REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS JEMM, SON OF SATURN
During the run of the precursor line to DC Universe Classics, which was called DC Super-Heroes, the line was very centered on characters affiliated with Batman and Superman. When Mattel's DC license expanded, so did the toy line, into the entirety of the DC Universe. Combine that with the fact that the line is now considered an "Adult Collectible", and this has allowed Mattel, and the sculpting and design team known as the Four Horsemen, to include characters from the DC Universe that likely would have never otherwise seen action figures.
Wave 15 of the line is resounding proof of that. While this particular assortment includes the prominent – and long overdue – entry of Martian Manhunter, the rest of the wave seems to be a wild assortment of obscure if not outright peculiar characters, including the likes of the classic OMAC, Golden Pharaoh, who was created solely for the 1980's Super Powers action figure collection, a Sinestro Corps version of Batman, granting a figure to an incident during the Sinestro Corps War that scarcely happened – and then there's JEMM, Son of Saturn.
While certainly a cool-looking character, who has popped up fairly recent in some interesting areas, one has to also admit that Jemm is not exactly a major player, and were it not for the expanding world of DC Universe Classics, doubtless would never have seen an action figure.
So, who is Jemm? The character first appeared in 1984, and was the creation of writer Greg Potter and artist Gene Colan.
That Gene Colan had a hand in the visual of this character isn't surprising. Colan's art style tends to be a bit quirky. He likes to use a lot of heavy shadows and odd design elements, seldom following traditional comic illustration methods. He's probably best known for his extensive work on Marvel's "Howard the Duck", but he has had a lengthy and generally well-regarded career. However, he certainly set the parameters for Jemm, and it does tend to show.
Jemm first appeared in his own title, "Jemm, Son of Saturn", in September 1984. The comic book lasted for twelve issues.
The character was originally conceived as the cousin of Martian Manhunter (Jogarr, Jemm's cousin in the series, was originally supposed to be J'onn J'onzz). This was at a time when the Manhunter had largely disappeared from the pages of DC Comics. However, partway through developing the series, writer Greg Potter was informed that J'onn would soon be appearing in DC's Justice League of America. To avoid any continuity problems, Potter rewrote the series as Jemm, Son of Saturn, rather than the original Jemm, Son of Mars. Jemm as such became a character with no specific connection to the Martian Manhunter.
However, as it turned out, there were some connections, racially, at least. As the story unfolded in Jemm's comic book, the three races of Ma'aleca'andra – the native name for Mars, are directly responsible for the H'ronmeerca'andran colonies on the moons of Saturn. Saturnians are descended from an underclass of worker clones created by ancient Martial explorers. The Green Martians cloned the original Red Saturnians from themselves, and the White Martians cloned the original White Saturnians. The Green Martians treated their clones as equals, while the White Martians treated their as slaves.
The continued enslavement of the White Saturnians started a civil war between the two Martian races. At the war's conclusion the White Martians were exiled to the "Still Zone", only to escape years later and reappear in the pages of JLA disguised as the Hyperclan. After the civil war all Saturnians were granted their freedom, but continued to war amongst themselves for millennia.
Jemm, son of King Jaxx, was forces to flee the palace after a White Martian coup. His mother Jarlla was able to hide him in a cave, where Jemm was trained by his White Saturnian teacher Rahani in the use of his powers.
After both his mother and teacher were killed by the White Martians, Jemm stole a ship and escaped to Earth, in search of his lover Syraa who had fled there earlier. He arrived in Harlem, New York, and was befriended by an African-American orphan named Luther Mannkin. After a series of adventures with Luther and on his own, Jemm eventually found Syraa. They all then traveled to New Bhok, a Red Saturnian colony. Because he refused to take sides in a civil war on New Bhok, Jemm was disavowed and cast out by both factions. He and Luther returned to Earth.
Once there, Jemm learned that a criminal named Claudius Tull planned to use Saturnians as living energy sources. He had allied himself with a female White Saturnian named Synn. When Tull's true goal was exposed, Synn surrendered her forces to the Red Saturnian military. When last seen in his own series, Jemm had set out in search of Syraa, who had mysteriously disappeared yet again.
Jemm was reintroduced to the DC Universe years later by writer Grant Morrison in the pages of JLA. Jemm resurfaced as an involuntary member of Lex Luthor's Injustice Gang. Apparently brainwashed by Luthor through the use of a Philsopher's Stone, he was used as a psychic weapon against the Justice League. He was able to impersonate Martian Manhunter telepathically. Plastic Man, disguised as the Joker and having infiltrated the gang, plays several pranks on Jemm designed to awaken him (such as an exploding cigar), but fails. J'onn J'onaa was able to sense and connect with Jemm's mind, and free him from Luthor's control, but Jemm was left comatose as a result.
