REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS ALEXANDER LUTHOR & ULTRAMAN TWO-PACK
Once upon a time, there was a vast Multiverse. Within this Multiverse were an infinite number of universes, and, concurrently, an infinite number of Earths. Each universe existed in the same time and space as the other, separated by vibrational frequencies.
At least, this was the means by which DC Comics managed to separate the characters of its so-called "Golden Age" from those of the then more-recent "Silver Age", especially given that any number of characters – Flash, Green Lantern, and others – had the same name, but entirely different secret identities and backstories.
In the early 1960's, it was decided to bring these worlds together. Capable of traveling fast enough and with a certain vibrational frequency, the Flash that we had come to know for a number of years, Barry Allen, found himself on the Earth inhabited by the Flash of the 1940's, Jay Garrick. Allen had believed Garrick to be nothing more than a comic book character.
The Earths on which the two heroes lived were dubbed Earth-1 and Earth-2. In some aspect of controversy that continues to this day, the Golden Age Earth, which technically came first, was dubbed Earth-2, where the more recent universe – granted the one on which DC had its emphasis at the time – was named Earth-1.
Not terribly long after the Flashes met, it was decided to bring together the major teams of the two Earths – and so, within the pages of the popular Justice League of America, the Justice League met their Earth-2 counterparts, the legendary Justice Society of America. The response to this meeting of two worlds' heroes was so popular that it became an annual event.
Of course, combining such remarkable teams requires big stories. And somewhere along the way, someone postulated the theory – if there's an Earth-1, and an Earth-2 – might there be an Earth-3?
Now, there wasn't any historical guideline for a third Earth. The comics published by DC didn't go back any further than the Golden Age years. A third Earth would be an entirely new creation. And what might it be like?
The answer was revealed in Justice League of America #29, published in 1964, as the nature of Earth-3 was revealed. However similar in their own respects Earths 1 and 2 might have been, Earth-3 was another matter entirely. Here, the primary super-beings of Earth were not heroes. They were super-villains, organized into a group that called itself the Crime Syndicate of America.
Counterparts of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern, named, respectively, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring, constantly threatened their world, plundering and looting at will, with no heroes to stop them. Frankly, it got boring for them after a while, and they sought a challenge. They discovered the existence of the other worlds, and decided to pit their powers against the heroes of Earth-1 and Earth-2. Ultimately, they lost, but it was a heck of a fight.
Following this defeat, they were imprisoned in an unbreakable bubble generated by Green Lantern's power ring, and placed in a "limbo" dimension between the Earths. Over the following years, the Syndicate or one of its members would occasionally escape and attempt to wreak havoc on Earth-1 and/or Earth-2.
Just few years prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in a DC Comics Presents Annual, a title that regularly paired Superman with another character, the Lex Luthor of Earth-1 teamed with Alexei Luthor, his counterpart from Earth-2, in an attempt to destroy the Supermen of both Earths. In so doing, they traveled to Earth-3, teaming with Ultraman. The group was eventually stopped by the combined forces of the two Supermen, plus Earth-3's Alexander Luthor, who became that Earth's first official super-hero.
What's all this got to do with anything? Well, Mattel's increasingly impressive line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures has produced a very interesting two-pack, available through their MattyCollector.Com Web Site, featuring Alexander Luthor, and the classic incarnation of Ultraman. As to what I mean by "classic incarnation" – well, that'll take a little explanation. But that's all part of the review. Let's have a look at these characters, and their figures, individually.
ULTRAMAN – The 1960's were not known for a great deal of backstory and exposition. The Crime Syndicate was introduced as an evil version of the Justice League on a rather twisted Earth, and that was that. However, in later years, this Ultraman's origin would be explained, to some degree (and posted on Wikipedia, thankfully):
Born as the son of Jur-Ll (versus Superman's father, Jor-EL) in the Pre-Crisis reality termed "Earth-Three", Ultraman was the Kryptonian who grew up on the reversed Earth of that reality, and later as an adult became a member of the criminal organization the Crime Syndicate of America. Unlike Superman, the Earth-Three Ultraman gets stronger every time he is exposed to kryptonite, originally developing a completely new superpower with each new exposure. In one such encounter, Ultraman acquired the ability to see through dimensional barriers, thus alerting the Crime Syndicate to the existence of alternate Earths in their first appearance. This allowed the Syndicate to attack the Justice League and Justice Society of America. Ultraman also differed from Superman in that his version of Krypton had not exploded.
