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By Thomas Wheeler

I'm always pleased to see some of the "secondary" characters from Justice League Unlimited turn up on single cards. I understand the rationale of the toy companies, feeling they need to keep the "major players" available, but I really don't feel the need to buy ONE MORE Batman, or Superman, or Green Lantern, or Flash, when all I really want is the third figure in the set.

So when I came across a single-carded ATOM SMASHER, I decided to snag him.

Although the character hasn't gotten a lot of screen time in the animated series, he's certainly been in evidence. It's a little hard to miss somebody that can grow to giant proportions. And in the comics, Atom Smasher was a major player in the JSA comic book. Yes, that's JSA, not JLA. He's been a member of the Justice Society.

I was a little hazy on the origin of the character, so I turned to the Web Site, an unofficial but very well set-up guide to the DC Universe. Here's what they had to say about Atom Smasher:

The grandson of Golden Age villain Cyclotron, Al Rothstein was raised by the original Atom and his wife, and, due to his grandfather's repeated exposure to radiation, grew to over seven feet in height, with an incredibly dense body. He also discovered that he could become immaterial at will or increase his size to over fifteen feet high, and following in his godfather's footsteps, decided to become a crimefighting hero, with the name of Nuklon. He, along with several others, tried to join the original JSA, but was rejected, becoming instead one of the founder members of Infinity Inc. Within this group he came to be close friends with Obsidian, with whom he worked for a number of years, including a brief spell in the Justice League. Recently, Obsidian's darkening personality caused a rift in the pair's friendship, and Nuklon began working alone.

Al has decided to change his codename to Atom Smasher and alter his costume as a homage to both his biological and adoptive families, and soon became involved with the new JSA after Wesley Dodds' funeral, where he has become a big brother figure to the new Star-Spangled Kid. On the team's recent mission, to stop Kobra from committing an internationally significant terrorist act, Al had a personal stake, as Kobra was responsible for the death of his mother, Terri Rothstein, in a plane crash which served as a demonstration of the villain's power. He was extremely tempted to kill Kobra, straining his powers to the limit in the process, but was persuaded not to do so by Jack Knight. A short time later, when the team were faced with what to do about the problem of Extant, Al took the fateful decision to substitute Extant in his mother's place on that plane, saving her and dooming the villain. In the aftermath of this decision, he decided to take some time off from his activities as a JSA member, returning to the team when a mission took them to Thanagar.

That's a good overall background, but it's not quite up to date. Somewhat more recently than this, Atom Smasher was one of a handful of heroes taken to the nation of Khandaq by semi-reformed villain Black Adam, who overthrew the tyrannical government to set up his own. Atom Smasher committed a number of acts which he later regretted, and subsequently returned to the United States to stand trial. He was convicted and sent to prison, but it's questionable how long he'll actually remain there. Most of his teammates in the JSA have forgiven him, since he was willing to take responsibility for his actions. He has yet, however, to completely forgive himself.

Obviously, little of this applies to the animated counterpart to this character, but it provides insight into the overall character of Atom Smasher.

The animated character, and as such the figure, of course, are a perfect likeness, within the stylized form of the animation, of the comics version of Atom Smasher. Frankly, the costume is just a little creepy in one respect -- that all-covering, single-colored head mask, which is probably the biggest homage to the Golden Age Atom, who wore a similar mask. The rest of the costume is a good design, if not anything really outstanding, but it fits, and it's probably worth mentioning that it uses colors very similar to the modern-day Atom, if a little darker.

The figure has the usual problem that far too many Justice League Unlimited figures have, in that it's extremely difficult to stand the figure up. Atom Smasher isn't as bad as some. It IS possible to get him to stand, but his legs have to be moved back quite a ways for him to do so. That's still much better than a lot of the figures in this collection, which won't really stand up on their own at all! This problem could be easily solved if Mattel would simply sculpt the legs of these figures with the feet pointed a little more downwards from the leg.

I have been told that it's possible to adjust the legs by placing the figures in boiling water, which temporarily softens the plastic, allowing them to be bent a bit, and they'll hold the bend when they cool down. I have yet to try this myself. As the practice has gotten good marks in any number of action figure forums, so try it at your own risk.

The costume details on the Atom Smasher figure are all painted on. This is pretty much standard practice for a considerable percentage of Justice League figures. Mattel has a core set of body molds, and they sculpt a new head and then paint the body as needed. Yeah, it's a bit cheap, but action figure molds AREN'T, and if this is the only way we can get some of the secondary characters in the considerable cast that is Justice League Unlimited, I'll live with it. At least none of the painted details are sloppy hand-painted work.

