REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES WILDFIRE
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 WILDFIRE, one of my personal favorites. 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 travelled 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 WILDFIRE, as I said earlier, he's one of my personal favorites, and believe me, his inclusion in this set was one of the major points for me. My first encounter with him was not long after the character was first introduced to the Legion, just as he became a member of the team. Apparently he was pretty popular with other fans, as well, because it wasn't long before he was actually elected team leader. Let's consider the history of the character.
Wildfire was created by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum, and debuted in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #195 (June 1973).
Wildfire was immediately popular with readers. At that time, the editors of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes held periodic elections in which readers could choose the Legion's leader. Soon after his introduction, Wildfire was elected to that post. In-story, Wildfire actually lost the election to Superboy, but as no candidate had received a majority of the votes, the membership decided that the Legion needed a member who was available full-time rather than the time-travelling, part-time Kryptonian member.
Wildfire was originally Drake Burroughs, an astroengineer from Earth. While working on a new propulsion system, the unit's safety valve snapped and discharged a blast of anti-matter energy. Burroughs was engulfed instantly but somehow his consciousness survived and Burroughs found himself transformed into a being of pure anti-energy.
Fortunately, his colleagues had on hand a containment suit that could be used to keep Drake's anti-energy from dispersing. Once confined to a specific area, Drake's energy form stabilized and became self-regenerating. He again possessed a semblance of humanoid form; however, he had no mouth, eyes, nose, or ears, but rather a blank metallic faceplate, and lacked the senses of taste and smell.
Drake also had vast super-powers, comparable in scale, though not specific expression, to those of a Kryptonian or Daxamite. Some of his powers included super-strength, near-invulnerability, flight at faster-than-light speeds, various enhanced vision powers including x-ray, the ability to create simple, pseudo-solid energy constructs like a Green Lantern (though not nearly as elaborate), the ability to absorb outside energy sources, and the ability to change size from giant to homunculus to normal. Most potent of his abilities was the power to fire energy blasts. He was reluctant to use that ability because of an accident in which he nearly killed his former girlfriend.
Calling himself ERG-1 (Energy Release Generator 1), Drake decided to petition for membership in the Legion, thinking his litany of powers would guarantee his admittance. To his surprise, he was turned down because all the abilities he demonstrated were duplicates of those of Mon-El, Colossal Boy, Chemical King, Phantom Girl, and Shrinking Violet; he had not demonstrated his energy blasting or manipulation abilities because he was afraid he could not control them safely. At this time, the Legion's bylaws required that each member possess at least one superpower no other active member did.
Anxious to prove his abilities, he followed several Legionnaires on a mission to a planet called Manna-5. On this mission, Colossal Boy was knocked unconscious by an enemy machine and none of the other Legionnaires present (Phantom Girl and Chemical King) had the power to save him. ERG-1 destroyed the machine, but expelled his entire energy form from his containment suit. Because his energy form was invisible, the Legionnaires assumed he had been killed in saving Colossal Boy and that ERG-1 had not demonstrated his energy powers earlier because they could only be used once.
However, ERG-1 was alive. By now, his energy form was stable enough so that he could survive without his suit, though he could neither take humanoid form nor communicate with anyone. He followed the Legionnaires back to Earth where they put his containment suit on display. Upon reaching the Legionnaries' headquarters he managed to regain the suit and, in the usual heroic fashion, save the Legion from another menace. He was then admitted to the team and adopted the name Wildfire.
Over time, Wildfire lost many of his powers. This was partly because of the trauma of the explosive exit from his containment suit. In addition, his original containment suit was eventually destroyed and subsequent copies were not as versatile. His later suits were also not nearly as durable and it was easier to cause him to be expelled from it. Even so, he always retained his flight, energy absorption, energy projection, and super strength, and was commonly considered among the four most powerful Legionnaires along with Superboy, Mon-El and Ultra Boy.
Wildfire acquitted himself well in battle, establishing that his raw power was comparable to a Kryptonian's. As leader, Wildfire got mixed reviews. Though he was decisive and a gifted tactician, his poor people skills swiftly alienated many of his fellow members (though not, ironically, Superboy; at the conclusion of a particularly rough crisis, he told his one-time rival that he had become "one hell of a leader"). He led the Legion through the Earthwar and Omega crises but was defeated for re-election by Lightning Lad.
Shortly after becoming leader, Wildfire recruited a young Amerindian mutant, Dawnstar. He soon became enamored of her, but for years theirs was a love-hate relationship. It was clear to their teammates that they were extremely fond of each other, if not actively in love, but Dawnstar would not admit to her feelings. Wildfire, in return, was often passive-aggressive in his treatment of her. It was eventually revealed that Dawnstar did reciprocate his feelings. However, she feared that she would never know physical love since Wildfire did not possess a physical body.
Some time later, the Legion admitted an extra-dimensional being named Quislet. Like Wildfire, Quislet was an entity of pure energy and required a containment device to survive on Earth; unlike Wildfire, though, Quislet's condition was natural to his species. He taught Wildfire how to control his energy form without needing the containment suit. In this new form, Wildfire was much closer to human, being visible, tangible, and possessing facial features. However, his body was still so hot that his mere touch burned Dawnstar. He might have attained greater control of his temperature given further lessons with Quislet, but before he could do so, Quislet's own containment device was destroyed and he was forced to return to his own dimension. Quislet had been surreptitiously assisting Wildfire to maintain physical form, and after he left, Wildfire quickly lost the ability to maintain his form. He resumed use of the containment suit.
