REVIEW: DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES JOHN STEWART
It can be stated very fairly that during the early to late 1970's, one company pretty well ruled the action figure world. That company was Mego. And they ruled it with as many licenses as they could pick up, that would fit into their customary product of 8", cloth-costumed action figures.
Mego came up with an extremely shrewd way of producing product as inexpensively as possible. They created one basic body, which could be molded in any color needed, and to which could be affixed any needed head, and then dressed in whatever cloth costuming was appropriate.
Now, admittedly, it wasn't just ONE body. They had a male adult body, a somewhat overweight adult body, a female body, and a couple of younger-style bodies. But for the most part, one of the single most expensive parts of toymaking -- creating the molds -- was dealt with. The rest was heads, costumes, and licensing -- which Mego did to great effect, with both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, something that hasn't happened since, as well as such popular properties as Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, the Wizard of Oz, and a lot more.
Although the Mego Corporation no longer exists, the popularity of their product endures. And to one degree or another, it's been recurring. A company called EmCe Toys, with the blessing and assistance of Mego's founder, brought back the Star Trek and Planet of the Apes licenses, with very precisely reproduced Mego-style figures. Other companies have been creating Mego-esque figures of licenses never dreamed of by Mego, assuming they even existed at the time.
And then there's Mattel -- and their DC Comics license. Certainly there were plenty of DC-based Megos back in the 1970's. Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Joker, Penguin, and many others. But there were a lot of characters from the DC Universe that didn't get made as Megos, although some were at least planned. Flash, Green Lantern, Mister Freeze, and a good number of others.
Mattel has been doing their best to rectify this, and the results have been most interesting. In a line dubbed DC Retro-Action Super-Heroes, we have finally seen the release of Mego-like figures based on not only Green Lantern and the Flash, but plenty of other characters, some of which might well not have been on Mego's radar -- Black Manta, Sinestro, Two-Face, Martian Manhunter, Darkseid, Reverse-Flash, and a number of others.
Then there's the Green Lantern corner of the DC Universe. Certainly this has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to such epic adventures as the Sinestro Corps War, the development of the Red Lanterns, the appearance of other-colored Lantern Corps, and of course, Blackest Night, not to mention the recent live-action movie. The Green Lanterns are more popular than ever.
The most popular Green Lantern is Hal Jordan, and he was one of the first figures released in the DC Retro-Action line. But he's hardly the only Earth-based Green Lantern these days. There are others -- Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, and John Stewart. And in a special assortment of Retro-Action Super-Heroes, these additional Green Lanterns are being made available through MattyCollector.Com, along with Sinestro in his Sinestro Corps uniform.
What we have here is an interesting dichotomy -- figures that look like they're from the 1970's, or at least are based on a figure design from the 70's, that in a number of instances could not have been made in the 1970's, because they didn't exist in the 1970's. Sinestro existed, but not in his current uniform. Guy Gardner had turned up, but had been relegated way to the sidelines, and certainly hadn't taken up his best-known uniform, which his Retro-Action figure uses (see separate review). And Kyle Rayner didn't even exist until the 1990's.
And then there's the matter of JOHN STEWART. Technically, he did exist. And he was Hal Jordan's back-up, even back then. Essentially, he didn't see a lot of time in the comics. It really took the Justice League animated series to bring Stewart into the spotlight, although he had had his share of adventures in the comics -- and by then he was quite a different John Stewart than the one which was introduced, which in theory could have been made as a Mego figure back in the 1970's.
Let's first of all consider the history of John Stewart.
John Stewart first appeared in Green Lantern #87, in December 1971, and was created by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams.
John Stewart is an architect and veteran US Marine who was selected as Hal Jordan's backup after Guy Gardner, the initial intended backup, was seriously injured for an extended period of time. Jordan initially objected after seeing that Stewart had a belligerent attitude toward authority figures, but the Guardians stood by their devision.
To Jordan, Stewart's first mission began badly with the assignment of protecting a racist politician, and Stewart took advantage of averting an accident to embarrass him in the process. However, Stewart soon proved his worth when an assassin shot at the politician, but Stewart refused to intervene with Jordan to move in response to the attack. As it turned out, Stewart had good reasons for this apparent dereliction of duty when he stopped a gunman from killing a police officer in the outside parking lot at the event while Jordan was pursuing a decoy. When Jordan confronted Stewart about his actions, Stewart explained that the politician had staged it for political advantage. With that, Jordan concluded that Stewart was a good recruit after all.
