REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS GOLDEN PHARAOH
Among Wave 15 of Mattel's astounding DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures is a name that, unless you're well-versed in the action figure history of the DC Universe, might seem a little unfamiliar to you. That name is -- GOLDEN PHAROAH.
Now, don't go looking through DK Books' excellent and hefty tome "The DC Comics Encyclopedia". He's not in there. You'll find Golden Arrow, Golden Glider, and Golden Gladiator, but no Golden Pharaoh. And to the best of my knowledge, master artist Alex Ross has never done a painting of him, so he won't be in either of his books of collected DC works. He didn't even show up during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
So, where did this guy come from? Head back to the mid-1980's. The top DC Universe action figure line, following the demise of Mego, which in the 1970's and early 1980's not only had DC, but Marvel, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, KISS, and just about every other pop culture concept you could name, was SUPER POWERS, a line of action figures produced by Kenner. Standing around 4-1/2 - 5" tall, depending on who the character was (Darkseid being the largest), this line featured, for the time, very highly detailed action figures that are still well-regarded and fondly remembered to this day.
The Super Powers name was eventually transferred over to the animated series, which since the early 1970's had been running as SUPER FRIENDS, a series which initially focused on Superman, Batman and Robin, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman, but which gradually expanded its case to include other DC Universe heavy-hitters, such as Green Lantern, Flash, and more. The series seemed to coordinate more and more with the action figure line. Relative newcomer Firestorm was introduced into both lines at about the same time. So was Teen Titans member Cyborg.
The animated Super Friends series also developed a group of heroes that really, no one had ever heard of before, and which arguably were an early study in "political-correctness", as they expanded the racial and ethnic boundaries of the Super Friends. There was Samurai, a Japanese hero; Apache Chief, a Native American; El Dorado, a Mexican; and Black Vulcan, who was taking the place of Black Lightning, who for reasons I do not recall offhand could not be used in the animated series.
The Super Powers action figure line actually made a Samuari figure. More recently, Mattel's Justice League Unlimited line turned out modern-animation-style figure versions of him, Apache Chief, and Black Vulcan.
But what about Golden Pharoah? Was he brought into the line from the Super Friends series? Nope. Granted, he sort of fit the bill, even if a character with a clearly Egyptian motif was perhaps stretching the "ethnic diversity" point a bit more than Samurai or Apache Chief. But no, Golden Pharaoh was entirely developed specifically for the Super Powers action figure line. Had the line continued into a fourth year, he wouldn't have been the only one, either. There was this wild-looking four-armed alien named Quadrex in the works.
Golden Pharaoh's one and only comic book appearance was in a comic book mini-series published by DC Comics, that was a specific tie-in to the Super Powers action figure line. Need it be said it took place outside of official continuity. He has never appeared in any animation.
So, why do I like this character? Apart from having a cool appearance, I've had a long-standing fascination with the ancient Egyptian culture. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it is how unusual and advanced many aspects of it were. Maybe it's just the exotic look of what they've left behind for us to study. I'm no expert. I can't read hieroglyphics, nor am I historian enough to know which real-life Pharaoh followed which. But I do find it interesting.
Need it be said, Golden Pharaoh, regardless of where he came from, had a certain fascination for me. And I DID have the original Golden Pharaoh figure from the Super Powers line. I still DO have an extensive Super Powers collection, for that matter. Unfortunately, Golden Pharaoh is not among them. Sadly, he was a casualty of his own fragility. Allow me to explain.
The original Golden Pharaoh figure was molded with a colored transparent chest. Additionally, all Super Powers figures had some sort of spring-action function in them. Normally I dislike such things, but the figures were otherwise so cool that I was able to overlook it, and it wasn't as much of a hindrance to articulation as some cases I've seen. Squeeze Superman's legs and he would throw a punch, but he could also move his arms and legs normally. In Golden Pharaoh's case, if you squeezed his legs, his arms raised to make him look like he was using the glider wings attached to his arms to fly.
So what happened? Honestly, I'm not sure. Maybe it was the fragility of the transparent plastic combined with the pressure caused by the spring mechanism. It's not like the figure was harshly treated. But at one point, Golden Pharaoh's torso split right along the side seams, and he literally fell apart. Since Super Powers figures did not have waist articulation, the torso split took the entire torso apart, leaving his head, arms, and legs with no support whatsoever.
