REVIEW: DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES CHEETAH
I've said it every time I've reviewed one of these action figures, but -- well, it needs to be said. There can be little question that the top producer of action figures over much of the 1970's was Mego. Their eight-inch, cloth-costumed figures dominated the action figure world, and across a wide range of concepts that I don't believe has been matched by a single toy company, and certainly not with such compatibility, since. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Dukes of Hazzard, Wizard of Oz, Starsky and Hutch, Happy Days -- along with largely in-house concepts of public domain characters such as Robin Hood, Pirates, Western characters, King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable -- all this and more, all designed along the same basic handful of body types. It was an amazing time, that is very fondly remembered by those who enjoyed it.
And there's enough fond memories of it so that any number of companies have sought to bring in back in one form or another. EmCe Toys has been bringing us Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, among others. Another company has been producing Mego-esque figures of licenses that Mego never had, although it would've been awfully cool if they did, such as the Six Million Dollar Man and the original Battlestar Galactica.
And then there's Mattel, and their DC Universe license. They produced a very nice set of Mego-type figures, even coming as close as they could to duplicating the packaging, and called the DC Retro-Action Super-Heroes. Although the line's run was unfortunately rather short at retail, it's still possible to find the figures here and there through various online outlets, and one of the figures I was recently able to add to my collection is Wonder Woman's arch-enemy, the CHEETAH!
I have been impressed with how Mattel directed their Retro-Action line. They chose the top eight heroes in the DC Universe, seven of whom formed the foundation of the Justice League -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. Then they threw in an eighth -- Green Arrow -- as a special offering through MattyCollector.Com, and as a way to introduce the line.
Arguably, Green Arrow was an oddball choice for Mego back in the day, especially when you consider that they never got around to Flash and Green Lantern, who were more prominent heroes. They never did Martian Manhunter, either, but he wasn't as prominent in the 1970's. Mattel's line has also given us a lot of villains that never saw the light of day from Mego, pairing one hero to one villain across their assortments. Superman got Lex Luthor, Batman got Two-Face, Flash got Captain Cold, and so forth. Martian Manhunter had the dubious honor of getting Darkseid, who's pretty much everyone's enemy.
Which brings us to Wonder Woman. She obviously got Cheetah. Now, I don't have the Wonder Woman figure -- yet. Working on that one, as of this writing. But at this point, it's worth addressing how Mego handled their female super-heroes. Across the entire expanse of their World's Greatest Super-Heroes line, there were ultimately only seven females. The adage that "female action figures don't sell" applied then, much as it still does.
Of those seven, three were moderately special cases. One was Wonder Girl, who was sold in a distinctive assortment of slightly shorter figures representing the Teen Titans, an assortment that was rounded out with Speedy, Kid Flash, and Aqualad. It's an exceptionally popular group to this day. Another was Isis, a character created mostly by Filmation, who had produced a live-action "Shazam" series around Captain Marvel, and decided to expand. The third was the Invisible Girl, a member of Marvel's Fantastic Four, and Mego pretty much had to do her if they were going to do the other three.
That leaves the core assortment of what Mego marketed as the "World's Greatest Super-Gals", a group of four DC characters that included Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, and Catwoman.
Although certainly the figures were compatible in size to their male allies and enemies, the design of the figures was slightly different. They were a lot more doll-like. Along with having rooted hair, the facial designs and expressions, with large, roundish eyes, pert little noses, and perky little grins, seemed more suitable to something closer to fashion dolls than action figures. Wonder Girl and Isis suffered from the same oddity. Only the Invisible Girl managed to escape this, as well as females from licensed lines, who had to have more realistic appearances, such as Star Trek's Lt. Uhura.
Regardless of these peculiarities, the "Super-Gals" proved popular enough, and these days can be among the most sought-after of the Mego figures, especially Supergirl.
But, there was never a figure of the Cheetah -- until now. The modern Cheetah -- well, pre "New 52", anyway -- I have no idea what might be taking place in the comics at the moment -- is a woman named Barbara Ann Minvera. But as she didn't come along until sometime after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that storyline was sometime after Mego had ceased to exist, Mattel rightly chose the original, classic Cheetah to become a figure in their Retro-Action line, and her real name is Priscilla Rich. Let's have a look at her history, and then her Retro-Action figure.