For some time, Stewart occasionally filled in for Jordan as Green Lantern when Jordan was unavailable, including some missions of the Justice League. After Jordan temporarily gave up being Green Lantern in the 1980's, the Guardians selected Stewart for full-time duty, including during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. During this time, Stewart married Katma Tui, a Green Lantern from the planet Korugar who was initially assigned to train John in the use of his ring. Katma and John also served together within the Green Lantern Corps of Earth, alongside Jordan, Arisia, Kilowog, Salaak, and a number of others.
After John's ring was rendered powerless through the schemes of Sinestro, and Katma Tui was murdered, Stewart's life began to unravel. He was falsely accused of killing Carol Ferris, and then falsely accused of theft by the African nation of South Nambia. He was jailed and tortured in South Nambia for weeks, before freeing himself with his old ring, now repowered thanks to Hal Jordan.
Afterwards, John left Earth for space, where he failed to prevent the destruction of the planet Xanshi. He would later become the caretaker of the "Mosaic World", a patchwork of communities from multiple planets than had been brought to Oa by an insane Guardian. However, tragedy struck once again when Hal Jordan, possessed by Parallax, destroyed both the Guardians and the Central Power Battery, robbing John of his newfound powers.
Following the "Emerald Twilight" storyline and the collapse of the Green Lantern Corps, Stewart was recruited by the Controllers to command the Darkstars, another interstellar peacekeeping force. Using the new resources at his command, Stewart evacuated the Mosaic cities from Oa prior to its destruction and served the Darkstars with distinction until he was crippled in battle with Grayven on the planet Rann.
Stewart eventually regained the use of his legs, thanks to Hal Jordan during the "Final Night" storyline. He would later accept a new power ring entrusted to Kyle Rayner by a time-lost Hal Jordan, and joined the Justice League to fill in for Rayner as he took an extended leave of absence from Earth (and to make the comic go along with the animated series at the time, as well).
With the return of Hal Jordan and the Guardians, the Green Lantern Corps has been reorganized. Each sector of space now has two Green Lanterns assigned to it, and Stewart and Jordan now share regular duty for Earth's sector, 2814. John Stewart helped to design the current Justice League headquarters, and occasionally serves with the team. However, his main adventures are with the Green Lantern Corps these days, and he has participated in the Sinestro Corps War, the encounter with the Red Lanterns, the Blackest Night storyline, and more.
Additionally, he starred on the short-lived comic "Green Lantern: Mosaic", which ran for 18 issues in 1992 and 1993, and was the primary Green Lantern in the main title from #182 through #200.
Still, it can be argued that Stewart, as Green Lantern, best came into the spotlight as the primary Green Lantern during the run of the animated Justice League series, and it was here that his modern look was established, with his short, almost military-cut hair, and his distinctive Green Lantern uniform that was mostly black, with a wide expanse of green across the top and shoulders, green boots, and green cuffs.
This is not, however, what the DC Retro-Action figure looks like. Nevertheless, it does look like what John Stewart looked like back in the 70's.
So -- how's the figure? Very cool, and -- in a time-twisting sense -- entirely appropriate. What Mattel has done is to create a John Stewart figure that looks like what a Mego-style John Stewart figure would have looked like if there had been a John Stewart Green Lantern figure made available during the days of Mego. As such, it doesn't look particularly like the John Stewart we know today, but it definitely looks like John Stewart as he appeared at the time.
There are several notable differences. For starters, John Stewart initially wore a mask, and as such, one is sculpted to his face as part of th headsculpt, and painted in the appropriate shade of green.
But that's hardly the most prominent costume difference. We're used to seeing a large percentage of Green Lanterns design their own costumes, within reason, as long as they contain an appropriate measure of green, and usually the other colors are black and white. In some cases, a distinctive costume design is a matter of anatomical necessity. Not all of the Green Lanterns are humanoid by any stretch of the imagination. But even among those that are, not all of them choose the "traditional" Green Lantern costume, and in modern times, John Stewart is one who has not.
However, back in the 1970's, most Green Lanterns, at least those that could fit into a basic humanoid appearance, which certainly included John Stewart, all dressed alike. So it is that this Retro-Action John Stewart figure is appropriately dressed in a very nicely made cloth costume that is entirely identical to Hal Jordan's own -- mostly green, with black sleeves and legs, a bit of black on the sides, green boots, and white gloves, with the Green Lantern emblem in the center of the chest.
