REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED POWER RING FIGURE
I think there's a certain fascination among those who follow science-fiction, comic books, and related pop culture, with the idea of alternate, even mirror, universes. There may even be some scientific credibility for the notion of alternate universes, a legitimate multiverse, if you will, even if there's not much scientific proof to indicate that it would be a "mirror" universe.
Arguably the best known mirror universe came to us from Star Trek. In the episode "Mirror, Mirror", Captain Kirk and several of his crew are transported across universes to one in which the Federation does not exist -- it's an Empire. And of course there was Spock with the mustache and goatee. The Mirror Universe would later be revisited in several episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, producing a rather considerable body count in mirror counterpart Ferengi, if nothing else, and would also be showcased in an amazing two-parter during the fourth season of Star Trek Enterprise, which had the Mirror Enterprise crew discovering a lost Starfleet ship from the 23rd century, and encountering the first Gorn in 40 years.
But Star Trek is hardly the only example of alternate, or mirror, universes. The Marvel Comics title "Exiles" sent a crew of super-powered mutants to dozens of them, and any number of them came close to being "mirror" types. On one, Iron Man was a dictator. On another, Captain America and the Avengers were vampires. On still another, one of the earliest, Charles Xavier was a power-hungry madman.
And then there's the DC Multiverse. This was initially established when Barry Allen, the modern day Flash at the time, crossed over to a different Earth, whose Flash was Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash who had been popular in the 1940's and early 50's. The multiverse was set up as a means of explanation for the two different heroes, and ultimately heralded the return of the Golden Age Justice Society, who soon met and had regular team-ups with the Silver Age Justice League.
But, it would soon turn out that there were a lot more than two Earths out there. Before long, a third one was discovered, that was somewhat similar to the other two, but strikingly different on one respect -- its analogs to the heroes of the other Earths were criminals -- the Crime Syndicate of America.
The team consisted of Ultraman -- a counterpart to Superman; Owlman -- a counterpart to Batman; Superwoman -- a counterpart to Wonder Woman; Johnny Quick -- a counterpart to Flash -- and Power Ring -- a counterpart to Green Lantern.
The Crime Syndicate first appeared in Justice League of America #29, in 1964. Following a confrontation with both the Justice League and the Justice Society, they were imprisoned in an interdimensional limbo.
They remained there for years until an experimental dimensional transponder used by the Secret Society of Super-Villains disrupted the stability of the Crime Syndicate's prison. Power Ring, Johnny Quick, and Superwoman used the opportunity to escape. The Syndicate assumed the Secret Society villains were heroes, and battled them.
Later, the Crime Syndicate fought Captain Comet, believing he was part of the Secret Society. Focusing his will through his power battery, Power Ring was able to use it as a weapon, just as he had used his ring. Unknown to the Syndicate, Power Ring's battery of power had been leaking energy, a result of its long confinement and disuse in limbo.
Victims left in its wake were stricken with nausea, severe pain and eventual loss of consciousness. Their inert forms would then glow green before mutating into horrible rampaging creatures. Captain Comet discovered the source of the transformation, and after capturing the Syndicate, used the power battery to cure the victims and return the Crime Syndicate to their interdimensional prison. Comet destroyed the battery after this.
Years later, Ultraman managed to escape on his own, and briefly teamed with the Luthors of both Earth-1 and Earth-2, against both worlds' Supermen, and the Luthor of his own world, who was in fact heroic, and became Earth-3's first super-hero.
Not long after that, the Syndicate would get another taste of freedom. Traveling through time, Per Degaton stumbled upon the interdimensional prison. He offered the Crime Syndicate an escape if they would help him in 1962 to take over Cuba's Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. After they accomplished this task, Degaton had little use for them, and when they tried to overthrow him, Degaton hurled them into the future.
The Syndicate materialized on the JLA satellite via the League's teleporter. They quickly overcame the surprised heroes who were waiting for the JSA's annual meeting with the two groups.
Power Ring returned with the Syndicate to assist Per Degaton's plan to rule the world, planning to double-cross him as he had them when the moment was right. The villains ended up battling not only the JLA and the JSA, but even the All-Star Squadron from 1942. Then the villains were again defeated, the failure of Degaton's plan wiped the events from existence.
The final appearance of the classic Crime Syndicate was in the first issue of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. As Earth-3 is being destroyed by the anti-matter wave, the Crime Syndicate are doing everything they can to preserve their world, behaving as heroes in their final moments. It was to no avail, as Earth-3 was obliterated from existence.
Here is where things get a little tricky, especially with Power Ring -- and yet, there are analogies to Green Lantern. The original Power Ring was clearly extrapolated from Hal Jordan, and in fact his name, presumable his last name, is Harrolds, which has a certain phonetic similarity.
And yet, the next time the Crime Syndicate was encountered, under different circumstances, Kyle Rayner was the primary Green Lantern of the Justice League. And Power Ring is clearly more analogous to Rayner.