Priscilla Rich, the first woman to become the Cheetah, in Wonder Woman #6 (October 1943), is a 1940s-era blonde debutante of aristocratic upbringing from Washington DC, who also has an overwhelming inferiority complex and suffers from a split personality.
After being eclipsed by Wonder Woman at a charity event, Priscilla retreats to her room and collapses before her makeup mirror. There she sees an image of a woman dressed like a cheetah. "Horrors!" she cries, as she gazes at her evil inner-self for the first time. "Don't you know me?" replies the reflection. "I am the REAL you—the Cheetah—a treacherous, relentless huntress!" The image commands her to fashion a Cheetah costume. "From now on," intones the reflection, "when I command you, you shall go forth dressed like your TRUE self and do as I command you..."
Priscilla was a member of Villainy Inc., a criminal association between several of Wonder Woman's female foes.
Priscilla had several run-ins with Wonder Woman before retiring to her North Shore Maryland mansion. In Wonder Woman #274 (Dec. 1980), the villain Kobra attempts to recruit the villainess for his organization. His operative finds the reclusive Priscilla an invalid. Priscilla's niece Deborah Domaine had come at her bidding, and the operative stays to observe. Before Priscilla can unburden her alter ego as the Cheetah, she dies.
Events changed somewhat following 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. The original Cheetah, Priscilla Rich, is established as still existing post-Crisis when Queen Hippolyta becomes the Golden Age Wonder Woman. In the present, she is seen as an elderly woman when she is murdered by Barbara Minerva, the Modern Age Cheetah.
It is also established that she never became an invalid post-Crisis, as Minerva mentions how Priscilla had written books condemning her when she became the Cheetah. Rich is murdered in her home by Minerva, under the urging of the villain Zoom. Zoom theorizes that if Minerva kills Rich, she would solidify herself as the one true Cheetah and thus be a better villain.
Deborah Domaine also took on the role of Cheetah for a time, and there is reason why I go into her history as well.
Deborah 'Debbie' Domaine was introduced as the niece of Priscilla Rich. A beautiful young debutante, Debbie feels remorse for her wealthy upbringing and decides to become an ecology activist, meeting Wonder Woman and striking up a friendship with her. Later that same day, Debbie is summoned to her Aunt Priscilla's mansion and finds her there, succumbing to illness.
After Priscilla Rich dies, Kobra's operatives capture Deborah and bring her and the Cheetah costume to Kobra's headquarters, where he questions her: "You didn't know about your aunt's secret life, did you? Well, you'll learn—Since we couldn't have the original, we decided to make do with a recreation. You shall be that recreation, Ms. Domaine."
Kobra tortures and brainwashes Debbie and provides her with an updated version of the Cheetah costume. The original suit included a cat-eared cowl and clawed, flat-soled boots. Debbi's version has a V-neck, slit to the sternum, a headband with cat-ears (concealed for the most part beneath her long, auburn hair), and heeled boots. Both costumes include razor-sharp chrome steel nails, painted bright red. "You are my servant, and I, your master. You are the Cheetah!" he cries, "And you will fill the world with terror!" Debbi has several conflicts with Wonder Woman and also serves as a member of the Secret Society of Super Villains in a conflict with both the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America.
The Priscilla Rich version of Cheetah has also appeared in other media, including a number of "alternate realities" within DC Comics.
A modernized version of Priscilla Rich appears as one of the primary antagonists of the Wonder Woman feature in Wednesday Comics. Here, she is portrayed as a young archaeologist from a wealthy Baltimore family, who relies on enchanted artifacts to grant her superhuman abilities. She initially befriends a young Diana, (before she has become Wonder Woman), after meeting her, but soon reveals her treacherous nature when she kidnaps Diana's friend Etta and uses her as bait for a trap set by Doctor Poison. In the end, both Priscilla and Poison are defeated by Wonder Woman.
