REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS "OCEAN WARRIOR" AQUAMAN
Variations are nothing new in any action figure line these days. Generally speaking, it's an inexpensive way of getting multiple uses out of (more or less) the same set of molds, while creating a variant that is either interesting enough that those interested in the overall line of which it is a part, or the specific character of which is is a variant, will want to add it to their collection, or a variant that is rare enough that the die-hards in the hobby will take whatever steps necessary to get their hands on it.
The "rare" variants can be really annoying. Fortunately the ones that I've been interested in over the years have been few and far between. The other type of variant -- well, it rather depends on the variant, doesn't it?
The world of DC Universe Classics has had plenty of variants. Some of these have been interesting, some less so. I picked up the gold-colored Captain Atom for perhaps the strangest reason of all -- I was having a heck of a time finding a properly constructed standard Captain Atom and wanted at least one Captain Atom in my collection. I finally got a decent silver one. Then there was the "unmasked" Batman Beyond. Okay, the more realistic sculpt of Terry McGinnis was nicely done, but I'm collecting super-heroes, not secret identities. The "Sinestro Corps" version of Sinestro was impressive, representing a very cool storyline, even though Sinestro in his original uniform is perhaps better known. So I accepted both.
And so we come to "Ocean Warrior" Aquaman. Technically, this figure isn't really a variant. Aquaman appeared in Series 2 of the DC Universe Classics series, and technically, there was a variation there. You could have either the original Aquaman, or the modern Aquaman who's a different individual entirely, but dresses similarly. "Ocean Warrior" Aquaman is the original Aquaman, but in a uniform that is at once so obscure and also so complicated I'm surprised they did it.
Let's consider some of the background of the character of Aquaman:
The character debuted in More Fun Comics #73 (Nov. 1941). Aquaman's origin has been reworked more times than is easily related. Since back in the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics, origins were generally less detailed than they are today, I think it best if in this case I relate the most up-to-date history of the classic Aquaman, as moderately contradictory as that may sound.
In 1989, the Legend of Aquaman Special rewrote the Sea King's mythos and origin, though keeping most of his Silver Age history intact. The special was by writer Robert Loren Fleming, with plots/breakdown art by Keith Giffen and full pencil art by artist Curt Swan.
The Modern Age Aquaman was born as Orin to Queen Atlanna and the mysterious wizard Atlan in the Atlantean city of Poseidonis, was abandoned on Mercy Reef as a baby because of his blond hair, which was seen by the superstitious Atlanteans as a sign of a curse they called "the Mark of Kordax." The only individual who spoke up on Orin's behalf was Vulko, a scientist who had no patience for myth or superstition. While his pleas were to no avail, Vulko would later become a close friend and advisor to the young Orin.
As a feral child who raised himself in the wilds of the ocean with only sea creatures to keep him company, Orin was found and taken in by a lighthouse keeper named Arthur Curry who named Orin "Arthur Curry" after himself. One day Orin returned home and found that his adoptive father had disappeared, so he set off on his own. In his early teens, Orin ventured to the far north, where he met and fell in love with an Inupiat girl named Kako. He also first earned the hatred of Orm, the future Ocean Master who was later revealed to be Arthur's half-brother by Atlan and an Inupiat woman.
Orin then returned to the seas, mostly staying out of humanity's sight, until he discovered Poseidonis. He was captured by the city's then-dictatorial government and placed in a prison camp, where he met Vulko, also a prisoner of the state, who taught Orin the language and ways of the Atlanteans. While Orin was there he realized that his mother was also being held captive, but after her death he broke out and fled. Eventually, he made his way to the surface world, where under the name of "Aquaman" he became one of several superheroes emerging into the public view at the time. Upon his return to Poseidonis he was made the king, and sometime later he met and married Mera.
