REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS OBSIDIAN (TODD RICE)
Mattel's superb line of DC Universe Classics action figures continues with another Walmart exclusive wave -- which based on personal experience and a number of online reports seems to have been distributed reasonably well, unlike the debacle of Wave 5. This latest Walmart assortment, Wave 14, features, among other individuals, the superhero known as OBSIDIAN, although he's officially listed by his secret identity of Todd Rice.
One assumes that this is because the name "Obsidian" couldn't be trademarked. Neither was Gold, one of the Metal Men, who is also part of this wave. Unlike Gold, however, Obsidian had a secret identity to work with.
Basically speaking, obsidian is a natural glass of volcanic origin, usually black in color, and of a chemical composition equivalent to granite. It was used by a number of Native American tribes for weapons and tools, since its structure allows it to hold a point well when carved. Centuries ago the Mayans used it for mirrors. It forms by the rapid cooling of viscous lava, and is slightly stronger than window glass. The usual opaque jet black color is a result of abundant closely-spaced crystallites.
And, it's not something that can be trademarked, and neither can its name, apparently. So officially speaking, this figure's name is Todd Rice, complete with the customary "TM" after it on the package. But, since he is best known as the super-hero Obsidian, that's how I'll be referring to him in this review. Let's consider some background on the character.
Obsidian first appeared in All-Star Squadron #25, in September of 1983, and was created by Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway -- impressive pedigree there.
Todd Rice is the biological son of Alan Scott and Rose Canton, respectively the Golden Age super-hero Green Lantern, and the villain Thorn. Todd was raised in an abusive adoptive home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He would find out in his late teens that he has a twin sister, Jennie-Lynn Hayden, also known as the super-hero Jade. They would meet, and discover that they both have super-powers, and operating under the assumption that Green Lantern was their father -- which they did not know for certain at the time, but did eventually learn to be true, they decided to follow in his footsteps as super-heroes.
As Obsidian and Jade, they were founding members of the super-hero team known as Infinity, Inc., a group comprised mainly of the children, grandchildren, and proteges of members of the Justice Society of America. In the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, this placed Obsidian and his team on Earth-2, although post-Crisis, the team and all characters involved were made part of the single remaining Earth, with no real change to his history, since he hadn't really been around all that long prior to the Crisis.
Obsidian would later serve with the Justice League aboard their space-station-based headquarters. Among his adventures here was helping the League deal with dozens of aliens who were the last members of their species. During his tenure with the League, Obsidian underwent certain therapy.
Obsidian apparently inherited a potential for mental illness from his mother, Thorn. Corrupted by Ian Karkull, Obsidian turned evil, using his shadow powers to first steal all shadows from an entire city, then later to spread darkness over the entire world. He also attacked his foster father. His biological father, Green Lantern, along with other members of the JSA, are able to defeat him, whereupon Obsidian retreated into the Shadowlands, the other-dimensional plane from which he derives his powers.
Still later, Obsidian teamed with the villains Mordru and Eclipso -- nice company to keep -- to seek vengeance against his father and the JSA. The attempt was unsuccessful, and following his defeat, Obsidian was seemingly cured of his mental illness.
After being cured, Obsidian went into retirement, with his powers seemingly dormant. However, they returned after his sister's apparent death during the events of Infinite Crisis.
Obsidian appeared during the year-long "52" event. Watching a Thanksgiving Day Parade, he sees Lex Luthor's "Everyman" super-hero team. Enraged that one of the members is named "Jade", he angrily confronts the group, endangering civilians in the process. The Everyman heroes protect the crowd and Obsidian is talked out of doing anything drastic.
Sometime later, Obsidian would join the new Justice Society of America, appearing in the first issue of the latest incarnation of the title, serving as security guard for their New York headquarters. Obsidian would subsequently degenerate into an egg-like form consisting purely of darkness. Boy, this kid can't catch a break, can he? As part of a storyline in Justice Society, portraying an alternate future, it is revealed that this state was caused by an attack by the villain Kid Karnevil. Later, Obsidian reappears as a power source for the Darkness Engine, which has caused all super-powered beings on Earth to lose their powers. Mister Terrific must travel backwards in time, to tell the others that they must "hatch" the egg to prevent the horrific future from which he has come from taking place. Alan Scott complies, and in the revised timeline, when Kid Karnevil seeks the "egg", he instead finds a fully restored Obsidian, who deals with him accordingly.
Following the Blackest Night/Brightest Day events, which saw Jade restored to life, Obsidian and the JSA team up with the Justice League, after Alan Scott becomes possessed by an unknown entity and takes off into the sky. After catching up with Alan and reuniting with Jade, the teams figure out that the being controlling Alan is the Starheart, the cosmic force that has granted Alan Scott and his children their powers. The Starheart then takes over Obsidian's body as well and disappears with him.