These events took place in the graphic novel "Earth-2", during a time when the DC multiverse did not exist. However, there was an anti-matter universe, and it was discovered that it had its own Earth, which was in some respects very much like the classic Earth-3, except generally far more vicious. As it ultimately turned out, both the League and the Syndicate were being manipulated by the anti-matter Brainiac. This Crime Syndicate would go on to have several further appearances, and are largely regarded as the standard Crime Syndicate at this time -- which is fine with me. The costumes are cooler.
However, things took one more turn for the weird along the way. In the epic DC/Marvel crossover JLA/Avengers, the anti-matter universe, including the Crime Syndicate, is seemingly destroyed in a way not dissimilar to how the original Crime Syndicate met their end. This, however, was not the work of the Anti-Monitor, but rather Krona, seeking the ultimate answers to the origin of the universe, and plowing through one universe after another in his quest.
Subsequent to this adventure, in the pages of JLA, the Crime Syndicate is shown hale and hearty, but a sort of universal "glitch" reveals to them that their universe has been reconstructed at a very basic level, and in many respects is only a few months old. Somehow, the anti-matter universe was reconstructed in the wake of Krona's defeat.
And on the receiving end of the most obvious change is Power Ring, who is no longer the blonde-haired Kyle Rayner counterpart, but an African-American man, now analogous to Green Lantern John Stewart, who was serving with the League at the time.
Subsequent to this, the Crime Syndicate had a prominent role in the weekly series "Trinity", and most recently as of this writing have turned up to cause trouble for the current Justice League of America in their own title. Interestingly, Ultraman makes the observation, along with Owlman, that he believes that their home universe has some sort of inherent instability to it, with events changing seemingly without reason. He points out that Harrolds is back once again as Green Lantern, much as Hal Jordan himself has returned, and adds that "the original Johnny Quick" is back, much as Barry Allen has also returned, although the differences in Quicks are less easily discernable.
I've always gotten a kick out of the Crime Syndicate, but figures of them have been few and far between. DC Direct did a set of the original Crime Syndicate a number of years ago, but to be honest, I'm not fond of those costume designs. DC Universe Classics did a two-pack featuring the classic Ultraman and Alexander Luthor of Earth-3. What we really need as far as I'm concerned is one of those DCUC five-packs like they've done for Walmart that features the modern incarnation of the Syndicate -- regardless of which version of Power Ring they throw into it. Ultraman and Owlman especially enjoyed improved costumes as of the "Earth-2" graphic novel.
In the meantime, though, three of the Crime Syndicate -- arguably the easiest three to turn out with existing molds -- have been added to the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED line of animated-style figures, even though the Crime Syndicate never appeared in the series. Superwoman came out some time ago. Ultraman turned up fairly recently, and now, we have POWER RING.
Not inappropriately, for being tied in to the Justice League Unlimited line, whose primary Green Lantern was John Stewart, this Power Ring figure is based on the African-American version of the character.
Not a lot is known about this individual, not even his real name. In the storyline which appeared in the JLA comic, later compiled into the highly-recommended trade paperback "Syndicate Rules", we get two brief inklings into Power Ring's background. The first is right after he appears in the place of the Rayner-version Power Ring, and it is revealed that the universe has somehow been "rebuilt". Power Ring comments: "Then I'm not -- me? I'm a revision? But I remember it all. Harrolds - my predecessor -- he told me I was the chosen substitute, to wield the ring when he couldn't. He tricked me into this, the lying -- ! I remember it! I was in one of Malcolm's attack squads. I'd just won manumission from the Slave Marines...!"
At this point Ultraman cut him off to try to determine how what happened, actually happened. But we get some indication that this Power Ring at least has some military service, in some form, in his background. Later on this is verified, as he encounters John Stewart for the first time. Power Ring says, "I've been hearing about you, the last day or so. Your ring runs on willpower -- but you're some kinda white-collar guy! You think shufflin' papers gives you willpower? Try fightin' in every stinkin' jungle war Amerika felt like starting, when your officers are just as happy to shoot you in the back as the enemy!"
Boy, sounds like a fun place, don't it? As to his powers and abilities, Power Ring wields a magical ring that can generate a variety of effects and energy constructs, sustained purely by the ring wearer's strength of will. The greater the user's willpower, the more effective the ring.
The ring enables the user to fly and to cover himself with a protective force field, suitable for traveling through outer space. It can also generate beams and solid constructs of energy that can be moved simply by thinking about doing so, enabling the user to create cages, transportation platforms, walls, and battering rams. In one notable scene in "Syndicate Rules", Power Ring created beach chairs for himself and the rest of the Syndicate, in space no less, to watch a fight between the League and the invading Qwardian army. He even provided popcorn! Apparently this was actually edible. Power Ring commented that it was "kinda tasteless, but it's low-cal. Gives you a little energy rush, too."
The classic Power Ring showed no vulnerability to either the color yellow, which was the weakness of the Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan, or to wood, which was the vulnerability of the Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott.
The ring appears to have a fully-sentient entity named Volthoom within it, able to talk and advise the user as to various courses of action. Volthoom is purportedly the mad monk that offered the ring to the first Power Ring. Somehow, his essence is trapped within the ring, and the wearer is cursed to have Volthoom floating around in his head as a result.
