. Although the show tended to focus on the big guns of the DC Universe -- Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, and along the way other well known heroes from the DC Universe found their way in, there was a handful of heroes, specifically created by Hanna-Barbera, that only ever really appeared in the cartoon show.
Admittedly, these four were created to provide a certain amount of racial diversity. It was a politically-correct statement of sorts before that term had even been coined -- and before it became so prevalent in society to the exceedingly annoying degree that it has today. A few of these heroes have had action figures before, although not extensively. This is the first time any of them have made it into a flagship line such as DC Universe Classics.
Those four individuals are SAMURAI, EL DORADO, BLACK VULCAN, and the wave's Collect-and-Connect, APACHE CHIEF. A fifth character, GOLDEN PHARAOH, was created specifically for the 1980's SUPER POWERS line from Kenner, and never even appeared in the cartoon show. He was brought into the DC Universe Classics line several waves back, and he's a superb figure. If you don't have him, track him down.
This review will take a look at arguably the most obscure of this unusual group of heroes, EL DORADO. But first, a little history on the Super Friends series, for those of you unfamiliar with it who might think that the modern Batman, Superman, and Justice League series and their successors are where DC animation really got going.
Super Friends was an animated series about a team of superheroes, which ran from 1973 to 1986 on ABC as part of its Saturday morning cartoon lineup. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera and was based on the Justice League of America and associated characters.
The name of the program, and the JLA members featured with the Super Friends, have been variously represented (such as Super Friends and Challenge of the Super Friends for example) at different points in its broadcast history.
Plotlines for the first incarnation of the Super Friends did not involve any of the familiar DC Comics supervillains. Rather, they focused on the often far-fetched schemes of various mad scientists and aliens, who were revealed at some point in the program to be well-intentioned but pursuing their goals through an unlawful or disreputable means. Typically, at the end, all that is needed is a peaceful and reasonable discussion to convince the antagonists to adopt more reasonable methods.
The All-New Super Friends Hour departed somewhat from the previous series' formula by using villains that used much more violent methods to further their goals and typically could not be reasoned with, requiring the heroes to use force to stop them. Beginning with Challenge of the Super Friends, several of the heroes' arch-villains from the comic books, such as Lex Luthor and The Riddler, began to feature prominently in comic-style stories.
Super Friends first aired on ABC on September 8, 1973, featuring well known DC characters Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. Superman, Batman & Robin and Aquaman had each previously appeared in their own animated series produced by Filmation, and voice talent from these prior programs was brought over to work on the new show.
In addition to the superheroes, a trio of sidekicks was introduced, each of whom were new characters not drawn from the comic books: Wendy, Marvin White, and Wonderdog, none of whom had any special abilities (save the dog's unexplained ability to reason and "talk", not unlike Scooby-Doo) The three were depicted as detectives and/or superheroes in training.
Each episode would begin with the heroes responding to an emergency detected by the massive TroubAlert computer that was situated within the Hall of Justice which served as the headquarters of the team. Colonel Wilcox, a U.S. Army official, was a recurring character who would work as a government liaison to the Super Friends during emergencies.
Conflicts were often ultimately resolved with the antagonists persuaded to adapt more reasonable methods to achieve their aims with the assistance of the heroes. Natural disasters triggered by human (or alien) activity were often shown, and environmental themes featured strongly in the program.
Three other DC Comics superheroes were featured as guest stars during this season: the Flash, Plastic Man, and Green Arrow.
This first run of Super Friends, consisting of sixteen one hour episodes that were rerun several times, concluded on August 24, 1974.
The All-New Super Friends Hour which followed featured four animated shorts per program which followed a basic format each week. The first segment of every show featured two of the heroes, teaming up in a separate mini-story. The second segment featured a story with the newly-introduced Wonder Twins, a pair of alien heroes named Zan and Jayna, who honestly fit the bill a little better than Wendy and Marvin did, as they wore more super-hero-looking costumes and had actual super-powers -- although whether Gleek the blue space monkey was an improvement over Wonderdog may be open to some debate. The third segment was considered the "primary" adventure of the week which featured the entire Super Friends roster (including the Wonder Twins) in a longer adventure. The fourth and final segment featured a story with one of the primary lineup along with a "special guest star". The fourth segment typically featured a problem that was solved using the guest star's unique abilities.
