REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS ORANGE LANTERN LEX LUTHOR
Several of the waves of Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures have been specifically themed to a certain team, or concept, or some such. For example, a lot of the figures in Wave 18 are based on characters originally created for the Super Friends animated series. Most of the figures in Wave 19 have a connection to the Justice Society of America. And then there's Wave 17 -- with reinterpretations of popular members of the DC Universe as they appeared during the epic storyline -- BLACKEST NIGHT.
Although largely connected to the Green Lantern side of the DC Universe, the impact of the event of Blackest Night were felt throughout the DC Universe. Within the Green Lantern titles, a growing color spectrum of various Lantern Corps had appeared. In addition to the willpower-based Green Lantern Corps, we had been introduced to the fear-based yellow Sinestro Corps; the love-based violet Star Sapphires; the rage-based Red Lanterns led by Atrocitus, the hope-based Blue Lanterns, the mysterious Indigo Lanterns with their power of compassion; and the ever-greedy Larfleeze, a.k.a. Agent Orange, the Orange Lantern.
But another Corps arose -- the Black Lanterns, the personification of death, ultimately led by Nekron, whose power rings could create horrific replicas of deceased super-beings, that would seek out others who gave off strong emotions, and kill them, draining their life energy, all in an attempt to eliminate all life and emotion from the universe.
As the battle progresses, every Black Lantern in the cosmos is heading towards Earth. The Guardian Ganthet creates duplicates of all seven of the various rings, and designates deputies from among the super-beings of Earth, those best connected to the respective emotions.
In the case of the Orange ring, based on greed and avarice, it probably came as no great surprise to much of anyone that the recipient was none other than -- LEX LUTHOR.
And the Orange Lantern version of Lex Luthor is part of Wave 17 of the DC Universe Classics line. Before we get into a review of the figure, allow me to present something of a history of Lex Luthor himself.
Alexander Joseph "Lex" Luthor was first introduced in Action Comics #23, in April 1940, and was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Luthor is typically described as a "power-mad, evil scientist" of high intelligence and incredible technological prowess.
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and as part of a moderate re-imagining of Superman's origin and history, Lex Luthor became a ruthless industrialist, operating the high-tech company LexCorp, and even briefly serving as President of the United States. He was not above helping out the super-hero community in time of extreme need, even if doing so was largely to maintain his false front as one of the good guys, as well as saving himself from some sort of cosmic devastation along with everyone else.
In more recent years, Luthor's evil scientist and more blatant villainous persona has returned, almost as a sort of blending between that and his shady businessman side.
In his earliest appearances, Luthor is shown as a middle-aged man with a full head of red hair. Less than a year later, however, an artistic goof resulted in Luthor being depicted as completely bald. Decades later, this would be "retconned" to indicate that the red-headed Luthor was in fact the Luthor of Earth-2, home of the Golden Age characters, although that's a moderate stretch continuity-wise. A subsequent story, set during Superman's time as Superboy, would show that he and Luthor were once friends, but when an experiment of Luthor's went awry, and Superboy extinguished a dangerous blaze that resulted with his super-breath, he not only destroyed Luthor's experiment, but caused his hair to fall out.
Luthor subsequently believes that Superboy intentionally destroyed his discoveries, attributing Superboy's actions to jealousy, and Luthor subsequently vows revenge. Years of failed attempts only served to deepen Luthor's hatred of Superman, making their conflict a distinctly personal one, and suggesting that if events had unfolded differently, Luthor might have been a more noble person.
Arguably, this version of Luthor came to an apex just a few years prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Escaping to Lexor, a planet where Luthor was hailed as a hero, Luthor tries to give up his life on Earth, and forget Superman even exists. He creates a fantastic device that will channel dangerous energy from Lexor's core harmlessly into space. But trying to forget Superman is impossible, and Luthor eventually comes across a hidden laboratory, which enables him to build a super-powered suit of armor, just in time for Superman to track him down. The ensuing conflict results in an energy blast affecting the device that is keeping the planet stable. In a staggering irony of the destruction of Superman's own homeworld of Krypton, the planet Lexor explodes, killing Luthor's wife and young son. Luthor's hatred of Superman has reached a new level.
This carried Luthor through several years, and through the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but with the overhaul to Superman's mythos by John Byrne, Luthor was reimagined as a ruthless, highly intelligent businessman and industrialist -- more or less an evil Tony Stark. Since in this new history, Superman didn't become active until his adult years, and technically never was Superboy, there was no childhood hatred between the two. Instead, Luthor saw in Superman a supreme rival for the hearts of the citizens of Metropolis, one who needed to be destroyed.