Following Zero Hour, Wildfire was absent from Legion comics for some years, and when he returned, it was with a drastically different origin, which since it doesn't really apply to the classic version of the character presented in figure form, I won't bother to get into here.
At the present time, Wildfire is back with the Legion, in a vastly different-looking containment suit -- which is nevertheless pretty cool -- that appears to be mostly translucent except for some red framework, and showcases the powerful energy form of Drake Burroughs within. The most prominent Wildfire of the various alternate Legions, who also appeared in the "Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Earths" storyline, has a uniform moderately reminiscent of the original costume design, but it has a far more armored appearance to it. It sort of reminds me of a cross between Wildfire, and the Spartan armor from the HALO video games, with maybe a little Iron Man thrown in for good measure.
None of these are bad designs, but I am pleased that the figure uses the classic Wildfire costume. And I've always seen Wildfire's personality as not unlike Green Arrow's -- more than a little cynical and sarcastic, and somehow that much more jarring coming from a character from a thousand years in the future.
So, how's the figure? Really outstanding. If anyone had told me when Wildfire was introduced and I first became aware of him that I would one day own a Wildfire action figure, I doubt I would have believed it. Of course, at the time, Mego ruled the action figure roost, and never really did anything with the Legion. To give you an idea of how desperate I was for some sort of figural representation of the Legion, I actually once drew and made cardboard cut-outs of the characters around this time. Not the most durable things around...
Although Wildfire was introduced in 1973, he's arguably more recent a character than the vast majority of the best-known members of the team. As such, although DC Direct did produce a series of very classic Legion of Super-Heroes figures a number of years ago, Wildfire was not among them, and I believe this DC Universe Classics figure to be the first-ever action figure of the character.
The figure is a little different than most of his peers. Although many of the figures in this set use a common set of body molds that are slightly smaller than average, a sort of "teen male hero" set, which renders the figures about 6" in height relative to the more common 6-3/4" for an adult figure, two figures in the set -- Wildfire and Ultra Boy -- inexplicably use one of the adult body mold sets, with appropriate modifications for their costumes.
To be honest, I'm not sure why Mattel chose to do this with either character. In the case of Ultra Boy, I can only surmise that they wanted to present him as a powerhouse of a character. To what degree that description is even appropriate I don't really know. He's arguably as strong as Superboy, but he can only use one of his super-powers at a time.
In the case of Wildfire, it almost makes sense. Wildfire exists as a shapeless form of energy. He needs a containment suit to fully assume a humanoid form, and there's no reason to assume that his original containment suit, as colorful as it may be, was necessarily scaled for a teenager, even if that's how he was generally drawn. And there is that bit about being able to alter his size early on. If he wants to make himself slightly larger, who's going to say he can't?
The overall costume design is very cool, and I've always liked it. As one might expect for a character named Wildfire, it uses a lot of "warm" colors. Wildfire is wearing a mostly red helmet, with a dark metallic blue faceplate. This is the only "face" the character has to speak of. It makes him look a little different, and adds a bit of mystery to the character. I have to give the creators a lot of credit. Given the diversity of super-powers within the Legion, and just in super-herodom in general, it can't be easy to come up with a new and really distinctive character. Wildfire -- an energy being contained within a special suit -- is a cool idea.
The helmet tapers down the neck and almost to the shoulders. The bulk of the uniform is a yellow-orange in color, with red trunks and a red upward diagonal section on the abdomen and lower back. He is wearing a yellow belt, and has red gloves and boots. The gloves have slight cuffs to them, the boots have considerable cuffs to them, with downward-pointing angles. For a containment suit, this thing is pretty ornate.
Wildfire has an emblem on his chest, a yellow stay with blazing red wings coming out of the sides. Overall, this is really an outstanding figure of the character, in his most iconic and familiar likeness. It's just amazing, really.
Any criticisms? Well, yes, but they're minimal. The waist and head are a little looser than I would like, but I've also encountered far worse within the line, and given how tightly articulated most of the other Legion figures are, this may be strictly comparative. And the right hand isn't quite inserted as far as it should be into the lower right arm. I'm not sure what's caused this, and I'm afraid to try to remove the hand to find out. And these criticisms are not ones that would likely apply to the entire run of Wildfire figures.
Of course, Wildfire 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.
So, what's my final word? Obviously, I'm hugely impressed with the entire set, and certainly, Wildfire deserves to be a part of it. He's been a longtime favorite character of mine, I was especially elated when I discovered he would be a part of this set, and I am immensely pleased and impressed with this abundantly cool figure of him.
And certainly, this Legion of Super-Heroes set is one of the most astounding masterpieces of action figures that I've ever encountered. Now, I will say that there's still plenty of Legionnaires out there. I realize that in 2012, the DC Universe Classics line will move to an online subscription service, which will also limit the number of figures being produced. But I also sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of the Legion. If I were to list my top five of additional Legionnaires that I would like to see, that list would likely feature Mon-El, Sun Boy, Element Lad, Shadow Lass, and Blok. Let's hope that someday we may see these superb characters as figures.
In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful for this amazing twelve-pack, and certainly for Wildfire. 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 WILDFIRE, part of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 12-pack, most definitely has my highest recommendation! Long live the Legion!