REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS MANTIS
I can think of several reasons why MANTIS would be a viable addition to Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures, within Series 9, apart from the blindingly obvious aspect that he's a DC Universe character.
For one thing, he's part of the New Gods concept, and the fine folks at Mattel as well as the design and sculpting team at Four Horsemen Studios, seem to have a particular affection for this concept created by Jack Kirby. They seem to have been placing at least one New Gods character in each assortment of figures if at all possible. For another thing, Mantis was part of the Super Powers action figure line back in the 1980's, along with a number of other New Gods characters, right when Darkseid was introduced into that particular line. And those working on the DC Universe Classics line have such a noted affection for Super Powers, that the display base that came with Desaad in Series 12 actually has the Super Powers logo on it.
And so, Mantis has joined the DC Universe Classics lineup. Who, precisely, is Mantis? Well, my online research revealed some information, but not a lot. The character is apparently not that prominent a player, and there wasn't really a whole lot to work with.
Mantis first appeared in Forever People #2, in June 1971, and like most of the rest of the New Gods characters was created by Jack Kirby.
Mantis is the leader of a colony of humanoid insects that migrated from New Genesis. In return for his fealty Darkseid gifted him with great power. He typically spent time in a power pod recharging his energies, but he could also absorb energies directed at him by an opponent, such as Green lantern. Mantis has at times served as Darkseid's lackey and also, like many of the higher-ups on Apokolips, has occasionally risen up against his master. Apokolips just seems to breed that sort of attitude.
According to the online research, Mantis is the second most powerful being on Apokolips other than Darkseid himself. Sort of makes you wonder why he doesn't seem to be more prominent than he is. Among his various powers and abilities, Mantis is an energy vampire who can project tremendous blasts of energy and absorb any kind of energy or power source, including a power ring, or even the powers of a super-being, as he did once with Martian Manhunter. He can even absorb magic. He can turn any energy against an opponent.
Mantis can also teleport, and open up his own Boom Tubes (the traditional method of long-distance interdimensional transportation for the New Gods), and he can charge matter with energy. Must've gotten that stunt from the X-Man Gambit -- or vice versa. Mantis' energy powers enable him to sense and detect energy, which enables him to sense an opponent who is invisible. He can even strike energy beings who are intangible with his energy blasts.
Mantis possesses a "thermal touch" which enables him to generate heat. Conversely, he can create "frigi-blocks" which trap his opponents in ice. Mantis' most dangerous power is his ability to generate anti-matter. He can destroy anything he touches by created anti-matter in the object that he touched.
In other words, kids, don't shake hands with this guy if he's in a bad mood...
Mantis can generate and build large amounts of cosmic energy through his power pod, which he keeps underground and heavily guarded. If he uses up too much energy in a battle or becomes heavily injured he will flee to his power pod to recharge.
Alongside his vast energy manipulating abilities, Mantis also possesses vast super-strength, durability, and stamina. He also possesses super-human speed, agility, and reflexes, and can fly. Like all members of the Fourth World, Mantis is immortal.
He hasn't had a lot of presence outside of the comics, but did turn up in an episode of Justice League Animated, where he battled Superman and Captain Atom before being returned to Apokolips.
You know, looking at that list of powers, it's no wonder this guy is ranked second most powerful on Apokolips. For that matter, the limited character information on the package card goes so far as to suggest that his power may actually rival that of Darkseid, and looking at this list, that's not terribly hard to believe. One wonders why he hasn't taken over the place, but there's no mention about his intelligence, and if there's one thing that Apokolips seems loaded with, it's schemers.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, but I need to present a bit of explanation before I really get into reviewing the figure. Mantis, as he originally appeared in the comics, is relatively humanoid, not to mention organic, in appearance. The Mantis character as he appeared in the Super Powers action figure line had a much more bug-like appearance, and even looked moderately robotic.