It should be noted, however, that some of the paint work could have been neater. The "lines" on Atom Smasher's wristbands and boots could have been much better aligned with each other.

Atom Smasher comes with a rather peculiar accessory -- a large metal gauntlet that sort of snaps to his right wrist. I have no idea what this thing is supposed to be. I don't recall the character ever using something like this, although I could be mistaken. And frankly, for a character that's been known to grow to a size bigger than a bus, he needs a big metal gauntlet the way Superman needs a motorscooter.

On the whole, though, Atom Smasher is a cool addition to the Justice League Unlimited collection. He has been in the show, and as long as I was able to purchase him as a single figure rather than as part of a three-pack that I already had two-thirds of, I had no problem bringing him into my collection whatsoever, and I certainly recommend him to any fan of Justice League Unlimited!

Next up we have WAVERIDER. Based on the comic origins of this character, Waverider is Matthew Ryder, a disenchanted scientist from the near future, about the midpoint of the 21st century, who lived in a world dominated by the mysterious Monarch, who decades before, had heralded the end of the age of super-heroes, basically by killing them all. It had been widely believed that he had been so successful because he had, at one time, been one of those super-heroes.

Waverider was the focus of the 1991 Annuals for all DC titles, in a story called ARMAGEDDON 2001. Determined to keep his oppressive world from happening in the first place, Ryder subjected himself to a scientific experiment that altered his body in such a way that he could travel backwards in time, and by coming into physical contact with any being, see their future. This took place in the first of two "framing" issues on either side of the DC Annuals, ARMAGEDDON 2001 #1. Waverider believed that if he could find the hero who became Monarch before that happened, he could stop the future by killing that hero.

Over the course of the Annuals, Waverider checked into the possible futures of most of the DC Heroes. In some instances, he had to check them out more than once, since some heroes, such as Superman and Batman, had more than one title. This overall storyline gave the creators the chance to tell speculative future stories about these popular characters where basically anything could happen, and ultimately not have any effect on the existing continuity of the character, since these were only possible futures.

The storyline wrapped in ARMAGEDDON 2001 #2, where it was revealed that Monarch was in fact the teen hero Hawk, from the duo Hawk and Dove. Something of a letdown, need it be said. He was ultimately stopped, but more by Captain Atom, whose own powers were having something of an effect on the time-stream. This led into a sequel story called
ARMAGEDDON: THE ALIEN AGENDA, but it wasn't as well-received. Monarch pretty much faded into obscurity.

Waverider was pretty much left hanging, too, his main purpose as the impetus for the speculative future stories fulfilled. Still, something had to be done with him, so DC created a group called the Linear Men, time travelers who had based themselves in a sort of timeless limbo in order to keep track of the timeline and try to keep it in order. They were led by Hunter, a reworked version of Rip Hunter, Time Master, a popular DC character from the 50's and 60's. Waverider joined this group.

He'd turn up here and there on occasion, and played a fair role in the ZERO HOUR storyline, but for the most part, Waverider isn't much of a major player these days. I'm honestly not even certain he still exists. He didn't turn up during the INFINITE CRISIS, as far as I know.

What's curious about there being a Justice League Unlimited figure of this character is that, unless I missed an episode, which I don't think I did, or I blinked at the wrong time, Waverider has never been in an episode of the series! Now, as far in advance as action figures have to be planned, I suppose it's possible that the writers told Mattel that he was going to be in an episode. Certainly there have been time-travel episodes for the Justice League. And perhaps the story was later altered and Waverider was dropped. I really don't know.

The figure is impressive enough, though, and certainly looks a lot like what one would expect an animated-style version of Waverider to look like. Of course, the figure uses the standard body that many of the second-tier Justice League characters have been using. But the head is an interesting sculpt. Waverider doesn't so much have hair as he has energy coursing out of the top of his head, and this has been duplicated rather effectively on the figure by molding a sort of orange flame out of transparent orange plastic.

Waverider also comes with a flame-topped missile or staff or some such. An unusual accessory, since I don't offhand recall Waverider using anything like this before, but I'd have to check.

One interesting note - unlike a great many Justice League figures I have acquired, I didn't have the least bit of trouble getting Waverider to stand up. Far too many Justice League figures have feet molded a little too far "forward" which causes the figure to fall forward if one tried to stand him. This was not the case with Waverider, which was nice to see for a change. Maybe it's a trend.

