REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS "Collect-and-Connect" ATOM SMASHER
Although I am a distinct fan of Mattel's DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line, moreso since I am seeing gradual but noticeable improvements in their quality control issues, I've never really considered it mandatory to collect an entire Series of figures for the sake of the "Collect-and-Connect" figure parts.
This particular practice got its start with Toy Biz's "Build-A-Figure" concept in their Marvel Legends line. The initial offering here was to collect the various figures in the series in order to have all the parts needed to assemble a 14-inch-tall Galactus. THAT was impressive enough for me to bring home the entire assortment (it also helped that I found the entire assortment all at once one day and had the money). Galactus remains one of my largest and most impressive action figures.
But not all "Build-A-Figures" were of interest to me. In fact I think that was the only one. And the basic premise has carried over into other lines. Hasbro maintained it for several rounds of their Marvel Legends. Jakks Pacific has used it for their 4" scale WWE "Build-n-Brawl" line, where you can build a wrestling ring or a metal cage to go around the ring. Star Wars uses it nowadays for their "Droid Factory" concept. And Mattel is using it in their DC Universe Classics line under the name "Collect and Connect".
When Series 7 of the DC Universe Classics line was released, I was very much interested in the "Collect and Connect" character -- ATOM SMASHER. Let's consider the history of this character:
Atom Smasher, real name Albert Rothstein, is known for his power of growth and super strength. Created by Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway, he first appeared in All-Star Squadron #25 (September 1983).
The godson of Al Pratt, the Golden Age Atom, Albert Rothstein acquired his metahuman powers of super strength and control over his molecular structure (allowing him to alter the size and density of his body) from his grandfather, a reluctant supervillain known as Cyclotron, allowing him to fight crime first as Nuklon, and then, later, as Atom Smasher.
As Nuklon, Albert was a charter member of Infinity, Inc. and subsequently served in the Justice League. During his time with the League, he dated Fire.
He took the Atom Smasher identity shortly before the founding of the current Justice Society of America, of which he is a charter member.
He views Pratt's son, Damage, an occasional member of the Justice Society, as a brother, and acted as an older brother figure to Stargirl. While Stargirl has (or at least had) some romantic feelings for Atom Smasher, he has not yet openly reciprocated.
For years, Atom Smasher cherished his role in upholding Pratt's legacy and constantly sought to prove himself worthy to his Golden Age idols – especially when many of them became his teammates in the JSA. This changed when Albert's mother was murdered in a plane crash engineered by the terrorist Kobra. Albert became consumed by vengeance. Not long after the fatal crash, Albert – with the aid of Metron of the New Gods – went back in time and replaced his mother with the weakened villain Extant. This ended up saving her life but made Albert a murderer.
When Captain Marvel's longtime adversary Black Adam reformed and joined the JSA, he and Rothstein developed a kinship; indeed, Black Adam once commented that he thinks of Atom Smasher as the brother he never had.
Encouraged by Adam, Atom Smasher grew frustrated with the JSA's moral boundaries, especially when Kobra blackmailed authorities into granting his release. Albert and Adam promptly quit the JSA after Kobra's escape.
Shortly thereafter, the unlikely duo settled each other's personal scores. Adam kills Kobra, while Rothstein kills the dictatorial president of Khandaq, Adam's home country.
Atom Smasher helped lead a team of rogue metahumans (including former Infinity Inc. teammates Brainwave and Northwind) in an invasion of Khandaq and overthrew its oppressive regime. Atom Smasher initially fought against his JSA teammates in Khandaq before deciding instead to help forge an uneasy truce -- Black Adam and his compatriots could remain in power so long as they never left the country.
Atom Smasher remained in the Middle Eastern nation for a time, although he eventually began to question Adam's motives. Rothstein perished in JSA #75 while fighting against the Spectre, but was revived by Black Adam's lightning, and carried back to JSA headquarters.
He was later put on trial for his actions in Khandaq and pleaded guilty to all charges. Whilst in jail, he was approached by the founder of the Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller.
