I am sincerely pleased that Mattel and Target have teamed up to carry on the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED line of action figures under the DC UNIVERSE banner. Justice League Unlimited was an immensely cool animated series that I sincerely wish had had a longer run, and I am very pleased that, even though it is off the air at this point, Mattel is willing to bring us animated-style figures under its name that otherwise wouldn't likely see any presence in the action figure world, and Target is willing to carry them.
Having said that, rounding up a six-pack of figures where Superman is the best-known character of the group and the next-best-known character in the assortment is Deadman, and calling this set "Legends of the League", is a little like taking a garden hose and calling it a "wonder of water distribution". It's true as far as it goes, but it's a bit of an overstatement.
Granted, calling this set "Third-Stringers of the League" probably wouldn't've sold that many sets. And in fairness, the characters represented in this set do, to one degree or another, have some sort of connection to the Justice League. Either they did in fact turn up in the animated series at some point, or they were part of the League during the 80's and early 90's when the League seemed inclined to take just about anybody because most of the big guns weren't interested.
I'm not going to offer a listing of the set at this time. I'd rather review the six figures one at a time, and have some fun with that. Let's start with the obvious one:
SUPERMAN: The Man of Steel. The Caped Kryptonian. Granted, he's turned up so many times in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited lines that there's probably enough of him around to repopulate Krypton. Nevertheless, the figure is a very decent likeness of the animated incarnation of DC's most legendary, best-known character. I'm certainly not going to get into a character background on this guy. I hardly think anyone needs it.
About my only beef with this figure is that I know Mattel has better- articulated versions of the major players of the Justice League around. Granted, the Justice League line has never been known for articulation. Its main selling point these days is coming out with animated-style figures of DC characters that hardly anyone ever thought would be rendered in plastic. The figures are, generally speaking, poseable at the head, arms, and legs. Period.
However, molds do exist for lead characters such as Superman and some of the others, that have the additional articulation of elbows, knees, and waist. Why these aren't being used I really don't know, and I wish they would be. Nevertheless, this figure is a more than adequate likeness of Superman within the animated format and figure type. And I suspect that somebody felt that there had to be ONE big name in this set, and Superman got the nod. Not a bad choice at all, as such.
Now, let's move on to the rest of the assortment, starting with --
DEADMAN: A creepy name, admittedly, for one of DC's stranger super-heroes. Deadman is/was one Boston Brand, a circus acrobat who was shot and killed, but whose spirit mysteriously lived on to avenge his death and fight for justice. For the most part, no one can see or hear him. He can temporarily possess and take control of another person's body and speak and act through that person. A number of DC heroes know of his existence, and he can be seen by those with certain mystic capabilities.
As to a more complete origin, Deadman first appeared in Strange Adventures #205 (October 1967), and was created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino.
The series is most associated with the innovative art of Neal Adams and the writing of Jack Miller, who took over from Drake and Infantino after the first story.
Although he appeared from time to time in the 1970s and 1980s as a supporting character in various comics, including Jack Kirby's Forever People, Deadman did not get his own series again until 1986, in a four issue limited series written by Andrew Helfer and drawn by José Luis García-López, which picked up the story where Adams left off. Deadman's next major storyline was in Action Comics Weekly, in 1988-89. This was followed by the limited series Deadman: Exorcism in 1992, written by Mike Baron and drawn by Kelley Jones. Jones' gaunt, zombie-like rendition of the character would later appear in the pages of Batman.
Deadman is a ghost, formerly a circus trapeze artist named Boston Brand who performed under the name Deadman, a stage persona including a red costume and white corpse makeup. When Brand is murdered during a trapeze performance by a mysterious assailant known only as the Hook (in fact his last words were "Gee, from up here it almost looks like that guy with the hook for a hand has a gun..."), his spirit is given the power to possess any living being by a Hindu goddess named Rama Kushna, in order to search for his murderer and obtain justice.
The origin story involved the hero fighting narcotics smugglers, in the first story to involve drugs since the introduction of the Comics Code Authority. The criminals used the traveling circus they worked for to smuggle "snow" -- either heroin or cocaine.
In the pages of Nightwing (issues #102 and #103, respectively) it is implied that Brand got the idea for his costume from "Johnny" Grayson, father of Dick Grayson.
