REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED "ATTACK FROM THANAGAR" SIX-PACK
You know, it's almost impossible these days to come across a toy in an action figure line that you follow reasonably closely that you didn't know in advance was on the way. Between conventions, Web sites, magazines, message boards, and whatever else, we generally have a pretty good idea of what's coming up in the stores. It's just a matter of waiting for it to show up -- which can sometimes be pretty frustrating.
But, once in a great while, a person can be surprised. Like when I walked into a store and came across a six-pack of figures for JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, that I had never heard a single word about. Additionally, three of those figures were entirely new, and a fourth was a previously unseen version of a given character! Needless to say, I took it to the cash register with all due haste.
The set is called ATTACK FROM THANAGAR, and it is based on the three-part episode, more often than not shown as a movie, called STARCROSSED, which was the finale to the Justice League series before it bridged into Justice League Unlimited. It's generally regarded as one of the most impressive stories in the series.
It's been a while since I've seen "Starcrossed", so I wanted to track down some information about it. Interestingly enough, I found an entire "Wiki"-type site devoted specifically to the DC Animated Universe. Not the DC Universe in general, but very specifically the DC Animated Universe. Well, there's certainly enough call for one. I'm going to have to remember this.
"Starcrossed" is the second-season finale of Justice League. It is composed of the 24th, 25th, and 26th episodes, and it first aired back-to-back on May 29, 2004.
In the story: the League is staking out a conference of world leaders, based on a tip Batman received that a terrorist incident may occur. Superman, as Clark Kent, is watching the conference from inside, among the press corps. Outside, John Stewart steals a few seconds to flirt with Hawkgirl.
Suddenly, a greater menace appears in the sky: an alien battleship that opens fire. None of the U.S. military's weapons can hurt it. Before the League attacks, an even larger alien battleship appears and downs the attacking craft, which crashes. Hawkgirl recognizes the newcomer as a ship of her people, the Thanagarians.
The ship's commander, Hro Talak, asks to meet with Earth's leaders. He reveals that Hawkgirl has been lying to her teammates: she did not arrive on Earth by accident, nor is she a law enforcement officer; rather, she is a lieutenant in the Thanagarian military, and was sent to Earth as an advance scout, and a sort of ambassador, to prepare for their arrival. Talak explains that for decades Thanagar has been at war with a vicious alien race, the Gordanians. Now the Gordanians have targeted Earth for invasion, and Talak offers to help.
John confronts Hawkgirl, asking what else she's kept secret. After Hro kisses her in front of John, uncomfortably, she admits that she and Talak are betrothed.
Having seen the power of the Gordanian ship, Earth's leaders feel they have little choice, and accept the Thangarians' offer. Immediately, they begin constructing a massive force field generator in the Gobi Desert, which they say will provide a planetary defense shield. The Justice League aids in the construction.
Batman, suspicious of Talak, examines the remains of the Gordanian battleship. He finds that all the Gordanians were dead long before the ship appeared on Earth, meaning the attack was a ruse and that Talak is likely setting them up. He sneaks onboard the Thanagarian mothership as a delegate, before diverting away from the main group and enters the command center. He overhears a communication between Talak and the leaders on Thanagar that that the Gordanians are closing in on their homeworld and nowhere near Earth. Kragger finds Batman and a brief tussle between Batman and some Thanagarians ensues. Kragger manages to knock Batman out, and Talak orders Batman locked up.
The Thanagarians turn on the Justice League, taking them prisoner. John tries to fight his way free, but Hawkgirl tricks him into lowering his Power Ring, then knocks him out and takes his ring.
A Thanagarian unit takes control of the Watchtower, while the rest of their forces occupy Earth. The League is taken prisoner and transported to a holding facility.
Hawkgirl returns to the mother ship. Talak commends her on a job well done, but his subordinate, Kragger, is suspicious of her sympathies with the League, and the humans.
The League manages to escape the prison ship, which crashes in Metropolis. The League decides that to stay hidden, they will need to discard their costumes and assume civilian clothes. Flash protests for "secret identity" reasons, but Batman cuts him off, saying that he has already found out Superman and Flash's alter egos, and then reveals his own (J'onn, Wonder Woman, and Lantern do not have secret identities). The League split into pairs and make their way toward Gotham City, to rendezvous at Wayne Manor. It is tricky, as the Thanagarians figured out that they disguised themselves as civilians and hold checkpoints for city-to-city travel. The citizens assist Bruce and Diana.
Aboard the mothership, Hro reveals the Thanagarians' true plan: the force field generator is actually a "hyperspace bypass generator," the last in a series of wormhole relays that will allow the Thanagarians to bypass the Gordanians' defenses and attack their homeworld directly, finally ending the war. But in the process, Earth will be destroyed – to the Thanagarians, a sad but necessary sacrifice. Hawkgirl is horrified. She tries to convince Talak to build it on a desolate planet or moon but he says that it will throw off their calculations.