The publication of writer Peter David's The Atlantis Chronicles #1-7 (Mar-Sep 1990), which told the story of Atlantis from antediluvian times to Aquaman's birth, successfully revived interest in the character. Significantly, it was in this limited series that the ancient Atlantean characters Orin (whose name was given as Aquaman's Atlantean name) and Atlan (who was revealed to be Aquaman's father) were introduced.
A new Aquaman ongoing series (#1-13) thereafter ran from December 1991 to December 1992, which portrayed Aquaman reluctantly deciding to remain in Poseidonis as its protector once again. For a time, he served as Atlantis' representative to the United Nations but always found himself thrust back into the superhero role. Becoming more and more of a workaholic and solitary figure, Aquaman eventually returned to the oceans.
Peter David returned to the character in another limited series, Aquaman: Time and Tide, a 1993/1994 four-issue series which further explained Aquaman's origins as he finally learned all about the history of his people through the Atlantis Chronicles (presented as historical texts passed down and updated through the centuries). Aquaman learned that his birth name was Orin and that he and his enemy Ocean Master shared the same father, "an ancient Atlantean wizard" called Atlan. This revelation set the stage for later confrontations between the two, as it was said that "two brothers will also battle for control of Atlantis" (the Silver Age Aquaman had always known that the Ocean Master was his half-brother Orm, although Orm's amnesia prevented him from remembering that fact for some time).
It is at this point that Aquaman's history deviates from anything familiar in this or the Series 2 action figure. He received his own ongoing series that had a run of some seventy-five issues. It was during this time that he lost his left hand, adopting a number of replacements, the best known of which was a hooked hand that could be shot along a retractable cable like a harpoon. At this point in time, Aquaman had grown his hair long, and a beard, and wore partial body armor over his chest, and was, for the most part, a pretty grim customer. This portrayal of the character became decidedly well-known due to animated media presentations in the 1990's and 2000's, and because of his presence on the revitalized and decidedly popular JLA comics title. There were also several action figures of this version of the character.
In 2003, a new Aquaman comic series was started up, and Aquaman was given a new replacement hand composed of "mystic water", and he regained a more classic look, including an orange shirt, green leggings, and he went out and got a haircut and shave while he was at it.
During this time, Aquaman went to San Diego after a massive earthquake plunged half the city into the Pacific Ocean. He soon discovered that the survivors of the catastrophe were able to breathe underwater and began helping them to rebuild the submerged portion of the city they now called "Sub Diego".
Aquaman met a rather unpleasant fate during the time of Infinite Crisis and the subsequent Countdown story, culminating in the 50th issue of his own title. Given that I feel that this was a horrible mistreatment of a classic character, I won't relate the details here.
As for this "Ocean Warrior" Aquaman figure, where did he come from? Well, I think the "Ocean Warrior" part is as much a way for Mattel to distinguish the figure from previous versions as much as anything. This Aquaman, or more specifically, this costume, first appeared in 1986, not long after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in a four-issue mini-series that was very well-received. A follow-up was planned, but ultimately canceled over creative problems. However, the costume again appeared in 1988, in Aquaman Special #1.
Nevertheless, it's not a particularly well-known Aquaman costume. On the one hand, I can see why Mattel would proceed with it. From a molding standpoint, the figure is simple. The basic "male hero" body that Mattel has developed, with the already existing Aquaman head placed on it. This Aquaman doesn't have any molding issues like a scaled shirt or fins on the back of his legs.
On the other hand -- the painting department must've had fits. The molding department can't have been that happy, either, as this figure is molded in at least three different colors.
There were two reasons I bought this figure. One was for the "Collect-and-Connect" piece of Atom Smasher (see separate review). But that wasn't even the main reason. Although I tend to prefer my super-heroes to look as traditional as possible, and nothing's ever really beaten the classic orange-and-green uniform, and to be honest, I didn't actually read the 1986 mini-series, I will say that this unusual costume is a very close second-favorite of mine. The costume has a very definite undersea look to it.
