Although the Justice League Unlimited animated series has been off the air for some time now, I have been pleased to see that the toy line from Mattel based on it continues, if somewhat sporadically and inconsistently.
It was recently announced just prior to the 2008 Toy Fair that JLU was becoming a Target exclusive. This is no great surprise. It practically had been anyway. Wal-Mart has not carried the line for some time, and although Toys "R" Us has, they do not have a lot of space devoted to it. Target has been the best place to find it for close to a year, although it does turn up every so often at certain grocery stores and pharmacies.
Mattel has stated a commitment to continuing the line, with the introduction of new characters and fan-requested repaints. At least one new boxed set is in the works. I am sincerely hopeful that all of these items will come to pass.
Meanwhile, I recently obtained a three-pack that, while it does not specifically contain any truly new characters, it does contain two characters that I had not previously purchased. This three-pack features GREEN ARROW, SUPERGIRL, and the ULTRA-HUMANITE. Let's consider these individually, shall we?
GREEN ARROW - Likely the best known character in the set, and he's certainly had a figure prior to this one in the JLU line. In fact, he was one of the first new characters to show up in the animated series when it went from the seven-member Justice League series to the dang- near-everybody Justice League Unlimited series. He was also rather reluctant to join, wondering if there was any place for someone who was little more than a highly-skilled archer in the midst of all of these super-powered beings (who by his own admission he didn't entirely trust, either).
In the comics, Green Arrow is Oliver Queen, a one-time wealthy industrialist who was marooned on an uncharted island. He learned archery as a survival skill, and continued his adventures as a costumed hero when he returned to civilization.
Green Arrow came into greater prominence in the 1970's when he was teamed with Green Lantern in a series of stories crafted by the legendary Neal Adams. The artwork was astounding, and as was typical for the 1970's, the stories took a political bent, with Green Lantern playing the role of a "cosmic cop", somewhat out of touch with his own people on Earth, and Green Arrow, having lost his vast fortune, spewing out a lot of leftist rhetoric which was designed to open his friend's eyes to the sociological problems around him. Green Arrow retains his political leanings to this day.
Green Lantern and Green Arrow continued to team up, when their combined title was revitalized by Mike Grell, a superb artist virtually on a par with Adams. Fortunately, the stories were somewhat less political.
These days, Green Arrow is still in action, being one of those heroes who managed to be brought back from the dead. He has no direct affiliation with the Justice League, although his one-time sidekick, the former Speedy, now known as Red Arrow, has taken on the role of the team's resident archer, although one might expect that if the need arose, the Emerald Archer would be willing to lend a hand.
Green Arrow has had an interesting toy history, as well. His first action figure came out from Mego in the 1970's, a somewhat surprising choice given that more prominent DC characters, such as Green Lantern and Flash, never made the cut. It was an excellent figure and one of my personal favorites, and is regarded as a particularly popular Mego to this day.
Green Arrow also made it into the Super Powers line from Kenner in the 1980's, and in what I consider a staggering and hysterical irony, his body molds were later used in the short-lived Kenner line based on the Kevin Costner movie "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves".
Green Arrow has had several costume designs over the years. Fortunately, they picked my personal favorite for his animated likeness. Green Arrow is wearing a very dark green tunic, with somewhat lighter green collar and leggings. He has dark green boots and high, dark green gloves (that one might assume are protective in some fashion). He has a mustache and goatee, and wears an elongated cap, complete with a feather in it. The figure has a large quiver of arrows in his back, but does not come with a bow. The individually-sold Green Arrow figure from a few years ago did.
Green Arrow is one of a handful of JLU figures that features distinctive, individual molds. It's almost essential given the design of his collar and flared shoulders, but the glove design is sculpted into the arms, not just painted on. It's really an impressive entry into the JLU line, and if you've missed out on this prominent JLU figure in the past, this three-pack is a good way to obtain him.
Now let's consider...
SUPERGIRL - Here's a character with a fairly convoluted history. Originally introduced in 1959 as Superman's cousin, Kara Zor-El, she was a survivor of Krypton from Argo City, which survived the destruction of Krypton by being thrown into space. However, the inhabitants of Argo City were killed when the portion of the planet they were on began to turn into Kryptonite. Mirroring Superman's own origin, she is sent away from the dying city and arrives on Earth.
