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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the things I have long respected about the creators of Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures, is that they are distinct fans of the DC Universe. That applies to both the Mattel personnel and the sculptors and designers known as the Four Horsemen. I really think it helps if you really enjoy what you're working on.

They also know its history, including some of its more unusual aspects, which is why, with Wave 18 of the DC Universe Classics line, we've gotten a number of figures that might seem a little -- unusual. Certain purists or other fans who might rather see other, better known, or more contemporary characters might raise an eyebrow at these, but really, I'm delighted to see them, because to me, it lends these characters a certain legitimacy that, admittedly, they've struggled with.

The characters I am referring to are four super-heroes that were developed specifically for the Super Friends animated television series, which was developed by Hanna-Barbera in the 1970's, and had a very healthy run well into the 1980's, under a number of name changes. Although the show tended to focus on the big guns of the DC Universe -- Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, and along the way other well known heroes from the DC Universe found their way in, there was a handful of heroes, specifically created by Hanna-Barbera, that only ever really appeared in the cartoon show.

Admittedly, these four were created to provide a certain amount of racial diversity. It was a politically-correct statement of sorts before that term had even been coined -- and honestly, by modern standards, some of these characters would now seem a little derivative. Some of these heroes have had action figures before, although not extensively. This is the first time any of them have made it into a flagship line such as DC Universe Classics.

Those four individuals are SAMURAI, EL DORADO, BLACK VULCAN, and the wave's Collect-and-Connect, APACHE CHIEF. A fifth character, GOLDEN PHARAOH, was created specifically for the 1980's SUPER POWERS line from Kenner, and never even appeared in the cartoon show. He was brought into the DC Universe Classics line several waves back, and he's a superb figure. If you don't have him, track him down.

This review will take a look at the second best-known of this unusual group of heroes, who is also the Collect and Connect figure in this series, and also admittedly perhaps the most derivative visually -- APACHE CHIEF.

But first, a little history on the Super Friends series, for those of you unfamiliar with it who might think that the modern Batman, Superman, and Justice League series and their successors are where DC animation really got going.

Super Friends was an animated series about a team of superheroes, which ran from 1973 to 1986 on ABC as part of its Saturday morning cartoon lineup. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera and was based on the Justice League of America and associated characters.

The name of the program, and the JLA members featured with the Super Friends, have been variously represented (such as Super Friends and Challenge of the Super Friends for example) at different points in its broadcast history.

Plotlines for the first incarnation of the Super Friends did not involve any of the familiar DC Comics supervillains. Rather, they focused on the often far-fetched schemes of various mad scientists and aliens, who were revealed at some point in the program to be well-intentioned but pursuing their goals through an unlawful or disreputable means. Typically, at the end, all that is needed is a peaceful and reasonable discussion to convince the antagonists to adopt more reasonable methods.

The All-New Super Friends Hour departed somewhat from the previous series' formula by using villains that used much more violent methods to further their goals and typically could not be reasoned with, requiring the heroes to use force to stop them. Beginning with Challenge of the Super Friends, several of the heroes' arch-villains from the comic books, such as Lex Luthor and The Riddler, began to feature prominently in comic-style stories.

Super Friends first aired on ABC on September 8, 1973, featuring well known DC characters Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. Superman, Batman & Robin and Aquaman had each previously appeared in their own animated series produced by Filmation, and voice talent from these prior programs was brought over to work on the new show.

In addition to the superheroes, a trio of sidekicks was introduced, each of whom were new characters not drawn from the comic books: Wendy, Marvin White, and Wonderdog, none of whom had any special abilities (save the dog's unexplained ability to reason and "talk", not unlike Scooby-Doo) The trio were depicted as detectives and/or superheroes in training.

Each episode would begin with the heroes responding to an emergency detected by the massive TroubAlert computer that was situated within the Hall of Justice which served as the headquarters of the team. Colonel Wilcox, a U.S. Army official, was a recurring character who would work as a government liaison to the Super Friends during emergencies.

Conflicts were often ultimately resolved with the antagonists persuaded to adapt more reasonable methods to achieve their aims with the assistance of the heroes. Natural disasters triggered by human or occasionally alien activity were often shown, and environmental themes featured strongly in the program.