The League meets in the Batcave, to puzzle out why the Thanagarians are interested in Earth. Hawkgirl appears, giving them data on the project. Batman accepts the information, then coldly orders her out. Before she goes, she shares a private moment with John, returning his Power Ring to him.
But Kragger has planted a bug on Shayera, allowing him to track her to the League's hideout.
As soon as Shayera returns to the mothership, Kragger has her arrested. He plays the recording of her conversation with the League for Hro, revealing both her treachery and her affection for John. Hro is heartbroken, but orders her locked up. He assaults Kragger for the devastating evidence, and orders an attack on Wayne Manor.
Kragger leads a strike team to Wayne Manor to eliminate the League. Fully powered now, they beat back the attack and take several prisoners. Unfortunately, J'onn is unable to figure out how to pilot Kragger's ship, so he goes deeper into his mind to find out. However, Kragger's mental defenses, manifesting in the form of hawks, attack J'onn, as his wounds appear on his in reality. He is able to topple the mental flame inside Kragger, gaining the information he sought, while leaving Kragger temporarily catatonic.
Batman is in command of their strategy: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern attack the command ship to shut down the force field protecting the hyperspace generator; Batman, Flash, and J'onn infiltrate the Watchtower using the strike team's shuttle (and with J'onn masquerading as Kragger), and incapacitate the occupation force. Batman explains that he plans to take the Watchtower out of orbit and use it as a missile to destroy the generator. He and the others load the unconscious Thanagarians into the escape pods, but Batman launches the pod with himself staying behind, saying that he has to guide the Tower in manually even if it means sacrificing himself, and bids his comrades farewell.
While Superman and Wonder Woman battle the Thanagarian fighters, Lantern breaks into the ship to reach the force field controls. Talak is waiting for him, determined not to let Batman succeed in his suicide mission and also desiring revenge on Lantern for his "stolen" love.
As Wonder Woman fights her way through another part of the ship, she passes Hawkgirl's cell. Though bitter, she releases her. With the generator complete, the Thanagarians begin the activation to open the hyperspace gate. The Watchtower travels down through the atmosphere, piloted by Batman. As the heat increases, the Tower begins to break up. Hearing where Batman is, Superman breaks off from the battle and flies to intercept him.
In the control room, Lantern fights hard against Talak, but loses after Talak slices his ring in half, and is knocked out.
Talak raises his battle axe for the kill, and Hawkgirl appears to do battle with her ex-fiancée, who beats her and renounces his love for her. Lantern regains consciousness, and attacks Talak again, but is very weak without his ring. As Talak punches him, Lantern taunts him, and an enraged Talak swings his axe, inadvertently hitting the shield surrounding the force field control. In the resulting explosion, he is knocked out and the shield drops, allowing Lantern, with Shayera's help, to deactivate the force field. Superman streaks after the Watchtower as Batman, overcome by the heat and smoke, finally passes out. Superman breaks in and pulls him free just before it hits, destroying the generator.
Aboard the ship, Lantern and Hawkgirl are confronted by more Thanagarian soldiers. Wonder Woman arrives to help, but Talak orders his men to stand down – their mission has failed. The Thanagarian forces leave Earth, abandoning Hawkgirl.
At Wayne Manor, Hawkgirl waits while the League debates whether to allow her to remain. Alfred tells her that, regardless of what the others decide, he still considers her a hero. In the conference room, Flash and Wonder Woman are the strongest for and against votes, respectively; J'onn and Superman are sympathetic; Lantern and Batman are silent. Ultimately, Batman suggests that they just vote, and asks Alfred to call Hawkgirl into the conference room.
Superman is about to announce the League's decision, but Hawkgirl interrupts, deciding to resign from the League. As she goes, Flash hugs her warmly. J'onn and Superman say that it's their duty to rebuild the League.
Outside Wayne Manor, John shares a brief, emotional moment with Hawkgirl before she leaves, telling John once last time that she does indeed love him.
The movie was notable for several things, not the least of which was the first appearance of Flash as Wally West, and the group revelation of secret identities. It also showcased Hawkgirl's "betrayal, of course. It's worth noting that the character of Hawkman was not involved in the story. At the outset of the Justice League series, Hawkgirl was brought in, doubtless to include a second female on the team, and as a replacement among the "Big Seven" heroes for Aquaman, who did turn up over the course of the series.
Hawkman would appear during "Justice League Unlimited", but with no real direct ties to Thanagar. In this respect, the DC Animated Universe diverted significantly from the mainstream DC Universe. In a later JLU episode, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and John Stewart were brought together, and some aspects -- especially the ones relating to ancient Egypt -- of the Hawks' past which had played out in the main DC Universe, were introduced into the animated continuity. But it's a little difficult to reconcile these with the "Starcrossed" movie, and I'm not going to try to do so here. I mention them merely for completion's sake.
