REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS ORION & LIGHTRAY TWO-PACK
Although master comics creator Jack Kirby may be best known for what he did for Marvel Comics -- Fantastic Four, X-Men, and just about everybody else -- the "King" had his hand in the DC Universe as well, primarily with the creation of the "New Gods". Although I've never been entirely comfortable with the concept name, I cannot deny the fact that Jack Kirby created for DC a remarkable, distinctive universe of characters, divided between the near-paradise of New Genesis and the flaming fire-pits of Apokolips, with such amazing beings as Darkseid, Orion, Lightray, and dozens of others.
Over time, these characters interacted increasingly with the rest of the DC universe -- especially Darkseid. And even though they met an unfortunate and in my opinion unnecessary end in "Death of the New Gods", part of the "Final Crisis" storyline, there are reasons to believe that they will indeed return.
It's more than a little ironic that just as DC decides to kill off these characters, at least temporarily, they make such an impact in the toy world. Apart from DC Direct's Kirby-based "New Gods" series, there's been no shortage of the characters turning up in Mattel's DC Universe Classics line, including Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Lightray, Kalibak (as a Collect and Connect figure), and people are clamoring for Darkseid to be yet another Collect-and-Connect, citing the fact that the Darkseid figure offered in the previous DC Super-Heroes line just wasn't big enough to do the dread lord of Apokolips justice.
This review will take a look at a Toys "R" Us exclusive two-pack devoted to the New Gods, specifically two heroes known as ORION and LIGHTRAY. The set is designated NEW GODS FIGURE PACK. Let's consider these characters individually.
ORION - The son of Darkseid, traded to New Genesis for Highfather's son, Scott Free, who would later go on to become the hero Mister Miracle. The trade was to establish an uneasy truce between New Genesis and Apokolips. Darkseid, no doubt, had hopes that his offspring would be too unmanageable for the peaceful New Genesis inhabitants. While Orion is unquestionably a warrior, and isn't exactly known for his warm personality, he knows where his loyalties are.
Orion first appeared in New Gods #1 (February 1971), and was created by writer-artist Jack Kirby.
Orion is the second son of Darkseid, half brother of Kalibak and Grayven. As a child, he was traded for Scott Free in a peace effort between New Genesis and Apokolips. Raised as the son of Highfather Izaya, he was taught to control his rage and anger, becoming the most powerful warrior either world has ever known. This in itself was not an easy task given that his heritage boiled with the rage of the brutal and merciless Darkseid. Learning how to control his dark nature consumed much of Orion's youth, but as he grew, his friends among the New Gods helped him direct his anger. Orion counts among his friends Lightray, Metron, Jezebelle, Scott Free, Barda, and Forager. He is a hero dedicated to the ideals of New Genesis. His fighting skill and stamina have earned him the nickname "The Dog of War".
Orion has served two terms with the Justice League. He first demanded to join the League alongside his friend, Lightray. (Justice League of America #42, 1990). They were accepted into the ranks and stayed on until after the battle with the Evil Eye.
Later, he and Big Barda were sent as agents of New Genesis to serve in the JLA. (JLA #17, April 1998) During his time in the League, Orion helped to defeat the returned Starro when its actions put almost the entirety of North America to sleep, and also aided Green Lantern, Steel, Plastic Man, and Barda in capturing a White Martian that had regained its original memory.
On one occasion, when he and some of the other Leaguers were abducted by the apparently-insane Adam Strange as part of a plot to defeat a telepathic race, Steel was forced to steal Orion's mother box and use it as a telepathic shield; Orion was so enraged that the mother box was devoting too much energy to keeping him calm to do anything else.
However, Orion and Barda's central mission was to help mobilize Earth's heroes against the coming of the omnipotent Mageddon. Once again, Orion abandoned his mother box, giving it to Oracle while he confronted Mageddon at full ferocity, Oracle using it to set up a telepathic online network that could coordinate the heroes as they fought to stop the wars that Mageddon's presence was inciting. Once Mageddon was defeated, he and Barda resigned.
