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REVIEW:
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED - AQUAMAN/PARASITE/STARGIRL
By Thomas Wheeler


If one wants some proof that Mattel is making good on its promise to start providing a better supply of some of the harder to find sets in the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED line, even before that line becomes a Target exclusive later in 2008, one need look no further than the recent appearance of the three-pack featuring AQUAMAN and newcomers to the line PARASITE and STARGIRL, a set so elusive that some people weren't even sure it existed.

The package back pictures several other sets I can't say as I've seen, and would like to, especially the set with Amazo, Nemesis, and Lightray. Hopefully, in due time. Meanwhile, let's have a look at the characters in this particular set, starting with...

AQUAMAN. For someone who's considered a reasonably major player in the DC Universe, few characters have had their background stories overhauled as significantly, especially in recent years, as Aquaman. In point of fact, since the Aquaman figure offered in this set is very clearly reflective of the character of Aquaman from a specific point in the history of the comics character, there's some more recent aspects to Aquaman in the comics, like the fact that apparently it isn't even the same individual anymore, that I'm not even going to bother getting into. I was reading his history and was honestly having trouble even making sense of the past couple of years, especially around and since the events of Infinite Crisis.

So let's take it to a certain point appropriate to the character as reflected in the animation and leave it there. Certainly Aquaman has a considerable history up to that point, even if that's been open to a certain amount of rewriting.

In his early Golden Age appearances, Aquaman had the ability to breathe underwater and superhuman strength enabling him to swim at high speeds. He was also shown to have the ability to communicate with sea-life and have them do his bidding. Initially, he was depicted as speaking to sea creatures "in their own language," and only when they were close enough to hear him rather than being telepathic in nature. While he was often described as the "sovereign of the sea," with the waters of the entire globe his "domain," and almost every sea creature his "loyal subject," the title was never an official one. Aquaman's adventures took place all across the world, and the only base he appeared to have was "an ancient temple of lost Atlantis, kept underwater," in which he kept a solitary throne.

Created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, the character debuted in More Fun Comics #73 (Nov. 1941). Initially a backup feature in DC's anthology titles, Aquaman later featured in his own title multiple times. Nearly two decades later, during the superhero-revival period known as the Silver Age of Comic Books, he was a founding member of the Justice League of America. Later still, in the 1990s-present Modern Age of Comic Books, Aquaman's character became more serious, with storylines depicting the weight of his title as King of Atlantis.

Aquaman's first origin story was presented in flashback from his debut, narrated by the character himself: "The story must start with my father, a famous undersea explorer -- if I spoke his name, you would recognize it. My mother died when I was a baby, and he turned to his work of solving the ocean's secrets. His greatest discovery was an ancient city, in the depths where no other diver had ever penetrated. My father believed it was the lost kingdom of Atlantis. He made himself a water-tight home in one of the palaces and lived there, studying the records and devices of the race's marvelous wisdom. From the books and records, he learned ways of teaching me to live under the ocean, drawing oxygen from the water and using all the power of the sea to make me wonderfully strong and swift. By training and a hundred scientific secrets, I became what you see -- a human being who lives and thrives under the water."

Starting in 1959, the "Silver Age" of comics, Aquaman's backstory and character were revised, with various new supporting characters added and several adjustments made to the character's origins, powers, and persona.

In Adventure Comics #260 (May 1959) and subsequent Silver Age comics, it was revealed that Aquaman was Arthur Curry, the son of Tom Curry, a lighthouse keeper, and Atlanna, a water-breathing outcast from the lost, underwater city of Atlantis. Due to his heritage, Aquaman discovered as a youth that he possessed various superhuman abilities, including the powers of surviving underwater, communication with sea life, and tremendous swimming prowess. Eventually, Arthur decided to use his talents to become the defender of the Earth's oceans, first starting a career as "Aquaboy" and later, when he grew up, calling himself "Aquaman."

After the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series, several short limited series were produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s -- beginning with 1986's, four-issue Aquaman, featuring Aquaman in a new, largely deep-sea blue, costume. The series was well received and a follow up mini series was in the works, though it was eventually canceled due to creative problems.