The JSA is subsequently captured by Obsidian and a crazed Doctor Fate. Following this, Jade tries to rescue her brother from the Starheart's control, but both brother and sister end up being fused together, forming a hybrid with both Jade's and Obsidian's powers. Nothing like a close relationship between siblings, but this is taking it to extremes.
Together, the siblings attack the Justice League and Justice Society, until Jade is able to resist the control of the Starheart long enough to separate herself from her brother. At the end of the adventure, the Starheart is restored to Alan Scott, who returns to normal, with proper control over his powers, and both Jade and Obsidian are freed from its influence, but Jade and Obsidian can no longer be in close proximity to each other -- somewhere like half a mile to a mile -- without risking fusing together into the hybrid once again, and unleashing the Starheart.
As to his powers and abilities, unlike his sister Jade, whose powers resemble their father's, Obsidian has various shadow-based powers from his father's exposure to Shadow energy after a battle with Ian Karkull. Obsidian is connected to the Shadowlands, a dimension of primordial, semi-sentient darkness. At will, Obsidian can merge with his own shadow and possess the shadows of others. In his shadow form, he is stronger than in human form, can pass through solid objects, and fly. After being corrupted by the Shadowlands, Obsidian was able to control his shadow powers to the point that he could grow to enormous size and create objects out of shadow, in a similar way that his father and sister can create objects out of green energy.
His relationship and powers over other shadow-type beings tends to vary. He was extremely concerned at the initial outbreak of the Anti-Monitor's Shadow Demons during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, as to what they might be able to do to him in his own shadow form. He ultimately discovered that he is resistant to low amounts of anti-matter. In his shadow form, the shadow demons could not hurt him, but he was able to hurt them.
Obsidian also has limited telepathic abilities, and can force a person to see the evil side of their own soul, which has been known to drive people insane.
It has yet to be determined what effects Obsidian's connection to the Shadowlands will have on his aging process. Others connected to it, such as the Shade, have displayed immortality, while residual Shadowlands energy slowed the aging process of the original JSA members.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. Obsidian has never been one to go through a host of costumes, so the figure, as one would expect, is certainly iconic enough.
It's been portrayed in the comics that when he's in his super-hero form, he's also at least partially in his shadow form, so as one might expect, the figure has a rather dark color scheme. Obsidian is wearing a dark blue headpiece, a costume that is mostly dark blue, with black along the sides, and predominantly black arms and legs. Obsidian has rather high dark blue gloves, with black ovals at the top, and pretty much standard height blue boots, also with black ovals at the top.
Obsidian is wearing a metallic dark blue belt, comprised of ovals, and a gray cape, with a fairly high curved collar, held in place by a series of metallic blue ovals. To what degree these ovals were decisive in turning the poor guy into a black egg at one point, I have no real idea.
Then there's the matter of Obsidian's face. Arguably, he's not really wearing a mask. It's just that when he uses his darkness powers, HE turns completely black. Generally speaking, most of his comic appearances over the years have portrayed this effect by coloring the black parts of his costume, including his face, a solid black, with no shading or light reflection -- which honestly makes for a fairly creepy but effective presence.
Obviously, that's going to be a little difficult to render in a three-dimensional action figure, that is inevitably going to catch a certain amount of light. Black is black, but three dimensions in the real world are three dimensions in the real world, and as such governed by the physical laws thereof. You could paint this figure in india ink and it would still reflect the light somewhat.
Credit to the sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen, they actually found something of a means of at least subduing the visible detail on Obsidian's face without taking it away completely, which also would not have been realistic for the character. In profile, in the comics, his facial features are still visible. He's not Spider-Man.
What the Four Horsemen did was to just sort of minimize the detailing, especially around the nose, which sort of tapers towards the upper lip. This at least keeps the usual prominent nasal shadow in check. There are some more extensively sculpted details, including some wrinkles above the brow, which serve to indicate that this is in fact Obsidian's face, and not a mask. Most of his other facial features are sufficiently prominent, but the overall effect of a shadowed face still works quite well.
Obsidian's eyes are painted plain white, and he has been sculpted with a slightly open mouth, revealing his teeth. These have also been sculpted with great expertise. I don't usually see the need to give an action figure an open mouth, and I admit I sort of question it on the figure of Obsidian's father, Alan Scott, who is part of this wave, but on Obsidian, it works, and helps to bring out the facial features a bit more without losing the shadow effect.