In addition, between segments there were additional short spots with members of the Super Friends giving basic safety lessons, providing basic first aid advice, demonstrating magic tricks, creating crafts, and presenting a two-part riddle featuring the week's primary plotline.
The next segment of the show, which was also half an hour in length, was called the Challenge of the Super Friends. These stories introduced the Legion of Doom, a team of thirteen recurring foes who are the Super Friends' worst enemies. They used a swamp-based mechanical flying headquarters, the Hall of Doom, as a suitable contrast with the Super Friends' gleaming Hall of Justice.
Additional heroes that had previously appeared only as guest stars were added to the roster as well, to make a total of eleven. These included the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman, as well as the three Hanna-Barbera creations Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, and Samurai.
Once again renamed, this time simply reverting to Super Friends in 1980, the series changed formats again, abandoning the production of half hour episodes and producing seven minute shorts. Each episode of Super Friends would feature a rerun from one of the previous six years along with three of these new shorts. These new adventures featured appearances by the core group of the five classic Super Friends along with Zan, Jayna and Gleek. There were also guest appearances from members previously depicted in Challenge of the Super Friends as well as the original Hanna-Barbera created hero El Dorado.
In September 1984, Super Friends returned with a new thirty minute program that typically featured two 11-minute stories per episode. This incarnation featured Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and the Wonder Twins and Gleek, this time teamed up with Firestorm. In addition to this core group, episodes during this season also featured some cameos by old and new Super Friends. This series featured various villains from the comic books such as Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Mirror Master and Mr. Mxyzptlk, as well as Darkseid and his henchmen from Apokolips.
This season, and the one to follow, featured the "Super Powers" tag which was part of a marketing tie-in with the action figure line.
In the fall of 1985, the next version of Hanna-Barbera's depiction of the DC Comics heroes began, although it no longer carried the Super Friends name. Subtitled "Galactic Guardians", this series returned to a conventional line-up for the team, with a focus on the newer members Cyborg and Firestorm. Once again headquartered at the Hall of Justice in Metropolis, the heroes battled such familiar foes as Lex Luthor, Brainiac and the Scarecrow, as well as the recurring villain Darkseid. It also contained the first and only appearances by The Joker, The Penguin, the Royal Flush Gang and Felix Faust.
The tone of the Galactic Guardians incarnation was notably more serious than Super Friends had been in the past. Additionally, the Galactic Guardians series featured the first televised depiction of Batman's origin in the episode "The Fear". This was the final season of the series.
Now, relative to modern DC animation, Super Friends, in any of its incarnations, does come across as more than a little hokey. Nevertheless, for the time period in which it was presented, it showcased some very popular heroes, made for some great adventures, and when it ultimately tied in to the Super Powers action figure line, provided a link to an action figure line that it still very well regarded to this day, and deservedly so.
As such, while the presence of some of these oddball characters might mean that someone more closely tied to the DC Universe might have to wait his or her turn for a while, I can live with it. In contrast, these characters are still ahead of some that I really don't care whether or not they make it into the line, and even a few that already have.
So, let's consider the character of EL DORADO. This is the first action figure the character has ever had. He was apparently planned to be part of the Super Powers line, even ahead of any of the others except for Samurai, who did make it into the line. I consider this somewhat unusual, since from an animation standpoint, he actually came along later. However, the Super Powers action figure line was canceled before El Dorado could be made.
Nor was he part of the Justice League Unlimited three-pack, which consisted of Samurai, Black Vulcan, and Apache Chief. This made sense, given that those three all turned up in the animated series at roughly the same time, with El Dorado being introduced later.