In 1989, Legend of Aquaman Special rewrote the Sea King's mythos and origin, though keeping most of his Silver Age history intact. The Modern Age Aquaman is born as Orin to Queen Atlanna and the mysterious wizard Atlan in the Atlantean city of Poseidonis, was abandoned on Mercy Reef as a baby because of his blond hair, which was seen by the superstitious Atlanteans as a sign of a curse they called "the Mark of Kordax." The only individual who spoke up on Orin's behalf was Vulko, a scientist who had no patience for myth or superstition. While his pleas were to no avail, Vulko would later become a close friend and advisor to the young Orin.

As a feral child who raised himself in the wilds of the ocean with only sea creatures to keep him company, Orin was found and taken in by a lighthouse keeper named Arthur Curry who named Orin "Arthur Curry" after himself. One day Orin returned home and found that his adoptive father had disappeared, so he set off on his own.

Orin later returned to the seas mostly staying out of humanity's sight, until he discovered Poseidonis. He was captured by the city's then-dictatorial government and placed in a prison camp, where he met Vulko, also a prisoner of the state, who taught Orin the language and ways of the Atlanteans. While Orin was there he realized that his mother was also being held captive, but after her death he broke out and fled. Eventually, he made his way to the surface world, where under the name of "Aquaman" he became one of several superheroes emerging into the public view at the time. Upon his return to Poseidonis he was made the king, and sometime later he met and married Mera. The Modern Age Aquaman's history is nearly identical to that of the Silver Age Aquaman from this point on.

Although for most of his appearances, Aquaman had been known for wearing an orange shirt that appeared somewhat scaly at times, and green tights with fins on the backs of the legs, a classic look that would later return and is still regarded as the most popular and best-known incarnation of Aquaman (including a magnificent 13" figure from DC Direct whose cloth uniform looks downright metallic), the Aquaman that would appear in Justice League Unlimited is based on a very different look for the character that became rather well established in the 1990's.

When Aquaman received his own series again with the publication of a new Aquaman series in 1994, Aquaman lost his left hand when the madman Charybdis stole his ability to communicate with sea life and stuck Arthur's hand into a piranha-infested pool. This caused Aquaman to become somewhat unhinged, and he soon began having prophetic dreams. Soon after, he attached a harpoon spearhead to his left arm in place of his missing hand. This was the start of an entirely new look: the classic orange shirt was discarded for a gladiatorial manica. Forsaking his former clean-cut appearance, Aquaman grew long hair and a longish beard. After the destruction of the harpoon, Aquaman had it replaced with a cybernetic prosthetic from S.T.A.R. Labs. This new harpoon had a retractable reel that he could fully control.

When Aquaman first appeared in the Justice League series, the Justice League in the comics largely consisted of seven extremely prominent heroes in the DC Universe, and included Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. This was seen as a way of getting the JLA back to its roots. However, when the animated series started up, Aquaman was swapped out for Hawkgirl, presumably for no other reason than to put another female on the team. However, that didn't mean that Aquaman would be entirely absent.

The Sea King turned up in a pre-Unlimited episode, in an incarnation largely reminiscent of his recent look in the comics. He had no orange shirt, but he did have long hair and a beard, and more than a bit of attitude about surface-dwellers. He also had two hands, but this was changed by the end of his appearance, as he was imprisoned, held in place by his wrists, and the only way out was for him to literally cut off one of his own hands. He later replaced it with the harpoon-like hook.

Interestingly, the figure of Aquaman in this three-pack has two intact hands! I don't believe this has ever been the case before. Certainly there's been a one-handed Aquaman offered in the Justice League action figure line before. The figure is shirtless, although wearing a very elegant dark green cape that the character in the animated series occasionally wore. He has a gold belt and golds bands around his wrists, and dark green tights.

Think of this as a somewhat gentler, or at least mildly less intense, version of the comics character during what was obviously a troubled period in his life. The attitude is still there, but not quite so much of the emotional and circumstantial baggage.

The figure is nicely detailed, and is a very distinctive figure in many respects, including the fins on the backs of the legs, and a certain amount of scaling detail on the tights. The face is nicely painted, including the eyes, beard, and earrings. This particular figure features the greater level of articulation granted to some of the "higher-ranking" Justice League characters, and certainly Aquaman is deserving, and is poseable at the head (although not too far because of the long hair), arms, legs, knees, elbows, and waist. Overall, a really superb rendition of the animated Aquaman!

PARASITE: The Parasite is best known as one of Superman's arch-enemies. It's got to be hard to come up with enemies for the Man of Steel. How do you oppose a guy who can do almost anything? Then again, put him up against someone whose ability is to leech the super-powers and even the very life force from other beings, and you might just get a fair fight.