Supergirl was killed in 1985 during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in a battle with the Anti-Monitor. Not long after, Superman's backstory was given a massive reboot, in the "Man of Steel" mini-series. One of the decisions that was made during this time was that there were simply too many Kryptonians around. Superman, Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, the Bottle City of Kandor, and who knew what else. Even Superboy was excised from continuity since Superman's backstory was rewritten in such a way that he didn't gain his super-powers until near adulthood, and never operated as Superboy in Smallville. (A fair amount of this has been undone by the Infinite Crisis, but I'm not going to get into that here.)
Supergirl would return, in a sense, some years later, but she would not be a Kryptonian. Her name was Matrix, and she was an alien shapeshifter who had certain super-powers similar to Superman's. Beginning in September 1996, DC published a Supergirl title written by Peter David. The 1996 Supergirl comic revamped the previous Matrix Supergirl by merging her with a human being, resulting in a new Supergirl. Many old elements of the pre-Crisis Supergirl were reintroduced in new forms. The woman that Matrix merges with had the same name as pre-Crisis Supergirl's secret identity, Linda Danvers. The series was set in the town of Leesburg, named after pre-adoption secret identity, Linda Lee. Linda's father was named Fred Danvers, the same as pre-Crisis Supergirl's adopted father.
However, the rules regarding Superman being the only Kryptonian were eventually relaxed, allowing for the return -- so to speak -- of the original Supergirl. Issue #8 of the Superman/Batman series, originally published in 2004, re-introduced Kara Zor-El into DC continuity. Like the pre-Crisis version, this Kara claimed to be the daughter of Superman's uncle Zor-El and aunt Alura. Unlike the traditional Supergirl origin, Kara was born before Superman; she was a teenager when he was a baby. She had been sent in a rocket in suspended animation to look after the infant Kal-El; however, her rocket was caught in the explosion of Krypton, became encased in a kryptonite asteroid, and she arrived on Earth years after Kal-El had grown up and embarked on his career as Superman. Due to this extended period of suspended animation she is "younger" than her cousin, relatively speaking. At the end of "The Supergirl from Krypton" arc, her cousin Superman officially introduces her to all the heroes of the DC Comics Universe, then she adopts the Supergirl costume, and accepts the name.
In both the Superman animated series and the Justice League Unlimited animated series, Supergirl turns up every so often. The character is portrayed as Supergirl's cousin, although the costume she wears -- honestly, I think this is one of the costumes from before the return of Kara Zor-El, but since I didn't follow the Supergirl comic all that closely, I'm not sure. I am fairly confident that this costume appeared in the comics before 2004. I'll discuss the costume in more detail later. This Supergirl, towards the end of the animated series, seemed to grow up a bit, adopted the modern Kara Zor-El costume, and in the JLU episode that featured the Legion of Super-Heroes, opted to stay in the 31st century with them, after developing feelings for Brainiac 5, which was actually a nod to the fact that, back in the 60's, when Superboy and Supergirl were making periodic trips to the 30th century, Supergirl and Brainy did develop a relationship.
As to the figure -- I wish I could say it was one of Mattel's finer moments, but it isn't. The figure, admittedly a distinctive set of molds, stands all of 3-1/2" in height compared to the more typical 4-1/2-4-3/4" of most Justice League figures, and as such looks about 12 years old, not 16. Admittedly, she's still way too short.
The costume doesn't help. Supergirl has gone through a number of costumes over the years, and this one wasn't exactly a high point. In fairness, it IS the costume which she appeared in during her animated appearances, and did appear in the comics. It's just, in my opinion, such a laughable costume. I call it the "Supergirl Cheerleader" outfit. It consists of a white shirt with a bare midriff, little white gloves, a short blue skirt, and a red cape and red boots.
My only other complaint about the figure is that the legenday "S" symbol on the shirt is pretty sloppily sculpted. Mattel would've been better off not trying to sculpt the symbol, and stamping it on instead, preferably from a more accurate source. Okay, it's a small area. I've seen other toy companies pull of insignia stampings more intricate than this. I've seen some Microman figures with just about legible printing on them that would give you eyestrain and a headache. For that matter I've seen Hot Wheels cars with similarly intricate detail. So it's not like Mattel's incapable here.