Rama also maintained a city for some time, called Nanda Parbat. The most evil people in the world came to live there, where Rama's power kept them sane and good. It was only in Nanda Parbat that Boston Brand could maintain an actual physical presence.
Deadman has, in the comics, had several major physical appearances. Neal Adams and others rendered Deadman as a fairly typical super-hero with a full range of musculature. I never much liked the more gaunt form created by Kelley Jones, and used by others, as I thought it was frankly too creepy -- not that Deadman wasn't pretty strange to begin with. In Kingdom Come, Alex Ross took this a step further, presenting the future Deadman as appearing to be nothing more than a talking skeleton, wearing the shreds of the Deadman costume.
Deadman did appear in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. Deadman was in the third season of Justice League Unlimited in episode "Dead Reckoning". He resides in a temple in Nanda Parbat. When he saw Devil Ray aiming at Wonder Woman, he possessed Batman and shot him with a gun, accidentally killing him. For this mistake, Deadman is denied his sought after termination of his ghostly obligation and required to continue his duties.
The figure, thankfully, bases itself on the animated likeness, which is categorically not the "zombie" or skeletal version. The figure is somewhat on the slender side, and the face is rather gaunt, but the overall look is agreeable for the character.
Deadman has a somewhat hollowed-looking face, white in color, with blanked out eyes. His costume is mostly dark red, with red gloves, belt, shoes, and a "D" on the torso. Most notable about the figure is the high collar, black on the outside, red on the inside. This doubtless required some unusual engineering for the figure beyond the typical "paint the male body mold in the right colors". To be honest, I'm not even entirely sure how Mattel did it, but they did a superb job with it, and the collar is made from a highly flexible plastic.
Deadman is definitely one of the stranger heroes in the DC Universe, but this animated-style figure of him is superbly well done. Now let's consider the next entry in the group:
CRIMSON FOX: I only knew of this character from the days when Keith Giffen decided to turn the Justice League into a comedy. I really didn't know much else about the character, so this time I did some research online:
Crimson Fox is a French superheroine from the DC Comics universe. Identical twins Vivian and Constance D'Aramis shared the role of Crimson Fox to allow each something of a normal life, although Vivian was much more enthusiastic about their superheroic life. Crimson Fox originally appeared as part of Justice League Europe.
The sisters ran Revson, a major Parisian perfume company (which may perhaps explain the origin of their pheromone powers). In order to make their heroic actions easier, they faked Constance's death, so that one of them could operate as Crimson Fox while the other attended business functions. Readers of her/their comic book appearances could easily tell the difference between the two due to Vivian's more pronounced French accent. She was also always portrayed as a more carefree and outgoing woman than her sister.
The original Crimson Fox twins had superhuman speed and agility and could emit pheromones that stimulated intense sexual attraction in men. Their gloves were equipped with deadly steel talons. After Vivian's death, Constance retreated into her animal persona and developed enhanced senses.
Crimson Fox has made background appearances in the animated TV show Justice League Unlimited.
The two women who originally were the Crimson Fox are both deceased in the DC Comics Universe. Vivian D'Aramis met her fate at the hands of Puanteur in Justice League America, while Constance D'Aramis was killed by The Mist in the pages of Starman.
In the pages of Green Lantern, it has been revealed that a new woman has taken the mantle of the Crimson Fox, again operating as a French superhero in Paris. She was unwillingly pressed into service and membership by the Global Guardians, who intended to pursue Green Lantern.
The new Crimson Fox has told Hal Jordan that she is the heiress to the D'Aramis fortune. Her exact relationship to Vivian and Constance is, however, unknown.
And, frankly, precisely which Crimson Fox showed up in the background in Justice League Unlimited is likely anyone's guess.
Crimson Fox is one of those that one is sort of amazed even managed to find her way into this line of action figures. The figure is nicely done, and an excellent likeness of the animated version of the character, but I wouldn't exactly call the costume design "dynamic". Heck, I wouldn't even call it crimson, so I don't know where she took the name from.
Crimson Fox is wearing a copper-colored costume that bares her shoulders but otherwise runs all the way down. Interestingly, the illustration of the comics character shows a costume that runs all the way up to the neck. Maybe that's her winter outfit. Crimson Fox either has very high gloves or they're attached to the rest of her costume.