I was surprised in my research to learn that there have been several Parasites in Superman's history. I found that the Parasite that appeared in the Superman animated series, and one must assume as such carried over into the Justice League animation, is based on the second Parasite, real name Rudy Jones, who came along in the comics following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, a little background on the first Parasite wouldn't hurt, as well.

Raymond Maxwell Jensen was a lowlife who got a job as a plant worker for a research center. Believing that the company payrolls were hidden in storage containers, he opened one and was bombarded with energies from biohazard materials (which was actually waste collected by Superman when he travelled into outer space), which transformed him into a purple skinned, parasitic entity, becoming the Parasite; any time he touched someone, he could absorb their physical and mental properties. Touching Superman would instantly absorb a sizeable fraction of his superhuman powers (it was established early on that he is not capable of acquiring the whole of his powers). The Parasite made a number of reappearances before the Crisis, yet he never successfully found a means to permanently defeat Superman.

Arguably this character's most notable appearance was in the second DC/ Marvel crossover, which featured Superman and Spider-Man. Parasite was the main DC villain in this story, recruited by Marvel's Doctor Doom. Doom claimed that he needed the Parasite to function as an invincible bodyguard, capturing the Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman and giving the Parasite a harness that would allow him to retain their powers for prolonged periods. However, Doom's true intention was to kill the Parasite by allowing him to absorb so much power that his cells would transform him into a crystal that would allow Doom to perfect a fusion reactor which he was working on. The good guys thwarted the plan, of course.

The second Parasite came along following Crisis on Infinite Earths. Originally a menial slacker, Rudy Jones was transformed into the Parasite while working as a janitor at a Pittsburgh S.T.A.R. Labs facility. Unknown to anyone at the scene, the Lord of Apokolips, Darkseid, remembered the pre-crisis Parasite and manipulated Jones to become the modern version. He made Rudy think that a waste container might have held something valuable. He opened it and was exposed to strange radiation that changed his body into a bald, green-skinned villain, a decided visual departure from the original look of the Parasite.

During one of his stints at Belle Reve Prison, doctors attempted to make him human again. Despite their intentions, the doctors only managed to change his skin color to the more familiar purple and also inadvertently increased his absorption power, enabling him to feed on other forms of energy, such as electricity and heat.

Don't even get me started on some of the more modern comics incarnations of the Parasite character. It gets weirder than Aquaman. One of the things that the animated series does right for the most part, it's been to pick the more iconic versions of some of these characters and stick with them.

Parasite isn't exactly on the level of Luthor or Brainiac. However, his abilities certainly pose a threat to someone like Superman, and at least in his more iconic form, he certainly has a distinctive look, which has been well-reflected in the action figure.

The Parasite action figure is a very distinct shade of purple. This is accentuated by what looks like a limited exoskeletal framework around parts of his body, especially his torso, that is a lighter shade of purple.

His head is -- okay, his head looks like a rounded off version of one of those Easter Island statues, but that's not necessarily inconsistent with the style of the animation in the series, and Parasite always did have sort of a featureless face. It's rather oblong in shape, with proper facial features, including two yellow eyes, managing to look surprisingly menacing for two little dots, emanate from underneath a fairly prominent brow.

Parasite is one of those characters that you wouldn't normally expect to see as an action figure. He's just not that prominent. One of the very cool things the Justice League Unlimited line has done, and will continue to do, I hope, is to bring out some of these less-prominent characters and finally give them their due in plastic. Parasite is certainly one of these, and I'm glad to have him.

STARGIRL: This character originally started out as the second Star-Spangled Kid, but took on the name Stargirl after being given the Cosmic Staff by Jack Knight, inheritor of the Starman title from the original Starman, Ted Knight. So what you have here is a young heroine with abundant ties to the Golden Age of DC Comics.

Courtney Whitmore, stepdaughter of Pat Dugan, found the original Star-Spangled Kid's gear in her stepfather's belongings and donned the costume in order to annoy him as partial revenge for marrying her mother and supposedly forcing the family to move from Los Angeles to Blue Valley, Nebraska. Dugan, a skilled mechanic, designed and built S.T.R.I.P.E., a robotic suit which he rode in to accompany and protect her.

This somewhat short-lived title, called "Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.", presented the characters as a modern incarnation of the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, a Golden Age comic which was something of a twist on the frequent "superhero with kid sidekick" motif, in that the Kid was the main hero, and Stripesy, somewhat dull-witted, was the adult sidekick.

