REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES KARATE KID
As I've stated in my previous Legion reviews, I've been a longtime fan of DC Comics' legendary LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, like since the late 1960's. Granted, the comics have had their ups and downs -- and even a few sideways -- but I've always been a fan of the basic concept and characters.
However, the Legion has never really had a major presence in the action figure world. I've tended to believe that one of the reasons for this is because, hailing as they did from a thousand years in the future, despite the periodic presence of Superboy and Supergirl, they were always somewhat isolated from the present-day DC Universe. Mego never did anything with them. Neither did Kenner or Hasbro. There was a line of them from DC Direct, but it wasn't really one of their high points, and the figures were in their very original costumes, which weren't my personal favorites.
A while back, there was a special Justice League Unlimited four-pack featuring the Legion, but that seemed to be about it. Until, at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, Mattel announced that the Legion of Super-Heroes would be joining the line-up in their flagship line -- DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS. As if there hadn't been tons of campaigning on the part of Legion fans for this to happen.
It would be, explained Mattel, a very special set. Not a two-pack, not a three-pack, not a five-pack. No -- it would be a TWELVE-pack. And even at that, the speculation as to who would be included from a membership that over the years had consisted of several dozen characters ran wild for some time until Mattel introduced the line-up.
The final dozen would include Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl -- the three founders of the team; Superboy, mostly so Mattel could turn out a classic Superboy figure; Brainiac 5, one of the most popular non-founding members; joined by Ultra Boy, Wildfire, Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Karate Kid, Chameleon Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad, in part for a little comic relief there at the end. The set also includes a figure of Proty, a semi-sentient protoplasm pet once belonging to Chameleon Boy, and a Legion flight ring.
I knew even before Mattel announced the line-up that this was a set I had to have, but then they had to go and include some of my most favorite characters. The set, after a few delays, was finally released in October 2010, as an exclusive to MattyCollector.Com.
The package is superb. It is a seven-sided stylized version of the Legion's original headquaters, a yellow rocket-like building with red fins at the top. The twelve figures are displayed within in what are designed to look like teleportation tubes, two to a section. The central section features the far larger Colossal Boy figure, and a smaller space for Proty and the ring. This does leave one empty space among the other six sections, however. This has been labeled for Legion member Invisible Kid. Little joke on Mattel's part...
Now -- there is no way that I can fairly review the entire set in one review and maintain my usual style of presenting a decent amount of backstory on the given character before reviewing the specific figure. Not without this review running the length of a doctoral thesis. And I'm not going to compromise my usual style by shortening this to a brief look at each figure and leaving it at that. There will be other such reviews elsewhere on the Internet, I'm sure.
As such, I am going to give each Legionnaire an individual review. I feel that to do less would be to do an injustice to this very cool concept, and this extremely cool set of figures. This review will take a look at KARATE KID. But first, an overview of the Legion itself.
The Legion of Super-Heroes is a fictional superhero team in the 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Comics Universe. The team first appears in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), and was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
Initially, the team was closely associated with the original Superboy, and was first portrayed as a group of time travelers who frequently visited him. In later years, the Legion's origin and backstory were fleshed out, and the group replaced Superboy as the focus of their stories; eventually Superboy was removed altogether, except as an occasional guest star.
The team has undergone several major reboots during its publication. The original version was replaced with a new rebooted version following the events of Zero Hour and another rebooted team was introduced in 2004. A fourth version of the team, nearly identical to the original version, was introduced in 2007. As a result, Superman (both as an adult and a teenager) and the current version of Supergirl have been reincorporated into Legion history.
Superboy was the featured series in Adventure Comics in the late 1950s. In Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), he was met by three teenagers from the 30th century: Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, who were members of a "super-hero club" called the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their club had been formed with Superboy as an inspiration, and they had time travelled to recruit Superboy as a member. After a series of tests, Superboy was awarded membership and returned to his own time.
Although intended as a one-off story focusing on Superboy, the Legion proved so popular that it returned for an encore in Adventure Comics #267 (December 1959). Lightning Boy had been renamed Lightning Lad, and their costumes were very close to those they wore throughout the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Legion's popularity grew, and they appeared in further stories in Adventure Comics and Action Comics over the next few years. The ranks of the Legion, only hinted at in those first two stories, were filled with new heroes, such as Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, and Ultra Boy. Even Supergirl was recruited as a member.
In Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962), the Legion received their own regular feature, cover-billed "Superboy in 'Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes'". While they would share space with Superboy solo stories for a couple of years, they eventually displaced Superboy entirely as their popularity grew.