So, how's the figure? Very cool. Technically, it's pretty much a straight recolor of Green Lantern as he appeared in the Justice League Unlimited series, but honestly, that works, and there is an interesting aspect to it between the two characters as such.
Officially, Power Ring never appeared in the Justice League animated series. Neither did anyone else from the Crime Syndicate. The figure is an animated-style characterization of Power Ring's comic book likeness, in which he did indeed have a bald head, mustache, and goatee, just as John Stewart did after the Justice League series was reworked into Justice League Unlimited.
Prior to this, John Stewart had short-cropped hair and was clean-shaven. I've always thought of the change in his appearance from Justice League to Justice League Unlimited to be a mild nod to Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) from Star Trek Deep Space Nine. About midway through that series, with the start of the fourth season, Brooks shaved his head. He had grown a mustache and goatee towards the end of the third season. It was a significantly different look for his character, but it worked well.
I really can't quite figure out why the animators chose to have John Stewart alter his look, very much akin to what Brooks did with Sisko, unless it was a small tribute to that. Both Stewart and Sisko shared some common traits, in that they were both very forthright and sometimes forceful individuals, and of course both were African-American.
But here's what's interesting when it comes to Power Ring. At no point in the comic books has John Stewart ever shaved his head or grown a mustache and beard, at least not that I know of. When Stewart first appeared, he had a moderate afro. This was later reduced to the short-cropped hair he wears these days. However, then the African-American Power Ring first came on the scene, he already had a shaved head with the facial hair. Although I am sure it was not the intent at the time, this seemed ready made for a Justice League-style action figure, derived directly from the John Stewart molds.
Unlike John Stewart, Power Ring's eyes are entirely white, lacking the green irises. However, this is how the character appeared in the comic book, and the figure has sculpted lines for the irises, at least, so he doesn't look too creepy.
Much like Stewart's Green Lantern uniform, Power Ring's is predominantly black, with green around the neck and shoulders, and green boots. Power Ring also has broad white cuffs at the base of his sleeves. This is an alteration from the comic book likeness of the character, who had green cuffs. However, I think it may have been done to differentiate this animated-style Power Ring from his animated-style John Stewart counterpart a little bit. The right hand is clenched in a fist, and a sculpted power ring can be seen on one finger.
The green is a slightly different, slightly brighter shade of green than has been used on most of the Green Lanterns in the Justice League line, another means of setting the character apart somewhat. Then, of course, there's the insignia.
As one would expect, Power Ring does not have a Green Lantern symbol. The common emblem for all Power Rings has been a green X, whose two straight lines are broad at the top, and pointed at the base. Traditionally, this has been presented within a white triangle, as it was for this particular Power Ring in the comic book. For some reason, the action figure places this emblem within a white square. It's not really correct, but then again, you're not going to mistake him for Green Lantern, either. The emblem is not centered, but rather is off on the left side of the chest.
Paintwork on the figure is rather limited -- facial detail, costume trim, boots, and the emblem, but it's all been very neatly done. Obviously articulation isn't a major factor with Justice League Unlimited figures, but Power Ring has the requisite movement in his head, arms, and legs, and he stands reasonably well on his own.
Interestingly, the figure does come with an accessory! It's a large, translucent green hand, which clips to Power Ring's actual right hand, and has spring-loaded fingers to enable this "energy construct" to actually grasp other figures. It's been my experience that demonstrations of energy-based powers generally don't render well in plastic, but the Green Lantern ones (or those of their evil counterparts) tend to do a bit better, since generally speaking, a Lantern is using the energy of the ring to actually construct something, rather than just fire a beam of energy or whatever. Since Power Ring has the same capabilities as a Green Lantern, he can have a cool accessory like this.
One note about the package. There's a couple of frames from the animated series on the back. But it's not of Power Ring. There was a two-part episode in which the Justice League encountered evil counterparts from another universe, but they were known as the Justice Lords, and they were the actual alternate versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the others, rather than just close analogues. The frames on the package show the Justice Lords' Green Lantern, and it's pretty obvious. In fairness, he did have a bald head, something the "real" John Stewart hadn't adopted at this point, but even so -- at least on the Ultraman package, they superimposed the "U" symbol over a frame of Superman.
Makes me wonder what they'll do if they ever get around to Owlman and Johnny Quick, which I'd really like to see happen someday. An Owlman prototype was shown at Toy Fair or Comic-Con a couple of years ago, but that figure would certainly need a new head and cape, and it's probably just not in the budget at the moment. Of course, I'd really like to see them in the DC Universe Classics line, but in the meantime, I'll certainly take the Justice League versions.
So what's my final word here? This is a cool figure, from a cool corner of the DC Universe that is long overdue for action figures. We now have three of the five, and Power Ring is certainly a cool addition. The figure is a very capable animated-style rendition of this version of Power Ring as he appeared in the comic books. And he certainly stands alongside Superwoman and Ultraman well. As to the rest of the team, or other incarnations, we can only hope, and enjoy these in the meantime.
The JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED figure of CRIME SYNDICATE member POWER RING definitely has my highest recommendation!