This is not the only time there's a fair discrepancy between the comic-based and Super Powers based incarnations of a New Gods character. Steppenwolf, as he appeared in the Super Powers line, was dramatically different from his usual comic book version. Mattel made DC Universe Classics figures of both versions, and having seen both, I am pleased that in the case of Steppenwolf, I selected the version that was more like the Super Powers incarnation.
Mattel did the same thing when they brought Mantis into the DC Universe Classics line. They made two versions -- one like his Super Powers figure, and another closer to the comic book edition. In this case, the comic book version looked preferable, and that's the one that I found, anyway. For those of you keeping score on my personal preferences in this regard, that's two for the comic book likenesses -- Mantis and Parademon -- and one for the Super Powers likeness -- Steppenwolf. Your own preferences and results may vary.
Okay -- NOW -- So, how's the figure? Really very impressive -- and certainly very Kirby-esque -- starting with the head. Jack Kirby was known for putting lots of ornate, scribbly, sometimes jagged little details into his art whenever he possibly could, and brother, did he ever on Mantis.
Mantis appears to be wearing a mask and helmet, and how much of this is helmetry and how much of it might actually be part of Mantis if he ever took the helmet off -- I won't speculate. The most obvious detail are the freaky antennae that seem to grow out of his brow. They're almost antlers given their size, jaggedness, and thickness. Then he's got these huge, ridged, shell-like ears like the Ferengi from Star Trek. His eyes, nose, and mouth are reasonably human in appearance, and the visible part of his face, the nose and mouth region, are a fairly normal flesh tone. But then there's these apparent mandibles protruding from his chin. Must make it a serious hassle to eat soup.
What gets me from an action figure standpoint is what it must have taken to cast this into a mold! All of these protrusions! It can't have been easy. Your attention tends to be focused on the face, too, because the bulk of Mantis' uniform is two shades of green, including the back of the helmet. But all of these bizarre details around his face are bright yellow.
Mantis' overall physique is fairly straightforward human. One of the things that I have especially appreciated about the DC Universe Classics line is that the Four Horsemen have created a basic set of "male hero" body molds which can be used for a wide range and large percentage of the characters brought into the line, generally with minimal modification, mostly in paint colors. It lends a consistency to the overall line which I sincerely appreciate.
Some figures do need to be sculpted entirely on their own. The Penguin, Deadman, Etrigan, and some others are examples of this. Then there's the figures that fall in-between. They can use SOME of the established parts, but still need some made, still fitting well within the overall design format, in order to properly accommodate their design and produce an accurate figure. Examples of these would be Aquaman, Deadshot -- and Mantis.
The torso of the figure is standard, as are the arms to the elbows and the legs to the knees. These are molded in a light green, and have more Kirby-like details intricately painted on them in Mantis' proper costume patterning in a darker shade of green. All of this has been very nicely done. However, the lower arms and lower legs of Mantis are distinct to this figure. They showcase his heavily ridged, and rather armored-looking gloves and boots, and are colored in the darker shade of green.
There's a second reason why Mantis required distinctive lower arms and legs, however. And that was for the attachment of what is not so much a cape, but what I would describe as glider wings of a sort.
Let me say this about capes on action figures. I can understand that fabric capes have their limitations, and really, they haven't been used extensively on figures that otherwise don't have fabric uniforms since the Kenner Batman line in the early 1990's. The problem is that the smaller an action figure, the less effective and authentic fabric pieces, even capes, tend to look.
The flip side of that coin is that a plastic cape can often be too inflexible, and if it's sculpted to look pre-posed, like it's blowing in the wind or something -- well, speaking personally, that's not a look that I'm not terribly fond of. I don't care for pre-posed anything, really, and on a line such as DC Universe Classics, it's really not necessary.