Orion possesess superhuman strength, speed, stamina and durability, on par with Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Superman. He has access to a Mother Box that can calm his temper. In addition, Orion also possesses a regenerative healing factor, and is able to call upon his Mother Box to assist in healing injuries or to sustain his life energies. Like all other New Gods, Orion is vulnerable to a substance called Radion.
His vehicle, the "Astro-Harness", is an alien artifact of unknown origin, capable of self-repair; flight; energy projection and absorption; force field generation; and possesses a tractor beam. Orion's wristbands are also virtually indestructible.
Orion also is able to harness an interdimensional energy called the "Astro Force". While Orion himself is a conduit for the Astro Force, he can use either the Astro Harness or his wristbands as a valve through which he can project this energy . He uses the Astro Force primarily as a weapon, but once he was shown to be able to use the Astro Force to create an energy shield powerful enough to deflect Darkseid's "Omega Effect".
The Orion figure included with this two-pack is actually the second Orion figure offered in the DC Universe Classics line. The first was part of the first series of DCUC figures. Although Orion isn't such a fashion plate as to have more than one basic costume design, there is a distinct difference between the two versions of Orion -- the one in the two-pack has a removable helmet.
Orion's costume is fairly straightforward, especially for a Kirby design. Orion is wearing a red body-suit with blue trunks, gloves, and boots. His costume has a blue collar, the aforementioned wristbands, a silver belt, and some pale grey patterning around the boots.
His most ornate item is the helmet. Silver in color, it has two angular pieces emerging from the sides, and a gold line pattern around the front, which is probably the most Kirby-esque detail on the entire figure. There is a small symbol on the forehead of the helmet that looks like a small sun.
Underneath the helmet, Orion appears to have a fairly average human visage, with reddish hair. Apparently this is something of a disguise developed by the mother box. You don't have Darkseid as a father and not get hit by every branch on the ugly tree on the way out the door. Darkseid's other kids, Kalibak and Grayven, are pretty gruesome specimens. While I never followed the New Gods stories all that closely, I've gotten the impression that Orion tends to "lose his face" when he increasingly loses his temper.
However, the figure presents the purely human-looking Orion, which is probably just as well. And it's a nice additional feature to have over and above the first-release Orion.
Orion also comes with his Astro-Harness, and Mattel did a really good job with this oddball means of transport. The harness fits over his chest, and has cables that extend to wrist controls and foot pads. The plausibility of something like this is probably pretty minimal, but that certainly never stopped Jack Kirby. The design work on Mattel's part is superb. The Astro-Harness looks very distinctly Kirby-ish, and is mostly metallic gold with some very tiny colored details that must have given the painters fits, but also shows the sort of tiny detail a toy factory is capable of when it takes the time to get it right.
Orion, like all DC Universe Classics figures, is very well articulated, and is poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Much credit to the design team of the Four Horsemen for coming up with a very good-looking design that also does a good job of incorporating the articulation into the design and making that look good, as well.
The only problem with this particular figure is that the upper leg joint on the right leg is strangely misaligned. I'm willing to chalk that up to quality control issues that I hope have since been resolved, and as an isolated incident. I know I've seen properly-assembled Orions. But it is a bit disconcerting, since there was no way to determine the problem in the package.
Now, let's consider the other entry in this set:
LIGHTRAY - A cool character if not as prominent as Orion. He's still Orion's best friend, and generally accompanies him on many of his adventures, in part because he enjoys a good adventure himself, and in part to try to keep his friend's temper in check a bit.
Lightray (real name: Sollis) is a DC Comics superhero. Created by Jack Kirby, he first appeared in New Gods #1 (February 1971).
Lightray is the shining star of New Genesis and a high-spirited New God. Unlike his grim friend Orion, Lightray is cheerful and optimistic and prefers to solve problems through compromise rather than combat. He uses the speed of light to his advantage in eluding foes.
Lightray has served one stint as a member of the Justice League. He joined the international branch along with Orion on the same night as a membership drive failed to find other new recruits.
The difference between the two was illustrated in battle. While Lightray desires a minimum of fuss in battle by dispatching his foe, Crowbar, with a simple expenditure of energy to the man's face while, Orion prefers to destroy the pavement around Blackrock — and then was angered when his opponent surrendered instead of fighting to the death.
