REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES ULTRA BOY
As I've related in some of my previous Legion reviews, I've been a longtime fan of DC Comics' legendary LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, like since the late 1960's. Granted, the comics have had their ups and downs -- and even a few sideways -- but I've always been a fan of the basic concept and characters.
However, the Legion has never really had a major presence in the action figure world. I've tended to believe that one of the reasons for this is because, hailing as they did from a thousand years in the future, despite the periodic presence of Superboy and Supergirl, they were always somewhat isolated from the present-day DC Universe. Mego never did anything with them. Neither did Kenner or Hasbro. There was a line of them from DC Direct, but it wasn't really one of their high points, and the figures were in their very original costumes, which weren't my personal favorites.
A while back, there was a special Justice League Unlimited four-pack featuring the Legion, but that seemed to be about it. Until, at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, Mattel announced that the Legion of Super-Heroes would be joining the line-up in their flagship line -- DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS. As if there hadn't been tons of campaigning on the part of Legion fans for this to happen.
It would be, explained Mattel, a very special set. Not a two-pack, not a three-pack, not a five-pack. No -- it would be a TWELVE-pack. And even at that, the speculation as to who would be included from a membership that over the years had consisted of several dozen characters ran wild for some time until Mattel introduced the line-up.
The final dozen would include Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl -- the three founders of the team; Superboy, mostly so Mattel could turn out a classic Superboy figure; Brainiac 5, one of the most popular non-founding members; joined by Ultra Boy, Wildfire, Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Karate Kid, Chameleon Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad, in part for a little comic relief there at the end. The set also includes a figure of Proty, a semi-sentient protoplasm pet once belonging to Chameleon Boy, and a Legion flight ring.
I knew even before Mattel announced the line-up that this was a set I had to have, but then they had to go and include some of my most favorite characters. The set, after a few delays, was finally released in October 2010, as an exclusive to MattyCollector.Com.
The package is superb. It is a seven-sided stylized version of the Legion's original headquaters, a yellow rocket-like building with red fins at the top. The twelve figures are displayed within in what are designed to look like teleportation tubes, two to a section. The central section features the far larger Colossal Boy figure, and a smaller space for Proty and the ring. This does leave one empty space among the other six sections, however. This has been labeled for Legion member Invisible Kid. Little joke on Mattel's part...
Now -- there is no way that I can fairly review the entire set in one review and maintain my usual style of presenting a decent amount of backstory on the given character before reviewing the specific figure. Not without this review running the length of a doctoral thesis. And I'm not going to compromise my usual style by shortening this to a brief look at each figure and leaving it at that. There will be other such reviews elsewhere on the Internet, I'm sure.
As such, I am going to give each Legionnaire an individual review. I feel that to do less would be to do an injustice to this very cool concept, and this extremely cool set of figures. This review will take a look at ULTRA BOY. But first, an overview of the Legion itself.
The Legion of Super-Heroes is a fictional superhero team in the 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Comics Universe. The team first appears in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), and was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
Initially, the team was closely associated with the original Superboy, and was first portrayed as a group of time travelers who frequently visited him. In later years, the Legion's origin and backstory were fleshed out, and the group replaced Superboy as the focus of their stories; eventually Superboy was removed altogether, except as an occasional guest star.
The team has undergone several major reboots during its publication. The original version was replaced with a new rebooted version following the events of Zero Hour and another rebooted team was introduced in 2004. A fourth version of the team, nearly identical to the original version, was introduced in 2007. As a result, Superman (both as an adult and a teenager) and the current version of Supergirl have been reincorporated into Legion history.
Superboy was the featured series in Adventure Comics in the late 1950s. In Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), he was met by three teenagers from the 30th century: Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, who were members of a "super-hero club" called the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their club had been formed with Superboy as an inspiration, and they had time traveled to recruit Superboy as a member. After a series of tests, Superboy was awarded membership and returned to his own time.
Although intended as a one-off story focusing on Superboy, the Legion proved so popular that it returned for an encore in Adventure Comics #267 (December 1959). Lightning Boy had been renamed Lightning Lad, and their costumes were very close to those they wore throughout the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Legion's popularity grew, and they appeared in further stories in Adventure Comics and Action Comics over the next few years. The ranks of the Legion, only hinted at in those first two stories, were filled with new heroes, such as Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, and Ultra Boy. Even Supergirl was recruited as a member.
In Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962), the Legion received their own regular feature, cover-billed "Superboy in 'Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes'". While they would share space with Superboy solo stories for a couple of years, they eventually displaced Superboy entirely as their popularity grew.
It was this run which established the Legion's general workings and environment. A club of teenagers, they operated out of a clubhouse in the shape of a yellow rocket ship inverted as if it had been driven into the ground. The position of Legion leader rotated among the membership, sometimes through election, and sometimes by more arcane methods. Each Legionnaire had to possess at least one natural superpower, in particular a power which no other member possessed. Despite this, several members had overlapping powers, particularly Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. The Legion was based on Earth, and protected an organization of humans and aliens called the United Planets. The regular police force in the UP was the Science Police. The setting for each story was almost always 1000 years from the date of publication.
In 1973, the Legion returned to cover billing on a book when Superboy became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197 (August 1973). Crafted by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum, the feature proved highly popular. Cockrum was later replaced on art by Mike Grell. With #231 (September 1977), the book's title officially changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Following a wide range of epic storylines, and several rather confusing reboots, largely tied in with certain "crises" of the time, a far more familiar Legion returned on the heels of Infinite Crisis. The "Lightning Saga" crossover in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America features the return of the original versions of Star Boy (now called Starman), Dream Girl, Wildfire, Karate Kid, Timber Wolf, Sensor Girl, Dawnstar, and Brainiac 5. Though several differences between the original and Lightning Saga Legions exist, Geoff Johns has stated that this incarnation of the Legion shares the same history as the original Legion up to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, with Clark Kent having joined the team as the teenage Superboy prior to the start of his career as Superman.
This version of the Legion next appeared in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" storyline in Action Comics #858-863, and next appeared in the 2008 Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds limited series, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by George Pérez. The mini-series features the post-Infinite Crisis Legion and Superman teaming up with the "Reboot" and "Threeboot" incarnations of the Legion to fight Superboy-Prime, the Legion of Super-Villains, and the Time Trapper. Geoff Johns stated that the intent of the mini-series was to validate the existence of all three versions of the team while simultaneously restoring the pre-Crisis Legion's continuity as well. This Legion would then go on to star in its own title, which, although renumbered following the repugnant "DC Relaunch", is proving to be one of the titles least affected, although mention of the "Flashpoint event" closing off time travel to Superman's era has been made. Be nice if it turned into some sort of loophole at some point to put things right.
As for the character of ULTRA BOY -- he's one of the more interesting members of the Legion. He's one of the most powerful, and has a variety of powers, but he has a very unusual limitation as well. Let's consider his background.
Ultra Boy, real name Jo Nah of the planet Rimbor, is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Universe. Ultra Boy gained these powers when the space-speedster he was flying was swallowed by an ultra-energy beast called a "space whale", exposing him to radiation while inside. His real name is derived from the Biblical figure Jonah.
Ultra Boy first appeared in Superboy #98 (1962), in which he was sent back in time to Superboy's home town of Smallville to prove himself worthy of joining the Legion by learning Superboy's secret identity, although it is often shown everybody in the future knows Superboy's secret identity, it is possible Saturn Girl erased his memories of this. In his first adventure he only demonstrated his vision powers, known as "Penetra-Vision". It was implied he had malicious intentions in learning Superboy's secret identity. Later, in Adventure Comics #316, he explained that he could channel his ultra-energy to provide him other powers, though only one at a time. Later he was romantically linked for many years with fellow Legionnaire Phantom Girl. He was considered one of the Legion's 'big 3' (along with Superboy and Mon-El) and served two terms as leader.
The names of his parents are Crav and Mytra Nah. His girlfriend on Rimbor before he joined the Legion was An Ryd; she was later murdered by Pulsar Stargrave, who framed Ultra Boy for the crime. An early extension of his backstory made him the equivalent of a "hot-rodder," that is, of lower social class than many of the other Legionnaires.
Ultra Boy was a skilled actor; this, combined with his rough background on Rimbor and social standing, helped him infiltrate criminal groups where he appeared to "go bad". This skill also made him a valuable member of the Legion Espionage Squad; he was the only member without overt "spy" powers.