For the most part, the figure uses the standard male body of the DC Universe Classics line that has been used for a large percentage of the figures. Of course the figure has a distinctive head, but interestingly, the figure also has been given distinctive hands, with somewhat narrow, almost creepy-looking fingers. It's almost a bit much, but it does serve to indicate that Obsidian is a character who has wavered between good and evil for much of his career.
The back of the package barely manages to squeak in a reference to Todd Rice's super-hero name, as well as his nature, by commenting: "Battling mental instability, Todd became a full-fledged villain, but eventually regretted the suffering he'd caused and pledged to make amends. Still, those closest to Todd worry that the 'obsidian' within him may one day consume him."
The cape is a nice piece of work. I can understand why Mattel wants to go with plastic capes in this line. It's been my experience that cloth accessories really don't work that well on figures much smaller than eight inches in height, and even then, it's dang near impossible to get capes to look "natural". And so, a nicely sculpted plastic cape is a more than reasonable item, as long as it isn't pre-posed to look as though it's blowing in the wind or something, and very few caped figures in this line have had that particular situation, and certainly Obsidian doesn't.
Better still, the cape is nice and flexible. There have been a few capes in the line over the years where -- somebody at the laundry went overboard on the starch. Mister Miracle is easily the most egregious example of this. But more often than not in recent assortments, when there's been a need for a cape, it's been very agreeably flexible, and between Waves 14 and 15, there have been a LOT of capes. Green Lantern, Obsidian, Hourman, Starman, Martian Manhunter, Sinestro Corps Batman, Raven (okay, hers was pre-posed, but not inappropriately) -- capes all over the place. I'm glad that Mattel has gotten more proficient at their manufacture.
Of course, Obsidian is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
Any complaints? Just two, and they both have to do with the practice of placing the figure in some sort of dramatic pose on his or her internal plastic holding bubble. Now, I can understand that Mattel wants these figures to look cool on the shelves. Fine and well -- right up to the point where it could hurt the figure. Obsidian had two issues, one of which is likely common to all of the Obsidians, the other of which was a quality control issue specific to this figure. In both cases, I address them so that Mattel can address them.
Obsidian's left arm was posed very awkwardly in the package, in a sort of outstretched position that didn't really lend itself too well to the articulation of the figure. And no, the upcoming double-articulated elbows and knees, which I still see as completely unnecessary and potentially detrimental to the line, would not have helped in this instance. Ultimately, the lower left arm was bent outwards further than it should have been. And given that this figure -- and for that matter every other Obsidian -- was likely been sitting in their packages for who knows how long before arriving at the Walmart warehouses, it did somewhat warp the lower arm into this outward position. I am hopeful that it will gradually return to a more normal position over time, but come on, Mattel!
The other issue was a matter with this figure in particular. The outward movement of the right leg was stuck. I was able to free it, but unfortunately, the in-package pose had the figure with his right leg slightly outward. Since this movement was stuck following assembly, the main leg attachment had to try to take up the slack, and since it was only designed for forward and backward movement, it got somewhat bent out of shape, and there is a small amount of plastic stress visible. I'm probably fortunate that the leg didn't snap off completely. Now, everything moves properly, and I've unstuck the outward movement, and I tend to display my figures in a very basic stance, so doubtless this has relieved the stress. Nevertheless, the leg joint has been somewhat deformed, and you can still see the evidence of this happening.
Stuck joints were a major hassle in some of the early waves of DC Universe Classics figures. I was of the impression that it was a quality control situation that had been dealt with, and indeed, I enjoyed many waves that were structurally problem-free. But a few mostly minor but still avoidable issues have been cropping up lately, and I really hope it's not a trend -- especially with that Legion of Super-Heroes 12-pack coming out in 2011.
This line of action figures is way too cool, way too impressive -- and frankly, way too expensive -- to tolerate these sorts of gaffes. So I say to Mattel -- you've got a great action figure line here. Make sure it stays that way, and pay attention to what your production facilities are doing!
So, what's my final word here? Well, before I get to that final word, I'd like to offer a suggestion to Mattel. We now have figures of Obsidian and Alan Scott. Father and son. But there's a family member missing. Please -- GIVE US JADE!
So, as to my final word about Obsidian -- Todd Rice. I'm impressed. I always thought the character had an interesting look, and the DC Universe Classics line has captured it superbly well. He's been a hero, he's been a villain, and although he's never been really super-prominent, that's one of the cool things about the DC Universe Classics line. They'll do anybody. And certainly Obsidian has been prominent enough -- and still is -- to warrant inclusion in the line, and the results are very effective and very impressive.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of TODD RICE, better known as OBSIDIAN, definitely has my highest recommendation!