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REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES LIGHTNING LAD
By Thomas Wheeler

I've been a longtime fan of DC Comics' legendary LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, like since the late 1960's. Granted, the comics have had their ups and downs -- and even a few sideways -- but I've always been a fan of the basic concept and characters.

However, the Legion has never really had a major presence in the action figure world. I've tended to believe that one of the reasons for this is because, hailing as they did from a thousand years in the future, despite the periodic presence of Superboy and Supergirl, they were always somewhat isolated from the present-day DC Universe. Mego never did anything with them. Neither did Kenner or Hasbro. There was a line of them from DC Direct, but it wasn't really one of their high points, and the figures were in their very original costumes, which weren't my personal favorites.

A while back, there was a special Justice League Unlimited four-pack featuring the Legion, but that seemed to be about it. Until, at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, Mattel announced that the Legion of Super-Heroes would be joining the line-up in their flagship line -- DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS. As if there hadn't been tons of campaigning on the part of Legion fans for this to happen.

It would be, explained Mattel, a very special set. Not a two-pack, not a three-pack, not a five-pack. No -- it would be a TWELVE-pack. And even at that, the speculation as to who would be included from a membership that over the years had consisted of several dozen characters ran wild for some time until Mattel introduced the line-up.

The final dozen would include Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl -- the three founders of the team; Superboy, mostly so Mattel could turn out a classic Superboy figure; Brainiac 5, one of the most popular non-founding members; joined by Ultra Boy, Wildfire, Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Karate Kid, Chameleon Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad, in part for a little comic relief there at the end. The set also includes a figure of Proty, a semi-sentient protoplasm pet once belonging to Chameleon Boy, and a Legion flight ring.

I knew even before Mattel announced the line-up that this was a set I had to have, but then they had to go and include some of my most favorite characters. The set, after a few delays, was finally released in October 2010, as an exclusive to MattyCollector.Com.

The package is superb. It is a seven-sided stylized version of the Legion's original headquaters, a yellow rocket-like building with red fins at the top. The twelve figures are displayed within in what are designed to look like teleportation tubes, two to a section. The central section features the far larger Colossal Boy figure, and a smaller space for Proty and the ring. This does leave one empty space among the other six sections, however. This has been labeled for Legion member Invisible Kid. A little joke on Mattel's part...

Now -- there is no way that I can fairly review the entire set in one review and maintain my usual style of presenting a decent amount of backstory on the given character before reviewing the specific figure. Not without this review running the length of a doctoral thesis. And I'm not going to compromise my usual style by shortening this to a brief look at each figure and leaving it at that. There will be other such reviews elsewhere on the Internet, I'm sure.

As such, I am going to give each Legionnaire an individual review. I feel that to do less would be to do an injustice to this very cool concept, and this extremely cool set of figures. This review will take a look at founding member LIGHTNING LAD. But first, an overview of the Legion itself.

The Legion of Super-Heroes is a fictional superhero team in the 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Comics Universe. The team first appears in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), and was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.

Initially, the team was closely associated with the original Superboy, and was first portrayed as a group of time travelers who frequently visited him. In later years, the Legion's origin and backstory were fleshed out, and the group replaced Superboy as the focus of their stories; eventually Superboy was removed altogether, except as an occasional guest star.

The team has undergone several major reboots during its publication. The original version was replaced with a new rebooted version following the events of Zero Hour and another rebooted team was introduced in 2004. A fourth version of the team, nearly identical to the original version, was introduced in 2007. As a result, Superman (both as an adult and a teenager) and the current version of Supergirl have been reincorporated into Legion history.

Superboy was the featured series in Adventure Comics in the late 1950s. In Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), he was met by three teenagers from the 30th century: Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, who were members of a "super-hero club" called the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their club had been formed with Superboy as an inspiration, and they had time travelled to recruit Superboy as a member. After a series of tests, Superboy was awarded membership and returned to his own time.

Although intended as a one-off story focusing on Superboy, the Legion proved so popular that it returned for an encore in Adventure Comics #267 (December 1959). Lightning Boy had been renamed Lightning Lad, and their costumes were very close to those they wore throughout the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Legion's popularity grew, and they appeared in further stories in Adventure Comics and Action Comics over the next few years. The ranks of the Legion, only hinted at in those first two stories, were filled with new heroes, such as Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, and Ultra Boy. Even Supergirl was recruited as a member.

In Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962), the Legion received their own regular feature, cover-billed "Superboy in 'Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes'". While they would share space with Superboy solo stories for a couple of years, they eventually displaced Superboy entirely as their popularity grew.

