REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED JUSTICE SOCIETY THREE-PACK
Without question, one of the most remarkable action figure lines in recent years is that based on the animated JUSTICE LEAGUE and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED series. The action figure line has not only lasted far longer than most action figure lines tend to these days, it has outlived its source material by quite a number of years (at least as far as first-run episodes are concerned -- the series is available on DVD, of course, and highly recommended), and the line has also brought in a wide range of characters who are entirely valid parts of the DC Universe -- but who never appeared on the show. All of that is extremely impressive in my book.
Alas, the line is being brought to an end by Mattel. But -- not before some very cool remaining figures come out, mostly through their online store at MattyCollector.Com. One such set features the Golden Age versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman, all members of the Justice Society of America. This is all the more remarkable because the Justice Society never appeared in the series -- neither did any of these characters.
There was one story that -- came close. Sort of. In a very weird way. Several members of the Justice League were transported to an alternate Earth, a surprisingly chipper place that seemed trapped in some sort of idealized late-40's or early-50's world. There the League met that world's super-heroes -- the Justice GUILD of America. This was a team that was specifically created just for the show. They had never appeared anywhere else within the DC Universe.
A lot of people wondered why the Justice Society themselves were not used, but given how that particular story played out -- and I'm not going to get into it here since I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't seen it -- it's just as well that established heroes like the Justice Society WEREN'T used. As for the Justice Guild, despite their one and only appearance in the Justice League series, they proved popular enough so that Mattel actually produced a set of four Justice Guild action figures for MattyCollector a while back. See my separate review of these.
Some of the characters came fairly close to certain established heroes. Most notably in my opinion, the Green Guardsman was very heavily based on the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott.
Still, the Justice Society themselves never appeared in the Justice League animated series. It likely would've been a continuity nightmare, for starters, and several characters who were known to be members of the Justice Society in the mainstream DC Universe, such as Wildcat, Doctor Fate, and Mister Terrific, were members of the League in the animated universe. But some of the most prominent Golden Age characters, like Alan Scott and Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, never turned up.
Until now, in this superb three-pack alongside the Golden Age Hawkman. And I must say that it's a real treat to see these classic characters finally given the animated-style figure treatment. Let's consider the characters and the figures individually, shall we?
GREEN LANTERN (ALAN SCOTT) - Created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell, Alan Scott first appeared in All-American Comics #16, in July of 1940. Nodell claims to have been inspired by the sight f a New York Subway employee waving a red lantern to stop a train for track work and a green lantern once the track was clear.
According to the character's origin, thousands of years ago a mystical "green flame" fell to Earth in ancient China. The voice of the flame prophesied that it would act three times - once to bring death, once to bring life, and once to bring power. By 1940, two-thirds of its prophecy had come to pass. The flame, or meteor, had been fashioned into a metal lantern, which fell into the hands of Alan Scott, a young railroad engineer. Following a railroad bridge collapse, the flame instructed Scott in how to fashion a ring from its metal, to give him fantastic powers as the superhero Green Lantern. Scott adopted a colorful costume and became a crimefighter, and was later a founding member of the Justice Society of America, and its first chairman.
Following 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, which merged the various worlds of the multiverse into one, including Earth-2, on which the Golden Age heroes such as Scott lived, a story in "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" brought Scott, who initially had no connection to the Guardians of the Universe or Earth-1's Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, closer to the Green Lantern Corps, although he was never officially a member. Alan Scott is considered an honorary member of the Corps.
More recently, it has been revealed that the source of Alan Scott's power is a mystical "Starheart", the magical characteristics of the universe gathered by the Guardians of the Universe (and hence its green color). This collective force was hidden in the heart of a star, and over time, became sentient. This force also helps to slow Alan Scott's aging process. Considering that Scott derives his power from the Starheart, and does not need to recharge his ring as it is made of the Starheart itself, he is perhaps the most powerful of all the bearers of the name "Green Lantern", even though he is not officially part of the Corps, nor does his costume resemble theirs.
Doctor Mid-Nite has remarked that since Scott's powers are magical in nature, and therefore could affect Superman, Scott might well be one of the most powerful beings in the universe. He does have one main weakness - his power can be negated by anything made of wood. His aging process, and his apparent age, has been altered several times over his history. Most often in recent times, he has appeared to be a man in his late 40's or early 50's, although he is actually on the high side of 90.
