Villains tend to be a little hard to come by in the average super-hero action figure line, for some reason. Fortunately, the vast universe of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED has opened its doors to a growing number of evildoers. Two of them recently appeared on single cards, and even though released before, were substantially recolored in one instance, and came with a cool accessory in the other. I regard them as worth a review. They are LEX LUTHOR and MIRROR MASTER. Let's start with Luthor.
Lex Luthor is unquestionably known as Superman's greatest adversary. The character himself has had a long and varied history over the course of his life within the world of DC Comics.
Originally introduced not long after Superman himself, Luthor was portrayed as a fairly straight-forward mad scientist terrorist type, with a shock of red hair on his head. This character would ultimately become the Luthor of Earth-2, an alternate world which came to represent the Golden Age heroes once the more modern incarnations of certain established heroes such as Flash and Green Lantern got going.
The Luthor with which we are more familiar, however, has had just as varied a history. He was initially a fairly straight-forward super-villain type, with admittedly a rather debatable background. He was a scientific and inventive genius, but when Luthor was still a teenager and Superman was still calling himself Superboy, and the two regarded each other as friends, an accident with one of Luthor's inventions required Superboy to destroy the device, but somehow, the accident cost Luthor his hair. Coming across at this point as even more vain than Victor Von Doom, Luthor blamed Superboy for this mishap, and swore vengeance upon the Boy of Steel that would make Luthor the greatest threat among Superman's eventually long list of adversaries.
Really, over his HAIR!? I think one would have to assume that whatever mishap in the midst of the experiment caused Luthor's hair to fall out probably also caused a bit of brain damage.
It also turned Luthor into something of a megalomaniac. Luthor's schemes would grow ever more grandiose and power-hungry. Not just content with destroying the Caped Kryptonian, Luthor also set out to gain as much wealth and power through his criminal endeavors as possible.
For years garbed in prison greys as much as anything, apparently not especially concerned with fashion, in the 1970's Luthor started to wear something that might be described as more typical super-villain fare. He adopted a costume, consisting of purple and green tights, which contained small storage areas that held assorted miniaturized weapons. One might wonder about the color choice, but if one considers the fact that Superman has always been dressed in very bright, primary colors of red and blue, with yellow in his insignia, then Luthor's choice of secondary colors like purple and green makes sense.
In the early 1980's, Luthor chose to retire to a planet he had discovered years earlier, a world where he was regarded as a hero. Seemingly content there, he still couldn't get the Man of Steel out of his mind. He created an armored battle-suit, again using the colors of purple and green. When Superman eventually showed up on Luthor's adopted world, a battle ensued whuch ultimately resulted in the destruction of the planet. Luthor's hatred for Superman grew exponentially, and his battle suit made him nearly a physical match for his longtime foe.
In the mid-1980's, following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman's entire history got a major reboot. It was sort of the thing to do with characters at the time. Now, Superman had not been active as Superboy, and Lex Luthor was now the most prominent businessman of Metropolis. Hardly seeming to be a super-villain, he was instead a wealthy industrialist, the President, CEO, and every other important title of LexCorp. He came across as pretty much one of the good guys, but there was still a ruthless streak to him, and he was more than willing to play some underhanded cards in order to get his way. Superman was obviously a threat to Luthor's dominance over Metropolis.
The ensuing years would see one scheme after another, even as Luthor struggled to maintain his power base as a positive force in Metropolis as its most prominent businessman. Luthor was actually reasonably successful at playing both sides of the fence, even if most of the super-heroes around knew better. Luthor actually assisted the heroes in several large-scale events, including the Invasion, Panic in the Sky, and Final Night storylines. He also established the rebuilding of Gotham City in the wake of the Cataclysm/No Man's Land storyline, although this was in part to try to lay claim to most of the city. Batman put a stop to that.
Luthor even successfully ran for President in the DC Universe in 2000, although he was ultimately ousted, and this seems to have led him on a path back to more traditional super-villain roots. He is still clearly a powerful and highly intelligent individual, whose business sense compensates for his lack of any innate super-powers. Bereft of the Presidency and no longer in control of LexCorp, Luthor has put together several gatherings of super-villains in recent times, and was a major player in the Infinite Crisis storyline, and has threatened the entire Justice League with a gathering of super-villains. He has developed a mentality where he believes, or at least states, that humans should be the masters of their own fate, and super-humans of any sort are a threat to that.
When Luthor turned up in the Superman animated series, it was as the businessman Luthor. However, when elements of the Superman series transfered over to the Justice League animated series (as did elements from Batman), Luthor's criminal dealings were exposed, and he lost control of his company. As in the comics, this led Luthor along a more traditional super-villain path, and he started to use his inventive genius specifically for criminal endeavors, and working with other super-villains. He created a battle suit for himself that was initially reminiscent of his battle armor. In the animated series, it was determined that this was needed to stabilize a health condition that Luthor was suffering from. Later on, this battle suit would seem to be trimmed down to something more closely resembling his purple-and-green outfit from the 1970's.
