REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED JUSTICE GUILD OF AMERICA 4-PACK
Most everybody (at least those who have followed DC Comics to any significant degree) know who the Justice League is -- more often than not, they're a team comprised of DC's top names -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Flash -- the team changes from time to time, but it's at its best when the top players in the DC Universe are involved.
And most DC fans know who the Justice Society is -- originally created in the Golden Age of the 1940's, they later became the legendary heroes of "Earth-2" during the initial "Multiverse" era, and since then have become the team of long-established legends, often training the next generation of heroes. If the Justice League is a team, then the Justice Society is an extended family.
But -- the Justice GUILD!? Apart from honestly being among the least likely candidates for inclusion in the Justice League Unlimited action figure line from Mattel, who in the world are they? Well, if you watched the Justice League animated series, you would know.
In a particular two-part episode, several members of the Justice League found themselves transported to an alternate world, one that seemed to be an idealized society, that also seemed to be vaguely trapped in a 1950's timepoint. Was America ever this simple? This basic? I don't know. I'm not old enough to answer that question.
The heroes of this world were the Justice Guild of America, beings that some members of the Justice League had only known as fictional characters. It was no coincidence that some of these characters bore more than a passing resemblance to members of the Justice Society. There has been some speculation as to why the actual Justice Society wasn't used, but given the way the story played out, it's understandable why they weren't.
Let's consider the story of the Justice Guild of America a little more in-depth: In the two-part episode "Legends", at the climax of a fight with a giant robot, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, and J'onn J'onzz end up on a parallel Earth (existing in a different vibrational frequency from the JL's own) in an idyllic 1950s locale called Seaboard City.
There they meet the Justice Guild of America members - Tom Turbine, the Streak, the Green Guardsman, Black Siren, Cat Man, and their sidekick Ray Thompson. These were comic book characters on the Justice League's Earth about whom Green Lantern read as a child.
And, if I may add, they were more cornball than the 1960's "Batman" series.
Tom Turbine hypothesizes that the JGA writer was psychically tuned in to their Earth during flashes of "inspiration"; this is a nod to the explanation Gardner Fox provided for the JSA/JLA link in his September 1961 story Flash of Two Worlds in which the Barry Allen Flash of Earth-One encounters Jay Garrick, his Earth-Two counterpart, whom he had otherwise read about in the comics.
Probing deeper into inconsistencies found in the "perfect" Seaboard City, the Leaguers find that the JGA actually died when their world's Cuban Missile Crisis escalated into World War III, and they perished in the resultant U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange.
The League confronts the JGA with this knowledge; shocked, the JGA deny that their existence is a mere illusion. J'onn suspects that Ray Thompson is the key to the bizarre state of this reality. Ray denies knowing anything, but J'onn makes a telepathic link with him, causing him to reveal his true form, a disfigured mutant with the ability to warp reality. Ray's abilities were activated by the holocaust, and he created the time warp as a consequence of their manifestation. With a distorted and nostalgic view of reality, he recreated the world of his childhood and resurrected the heroes he worshiped. Angrily, Ray goes on a rampage and tries to shatter reality, attacking both the JL and the JGA. Finally, the JGA decide that they can forfeit their false lives to rebuild Seaboard City as it genuinely is, reasoning that if they could sacrifice themselves once for the citizens, they can do so again.
The Justice League members return to their own Earth using a space/time machine Tom Turbine was working on before his death; meanwhile, in Seaboard City, the inhabitants are freed from a web of lies, and begin to rebuild their shattered world.
On his own Earth, John Stewart ponders on how much the JGA comics meant to him when he was young and the impact the comics' cancellation in 1962 (the year the actual team died) had on him. He remarks to Hawkgirl that the JGA taught him the meaning of the word hero, a commentary on the bright, optimistic Golden and Silver Age's contrast to the Modern Age's grittiness and angst.
It was, needless to say, an interesting and rather weird episode. Personally, I never expected to see action figures of these characters, but when Mattel decided to offer a four-pack of them through their MattyCollector Web Site, I knew I wanted to have them.