Earth-3 was wiped out in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in a dramatic sequence early on in the series. With the anti-matter cloud spreading throughout the universe, for the first time ever, the Crime Syndicate strove to save, rather than terrorize, their Earth. Distraught at the fact that his superpowers were useless at the one time he actually needed them, he flew straight into the anti-matter cloud, telling Power Ring, "I do what I have done all my life. Fight... to the very end!" And he was gone, with the rest of his Earth soon to follow.
A new Crime Syndicate came on the scene in 2000, a result of the hardcover graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly, entitled "JLA: Earth-2". Since the multiverse had ceased to exist at this point, the origin of the Crime Syndicate was an Earth in the anti-matter universe. Here, Ultraman was Lieutenant Clark Kent, a human astronaut from the antimatter Earth and no longer an alien matching Superman exactly. After a fiery space shuttle crash, an unknown alien race (possibly Kryptonians) reconstructed Kent in an attempt to repair the damaged astronaut, which ended up altering the human both mentally and physically, giving him ultrapowers similar to Superman's superpowers. In contrast to Superman, Ultraman's power relies on his proximity and exposure to a substance called Anti-Kryptonite; the longer and farther he is separated from it the weaker he becomes. This substance has repeatedly been shown to have no apparent effect on Superman as Kryptonite has been shown to have no effect on antimatter Clark Kent's superhuman powers and abilities.
Personally, I was abundantly pleased with the tale. This Ultraman, and his Crime Syndicate, turned up in a subsequent story in the pages of JLA, called "Syndicate Rules", where the Syndicate tried to invade the Earth, and ultimately, both the Syndicate and the League had to take down an army of invading Qwardians. It's available in trade paperback form and I highly recommend it.
Frankly, I am sincerely hopeful that one day, Mattel will consider making this particular incarnation of the Syndicate. They were the most interesting, and, more to the point, had the best costume designs. Superwoman has been released in the Justice League line, with indications that Ultraman and Owlman are in the works, and I hope they see the light of day. Owlman's costume was easily the most improved, but so was Ultraman's, with his symbol appearing to be an inverted Superman "S" shield, with a thick letter "U" in it.
Since the restoration of the Multiverse, there's a new "Earth-3" out there, with a new Ultraman, whose insignia looks more like Superman's. It's not inverted. However, the DC Comics Encyclopedia (highly recommended!) points out that the "Crime Society" of Earth-3, and the Crime Syndicate of the Anti-Matter Universe, are two entirely different groups.
The Ultraman presented in the two-pack, however, is definitely the original, from his first appearance, a time when the DC Comics Encyclopedia describes the Syndicate as "smash-and-grab criminals" more than world-conquerors. He has an interesting, if rather simple in some respects, costume design, reflective of Superman to some degree, but also reflective of the simpler designs of the time period from which he originally came.
Ultraman is wearing a blue costume, with red cape, cuffs, and boots. Now, the one unusual aspect to his uniform, which was a weird quirk even artistically and must have been an interesting thing to try to develop in an action figure, was that Ultraman's costume had these very weird, flared shoulders.
Mattel has done a capable job of replicating this, and still use the basic "male hero body" molds that many of their DCUC action figures make use of. The flared shoulders are a separate piece, a sort of "V" shape, and the rather simple red "U" logo is attached to this, as is the cape.
