There are more than a few ironies in this three-pack of Justice League Unlimited figures emerging on the scene in the early part of 2008. First off you have the relationship between the three characters. I'll get into that as I delve into their individual origins.
But then you have the staggering irony of a three-pack of figures being released who are all based on Jack Kirby's "New Gods" characters from his Fourth World series, even as DC has commenced a mini-series entitled "Death of the New Gods", with stated plans to destroy the Fourth World characters as part of the all-encompassing Countdown to the Final Crisis storyline. While there are reports that a Fifth World shall arise from its ashes, as of the writing of this review, the nature of that Fifth World remains unknown, and the simple fact of killing off so many characters created by the legendary Jack Kirby has a lot of fans less than pleased just now.
This three-pack is clearly the most popular of a new assortment of Justice League Unlimited three-packs that also includes a Justice Lords Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman set; a rather oddly-chosen Green Arrow/ Supergirl/Ultra-Humanite set, and in my opinion a rather pointless Superman/Batman/Martian Manhunter set. Come on, if you don't have THOSE guys by now...!
This particular three-pack features two characters that have been released before -- Darkseid and Orion -- and a newcomer -- Mister Miracle. However, I previously have not owned a Darkseid figure, and although I did recently review the individually-packaged Orion figure, he's certainly worth another look, especially given his relationship to the other characters.
Let's consider DARKSEID first, especially since he's not someone I think is particularly patient...
Born under the name of Uxas, Darkseid is the ruler of the grim planet Apokolips, a horrifyingly bleak and lifeless world of oppression and slavery. This world has been so thoroughly robbed of any spirit of life that, in one of the more unusual DC/Marvel crossovers, when Marvel's planet-consuming Galactus tried to devour Apokolips, there wasn't anything for him to consime.
Darkseid is obsessed with finding the Anti-Life Equation in order to use it to rule the universe; this goal also includes conquering his rival planet, New Genesis, ruled by the Highfather. A destructive war between the two worlds was stopped only with a diplomatic exchange of the sons of Highfather and Darkseid. Darkseid's second born son Orion from his wife Tigra is surrendered to Highfather, while Darkseid receives Scott Free, who later becomes the master escape artist Mister Miracle. Told you there was a strong relationship between the three characters in this set. Mattel chose the characters well here.
Darkseid's greatest ambition is to eliminate all free will from the universe and re-shape it into his own image. To this end, he seeks to unravel the mysterious Anti-Life Equation, which will allow him to control completely the thoughts and emotions of all living beings in the universe. While he has yet to obtain a complete working copy of the Anti-Life Equation, Darkseid has tried on several other occasions to achieve dominance of the universe through other methods. He has a special interest in Earth, as he believes humans possess collectively within their minds most, if not all, fragments of the Anti-Life Equation.
Darkseid, more than most of the New Gods characters, has had an influence well beyond the Fourth World. He has repeatedly threatened the Justice League, and was even the instigator of the "Great Darkness Saga", one of the hallmark stories of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th century. Although categorically evil, he's not above "teaming up" (although using that terminology is a bit of a stretch) with the heroes when his own interests are threatened. He helped to destroy the Anti-Monitor during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and was a key player in the "Our Worlds at War" storyline.
Most recently, especially given the clear tie-in between "Death of the New Gods" and "Countdown to Final Crisis", that Darkseid is manipulating many of the characters on the board. He has assigned one of his minions, DeSaad, to ensure the "Great Disaster" comes about, and assigned another, Granny Goodness, to recruit new Female Furies from Earth in the guise of Athena. It has been indicated by DC that with the Fourth World at an end, Darkseid seeks the rise of the "Fifth World", possibly on Earth, and is harnessinhg the Great Disaster and the Death of the New Gods to bring this about. It has been indicated that an individual who is almost certainly Darkseid has been manipulating the Monitor known as Solomon to bring about a war between the Monitors and Monarch for the fate of the Multiverse.
In short, he has his sticky fingers in just about everything right now.
Darkseid has also been an extremely prominent player in the world of DC animation. He first turned up during the Superman animated series, culminating in a two-part series finale where he captures the Man of Steel and brainwashes him into thinking that he is Darkseid's adopted son. Darkseid sends Superman on several conquests throughout the galaxy before sending him to invade Earth. When Superman regains his memory, he finds that he has destroyed parts of Metropolis, nearly killed Supergirl, and lost the world's trust.