It was this run which established the Legion's general workings and environment. A club of teenagers, they operated out of a clubhouse in the shape of a yellow rocket ship inverted as if it had been driven into the ground. The position of Legion leader rotated among the membership, sometimes through election, and sometimes by more arcane methods. Each Legionnaire had to possess at least one natural superpower, in particular a power which no other member possessed. Despite this, several members had overlapping powers, particularly Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. The Legion was based on Earth, and protected an organization of humans and aliens called the United Planets. The regular police force in the UP was the Science Police. The setting for each story was almost always 1000 years from the date of publication.

In 1973, the Legion returned to cover billing on a book when Superboy became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197 (August 1973). Crafted by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum, the feature proved highly popular. Cockrum was later replaced on art by Mike Grell. With #231 (September 1977), the book's title officially changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Following a wide range of epic storylines, and several rather confusing reboots, largely tied in with certain "crises" of the time, a far more familiar Legion returned on the heels of Infinite Crisis. The "Lightning Saga" crossover in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America features the return of the original versions of Star Boy (now called Starman), Dream Girl, Wildfire, Karate Kid, Timber Wolf, Sensor Girl, Dawnstar, and Brainiac 5. Though several differences between the original and Lightning Saga Legions exist, Geoff Johns has stated that this incarnation of the Legion shares the same history as the original Legion up to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, with Clark Kent having joined the team as the teenage Superboy prior to the start of his career as Superman.

This version of the Legion next appeared in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" storyline in Action Comics #858-863, and next appeared in the 2008 Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds limited series, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by George Pérez. The mini-series features the post-Infinite Crisis Legion and Superman teaming up with the "Reboot" and "Threeboot" incarnations of the Legion to fight Superboy-Prime, the Legion of Super-Villains, and the Time Trapper. Geoff Johns stated that the intent of the mini-series was to validate the existence of all three versions of the team while simultaneously restoring the pre-Crisis Legion's continuity as well. This Legion would then go on to star in its own title, which, although renumbered following the repugnant "DC Relaunch", is proving to be one of the titles least affected, although mention of the "Flashpoint event" closing off time travel to Superman's era has been made. Be nice if it turned into some sort of loophole at some point to put things right.

As for the character of LIGHTNING LAD; His real name is Garth Ranzz, and he is a founding member of the Legion. He first appeared in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) under his original codename Lightning Boy.

As with most prominent Legionnaires, given the continuity alterations over the decades, the character's history is a complicated one.

Lightning Lad is a founding member of the Legion of Super-Heroes along with Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy. Born on the planet Winath, he is the twin brother of fellow Legionnaire Ayla Ranzz (Lightning Lass), the younger brother of the supervillain Mekt Ranzz (Lightning Lord), and the father of two sets of twins; sons Garridan and Graym Ranzz and daughters Dacey and Dorrit Ranzz.

Early in the Legion's history, he sacrificed himself battling Zaryan the Conqueror, but was later resurrected by the sacrifice of Proty, Chameleon Boy's shapeshifting pet. However, a later retcon revealed that Proty's mind had actually taken over Lightning Lad's form.

An incident against a monster dubbed the "Super Moby Dick of space" resulted in the loss of Lightning Lad's right arm, which was replaced with a bionic appendage. He eventually had his arm regrown, but in the interim a criminal scientist used the situation to hypnotize Lightning Lad into acting as the super criminal Starfinger who used the bionic arm as a weapon.

After the Zero Hour miniseries, Legion history was completely rebooted. Garth's new history started when the twins went with Mekt on a trip in their parents' new space cruiser and became stranded on the barren planet Korbal after the cruiser's power cells drained. Ayla suggested that they use the "Lightning Beasts" (the only living things on the planet) in an attempt to recharge their cruiser. The only result of this, however, was that all three were found in comas the following day as a result of massive electrocution.

Months later, Garth and Ayla awoke simultaneously to find that Mekt had awoken around a week earlier, displayed electrical powers like the Beasts, threatened the staff, and vanished. After hearing this, they kept the fact that they had developed similar powers from their parents before Garth, thinking that the lightning had corrupted Mekt somehow and would soon corrupt them and refusing to believe that Mekt had developed into a sociopath just because he had been a "solo" on a world of twins, ran away from home to find Mekt (telling his parents he was going to visit his Aunt Ryth), despite Ayla's attempts to dissuade him.

Hearing that Mekt might be on Earth, he got on a shuttle bound for Earth via Titan, and met Rokk Krinn there. The two hit it off immediately, but although he developed a crush on her at first sight, Imra Ardeen gave him a frosty reception. Nonetheless, when she shouted that four "maintenance men" were actually assassins after wealthy industrialist R.J. Brande, the three worked together to stop them. This gave Brande an idea. Brande, a follower of the 21st Century "Heroic Age", proceeded to talk the three of them into founding "a Legion of Heroes. Super-Heroes."