Somewhere around here, I think I still have the parts. I could POSSIBLY reassemble him, but I think one of the reasons I've never tried, is that while I'm reasonably sure I could find some glue strong enough to glue the torso back together, I'm NOT sure that I could properly reassemble the spring-action device, and without that supporting the arms and one of the legs, I'm not at all sure how well the figure would go back together. So I've never really made the attempt. Golden Pharaoh is not a G.I. Joe figure. It's not a matter of placing a screw in the back of the figure and if you louse something up, you get another chance. I'd have to use a very strong glue, and if anything got messed up, that's it.
So when I learned a while back that Wave 15 of the DC Universe Classics line was going to include a GOLDEN PHARAOH figure, needless to say, I was delighted. At the very least, he'd be structurally intact. He wouldn't have a potentially troublesome spring-action mechanism, and the sculpting and detail work of the Four Horsemen -- obviously acknowledged Super Powers fans along with the powers-that-be at Mattel -- is unsurpassed. I could certainly look forward to a very impressive Golden Pharaoh figure.
Before I get into the figure, however, the question should be asked -- does this guy have ANY backstory? Yes, he does.
According to available information, Golden Pharaoh is a British Egyptologist by the name of Ashley Halberstam. Good British-sounding name. While on an expedition in Giza, he was struck by a bolt of energy emanating from the New Gods. This bolt of energy awakened his latest super-powers. Deciding to call himself Golden Pharaoh, he became a super-hero.
His powers and abilities are listed as being "the power of the pyramids" -- whatever the that might mean -- the ability to generate energy blasts through his mystical staff, and glider wings that enable flight.
Personally, I think there's enough here to work with to give this guy an in-universe mini-series and make it interesting. Come on, DC Comics, give the guy a break!
There is a typo on his DC Universe Classics package, however. It lists his first appearance as being Adventure Comics #61, in 1941, as well as Zero Hour #1, from 1994. These are actually references to the two versions of Starman -- Ted Knight and Jack Knight, respectively, that are also part of Wave 15. Somebody forgot to change that information on the package form. And really, I find that sort of blatant typo pretty inexcusable. (But, better a package defect than a toy defect...) Anyway, don't go poring through the trade paperback of Zero Hour, or trying to track down a near 70-year old comic book. Golden Pharaoh isn't in there.
So, how's the figure? Absolutely outstanding! The Four Horsemen took the basic design for Golden Pharaoh, no doubt having a few intact versions of the figure to work from, and amped him up to a degree so that -- with all due respect to the original -- it's like comparing a couple of firecrackers to the fireworks display at Disneyland.
Even more impressively, Golden Pharaoh is almost completely a UNIQUE figure. Although certainly his basic form aligns well with the other male super-heroes in the DC Universe Classics line, from a basic structural standpoint, he does NOT use the basic body molds that many of those characters do, which helps to give the line its excellent consistency. Now, unique parts are nothing new. Some characters require them. Even mostly unique figures are not that uncommon. But Golden Pharaoh? WOW! You can really tell that this guy was a labor of love for the Four Horsemen. Let's face it, this character isn't exactly Batman, or Superman, or even Green Arrow. He's probably not going to be that readily recognized on the shelves, even in an assortment whose most notable members are the long-overdue Martian Manhunter, and the Fans' Choice Raven figure. The main reason for doing Golden Pharaoh is a show of respect to the Super Powers line from the 1980's, where he originated. And the Four Horsemen have certainly shown a lot of respect here!
As far as I can tell, the only parts of this figure that could have used previously existing molds are the shoulders, the lower torso, the hands, and the feet. Everything else is entirely unique to Golden Pharaoh. And the detail work is astounding, and I've shown the figure to people that don't even have any great use for action figures, and they've been impressed.
The greatest visual difference between this Golden Pharaoh and the original, other than height, of course, and overall detail, is skin color. The original Golden Pharaoh had sort of yellow-orange skin. This time around, it's metallic gold, and it looks absolutely incredible. If anything, it certainly adds to the Egyptian look of the character. The ancient Egyptians didn't skimp on the use of gold when it suited their purposes. Golden Pharaoh's head, neck, arms, and hands are visible on this figure, and they are a very nicely done metallic gold.