I think I recall reading one time, somewhere, that this particular Aquaman costume was some sort of Atlantean ceremonial uniform that the King of Atlantis is supposed to wear just before going into battle or some such. That would justify the "Ocean Warrior" moniker, at least.
Honestly, the costume does look exactly like what you'd expect an underwater warrior to wear -- especially if he was big on camouflage. Land-based real-world military personnel tend to dress in camouflage according to their environments, mostly patchy greens and browns. What would camouflage under the water look like? Might it not be wavy shades of blue?
Indeed, that's precisely what this costume is, and why it must've given the painting department a near nervous breakdown when they saw it. It's an incredibly complex design that in no way whatsoever follows any established pattern for "color breaks" on a typical super-hero costume. I'll be lucky if I can describe this thing verbally.
The costume starts out with a region of light blue around the neck and right shoulder. This is followed by a large swath of darker blue across the torso and upper right leg. The left shoulder and middle right arm are also this color. The color then switches to black for the right hand, the lower right leg, and most of the left leg, although the left leg switches to light blue at about boot height. The left hand is white.
All of these colors are in a very wavy pattern that has additional wavy stripes of white, light blue, and black throughout it.
On the one hand, I find myself thinking that Mattel wanted an addition to Series 7 of DC Universe Classics that, from a molding standpoint, would be relatively easy to do and not require any new casting. This figure fills that bill. On the other hand, I find myself considering the possibility that some of the more creative types at Mattel, clearly someone with some in-depth (no pun intended) knowledge of obscure versions of popular characters, saw this complicated costume, and said, "Hey -- think we can pull this one off?"
What's impressive is when you consider the fact that some of the details had to be painted across articulation points or seam lines. I wonder how much of this figure was painted before assembly, and how much after?
Accessory-wise, Aquaman comes with his royal trident, the same one that the Series 2 Aquaman came with.
Articulation-wise, the figure is as fully poseable as any other DC Universe Classics figure, and is articulated at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel near the knee, knees, and ankles.
I have to say I am pleased to have seen an increase in overall quality control on the line. Aquaman is properly assembled -- of course given the color complexity on this one I think it would be almost impossible to accidentally swap some of the parts around, a far-too-common problem on some previous assortments -- and all of his articulation points move well without being either stuck or too loose. That's the one thing you can't really test just by visually studying the figure in his package, which I do every time with great scrutiny.
Aquaman's hair is a little darker than the original version. I think Mattel is going for a more "realistic blonde" in some of their figures. Granted, a straight yellow would look rather too -- comical (no pun intended once again), but I don't think that Aquaman's hair needs to be painted as a sandy tan, either.
Speaking of paint, this does bring me to one concern, almost a complaint. I do wish Mattel would stick to making flesh-tone parts for these figure, at least unmasked heads, in flesh-tone plastic, rather than painting the entire head. That only increases the chance of a paint glitch, and Aquaman does have a slight one on the right side of his face. It's not too serious, I've certainly seen worse, but it is there. This could have been avoided if the head had simply been molded in this color.
The rest of the painting is very neatly done. I never cease to be impressed when I see such small eyes painted with the precision I have seen on this line, including the whites, irises, pupils, a little white reflective dot, and a line over the eye representing eyelashes.
So, what's my final word here? This is a pretty obscure costume for Aquaman. It's not his traditional orange and green, and it's not his 90's look of shirtless, long hair and a beard, which was pretty much the standard for Aquaman during his time in the hugely popular JLA comic title, and in the Justice League animated series. There may be people seeing this figure, and thinking it's something Mattel just made up for the heck of it.
But they didn't. This is a legitimate, comic-established Aquaman, and I'm sincerely surprised, but also very pleased, that Mattel has made a figure of him, and done such a superb job with him. Yes, he's obscure. But he's also darned cool, and any longtime, knowledgeable DC fan should want this figure.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of "OCEAN WARRIOR" AQUAMAN definitely has my highest recommendation!