I was seriously starting to wonder if we were actually going to see any new Justice League Unlimited figures. I knew that quite a few new faces had been showcased at the 2007 International Toy Fair, despite the fact that the animated series is no longer on the air. The Justice League figures continue to be popular, there's a massive cast to work from, and Mattel, as master license holder for DC Comics, knows this.
At the same time, it's been a weird summer in the toy aisles. With no less than five probably blockbuster movies having a toy tie-in, and with the retailers wanting to push as much of that sort of merchandise in possible in what was, for most of them, a fairly short window of opportunity, many action figure lines that would normally have received due attention and space were rather badly neglected.
Fortunately, the toy aisles started to work their way back to something resembling moderate normalcy -- including, finally, the appearance of some new Justice League Unlimited three-packs. This is one of those three-packs, featuring SAND, STAR SAPPHIRE, and SUPERMAN. Let's consider these characters individually.
SUPERMAN - I hardly think that I need to explain this character, and there's certainly been no shortage of him in the Justice League line. About the only comment I'd really like to make here is that I think this Superman is a little less -- sunburned-looking than some other prior releases. There was a time when the Superman figures available on a single card and even in some of the three-packs had a definite pinkish tinge to their skin that set them apart, and not in a very positive way, from other figures. While still not an even match for other characters, I don't think this Superman is quite as badly off as before.
SAND - Before I get into an origin of the character, I have to say this. Sand has a blonde crewcut, allowing of course for the animated style of the character and figure. And somehow, it looked really familiar to me. Then it hit me. Despite the size difference, it looks very similar to the anime-style crewcut of the G.I. Joe Sigma Six Duke figure! I even set them side by side. Okay, so Sand is wearing an unremovable gas-mask type of thing on his face. Blow the figure up to eight inches in height and you've got HazMat Duke or something...
Okay, so much for weird toy comparisons.
Despite hardly being on the same level as Batman or Superman, Sand has actually been around for a very long time. The character was first introduced as Sandy, a sidekick to a character known as Sandman, waaaayyyy back in 1941. A Web Site, calling itself the Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe, lists Sandy's first appearance as Adventure Comics #69, in December 1941. His early origin reads as follows:
Young Sanderson Hawkins was a big fan of the Sandman strip in Thrill Comics, and liked to identify himself with Sandman's sidekick Sandy, who looked a lot like Sanderson and even shared his surname. Dreaming of one day himself becoming the sidekick of the Sandman, he began working out and training himself as an athlete. Sanderson even created a costume for himself based on that from the Sandman strip, and pretended to be Sandy while playing.
When his parents died, Sanderson was taken in by his aunt Dian Belmont, close confidante and girlfriend of Wesley Dodds, the real Golden Age Sandman. At some point Sandy got involved in one of the Sandman's cases, and although the very idea of ever getting a kid sidekick, thereby bringing a child's life in danger, was totally foreign to Wesley, he was so impressed with Sanderson's skills and courage that he decided to give the boy a chance. Soon afterwards Wesley made him his ward as well, and before long Sandy learned that he was really the Sandman.
Partly inspired by Sandy and partly because of the realization that because of the war, heroes needed to be in the public eye to help people feel safe, Wesley created a costume for himself like the one worn by the comic book Sandman that he wore while working alongside Sandy. Sandman and Sandy soon became a renowned team and they were among the founding members of the wartime All-Star Squadron in 1941. When the teen heroes of the All-Star Squadron were banded together as the special branch named the Young All-Stars and sent on a War Bond Drive, Sandy voted himself in, as he didn't fully trust the Japanese-born Tsunami. Although he started out thinking of the other members as nothing but no-good rookies, he eventually came to respect every single one of them and formed long-lasting friendships.
That's all the Web Site has to say about Sandy, but obviously there's a lot more to the story. I can fill in some of the blanks. Around the late 1960's, during the Earth-1/Earth-2 crossovers between the modern Justice League of America and the classic Justice Society of America, the latter of which were located on Earth-2, and which included the Golden Age Sandman, it was discovered that something along the way had mutated Sandy into a frightening monster, seemingly made of golden sand, marginally human in appearance, but seemingly mindless and bent on destruction. Sandman had kept his ward imprisoned in what were luxurious settings, but it was still a prison, because Sandman believed his one-time ward to be a threat to himself and to others. When he realized that Sandy was nowhere near as mindless as he believed, he vowed to find some way to help Sanderson.
Years later, Sanderson reappeared as the hero Sand, and joined the newly-reformed Justice Society of America. His first appearance as Sand was in JSA #1, in August of 1999. Sand's body is entirely silicon giving him a range of strange abilities which he uses to complement his decades of experience as a crimefighter. Obviously it has also hindered his aging process as well. His mentor passed away of old age, and Sand adopted the gas mask-like face mask, which his mentor originally wore, to honor his longtime friend.