It was this run which established the Legion's general workings and environment. A club of teenagers, they operated out of a clubhouse in the shape of a yellow rocket ship inverted as if it had been driven into the ground. The position of Legion leader rotated among the membership, sometimes through election, and sometimes by more arcane methods. Each Legionnaire had to possess at least one natural superpower, in particular a power which no other member possessed. Despite this, several members had overlapping powers, particularly Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. The Legion was based on Earth, and protected an organization of humans and aliens called the United Planets. The regular police force in the UP was the Science Police. The setting for each story was almost always 1000 years from the date of publication.
In 1973, the Legion returned to cover billing on a book when Superboy became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197 (August 1973). Crafted by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum, the feature proved highly popular. Cockrum was later replaced on art by Mike Grell. With #231 (September 1977), the book's title officially changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Following a wide range of epic storylines, and several rather confusing reboots, largely tied in with certain "crises" of the time, a far more familiar Legion returned on the heels of Infinite Crisis. The "Lightning Saga" crossover in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America features the return of the original versions of Star Boy (now called Starman), Dream Girl, Wildfire, Karate Kid, Timber Wolf, Sensor Girl, Dawnstar, and Brainiac 5. Though several differences between the original and Lightning Saga Legions exist, Geoff Johns has stated that this incarnation of the Legion shares the same history as the original Legion up to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, with Clark Kent having joined the team as the teenage Superboy prior to the start of his career as Superman.
This version of the Legion next appeared in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" storyline in Action Comics #858-863, and next appeared in the 2008 Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds limited series, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by George Pérez. The mini-series features the post-Infinite Crisis Legion and Superman teaming up with the "Reboot" and "Threeboot" incarnations of the Legion to fight Superboy-Prime, the Legion of Super-Villains, and the Time Trapper. Geoff Johns stated that the intent of the mini-series was to validate the existence of all three versions of the team while simultaneously restoring the pre-Crisis Legion's continuity as well. This Legion would then go on to star in its own title, which, although renumbered following the repugnant "DC Relaunch", is proving to be one of the titles least affected, although mention of the "Flashpoint event" closing off time travel to Superman's era has been made. Be nice if it turned into some sort of loophole at some point to put things right.
As for the character of KARATE KID -- well, frankly, he had the name long before that series of movies came along, for one thing, and that actually enters into the history of the character. Let's take a look at the background of Karate Kid.
Karate Kid is a master of every form of martial arts to have been developed by the 31st century. The extent of his skill is so great that he can severely damage various types of hard material with a single blow and was briefly able to hold his own against Superboy through use of what he called "Super Karate". His real name is Val Armorr, and he is native to Earth. He first appeared in Adventure Comics #346 in July 1966.
Val Armorr was the son of Japan's greatest crime lord, Kirau Nezumi, also known as Black Dragon. When he was born, his mother, the American secret agent Valentina Armorr, tried to hide him from his father, but she failed and was killed for her affront. Japan's greatest hero Sensei Toshiaki (the White Crane) eventually killed Black Dragon for his crimes and adopted the infant Val. He raised Val as if he were his own son, and trained him in all manner of the martial arts. Val became the youngest warrior ever to earn the title Samurai, and he went to work for his local shogun. However, after trying his best and failing to please his supervisor, he quit and searched the galaxy for new forms of battle to master.
When Val returned to Earth, he found that the Legion of Super-Heroes was searching for new recruits to battle the Khunds, an alien race of warriors. He applied, and, although he had no superhuman powers, was accepted when he challenged Superboy to single combat and so impressed the Boy of Steel that Superboy vouched for his admission to the Legion. His Legion career almost ended ignominiously when fellow recruit Nemesis Kid framed him for betraying Earth to the Khunds, but Nemesis Kid's own treachery was discovered in time, and Val went on to become one of the greatest Legionnaires ever. As Karate Kid, Val was the Legion's leader for one term and once took on the entire Fatal Five single-handedly, clearly defeating the Persuader, Emerald Empress, and Mano (though Mano was largely a matter of luck as the Kid admitted to himself). At one point or another he launched solo flying kicks at villains whose power level far exceeded Superboy, including Validus, Mordru, Omega and even Darkseid. Though they had little effect, they showed the degree of his fearless courage.
Val fell in love with Princess Projectra, who joined the Legion at the same time he did. In order to prove his worthiness of the princess' hand, he took a leave of absence and spent about a year in the primitive 20th century.
During his visit there, Karate Kid was featured in an eponymous, short-lived comic book series: Karate Kid #1 debuted in March 1976 and lasted for 15 issues.
He returned to his home time period to find Projectra's father dead. With Val's and the other Legionnaires' help, she won the throne from her cousin Pharoxx. Val officially became Projectra's consort soon afterward and resigned from the Legion.