Between volumes 3 and 4 of the Legion, a five year gap in the chronology occurred, during which the team disbanded. During this period Ultra Boy proposed to Phantom Girl, but she was apparently killed in an accident. Now known simply as Jo Nah, he had become a smuggler and an outlaw on his homeworld of Rimbor. He rejoined the Legion after assassins destroyed an entire apartment building trying to kill him.
A later storyline in the V4 Legion Annual #1 showed his acting skills. It was shown that for years Ultra Boy had played "dumber" than he was, to not give away any advantage to his foes. When the time sorceress Glorith began manipulating Legion history, she figured only the smarter legionnaires might notice her manipulations, and thus acted to neutralize ones like Brainiac 5. She never suspected Ultra Boy would figure out her plan, which involved provoking a battle between the Legion and Mordru at the zenith of his power, which would destroy or weaken both, allowing her to pick up the pieces.
Realizing what this would mean, Ultra Boy first (in a fake diplomatic blunder) prevented the Legion from attacking Mordru, then, in disguise, visited Mordru and instead provoked him into attacking Glorith. This proved successful, leaving both Mordru and Glorith severely weakened. Years later Glorith finally figured out who was responsible and in revenge sent Phantom Girl into the past, leaving Ultra Boy believing her dead. Later still the Legion found themselves on the wrong side of the law and Ultra Boy adopted a new identity as Emerald Dragon.
In post-Zero Hour continuity, his background is very similar to the original. He was a gang leader on Rimbor (running a gang called the Emerald Dragons, a reference to his Five Years Later identity), before being eaten by an Ultra Energy Beast and gaining his powers from eating the creature's flesh. He initially does not join the Legion but instead joins a rival group called the Workforce, before meeting and falling in love with Apparition, the post-Zero Hour incarnation of Phantom Girl, when the Workforce and Legion are stranded on Planet Hell, a prison complex located inside the sun. Eventually Ultra Boy leaves the Workforce and becomes a member of the Legion.
Ultra Boy and Apparition eventually marry and have a son named Cub, just before the Legion's reality was rebooted for the second time.
The Legion was rebooted again in 2005. Ultra Boy in this version seems much the same as his previous versions but does not have a romantic link with Phantom Girl; he is in a relationship with Shadow Lass. Trained by Karate Kid in a more responsible and tactical use of his superpowers, it's known by at least Triplicate Girl that on Rimbor, "he is charged for a crime he never committed", but refuses to say more on the question. He is later cleared of this crime (revealed to be Vehicular Homicide) when Legion business manager M'rissy discovered evidence that lead to his innocence.
The events of the Infinite Crisis miniseries have apparently restored a close analogue of the Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Legion to continuity, as seen in "The Lightning Saga" story arc in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, and in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" story arc in Action Comics. Ultra Boy is included in their number.
Ultra Boy's source of power comes from the exposure of the radiation inside the Ultra-Energy Beast, and is not dependent on yellow-sun radiation. He has the powers of superhuman strength, flight, penetra-vision (similar to Superboy's x-ray vision, except penetra-vision allows him to see through lead), flash vision (similar to heat vision), invulnerability, and ultra-speed. All of these abilities seem to be at Kryptonian power levels, but he can only use one at a time. Also he does not appear to have super hearing.
He is vulnerable to "X-radiation", which affects him much as kryptonite harms Kryptonians. He cannot use his ultra speed to break the "time barrier" since the stress would destroy his non-invulnerable body, thus he flies with invulnerable comrades. With his Legion flight ring, he can use another power while flying.
Ultra Boy has twice been elected as leader of the Legion, and has served several terms as deputy leader.
So, there is the unusual limitation -- Kryptonian-level powers, but he can only use one at a time -- "cheating" slightly with a flight ring.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, with a couple of unusual attributes. First and foremost is the fact that Ultra Boy, along with Wildfire, is one of two male figures in the Legion set to use ADULT body molds (I'm not counting the singular Colossal Boy in this). The rest use a set of slightly shorter and very slightly more slender body molds more suited to their teenage status.
To be perfectly honest, I really don't know why Mattel did this, or singled out Ultra Boy and Wildfire. Wildfire almost makes sense, if you consider the fact that Wildfire is in reality an energy being in a containment suit. There's no logical reason why his containment suit would necessarily be scaled for that of a teenager. But why Ultra Boy? Okay, arguably, he's a powerhouse, but so's Superboy, and Superboy uses the teen body molds. (Admittedly, he might have otherwise looked a little too close to Superman if he hadn't). Makes me wonder what they'll do if they ever get around to Mon-El.