Overall, it's a cool figure, if a bit of an oddity in the collection, since I really don't recall him appearing in the Justice League series. But that's not that much of a complaint. It's nice to see some of these lesser-known characters being given their due as action figures.

To that end, I certainly recommend WAVERIDER! Finally among my recent acquisitions of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED figures, we have STARMAN!

In the DC Universe, the name STARMAN has seen quite a few uses. The original Starman was a Golden Age hero named Ted Knight, who invented a device called the Gravity Rod. He remained operational for decades. There have been any number of characters named Starman since then, a number of which have been related to Ted Knight, up to and including Ferris Knight, who was the Starman of the 853rd Century in the DC ONE MILLION storyline. The current holder of the Gravity Rod is Stargirl, a teenager who is a member of the JSA.

But, not all of the characters who have carried the name Starman have been related to the original. And the Starman that the producers of the animated JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED series chose to be part of that show was, honestly, a very curious choice. I actually had to have some help (thank you, Rudy Panucci ) in tracking down the origins of this particular Starman.

Created by Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko, this Starman was originally Prince Gavyn, a potential heir to the throne of an inter-galactic empire known as the Infinite Realm. But when the time came for the Imperial Council to choose, it was his sister Clryssa who became empress. By law and custom of a thousand years' standing, to avoid any possibility of a civil war, all other claimants were killed by being thrust into space without life support.

But Gavyn was saved by an ancient and powerful alien named Mn'torr, who saw great power in him, and helped him achieve that potential. Thereafter, converting stellar radiation to bio-energy, he became an interstellar righter of wrongs and, unknown to Clryssa (who would have put him to death if she'd known he was alive), a staunch defender of Throneworld (the empire's seat of power) and of the crown itself.

He continued in that vein for a dozen issues in ADVENTURE COMICS. In issue #479 (March, 1981), he and the other stars of Adventure Comics (Plastic Man and Aquaman) were displaced by "Dial H for Hero", and that was the end of this Starman as the hero of an ongoing series.

Gavyn and the other residents of the Infinite Realm appeared perfectly indistinguishable from ordinary humans, leading readers to assume the series was set in a distant future era. This assumption was voided in DC Comics Presents #36 (August, 1981), in which its plot threads were wrapped up in a crossover with Superman -- apparently, despite appearances, the Infinite Realm was contemporary, just very far away. In this story, a spacefaring villain named Mongul murdered Clryssa, making Gavyn emperor. In the process, the Doomsday Device, source of the empire's power, was destroyed, assuring there would be no emperors after him.

This Starman was eliminated during the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. However, he recently turned up during the RANN-THANAGAR WAR, one of the stories linked to INFINITE CRISIS, so apparently he found his way back into continuity somewhere along the way.

So why was this particular Starman chosen for the animated series, especially given that Gavyn had no great ties to Earth or the Justice League? I put this question to my informant, and he replied that the most recent version of Starman, has a deal with James Robinson, who was given a tiny percentage of the character when he revamped him -- like Neil Gaiman was with Sandman. That might be one reason. The others are the costume that lends itself well to animation, and the fact that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm like the character. And it may have been a way to throw some money Steve Ditko's way, since he'll get a piece of the merchandising for designing the costume.

Whatever the case, it's still an interesting and slightly oddball choice. However, although the character has not been given enough air time on the series to really explain fully what he's doing there, it is a cool costume design, and it translated quite well over to an action figure.

The STARMAN action figure uses the same basic body mold as most of the second-tier characters, with a unique paint job and head sculpt, of course. Starman comes with a huge staff as an accessory, which the character does carry in the series.

One interesting note - like Waverider, I didn't have the least bit of trouble getting Starman to stand up. Far too many Justice League figures have feet molded a little too far "forward" which causes the figure to fall forward if one tried to stand him. This was not the case with Starman, which was nice to see for a change. Maybe it's a trend.

From a standpoint of continuity between the animated series and the comic books, the presence of this particular Starman creates some real headaches. But from a standpoint of a cool-looking figure, there's no real problem at all here. And fortunately, he was available on an individual card, so you can get him without ending up with more multiple versions of the basic cast from a three-pack.

As such, I definitely recommend STARMAN for any collectors of the Justice League series! All three of these figures are very cool additions for any JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED fan. The series may have run its course, but the toys definitely continue!