REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE INFINITE HEROES GOLDEN AGE FLASH
One of the cool things about Mattel's DC INFINITE HEROES line of 3-3/4" super-heroes is that it's including a number of characters that are perhaps less likely to appear in the larger scale DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line.
Then again, given that that DCUC line already includes a third-tier guy like Killer Moth, someone who hasn't (yet) turned up in the Infinite Heroes line, it might be more accurate to say that Mattel is prepared to make an action figure of just about anybody in the DC Universe, somewhere within one of their action figure lines, whether it's DC Universe Classics, DC Infinite Heroes, or the animated-style Justice League Unlimited.
And I'm not about to complain about that.
This review will focus on the Flash. The original Flash. Before there was Barry Allen, or Wally West, there was Jay Garrick. He is what would be regarded as a Golden Age hero, one of those characters from the earliest days of DC Comics, before the so-called "Silver Age" of the 1950's, when many of the character names were rebooted into new individuals -- something that happens with unfortunate regularity today, but which was highly rare at the time.
Although Jay Garrick is active to this day, I do find it interesting that a character who got his start before the United States became involved in World War II is well-known enough to warrant an action figure in 2009. That's pretty impressive. Let's learn about his career:
Jason Peter Garrick, who first appeared in Flash Comics #1 in 1940, is a college student prior to 1940 (retconned from 1938) who accidentally inhales hard water vapors after falling asleep in his laboratory where he had been working (later stories would change this to heavy water vapors). As a result, he finds that he can run at superhuman speed and has similarly fast reflexes (retcons imply the inhalation simply activated a latent metagene). After a brief career as a college football star, he dons a red shirt with a lightning bolt and a stylized metal helmet with wings (based on images of the Roman god Mercury) and begins to fight crime as the Flash.
The helmet belonged to Jay's father, Joseph, who fought during World War I. He has been seen using the helmet as a weapon/type of shield, as seen in Infinite Crisis. He has also used it to direct a beam of light at Eclipso.
His first case involves battling the Faultless Four, a group of blackmailers. In the early stories, it seems to be widely known that Garrick was the Flash. Later stories would show him as having his identity secret, and that he was able to maintain it without the use of a mask by constantly "vibrating" his features, making him hard to recognize or clearly photograph. The effectiveness of this is debatable, as he later blamed his lack of a mask for his wife Joan's deducing his true identity.
Like the Flashes who followed him, Garrick became a close friend of the Green Lantern of his time, Alan Scott, whom he met through the Justice Society of America.
The Flash soon became one of the best-known of the Golden Age of superheroes. He is a founding member of the Justice Society of America and serves as its first chairman. He is originally based in New York City, however this was later retconned to the fictional Keystone City. He leaves the JSA after issue #6, but returns several years later (issue #24, Spring 1945) and has a distinguished career as a crimefighter during the 1940s.
Several pieces of retroactive continuity fill out early Garrick history. A story explaining the retirement of the JSA members, including the Flash, explained that in 1951, the JSA is investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee for possible Communist sympathies and asked to reveal their identities. The JSA decline, and Garrick, who recently married his longtime girlfriend Joan, retired from superheroic life.
A trained scientist, he ran an experimental laboratory for several decades. All-Star Squadron Annual #3 states that the JSA fight a being named Ian Karkull who imbues them with energy that retards their aging, allowing Garrick and many others - as well as their girlfriends and sidekicks - to remain active into the late 20th century without infirmity. The 1990s Starman series notes that the Shade prompted Garrick to come out of retirement in the 1950s, but the details of his activities during this time are hazy at best.
Garrick emerges from retirement in 1961 to meet the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, from a parallel world. Garrick's world is dubbed Earth-Two, while Allen's is Earth-One. The rest of the JSA soon join the Flash, although their activities during the 1960s (other than their annual meeting with Earth-One's Justice League of America) are unrecorded. That he and Green Lantern (Alan Scott) are good friends is clear, however.
Garrick is a key member of the JSA's 1970s adventures (as chronicled in All-Star Comics and Adventure Comics), as well as helping to launch the careers of Infinity Inc. Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, all the parallel worlds are merged into one, and Keystone City becomes the twin city across the river from Allen's Central City (an updated story suggests that Keystone in this new continuity was rendered invisible and wiped from the memories of the world for many years through the actions of several supervillains).