Any complaints? Minimal. The Ultraman I received has this placed just a little crookedly. It appears to be glued in on the front and the back, and so there's no real way to adjust it without prying it loose, which I am not terribly inclined to attempt. Also, the cape seems a little narrow at the top. Maybe this was done for design purposes, maybe it was done to make the character look more 60's-ish or something, I really don't know. It's not bad, and it does look like the classic character. I suppose part of it is this just isn't my favorite incarnation of this character. At the same time, I wasn't about to pass him up.
The headsculpt is nicely done. Ultraman looked a tad bland in this incarnation. His hair didn't have the spit-curl, and generally looked to be slicked back as much as anything, and that's reflected here. His eyes have been painted red, as if about to fire his heat vision, or he's just sort of perpetually mad look. Honestly, this is almost more characteristic, artistically, of how Grant Morrison's Ultraman has been portrayed at times, especially in the JLA "Syndicate Rules" story.
One minor gripe with the face. They painted the teeth with these little ridges between them, and it makes Ultraman almost look like he has fangs. Throw that in with the red eyes, and it's like – did somebody turn him into a vampire when we weren't looking?
Overall, though, it's a cool figure. Of course, as part of the DC Universe Classics line, the body is very well detailed, and very well articulated. The one I received is a little loose in the mid-torso, something I haven't encountered before, but not grievously so, and he's properly assembled, and except for the mouth, I can't complain about the paint detailing. I'm pleased to see some of the quality control issues I have had to address in the past b eing dealt with. I hope it's a growing trend.
ALEXANDER LUTHOR – This character doesn't really have the backstory that Ultraman has, since he came along so late in the game prior to the Crisis. However, he most certainly had an impact on the Crisis – at least genetically, or perhaps paternally, speaking.
Alexander Luthor was first seen in the aforementioned DC Comics Presents Annual that teamed the two villainous Luthors and Ultraman against the two Supermen. A scientist by nature, Alexander Luthor was reluctant to become some sort of action hero, but given the severity of the matter at hand, and encouraged by the presence of Earth-3's Lois Lane, Luthor donned a costume which had certain built-in abilities that made him a formidable warrior, and joined in the battle.
We wouldn't see this Luthor again until the destruction of Earth-3 during the Crisis. Luthor is doing what he can to preserve the Earth, and comments that the Syndicate has been doing what it can to help. Clearly, Earth's lone super-hero has been something of a bane to the Syndicate between his first appearance and the Crisis, as Superwoman recognizes him, and responds to him with hostility even as he is trying to warn her that the anti-matter cloud is right behind her. She is absorbed into it moments later, and Luthor laments her demise, saying, "Gone. As if she never existed. Lord, though we battled time and time again, I never wanted her to die like that."
Realizing that his Earth is doomed, Luthor returns to his laboratory headquarters. There have been other developments between this Luthor's introduction, and the events of the Crisis. Luthor has married Lois Lane, and the two have had a child.
Much like the events that brought the infant Superman to Earth from a doomed Krypton, Alexander Luthor places his infant son in a rocket that he hopes will breach the dimensional void, and send his child to a universe where perhaps the anti-matter cloud has yet to infiltrate.
The rocket is picked up by the Monitor, however. Something in the nature of the trans-dimensional journey, or in the child himself, has caused him to be composed of half-matter and half-antimatter, technically an impossibility. The youngster, named Alexander Luthor Jr., or Alex Luthor, also ages to adulthood at a distinctly accelerated rate.
He becomes a key player in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, ultimately aiding in the destruction of the Anti-Monitor, and saving Earth-2's Superman and Lois Lane, and Earth-Prime's Superboy, from oblivion, taking them presumably to a safe haven.
Alex Luthor and the others would return years later in the Infinite Crisis, with Alex Luthor, apparently having gone a little loopy from years of isolation and exile, only able to observe the sole remaining Earth, determined to bring back the Multiverse at any price.
As for his father, however intelligent and brave he might have been, in crafting a suit that granted him certain abilities and being willing, if somewhat reluctantly, to engage Earth-3's villains in battle – he was no fashion plate. He told the two Supermen that he felt silly enough donning something resembling a super-suit without saddling himself with some equally silly superhero sobriquet, deciding to simply call himself "Luthor".