Jemm would also turn up in the pages of Martian Manhunter's own series, which emphasized his similarity to J'onn. Writer John Ostrander used these similarities to explain that the Saturnians were a race created by and modeled on the Martians.
J'onn took Jemm to Z'onn Z'orr, his hidden Antarctic retreat, in order to heal his mind. Jemm spent the next several months recovering his mental and physical health. He was later discovered, detained, and abused by J'onn's evil brother Malefic, who convinced the JLA, briefly, that J'onn had gone insane, and was torturing Jemm.
This guy just can't catch a break, can he?
While Jemm later recovered at the JLA Watchtower, a delegation of Saturnians arrived to reclaim their prince. J'onn discovered that Jemm was to take part in a brokered political wedding designed to unite the warring factions of Red and White Saturnians.
During the trip to H'ronmeerca'andra, J'onn learns more about Jemm's future bride, a White Saturnian named Princess Cha'rissa. Cha'rissa becomes romantically attracted to J'onn, and he admits his own attraction to her. The trio uncover a plot by Jemm's White Saturnian cousin Jogarr to assassinate him, and Cha'rissa vows to put aside her feelings for J'onn, and be true to her intended, Prince Jemm. J'onn leaves for Earth just prior to the wedding ceremony.
Jemm also appeared during the Rann/Thanagar War, siding with the Rannians, and also appeared in the Superman: World of New Krypton series, where he appeared to command all three known Saturnian races, including the yellow-skinned "Faceless Hunters". Later, when Mon-El brings the bottled city of the Lanothians to Titan, Jemm is violently opposed to allowing a stronger race of telepaths to live near his people. He later changed his mind when the Lanothians agree to live under his rule and rename themselves Titanians.
I was wondering if Saturn Girl's people from the Legion of Super-Heroes were going to be worked in here somehow…
As to his powers and abilities, Jemm has super-strength, the power of flight, and he is also a powerful telepath, possessing the ability to fire psychokinetic energy discharges from the organic gemstone in his forehead. The gemstone is known as the "Mark of Jargon". Jargon the Mighty is alleged to have brokered peace between the Red and White races.
Unlike Green Martians, Red Saturnians like Jemm cannot shapeshift, although they are capable of rapid cellular regeneration. Good thing given Plastic Man's exploding cigar stunt. However, like Martians, Saturnians have a vulnerability to fire.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, and surprisingly distinctive! Many DC Universe Classics figures use a common set of body molds. This has never been a problem in my opinion, as it lends the line a certain consistency that I sincerely appreciate, and which has often been lacking in other super-hero-based lines of action figures.
Jemm probably could have gotten away with using a considerable percentage of common molds, and he does use some, and he still maintains a very consistent look relative to other figures in the line, but he also has quite a few distinctive parts that probably weren't absolutely crucial to the figure, but they're certainly nice to have, and show the care and attention that both Mattel and the Four Horsemen are dedicated to bringing to this line.
Of course, as one would expect, the figure has a distinctive headsculpt. And it's interesting that Martian Manhunter is in the same assortment as Jemm, because it makes a visual comparison that much easier, especially if you bought them both at the same time.
J'onn J'onzz, it has been established, has adapted his "native" Martian form into something that is sort of a halfway point between human and Martian. He appears as a large, muscular, bald-headed humanoid with green skin, red eyes, and a prominent brow. Although Jemm's Red Saturnian race is incapable of shapeshifting, it would appear that the Green Martians who cloned them, who in their natural form don't really have a structure all that similar to Jemm, were trying for a physique similar to the one J'onn has assumed on Earth, although the head structure does seem to lean somewhat more towards the Martian norm.
Jemm also appears to be a muscular humanoid with a bald head, but the head has a slightly different look to it. From the front, the top of the head appears to be somewhat tapered. He has the prominent Martian brow, but a relatively small nose, and a somewhat larger than usual space between his nose and mouth, and a fairly prominent jaw. He also has pointed ears.
Granted, just trying to adapt Gene Colan's design style to a three-dimensional action figure wouldn't be an especially easy feat. Granted also, there's no shortage of comic artists that this could be said about, and fortunately, Mattel and the Four Horsemen don't really try that hard to emulate any one artist's style. They leave that sort of thing to DC Direct. I think it is fair to say that the DC Universe Classics line are the most straightforward, realistic interpretations of the DC Universe characters that can be made within the design parameters of both the figure and the character as he has appeared in the comics. In the case of Jemm, while his later appearances were handled by artists other than Gene Colan, his design work still comes through, as it does on this figure, as far as possible.
Jemm has very neatly painted yellow eyes, framed in black, and that diamond-shaped gemstone in his forehead is also yellow.
