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REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS HOURMAN
By Thomas Wheeler

One of the most impressive aspects of Mattel's superb line of DC Universe Classics action figures is how truly extensive the line is. Mattel is unafraid to produce amazingly detailed, superbly designed action figures of even relatively obscure characters.

Increasingly, this has included a growing number of Golden Age Heroes who were, arguably, among the best-known heroes of their time, the original Justice Society of America during the 1940's, but who later fell into relative obscurity until DC Comics developed the concept of the Multiverse, and reintroduced them as the heroes of "Earth-2" in the 1960's.

Today, these heroes all originated on the same Earth, but the Justice Society was indeed the "Hall of Heroes" decades ago, and its characters are finally getting their due in DC Universe Classics. While I am NOT old enough to remember these characters in their hey-day, I am certainly aware of them through their Silver Age and modern adventures, and am truly pleased that they're finally being rendered in plastic.

To date, among the more notables, we have had Wildcat, Guardian, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite, Green Lantern (Alan Scott), who is part of Walmart's exclusive Wave 14, and joining him in that same exclusive wave, is another Golden Age hero, and the subject of this review -- HOURMAN!

Now, if we can just get Mattel to turn out a good and proper DC Universe Classics figure of Jay Garrick, the original Flash, we should be in pretty good shape. Come on, Mattel, you put him in the DC Infinite Heroes line -- he deserves to move up to the big boys!

Anyway, let's consider the history of Hourman. Technically, there have been three characters named Hourman, but this figure is clearly intended to represent the first, classic Hourman, who first appeared in Adventure Comics #48, in April 1940, and was the creation of Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily.

Scientist Rex Tyler, raised in upstate New York, developed an affinity for chemistry, particularly biochemistry. Working his way through college, he landed a job researching vitamins and hormone supplements at Bannermain Chemical. A series of discoveries and accidents led him to the "miraculous vitamin" known as Miraclo. He found that concentrated doses of Miraclo given to test mice increased their strength and vitality several times that of normal. After taking a dose himself, Rex found he could have superhuman strength and speed for the hour that the vitamin's effects lasted, before returning to normal human levels.

Keeping the discovery of Miraclo a secret, Tyler decided that human trials would be limited to the only subject he could trust: himself. Feeling that the Miraclo-induced abilities should be used for good purposes, he decided to use the abilities to help those in need; in other words, he would become a superhero, based in Appleton City.

His first mission came as a result of Tyler's placing an ad stating that "The Man of the Hour" would help the needy. Tracking down one respondent to the ad, he aided a housewife whose husband was falling in with the wrong crowd, and stopped a robbery. Using a costume he found in an abandoned costume shop, he started to adventure as "The Hour-Man" (later dropping the hyphen).

In November 1940 Hourman became one of the founding members of the first superhero team, the Justice Society of America. After leaving the JSA in mid-1941, Tyler became one of Uncle Sam's initial group of Freedom Fighters. He later became part of the wartime All-Star Squadron.

Hourman would be one of many heroes whose popularity would begin to decline in the post-war years. Eventually, his adventures ended. However, with the resurgence of superheroes in the mid-1950's and early 1960's, interest in the Golden Age heroes returned, and Hourman was soon appearing as a guest star in issues of the Justice League of America. Like all the other Golden Age Heroes, he was now considered an elder statesman of the super-hero set.

Unlike some other Golden Age heroes, Hourman's character would continue to grow more and more complex. The idea that Miraclo was addictive, combined with the suggestion that Tyler himself was addicted to crime-fighting and adventure, made Hourman one of the superhero world's first cautionary tales. Rex would fight off both of his addictions throughout the rest of his active appearances.

His character was seemingly killed off along with a number of Golden Age heroes during the "Zero Hour" event, fighting a time-traveling villain named Extant. He was subsequently rescued from that fate when the third, android Hourman, who also possessed time-traveling abilities, took his place in the battle. Rex Tyler now lives in semi-retirement with his wife Wendi. Rex still has his Hourman costume, and a supply of Miraclo, inside a secret compartment of the grandfather clock in his bedroom, which opens when both hands are turned to 12.

Due to the original addictive nature of Miraclo -- Tyler later invented a non-addictive formula -- the way that Hourman accessed his powers changed somewhat over the years. At one point in his career, he would use a black light lantern, similar to the Golden Age Green Lantern, that would activate a residue of Miraclo still in his body. Later, fellow JSA member Johnny Quick theorized that Hourman's power stemmed from Rex's metagene, a common source of super-powers for many heroes in the DC Universe, and could be activated without the use of Miraclo. Tyler learned a technique that did so, but still limited the use of his powers to an hour.

Most recently, Rex Tyler has been seen providing technical support for the new JSA All-Stars team, helping them put together their new headquarters.