The most notable part of her outfit is the headpiece, which seems to be some sort of helmet almost, although this -- apparatus -- almost defies easy verbal description. It creates a sweeping display of -- whatever it's made out of -- around her head, and tapers to a tail down her back. The figure is shown wearing a mask, but in the comics, Crimson Fox didn't really have one. The upper part of her face was shadowed by this
The Crimson Fox figure is a good likeness of the character, and is articulated at the arms and legs. The head doesn't really move too well because of the headgear. As with a number of female figures in the line, Crimson Fox has a little trouble standing up on her own, given the rather tiny high-heeled feet. However, a transparent display base is provided.
Let's move on to the next character in the assortment...
VIBE: Vibe was a character in the Justice League around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths. This was before the comedic days of the Justice League, but was still during a time when the League consisted mostly of second-stringers and few of the major players. Vibe first appeared in Justice League of America Annual #2 (November 1984).
Paco Ramone's career as a Justice Leaguer was as short as they come. His career as Vibe began shortly after Aquaman disbanded the original Justice League. When young Paco heard that a new Justice League was forming in his own backyard of Detroit, he decided to give up his position as the leader of a local street gang, El Lobos, to join up. What made Ramone a candidate was metahuman ability to emit powerful vibratory shockwaves.
Vibe's presence on the team caused Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter to harbor some strong doubts about the new JLA, particularly after he got the League involved in a rumble with a rival gang. However, Vibe soon proved his mettle during the League's battles against Cadre, Anton Allegro, and Amazo. He stayed with the League through the Crisis on Infinite Earths, when his powers played a vital role in defeating Despero.
During Darkseid's assault on Earth's "legends", during the mini-series of the same title, the Justice League of America was disbanded and Paco left his JLA comrades to seek the familiar solace of the streets. Vibe was attacked by one of Professor Ivo's androids, and despite a valiant effort, became the first Justice League member to be killed in the line of duty. The Martian Manhunter brought Vibe's body back to the League's mountain sanctuary, where Vibe was laid to rest in a cryogenic chamber. However, Paco's dead form has twice been resurrected by evil-doers.
Vibe made several appearances in the show Justice League Unlimited. He was often seen next to other members of the Detroit League but he did not get a major role in any episode. He did have a major role in an issue of the Justice League Unlimited comic book series where he stopped Doctor Sivana's plan to rebuild Mister Atom.
Vibe had, in my opinion, one of the cooler costumes of the time period. It was predominantly black, no sleeves, although Vibe did have black gauntlets with red trim. The costume had low red boots, and a wide vest of red and yellow, with a black collar, and two narrow yellow belts. It fit the time, at least. So did Vibe's habit of always wearing sunglasses, one would assume.
The figure of Vibe is a superb rendition of the character. The costume didn't need to be altered at all, really, to accommodate the animated style. There are, however, a few technical difficulties, and finding a relatively problem-free Vibe figure proved to be something of a challenge when I decided to purchase this six-pack.
The figure uses the same basic male body mold that a lot of figures in this line use (and for the record, there's more than one such set of molds, with moderate differences). That's fine and I don't have a problem with that, but then his collared vest with the wide shoulders had to be a separate piece. It was molded from somewhat flexible plastic, but it was molded in black. I had to search quite a few sets to find a Vibe figure that didn't have major paint glitches in this area. And even then, one corner of the vest droops a bit. And, when I got him out, I found that the flap of the vest hadn't been properly glued in the back. None of these are things I cannot fix. The point is I shouldn't have to. Now there's really nothing Mattel can do about painting bright colors on black plastic. That's a nightmare for anybody. But there is a certain sloppiness here that should be addressed.
However, I've also seen far worse, and how often is Vibe likely to make it into the action figure world? The headsculpt is a good likeness, and they painted the individual lenses of his glasses and even the rims. Nicely done, here.
Vibe, as one would expect, is articulated at the head, arms, and legs. He looks cool (and looks like he knows it), and it's a cool figure.
Now let's turn to the character called:
COMMANDER STEEL: I think one of the reasons this figure was named "Commander Steel" was so as to not confuse him with John Henry Irons, who is simply known as "Steel". This isn't that character. Technically, this character came first by a good number of years.