The Priscilla Rich version of the Cheetah appears as a member of the Legion of Doom in Alex Ross' Justice maxi-series. Here, she is shown to have fashioned her costume from the fur of her pet cheetahs, which she violently killed and skinned in an ancient ritual (likely reminiscent of the Barbara Ann Minerva version).
In television, the Priscilla Rich version of Cheetah appears in Challenge of the Super Friends and was voiced by Marlene Aragon. In one of the Cheetah's most memorable episodes, "The Secret Origins of the Super Friends", the Legion of Doom travel into the past to eliminate Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman before they can become heroes. The villains arrive at Paradise Island, moments before Princess Diana will compete in the Tournament she will win to become Wonder Woman. The Cheetah disguises herself as an Amazon to compete in the games and stop Diana, her athletic skills allowing her to get through most of the competition. As the tournament ends, only Diana and the Cheetah remain in contention and meet each other in a battle of stun rays to crown a winner. To assist her, the Cheetah uses "radar controlled" bracelets to deflect Diana's laser rays back at her, stunning the Amazon Princess. The Cheetah is hailed as the winner and is presented with the uniform and weapons of Wonder Woman. The blonde villainess, now wearing the uniform of the Amazon champion, gloats in her victory, "I've done it! Now I am Wonder Woman!" The Cheetah's victory causes Diana to be removed from the future timeline, thus eliminating Wonder Woman. However the Legion of Doom's triumph is short lived. The remaining Super Friends uncover the scheme and travel back in time to undo the damage. The Flash arrives at Paradise Island and uses his super-speed to deflect the rays meant to hit Diana and back at the Cheetah, stunning her. Diana is named the winner and goes onto become Wonder Woman.
The Priscilla Rich version of Cheetah appears in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Triumvirate of Terror" voiced by Morena Baccarin. She collaborates with Lex Luthor and Joker in order to come up with a plan to defeat Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. She easily beats Superman with martial arts, Kryptonite, and the magic amulet of Orzchartaga which channels the full power of her namesake. She is later defeated by Superman who freezes her with his super breath leaving her vulnerable to Wonder Woman and Batman's finishing blows.
So, how's the figure? Very impressive. Also very interesting. Cheetah is the first female figure in the DC Retro-Action line that I have brought into my collection. Admittedly, there's only two of them anyway, but even so...
Mattel was not able -- legally, I suspect -- to precisely duplicate the Mego design, since that is currently under the auspices of EmCe Toys. So they did their best to come up with a reasonably close counterpart, and for the most part, succeeded. However, their male figures do have one odd aspect to them -- the lower torso piece is so narrow that their hips tend to stick out rather significantly, and leg articulation can be a little peculiar.
This is not the case with Cheetah. Her overall bodily proportions are excellent. Now, the Mego female design was quite a bit more complicated than the male design, I believe due to the fact that it was carried over from a short-lived fashion doll that Mego produced in its early years. The doll's name was "Dinah-Mite", and she was marketed as a far more articulated fashion doll than the larger, but admittedly far less articulated Barbie. Hilariously, Dinah-Mite's boyfriend doll used the same headsculpt as Mego's Superman. Make your own jokes.
It was a good design, but it was more complex than Mego's male figures. Nevertheless, it served the female action figures without a problem. I have to say I have not been impressed with EmCe Toys' attempts to duplicate it. I bought their Planet of the Apes' Zira figure, and it was such a disaster, not even able to stand up on its own, and tending to thrash around when one would try to pose it as if it was having some sort of fit, that I got rid of it and I've been afraid to buy Lt. Uhura. A shame, given how good their male figures are.
Cheetah is wearing an all-covering bodysuit, so I can't really analyze the body structure all that closely, but while it doesn't seem to be quite as complex as the original Mego design, neither does it have the problems of EmCe's reproductive attempt. Cheetah is superbly poseable, holds her poses, and stands up well on her own. The worst thing I can say about it is that the neck seems a little long, and the head just a touch wobbly. But it's nothing I can't accept.
The headsculpt is excellent. It doesn't have the overly "cute" look of Mego's original figures. Cheetah is wearing a headpiece that covers her entire head, except for her face, so she doesn't have rooted hair. The headpiece has been molded as part of the head, much as a cowl and mask would be for Batman or Flash or someone. The headpiece is gold in color, with rounded, cat-like ears, and a series of brown spots.