In the early 21st century, many of Garrick's JSA cohorts have retired or died, but Garrick remains active with the latest incarnation of the group. He is physically about 50 years old thanks to the effects of several accidental anti-aging treatments, but his chronological age is closer to 90. Of the three original JSA members still on the team (along with Alan Scott and Wildcat), Jay takes a more fatherly approach towards his teammates and the DC superhero community in general. After eating lunch with Wally West and Nightwing (Dick Grayson) in one issue of The Flash, Grayson remarks that he "wants to be like [Garrick] when he grows up".
During the events of Infinite Crisis Jay states that the Speed Force is gone after a battle in which many speedsters, living and dead, wrestle Superboy-Prime into the Speed Force and disappear. Jay is left behind when he reaches his limit and cannot follow.
Jay claims that without the Speed Force, his own power is less than before: like Wally West in the Crisis on Infinite Earths aftermath, he can only run close to the speed of sound. He also stated that as the Speed Force is no longer retarding his aging, his speed is diminishing with time. After Bart left Keystone City for Los Angeles, Jay once again is the city's sole guardian. After hearing news of Bart's demise, Jay collapses with grief, consoled by Jesse Chambers.
Jay is continuing his work as a member of the re-formed Justice Society of America, under the leadership of Power Girl. After the death of Bart Allen, Jay's full speed returns.
As the Flash, Jay can run and move his limbs at superhuman speeds, and possesses superhuman reflexes. His aura prevents air friction from affecting his body and clothes while moving. Unlike Barry, Jay is a metahuman and while he has a connection to the Speed Force, it was not on the level of the other Flashes. Jay possesses the ability to 'steal speed' from other speedsters. When the Speed Force was absorbed into (and only accessible by) Bart Allen following Infinite Crisis, Jay's top speed was the speed of sound. After Bart's death and Wally's return, the Speed Force returned to its normal functions and Jay can now reach near-light speeds.
Jay's words in Infinite Crisis #7 indicate that his metagene was always there but inactive until the Speed Force is 'destroyed' or perhaps until the formation of New Earth took place.
My own first encounter with the Golden Age heroes was one of the annual JLA/JSA team-ups that took place throughout the 60's, 70's, and into the 80's. This was in the 60's for me, and since I was just getting involved in comic books at the time, I had no idea who these Golden Age heroes were, or what their very extensive history was.
I was able to grasp the idea of "alternate earths" easily enough, and rather liked the idea, but I was not aware at all that the Earth-Two heroes had such an impressive legacy. To me, the Flash was someone who wore an all-red costume with lightning bolts on it, and this Earth-Two Flash was just someone with the same name that had been designed differently -- and a little weirdly in my opinion -- so he would look different from the "real" Flash. Same for Green Lantern, Hawkman, and a number of others.
It would not be until quite a few years later when I became aware of the history of the character. I still think his costume is a little odd, but what the heck. I certainly have a greater appreciation for the history of the character.
So, how's the figure? Very nicely done. This Flash first turned up in a Wal-Mart exclusive repackaging of an early DCIH set that included the modern Flash, along with Weather Wizard and Mirror Master. Since I already had that set, I didn't really feel like picking it up a second time just to get the Jay Garrick Flash, who was officially designated "Flash I" on the package.
However, this figure was fairly quickly released on a single card, which calls him simply, "The Flash". And if you want proof that Mattel is running on full throttle with this action figure line, you need look no further than the fact that Jay Garrick here is figure number 47 -- in the DC Infinite Heroes line, which seems content to stay at "Series 1" and just keep running the figure number up as high as they can. Interesting marketing strategy.
The figure is a superb rendition of the Golden Age Flash. Red shirt, lightning bolt, blue trousers, somewhat loose-fitting red boots, and the Mercury-like helmet. I've always felt that the lightning bolt on this Flash's costume is a little strange. It seems to shoot upwards from the base of the shirt. That's not the customary direction that lightning goes, and it strikes me as a little strange even for a superhero insignia. In fact, during a time in the 1960's, this Flash's emblem was redrawn to just be a lightning bolt centered on the red shirt. Even some of the early work seems a little indecisive on this point. However, the custom appears to be t have the lightning bolt shooting upwards from the base of the shirt, so that's how the figure was designed.