Wedded bliss did not last long. He and Projectra returned from their honeymoon to find that her planet, Orando, had been taken over by the Legion of Super-Villains. Val, Projectra, and several other Legionnaires were captured by the villains. When the heroes escaped to oppose the villains, Val fought their leader, Nemesis Kid. Nemesis Kid beat Val almost to death, and Val wanted to continue to fight so that he could die in battle — the ultimate honor by his cultural standards. But at Projectra's urging, Val instead used his remaining strength to destroy the power source for the machines that were moving Orando into a strange dimension. In revenge, Projectra killed Nemesis Kid soon afterward. A memorial to Val was built on Shanghalla.
Following several continuity reboots for the Legion on the heels of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and during the events of "One Year Later" and "Countdown", In Justice League of America vol. 2, #7, the villain known as Trident was revealed to really be Val Armorr from the pre-Crisis Legion. In issue #8, he battles Black Lightning and Batman while deep in the Batcave. During the fight, Superman's files are shown listing Val as a Class 15 fighter and Batman as a Class 12. Val is stopped when blasted by Black Lightning while Batman distracts him.
Karate Kid and Starman are two of seven Legionnaires currently in the present. However, this Karate Kid bears little resemblance to the one currently featured in the 2005 reboot, in both physical features and costume, instead closely resembling the pre-Crisis version of the character. Starman (the adult Star Boy) mentions that Val once died, which is consistent with the character's pre-Crisis history.
When being interrogated by Batman, Karate Kid, still disoriented, identifies himself as "Wes Holloway, a member of the Trident Guild." The name is a direct allusion to the protagonist of Brad Meltzer's latest novel, The Book of Fate. He is teased within the narrative of Countdown about his heroic identity being inspired by the Karate Kid film.
Interestingly, DC Comics granted Columbia Pictures permission to use the "Karate Kid" name for their series of successful movies starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. However, these films did not bear any resemblance to the comics version of the character. There is a thank you to DC Comics for allowing the use of the name at the end of the credits. Strangely, although in reality Val Armorr was the first character to bear the name, the Legion's 31st century setting means that the movies were released a good thousand years before his birth, leading to "present-day" characters tending to reference the films when confronted with Val and his codename.
When other Legionnaires, except for Starman, return to their own time, Val remains behind in the 21st century. In Countdown #38, he and Triplicate Girl, now known as "Una," visit Barbara Gordon, where it revealed that Val is dying. They are sent to see a Mr. Orr, who declares that he has the answers they seek.
Upon arriving at Orr's compound, Karate Kid briefly battles Equus, until Orr arrives on the scene, and tells them that Karate Kid's illness is similar to the OMAC virus. Under the order of Desaad, a lackey of Darkseid, Orr tells them to visit Buddy Blank in Colorado. Equus and a misunderstanding with the cops and Supergirl delays the trip. Val then meets Buddy Blank and his grandson, who take them to see Brother Eye. The entity scans Val, informing him that he is infected by the "Morticoccus" virus, and directs the group to what was once Blüdhaven. Brother Eye had detected a similar strain there.
In Blüdhaven, the group encounters the Atomic Knights and Firestorm. When Val's sickness reaches breaking point, Brother Eye frees itself, and travels to Blüdhaven, turning it into its new base, and uses the Atomic Knights and Firestorm as power sources. He's later brought on Apokolips, as Brother Eye intended to assimilate the Morticoccus during Apokolips' assimilation. As the attempts fail, Brother Eye is forced to assimilate Una instead, having her carry Val inside himself for vivisection. As Brother Eye is defeated, both Val and Una are freed, but Val is now grievously wounded, with Una pleading for his life as the other assembled heroes consider the idea of killing him before the virus spreads. When the group arrives on another of the 52 Earths, Val is taken to Project Cadmus and dies as Dubbilex examines him. During the autopsy, the Morticoccus is released, and spreads its infection into the air. Because of assimilating Val's 31st-century blood, it is practically immune to any form of treatment.
The bodies of Val and Una are eventually discovered by the Gotham City Police Department on New Earth, and Superman and the visiting Lightning Lad mourn their passing. It is later revealed that their bodies were planted there by the Time Trapper.
Karate Kid is the master of every documented form of martial arts to have been developed up to the 31st century. He possesses the ability to sense the weakest spot in an object and his skill in hand-to-hand combat is seemingly superhuman, allowing him to simulate super-strength blows. He can severely damage extremely hard and strong materials — metals, stone, etc. — with a single blow. Karate Kid is also skilled with melee weapons, though he dislikes using them and rarely needs to use them.