Jemm is shirtless, with his red skin very prominent against the light and medium blues of his costume. His torso is interesting, as I believe the upper torso is fairly distinctive. The area just above the abdomen appears to be more heavily ridged than on a standard figure. Again, this would be in keeping with the design of the character, and is an interesting way of making Jemm appear as something other than human. It's hardly the only feature that does so, however.
Jemm's arms are fairly normal, down to the wrists, and he appears to share the same body molds in this as Martian Manhunter. This is a set of body molds that shows off a few muscular veins, and would be used for figures that don't customarily wear shirts. However, Jemm's hands are certainly extremely distinctive.
As originally conceived, Jemm has notably very long, tapered fingers, and they are definitely present and accounted for here. The figure has entirely unique hands, with long, outstretched red fingers. He'd make a heck of a pianist. The fingers are each separate from the others, although they are not articulated, and are molded from a fairly flexible plastic that allows them to bend a bit, and keep them from being rigid and possibly brittle. The hands are certainly a testament to what can be done with plastic molding procedures these days! If one looks closely, one can see knuckle ridges on the backs of the fingers, and the palms of the hands are especially well detailed. This is really some very impressive work.
Jemm's legs are fairly straightforward, and seem to use the same molds as most male figures in the line, except for the lower legs just below the knees. In an odd sort of reversal from usual designs, his boots are actually indented slightly below the base of his trousers, rather than the boot tops being extended slightly outwards.
Jemm does not appear to be wearing a superhero costume so much as he's outfitted like – well, a prince of his people might be. He is wearing a very light blue cape with a high collar, not dissimilar from Martian Manhunter's, but far lighter in color. There is a six-sided star in yellow on the front of the cape, set slightly to the left, that one assumes is a clasp of some sort, and perhaps a royal seal.
He has a metallic dark blue belt, with a yellow circular buckle. His trousers consist of medium blue trunks, and light blue leggings, that go to his calves and end in a diagonal tip that points down in the front. Each leg has a silver stripe near the base. His boots are the same medium blue as his trunks. The trunks themselves are an unusual design, with a diagonal front to them, rather than the traditional angle of superhero trunks.
The most ornate part of his outfit are his wrists bands, which required that Jemm have distinctive lower arms. These are light blue in color, with ridges and other pattering on them. Technically, they're a light metallic blue, of a color that I don't believe I've ever seen before, certainly not on an action figure.
The outside of Jemm's cape is somewhat lighter than the interior of the cape. The outside is more in keeping with the light blue of the leggings. Overall, it's an impressive paint job, with a somewhat airbrushed detailing on the back that works superbly well. The cape, also, is very nicely flexible. Wave 15 has a surprising number of caped figures – Martian Manhunter, Jemm, Starman, Raven, and the Sinestro Corps Batman. Fortunately, all of the capes are nicely flexible. Hopefully the days of unmovable capes that actually hinder the poseability of the figure, such as Mister Miracle, are well in the past.
Of course, Jemm is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. It really astounds me that Mattel is planning to integrate double-jointed elbows and knees in certain figures starting with the next Wave. It's just absolutely unnecessary, and has a detrimental effect on the look of the figure. I hope it's short-lived, I really do.
Any complaints? Nothing too extensive. The head shows slight evidence of molding creases, but nothing too severe. There's what looks like a little bit of gray plastic near the top of his left foot, as if a couple of miscolored raw plastic pellets fell into the mold. Fortunately it's not too serious, and you can barely tell it in some light. There's a couple of yellow glitches of paint on Jemm's head – easily enough removed – and his left arm seemed initially a little stubborn at the elbow, and almost looked warped, but it seems to have recovered. I have had a few structural problems with a couple of other figures in this wave, including a stuck leg on Starman and a warped leg on OMAC. I hope that quality control isn't slipping. It was a serious concern for some time in this line, but Mattel seemed to make the corrections necessary, and the line has been relatively problem-free since. I really hope we're not headed for a digression. This line is way too cool for that, and when I start thinking about upcoming items like the Legion of Super-Heroes 12-pack!
So, what's my final word here? Okay, Jemm is hardly the best known character in the DC Universe. He had a 12-issue run prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and his appearances since then have been sporadic at best. But he is still a part of the DC Universe, and his storyline served to also expand the history and boundaries of another, certainly prominent and popular character in the DC Universe, Martian Manhunter. And this is a really superbly well-rendered figure of this character, who admittedly otherwise wouldn't likely have ever had an action figure. Although my own familiarity with Jemm was relatively minimal, I'm pleased to have added him to my DC Universe Classics collection, and I sincerely believe you will, too.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of JEMM, SON OF SATURN definitely has my highest recommendation!