Now, traditionally, the Lex Luthor of our Earth has tended to use the colors of green and purple in most of his costumes and armor. While this has never been explained, it's interesting because these are secondary colors of the spectrum, and as such opposites of the primary colors of Superman's costume. Even the Alexander Luthor that turned up in the "JLA: Earth-2" graphic novel used the purple-and-green color scheme.
However, Earth-3's Alexander Luthor decided to go with primary colors – not that I necessarily think the outfit would've been greatly helped by going with a different color scheme. The costume is predominantly red, which in a sense is opposite, if not color-wise, then priority-wise, to Superman's (or Ultraman's) mostly blue costume. Luthor's costume has blue gloves and boots, with folded down bright yellow-gold cuffs on both the gloves and boots.
The costume also has a blue overlay over the torso, in dark blue, with a yellow-gold letter "L" on the center. This, on the figure, has been molded as a separate piece, and intentionally given separate stitching on both the edges of the overlay, and on the letter itself, as if Luthor made this costume in some haste, on his own, and sewing wasn't necessarily a specialty of his.
Then there's the helmet. For someone not wanting to take on some "silly superhero sobriquet", who presumably preferred the cerebral and the intellectual, the guy certainly managed to be borderline tacky when he wanted to be. The helmet is mostly dark blue, but has a yellow-gold brim and side pieces, with a decidedly ornate brow and gold curves on the sides.
Luthor is also wearing a wide gold belt, and there are short gold stripes running down the legs. To Mattel's credit, these have been very neatly done.
The face sculpt is nicely done, as well. The helmet is not removable, but it appears that the face and the helmet were molded as two separate pieces. Alexander Luthor has a bit of facial hair. Whereas Earth-1's Luthor was entirely bald, and Earth-2's Luthor had a full head of hair, apparently it was decided that Earth-3's Luthor should be bald, but he also had a reddish-brown mustache and goatee.
The facial features are nicely done, and the eyes are especially well painted. There's a little color-texturing to the face that I probably could have done without (interestingly enough, Ultraman does not have this – his face is a straight flesh-tone), and I hope it's not a trend, but it doesn't look too bad here.
Any complaints? Just one, relatively minor. The overlay tunic is a little short. It doesn't quite meet the belt in the front or the back. You can bend the figure, of course, so that it touches one or the other, but not both. Another eighth of an inch of plastic on both sides would have been welcome.
The figure, for the most part, uses the same "male hero molds" as many of the figures in this line. Personally, I appreciate the consistency. Allowances were made for the flares on the boots and gloves, and the belt of course. The painting on the entire figure is very neatly done, and he's fully poseable, as is Ultraman, of course, at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
I'll admit, I was a little reluctant to order this set. I don't like mail-ordering action figures of any sort. I prefer to SEE the toys I'm going to buy to give them as thorough a visual inspection as possible. And this line has had its assembly problems from time to time, especially with regard to switched parts on the arms and legs. But, if I wanted this set, there was only one way to get it, so I got it. And fortunately, both figures were assembled properly, and very well. Ultraman has a few slight issues, but nothing major.
So, what's my final word? I have believed for some time that Mattel's DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line has the potential to be the single most impressive super-hero action figure line ever. If Mattel can deal with the remaining quality issues and maintain a good level of consistency across all areas of production, then I sincerely hope that this line runs for many, many years to come. There's tons of potential and no shortage of characters.
These two, Alexander Luthor and the original Ultraman, make for an interesting two-pack. Certainly they both have history in the DC Universe, but they're not really characters of sufficient prominence to work into a standard retail assortment. But – they do make a cool two-pack, and certainly work well together as such. And the results are very impressive.
As such, the MattyCollector.Com DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS two-pack of ULTRAMAN and ALEXANDER LUTHOR definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation! And here's still hoping for DCUC figures of the "JLA: Earth-2" incarnation of the Crime Syndicate – someday! Meanwhile – get these!