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By Thomas Wheeler

Despite the animated series having run its course on Cartoon Network (although some of us are still hoping for some movies on DVD at some point, perhaps), Mattel continues to successfully market action figures based on the amazing JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED series, and as of this writing, their plans for 2007 are already pretty much in place.

And at this point, it gets increasingly interesting, because you just never know who's going to turn up in the individual cards or the three- packs. There's a better than average chance that the three-packs are going to include at least one overly-familiar face. As for the other two...

For example, this set : Batman, Zatanna, and Shining Knight. Now, I hardly think I need to explain Batman here. If you need HIS origin, then I think you're reading the wrong review. But in Zatanna, we have a character that it's a little surprising was never a member of the Justice League, although in the comics, she indeed was, and in Shining Knight, we have someone that I don't think WAS a member of the Justice League in the comics, but managed to play a fairly prominent role in at least one episode of the animated series. Let's start with Zatanna:

ZATANNA - This is actually her real name, interestingly enough. She is the daughter of a Golden Age hero named Zatara. Zatara was actually first introduced in Action Comics #1 (and you thought Superman was the only one in there), all the way back in 1938. Zatara was an apparent stage magician, but he had real powers. He was also a member of the All-Star Squadron, a band of super-heroes during World War II. Zatara remained semi-active up until his demise during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Zatanna first appeared in 1964, in Hawkman #4. Taking after her father, Zatanna became a stage magician. However, she possesses an even greater level of power than her father, although she tends to access it much the same way. Rather than some complex incantation, both Zatara and Zatanna can focus their abilities by speaking what they want to have happen backwards. For example, if Zatanna is having an argument with Guy Gardner and she wants him to shut up, she would probably say, "Yug Rendrag, tuhs pu!"

Dang, that was harder to type than I thought. How do the letterers for her in the comics keep that straight?

Zatanna's listing on the excellent (if unofficial) DC Universe reference Web Site was painfully short, so I don't really know the circumstances of her joining the Justice League. She's been an off-again-on-again member for many years, however, I know that much.

As for the figure - although Zatanna has had several costumes over the years, her best known one, reflected in the animated series, is pretty much her stage costume, which consists of a top hat, a formal jacket, shirt with bow tie, black trunks and shoes, and fishnet stockings. Talk about providing a distraction to the audience while you're performing. Here's something her father couldn't get away with. Or most other stage magicians, for that matter. Anybody want to see David Copperfield in fishnets? Didn't think so...

However, fishnet stockings would be a little difficult to animate, not to mention manage on an action figure. Another DC Comics based line, from DC Direct, is based on the amazing work of Alex Ross in his current mini-series "Justice". When it was time to being Zatanna into THAT line, they actually made the fishnet stockings out of fabric and glued them to the figure. But the Justice figures are a good bit larger than Mattel's Justice League Unlimited figures, and the animators of the series knew better than to try to animate to this detail level.

Zatanna's legs, as such, are colored in a light tan, a few shades darker than her face or hands. This the implication of the fishnet stockings is there, and the color is not a match for the black and dark blue of the rest of her costume. It works extremely well, from a visual standpoint.

The body mold used for the figure is the same as for Black Canary, the only other female, jacket-wearing Justice League figure in the line. Unfortunately this figure has one thing that I don't like, and that's a very pre-posed left arm. For the most part, even the Justice League figures with limited articulation haven't gone for this sort of pre-posing, so I don't really know why they did it here.

Apart from that, though, it's not a bad figure. Lines indicating the bow tie, shirt buttons, and jacket collar complete the look of Zatanna, and the end result is a good overall likeness. They even painted circles for the cufflinks on the jacket!

One last comic-based note. Recently, a new magician, a teenage boy named Zatara, has come on the scene. He's not listed on the Web Site, and I've only seen him once or twice. To what degree he is related to either the original Zatara, Zatanna, or the young Zatara that was part of the Kingdom Come mini-series, I honestly don't know, or if this information has even been revealed.

Now let's consider the other new figure in this three-pack.

SHINING KNIGHT - Tracking down the profile for this character wasn't easy. There were three Shining Knights listed on the Web Site. However, one of them was just an alias used by another individual, so I dismissed that one immediately. I ultimately decided to go with the second profile, since it was the one (a) with the most information and (b) had a closer connection to the modern day, or something close to it, anyway.

First appearing in Adventure Comics #66, in 1941, Sir Justin of Camelot was given a flying horse and enchanted sword by the sorcerer Merlin as a reward for his valour in serving King Arthur. Centuries later he reappeared in America's time of need when threatened by the Axis menace. He joined the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and has survived relatively youthful to this day.

Journeying to Camelot to join the fabled Knights of the Round Table, young Sir Justin saved an old man. To his amazement, the knight found out that he had just saved Merlin, the court wizard to King Arthur. In gratitude, Merlin enchanted Justin's armour and transformed his horse, Victory, into a winged horse.