Today, he is married to Saturn Girl. He's known for having a rather short temper, and a decided sarcastic streak.

As to his powers and abilities, Lightning Lad has the ability to generate electricity within his own body without harming himself. This electricity he is able to discharge in the form of potent "lightning bolts" (in some undisclosed way his power prevents these bolts from taking the path of least resistance, such that he is able to target objects with great accuracy). He can also create flashing lettering which can been seen from great distances. He has occasionally displayed a limited control of weather. In more recent versions of the character, Garth is also able to direct his electric powers internally so as to move at superhuman speed, with his top speed being approximately one-third the speed of light. Lightning Lad is immune to the harmful effects of electric currents, not only those currents which he himself generates.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. Mattel very wisely chose neither the original costumes from the late 1950's for these Legion figures, nor any of their most recent, and occasionally short-lived, counterparts. Rather, Mattel derived most of the costumes for this Legion set from the 70's-80's era dominated by the designs of Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell.

Many of the figures in this set use a slightly smaller set of make body molds, emphasizing the fact that these are teenage super-heroes who still have a little growing to do. The body size and basic format has been seen twice before, with the figures of Kamandi and the modern Superboy, Connor Kent. Obviously, some additional parts needed to be made, along with distinctive headsculpts. Fortunately for the Legion, this set of body molds is slightly larger than its predecessor used for teen heroes, which was seen on Robin, Beast Boy, and Kid Flash, and while arguably appropriate for those three, would have been far too small for the Legionnaires.

Lightning Lad stands very slightly over 6" in height. This for a line where a standard adult male figure stands about 6-1/2". It's not a significant difference, but it's about right.

Lightning Lad looks entirely human, as do many of the Legionnaires, and he has reddish blonde hair. In this particular instance, his hairstyle is just about as 70's as the era from which his uniform comes from. The uniform, as a design, still works. The hair is probably open to some measure of debate. It's somewhat long-ish, somewhat wavy in the front, and definitely frizzed out along the sides and back.

Then again, why criticize? Maybe that's just what's in style on Winath, or in the 31st century. Same way Luke Skywalker's original hairstyle might be what's in style on Tatooine a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

For whatever inexplicable reason, Lightning Lad's original costume in the late 1950's used a fair bit of red and green. He later traded this in for a costume that had more dark blue in it, but it really wasn't until he got the costume that is designed onto this figure that he picked up a costume that could really be considered cool, as far as I'm concerned.

The costume is predominantly dark blue. The insides of the legs are white, presented on the figure as a very pale gray, as are the gloves. Lightning Lad's boots are black, and have been give a somewhat glossy finish, pretty much unique in this set.

Of course, Lightning Lad's costume has an excellent representation of his power on it. It wouldn't really be a superhero costume if it didn't. Thick yellow lightning bolts start at the shoulders, and merge in the center of the chest and back.

Really, this is Lightning Lad's most definitive, and I would tend to say, most popular look, and it's a really great figure of him.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Lightning Lad is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. I am pleased to report that none of the figures in the entire Legion set had any major articulation problems. All were assembled properly, and move well. Including Lightning Lad.

One additional detail. Lightning Lad is wearing a Legion Flight Ring on his right hand. Actually, they all are. Nice touch -- and I can guarantee you that the fans would've been screaming if it hadn't been included. It bears the Legion emblem, if you look close enough, and has been painted in metallic gold.

So, what's my final word? You know, it's interesting, but until fairly recent times, action figures weren't really Mattel's strong points. They were best known for Barbie and Hot Wheels. But when they picked up the DC license, and then enlisted the considerable talents and skills of the Four Horsemen, they started turning out amazing work like DC Universe Classics and Masters of the Universe Classics. Right now, I think they're putting out some of the most incredible action figures available, through these two lines.

And certainly, this Legion of Super-Heroes set is one of the most astounding masterpieces of action figures that I've ever encountered. Now, I will say that there's still plenty of Legionnaires out there. I realize that in 2012, the DC Universe Classics line will move to an online subscription service, which will also limit the number of figures being produced. But I also sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of the Legion. If I were to list my top five of additional Legionnaires that I would like to see, that list would likely feature Mon-El, Sun Boy, Element Lad, Shadow Lass, and Blok. Let's hope it happens.

In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful for this amazing twelve-pack, and certainly for Lightning Lad. I can't imagine any longtime Legion fan or DC Universe fan not wanting to add this set to their collection.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of LIGHTNING LAD, part of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 12-pack, most definitely has my highest recommendation! Long live the Legion!