The figure is a good likeness of the comic book character, who doesn't really look like a typical super-hero. Sand is dressed in a black body- suit, with olive-green-brown gloves, belt, and boots. He is wearing a harness that has a holster and (unremovable) pistol in it. If memory serves, this weapon does not fire bullets, but rather a sleep gas, another tribute to his one-time mentor.
Sand has been a staunch member of the Justice Society, and on occasion its leader, but it's also been shown on more than a few occasions that he remains somewhat troubled by the events of his past. He's coming to terms with it, though. A quote of his from JSA #5 reads, "I don't feel like a weak link anymore. I've made peace with who and what I am." And with all that he is, he's also a cool action figure.
STAR SAPPHIRE - One thing I'll say about the Justice League Unlimited line -- they haven't been afraid to do female figures. In Star Sapphire, though, we have a pretty convoluted background story.
Basically, Star Sapphire is the evil, Zamaron-inspired personna of Carol Ferris, sometime-girlfriend of Hal Jordan, better known as Green Lantern. And, of course, that in itself is going to need some explanation. Details on the Unofficial DC Universe Web Site were distressingly scarce, so I'm going to have to provide a basic overview based on what I know of the situation myself.
First of all, you need to know about the Zamarons. They're a race similar to the Oans, the Guardians of the Universe, except that the Zamarons don't hold to the tendency of emotionless detachment that the Oans do. They tend to believe that emotion, especially love, is the way to save the universe -- whether the universe likes it or not. To that end, they created the Star Sapphires, purple-hued jewels that can possess a person and bring out a more emotional side -- which more often than not is a rather dark side.
This played out recently in the Green Lantern comic, as the Star Sapphire gemstone returned, and while it briefly took over Carol Ferris, it then went after another longtime female acquaintence of Hal Jordan's, before bring driven out and back where it came from. The Zamarons reclaimed it, but the closing scene of that story seemed to indicate that something more severe was going on, as the purple Star Sapphire was sharing a display area with a green ring, indicative of the Green Lanterns and their dedication to power through the will, and a yellow ring, indicative of Sinestro and his cohorts, also a longtime foe of Green lantern, and their dedication to power through fear. There were also some empty pedestals. Makes one wonder what else is out there.
That's an extremely brief overview of the situation, by the way, and I highly recommend reading some of the more recent Green Lantern comics for details. As I write this, it looks like there's a cosmic war of power brewing, and I'm pretty sure it also ties into the current Countdown storyline leading, in 2008, to a series called FINAL CRISIS, which I suspect is going to turn the DC Universe upside-down and inside-out once again before it's over.
As for Star Sapphire, whether intended or not, the gemstone tended to make Carol Ferris into a villain. What that may say about human nature I'm not going to bother to speculate. Needless to say, Star Sapphire has been a most unwelcome presence in Green Lantern's life.
In the animated series, which didn't really get into all of this background (if nothing else, Hal Jordan wasn't around, and the Green Lantern that was, John Stewart, had his own romantic troubles to contend with), and Star Sapphire was basically portrayed as a crook and a villain who teamed up with others basically whenever there was a good chance to group-kick some super-heroes around.
Between the comic book and animated appearance, Star Sapphire certainly was prominent enough to warrant an action figure, and now she had one. And it's a good animated-style version of the character, too. The figure uses the same female body molds as most of the female characters in the line, and what continues to amaze me is that, for the most part, these figures stand up very nicely on their own. I wouldn't expect that on such narrow feet.
Star Sapphire has a black body-suit, with reddish-purple collar, gloves, and high boots, and is wearing a reddish-purple mask with high points on either side, and the Star Sapphire gem in the center of the mask. She also has long black hair, which admittedly restricts the articulation of the head, but still looks good.
On the whole, this is an excellent three-pack. You get two brand-new characters, never before seen in the line -- Sand and Star Sapphire -- and frankly there are aspects to the Superman figure that are mild improvements over previous recent releases.
Let me also add how impressed I am with the artwork on the package back. It showcases several new three-packs, but they're posed in a setting of translucent purple rocks and pedestals, with previously-released figures darkly underlit on the pedestals. It's really quite an impressive display.
Obviously, I would recommend any of the Justice League Unlimited three-packs,
and many of the single-carded figures. It's a great line of action figures.
And with this particular three-pack, you're getting two somewhat obscure
characters that haven't had action figures before, and may not ever
again. The SAND, STAR SAPPHIRE, and SUPERMAN 3-pack of JUSTICE LEAGUE
UNLIMITED action figures definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!