Of the five JGA members, the only one missing is Cat Man. I think this is understandable, since appearance-wise, he wasn't too far removed from either Wildcat or Batman, and there is an actual character, a different individual entirely, in the DC Universe named Catman, who has come to some prominence in recent years as a result of his presence in the "Villains United" mini-series leading up to the Infinite Crisis, and subsequent participation in the popular "Secret Six" title. Admittedly, I wouldn't mind seeing the JGA Cat Man added to the Justice League line-up at some point, but I doubt that it'll happen. So let's consider the four figures we've got in this special set.
GREEN GUARDSMAN - Very clearly based on the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, Green Guardsman is probably the most blatant nod to an established character of any of the group, with the possible exception of Black Siren.
Green Guardsman has white hair, a high collared dark green cape (that I'm honestly not sure if it came from a previous figure or not), a lighter green shirt wit an even lighter green shield emblem on it, black trousers, and light green boots. Although the colors differ, the overall uniform configuration is extremely similar to that of Alan Scott's.
Green Guardsman uses a power ring much as any of the Green Lanterns have. The ring has a weakness to aluminum, of all things. Now, admittedly, other Green Lantern rings have had some pretty severe weaknesses. Alan Scott's power ring is useless against wood. Hal Jordan's power ring was useless against anything that was the color yellow, although in more recent years, there has been a more plausible explanation for this than it just being some in-built weakness, and it is a vulnerability that can and has been overcome, depending somewhat on the will power of the user.
Aluminum is a moderately amusing weakness, though, and I sort of wonder where the series writers plucked it out from. Green Guardsman better hope he never gets into a fight in a recycling plant, but then I'm not sure that sort of thing was in vogue in the 1950's.
The character is wearing a green mask with a black-shadowed front. Here's my one very slight complaint with the figure. The way the character was illustrated in the animated series, one side of his nose tended to reflect green. Mattel tried to paint this on the figure, and it's mild proof that sometimes, something that works well in a two-dimensional cartoon doesn't work quite as well on a three-dimensional action figure. If they'd painted Green Guardsman's entire nose green, it might've worked. But just one side?
The figure is otherwise very impressive, though (and the mask is hardly irreparable). The facial expression is that of a heroic grin, pretty much shared by the other figures as well, indicative as much as anything else of the lighter time in which these heroes existed. Green Guardsman is sort of a personal favorite for me.
BLACK SIREN - The other really blatant nod to an established hero, Black Siren is an obvious nod to Black Canary. When the episodes featuring the Justice Guild had aired, Black Canary had yet to make an official appearance or become part of the Justice League, which didn't take place until the series graduated to "Justice League Unlimited".
Black Siren's personality and mannerisms were far more dominant than her super-powers, however. She was a distinctly pre-feminist character, rather over-the-top so, to the point of considering her primary responsibility around Justice Guild headquarters to be serving milk and cookies -- the latter of which she had freshly baked, of course. Her attempts to enlist the aid of Hawkgirl in these duties during the Justice League's visit were, to put it mildly, less than successful and certainly not enthusiastically received.
Since there was no apparent Justice Guild counterpart to Green Arrow, it's anybody's guess if she was romantically linked to any of the existing members of the team.
Black Siren's costume was surprisingly fetching for someone who came across as so demure, but it has to be assumed that it was designed to resemble Black Canary's more than anything else. The costume consists of a lavender bodysuit, over which Black Siren wears a one piece black "swimsuit", black collar, boots, and very high gloves. Honestly, the basics of the costume aren't too far removed from those of Marvel Comics' Scarlet Witch, although I'm inclined to believe this is coincidence. Black Siren also has black lipsitck, and a black mask over her eyes. She has long blonde hair, in keeping with her resemblance to Black Canary.
THE STREAK - The Justice Guild's counterpart to the Flash. Well -- there's worse names he could've been given. Consider that one WW2 era speedster in the Marvel Universe was not only named the Whizzer, but he wore a yellow costume.
The Streak, visually, has some common points with the Earth-1 Flash, and a few with the Earth-2, admittedly stretching the point there, but he's a little more distinctive as a character than either of his established counterparts. The Streak wears a costume that is predominantly red, although he has yellow trunks, a black belt, and yellow boots.
The almost-entirely red costume with limited yellow is certainly reflective of the modern-day Flash. However, the fairly low boots are more indicative of Jay Garrick, the Earth-2 Flash, and the lack of a white circle around the lightning bolt on his chest is also more of a nod to Garrick than to either modern-day Flash.