Although that trust is regained by the time of the Justice League/ Justice League Unlimited series, Superman still harbors a deep hatred of Darkseid, who once again manages to be a major player in the series finale. In this two-parter, Lex Luthor, obsessed with resurrecting Brainiac, commands the members of the Legion of Doom to transform their base into a spacecraft which he uses to travel with them to the location of the now-destroyed Brainiac Asteroid. When the Legion reaches the location, Luthor believes he is about to restore Brainiac, but instead he ends up resurrecting what looks like a Darkseid now infused with the essence of Brainiac, making him far more powerful than ever before. Darkseid rewards Luthor for his help by apparently giving him and the Legion a quick death. The remnants of the Legion soon appear alive and well back on Earth, having been saved by a force field created by Sinestro and Star Sapphire. They warn the Justice League of Darkseid. Darkseid himself eventually engages Superman in a lengthy battle across Metropolis. Darkseid is about to cut out Superman's heart (which he intends to keep as a trophy) with a Kryptonite knife when Lex Luthor appears and presents him with the recently acquired Anti-Life Equation, which he attained with the aid of the New God Metron. Although Luthor seemingly perishes with Darkseid in an explosion of light, Batman remarks that they will likely see the two again.
Darkseid is one of the most pwoerful beings in the DC universe -- animated or comics. He possesses physical strength, stamina, and durability that rival the corresponding traits of Superman, including immortality and a regenerative healing factor. His main power is the Omega Effect, a devastating form of energy that he fires from his eyes, able to disperse the molecules of most objects or organisms, effectively erasing them from existence. Additionally, Darkseid is superhumanly intelligent; he is a master planner and strategist. He has access to the full technological resources of Apokolips, and can also travel through time and between dimensions through the use of teleportational boom tubes.
The figure is an impressive piece of work. Darkseid is categorically NOT a character that fits into the convention body molds of most of the Justice League figures. He is distinctly taller (figurewise, 5-1/2" compared to the more standard 4-3/4") and far bulkier. Indeed he has his own distinct set of molds.
Darkseid has grey skin, a sloping brow, and a rather craggy face that almost appears to be hewn from rock. The figure actually has these lines painted in. He has deepset red eyes and a permanent scowl. He is wearing a black headpiece, and a black sleeveless tunic with a grey belt. He also has black gloves and high boots. Technically, Darkseid's most typical appearance has his clothes made in a dark blue color. However, this is not the first time Darkseid has been available in the Justice League line, so essentially, this is a recoloration. However, for someone like Darkseid, it works, and he has been portrayed on occasion as wearing black. And heck, even someone as grim and gruesome as Darkseid probably owns more than one set of clothes...
The figure has a higher level of articulation than average for the Justice League line, not only being articulated at the head, arms, and legs, but also the elbows and knees. I must also strongly commend Mattel for making the lower part of the tunic from a flexible enough plastic to allow the legs to move fairly well. It's not THAT much of a hindrance. I've encountered too many figures in recent times -- the Jungle Fury Yellow Cheetah Ranger being the most recent and profoundly annoying example -- where the figure is wearing some sort of hanging tunic and it's molded from too stiff a plastic to allow the legs to move.
Overall, this is a very cool animated-style rendition of one of the most prominent characters in the DC Universe. I'm glad to add him to my JLU collection.
Now let's consider ORION.
Orion is the second son of Darkseid. As a child, he was traded for Scott Free in a peace effort between New Genesis and Apokolips. Raised as the son of Highfather Izaya, he was taught to control his rage and anger, becoming the most powerful warrior either world has ever known. This in itself was not an easy task given that his heritage boiled with the rage of the brutal and merciless Darkseid. Learning how to control his dark nature consumed much of Orion's youth, but as he grew, his friends among the New Gods helped him direct his anger. Orion counts among his friends Lightray, Metron, Scott Free, Barda and Forager. He is a hero dedicated to the ideals of New Genesis. His fighting skill and stamina have earned him the nickname "The Dog of War".