This Lex Luthor was the product of child abuse and early poverty. Born in the Suicide Slum district of Metropolis, he is instilled with a desire to become a self-made man. As a teenager, he takes out a large insurance policy on his parents without their knowledge, then sabotages their car's brakes, causing their deaths. The money from the policy allows him to attend MIT, and then found his own business, LexCorp, which grows to dominate much of Metropolis.
More recently, Luthor's origin has been revised again, largely chronicled in "Superman: Secret Origin". Many writers had wanted to dispense with the "criminal businessman" motif, but it had been used for so many years, and to great effectiveness, that it was felt that it couldn't be abandoned entirely. Luthor's current origin appears to be a synthesis of aspects from the Silver Age continuity, combined with what was developed by Byrne, with a fair nod to the highly popular "Smallville" television series thrown in for good measure. Recent changes to DC Comics' continuity were explained to be an effect of the reality-shaking Infinite Crisis mini-series.
In this continuity, as ultimately outlined in "Secret Origin", Luthor and his father, Lionel, are both poverty-stricken, and residents of Smallville, Kansas. He comes into the acquaintance of Clark Kent during this time. Luthor ultimately leaves Smallville after having his father killed without anyone discovering the details. He later resurfaces in Metropolis and founds LexCorp.
In this incarnation, Luthor is so powerful that he owns every media in Metropolis, using it to enforce his public image as a wealthy benefactor. The Daily Planet stands alone, and is on the brink of bankruptcy when Clark Kent signs on. When Superman begins granting the Planet "exclusive interviews", revenues soar and circulation increases 700%. Over a series of subsequent events, the public's attention shifts from Luthor to Superman, something Luthor cannot abide. It doesn't help when Luthor discovers that Superman isn't even human.
Writer Grant Morrison has stated that Luthor's hatred of Superman is so intense and his own ego is so strong that he believes that the only reason Superman commits good deeds is to somehow strike at Luthor and prove who is better, arguing that it is impossible for Superman to be as "good" as he appears to be.
Many times, Luthor has stated that he could have aided the entire human race were it not for Superman's "interference", claiming that he, Luthor, gives humanity a goal that they could realistically strive to duplicate, while Superman makes them reach for the impossible. However, the hypocrisy of this claim has been pointed out repeatedly, noting that Luthor has regularly turned down easy opportunities to willingly help others simply because he would have sacrificed the opportunity to kill Superman by doing so, showing that his ego is more important to him than humanity.
During the Blackest Night event, when word got out that apparently everyone around the world who had ever died were being brought forth as Black Lanterns, Luthor, certainly with no shortage of dead enemies over the years, isolates himself in a safehouse for fear that everybody he had murdered over the years would show up to exact revenge. His fear is justified as his one-time victims do indeed show up, but Luthor escapes after receiving a power ring fueled by the orange light of avarice and becomes a deputy of the Orange Lanterns.
Luthor arrives at Coast City and joins in the battle against the Black Lantern Corps. Luthor engages with the Black Lantern versions of Superman and Superboy, but Larfleeze, the one and only real Orange Lantern, wants Luthor's ring off, as the greedy alien doesn't want to share his power with Luthor or anyone else. This results in a battle between the two despite the events taking place around them, with Luthor trying to use all of the people he has killed as his own Orange Lanterns, much as Larfleeze himself has been known to do. Luthor is overwhelmed by his own greed, and sets out to steal the rings of the other deputies.
He succeeds in stealing the Scarecrow's yellow Sinestro Corps ring, and is in the process of stealing Mera's Red Lantern ring, when he is held back by the Atom and Flash, wearing Indigo and Blue Rings, and when Wonder Woman uses her magical lasso on him, forcing him to reveal the truth about himself, Luthor confesses that he secretly wants to be Superman.
With Nekron's defeat, Larfleeze takes the Orange Ring from Luthor, leaving him powerless.
So, how's the figure? Really extremely cool, as well as very interesting in a number of respects.
Although the armored Luthor is best known from his time following the destruction of the planet Lexor through the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Luthor has, in more recent times, been known to don his powered suit of armor when the occasion arises. And the Orange Lantern version of Luthor sports a very interesting version of that armor.
As illustrated in the Blackest Night comic series, Luthor's battle armor seemed to have become comprised of the orange energy from the orange power ring. Although it mostly looked like Luthor's usual battle armor, instead of the usual solid green and purple, it appeared to be an energized orange.
The end result figure-wise is a Luthor figure designed along the lines of his battle armor -- molded in translucent orange. What I find impressive is how well it works. The complexity of the armor really aids in the overall look of it.
Let me say this. I've never thought it was the best idea in the world to give super-hero action figures whose primary power manifestation is some sort of energy burst some little accessory that tries to duplicate that power in colored transparent plastic. For some reason, I just don't think it works that well or looks that good.