In this same issue, Lightray demonstrates his knowledge of chess. They stay with the team until just after the battle with General Glory's old foe the Evil Eye.
As Sollis his idea of fun is protecting New Genesis from Apokolips, Darkseid, and his minions. He resides on New Genesis and is active in adventuring.
He returns to Earth briefly in JLA #27 (March 1999), as part of an emergency expansion of the Justice League. The team battles the android Amazo in the Florida Everglades. Most of them are subdued and their powers copied, Lightray included. Amazo loses his powers when Superman, as the chairman, officially disbands the League, thus ending Lightray's membership.
He would appear again to aid the League alongside Orion and Big Barda when the planet Qward attacked Earth during a storyline that also involved the antimatter Earth's Crime Syndicate of Amerika.
Lightray can manipulate photons to create brilliant concussive blasts, focused columns of radiant heat, lasers and holograms. Using his power to the utmost he can generate a massive sun as he did in New Gods #3 to escape the Black Racer.
Due to his control of light energy, which is similar to yellow-sun energy, he has the ability to increase Superman's abilities to almost limitless proportions.
He can also fly at the speed of light, 'maybe even faster' according to one source.
So, how's the figure? *Sigh*. Okay -- in fairness, this two-pack was doubtless manufactured BEFORE Mattel started addressing some of the rather considerable quality control problems they have had with this line, problems which I have noticed distinct improvement over, finally!
Defects aside, how IS Lightray? Extremely cool. There's not a lot of heroes that dress in predominantly white, so Lightray is pretty distinctive-looking. His costume is mostly white, with dark red trunks, a black and red insignia on his chest, a gold helmet around his head that leaves his face and the top of his head exposed, and gold collar, belt, wristbands, and boots. The belt and wristbands are sculpted with unique detailing, and the boots have imprinted detailing on them.
Lightray has a very well-designed head, with a smile on his face that is at once friendly and ready for adventure. His hair is reddish in color with a little metallic gold scattered into it. Interesting touch. His eyes are very well painted, with the whites, blue irises, black pupils, a little white light reflection, and black lines over them.
Of course, his articulation is as impressive as Orion's. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Whatever parts may be too loose or stuck on this particular figure, at least all of his parts are in the right place, as well. I've seen some (too many) figures from around the same time period as this two-pack first came out that aren't.
I should comment again on how effectively most of the articulation points are worked into the design of the musculature. This is especially true for the upper-arm swivel, and the mid-torso, the latter being especially difficult to incorporate on some other action figure lines that choose to use it. I am pleased that the figures are also poseable at this point AND the waist, and that the latter was not neglected for the former, as has happened elsewhere.
Lightray doesn't have any accessories of his own. I suspect it would be a little difficult to demonstrate his abilities with any accessories. Maybe if he came with a small, very powerful flashlight...?
So, what's my final word here? *Sigh* -- Unfortunately, given the difficulties I have had with the Lightray figure in this set (interestingly enough, I haven't had similar problems with the Orions), it is just a little difficult for me to totally recommend this set without warning you first that, in all likelihood, if what I went through is any indication, there's an above-average chance that you're going to have SOME sort of problem with your Lightray figure, one that you likely can't discern just by staring at him in package.
However, if you're any sort of fan of the New Gods, then you should at least give this set a chance. It's likely the only time Lightray is going to be part of it, and it's pretty cool to have an Orion whose helmet is removable. And unlike some other figures with removable headgear, the helmet is an excellent fit, doesn't look too big when in place, and neither is Orion's unhelmeted head appear to be too small.
And I certainly can't argue with the intent of the DC Universe Classics line. If Mattel can clear up the quality control issues and keep a steady course, this could be the most amazing line of super-hero action figures ever created, one that I would hope would have a very long and healthy life. Certainly, both Orion and Lightray deserve to be a part of that.
So, with a cautionary note, the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS NEW GODS PACK of ORION AND LIGHTRAY definitely has my recommendation. Your local Toys "R" Us might still have a few, and there's always the secondary market.