Orion is never going to be known as "Mr. Friendly". He has considerable difficulty controlling his violent nature, and tends to have a short temper. He has hardly ever been seen to smile, and relishes the opportunity to engage in combat, even though he fights on the side of the heroes.
Orion has been an occasional member of the Justice League, but as one might expect, he tends to regard Earth's heroes as too weak to conduct proper combat and battle. One stint with the League was during the "JLA" run where he served along with Mr. Miracle's wife, Barda, but they were both present to help prepare the JLA for a specific forthcoming conflict at the time. Once that was resolved, they both departed the League, although they remained in reserve.
Orion's primary abilities are his superhuman strength, speed, stamina and durability. His physical strength is difficult to gauge accurately, but he has successfully defeated Darkseid at least once. He has also been shown to hold his own against the likes of Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Superman. No normal Earth-made barrier or substance can possibly stop Orion if he wishes to enter an area. Few barriers, even in the Fourth World are capable of stopping Orion. Battles that have had Orion at the scene are known to be catastrophically destructive and often have extreme loss of life. Like all denizens of Apokolips and New Genesis, Orion ages extremely slowly, being functionally immortal by human standards. Whether this holds up in the current "Death of the New Gods" series is anybody's guess.
Orion's main form of transport is an unusual device called an "Astro-Harness" -- a very typically-Kirby-looking creation. The "Astro-Harness" is an alien artifact of unknown origin even amongst the New Gods. Worn around his waist and slung over his shoulders, with attached stirrup-like footrests, it is capable of several abilities and is used exclusively by Orion. He is able to use his Astro-Harness to project the "Astro-Force", an energy described by Orion as "the Wrath of the Source". Orion can also channel the Astro-Force through his wristbands for smaller blasts when away from the Harness. The Astro-Harness can also produce a force field barrier, and can absorb energy from the local environment in the event that its access to the Source has been cut off. It also has the ability to place a "Magna-Lock" on an object; this is similar to a tractor beam, allowing Orion to tow an object from a distance. The Harness can be programmed to fly another person to safety and then return to Orion. The device also allows Orion to travel at faster than light speeds in space. Like much of the technology of New Genesis, the Astro-Harness is capable of self-repair and will repair itself completely as long as any portion of the device exists.
In the animated Justice League, Orion appears in the episode Twilight. The return of Darkseid to Superman's attention caused Superman to ask Batman and Wonder Woman to seek out Orion's help. The mention of Darkseid, however, causes Orion to go against Highfather's wishes and heads off to confront the menace directly (this may have been what Superman wanted all along). After this, Orion has joined the expanded Justice League as seen on Justice League Unlimited. Orion has a significant supporting role in the episode "Flash and Substance." When Batman learns of a plot to kill Flash, he comes with Orion to Central City to protect both Flash and any innocents during the grand opening of the Flash Museum. Orion is plainly irritated and uncomprehending of Flash's lighthearted attitude and affinity for talking to his enemies, instead of opting immediately for battle.
The figure is a good rendition of the character. Orion is somewhat plain-looking in appearance compared to a lot of Kirby creations. Orion wears a basic red bodysuit with blue gloves, trunks, and boots. He has a grey belt and some grey trim around the boots. Orion's most notable feature is his helmet, a tight-fitting greyish-silver helmet with two small wing- like appendages to either side, and some ornate sculpting, trimmed in yellow, across the front.
The one thing that makes Orion more distinctive is the one thing the figure doesn't come with -- the Astro-Harness. This is an item that was included with the single-packed Orion figure a while back, but the three-packs generally don't include accessories, and the Astro-Harness was a larger-than-usual accessory.
Even so, it's a cool figure, and of a character that hasn't seen a lot of action figure action, although Orion has turned up in a more realistic, true-to-comics form in the first assortment of Mattel's new DC UNIVERSE series. Still, for those who collect JLU, you will certainly want to include Orion in your collection, Astro-Harness or not. And I haven't seen the single-carded version in some time, and of course his relationship to Darkseid, and for that matter Mr. Miracle, makes Orion an entirely appropriate part of this set.
Finally, let's consider the real newcomer to the JLU collection - MISTER MIRACLE.