Let's consider the background of El Dorado -- or what we can of it. Obviously, this being the 1970's when the character was introduced, and then only for a kids' cartoon, I suspect little thought was given into a full origin. In fact, no real name has ever even been established for the character, and none is listed even on his action figure package. However, we do know a few things about him.
El Dorado was created solely for the Super Friends cartoons and has never appeared in a mainstream DC comic. He first appeared as minor character in the Super Friends animated shorts, which aired in 1981 season, and later in Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show as a full-time member.
El Dorado, of Mexican origin, was added as one of several attempts to display racial diversity among the characters. Like other ethnic characters added during this period, he was somewhat stereotypical. El Dorado spoke English with an accent, sporadically substituting common Spanish words or phrases, such as adding words like "rapido" and replacing nearly every instance of "yes" with "si".
In El Dorado's debut episode "Alien Mummy" it is revealed that he is of Mexican descent. The narrator sets the scene by describing the location as "ancient Aztec ruins in the Mexican wilderness". One of El Dorado's lines is "these are the mysterious ruins of my people".
El Dorado's powers were not well-defined and were highly ambiguous. His most frequently used ability was teleportation, which he accomplished by wrapping his cape over his body and vanishing. Anyone or anything he wrapped his cape around could also be teleported with him, and there appeared to be no limit to the distance he could travel.
Another of his frequently used powers was the ability to generate illusions. Defined as "holograms," these illusions were also capable of fooling other senses, as they sometimes generated noise and could be touched; he once created a sea monster which roared loudly, and on another occasion generated a pile of fake dolls a villain was forced to physically dig through.
He also exhibited some degree of mental powers, including telepathy. During the series' opening theme, he is at one point shown to be hovering, suggesting flight capabilities, and he would sometimes enter from the side of the screen as if he were just landing.
He may have also possessed superhuman strength, as he once competed directly against Kalibak in physical combat, and was also seen on several occasions to lift heavy objects with little effort.
No origin was ever given to explain El Dorado's past, nor the method through which he had acquired these powers. Knowledgeable about Pre-Columbian history (yet vague in his explanations), he assisted the Super Friends whenever they were forced to enter unfamiliar ruins or areas in Latin America.
In later incarnations, his powers were more well-defined, wherein he had telepathic powers and the ability to create illusions.
One sort of gets the impression that the character might have been created in some haste, just to put someone of Hispanic origin on the team, with a sufficiently Mexican name, manner of speaking, and for that matter, costume, and didn't give a whole lot of thought as to his super-powers.
Even the character's name, El Dorado, is derived from that of a historical individual whose name became a legend. El Dorado (Spanish for "the golden one") is the name of a Muisca tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust and, as an initiation rite, dived into a highland lake.
Later it became the name of a legendary "Lost City of Gold" that has fascinated – and so far eluded – explorers since the days of the Spanish Conquistadors. Though many have searched for years on end to find this city of gold, no evidence of such a place has been found.
Imagined as a place, El Dorado became a kingdom, an empire, the city of this legendary golden king. In pursuit of the legend, Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro would depart from Quito in 1541 in a famous and disastrous expedition towards the Amazon Basin; as a result of this, however, Orellana became the first person known to navigate the Amazon River all the way to its mouth.
In fairness, El Dorado does have a fair amount of gold in his costume, but there doesn't seem to be any other significant connection between the character and any historical references of the name. As much as anything, given the apparent extent of his powers -- and who knows if that teleportation trick is something in his cape or just something he can do on his own and he uses the cape for a dramatic flair -- El Dorado could likely best be defined as a Mexican Superman, with a rather remarkable variety of powers.
So, how's the figure? Really very impressively done. I won't say that these "Super Friends" figures are unsettling, but they are unusual. Unlike the Justice League Unlimited set, which strove to bring the characters into the animated style of that series, the DC Universe Classics collection has consistently shown that its intention is always first and foremost to present a straightforward, realistic interpretation of the characters.