The costume is very well made, nicely done, although the Green Lantern emblem is just the tiniest bit crooked. However, I have no reason to believe that all of the John Stewart figures are like this. Although this is the sort of thing, albeit very minor in this instance, why I don't really like to buy my action figures online if I can help it. I prefer to get them in person where I can give them a good looking over first.
Most of the costume is made from a stretchable fabric. The gloves -- except for the hands, which are molded in the glove white -- are made from a faux leather-like material, and sewn to the sleeves. The boots are a flexible plastic. This is a notable difference from the days of Mego, when the boots were made from a more rigid plastic.
On the whole, though, the costume is excellent, and certainly accurate.
Then we come to the other major visual difference -- the hair. Most modern readers of the Green Lantern comics are used to seeing John Stewart with extremely short hair. When the animated Justice League series segued into Justice League Unlimited, he even shaved his head in the series. But let's keep in mind, the character was created in the early 1970's. Even into the 80's, right up to the tome of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the man had something of an afro.
And so does the figure. It's nothing at all outlandish, although it's a bit more than the lone African-American figure that Mego made at the time -- Marvel's Falcon. Of course, Falcon kept his hair more close-cropped in the comics to begin with. Now, anybody who's seen news footage from the 1960's knows that a lot of people -- from various races -- were growing some huge afros. John Stewart's isn't like that, but neither is it the close-cropped style he wears these days. It's been very nicely sculpted, though, and just as neatly painted.
The overall headsculpt is excellent. The mask is nicely done, and the facial expression relatively neutral. The original Megos weren't known for being overly expressive, with the obvious exception of the Joker and a few other extreme cases. But those with more normal faces had relatively neutral expressions, and so does this figure.
One thing that impresses me, and this is going to sound a little odd, is the ears. For whatever reason, Mego figures always had very detailed ears. The ears on this John Stewart figure look like they're right from the days of Mego. Almost makes me wonder if they found one of Mego's original sculptors and hired him. Overall, the entire head has a very Mego look about it, even more than some of the other Retro-Action figures I've seen.
The body underneath the costume -- is not precisely a Mego replica. That design seems to be in the province of EmCe Toys for their Star Trek and other lines these days, and I suspect there were some legal reasons why Mattel couldn't precisely duplicate it. For the most part, they've created a very capable and nearly compatible body, however. My only minor gripes about it are that the lower torso piece is a little on the small side, and as a result, the legs tend to be a little loose in the articulation. They don't hold a pose all that well, and sometimes getting a figure to stand up and stay standing can be a little tricky.
Then again, these figures aren't really intended for a lot of rough play, and I doubt they'd withstand it well, anyway. They're intended as collector pieces, and I would imagine that not a lot of collectors are even inclined to take them off their package cards. I do.
I should say a word about the packaging. Mattel has very cleverly put their own spin on a package design that is very reminiscent of the original Mego carded figures. Their Retro-Action Super-Heroes are mounted to one side of a squarish cardboard, which has a logo that comes about as close to the original World's Greatest Super-Heroes logo as it's possible to get, with a series of circles beneath that, that feature reasonably retro line art drawings of the characters featured in any given assortment -- in this case the various Green Lanterns and Sinestro. Full drawings in the same style are on the back of the card. The figures are mounted on rectangular "bubbles" that are very reminiscent of Mego.
John Stewart is nicely articulated, if a little wobbly, and is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. The left hand has a considerable resemblance to a traditional Mego-style hand, and the right hand is a clenched fist, and of course, displays a Green Lantern ring.
John Stewart also comes with an accessory, a lantern battery, that's been nicely designed in a certain retro style itself. I suspect if Mego had ever gotten around to adding Green Lantern to their line-up, a lantern accessory would have looked very much like this.
So what's my final word? I'm very pleased to have this figure. I had a ton of Megos when I was a kid and a teen. I still have my Mego Superman. I've been impressed with EmCe's work in bringing back Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, but obviously, they couldn't snag the DC license. Mattel, in turn, has done a most impressive job of bringing back the days of 8-inch, cloth-costumed super-heroes as anyone in recent memory, and there have been a few previous attempts. Mattel's DC Retro-Action Super-Heroes definitely live up to their name. They're cool, they're retro, and John Stewart is a welcome addition to the collection. Super-hero fans new and old will be most pleased with him.
The DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES figure of GREEN LANTERN JOHN STEWART definitely has my highest recommendation!