Within the action figure line, there was actually a Luthor action figure produced that was a good replica of this purple-and-green costume. It was part of a three-pack that included other villains. However, this single-carded Luthor has an interesting new color scheme.
This Lex Luthor's uniform is predominantly green. Let's face it, green is not likely Superman's favorite color, and I'm sure Luthor knows that. Green is the main color of Kryptonite, the one element that can weaken and kill the Man of Steel.
Luthor's costume is a decidedly bright green, with a bit of black trim around the shoulders, near the waist, and on the legs. Luthor's boots are black, the legs are mostly a darker green, as are the rather high gloves of the uniform.
Apart from the basic body suit, which as one would expect uses the same molds as many of the Justice League figures (not something I have a problem with), the figure is wearing a dark green harness with a gun holster across his chest, and a utility belt with numerous pouches. This belt is the only element of purple on the costume, and it's really more of a lavendar, not the deeper reddish-purple that Luthor is somewhat better known for. Still, I don't think the look of this figure would've been quite right without a bit of some shade of purple on it.
What about the head sculpt? Well, one might think there's not a whole lot you can do with a bald guy. This is not entirely accurate. What you can do is create a headsculpt that is a superb rendition of the animated character, and you can give that headsculpt an expression that is an excellent match for the same sort of smug superiority that Lex has always evinced in the show. And indeed, that's precisely what this headsculpt manages to do.
One thing that the single-carded Justice League Unlimited figures manage to provide that the three-packs generally don't are accessories. Usually some additional item is included, and such is the case with Lex Luthor. He comes with a transparent green, handheld weapon with several sharp points on it that is clearly intended to be a sculpted piece of Kryptonite rock. The weapon includes a small handle that Luthor can grasp in his open left hand.
It might seem easy to pass this figure by when you see him in a display. Technically, he's not a precise match for any existing uniform design for the character. However, he IS very impressive. Imagine you're Superman. And here comes Luthor, carrying a Kryptonite weapon, and he's dressed almost entirely in green. That's going to have a psychological effect on you, and it's not going to be a pleasant one. Is that weapon his only source of Kryptonite, or did he manage to weave it into that entire battle suit or something!?
Overall, this is a very impressive Lex Luthor figure. The headsculpt is excellent, and the design of the costume is appropriately menacing, and the accessory is a cool addition. Just keep it away from your Superman figures.
Now, let's consider the single-carded edition of MIRROR MASTER.
Your average super-hero will, as a rule, have a bevy of super-villains to fight. But there's generally one or two that rise above the rest to become that hero's greatest adversary. Superman has Lex Luthor and Brainiac. Batman has the Joker. Green Lantern has Sinestro.
But the Flash, oddly, seems to not have any one single foe. Rather, he is best known for having a "Rogues' Gallery" of villains, which have at times actually united under that very name to cause trouble for the Central City Speedster. Generally speaking, most of Flash's foes have tended to be somewhat less lethal than the enemies of other super- heroes. Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Captain Boomerang, the Trickster -- perhaps the most lethal of the lot would be Gorilla Grodd, who technically isn't a member of the Rogues' Gallery, and has gone after more than just the Flash, certainly.
Then there's Mirror Master. A fairly alliterative name, this is one of Flash's better-known enemies. There have been several incarnations of the character over the years. The first Mirror Master was in real life a man named Sam Scudder. He was a simple convict working in the prison machine shop, when one day he stumbled onto a method of mirror-making that would let mirrors capture and retain images for limited periods of time. Scudder used his discovery to escape, and then began to refine the technology. He then began a life of crime as the masked supervillain Mirror Master, and terrorized Central City. Mirror Master was constantly working on new technology, developing mirrors that allowed him to capture people inside them, travel to other dimensions, control minds, and convert matter into glass. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Mirror Master was dispatched back in time to prevent a catastrophe, but was killed from behind by Krona while arguing with fellow villains.
The more modern Mirror Master is a man named Evan McCullough, a Scottish mercenary. As a baby, McCulloch was left on the doorstep of an orphanage run by a Mrs. McCulloch, with nothing but his first name and a photograph of his parents. He grew up as a fairly normal child, until one night he got in a fight with a vicious bully and killed him. He was never caught, and, at age 16, Evan left the orphanage, again with nothing but his parents' photograph.
He settled in Glasgow, where he took up a life of drinking and partying that eventually led to crime. Robbery and extortion eventually led to murder, and Evan began to hire himself out as an assassin. He was an excellent killer, and quickly became one of the most renowned mercenaries in the United Kingdom.
One day, he had two hits scheduled. His eye was injured in the course of the first, leaving him with impaired vision. Evan couldn't shake the feeling that the second target seemed familiar, but only after he pulled the trigger did he recognize the man as his father from the photograph. Stricken with grief, Evan was about to turn himself over to the authorities when a shady consortium of U.S. government and big business interests offered him the costume and weapons of the original Mirror Master in exchange for his services.