Scott Free is the son of Izaya (Highfather), the ruler of New Genesis, and his wife Avia. However, as part of a diplomatic move to stop a destructive war against the planet Apokolips, Highfather agreed to an exchange of heirs with the galactic tyrant Darkseid; the exchange of heirs guaranteed that neither side would attack the other. Scott traded places with Darkseid's second born son Orion.
Scott grew up in one of Granny Goodness' "Terror Orphanages" with no knowledge of his own heritage. As he matured, Scott rebelled against the totalitarian ideology of Apokolips. Hating himself for being unable to fit in, he was influenced by Metron to see a future beyond Darkseid. Scott became part of a small band of pupils who were tutored in secret by the rebel Himon, a New Genesian on Apokolips. It was at these meetings that he met fellow pupil Big Barda, who would later become his wife.
Eventually, Scott Free escaped and fled to Earth. His escape, long anticipated and planned for by Darkseid, nullified the pact between Darkseid and Highfather and gave Darkseid the excuse he needed to revive the war with New Genesis. Once on Earth, he became the protégé of a circus escape artist, Thaddeus Brown, whose stage name was Mister Miracle. Brown was impressed with Scott's skills (especially as supplemented with various advanced devices he had taken from his previous home). Scott also befriended Brown's assistant, a dwarf named Oberon. When Thaddeus Brown was murdered, Scott Free assumed the identity of Mister Miracle. Barda later followed Scott to Earth, and the two used their powers, equipment, and skills in the war against Darkseid, who was still interested in recapturing both of them. Eventually, tired of being chased on Earth by Darkseid's servants, Scott returned to Apokolips and won his freedom by legal means, through trial by combat.
Scott Free later became a member of the Keith Giffen-era JLA (as did Barda and Oberon) during the mid to late 1980's, and remains a member of Earth's heroic fraternity, and has turned up more recently, in the Death of the New Gods mini-series, where he finds that Big Barda has been murdered, and is revealed to contain most of the Anti-Life Equation. He has also appeared in Countdown, visibly shaken and grieving his wife. Whether he survives at this point I really don't know.
Mister Miracle's appeared in the animated Superman episode, Apokolips...Now! Part II. He also appeared as a background character at the end of the Justice League episode Twilight. Later, Miracle made a return in the Justice League Unlimited episode, The Ties That Bind.
The figure is a faithful animated style translation of the Mister Miracle character, and is clearly influenced by Jack Kirby's style. Mr. Miracle wears a rather outrageous (even by superhero standards) costume that consists of a pullover mask that covers his entire head except for his eyes, although his nose and mouth remain visible underneath the fabric. The mask is predominantly yellow around the face, and red on the top and back.
Mr. Miracle's costume is largely red, although the mid-sleeves and mid-torso are bright yellow. Something like a red belt with with yellow detailing is painted on the costume, although I'm not sure if this is an actual belt or simply part of the body-suit. Even a look at an illustration of the comics version of Mr. Miracle leaves this a little vague.
The costume is completed with dark green trunks, gloves, and boots, with yellow discs on the gloves and boots, and a dark green cape with a high collar, with clasps and a chain painted onto the chest. I initially thought the cape might've been borrowed from a Martian Manhunter mold,but this didn't check out. It appears to be a distinctive mold of its own.
Mattel did a superb job with what is unquestionably a complicated character. The visible eyes are neatly painted, as are the costume details. Mr. Miracle is one of those characters who may not be on the same level as Superman or Batman, but he is reasonably well known in the DC Universe, and certainly warrants the figure treatment in the JLU line. I'm pleased to see that he's gotten it.
On the whole, this is an excellent three-pack of figures. They're not the only New Gods characters out there. There was a LIGHTRAY figure a while back, and BARDA turned up in a three-pack with -- of all characters -- Martian Manhunter and Deadshot.
But for any fan of Jack Kirby's Fourth World, this set is certainly
a must-have, and I'm not surprised that of all of the three-packs advertised
on its package, it's been the toughest to find. Whatever fate awaits
these characters within the comics world of the DC Universe, this is
a cool chance to own figures of their animated counterparts, and certainly,
the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED three-pack of DARKSEID, ORION, and MISTER
MIRACLE has my enthusiastic recommendation!