The result here is a figure that looks more "real" than its animated counterpart. Although the original Super Powers series wasn't particularly stylized to any degree the way modern DC-based series have been, it was certainly simplified. This is evident even comparing it to later animated series that made use of a more realistic character design, such as the 90's X-Men series, for example. Somewhat limited animation and a lack of shading in the painting process led to a look which, admittedly, by modern standards, looks a little flat.
So here we have a El Dorado figure that, quite frankly, looks a whole lot more impressive than he ever did when he was in the cartoon.
Nowhere is that more evident than on the chestplate, collar, and belt. If you see an image of El Dorado from the cartoon, it shows the collar as a simple starburst pattern, and a mild sunburst pattern on the belt, tapering up to the connecting narrow chestplate. Not a lot of detail drawn into the design.
The figure? Looks like some of the Four Horsemen took a vacation to Aztec country and took their sketchpads with them. I mean -- wow! The gold collar still has the intricate sunburst pattern, but it's much more involved than before, with a ridge around the perimeter, and more sculpted details within. There's a small sculpted eagle at the connecting point between the collar and the narrow chestplate, which tapers down into a much more highly sculpted belt. Those areas of the gold collar-chestplate-belt that aren't specifically sculpted with a design have been given a sort of rough texturing.
The headsculpt is superb. It looks entirely Mexican with admittedly a hairstyle that pretty much went out of style twenty or more years ago, but for the character, it works. I might've given the figure somewhat bushier eyebrows and a slightly narrower face, but when your only reference for a character's design is some fairly simplified cartoon images, from which you have to derive a fairly realistic appearance, hey, this came across extremely well.
The overall facial detail is excellent. El Dorado looks appropriate heroic, and of the correct ethic background, without anything exaggerated in his design. The paintwork is nicely done and most impressive.
El Dorado's costume is interesting, the gold trim aside. It seems to have been a peculiar hallmark of the Hanna-Barbera designed characters that they seemed a little underdressed relative to their better-known DC-created counterparts. Black Vulcan's legs were bare. Apache Chief wore a vest, trunks, and boots. I honestly don't know if this was an excessive attempt to show greater skin-color variety or what, but -- the designs are what they are. There's certainly been no shortage of skimpy outfits in the super-hero world since.
El Dorado is shirtless, other than the collar, narrow chestplate, and belt. He has metallic gold gloves, which are strictly painted on. This almost doesn't work, since their design gives them very jagged cuffs, and it almost looks as though El Dorado's lower arms and hands themselves are gold, since there isn't really a straight-line transition between gloves and arms. He is wearing dark green leggings, and red boots with gold patterning on them. Almost looks like he got the design from Hawkman, but El Dorado's colors are similar to those of the Mexican flag. And he has a red cape, of course, which on the figure is actually part and parcel of the same piece that also includes his collar, chestplate, and belt. I'm glad I wasn't part of the assembly crew.
Obviously, whenever possible, Mattel is going to want to use existing molds. It's a consistency of this line that I sincerely appreciate, and one of the reasons why I rail against the double-articulated elbows and knees, which blessedly are absent on these Super Friends figures, although Captain Boomerang and Toyman, also in this Wave, weren't so fortunate. In El Dorado's case, the figure uses a basic body, for the most part, and the upper part of the costume and the cape is a separately-molded piece. But it works very nicely.
Of course, El Dorado is highly articulated, and is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. Everything works superbly well on this figure, too. The waist and legs are a little loose, but I've encountered looser, and I'll take that over stuck parts anytime.
So, what's my final word here? If you have any recollection of the Super Friends series, you'll certainly welcome this figure into your DC Universe Classics collection. If for some reason you don't remember the series, go to your local library or video store and see if they have it available. Most of it is on DVDs. Try to keep it in the context of the time in which it was produced, and have some fun with it. Then you'll be able to appreciate this figure and his compatriots in this assortment. For myself, I'm delighted to see all of them.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of EL DORADO definitely has my highest recommendation!