There are occasional exceptions. The DC Universe Classics figure of Firestorm came with little atomic-powered energy bursts that clip to his wrists. The various "ring constructs" that come with Green Lantern figures work reasonably well, but then those aren't strictly energy bursts.
An entire figure -- well, except for the head -- molded in transparent-colored plastic, to make it look like the armor is formed from energy? That works surprisingly well.
Now, there has been an armored Luthor figure before. Such a figure was first crafted in the line that preceded DC Universe Classics, the Superman-Batman-centric DC Super-Heroes line. It was still designed and sculpted by the Four Horsemen, and had the same expected level of detail and articulation, and was entirely size-compatible. More recently this figure was re-issued as part of the DC Universe Classics line, in a two-pack alongside Supergirl.
In other words, there was something to work with. But there were some differences between Luthor's traditional armor and the Orange Lantern armor that needed to be addressed, and they have been, most effectively.
Interestingly enough, the head is different. The head used for the Orange Lantern Lex Luthor is actually the one that was designed for use on the non-armored Lex Luthor that was included with a Superman/Batman five-pack of DC Universe Classics figures a couple of years ago, a set that also included Superman, Batman, Two-Face, and Catwoman. It was the first time a non-armored Lex Luthor had been made, and he was presented in his non-armored battle-suit, which in the comics he wore for some years prior to gaining his armor on Lexor.
It's an excellent headsculpt, and it's been given a slightly better paint job. Now, I know what you're going to say. How much of a paint job does a bald head need? Well, for whatever reason, when this head was first used, somebody shot a quick blast of slightly reddish paint onto its face, making Lex look like he took a vacation in the tropics and stayed out in the sun too long. That particular step was avoided here, and it's an improvement. The eyes and eyebrows are neatly painted, and really, that's the extent of the painted detail on the entire figure.
The armor does have some differences, which required at the very least that a new upper torso be designed. The main reason for this is that the emblem of the Orange Lanterns needed to appear on the chestplate, and the original Luthor armor would not have been able to accommodate this. Similarly, a new collar and shoulder piece, and a new waist piece, have been created. The collar and shoulders are fairly similar to the original, including the very fine power cables that extend outwards and I recommend handling these as little as possible, but the waist piece is somewhat different from the original, and allows for a greater range of motion.
Another new part is the lower right arm. This was done specifically for one small detail -- the orange power ring on the second finger of the hand. This is a little detail that could and probably should have been painted, but it would've been a pretty small stencil. I'm honestly pleased that it's there at all. For those of you so inclined, I would recommend seeing if your local art supply store has anything on the order of metallic orange paint in its acrylics section. Hopefully you can put such paint to other uses, because you'll be using the equivalent of a pencil-tip of paint on this.
The remainder of the figure appears to be entirely recolored from the armored original. The figure even has "06" stamped on his posterior, which means the rest of the figure was originally crafted for release in 2006. But, what the heck, it works. It's appropriate to the design as it appeared in Blackest Night.
Of course, Orange Lantern Luthor is superbly articulated. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, mid-torso, legs, upper leg torso, knees, and ankles. There are two articulation points I wish to make note of. The new upper torso is, somehow, a bit more flexible than the original, and is on more of a ball-and-socket design. This is obviously also a substantial difference from most DC Universe Classics figures, but in this case, the unusual design of the figure must be taken into consideration.
Secondly, although Luthor's left wrist is poseable -- technically a rotation at the glove top -- the right wrist is not. A new lower right arm needed to be created in order to accommodate the presence of the orange power ring, and it was obviously decided to make a one-piece lower arm instead of a two-piece. What I don't quite understand is why just a new glove, leaving the rotation feature, but making sure the ring was present, could not have been made. I suspect there was some nit-picky little budget detail in there where something had to be exchanged in order to get something else, and that's way outside of my area of knowledge or expertise, so I'd rather not comment further. The lack of rotation in the lower right arm is a mild disappointment, but not a catastrophic one. It would bother me a lot more of something like this happened on a more conventional-looking figure in the line, but the armored Luthor is anything but.
Luthor comes with a single accessory, an Orange Lantern. Now, if we can just persuade Mattel to give us a Larfleeze figure in this line, we'll be all set.
So, what's my final word? This particular wave of DC Universe Classics figures has raised a few eyebrows. Technically, they're all affiliated with a portion of a single storyline. But it was a seriously epic storyline, and I don't really have a problem commemorating it with these figures. And although we may not see Luthor in fancy orange energy armor much in the comics, the figure looks really cool, and entirely in keeping with how he was presented in the comics during Blackest Night. And that's a pretty impressive achievement. And so is this figure. If you're any sort of DC Universe fan, and enjoyed Blackest Night, you'll like this figure, and others in the assortment.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of ORANGE LANTERN LEX LUTHOR from BLACKEST NIGHT definitely has my highest recommendation!