Although Justice League Unlimited is no longer airing (I highly recommend the DVD sets of the series), the action figure line continues to be popular, and is releasing figures that while increasingly obscure, and in a few cases I'm not entirely certain even appeared in the animated series, nonetheless are proving to be quite popular.
One of these, which I was interested in, appeared in the action figure line a while back, but I somehow missed him. Fortunately, he's been released again, on a single card, among the recent assortments, so this time around, I snapped him up. His name is ORION, and there is quite a history to this character, and the universe surrounding him.
In the early 1970's, comic book legend Jack Kirby, best known for his tenure in introducing the world to the modern Marvel Universe with such characters as Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men, and others, created an entire new concept for the DC Universe. They were called the New Gods.
Immensely powerful beings, they existed on two worlds somewhere -- out there someplace. On New Genesis were the heroes of the peace, led by the Highfather. It was a place of light and life. Its counterpart was Apokolips, a grim world of darkness and despair, ruled with an iron fist by the evil and astoundingly powerful Darkseid, who has gone on to be one of the greatest ongoing threats to the DC Universe.
The comics, produced by Kirby, certainly had his signature style. Lots of extensive and quirky detailing. If Jack Kirby designs an ornate machine, or costume, or world, you know that it's Jack Kirby that designed it. No one else ever quite drew ornate and complicated detailing the way he did, especially when it came to created odd machinery and such.
The New Gods continue to be a powerful presence in the DC Universe, even if during the recent Countdown series, a longtime favorite of many fans, Lightray, was unfortunately killed off.
Orion is arguably one of the best known New Gods after Darkseid himself. Which is interesting, seeing as how he is Darkseid's son. And yet, he's one of the good guys. How did this happen?
There was a pact between Darkseid and Highfather. Both realized that an all-our war between New Genesis and Apokolips would destroy both worlds. And so, they made a treaty of sorts, sealing it by exhanging offspring. Orion, the son of Darkseid, would be raised on peaceful New Genesis. The son of Highfather would be raised on Apokolips. He would later go on to become the hero known as Mister Miracle, but that's a story for another time -- like when I get the Justice League Unlimited action figure of him.
Despite being raised in the peaceful environment of New Genesis, Orion couldn't throw off his heritage that easily. He remained short-tempered and almost perpetually angry. A wonderous machine called the "Mother Box" helped to temper Orion's rage, as did his friendship with Lightray (one has to wonder how his death is going to affect Orion), but ultimately, Orion remained a warrior among a race of generally peaceful people. He was one of the good guys, no question about that, but he fit in about as well as Worf did on the Starship Enterprise.
In more recent years, Orion was a member of the Justice League of America in the comics, and had a few appearances in the animated series. The character has never been what I would call a really major player in the DC Universe, but he's not among its least ranks either, and he has remained a fascinating character, his demeanor always at odds with his surroundings, a legitimate hero sincerely loyal to the people of New Genesis, and yet always spoiling for a good fight, and honestly believing that the New Gods of New Genesis would be better off building an army and attacking Apokolips once and for all.
The figure is a nice representation of Orion, in the animated style of the Justice League Unlimited action figures. The figure has been given a more powerful than usual upper body, which makes sense for the character. The costume looks plainer than one might expect from a Jack Kirby design, but it's not without its reasons for being that way, I suspect, and there's a certain irony to it. The costume looks, for the most part, decidedly super-heroic. It's mostly red, with blue trunks, gloves, and boots, with silver-grey trim around the belt and boot tops. It looks like the costume of a straightforward super-hero, really.
Then there's that helmet, and that's where things change a bit. The helmet looks a little more vicious. It's a silver-grey in color, with spiked details on either side, and a yellow line frame around the face, with a small star in the center. The jagged line gives a certain near-scowl to the helmeted face, as if to say, not inaccurately, "Yes, he's one of the good guys. You still don't want to mess with him." Unlike the costume, the helmet is unquestionably that of a warrior.
Although accessories in the Justice League Unlimited line have tended to be few and far between or, when they've been present, something more or less made up by mattel to either create a variant or justify the price tag, this is not the case with Orion. The accessory he comes with is something that the character actually uses. And it's also easily the most Kirby-esque part of the character on the whole.
Leave it to Jack Kirby to create a mode of transportation that is a seriously weird piece of work, and yet almost borders on the plausible. It certainly suits his signature style, there's no question about that, and it even manages to come across in the more stylized look of the animated series, and the figures thereof.
Orion's -- I don't know if "vehicle" is quite the right word, but for lack of anything else, consists of a harness that fits over his torso, attached to a centerpiece of unknown purpose, with two wristbands, what look like jet engines out to the side, and two thick cables running from the centerpiece down to two pieces that slip over Orion's feet.
Now, I'm no engineer, but personally, I think if you submitted this design to a team of engineers and physicists, they'd probably laugh themselves silly. But it's just as fair to say that within the fictional DC Universe, the New Gods have shown time and again that they have a more advanced technology, so obviously they found a way for this contraption to work, and Orion uses it so much that it wouldn't seem entirely right to buy an Orion figure, and NOT have this bizarre flying machine included in the package, so I'm glad that it's there.
I will say that the device does need a certain amount of assembly, and it might have been nice if instructions had been included. Took me a couple of minutes to figure out what went where and how to fit Orion into it.
Let me also add a note about the current packaging. The illustrations on the backs of both the single-carded figures and the three-packs are really quite striking. Rather than just a flat photo of the available figures, they have been posed in a setting that looks like dark purple stones that rise into pedestals against a dark sky. Some characters from previous releases are virtually in shadow, while newer characters, those in the current assortments, are more prominent in the foreground. This is easily some of the most impressive photo work I've seen on a toy package recently, and Mattel should be commended for it.
I acquired this figure a little while back, I'll admit, and I remain extremely concerned about the future of the Justice League line. Mattel claims they are dedicated to continuing it, and certainly there is no shortage of fans for it. But finding new sets in the stores has proven extremely frustrating.
As for Orion himself, he certainly has my definite recommendation. He's an interesting character, of reasonable prominence, and certainly the concept that he originates from has a considerable fan base, although DC recently announced that as part of the current and forthcoming COUNTDOWN and FINAL CRISIS concept, most of the New Gods characters were going to be killed off in a mini-series entitled "Death of the New Gods", with Darkseid the only likely survivor. This is going to eventually lead to an all-new "Fifth World" concept. What part any of the other characters, including Orion, might play in this is unknown. Fan response has been -- generally unpleasant. However, ORION is a worthwhile addition to any Justice League collection of action figures, and would be welcomed by any fan of Jack Kirby's New Gods concept!