For a time, his age was reversed even further, to that of his modern contemporaries, and he took on a new name, Sentinel, and costume, and for a time did not need to use a ring to access the power of the Starheart, but he eventually went back to his more traditional look, and a few years were added to his appearance.
In the 1940's, his adventures ranged from the serious to the comedic, and at one point he was reduced to the role of sidekick to a character known as Streak the Wonder Dog. Need it be said that there are some parts of a superhero's past that are probably left well enough alone.
Alan Scott did not remain a railroad engineer. From the late 1940's to the 1970's, Scott ran the Gotham Broadcasting Company. Although he lost control of the company for a time and started a new career as a scientist, with help from longtime friend Jay Garrick, he eventually regained control of GBC.
He has two children, who are the heroes Jade and Obsidian.
So, how's the figure? Really very impressive. Honestly, I half-expected Mattel to simply recolor the Green Guardsman figure from the Justice Guild set, but apparently someone decided that GG's rather exaggerated hairdo just wasn't quite going to cut it for Green Lantern.
The figure has a surprising number of distinctive parts. Along with a new head and cape, the arms are also new. Alan Scott's uniform as shown in the comics is not quite as skin-tight as the average super-hero suit. The shirt, especially, billows a bit in the sleeves and near the belt.
Although the figure uses the name main body molds as most Justice League figures, so not a lot could be done about the shirt, the figure does have entirely new arms. They not only have slightly billowed sleeves near the cuffs, but the power ring is actually sculpted, not just imprinted, on the second finger of the right hand.
Alan Scott's costume is interesting in that it is by no means entirely -- or even primarily -- green. Alan Scott wears a red shirt, green leggings, red boots with yellow decorative wrappings around them, and a purple mask and cape. Although the overall color scheme could probably be charitably described as coming from the school of "whatever was lying around in the laundry" department, the end result is nevertheless a very colorful character.
Among the painted details on the costume is the Green Lantern insignia, which is entirely different from the one used by the Green Lantern Corps. It actually looks more like an illustration of a railroad lantern, green in color with a black outline, and three little marks off to the right to make it look like it's shining, all within a yellow circle on the chest.
Also painted onto the figure is a black belt with a yellow buckle, and the decorative yellow lines on the red boots.
The purple cape is very nicely made, and features two little yellow clasps, and a high, upturned, pointed collar. The mask on Alan Scott's face is similarly upturned and pointed, which makes for an interesting look for the figure, since that particular design idea is a little outside the mainstream look for the character in the comics. However, it works well enough on the figure.
Alan Scott has an entirely new headsculpt that, interestingly, also includes a red shirt collar. Innovative way of getting that detail onto the costume without having to remake the entire body. The facial expression is heroic, with a slight grin and Alan Scott has light blonde hair that is mostly combed back from his forehead. Although it's a little hard to determine age with the stylized look of the animated-type figures, I think it would be fair to say that the sculptors were quite generous in keeping Alan Scott towards the younger end.
All in all, it's a really superb Justice League animated-style rendering of this classic character.
FLASH (JAY GARRICK) - Just as iconic, and different in appearance from his successors, as Alan Scott, is Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash.
The Flash, created my Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert, first appeared in Flash Comics #1, in January 1940. In the story, Jay Garrick is a college student who accidentally inhales hard water vapors (later described as heavy water vapors) after falling asleep in his laboratory. As a result, he finds that he can run at superhuman speed and has similarly fast reflexes. More modern explanations make the claim that there was something in the vapors that activated a "metagene" within Garrick, a modern means of explaining certain heroes and their powers.
After a brief career as a college football star, he dons a red shirt with a lightning bolt and a stylized metal helmet with wings, based on images of the mythological Mercury, and begins to fight crime as the Flash. The helmet belonged to Jay's father, who fought during World War I.
Given that he does not wear a mask. It was initially widely known that Garrick was the Flash. However, given the fluidity of continuity at the time, it is later explained that he is able to maintain his secret identity despite the lack of a mask by constantly "vibrating" his facial features, making him hard to recognize or clearly photograph.