Supergirl has the expected level of articulation. Moves at the head -- although the molded hair is a restriction -- arms, and legs. What impresses me here is that the figure is able to stand up on her own. This is sometimes a problem with JLU figures, especially female figures. It's pretty funny, too, since the figure does come with a transparent stand. Give it to someone who needs it more.
I really hate to be so critical of a figure from an action figure line I like, and granted, there are worse (the light-bulb-headed Vixen leaps to mind), but Supergirl could've been a good bit better.
Now let's consider the third entry in the three-pack...
ULTRA-HUMANITE - Okay, that's a pretty silly name. And I really didn't know much about the character. He looks like an albino gorilla with an enlarged cranium. I had to look him up online.
Apparently the character has a lengthier history than I thought -- and a pretty convoluted one, at that. THAT part didn't surprise me. Confuse a character's background too early on and you can pretty much consign him to a certain obscurity. I think that's what happened here. When you think about the big guns in the super-villain world in the DC Universe, Ultra-Humanite isn't exactly one that leaps to mind.
The character technically goes all the way back to 1939. The Ultra-Humanite was the first supervillain Superman faced. He was designed to be the polar opposite of Superman: while Superman was a hero with superhuman strength, Ultra-Humanite was a criminal mastermind who had a crippled body but a highly advanced intellect.
Superman's creators Siegel and Shuster replaced the Ultra-Humanite as Superman's archfoe when Lex Luthor was introduced into the Superman comic. Originally, Luthor was depicted as a mad scientist with a full head of red hair. An artist later mistakenly drew Luthor with a bald head and Siegel approved of Luthor's new look. Because Siegel and Shuster didn't need two bald mad scientists battling Superman, they dropped the Ultra-Humanite from Superman comics in favor of Luthor. The Ultra-Humanite made his last Superman appearance in Action Comics #21 (1940) and made no further comic book appearances for several decades.
It's worth noting that when the DC Universe was split into the "multi-verse", the Lex Luthor of Earth-2 still had red hair, while Earth-1's Luthor was bald. Interestingly, this gave the Ultra-Humanite his chance to return. With the introduction of DC's multiverse system, the continuity of Golden Age Superman stories and the Ultra-Humanite were retroactively placed on Earth-2, the Earth of DC's Golden Age characters. The Ultra-Humanite was reintroduced during the Silver Age as a recurring villain in the Mr. and Mrs. Superman feature in the Superman Family anthology comic. Mr. and Mrs. Superman consists of stories about the early years of the marriage between the Earth-Two Superman and Lois Lane, and features a number of Golden Age Superman villains of which the Ultra-Humanite is the most prominent. In the annual JLA/JSA teamup in Justice League of America #195-197, the Ultra-Humanite transfers his consciousness to a white albino ape body and becomes a major super-villain of Earth-Two. Afterwards, the Ultra-Humanite regularly appears in DC comics fighting against the All-Star Squadron in the 1940s and against the Justice Society of America and Infinity, Inc. in the decades since World War II.
All of this had to be reworked following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, however, which postulated that there had only ever been one Earth. Since the Ultra-Humanite was excluded from Superman's post-Crisis reboot, his post-Crisis history remained tied to the 1940s and to the Justice Society of America and All-Star Squadron.
Following the Infinite Crisis, during the One Year Later storylne, the Ultra-Humanite returned to the present day, with a nod to his past. One of his original "consciousness-transfer" victims in the 1940's was an actress named Dolores Winters. After the Infinite Crisis, the surviving actress Dolores Winters returns as a criminal in her own right in the pages of JSA Classified #19-20. Still later, the Dolores Winters-version of Ultra-Humanite is rescued from a prison hospital by parties unknown and apparently brought to the future, where the villain was mentioned as attempting to acquire a Mento-helmet in Justice League of America vol. 2 #1. Later, her brain is removed and placed in the body of an albino ape born in Gorilla City, resuming the classic Ultra-Humanite appearance. He is seen working with Per Degaton and Despero. In Booster Gold #5, it is revealed that they are the ones behind Rex Hunter and Supernova's time-altering tactics.