The headsculpt also definitely reflects a more Egyptian look than the original. The first Golden Pharaoh had -- well, a rather unremarkable bald head. It was a fairly straightforward and easy sculpt. Didn't even have to think about a hairstyle. The new Golden Pharaoh is still bald, but the eyebrows are a little more arched, and the detail around the eyes -- well, here's where the Egyptian really comes through. I'm sure most of us have seen at least one or two Egyptian paintings or relics that show the style of how Egyptians illustrated eyes. They tended to give them very heavy outlines, and there was that little extra line to the outside of the eye. Golden Pharaoh has these details! The eyes are really painted amazingly well. Along with the distinctly Egyptian outline, the figure has the whites of his eyes, blue irises, outlined in black, and black pupils.
Golden Pharaoh's costume is just as ornate, and here is where the uniqueness of the figure really comes through in a powerful fashion. Golden Pharaoh is wearing a collar, very much akin to those worn by high-ranking Egyptians. It is segmented, and highly ridged, with a detail level that is just about enough to give you eyestrain. It is mostly black with some metallic purple detail, that likely gave the painters fits, but it's extremely well done.
Golden Pharaoh DOES have a transparent purple torso again! This has never been explained as far as his powers and such are concerned. One also hopes that it's made of sterner stuff than the last one, but I'm sure it is. Mattel even maintained the mid-torso articulation that their DC Universe classics figures are known for. The figure's transparent purple torso shows in the middle down the front and back. The sides are a yellow orange, with raised squares running down their edges, with raised squares inside of each square.
Golden Pharaoh is wearing a cloth-looking belt (molded plastic), with a sort of loincloth hanging down in the front and back. He has ridged purple tights, which again had to be made as unique parts, and he has amazingly ornate yellow boots. They come up to about his knees, and are topped with what look like bird symbols and suns.
Attached to his upper arms are the glider wings. These were one of the original figure's most prominent features, and in fact were the focal point for his spring-action super-power. This figure, thankfully, doesn't have the spring-action feature, although of course he can raise his arms just fine. The wings are amazingly ornate, doing what much of the figure does, which is to take the basics of the original design, and enhance them to an extreme degree. The wings are more or less half-circles, outlined in ridged yellow, with each wing section outlined in black, with the wings themselves done in transparent purple. The purple sections are intricately detailed with Egyptian-style "feather" designs.
Completing the costume are ornate wristbands, as well as a transparent purple attachment to his back, that sweeps up around the sides of the head, and does a nice job of creating a look that I would call a futuristic version of an Egyptian headdress. Definitely puts the "Pharaoh" in "Golden Pharaoh". This particular item has a winged emblem sculpted into it similar to what appears on the boots.
The backstory mentions that Golden Pharaoh uses a "mystical staff", and indeed the figure comes with this. It's gold in color, although not quite as metallic-looking as Golden Pharaoh's skin, somewhat amusingly. It's about 7" in length, and has an ornate design at the top that looks reasonably Egyptian.
The figure also comes with a display stand, that's molded in transparent blue and has the old "SUPER POWERS" logo on it. There's just something a little weird about seeing this logo in the modern day, and with a Mattel product. The original Super Powers action figures were made by Kenner.
Of course, Golden Pharaoh is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel (nicely worked into the ridges), knees, and ankles.
So, what's my final word here? I really like this figure. The character may have a decidedly limited comic book history, but he's certainly got some interesting action figure history, and given what happened to my original Golden Pharaoh, I'm very pleased to bring the new one into the collection.
And, on his own, he's easily one of the most unique and ornate figures yet introduced into the DC Universe Classics line! I have little doubt that there will be some people, unaware of the action figure history, who are going to see this figure, and think, "Who?!" Well, never mind who. Trust me, Golden Pharaoh deserves his place in the DC Universe Classics line, and you can't tell me that this isn't one heck of an impressive action figure. The Four Horsemen clearly knocked themselves out on this guy, and it shows. Every bit of considerable detail on this figure is evidence of that.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of GOLDEN PHARAOH definitely has my absolute highest recommendation!