During his early career, he would often find himself embroiled in semi-comical situations inadvertently initiated by Winky, Blinky, and Noddy, a trip of tramps known as the Three Dimwits, who tried their hand at one job after another, and never successfully. One wonders if this was intended as a bit of a take on the Three Stooges, but whatever the case, one has to wonder if Garrick having to put up with this sort of nonsense made Alan Scott feel better about ending up as second fiddle to Streak the Wonder Dog...
The Flash was one of the best known heroes of the Golden Age, and was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, and served as its first chairman. He was originally based in New York City, but this was soon changed to the fictional Keystone City, and following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Keystone was semi-merged with Central City, which was home to the Earth-1 Flash, becoming the twin cities of Central and Keystone. An updated story suggests that Keystone in this new continuity was rendered invisible and wiped from the memories of the world for many years through the actions of several supervillains.
Most recently, Garrick has served as the mayor of a town called Monument Point. He appears to be physically in his 50's, and has some gray hair around his temples, but is in fact on the high side of 90. He remains active with the modern Justice Society of America, taking a rather fatherly approach toward his teammates and the superhero community in general.
As the Flash, Jay can run and move at superhuman speeds, and possesses superhuman reflexes, and has an aura that prevents air friction from affecting his body and clothes while he is moving at superspeed. Unlike Barry Allen, the modern-day Flash, Jay is a meta-human, and while he does have a connection to the Speed Force, it has not generally on on the level of other speedsters. He is nevertheless capable of near-light speeds. However, his very slowly aging, and he is already older than most contemporary heroes, he cannot exert himself to quite the same degree.
So, how's the figure? Extremely cool. Much like Alan Scott, Jay Garrick has a distinct and iconic look to him that sets him apart from his modern counterparts. The figure uses most of the same body parts as any other male hero figure in the Justice League animated line, although I am of the opinion that the legs are new (along with the head), since Garrick has very distinctive boots. They're fairly low boots, with cuffs -- sort of looking like Captain America's boots if they'd gotten shrunk in the wash.
This is the second figure of Jay Garrick that Mattel has produced. The other one was a 4" scale figure in the DC Infinite Heroes line. Unlike Alan Scott, who turned up in the DC Universe Classics line in Wave 14, Jay Garrick has yet to appear as of this writing, in Mattel's flagship DC line. However, it was announced that he was one of four figures in the works for Club Infinite Earths, the new DC Universe Classics subscription through MattyCollector.Com, since Mattel has been required to end the DC Universe Classics line at retail in order to start a new line in keeping with the DC Comics Relaunch.
While I (and I believe many others) are hopeful that the Relaunch will be short-lived, at least the DC Universe Classics line will carry on, and I'd like to think that the announcement of Jay Garrick was a factor. We can look forward to him, along with Atrocitus, the Legion's Starman, Poison Ivy, Metron, and others, in 2012.
As to the Justice League Unlimited figure, he's really excellent. Somewhat surprisingly to me, they didn't give him any gray around the temples, despite the fact that the face as sculpted does look a bit older than average for a JLU figure. There's a few more lines and creases -- although a couple of these, unfortunately, are a molding error, something that I hope doesn't happen often. It's not that serious, though.
In any case, Jay Garrick definitely has a certain look of seniority about him, but still plenty of heroics left in him. He's wearing his iconic helmet-hat, which I believe had to have been molded as a separate piece.
Jay Garrick's costume is unlike any other Flash, consisting of a red shirt with a huge yellow lightning bolt on it, blue leggings, and the aforementioned low, cuffed boots. Small wings have been painted on the sides of the boots. Garrick also has a black belt with silver buckle. The belt has been painted to look as though it fits through belt loops on the trousers. Hey, not everybody could get hold of spandex back then, okay?
On the whole, the figure is a superb rendition of this classic character, and I'm truly delighted to see him brought into the Justice League line.
HAWKMAN - Hoooo-boy. Welcome to continuity hell. Let me see if I can explain this. As a character, Hawkman was first introduced in Flash Comics #1, in 1940. And although the character's backstory was updated for the Silver Age, the era in which we were also introduced to Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and other modern counterparts to Golden Age heroes, most of whom looked different and were entirely different people, which eventually led to the concept of "Earth-1" and "Earth-2" with the first official crossover -- which actually featured Jay Garrick on the Golden Age side of things -- Hawkman's appearance didn't undergo as radical an overhaul as many other characters.