Additionally, The Streak wears a helmet, not so much a mask. This is very much in keeping with the Jay Garrick Flash, even if the helmet is distinctly different. Jay Garrick's helmet looks more like a WWI "Doughboy" helmet, or the helmet worn by the mythical Greek god of speed, Mercury. The Streak's helmet, on the other hand, looks more like a modified football helmet, or motorcycle helmet. Somewhat more tight-fitting than either of those, it has a cap-like brim on it, and rather than a full face guard or visor, it has a goggle-like mask over the eyes. The helmet is red with two yellow stripes down the center.
One thing especially impresses me about the figure. The cuffs on his boots are fairly low. Given that the number of cuffed-booted figures in the JLU line is fairly limited -- Martian Manhunter, Black Adam, and Captain Marvel being the only ones I can think of offhand -- and seeing as how these figures wear their boots fairly high, I think Mattel may have sculpted specific new legs just for The Streak.
One additional note is that The Streak was the designated leader of the Justice Guild at the time of the League's visit.
TOM TURBINE - Here, to me, is the one enigma on the team. He doesn't really seem to closely enough match any established member of the Justice League or the Golden Age Justice Society to make a fair and reasonable comparison. One online entry I encountered likened him to being a cross between the Earth-2 Atom, Al Pratt, and the Golden Age Superman. The closest thing I can say about that is that there are some superficial costume resemblances between Turbine's costume and that worn by the Golden Age Atom during the Golden Age. But that's about as far as I'd take it.
Tom Turbine's power was that he had created a power belt which he wore, which allowed him to generate energy as needed. This could be used in a variety of ways, including giving him super-strength and other, admittedly, Superman-like abilities. He was also responsible for building a Gateway device which was capable of piercing dimensional barriers, and it's what ultimately allowed the Justice League to return to their home dimension.
Given that Tom Turbine appears to be an otherwise fairly ordinary individual whose main power is obviously a considerable intellect and inventiveness, I'm more inclined to liken him to Reed Richards, also known as Mister Fantastic, leader of Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four -- just without the stretchiness. As far as that goes, he even looks a little like Reed Richards. More lantern-jawed, certainly, but the brown hair isn't too far removed.
The costume design is cool, and certainly rather Golden Age in appearance. Tom Turbine is wearing a yellow shirt with a huge dark blue "T" in the middle of it. He has black trunks, blue leggings, and black boots. The tops of his boots and his wrists have sculpted bands around them, once again, as with The Streak, making me wonder how many unique body parts were created for this particular group of figures. It's pretty impressive.
Tom Turbine also has a large belt around his waist, brown in color, with a huge device in the center that looks like an engine fan as much as anything. Frankly, the whole belt looks like something that a WWE professional wrestler might win in a title match.
On the whole, all four figures are superbly well designed. It definitely looks to me as though Mattel went above and beyond what might have been expected here -- using little more than distinct heads atop existing, properly-colored body molds. There really do seem to be some additional distinctive parts to these figures.
Other than the little glitch on Green Guardsman's nose, all of the paint work is as well carried out as the crafting of the figures themselves. The colors and details are all superb. As one would expect, the articulation isn't that extensive, but then it never has been on this line. The figures are poseable at the head, arms, and legs. Black Siren, typical for many of the females in the Justice League Unlimited line, has a little trouble standing up on her own, given the small feet. However, also typical for many of the female figures in this line, she comes with a small, transparent display base.
So what's my final word here? Okay, these characters appeared once, and the story didn't really have a happy ending. Some might even say they were moderate mockeries of better known heroes, making fun of a legitimately more innocent time. But I think that's being a bit harsh. While their tale didn't end all that well, I prefer to see them as clever nods to a Golden Age that perhaps wasn't as innocent as it was portrayed in that episode, but should nevertheless be fondly remembered and respected. If I thought these characters were that much of a parody, I doubt I would have gotten them.
And, I have to admit, I never expected to see them in figure form! I have a hunch they were pretty popular, because the last time I checked the MattyCollector Web Site, they were sold out, something that hasn't really happened before with one of these special Justice League sets. However, there's bound to be secondary ways for you to acquire the figures.
If you're any sort of fan of the Justice League animated series, here's your chance to bring in the characters from one of the most unusual stories the League ever faced. The JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED set of JUSTICE GUILD OF AMERICA figures definitely has my highest recommendation!