Three other DC Comics superheroes were featured as guest stars during this season: the Flash, Plastic Man, and Green Arrow. This first run of Super Friends, consisting of sixteen one hour episodes that were rerun several times, concluded on August 24, 1974.

The All-New Super Friends Hour which followed featured four animated shorts per program which followed a basic format each week. The first segment of every show featured two of the heroes, teaming up in a separate mini-story. The second segment featured a story with the newly-introduced Wonder Twins, a pair of alien heroes named Zan and Jayna, who honestly fit the bill a little better than Wendy and Marvin did, as they wore more super-hero-looking costumes and had actual super-powers -- although whether Gleek the blue space monkey was an improvement over Wonderdog may be open to some debate. The third segment was considered the "primary" adventure of the week which featured the entire Super Friends roster (including the Wonder Twins) in a longer adventure. The fourth and final segment featured a story with one of the primary lineup along with a "special guest star". The fourth segment typically featured a problem that was solved using the guest star's unique abilities.

In addition, between segments there were additional short spots with members of the Super Friends giving basic safety lessons, providing basic first aid advice, demonstrating magic tricks, creating crafts, and presenting a two-part riddle featuring the week's primary plotline.

The next segment of the show, which was also half an hour in length, was called the Challenge of the Super Friends. These stories introduced the Legion of Doom, a team of thirteen recurring foes who are the Super Friends' worst enemies. They used a swamp-based mechanical flying headquarters, the Hall of Doom, as a suitable contrast with the Super Friends' gleaming Hall of Justice.

Additional heroes that had previously appeared only as guest stars were added to the roster as well, to make a total of eleven. These included the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman, as well as three of the Hanna-Barbera creations Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, and Samurai.

Once again renamed, this time simply reverting to Super Friends in 1980, the series changed formats again, abandoning the production of half hour episodes and producing seven minute shorts. Each episode of Super Friends would feature a rerun from one of the previous six years along with three of these new shorts. These new adventures featured appearances by the core group of the five classic Super Friends along with Zan, Jayna and Gleek. There were also guest appearances from members previously depicted in Challenge of the Super Friends as well as the original Hanna-Barbera created hero El Dorado.

In September 1984, Super Friends returned with a new thirty minute program that typically featured two 11-minute stories per episode. This incarnation featured Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and the Wonder Twins and Gleek, this time teamed up with Firestorm. In addition to this core group, episodes during this season also featured some cameos by old and new Super Friends. This series featured various villains from the comic books such as Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Mirror Master and Mr Mxyzptlk, as well as Darkseid and his henchmen from Apokolips.

This season, and the one to follow, featured the "Super Powers" tag which was part of a marketing tie-in with the action figure line.

In the fall of 1985, the next version of Hanna-Barbera's depiction of the DC Comics heroes began, although it no longer carried the Super Friends name. Subtitled "Galactic Guardians", this series returned to a conventional line-up for the team, with a focus on the newer members Cyborg and Firestorm. Once again headquartered at the Hall of Justice in Metropolis, the heroes battled such familiar foes as Lex Luthor, Brainiac and the Scarecrow, as well as the recurring villain Darkseid. It also contained the first and only appearances by The Joker, The Penguin, the Royal Flush Gang and Felix Faust.

The tone of the Galactic Guardians incarnation was notably more serious than Super Friends had been in the past. Additionally, the Galactic Guardians series featured the first televised depiction of Batman's origin in the episode "The Fear". This was the final season of the series.

Now, relative to modern DC animation, Super Friends, in any of its incarnations, does come across as more than a little hokey. Nevertheless, for the time period in which it was presented, it showcased some very popular heroes, made for some great adventures, and when it ultimately tied in to the Super Powers action figure line, provided a link to an action figure line that it still very well regarded to this day, and deservedly so.

As such, while the presence of some of these oddball characters might mean that someone more closely tied to the DC Universe might have to wait his or her turn for a while, I can live with it. In contrast, these characters are still ahead of some that I really don't care whether or not they make it into the line, and even a few that already have.