Two other interesting lightning bolts are the ones running down the sides of his legs. A reproduction of the first Flash comic cover from 1940 does show these lightning bolts. But apparently they're somewhat inclined to come and go. I have to admit that they do add a little -- dare I say it -- flash to the overall costume design, so I'm pleased that Mattel went the extra steps to include them.
Although the figure certainly uses common-use body parts for much of his form, the boots are unique. In keeping with the character design, they appear to be somewhat loose-fitting, and have little yellow wings on them. The outfit is completed with a black belt that is painted across the waist, with a silver buckle.
The headsculpt is superb. It doesn't make the Flash look particularly elderly. The hair, underneath the helmet, has been painted white, if you want an indication of the character's age. His eyebrows and especially his eyes have been superbly well detailed. Remember we're talking about a 4" figure here. That makes for a pretty small head. And yet, the whites of the eyes are painted, he has blue irises, black pupils, little white light-reflection dots, and a black line over the eyes to simulate eyelashes. It's really very impressive.
The helmet, although not removable, was clearly molded as a separate piece, and given the number of mold trim lines visible, it wasn't an easy piece to come up with. Looks to me like those wings must've given Mattel's mold-creating department absolute fits. Nevertheless, the helmet is well made, accurate to the figure, and a good fit.
Any complaints? Just two, and they're both pretty minor. The front and back halves of the torso are not glued together quite as precisely as they should have been. This is nothing that a little trimming can't remedy, and it doesn't affect the articulation of the figure, but it is indicative of a slight carelessness that I would hope Mattel can get past.
And the lower left leg seems to be a little -- incomplete on one side of the knee. It's also not as fully painted blue as it should be. I'm honestly not sure if the plastic wasn't "pushed through" enough, or if it was trimmed too far when it came out of the mold, or both. It's relatively minor, but noticeable.
If this had been a DC Universe Classics figure, which I regard (and I would think Mattel does, also) to be one of their top of the line DC figures, I'd be a lot more upset. While I do expect a generally excellent level of quality from all of Mattel's products -- there's no reason they're not capable of it -- I tend to be a little more forgiving about the little guys in the Infinite Heroes line, and there's nothing all that wrong with this Flash figure keeping that in consideration.
The articulation of the figure is excellent. He is nicely poseable at the head, arms (outward as well as forward and back), elbows, waist, legs, and knees. I know some people believe that these figures should be more articulated than they are. I disagree. I think they're articulated just right. I have seen too many 3-3/4" scale figures where so much articulation is put into the figure that it hurts the look of the figure as being a decent representation of the character. What you're left with is an exercise is plastic engineering.
These figures do not need to have mid-torso articulation, multiple swivel and pivot points, and double-jointed whatever. It's just not necessary, and with the possible exception of Microman -- and those guys are supposed to look like some sort of cybernetic assemblages -- I have yet to see a small-scale action figure where that degree of articulation really worked. Clone Troopers are about it, and on them, you can work it into the armor design.
So, what's my final word here? I can't quite escape the idea that it'd be cool to be able to step back in time almost 70 years, find some kids that are reading the newest issue of Flash Comics, and show them this action figure. They'd probably be astonished over the detail and articulation, but they'd also know exactly who it was. Of course, I'd probably paint the hair brown before leaving on such a journey. Those kids wouldn't know from Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen, or anybody else. But they'd know the Flash, and to them, this would be THE Flash. Jay Garrick. Period.
Even without a time-travel trip, this is a cool figure. Jay Garrick may no longer be as prominent as some of his successors, but he's still a good character within the DC Universe, presently serving in the Justice Society of America, and trying to make sure the inheritors of the legacies of some of the heroes from his time grow up and stay on the straight track.
It's about time we got a figure of this significant character from DC's Golden Age, and Mattel's done a good job with him. The DC UNIVERSE INFINITE HEROES FLASH figure definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!