Cheetah's face is fairly basic looking, but one would expect that from a figure trying to emulate the days of Mego. The various facial details are nicely done, however, and the paint detailing of the eyes, eyebrows, and lipstick are done with great precision.
Cheetah is wearing a gold body-suit with a high collar, and a snap in the back. The fabric is an elastic knit, of a somewhat thinner but tighter weave than Mego used, and it holds the form of the figure somewhat better. As such, it works a good bit better as a super-hero costume, even though I doubt it would be as resilient to play -- not that these figures are intended for that. It certainly looks good on Cheetah. A very well-tailored costume.
Now, if you look at illustrations of this character, including the illustration on the back of her package card, Cheetah's entire costume is covered in brown, cheetah-like spots. The figure's costume is not, however, with only some spots on the fabric part of the costume around the neck and shoulders, as well as on the plastic headpiece and boots.
This is an interesting approach, and one that I'm not sure Mego would have taken. In fact, I can see how Mego probably would have done it. Any character that had a particularly complicated costume, and this included Spider-Man and Wonder Woman particularly, but also the Human Torch and the Thing, received a bodysuit with the costume pattern printed on it, in full color.
In the case of Spider-Man and Wonder Woman, that printing had to be pretty precise, to match the designs of their costumes. In the case of the Human Torch and the Thing, it didn't need to be as precise. The Human Torch wore a one-piece body-suit with a flame pattern printed on it, coming close to his appearance of the time. It didn't need to line up with a belt line or gloves and boots. The Thing had the orange, rock-like sections of his body printed onto fabric, and then sewn into a costume that also included his blue trunks. Again, the rocks didn't need to match any specific pattern. It could probably be argued that no two Thing figures had exactly the same costume.
Had Mego cone a Cheetah figure, they probably would've cut a bodysuit from a yellow-gold fabric that had been imprinted with random cheetah-like spots. It would've worked regardless of how the spots fell, for the most part.
Mattel didn't do this, and in fact the amount of spots on the fabric part of her costume is fairly limited. However, neither is it the same sort of printing process that Mego used. It's almost like some sort of decal, for lack of a better word, and seems to be the same process that Mattel has used to adhere emblems to other costumes, such as Superman's "S" shield, or the Flash's lightning bolt.
It may be that it simply wasn't practical or feasible for one reason or another to do the entire costume like this. But, honestly, it doesn't look bad as it is. There's still no question that this character is who she is -- the Cheetah. You're not going to mistake her for anyone else.
Cheetah is also wearing plastic boots, somewhat flexible, with fairly high heels. I'll have to verify this as such time as I get the Wonder Woman figure, but I suspect they use the same molds. It doesn't take much to imagine these boots molded in red, rather than in yellow-gold and covered with brown spots. I am impressed with how well the color of the plastic matches the color of the fabric.
And -- Cheetah has a tail! There's a length of fabric sewn to the back of her costume. The last time I saw this was on Mego's Catwoman figure, but Cheetah has an advantage over her. There's a little wire in the tail, that makes it flexible! You can "pose" the tail however you like!
Of course, the figure is very well articulated. Cheetah is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles, although the ankles are hindered somewhat by the boots.
So, what's my final word? I'm extremely pleased and impressed with this figure -- really with the entire line. I had a great many Megos in my younger years, and I still have fond memories of them. I am grateful to companies like EmCe and Mattel, for doing what they can to bring them back, and even add to them. EmCe gave us Sulu and Chekov in Star Trek, something Mego never quite got around to, and Mattel has given us quite a number of DC characters that Mego never made, as well.
Although the Retro-Action line is not easily found these days, having apparently run its course at retail, the figures still can be found at various online outlets. Cheetah is definitely a winner in the series, a superbly made figure with an excellent costume, and a decidedly Mego-esque vibe to her. I believe any fan of the character, or anyone with fond memories of Mego, will be delighted and impressed with this figure. I certainly am.
The DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES figure of THE CHEETAH definitely has my highest recommendation!