Karate Kid's training included mental discipline which makes him more resistant to mind control, as well as giving him a limited control of his body's functions.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. It's interesting to take note of the costume that he wears. The Legion, as individuals, have had a lot more wardrobe changes over the decades than the average super-hero. Some of their earliest uniforms were -- well, to be blunt, pretty dorky even by the standards of the times. The coolness factor definitely went up when Dave Cockrum got involved in the 1970's, as well as when Mike Grell started illustrating the series.
There are some characters whose powers don't really lend themselves all that well to a distinctive design. Some do. If you're name is Lightning Lad, it's logical to have lightning bolts on your costume. But what do you do if your name is Karate Kid? The character's original uniform was a decent if nondescript super-hero costume that was mostly orange and tan. At one point, Mike Grell saw to it that this outfit got trashed, so he could give the Legion's premier martial artist some better threads.
Mattel has, for the most part, wisely chosen the most iconic costumes possible for the Legion members presented in this set. They're not necessarily the most recent costumes, but they are, I think it would be fair to say, the most popular or best recognized among a significant percentage of the Legion's fans.
As such, we have Karate Kid wearing a sleeveless black costume, with a whitish, short-sleeved tunic, with a high yellow collar and trim, and fairly short, cuffed, white boots, as well as leather bands wrapped around his wrists.
The body used, for the most part, is one that's a fairly recent development for the DC Universe Classics line, which I would call "Teen Hero v.2". It's somewhat taller than the first version, which was used for Robin, Kid Flash, and Beast Boy, but it's obviously not to adult height, either. Portions of it made their debut with the Kamandi and Connor Kent Superboy figures. And it's largely the body used for Karate Kid.
Of course, the figure has a distinctive headsculpt, and it's superb. Karate Kid never looked especially Japanese. Granted also, the name "Val Armorr" isn't especially Japanese-sounding. However, despite being from Japan, in the 31st century, there's no indication that I am aware of that he is specifically of Japanese descent. Who knows when his family might have moved there?
Karate Kid looks largely Caucasian, with slightly upswept eyebrows, and brown hair that could use a comb in the front. The overall sculpt is superb, and very well-detailed.
The Karate Kid figure has a number of distinctive parts. First off are the short, cuffed boots, which obviously required a new lower leg molds. Then there is the tunic. This actually is two parts, one which fits over the upper torso, and another which fits over the lower torso. These pieces are reasonably flexible, but they do hinder the leg and mid-torso articulation somewhat. Still, one can't deny that they look good, and are very effectively made and, for the most part, neatly painted.
Then there are the arms. Since Karate Kid has short sleeves, that are not tight-fitting like the typical super-hero costume, and has the distinctive leather wristbands, it was decided to give the figure completely new arms. And unfortunately, Mattel made a very poor decision in regards to one thing here.
They gave Karate Kid double-jointed elbows. I've said this any number of times on any DC Universe Classics figure on which I have encountered this travesty of design. Double-jointed elbows and knees are completely unnecessary. They generally don't look especially good in a pose, and they adversely affect the look of the figure even in a neutral pose. Honestly, I'll say that about almost ANY action figure line in which this nonsense appears, but it really gripes me that a line with the amazing design level delivered by the Four Horsemen is subjected to this nonsense to any degree whatsoever, when the existing level of articulation is distinctly above average, and more than adequate to the figures.
The Creeper and the Classic Robin figure were pretty well ruined by this. Others have gotten away with it to one moderate degree or another, but it's still unnecessary. And while I wouldn't say Karate Kid has been ruined by it, he doesn't look very good with it, either. Mattel, I'm begging you -- please don't do this again to anyone else. This line just doesn't need it.
Okay, that's the end of my rant. That aside, this really is an outstanding figure. Mattel has even made sure that all members of the Legion are wearing their Legion flight rings on their right hands.
So, what's my final word? Obviously, I'm hugely impressed with the entire set, and certainly, Karate Kid deserves to be a part of it. He's been a vital and popular part of the Legion almost since its inception, and I've always enjoyed the character. Mattel was unintentionally sneaky with this set. They picked a whole lot of my personal favorites.
Certainly, this Legion of Super-Heroes set is one of the most astounding masterpieces of action figures that I've ever encountered. Now, I must say that there's still plenty of Legionnaires out there. Although the line will be largely restricted to a monthly subscription starting this year, I'd still like to think we haven't seen the last of the Legion.
In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful for this amazing twelve-pack, and certainly for Karate Kid. I can't imagine any longtime Legion fan or DC Universe fan not wanting to add this set to their collection.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of KARATE KID, part of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 12-pack, most definitely has my highest recommendation! Long live the Legion!