Courtney signed on with the Justice Society of America, a perfectly logical move since that team is best known for its "legacy" heroes -- many of the Golden Age heroes who have survived to the present day along with the offspring, inheritors, or successors of other Golden Age heroes. Certainly Courtney qualifies for this abundantly, bith in her relationship with the original Star-Spangled Kid, and, since being given the Cosmic Staff (and then changing her name to Stargirl), in her affiliation with the original Starman.

She has developed from a bit of a brat to a well-rounded heroine. She is best friends with Hawkgirl and is also close to Power Girl, whom Courtney considers a role model of sorts. As well, she has started to befriend the new Supergirl, Kara Zor-El. Courtney often trusts and stands up for those whom other members of the team seemingly distrust, such as Atom Smasher, or Brainwave. She has also developed good leadership skills and courage, often throwing herself directly into harm's way. She can also be quite violently effective when angered.

In the animated series, both Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E. have made appearances. Stargirl and her partner appear in a speaking role in the episode "Chaos at the Earth's Core." In that story, Stargirl is childishly jealous of Supergirl's fame. However, in the resulting adventure in Skartaris, the girls come to an understanding.

She later appeared in "Patriot Act", where she and other League members were trying to stop a mutated General Wade Eiling from rampaging through a city. In this episode she takes the place of the original Star-Spangled Kid and the original Starman in the symbolic and unofficial reformation of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. Stargirl was badly injured by Eiling, but survived the incident and flashes a smile when she is loaded into an ambulance.

She and S.T.R.I.P.E. later helped repel the invasion of Earth by Darkseid's forces in the series finale, "Destroyer."

Despite her growing experience, Stargirl is still seen as a relatively young heroine, and was portrayed as such in the animated series. The action figure reflects this very effectively.

The body used is, at least significantly, the same as that of the Supergirl figure that was produced for the Justice League Unlimited line. That particular figure, in all honesty, is pretty petite, since its diminutive size -- barely 3-1/2" in height compared to the more traditional 4-1/2" for most of the heroes -- and its rather scrawny stature, made Supergirl look about twelve years old at best, and far too young than she should've been.

Conversely, this body mold works well for Stargirl, who, while not 12 years old at this point, started her career not much older than that, and has generally been portrayed as being somewhat small in stature compared to her peers, mostly due to her young age.

There are differences in costume, of course, which are reflected on the figure. One can see sculpted evidence of Supergirl's short sleeves on Stargirl's arms, even though Stargirl has long sleeves to her costume. It's not too serious, though, and really just looks like a ridge of padding, perhaps. The torso, although pretty much identical in shape, clearly had to be redone from the original Supergirl figure, since the original Supergirl figure had the "S" symbol actually sculpted into the figure (and not very well, I might add). There's no way this would've worked on Stargirl, so a new mold was created in the same basic shape, with her star insignia imprinted on it.

Additionally, Stargirl has a thick belt around her waist that Supergirl lacks, and Stargirl does not have a cape. A new head was of course sculpted, although the arms and legs are repainted from the Supergirl figure.

Overall, though, it works very well. Most of the paintwork is extremely neat, although the blue details on the belt are a little sloppy. The star on her chest and those on her arms are very neatly imprinted. Captain America would be proud if he didn't work for another company, I'm sure.

Stargirl has somewhat limited articulation, but this is not unusual for a Justice League figure. She is poseable at the arms and legs, and would probably be poseable at the head if it wasn't for her long hair. It's not that big of a deal. This is normal for a Justice League figure, and the figure still looks cool, and stands up on her own surprisingly well for such a spindly little thing.

Overall, the molds and basic size for Stargirl work a whole lot better on Stargirl than they did for Supergirl, and the end result is a very cool figure, and, like Parasite, one of those characters that just isn't terribly likely to receive an action figure of her own otherwise, unless she turns up in Mattel's forthcoming (as of this writing) comics-based DC Infinite Heroes line.

So, what's my final work here? I'm impressed. This is a very cool set, and it certainly took long enough to find. Although Aquaman has certainly appeared before, this is a fairly distinctive version of him. And Parasite and Stargirl are certainly new and interesting additions to the collection.

It's still selling quickly whenever it turns up, but if you can find it, the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED AQUAMAN/PARASITE/STARGIRL Three-Pack definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!