During the Sixth Century AD, Camelot was under attack from within and without, and Sir Justin was given the quest to slay an ogre that had been menacing the northern kingdoms. Finding and battling the ogre, both fell into an icy crevasse, and Justin found himself in suspended animation for nearly 1300 years.

As the glacier in which he was entombed floated southward, in the summer of 1941, he was freed from his icy tomb by Professor Moresby, an archaeologist and historian for a New York City museum. Slowly acclimating himself to life in the 20th Century, Justin and Winged Victory fought crime in the tradition of the Knights of the Round Table, Later helping to form The All-Star Squadron.

Finding his native land at war, Justin pledged his services to King George and was assigned as the personal guard of Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he travelled.

After the War, Justin was summoned back to his proper time by Merlin, but felt he had much to offer the modern world, so elected to stay on there, visiting Camelot from time to time.

In 1948, Justin and the other members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory were thrown into a time-vortex while defeating The Nebula Man, and The Shining Knight found himself in China, serving Ghengis Khan. He was rescued after a few weeks by the heroes of both the Justice Society and the Justice League.

This all seems pretty much in keeping with the character as presented in the animated series. Apparently he has had more association with the Justice League than I initially thought, although I don't believe he's ever officially been a member. Then again, given that the animated League has clearly shown itself to have members more associated with the comic-based Justice Society, such as Stargirl and Mr. Terrific, I suppose things played out a little differently in the animated universe.

Shining Knight hasn't exactly been a prominent character in the animated series, although he did get a fair amount of time in a particular episode where Green Arrow rounded up a number of largely non-powered characters to take on a super-powered adversary. This episode even featured a cameo by Speedy, making a brief jump over from Teen Titans. One other character in the episode, the Western hero Vigilante, is scheduled for a figure in the near future.

Personality-wise, Shining Knight is pretty much what you'd expect -- all honor and chivalry. A bold hero, unafraid of battle even though his lack of powers tends to make him overmatched. The profile on the Web Site indicated that while Shining Knight has no super-powers, it's not unreasonable to assume that his armor, while certainly sturdy and protective, is likely a lot lighter in weight than typical armor, given Shining Knight's mobility while wearing it.

The figure is a good likeness of the animated character. Shining Knight's armor has been portrayed as a sort of pale gold, and this is reflected in the figure, which is molded in a pale yellow, using one of the standard figure formats the line has adopted. A few groupings of darker yellow half-circles on the arms and legs represent the "chain-mail" of the armor.

Shining Knight is also wearing a red tunic. This is a separate piece assembled with the rest of the figure, and is not removable, but it's well made, and completes the look of the figure. There is an image of a large black bird imprinted on the tunic.

Any complaints? Just a few, sadly typical of far too many toy lines these days. The first three-pack I saw had a nasty mold crease across Shining Knight's face. I had to find a second one that didn't have this. Also, the top of Shining Knight's helmet (honestly, the thing looks like a bullet) and the belt on his tunic are HAND-painted. Decently enough. I've certainly seen worse. But this is the first time I've seen this practice on any Mattel toy. I even checked some other Justice League sets, and even some of their toys based on "The Batman" and the more realistic "DC Super-Heroes" line to see if there was any evidence of this, and there wasn't. And I hope it stays that way.

Granted Shining Knight is not a major player. Granted the Justice League line doesn't have an animated series backing it up anymore. But the toy line is still popular, and this is one particular allegedly cost-saving shortcut that has inflicted its inevitably sloppy results on far too many toy lines already. Sometimes it's not even the toy company's fault, but the factories in China. It may well be that Mattel, and others are just as frustrated with it. But that doesn't solve it, and in my book, doesn't excuse it, either. And I hope I don't see much more of it. It's especially disappointing in light of the fine-line detail on Zatanna's costume.

On the whole, though, Shining Knight is a very decent figure, and I would suspect probably the only one we'll ever see of this character.

According to what Mattel showcased at the San Diego ComiCon, there's no shortage of more Justice League characters in the works, including quite a few characters with, shall we say, limited exposure. And, interestingly enough, no shortage of villains. Among characters on both sides of the battle coming up are The Ray, Huntress, Parasite, Deadshot, Star Sapphire, Stargirl, Vigilante, and quite a few others. Notable by their absences are characters based on the old Charlton line of comics that have appeared in the animated series, including Captain Atom and The Question. Reasons for this remain unknown. Both characters have undergone considerable overhauls in the comics recently, but that shouldn't necessarily affect the toys. I'd like to think we might yet see them before this line has run its course.

Meanwhile, I definitely recommend this particular three-pack. Batman is a little superfluous, but Zatanna and Shining Knight are cool. Just watch the paint work and possible mold creases on the Knight, and hope that this is a problem that Mattel is able to correct. Apart from that, though, this set definitely has my recommendation!