Commander Steel (also Steel or Citizen Steel) is the name of three fictional characters, superheroes published by DC Comics, all members of the same family. The first Steel appeared in Steel, The Indestructible Man #1 (1978), published by DC Comics and was created by Gerry Conway and Don Heck. His stories were set in World War II. The two later characters called Steel are his grandsons.
Henry Heywood enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps prior to their involvement in World War II, but was injured when saboteurs attacked his base spearheaded by the man who would become Baron Blitzkrieg. As a biology student under the tutelage of Doctor Gilbert Giles, his former professor performed extensive surgery on him with mechanized steel devices that facilitate normal human functions only on a superhuman level. At the request of Doctor Giles, Heywood kept his recovery a secret and was instead forced to return to service in a desk position. Frustrated at his inability to help more directly, Heywood adopted the persona "Steel", and went to steal armaments from the military base at which he worked while some fifth columnist saboteurs broke into the base. Heywood was able to defeat the saboteurs, and embarked on a career fighting foreign threats and other criminals before America went to war.
Heywood joined World War II as a secret weapon before he allied himself with the All-Star Squadron during which time he was later commissioned Commander Steel by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. His membership in the Squadron was only for a brief period as Crisis on Infinite Earths caused him to shift from his native Earth-Two to The Post-Crisis Earth,wherein he retired from his superhero career as there were no active costumed heroes at that time on his new home.
Years later, as a wealthy industrialist, he incorporated the same mechanized components into his grandson Hank Heywood III - who later joined Justice League of America and fought Heywood along with his ally Mekanique, former allies Justice Society of America and their descendants Infinity, Inc.
Although it was originally stated that Heywood performed unnecessary surgeries on his grandson, it was later stated in Justice League of America #260 that if he hadn't made his grandson into Steel, "Hank would have been dead... years ago."
After his grandson's death, Heywood resumed the mantle of Commander Steel and died battling the supervillain Eclipso, while a member of the Shadow Fighters. He did come to a heroic end - detonating the Sunburst 300 (a device meant to destroy Eclipso) as his teammate Nemesis escaped.
The relaunched Justice Society of America features another member of the Heywood family. The new series writer Geoff Johns announced him as a brand new character with new powers. He debuted in Justice Society of America #2 with the name of Nathan "Buckeye" Heywood.
Nathan is the grandson of Henry Heywood and cousin of Henry Heywood III. Formerly a football star at Ohio State University, Nathan retired after shattering his kneecap and having his leg amputated due to an undiagnosed infection. The incident left Nathan addicted to painkillers.
While attending a Heywood family reunion, he is attacked by the Fourth Reich, a team of metahuman Neo-Nazis ordered by Vandal Savage to wipe out the bloodlines of Golden Age heroes. Despite the Fourth Reich's effort, they fail to completely destroy the Heywood bloodline, as both Nathan and a few children manage to survive. Both Nathan's brother and mother are turned to metal statues by the villain Reichsmark. Nathan jams his crutch into Reichsmark's mouth, causing him to spit liquid metal blood onto Nathan. Hawkman takes him to Dr. Mid-Nite, who notes that the metal is being absorbed by Nathan's skin.
Later, it is revealed that the metal has grown out from where Nathan's amputated leg once was, forming metallic bone, muscles, and flesh. Waking in his hospital room, Nathan is shown to have superhuman strength. Dr. Mid-Nite informs Nathan that he is now a being of living steel, due to an unknown reaction to Reichsmark's blood. However, the steel tissues do not give Nathan tactile response, meaning he cannot feel textures or temperatures, nor gauge exerted pressures, and his weight has greatly increased causing his footsteps to crack the ground.
He is given a costume, a "second skin" of a stainless steel alloy developed by Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific specifically to restrict his movements and reduce his strength to a more manageable level. They chose the costume's colors because of Heywood's heritage. He then joins the Justice Society to defeat the Fourth Reich. Afterwards, the press asks if he is the new Commander Steel but Nathan denies it saying that he is just an ordinary citizen, and so he is christened "Citizen Steel" by Power Girl.
Commander Steel's costume is one I've always liked. It's very patriotic, and sort of a "reverse Captain America". with more emphasis on the red than on the blue. As portrayed in the animated series, Steel's costume is mostly red, with a white vertical stripe running from the headpiece to the trunks, and white stripes around the gloves and boots, and for the belt. The shirt is mostly red with blue sleeves and red gloves. The costume has blue trunks, red legs, and blue boots. There is a symbol in the center, a white star with a black circle around it.