In 52, he is seen assembling a new Suicide Squad under Waller's orders, instructed to fight Black Adam, and, unbeknownst to Atom Smasher himself, push his family to overreact. They succeed, and Osiris is disgraced and exposed for having killed a Squad member, leading to the downfall of the whole Black Marvel Family, and a murderous rampage of Black Adam, dubbed World War III.
Atom Smasher then sides with the Justice Society, trying to apprehend Black Adam, but refuses to condemn him in any way, not even believing him guilty of the genocide in Bialya. When Adam is robbed of his powers by Captain Marvel, and is about to plunge to his death, it is Atom Smasher who saves him.
Atom Smasher is not seen during the One Year Later storylines. However, in Manhunter #22, a character named Al who fits the description of Atom Smasher is visiting Obsidian in Los Angeles off-panel, suggesting that Atom Smasher may be alive and no longer incarcerated.
Atom Smasher is also shown fighting alongside the JSA in Countdown #38, although it has been speculated that this is a mistake and that Damage should have been shown, given that Atom Smasher does not currently serve on that team.
In the actual Justice Society of America title, Damage has effectively taken his place. In the Black Adam: The Dark Age series, Albert is shown searching for his former friend. It also shows that he has recently cut his long locks of hair (he is also drawn incorrectly during the series as being around normal height when not using his powers--his actual height is 7'6"). In Black Adam #5, Albert brings Isis' wedding ring to Adam, and unsuccessfully tries to persuade his friend to go into hiding.
Stargirl later recruited Al to literally knock some sense into the recently healed Damage, who had followed the mysterious being Gog during a recent Justice Society storyline.
When Black Adam and a resurrected Isis take over the Rock of Eternity, Atom Smasher is recruited to reason with Black Adam, much to Wildcat's mistrust.
As to his powers and abilities, already super strong at his normal size — 7-foot-6 — (though recently he has been depicted as being of a more normal height when not using his powers), Atom Smasher's strength and density increase proportionately to whatever size he chooses.
The upper limits of Rothstein's growth spurts are unclear, but heights above 50 feet are believed to tax his molecular structure and could cause permanent cell damage; however, in the DC Encyclopedia, it stated that he could grow up to 60 feet without problems. Whether there is a limit to the heights he can grow to is unknown.
During his time as Nuklon, Albert was able to phase through walls; he has either lost this power in recent years, or it has been retconned away.
Rothstein is also a skilled pilot and mechanic. In the first few years of JSA, he could be seen piloting the JSA's jet, the Steel Eagle, as well as the Star Rocket Racer in JSA: Our Worlds at War, and earlier being Infinity, Inc.'s primary pilot.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. This isn't the first Atom Smasher figure. The character was available in the animated-style Justice League Unlimited line, and the character did turn up in a couple of episodes of the series, particularly the episodes "Task Force X" and "Panic in the Sky." However, that figure was no larger than any of the other standard JLU figures.
To acquire Atom Smasher in the DC Universe Classics line, one needs to find just about everybody in Series 7. That includes Captain Cold, Big Barda, Kid Flash, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and "Ocean Warrior" Aquaman. The seventh figure in the series, The Flash, comes with a display stand. The Flash has, as of this writing, proven that the Fastest Man Alive is also the Most Elusive Super-Hero of 2009. Even pre-orders of him from online stores that carry DCUC are sold out.
Most of the Collect-and-Connect figures that have been offered by Mattel so far have been, to one degree or another, oddballs with regard to their physical appearance. The most normal, if that word can even be used with this character, is arguably Metamorpho, in that he is the same height and basic bodily proportions as most of the other male heroes in the line. However, given his unusual nature, his various body parts have their own unusual characteristics which prevent him from quite being made from really any of the basic body molds that many of the other standard figures share to one degree or another.
Of the other Collect-and-Connect figures, Gorilla Grodd is -- well, he's a gorilla. Solomon Grundy is an overgrown and rather disproportionate Frankenstein reject that looks like a bleached-out Hulk with a more extensive wardrobe. Despero, while reasonably humanoid, was large enough physically so that many of his body parts were recolored to make Lobo for last year's San Diego ComiCon. Calling Metallo humanoid was more of a stretch than calling a Transformer humanoid, and Kalibak's proportions were decidedly inhuman.
