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By Thomas Wheeler

Justice League figures started turning up on the new orange-backed "DC Super-Heroes" packaging, arguably to promote their forthcoming non-animated-related series of figures, but at least it makes it easy to spot new additions to the Justice League collection, since the previous packaging was mostly blue.

There are new entries in both the single-packs and three-packs. I've reviewed the Justice Lords three-pack separately, because I felt that the history of those particular characters within the animated series warranted it. But there have been some other interesting entries, which I would like to review here.

Let's consider the figures. The first one I would like to review is one of the single-carded figures -- STEEL.

Steel first appeared in the comics in the aftermath of the first brawl between Superman and Doomsday, which resulted in Superman's demise. Former weapons developer and then construction worker John Henry Irons believed that he had to honor Superman's memory. After all, Superman had once saved his life from a high-rise fall. So he fashioned a suit of armor for himself, as well as a massive hammer, and took on the nickname "The Man of Steel". After Superman's return, he shorted the name to simply "Steel", and remained an active hero, even serving with the Justice League for a period of time.

Steel gave the DC universe one thing they really hadn't had -- a fairly prominent armored hero, arguably the counterpart to the Marvel Universe's IRON MAN, something the DC Universe really hadn't had before. Although Steel isn't as prominent or as well known as Iron Man, he did have a healthy run in his own comic book for a time, and was quite an active player in the Justice League.

Steel hasn't been all that prominent in the animated series, but he has turned up several times, and had some speaking time. He's a worthwhile addition to the collection, certainly. The figure is nicely made, fairly bulky. The chest and shoulder armor are a separate piece, but Mattel had to create special boots for the figure. And I really wish they'd learn how to sculpt feet. They're just pointed "up" too far to let the figure stand well. However, the overall look of the figure is excellent, a superb match for his animated counterpart, and he even comes with his hammer.

Okay, let's have a look at several of three-packs. First up is the GREEN LANTERN set. Now GL, as we know, isn't just a member of the Justice League. He's also a member of the GREEN LANTERN CORPS, an interstellar organization based on the planet Oa. Led by the Guardians, the Corps is 3600 members strong, with each member assigned to a specific sector of the galaxy. But, when there's a crisis of sufficient severity, Green Lanterns will often team up to resolve the problem. And some of them have encountered the Justice League on occasion. The ones chosen for this figure set are easily the best choices possible.

Of course, we have Earth's Green Lantern, JOHN STEWART. This is what I like to call the "Sisko-fied" version, where, just like Avery Brooks did midway through Star Trek Deep Space Nine, when Justice League became Justice League Unlimited, John Stewart shaved his head and grew a mustache and goatee. And there's no way you're convincing me that that wasn't an animated tribute on somebody's part behind the scenes.

Next up we have TOMAR-RE. This bird-headed Green Lantern goes back a long way. He first came to prominence in a story from "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps". It seems that Tomar-Re was assigned to the sector that included the planet Krypton, and he was brought before the Guardians to explain why he didn't prevent that world from exploding as it did. It was ultimately determined that Tomar-Re was not at fault for the events that happened, and he was returned to duty, his record and, hopefully, his conscience clear. Tomar-Re would later become a close friend of Hal Jordan, Earth's most prominent Green Lantern.

Finally, we have KILOWOG. Although a more recent character than Tomar- Re, Kilowog has also come into a certain prominence. A massive alien, with a head that looks alike a cross between a bulldog and a steal shovel, Kilowog is best known as a trainer of Green Lanterns, a fun-loving but no-nonsense type who has all the honorable characteristics of a true hero, and the personality of a redneck truck driver. He's also an engineering genius. During a time when the Corps was dissolved, Kilowog found himself on Earth and served as the Justice League's chief mechanic for a time.

The figure is excellent, with a distinctly bulkier body than either Stewart or Tomar-Re. Really, for anyone who's ever been a fan of the Green Lantern Corps, this particular Justice League Unlimited three-pack is a must-have.

Next we turn to a set of villains. Although the Justice Lords three-pack arguably consists of villains, it's often hard to see Superman, Wonder Woman, or even Batman in that light. But there's no real question about the villainy of this set, and seeing as how there have been very few villains in the Justice League line, it's about time they got someone to fight.

First up we have LEX LUTHOR. This isn't the businessman Lex Luthor, and it certainly isn't President Luthor. This is Luthor after he's lost his mega-corporation and really doesn't have anything left to live for except to make Superman and the Justice League as miserable as he possibly can. The costume is a variant on the Luthor of the 70's and early 80's, when he wore a purple and green bodysuit with various accessories and weaponry, before he built his fancy suit of armor. This has always been my favorite version of Luthor -- wearing something other than a business suit or prison greys. The armor always struck me as moderate overkill. But there's something about the purple and green outfit that had a color scheme that just somehow said "anti-Superman", whose costume is, of course, very primary colors.