The figure is very nicely made, but the painting could've been a little neater. The vertical strips was obviously painted in stages, and doesn't always line up as well as it should. In fairness, though, the stripe IS present on the back of the figure. I can't believe I felt I had to check. I guess all those years of Bandai neglecting to paint certain details on the backs of a lot of their Power Rangers has made me jumpy about that.
The headsculpt is nice, even if there wasn't a lot to work with. Really only the eyes and lower face show through an otherwise fairly standard "super-hero head mask". But the sculptors managed to give Steel a determined expression.
Honestly, I think Commander Steel is one of the most impressive figures in the entire six-pack, and if any of these characters make their way onto single cards, I think he should be considered for such.
Now let's conclude our look at this "Legends of the League" set with:
B'WANA BEAST. Okay -- seriously? Are you kidding me here!? Honestly, I'm surprised they could turn out a figure with that name these days and get away with it. But talk about obscure.
Astoundingly, the character DID appear in one episode of Justice League Unlimited, which if nothing else was probably testimony to the collective memories of the people producing the show. The only recorded appearance I have of the character anywhere in my fairly considerable comic book collection is in ONE PANEL -- and a pretty small one -- of Crisis on Infinite Earths. And they probably tossed him in there just so everybody who ever turned up in the DC Universe got at least a shot at being in that epic.
B'wana Beast is a superhero in the DC Universe. He first appeared in Showcase #66 (January 1967), and was created by Bob Haney and Mike Sekowsky.
In his most well-known incarnation, his given name is Mike Maxwell. Maxwell possesses a helmet and elixir which confer on him his powers. These powers are mind control and the ability to fuse together two living animals to make one powerful entity under B'wana Beast's control.
With the help of his gorilla companion, Djuba, in a secret hideout at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, ranger Mike Maxwell drinks the aforementioned elixir and dons the helmet to become B'wana Beast. In the origin issue, he fights Hamid Ali, "He Who Never Dies."
After B'wana Beast appeared in Showcase #66-67, he would not appear again until an issue of DC Challenge, in which he and Djuba teamed up with Congo Bill. This was non-canonical however. His next appearance was in Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. He then showed up in Swamp Thing Annual #3 in 1987.
In Animal Man #13 (July 1989), written by Grant Morrison, Maxwell performs a ceremony to find a successor, and he passes the helmet and elixir on to a South African named Dominic Mndawe, who assumes the more politically correct name Freedom Beast.
B'wana Beast was featured in the Justice League Unlimited episode "This Little Piggy" He was recruited by Batman for his superior tracking skills in the search for Wonder Woman, who had been mystically transformed into a pig by Circe. In this incarnation, B'wana Beast was given a thick New York accent and blue collar personality to match, and his abilities were presented as animalistic feats of agility and the ability to communicate with animals.
By the way, regarding that Justice League episode in which he appeared, there's a single carded Batman figure out there as I write this that comes with a little pink plastic pig -- wearing silver bracelets. So, I suppose you could get that, and this set, and act out the episode -- if you want.
The figure is a good likeness of the animated style version of the character. B'wana Beast isn't much for wardrobe. His most notable feature is the helmet he wears, a sort of bullet-shaped thing that's red in color with a yellow front, and two upswept "eye" areas with black lenses. Apart from this, B'wana wears a red loincloth with black and white stripes on it (precisely what he hunted and skinned that had this coloration is anybody's guess) and yellow trunks with black spots underneath, and red boots with yellow tops with black spots.
It's a cool figure, with the usual articulation at the head, arms, and legs. But if anybody had EVER said that there would EVER be a figure of B'wana Beast.
So, what's my final word here? Okay, calling this set "Legends of the League" is a bit of a stretch. Superman's a legend. Deadman and Steel probably wish they were. I'd call them "reasonably prominent". On the other hand, the odds of ever seeing any other action figure incarnations of some of these people is slim to none at best, and anyone who's followed the DC Universe -- animated or otherwise -- to any significant degree probably at least knows the names. That alone makes this set worth serious consideration.
And it certainly continues the Justice League Unlimited and its willingness to put together a figure of just about anybody. With all that in mind, the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED "LEGENDS OF THE LEAGUE" SIX- PACK certainly has my enthusiastic recommendation!