For a good long time, however, there was a distinct Earth-1 Hawkman, and an Earth-2 Hawkman, that along with their separate backstories did have one important visual difference, which I will discuss shortly.
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, unlike the Green Lanterns and the Flashes, who were left as entirely separate individuals, an attempt was made to reconcile the two radically different backstories of the two Hawkmen into one character. This resulted in -- ye gods -- what it resulted in... I'll try to explain some of it.
The Golden Age Hawkman was a man known as Carter Hall, who was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince known as Khufu, who had in the modern day discovered that the mysterious "ninth metal" (later Nth metal) could negate the effects of gravity and allow him to fly. He donned a costume with large artificial wings to help him control his flight, and became the crimefighter known as Hawkman. An archaeologist by trade, Hall tended to use ancient weapons from the museum of which he was curator in his crimefighting efforts -- and it's a good thing the museum board of directors never found out what their curator was doing with the exhibits...!
Hawkman was a charter member of the Justice Society of America, and in issue #8 he became th team's chairman, a position which he would hold until the end of the JSA's run, and was the only member of the JSA to appear in every one of their adventures during the Golden Age.
His early adventures were illustrated by creator Dennis Neville, who modeled Hawkman's costume on the hawkmen characters in the Flash Gordon comic strip by Alex Raymond. Later illustrators included Sheldon Moldoff, and then Joe Kubert, who would ultimately give the Golden Age Hawkman a much simpler mask, replacing the bird-like mask with the wings on the side with a straightforward yellow cowl with a red hawk emblem on the forehead.
This would ultimately be the best means of telling the Golden Age Hawkman apart from his Silver Age successor. The Silver Age Hawkman, although nearly identical in appearance to the original, had no relationship to any ancient Egyptian prince, and was in fact an alien. His name was Katar Hol -- later he would adopt an Earth-sounding version of it for his secret identity which would be -- guess what -- Carter Hall -- and he was a police officer from the planet Thanagar. Hol and his wife came to Earth in pursuit of a criminal and decided to stay, becoming curators of a museum in Midway City, thus giving them access to the same sort of ancient weaponry used by their Golden Age counterpart.
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, a number of attempts were made to merge the two Hawkmen continuities together, with varying degrees of limited success. In the late 1990's, the modern JSA comic untangled Hawkman's continuity, establishing him as Carter Hall, a man who, along with his wife, had been reincarnated dozens of times since his life in ancient Egypt, and whose powers were derived from Thanagarian Nth metal. One scene in -- I think it was Infinite Crisis -- showed Hawkman being torn apart across time, and not only showed the modern day Hawkman, but the yellow-cowled Golden Age Hawkman, and even a previously-established Western hero named Nighthawk. And that's about as far as Hawkman could be straightened out, and it worked about as well as it could.
As to the Justice League animated universe -- I can't imagine what it would take to try to work the Golden Age Hawkman into that story, since the primary winged super-hero in that series was Hawkgirl, not Hawkman, and she was clearly Thanagarian. Later, an entire Thanagarian fleet showed up on Earth's doorstep, claiming to be Earth's allies, but really planning its invasion and eventual destruction. At no point did Hawkman turn up during this.
However, Hawkman did appear during the Justice League Unlimited animated series, as an Earthman named Carter Hall, who had a stalker-level crush on Hawkgirl. Eventually, it was revealed to them that they were the modern-day reincarnations of two -- get this -- Thanagarians who had crashed on Earth in ancient times and had become Egyptian royalty. Even an ancient version of John Stewart, who had had a relationship with Hawkgirl in the animated series, was thrown in for good measure.
Frankly, it almost worked better than the comic book, but it didn't leave much room for a Golden Age counterpart, and one is left not entirely surprised that for a while there, the name "Hawkman" was considered persona-non-grata at DC, and on the heels of the late-90's "DC vs. Marvel" crossover, one rumor indicates that they very nearly loaned the character out to Marvel to see if they could do anything with him. It ultimately didn't happen.
Now, don't get me wrong. I've always liked Hawkman. I thought he was a cool character, he's pretty much a complete bad@$$, but trying to sort out his history has been a bit like being handed a jigsaw puzzle, pieces face down, and you're not sure whether you've got all the pieces, and there's no reference picture to work from, just somebody tells you, "Oh, it's a forest scene with a river." Yeah, thanks for the help.