The headsculpt for this figure is perfect. It can't have been that easy to capture the attitude of arrogant, smug superiority that Luthor always walks around with, but somehow they managed. This is quite probably the best Luthor figure in years.

Next up we have COPPERHEAD. I don't really know that much about this villain from a comic standpoint. As far as the animated series is concerned, he's tended to have been presented as a cheap crook with a snake gimmick. He has a venomous bite, and a snake costume with a working tail. He's certainly dangerous, and tends to be pretty brash when captured, but he's no global conqueror or massive threat on his own. When seen, it's almost always been working with other villains. The figure, appropriately, is a scrawny piece of work, and given the tail, probably required a completely unique sculpt.

Finally we have MIRROR MASTER, one of the more prominent members of the Flash's Rogue's Gallery of villains. He doesn't look like much -- basically an average guy in an orange and green bodysuit. But Mirror Master is able to use mirrors and other hardware to create weird illusions and even transport people to other dimensions within the mirrors. In the comic book, he's been giving Flash a pretty hard time of it as of this writing. He's generally been portrayed as a mercenary, and generally a villain, although he has, on rare occasion, done work for the good guys, once accepting payment from Batman to infiltrate a team of villains.

This three-pack is arguably work it for the Luthor figure alone, but it will certainly be worth it for anyone who wants to add some villains to their mix of Justice League figures.

The back of the package cards shows other planned releases. A few other new characters, in with three-packs of previously released characters, include the female Dr. Light, who's had about one prominent scene in the series, and the Vixen, who's fared a little bit better. Interestingly, she's in a set with Hawkgirl, who she's been in competition with for Green Lantern's affections. Fortunately, perhaps, the third figure in the set is Dr. Fate, not GL.

Finally there's a set of figures that was marketed as a Target exclusive. This particular pack was still on the original blue-card style, not the newer orange cards. But it was also the only way to get certain characters. There were actually three such Target-exclusive three-packs, but since I wasn't particularly interested in Orion or Bizarro, and since the other figures on those three-packs were all remakes, I didn't bother with them. However, the three-pack that included BLACK CANARY, a fairly major player in the series in a couple of episodes, was of interest to me.

The other two figures in the set have been part of previous three-packs
-- SUPERMAN and, not surprisingly, GREEN ARROW, who's had an on-again- off-again romance with Black Canary. It's worth noting that the Superman figure is the same mold used for the Justice Lords Superman.

How's Black Canary? Not bad. At least the figure adds another female to the team, which up until recently has consisted solely of Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl, although as I indicated, there is a Supergirl figure, if a truly horrible one, and it appears Vixen and Dr. Light are going to turn up soon, as well, which is really a lot more females than most action figure lines get. I do have one complaint about Black Canary, though. That pre-posed left arm that makes her stance look more like a supermodel than a superhero. I mean, honestly, what's she supposed to do with an arm permanently bent in that position -- fluff her hair? Still, the character has a lengthy history in the DC Universe, and especially being a Target exclusive, I'd hate to NOT recommend her, if you can abide this particular aspect of the figure.

There's a couple of new additions in the 10" figure world, too -- Green Arrow and, oddly, The Atom. There's something about a large-scale Atom that just doesn't quite make a lot of sense.

I'm not sure how much longer the Justice League figures will run. The animated series is expected to conclude what will likely be its final season sometime in 2006. No doubt Mattel will want to place an emphasis on the new Superman movie, much as they did with "Batman Begins" in 2005. I have no idea what new animated projects might be in the works, and of course, Bandai is doing Teen Titans. Mattel also seems to want to get their more "realistic" line of "DC Super-Heroes" up and running.

But there's still potential left in the Justice League line, and I hope it continues for a while. Meanwhile, I would recommend any of these three packs and figures (except Supergirl) to any established fan of the series. It really is an excellent animated series, and although suffering from a few structural problems, the action figures, on the whole, have also been very enjoyable.

Now, let me made a side review, an observational one, about the more realistic "DC Super-Heroes" line which I cited a couple of paragraphs back. The Batman assortment turned up not long after Christmas. These figures are clearly designed to give both DC Direct and Marvel Legends a run for their money. However, all I can really say is -- WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT!

Let's hope that, at least, the Justice League line has some interesting entries ahead to look forward to.