His first assignment was to scare Animal Man into abandoning his animal-rights stance, a mission he failed in. McCulloch eventually even helped Animal Man to fight the same men who gave McCulloch his weapons, but his heroism was short lived. He continued to work as a criminal and a supervillain-for-hire, generally preferring to work alone.
He later moved to Keystone City, and came into conflict with the third Flash. He discovered a "Mirror Dimension" which enables him to travel through any reflective surface. During the events of Underworld Unleashed, the Rogues had accepted him as Scudder's successor. After being betrayed by the demonic Neron, McCulloch and four of the other Rogues died, but returned later due to a confrontation between Neron and the Flash.
For a brief time, McCulloch then joined Lex Luthor's Injustice Gang and fought the Justice League of America. However, the fact that while McCullough is a mercenary, he is not necessarily entirely evil. Mirror Master's participation in Luthor's Injustice Gang was actually at the behest of Batman, who wanted someone on the inside of this new organization. McCullough cooperated in exchange for Batman making a hefty donation to the orphanage where McCullough was raised, and Mirror Master walked out of the Injustice Gang before the final confrontration with the JLA.
More recently, Mirror Master joined Alexander Luthor's Secret Society. He, Captain Boomerang and Captain Cold battled the Outsiders before Infinite Crisis. In Infinite Crisis #7, they fought in the final battle being defeated by Martian Manhunter.
Even more recently, McCullough was a member of the new Suicide Squad in the DC title Checkmate, and has appeared in one of the mini-series presumably showcasing events leading up to the Final Crisis, entitled Salvation Run.
As far as the animated Justice League Unlimited series is concerned, Mirror Master made a brief cameo in the episode "I am Legion", as a member of the Legion of Doom, and later appeared in the episode, "Flash and Substance". He joined forces with several other Flash villains to demolish the newly opened Flash Museum. The character as portrayed seemed to be a mix of Scudder and McColloch. He is clearly American and thusly not the Scottish McCullough (unless he'd overcome the accent); however, his mirror powers are tilted more towards the enhanced McCulloch skills, including a Mirror Dimension.
Let's consider the Mirror Master figure. Mirror Master's look is honestly not all that distinctive. This is not a criticism of the figure, it's more a critique of the costume. I suppose there's only so much you can do when you're calling yourself Mirror Master. The character has been around for decades, with the Scudder version first appearing in 1959, well before the levels of extreme detail were really the "in-thing" to do -- or even possible with printing technology of the time, and technically, even the modern Mirror Master is first and foremost a mercenary and a hitman. It doesn't really pay to look too flashy (no hero-related pun intended) in that particular business.
Nor is Mirror Master's costume overtly evil in appearance. The costume consists of an orange body-suit, fairly typical tights of the type worn by a large percentage of super-heroes and super-villains. The costume also has dark green boots, cowl, cuffs, and belt. Honestly a certain amount of detailing on the cowl/helmet and on the belt are the most notable enhancements to an otherwise rather basic costume. The cowl has a certain amount of raised detail on it which would lead a person to believe that it's probably a protective helmet as well, and the belt is fairly thick, has several ridges in it, narrow holsters which doubtless contain mirrors, and a diamond shape in the center of it.
The figure does a good job of duplicating this costume, in the animated style of the Justice League Unlimited series. It uses the standard male body molds that most of the figures use. Fortunately, it's a good design for these animated style figures. The figure has a distinctive head, of course, and the belt is a separate attachment. I don't see a buckle or snap on this thing. I assume it was put in place during assembly.
Unlike the three-packs, which don't tend to offer much in the way of accessories, this single-packed Mirror Master does come with an accessory. As one might expect -- it's a mirror.
The mirror is circular and about 1-1/4" in diameter. It is mounted on a disc of orange plastic that matches the color of Mirror Master's uniform. The disc has a clip on the back which can be snapped around either of Mirror Master's wrists. It looks more than a little like he's carrying a paint-stripped version of Captain America's shield.
Interestingly enough, the accessory is an actual functional mirror, if a slightly warped one. This, to me, is Mattel going an extra few steps for this figure. It probably would've been easier and less expensive to have simply painted the outer surface of the disc silver, but they didn't. The small mirror is smooth, nicely made, and as reflective as any other mirror you might encounter.
Granted, it's not going to access any "mirror dimension", and its small "real world" size limits its practical uses. In any case, it's a surprisingly impressive little accessory. Even if you already have the Mirror Master figure from the previous release, you might want to give some consideration to this.
So, what's my final word on Mirror Master? Impressive. He's not really a prominent enough character to have warranted much in the way of previous (or likely future) action figure appearances, but one of the cool things about the Justice League Unlimited line is that Mattel seems willing to throw in just about anybody, even if their time within the animated series was relatively minimal (assuming it happened at all -- I still don't remember ever seeing Waverider in there, and he made it as a figure).
The JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED single-carded LEX LUTHOR and MIRROR MASTER figures definitely have my enthusiastic recommendation!