About the only advantage this has is that it will help an additional character, the forthcoming Starman, formerly known as Star Boy, fit in with the Legion set a little bit better. But it's still something of a mystery as to why they did this at all, and in Ultra Boy's case, it's not that good of a fit, especially when he sort of towers over Superboy. There was certainly never any indication in the comic books that Ultra Boy was significantly larger than anyone else.
But let's let that slide, at least for the most part. Individually, this is really a superb figure of Ultra Boy. One thing I've never been entirely certain of is whether Ultra Boy's shirt was supposed to be red or orange. I think the green leggings of his uniform always sort of threw off my color sense just a bit. If the leggings had been blue, I think I would've been convinced that his shirt was red. But green? Now my "internal color wheel" starts to lean a bit more towards orange, but that may just be my perception.
As for the figure, I'd say the shirt is -- sort of a brick-red-orange color. Maybe Mattel wasn't entirely certain, either. But it's a capable color, and certainly workable for the character.
The background profile that I found for Ultra Boy commented that, among the early Legionnaires, he had one of the "busier" costumes, and it does have a lot of detail on it. Although the shirt is mostly red-orange, it has a black collar, and double black wristbands. He is wearing a thick belt, that as much as anything vaguely resembles the sort of championship belt one would see a professional wrestler wear, just without all the ornate panels on it. The belt is gold in color, with three horizontal black lines, one on top of the other, in the wider section in the center of the belt.
Ultra Boy has black trunks, green leggings, and black boots with ridged red-orange cuffs. The belt is a separate piece, attached during assembly, but I'm not entirely sure of the boot cuffs are the result of entirely new lower legs, or just cuffs that were also attached during assembly.
Most unusual is the insignia or emblem on Ultra Boy's chest. Again, according to the background profile, it's been reported, although not verified, that the emblem is designed to look something like the so-called "space whale" that swallowed Jo Nah and gave him his powers. That may be so. To me, it looks a lot more like a sort of "thunderbird" image from Native American mythology -- although that hardly seems likely since Ultra Boy isn't even from Earth, never mind being Native American.
Whatever the case, it's an interesting symbol, and certainly distinctive to the character, although I think Mattel may have goofed, very slightly, here. The symbol in the comics has always been shown to be light green -- a lighter green than the more standard green of Ultra Boy's leggings. Somehow, on the figure, the emblem ended up yellow. I don't really consider this that big of a deal. It's not like they left Superman's red trunks off or messed with the "S" symbol or something (Oops! Never mind -- DC themselves did that...)
Ultra Boy has an excellent headsculpt. Despite the figure's larger height, his headsculpt is appropriately youthful. Ultra Boy looks quite human, Caucasian, with somewhat wavy brown hair, and rather distinct sideburns, and brown eyes. The mouth is slightly open, showing a white strip of teeth. It's really a superb headsculpt, and it has been very nicely detailed and painted.
Of course, Ultra Boy is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. His right hand has the Legion flight ring sculpted to it, painted in gold. His paint applications overall are superb, including the emblem. It may not be quite the right color, but it has been designed with great precision.
So, what's my final word? Obviously, I'm hugely impressed with the entire set, and I'm sincerely pleased that Ultra Boy is part of it. He's been one of the most prominent members of the Legion of Super-Heroes for the vast majority of its run, and certainly he deserves to be part of this set.
And just as certainly, this Legion of Super-Heroes set is one of the most astounding masterpieces of action figures that I've ever encountered. Now, I must say that there's still plenty of Legionnaires out there. Although the DC Universe Classics line will be largely restricted to a monthly subscription through MattyCollector.Com's Club Infinite Earths, I'd still like to think we haven't seen the last of the Legion. There's still many characters that I would like to see -- Element Lad, Blok, Sun Boy -- plenty more to work with.
In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful for this amazing twelve-pack, and certainly for Ultra Boy. I can't imagine any longtime Legion fan or DC Universe fan not wanting to add this set to their collection.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of ULTRA BOY, part of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 12-pack, most definitely has my highest recommendation! Long live the Legion!