In the animated Justice League Unlimited series, Ultra-Humanite's origin is never fully explained. He is portrayed as an albino gorilla with a distinctly enlarged cranium. In this version, he is depicted as a cultured intellectual criminal with a deep love for classical music. The animated series version is shown to be somewhat more benevolent than his comic counterpart, as he, in one way or another, always helped the primary protagonist in almost every episode he appeared in, albeit for his own reasons. This appreciation of music becomes a major component of the denouement of the episode "Injustice For All", when Batman persuades the Ultra-Humanite to turn over Lex Luthor to the authorities in return for a large sum of money which is only described as being double what Luthor's paying him, which Ultra-Humanite then donates to public broadcasting, specifically opera on television so it would play longer (and possibly louder) which annoyed Luthor who was in the next cell.
Easily the Ultra-Humanite's most hysterical appearance was in a story where he went up against the Flash. The Scarlet Speedster was trying to find a particular toy for a group of kids at an orphanage for Christmas. It was a talking, dancing duck based on a popular animated series. Flash managed to purchase the absolute last toy of this duck, but it was damaged during the fight with the Ultra-Humanite.
Outraged, Flash makes short work of the villain, and then persuades Ultra-Humanite to repair the toy, even though Ultra-Humanite considers the toy and the cartoon upon which it is based to be a disgrace. He then exacts a little revenge on Ultra-Humanite by forcing the villain to present the toy to the children himself, wearing a top hat and given the temporary nickname "Freaky the Snowman" by Flash. Ultra-Humanite endures it with a "kill me now" attitude, but when the duck is activated, it doesn't sing and dance. It starts to tell stories, in Ultra-Humanite's own voice. Flash is initially angry, until he notices that the children are fascinated by the story-telling duck.
One of the more bizarre Christmas episodes of any animated series I think I've ever seen...
The Ultra-Humanite figure is truly an excellent piece of work. The Ultra-Humanite has been released before. This is a recolor, and as such he's sort of a light grey, but not so dark that he looks inappropriate. Obviously the figure uses a completely unique set of molds, and he even has some additional articulation, thanks to arms that are frankly bigger around and just as long as Supergirl is tall. Along with the expected articulation at the head, arms, and legs, Ultra-Humanite is also poseable at the elbows and wrists.
The figure is certainly bulky, but really no taller than average. He comes in at 4-3/4", the same height as Green Arrow. The detailing is excellent, with the furry gorilla body as well as the "nerves" of the enlarged cranium nicely sculpted into the figure in the appropriate style for the animated series. The facial expression is perfect, having a sort of "detached boredom" look on the face, with a trace of menace and exasperation to it.
Obviously, if you're a big furry gorilla, you're probably not going to wear much. Ultra-Humanite is wearing what can probably best be described as a high-tech loincloth with a belt and suspenders. And here I have my one complaint about the figure. There is a certain amount of painted detailing on the loincloth. The spikes on the suspemders, and some detailing on the belt as well as the loincloth, which looks a little like a combined "U" and "H". But since all of these elements were molded from a very flexible plastic, we have a slight problem.
Whatever paint was used for the detailing, I don't think it was really designed for use on this sort of plastic. Thee's a large rubbed-off area on the belt buckle, and on the logo. I've seen this happen before, on occasion. What surprised me was that the paint wasn't tacky to the touch. I've seen THAT happen, too. Now, I'm not saying that this will be the case with all Ultra-Humanite figures. But if you purchase this three-pack and it happens to be the case with yours, I recommend getting a good metallic copper in a water-based acrylic paint. If your skills are not up to retouching, find someone who is.
That aside, though, the Ultra-Humanite figure is really very well made, certainly a distinctive member of the Justice League Unlimited line, and really, the character has probably fared better in the animated series than he has in the comics.
So what's my final word on this three-pack? Well, you've got an excellent Green Arrow figure, who admittedly has been released before, but not for a while. It's a good chance to get him. You've got the Supergirl figure, who's really tough for me to recommend, but I can't deny that she's a prominent character. And you've got the Ultra-Humanite, who sort of got the shaft early in his comics history but has fared better in the animated series, and this really is a good figure of him. It's been released before, but like Green Arrow, hasn't been seen for a while.
So, you've got two out of three figures that are really nicely done, that if you missed out on them before, here's a good chance to bring them in. And you've got a third character that I suppose one should have for the sake of character prominence, even if the figure is lacking in a number of respects.
And, what the heck, this IS a really cool action figure line that I am personally pleased to see continuing. With all of that, the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED GREEN ARROW/SUPERGIRL/ULTRA-HUMANITE three-pack definitely has my recommendation!