So, how's the figure? Very nice, really. There have been Hawk-type figures in the line before, of course. Hawkgirl came along pretty early in the line, as one would expect, although she was the last one out and was not easy to find for some time. And following Hawkman's introduction, there was also a figure of him. There was even a special six-pack of figures, based on the movie that featured the Thanagarian invasion, titled "Starcrossed", that featured a special version of Hawkgirl as well as three other Thanagarians from the movie.
My point? It's not like they had to mold a special body or a set of wings to do the Golden Age Hawkman. Those parts were readily available. Take one male hero torso with a slot in the back, one large pair of wings, paint appropriately, and add distinctive head.
Obviously, there's more to the figure than that, but if you want a basic formula. Honestly, I'm glad we're getting the yellow-cowled Golden Age Hawkman in some form. Wave 20 of the DC Universe Classics action figure line will be featuring the Golden Age Hawkman, but he'll have his original headgear, which was very similar to the Silver Age Hawkman's headgear -- that is, it looks like a bird of prey's head with wings out to the sides, but the Golden Age Hawkman's headgear was even more complex than his Silver Age's counterpart.
Frankly, given that we've already had several DC Universe Classics figures with alternate heads, mostly in the Green Lantern Classics line, I wouldn't mind at all seeing the same thing happen here. It's unlikely, I know, but at least in the meantime we have a figure with the yellow cowl.
Basically, it's just that. It's a standard-fitting yellow cowl. I'm not even 100% sure it's a distinctive headsculpt, since it's really a pretty basic mask. But I am not going to go through my entire collection and see if it matches anybody else. It is distinctive in that it has a yellow Hawk emblem imprinted on the forehead, just as it should be.
The rest of the costume, painted on a standard male body, is virtually identical to the modern Hawkman. The character is shirtless, with two yellow straps criss-crossing his chest and back, with a red circle in the center of the chest. He has a yellow belt and yellow wristbands, red trunks, green leggings, and red boots with yellow lines on them that spread into three near the toes, vaguely resembling birds feet.
Conspicuous by its absence is the Thanagarian Hawk symbol in the red circle on the chest, which is just a red circle. It's not an accidental omission. Let is remember that the Golden Age Hawkman is not Thanagarian.
Of course, the figure has huge wings mounted to his back. And here, we have a very interesting difference, carried out by Mattel. The other Hawk-type figures that have come along in this line have all had gray wings, and indeed it seems to be a somewhat traditional color for Hawkman's wings. The Super Powers figure I have of Hawkman from the 1980's has gray wings. The DC Universe Classics figures of Hawkman and Hawkgirl have gray wings.
They gave the Golden Age Hawkman figure -- brown wings! It's a nice difference that makes the figure more distinctive without doing something that wouldn't be regarded as inappropriate. Most hawks have a predominance of brown on them. I don't offhand recall seeing too many gray hawks.
All three of the figures in this set are very neatly painted and superbly detailed. Obviously, articulation has never been a major factor with the Justice League line, which hasn't interfered with its popularity in the least. The figures are, as one would expect, poseable at the head, arms, and legs. Flash stands the easiest of the three. Green Lantern and Hawkman are a little ill-balanced due mostly to their heavy cape and wings, respectively, but it's not impossible to get them to stand up on their own.
So, what's my final word? I'll miss the Justice League line, I really will. It's easily the most awesome DC-based animated series ever, and the action figure line really went above and beyond anything that could have been imagined, far outlasting the series and bringing in many more characters than ever appeared on it -- including these three.
As amusing as the "Justice Guild" was, I am truly pleased that these iconic members of the Golden Age Justice Society of America have been brought into this line. I really think it would have been enormously difficult to have done so in the animated series itself, but the action figures proved long ago that they knew no such hindrances.
I'm sincerely delighted that these figures made it into the JLU line before its end. And if you're any sort of fan of the DC Universe, and/or the Justice League Unlimited line, then you'll surely want to bring them into your collection, as well. Even if they're no longer available on MattyCollector.Com by the time you read this review, there's always secondary sources for them, and believe me, they're worth it.
The JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED Three-Pack featuring the GOLDEN AGE GREEN LANTERN, FLASH, AND HAWKMAN of the JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA most definitely has my very highest recommendation!