The second Hourman is Rex Tyler's son, Rick, who took over his father's mantle during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. He swallowed some of his father's Miraclo pills to help him save people trapped in a burning hospital. He joined Infinity Inc., a team comprised largely of the offspring of JSA members, but left after becoming addicted to Miraclo. After fighting off the addiction, he returned to action, and joined the JSA, where he is currently active.

The third Hourman, called an android but actually a "sentient machine colony", hails from the 853rd century, and was a crucial part of the "DC One Million" event. He later gained his own title for a time. He was somehow modeled on Rex Tyler's DNA. One scene in his title that took place in the 853rd century showed Rex Tyler somehow in charge of the future Tyler company that created this Hourman. After a series of adventures, he took Rex's place in the battle against Extant which had originally killed him.

As to powers and abilities, despite theories about a metagene, it does seem that both Rex and Rick Tyler's powers are derived from the use of Miraclo, which grants the user several superhuman abilities for the span of one hour. Most obvious are superhuman strength, durability, increased resistance to physical damage, and speed enhancements. There may still be some metagene factor involved, as Miraclo may or may not work on others who take it. In one instance, it worked on an animal -- Dr. Mid-Nite's owl, Hootie. It has also worked on the villain Bane.

So, how's the figure? Really very cool. As I said at the top of this review, Mattel has shown themselves unafraid to bring obscure and unexpected characters into this DC Universe Classics line, and Hourman, along with many of the other Golden Age heroes, certainly fits into this category.

There are characters one would "expect" to be in a typical DC-based line of toys, and which indeed HAVE been in any number of DC-based lines, from Mego to Kenner to Hasbro to Mattel. Superman, Batman, Aquaman -- Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman -- but Hourman? Starman? Dr. Mid-Nite? That's a lot more unusual. Who would have ever expected an extremely high-quality, highly-detailed, superbly articulated action figure of Hourman to ever come along? Or any of the Golden Age characters, in the 21st century?

This is the sort of thing that makes one wish for a time machine. Imagine taking the figures of Hourman, Wildcat, Dr. Mid-Nite, Alan Scott, Starman, and some of the others, back to the mid-1940's. Find a bunch of kids in a drug store reading comic books. They'd know instantly who these characters are. They might not have the slightest idea what an action figure is, and they'd probably be more than a little stunned to see them. I would expect they'd be rightly impressed. But they'd certainly know the characters, whereas if you took some of the more modern DC Universe characters that have been brought into the line, they wouldn't have the vaguest idea. They wouldn't know who Firestorm is, or Black Lightning, or Captain Atom, or even the modern-day Flash or Green Lantern -- but they'd sure know these guys, and that includes Hourman.

Hourman has an interesting costume design. It's mostly yellow and black, with a hint of red trim. I find myself wondering just a bit what the impetus for the color scheme was. I mean, how do you find an appropriate costume design for a guy called Hourman? Whose powers are based on a pill and have a time limit? That's not really something that lends itself well to suggesting any particular pattern or color scheme, unlike some heroes. Batman -- well, that's pretty obvious. Hawkman? Same thing. But Hourman? I tend to think that the color choices were based as much as anything on the fact that no one else was wearing black-and-yellow at the time.

Hourman's costume features a yellow cowl that is rather loose-fitting around the base. Now, there's been a little bit of controversy about this among some collectors, including a thread featuring modified pictures on one well-known Web Site, about how the area around Hourman's face on the cowl should have been painted black. It appears this way in many of his classic stories. However, this was sort of a tradition at the time, started as much by Batman as anything, and was pretty much artistic interpretation. From a modern standpoint, Batman doesn't actually have black around the front of his cowl. It was just an artistic interpretation. And most modern images of the classic Hourman character show him with a solid yellow cowl. And with all due credit to the people who presented modified images of how the cowl would look with a black front to it, I have to say that I am pleased that Mattel left it solid yellow. To me, there's a certain -- well -- cornball effect that happens when you add the black, that just doesn't quite work with modern sensibilities towards comics.

Hourman's eyes and lower face are visible through the cowl, and they have been very neatly sculpted and designed. Hourman has the barest hint of a smile on his face. It is established in the history that Rex Tyler enjoyed his crime-fighting adventures, so this is appropriate. Credit to the Four Horsemen for creating a sculpt that allowed for the loose fit of the lower half of the cowl, and created a fair indentation between the edges of the cowl and the lower face. Very impressively done.

Hourman has a cape, but the cape also has a collar. This has been assembled very interestingly on the action figure, to make it seem as if the cowl merges into the collar, and the collar merges into the cape. It's really three separate pieces -- the head -- with the cowl, of course -- the collar -- and the cape. All of these pieces fit exceptionally well together, with hardly any signs of seams between them, and the head still moves very agreeably.