So, let's consider the character of APACHE CHIEF. His real name was never revealed. In the "Challenge of the Super Friends" series, Apache Chief appeared in every episode except one, but had spoken lines in only nine out of the sixteen episodes of the series. He was voiced by Michael Rye. His arch-enemy, perhaps not surprisingly, was Giganta, who in the mainstream DC Universe is usually an arch-enemy of Wonder Woman.

By speaking the word "Inyuk-chuk", which means "Big man", Apache Chief could grow to unlimited sizes. In an episode entitled "Colossus", Apache Chief is able to grow to what might be described as cosmic proportions to battle the Colossus, a titanic space creature that plucked Earth from its orbit and placed it in a glass bottle. Originally, his powers limited his growth to only fifty feet. However, in one episode, he used the Atom's knowledge of atomic size and was able to increase his growing abilities.

Apache Chief tended to speak in somewhat stereotypical "Native American" English and was known to recite vaguely Native American philosophy. This was well before the media had really gotten the hang of political-correctness. You'd never get away with a character like this these days -- unfortunately.

Several episodes also demonstrated that Apache Chief had a superhuman tracking ability. Somebody must have been taking lessons from Wolverine on the side.

Apache Chief's origin, shown as a recording in one episode was that while he was still a young brave, we went for a walk with the chief of his tribe. The two men were attacked by a bear, but the chief - recognizing that the young brave might be ready for a test like this - gives the younger man a pouch of special magic powder, which will amplify the user's thoughts and abilities a hundredfold. The young man resolves to be strong and brave, heeding the chief's advice that whatever is in his mind at the time will be amplified by the dust. Upon sprinkling himself with the powder and invoking the magic phrase "Inyuk-chuk", Apache Chief grows to fifty feet in height, stronger and braver. He disposes of the bear without violence, proving that he has passed the test.

The extent of his power is unknown, but judging by the "Colossus" episode, it is hardly limited to fifty feet. It should be noted, although it's doubtful that this was something that ever would have been dealt with in the Super Friends series, that super-heroes for whom extreme physical growth is their primary power, often find themselves placing a greater physical strain on their systems, because even though these grow with them, the effects of gravity and other surrounding factors can also increase. One might assume that while Apache Chief can grow to fifty feet in height with relatively few effects, distinctly larger sizes would create more of a strain on his system, and he would not likely be able to maintain them for long without considerable fatigue.

Apache Chief has never appeared in the mainstream DC Comics universe. However, a Native American character known as Manitou Raven was a member of the JLA for a time. More of a magic-using shaman than anything, Manitou Raven was considered a mild tribute to Apache Chief, and was known to occasionally use the phrase "Inyuk-chuk" to invoke certain powers.

Additionally, the Justice League Unlimited series created a group of characters known as the Ultimen, which had characters similar to the additional members of the Super Friends, including Samurai, Black Vulcan, the Wonder Twins, and Apache Chief. His counterpart was known as Long Shadow, and he had similar powers of growth. Ultimately, Long Shadow was offered membership with the League, although he didn't appear afterwards.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. Now, Apache Chief IS the "Collect and Connect" figure for Wave 18, which means that you need to round up his parts which are included with the other figures in the assortment. Fortunately, it's a cool assortment. Along with his three Super Friends colleagues -- Samurai, El Dorado, and Black Vulcan, the assortment also includes Captain Boomerang -- the first Flash villain in far too long; Toyman, who's probably the least of the wave but is still cool in a peculiar sort of way; and Bronze Tiger, definitely an interesting character and worthy of inclusion in the line, certainly.

Obviously, the reason Apache Chief is the Collect-and-Connect figure in this wave is because of his power -- his ability to grow. Now, he's not the equivalent of fifty feet in height -- fortunately. I don't know that many of us have that sort of display space. But he's definitely taller than average. The average DC Universe Classics figure is about 6-1/2" in height. Apache Chief is slightly over 9-1/2" in height.

Apart from his size, Apache Chief has fairly normal body proportions. There's nothing all that extreme about him. Taken on his own, he could pass for a standard-type super-hero figure in his height range. He doesn't possess an exaggerated musculature like the Incredible Hulk or anything like that.