So we come to the strange case of Atom Smasher, the first hero in the "Some Assembly Required" group since Metamorpho, and the only really unusual thing about him is -- he's big. While his "normal" height is big enough, 7' 6", he's been known to be presented as somewhat larger than that just as a matter of course. Clearly the character has a certain attitude, and I can think of worse ways to get that attitude across than to maintain a general height where most people are forced to look at you squarely in the stomach.
BUT -- and here we come to one of the reasons why I was interested in this figure, and I emphasize the word figure especially here -- he's not disproportionate as far as his individual appearance is concerned. He's not a shambling mess like Solomon Grundy, or a massive armed, short-legged whatever like Kalibak. Atom Smasher is human. He's just a BIG human.
In this, Mattel has succeeded astoundingly well. Clearly what they have done, as much as possible, is taken the basic "male hero" figure design, and upscaled it. There are some differences. Since Atom Smasher's costume has no sleeves, they sculpted some visible veins on his arms. His boots are also more ornate than average. However, it is certainly not unheard of for a standard-size DCUC figure to have additional sculpted detail. Aquaman's shirt is probably the most obvious example of this. Most of Deathstroke is comprised of unique molds, and yet they fit the figure format.
The difference in Atom Smasher, of course, is height. The average DC Universe Classics figure is about 6-1/2" in height. That's just a little more than 1:12 scale. Atom Smasher stands a whopping 9-1/4" in height, meaning that, proportionately, he's probably maintaining a height somewhere around 8-1/2 feet or so, never mind over seven, but it also makes him the tallest DC Universe Classics figure to date. He's taller than Lobo, and he's just a little bit taller than Solomon Grundy, although it's close.
The figure is constructed precisely like a standard-sized DCUC figure, something else I appreciate. Some of the others have had a few adaptations here and there to allow for their unusual physical design. But there are no differences here, and I sincerely appreciate that.
Of course, as such, Atom Smasher is superbly well-articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Despite the size and despite being a figure that, to some degree, you have to put together yourself, the overall quality is just as good as the increasingly good quality I'm seeing in the standard figures.
The Atom Smasher figure is also an excellent likeness of the character. Rothstein wears a fabric mask that covers his entire head, exposing only blank-white eyes. This is held in place with a thick grey collar that appears to be made out of leather-like straps. The costume is sleeveless, although Atom Smasher wears two thick and rather ornate grey bands around his wrists. His costume is primarily red, with a dark blue section in the center on the front and back starting at about mid-torso and running down the inside half of both of his legs all the way to the boots. There is an "atom" symbol on his chest. He wears a thick, metallic gold belt around his waist, looking more than a bit like a wrestler's belt. His boots are grey and as ridges and decorated as his wrist bands.
The figure does an excellent job of duplicating this overall design. Atom Smasher is not a character who is prominent enough to have likely had a DC Universe Classics figure of him made for individual sale, and if one had been, it would not have been this size. Making this character as a "Collect-and-Connect" figure was really the ideal way to release an interesting individual from the DC Universe in a format -- and size, especially -- suitable TO the character. It was a superb choice on Mattel's part.
So what's my final word here? I am extremely impressed. The "Collect-and-Connect" figures that are part of the DC Universe Classics line that I am sincerely interested in may be few and far between, at least insofar as what is required to get all of their needed parts, but I am sincerely glad that I proceeded with Atom Smasher, AND that he was part of an assortment that I WAS interested in owning the entirety of.
Admittedly, for some of you, that may be the telling point. Not everyone is a fan of all of the characters of Series 7. It seems a great many people are fans of The Flash, and the irony is he's the only one you don't need to complete this figure. You will need the others -- Captain Cold, Big Barda, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Kid Flash, and "Ocean Warrior" Aquaman -- unless you have another means of getting the parts.
Honestly, though, the entire assortment is worth it. Some very cool and impressive figures and characters, of which Atom Smasher is certainly one. So consider going the most direct route with this. But whatever the case, if you happen to be a fan of Atom Smasher, I can guarantee you will be impressed with this figure. He's big, he's well-made, and he'll certainly be a major part of any DC Universe Classics collection.
The DC Universe Classics "Collect-and-Connect" ATOM SMASHER definitely has my highest recommendation!