For the most part, DC Universe Classics handles capes rather well. One of the features of the body design that the Four Horsemen have come up with is a little slot in the upper back, that can either be left open, or have a plug inserted if the character in question doesn't wear a cape. In more recent assortments, a new back has been designed, identical to the previous one, but without the need for a plug. You can still see the outline of it a little bit, but it is a distinct improvement. But that slot, when left open, is where a cape is secured. Sometimes it's a different item. Killer Moth's wings, for example.
Generally speaking. The capes for DC Universe Classics figures have been produced very well. They're given enough sculpted design to them so that they look "draped", and aren't "flapping in the breeze", but the "drape" effect makes them look more plausible to the scale of a figure, as if one were seeing a full-sized person wearing a cape. The only problem I've really had with capes is flexibility. Some -- most, in fact, are okay. They have enough flexibility in them so that they don't interfere with the articulation and poseability of the figure. There have been some very annoying exceptions, however. Mister Miracle is probably the worst. His cape is so stiff that it is a severe hindrance to his articulation. To be honest, I don't know what causes this. I'm sure it has to do with the type of plastic used, but if that's the case, then why isn't the same sort of plastic used for all capes? Is color a factor at all?
Then we come to Mantis. This isn't a cape. It's like attached glider wings, one would assume to guide him in flight. Those massive fire pits on Apokolips must be a pain to navigate around. This lengthy swath of dark green plastic, with painted stripes in it, I believe designed to mimic wrinkles, is not only secured in the back, but also to holes in the lower arms and lower legs. Something like this needs to be seriously flexible, not only to be attached in the first place, but then to allow the figure a reasonable range of motion.
I am truly delighted to report that it does so. This stretch of plastic is easily the most flexible I've ever seen. It makes the best of capes from anyone else in the DC Universe Classics line look like they got over-starched at the dry cleaners.
The one thing I don't get is -- why haven't all the capes been made like this? Now, I am not a plastics molding expert. I assume there's a reason. Maybe it's impossible to mold this type of plastic in a "draped" pattern, and a flat cape at this scale would look pretty bad. It works on Mantis because this isn't truly a cape, but the only real draped wrinkles it has in it are those that happen with the positioning of the figure. It's otherwise a very flat piece of plastic. And, if that's the case, that's a pretty good reason. In any event, if it were somehow possible for all the capes in the DC Universe Classics line to be made from this type of plastic, and still look as good as they do, I'd certainly recommend it. Shame it couldn't be retroactive, though.
Of course, Mantis is superbly articulated. He is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. And the cape-wings are no hindrance to his articulation. A few of his articulation points are a little looser than I'd like -- and oddly, he's not the only one from Series 9 that I would tend to say that about -- but it's not that bad. He doesn't feel like he's going to fall apart on me, and he stands well.
One additional note. As of this writing, I have not seen the alternate version of Mantis, the one designed to more closely resemble his Super Powers incarnation. I'm sure that one's a perfectly fine figure, and might even use more individualized parts than this one. I know that the two Steppenwolfs were drastically different figures, and it surprised me that Mattel would go to the expense of creating two such greatly different versions of the same character. But that just goes to show their dedication to this truly superb action figure line. And no insult is intended towards that alternate version of Mantis or the people who doubtless put a lot of hard work and talent into it. But I'm very pleased with the version that I have.
So, what's my final word? I remain surprised that Mantis hasn't been a more prominent player. Once again, according to the package bio, when he was first sent to Earth on what amounted to a reconnaissance mission for Darkseid, he tried to conquer the planet for himself instead. Certainly he's got the power for it, and I doubt there's anyone in Darkseid's upper echelon that doesn't have the ambition.
Whatever his prominence, or seeming lack thereof, in the comic books and other media, may have been, I'm pleased that Mantis has joined the ranks of the DC Universe Classics action figure line. The figure is distinctive, with a number of unique parts, is impressively made, is certainly an effective tribute to the style of his creator, Jack Kirby, and the cape/wings are an impressive part of the figure.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of MANTIS definitely has my highest recommendation!