Not surprisingly, the figure uses some of the same body molds as Atom Smasher, another super-size hero who was available as a Collect-and-Connect quite a number of waves ago. I would also expect these body molds to turn up again, at least in part, on Colossal Boy, who will be part of the Legion of Super-Heroes set which, as of this writing, is still forthcoming.

However, Apache Chief has more distinctive parts than I would have expected. The Hanna-Barbera-created Super Friends were not noted for extensive costumes, and Apache Chief especially so. He was basically shirtless except for a vest, and this has been allowed for with a new upper torso. Also, Apache Chief's boots are entirely distinctive to the figure.

On the whole, the figure looks really amazing. This is actually the second Apache Chief figure produced by Mattel. The first was part of a three-pack of Justice League Unlimited figures, which also included Samurai and Black Vulcan, that was released some time back. That was an interesting set, since it took the Super Friends characters and remade them in the entirely different animated style of the Justice League series -- and actually did a good job getting away with it.

The animation style used by the Super Friends series was something that I would probably best describe as "simplified realistic". It wasn't at all stylized or exaggerated -- except for some of the supporting characters. The main heroes were very straightforward in their appearance. But, at the same time, there wasn't a lot of detail, either with the basic lines, or in the color schemes. Such was the animation of the time.

Apache Chief has been designed to work with the rest of the DC Universe Classics line, which means he has been sculpted very realistically and with a very great deal of detail. The end result is extremely impressive, of course, but almost unsettling in a way -- but not a bad way -- since what we have here is an Apache Chief figure that looks a lot better than he ever did in the animation, and is not at all stylized to fit a different format like the Justice League Unlimited version.

Of all of the Hanna-Barbera-created characters, Apache Chief has almost certainly the simplest and most minimal costume. One wonders if it could even be called a super-hero costume, or if it's just some sort of tribal gear that he might wear anyway, in the admittedly more stereotypical universe in which Super Friends took place. Apache Chief is wearing a dark orange headband, and has a dark orange necklace that looks like fabric. He is wearing a brown, leather-like vest, a wide dark orange belt, a brown, leather-like loincloth that hangs down in the front and back, as well as brown trunks underneath, dark orange wristbands, and boots that definitely have a western Native American sort of look to them.

The detail work on all of this is extremely impressive. The boots have visible stitching on them. So does the vest and loincloth. They're clearly designed to look handmade, and obviously have a far greater level of detail than the original cartoon was ever able to give the character. The vest and loincloth are extremely flexible and in no way hinder the figure's articulation.

Apache Chief's headsculpt is excellent. He looks Native American, and maybe a little stereotypical, but he has a serious expression on his face, one of heroic determination, definitely. Hey, if G.I. Joe team member Spirit Iron-Knife can get away with a fairly stereotypical look in 1984, and even later, then I think anyone inclined to complain now should cut Apache Chief a little slack.

Apache Chief has long black hair, extremely well sculpted, and also clearly designed as a separate piece, combined with the headband, that was attached to the main part of the head during assemble. It's also very flexible, and doesn't interfere with head movement at all. Although if you raise it up on the sides you can't help but notice that Apache Chief doesn't have any ears! That's not a complaint, just an observation.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated, and Apache Chief is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.

Any complaints? None whatsoever. This is really an outstanding figure, and accompanied by his colleagues Samurai, Black Vulcan, and El Dorado, finally allows these cool characters from the Super Friends to join a more modern branch of the DC Universe through the DC Universe Classics action figure line. I am sincerely pleased that they have been given the opportunity to do so. I suspect these characters have always been seen as second-rate at best, and while they may not be top players, they were part of one of the most successful DC animated series of all time. They've earned respect for that.

So, what's my final word? Although it will likely require the purchase of the entirety of Wave 18 of DC Universe Classics in order to assemble Apache Chief, he's worth it, as are the other standard-sized figures in the assortment. He's a magnificent rendition of the character, and the assortment ensures that his friends from Super Friends are on hand as well. Anyone with a longtime appreciation of DC animation will enjoy this figure.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS "Collect-and-Connect" figure of APACHE CHIEF definitely has my highest recommendation!