The figure set consists of Batman, Green Lantern, a redressed Hawkgirl, and new characters Hro Talak. Paran Dul, and Lt. Kragger. This review will spent most of its time on the assorted Thanagarians, but let's have a quick look at Batman and Green Lantern.
BATMAN - Certainly a major player in the movie, and well worth presenting in this set, as he kept the League together, revealed that he knew who everyone was, and Wayne Manor played a major part in the movie.
Obviously, a Batman figure is not going to be especially dynamic in a Justice League set these days. He's been done plenty of times. However, the figure is very decent, using established Batman molds, including a very nicely designed utility belt. The figure is distinctive for this as well as for his boots and gloves. In other words, it doesn't just use the standard "male hero" body molds common to the Justice League line.
The colors for Batman's costume have varied slightly within the Justice League line from time to time. In this instance, Batman has been given a medium-to-light gray uniform, with very dark blue cape, cowl, gloves, trunks, and boots. The Bat-emblem has been printed on the front in black. The utility belt is an interesting dark grayish yellow. It's an odd color. I got some scrambled eggs this color once in a restaurant. They were so rubbery I could've resoled my sneakers with them, and I never set foot in the place again. Speaking of rubbery, the cape is very nicely flexible. Wish they were all like this in the DC Universe Classics line.
GREEN LANTERN - For the animated series, the Justice League's main Green Lantern was John Stewart, doubtless to add some racial diversity to the line-up, as much as Hawkgirl added an additional female element alongside Wonder Woman. Interestingly enough, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl became romantically involved, a relationship that was pretty well shattered by the events of this movie.
I've found it interesting that when Justice League Unlimited commenced, Stewart, who was formerly clean-shaven and had short-cropped hair, had shaved his head and grown a mustache and a goatee. To this day, I am convinced that this was a bit of a nod on the part of Justice League's producers of Avery Brooks' character, Captain Sisko, on Star Trek Deep Space Nine, since Brooks did the exact same thing about halfway through the series' run, and there wasn't really much other reason for the animated character to have done this.
However, in Starcrossed, this was still the pre-JLU Stewart, so the figure still has his hair. He's dressed as he was in the series, in a Green Lantern uniform that is mostly black, with a wide green collar that extends to the shoulders -- you know, now that I think about it, the basic color scheme isn't too far removed from the uniforms used on Deep Space Nine, as well, except they didn't use green. I'm surprised I never noticed this before. Anyway, the uniform has green wristbands and boots, and the Green Lantern symbol in a white circle in the middle of the chest. Of course, the Green Lantern ring is present on Stewart's right hand.
The figure, like Batman, is entirely unique, with the various costume details actually sculpted in as well as painted in. The eyes are interesting, in that they are green with black pupils. In the series, Stewart's eyes tended to glow entirely green when he was using the ring, and still had a bit of a glow even at the rest of the time. This is a good compromise, paintwise.
Now, let's consider the assorted winged warriors...
HAWKGIRL - Following the arrival of her fellow Thanagarians, Hawkgirl essentially gave up her super-hero identity, and donned the uniform of a lieutenant in the Thanagarian military. After their defeat and her decision to remain on Earth, Hawkgirl was essentially neither a super-hero or a soldier. During the course of Justice League Unlimited, she would return, but unmasked and wearing a costume that amounted to rather nondescript yellow tights, not really resembling either of her previous costumes, and simply calling herself Shayera, her real name.
There was a figure of Shayera, and this Hawkgirl figure uses the headsculpt from that unmasked version of Hawkgirl, but also changes the costume details appropriately. This version of Hawkgirl is dressed in a mostly dark blue uniform consisting of a halter top and leggings. The halter top has a gold studded border around it, with a red emblem in the middle with a black hawk insignia. She has red boots with the gold Hawk striping on them, as well as a fancy belt with flared sections out to the sides. The belt is gold with red detailing. She also has blue shoulder armor and gauntlets that are outlined in gold.
Interestingly enough, there's almost an Egyptian look to it, in keeping with that side of the Hawks' background. All of the details on the figure are painted on to a standard female body mold, except for the belt, which is a separately molded piece attached during assembly. Of course, the figure also has the huge Hawk-like wings of all Thanagarians who don a uniform.
I must say that the headsculpt is excellent, and the facial details especially neatly painted. Hawkgirl here also has an expression of distinct determination, unlike the uncertainty she would soon experience. It's really a very impressive figure.
PARAN DUL - Although not mentioned in the overview of "Starcrossed', I remember her well enough. She was a female Thanagarian warrior who was a more than capable fighter that gave the League plenty of grief.