Hourman's shirt and trunks are black, and the leggings are yellow, with black boots that have red stripes on them, and red tops near the feet. Hourman also has a red belt. The figure uses the standard body molds common to many to many of the male figures in this line, which is of course appropriate. It is a consistency which I sincerely appreciate, which is one of the reasons I've been raising a bit of a ruckus where I can about Mattel's plan to alter the articulation of the elbows and knees of many of the figures effective with Wave 16. It's just not necessary, further cuts up the figure, and ruins the significant consistency of the line. Many collectors are excited about it, but I know a lot that share my views on the matter, that hope this is a short-lived aberration in the line. Fortunately, Hourman is not affected by it.

He is affected by something else, however, although it's not all that negative, and it's not really his fault. In my experience of collecting action figures over the years, it has been my repeated observation that one of the toughest things to do, colorwise, is to paint yellow paint over black plastic. Now, I suspect it's hard to paint ANY color over black, but there's something about yellow that seems to be especially problematic. I've seen it on repeated occasions from any number of toy lines from any number of companies. What happens more often than not is that an especially thick coat of yellow paint is required to overcome the black, and it ends up either obscuring detail or looking sloppy to some degree.

Granted, Hourman gets away with it better than a lot I've seen, but I'm still convinced that the figure's body, except for the head, was molded almost entirely in black, with the leggings painted yellow. And in some respects, it really shows. The various segments of the legs -- upper leg, upper leg near the knee, and lower leg, don't entirely match, at least not in regard to some of the additional sprayed on detail. There's a little glitch of excess paint near the right knee that shows a small amount of black plastic underneath it.

I'm not really complaining here, at least I don't mean to. As I said, Hourman gets away with the color combination and how it was carried out better than some figures I've encountered. And I am not a toymaking expert, and I'm certainly not a budgetary expert. Nevertheess, I do find myself wondering, just a bit, why it wasn't possible to mold the legs of Hourman in yellow, and paint the trunks and boots black.

Hourman is wearing a red belt, a separately molded piece, inserted during assemble, that has been given a somewhat leather-like look to it. It doesn't have a buckle so much as it has an enlarged center section, a circle with a line sculpted through the middle of it. Whether this has any great significance to the character I am not sure. Keep in mind that Hourman's origin says he found this costume abandoned in a shop. He worked with what he had.

Along with the stripes on the boots, the back of the cape also has stripes on it, near the base, made to look like three black and two red stripes, alternating. Once again referring to how Rex Tyler came by his costume in the first place, this does give the cape a rather unfortunate "oversized dishtowel" look. It looks like a pattern you'd go into a kitchen furnishings store to find after remodeling... Still, it's been neatly imprinted on the cape, which had been nicely molded out of very flexible plastic, in a nicely draped configuration, not at all "pre-posed" otherwise.

Hourman doesn't really have any accessories, although he does have a small hourglass hanging from his neck, on a little string cord. I would not have wanted to have been the sculptor or the painter for this. It's molded in clear plastic, and the framework around the hourglass has been painted red. The factory painters must have been holding these things with tweezers. It's not much bigger than some of the accessories I've seen for G.I. Joe, a line whose figures are not quite two-thirds the size of DC Universe classics, and I can tell you right now that Firefly's walkie-talkie, about the same size as this hourglass, was categorically not painted. It might have helped if it had come on a string around his neck, though. Might've kept a lot of them from being lost over the years.

According to the background information I called up for Hourman, the hourglass was given to Rex and Rick Tyler by the android Hourman. It is filled with energized tachyons, time in its most basic form. It gives Rick "time vision", flashes of events that will happen exactly one hour later. Rex never displayed this ability -- probably because not only did the android Hourman not exist when his character was first created, but I don't think much of anyone knew what tachyons were in 1940. Or if they did, it certainly wasn't making its way into comic books. Regardless, it's an impressively made little accessory, and I'm impressed with the fact that it was made separately, and attached to a string, rather than glued to the figure, or designed as part of the torso. It's touches like that which really showcase the quality of this line.

Of course, Hourman is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. No complaints whatsoever, although the outer movement of the hips is a little loose for some reason. Not severely so, and I'm not worried about the figure falling apart, but it is noticeable. Nevertheless, I'll take a slightly loose figure over one with stuck parts that tear loose if you try to free them. Had that happen once too often.

So, what's my final word here? I'm truly delighted to own a seriously impressive Hourman action figure from DC Universe Classics. Hourman was one of the first super-heroes I ever encountered, a reprinted back-up story in some comic or other that I read in the late 1960's. I don't even recall the book, or even the particulars of the story. I did like the look of the character, though, and found the one-hour limit to his powers an interesting feature. Granted, Hourman hasn't been a major player for decades, but I've always liked the character and his overall look. I'm pleased that Mattel chose to give him to us in his most classic form, and that they're giving many of these Golden Age characters their long overdue chance at action figure fame.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of HOURMAN most definitely has my highest recommendation!