As one would expect, the figure uses the same body molds as Hawkgirl, except that the costume details are white instead of dark blue. The headsculpt is entirely different, though. Paran Dul is wearing a helmet, round on the top, tapering to a slight flare in the back, with a gold mask with a near-beak covering the front of her face. Her eyes are meant to look shadowed within the mask, and so this area is painted entirely black with two white eyes showing forth. The lower face is visible, and consists of a nicely painted mouth with a slightly sinister smile on it.
HRO TALAK - Leader of the Thanagarian forces, and at first glance, it wouldn't be hard to mistake him for a really militaristic version of Hawkman. The helmet is quite similar, with flared out "wings" to the side, and a beak-like nose. The region around the face is painted black. Most of the helmet is gold, with some yellow trim. Talak's lower face is visible, his expression a determined scowl.
The uniform design is similar to that of the ladies', but more extensive. Talak is wearing a gold, studded harness, that is a separately molded piece placed over a standard make body mold, that has the Hawk symbol in black on a red circle in the center. Talak's mid torso region and legs are a dark green, adding to the "Hawkman" look. His boots are of the traditional Thanagarian design. His upper legs have ridged armor painted on them, in gold with black lines. He has a belt similar to that of the two female characters, but the sides do now swoop down as far.
Interestingly enough, the arms are entirely unique, and have the same sort of shoulder armor and similar gauntlets to the two female characters, but in this case, they're sculpted, not just painted. Talak's hands are metal-gloved fists, with extensive sculpted detail.
LT. KRAGGER - Very similar to Hro Talak except for the headsculpt and certain aspects of the color scheme. The figure has the same distinctive harness and belt, as well as distinctive arms. He lacks the armored plating on the front of the upper legs, however, and rather than green, his uniform color is dark blue, the same as Hawkgirl, who also holds the rank of lieutenant, so it's reasonable to assume that rank is determined in the Thanagarian military by uniform color as much as anything.
Kragger's headsculpt has the figure wearing a helmet, but it lacks the outward flares of Talak's. His lower face is visible, and he has a sort of sardonic half-smile on his face, like he's just caught Hawkgirl in her betrayal of the Thanagarians, and is just in the process of turning her over to Talak, and trying very hard not to say, "I told you so". He also has a black goatee.
It's interesting to note some of the common points among these four figures that doubtless made this set more economically feasible despite how distinctive and ornate the Thanagarians are. The most expensive part of making toys is always the molds. If new molds can be kept to a minimum, it's always helpful. And this was managed even while making some very distinctive figures.
All four of the Thanagarians use the same set of wings. There isn't even a difference between male and female. Hawkgirl and Paran Dul doubtless have the same paint stencils - just the colors differ somewhat. Similarly, Hro Talak and Lt. Kragger may have the interesting harness and unique arms, but it's the same harness and arms for both figures, thus defraying the cost of these new parts between the two figures. Same with the belts. Hawkgirl's and Paran Dul's belts are identical, as are Talak's and Kragger's. The only major visual difference between either the males or the females is the headsculpt and colors, and the fact that Talak has painted armor on his upper legs that Kragger lacks.
None of this is intended as criticism. It's entirely understandable, and I believe it is justified. And there's something to be said for it lending a certain consistency to the figures, which I also appreciate.
Obviously, these being Justice League figures, articulation is somewhat minimal. However, all six figures move at the head, arms, and legs. And they all certainly match the animated style of the series superbly well. I think it is a serious testament to the popularity of the DC Animated Universe as envisioned by Bruce Timm that the Justice League action figures continue despite the fact that the series has been off the air for years. Consider that "Starcrossed" first aired in 2004!
Now, I will say this. What with the fairly heavy wings, and for that matter Batman's cape, five of these figures do have a little trouble standing up on their own, at least for any length of time. I was able to get them all to stand up at one point, but it took about five minutes for someone to fall over backwards. Thanks loads, Lt. Kragger. The set does include two clear display stands, for the female figures, which are notorious for not standing up well regardless of back-heavy wings, but really, just about everybody in this set could use a little extra help. I think MattyCollector does offer display bases. I don't know offhand if any of them are designed for JLU figures, but if not, there are bound to be other sources, and for this set, I do recommend them.
So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. I'm also surprised that I had never heard about this set before until I walked into the toy section and there it was! I think it's very cool to see a set based on what was a very impressive multi-episode "movie" that certainly raised the bar and changed the landscape for the Justice League animated world. This set gives us cool figures of two very popular characters, Batman and Green Lantern; a very interesting version of Hawkgirl, and three entirely new characters that have never seen figure form before! It's a real prize for any DC Animated fan, especially those who enjoy the Justice League!
The JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED six-pack, "ATTACK FROM THANAGAR", definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!