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REVIEW: MAN OF STEEL MOVIE MASTERS SUPERMAN
By Thomas Wheeler

I've said this before with any number of DC-based action figure reviews I've written, but I think it's especially appropriate here: I really hate what DC Comics has done with its so-called "New 52". They took over 75 years of comics history, the finest super-hero characters ever created, legacies that effectively amount to modern mythology -- and chucked it all out the window like never before.

Before the arrival of characters like Batman and Superman, comic books were largely reprints of newspaper strips. There was a certain feeling of "been there, done that" to them. But the arrival of these two legendary characters changed that landscape forever. And they were instantly popular, and soon were appearing in other forms of media, everything from radio shows to movie serials.

Arguably, the only superhero type of character that preceded them was The Phantom -- and not by much. Superman and Batman paved the way for literally everybody that followed: Wonder Woman. Green Lantern. Captain America. The Flash. Namor the Sub-Mariner. Aquaman.

So what do the disrespectful powers-that-be at DC decide to do? Toss out all of that history and create a new world in which the super-heroes have only been around for a few years, are generally eyed with suspicion by the general public, don't even like each other very much, and are now involved in "edgier" stories with no small amount of socio-political commentary when it suits the writers and editors.

The supposed reason for this was to raise sales, to bring in new readers that appreciate that sort of story. As far as I've been able to determine, this worked for about three months and then sales went back to pretty much right where they were, except DC has managed to make it look better by scrapping any title that falls under a certain sales level.

Where's all this leading to? The newest Superman movie -- MAN OF STEEL. When I first saw the costume, I really hated it. The red trunks were gone -- something that the "New 52" Superman's costume had also eliminated, and I didn't like the changes to the "S" symbol. While not identical to the revised "S" symbol of the "New 52" Superman, I have to maintain -- why change it at all?

I'll never understand why writers, of either comics or movies, feel the need to radically change aspects of a character that has been successful for decades before they were even born. It strikes me as a horribly ugly combination of ego and disrespect. They really believe that they can make the character so much better than he ever was, just by their involvement. More often than not, it doesn't work.

I'm not saying I was averse to the idea of a new Superman movie. Granted, I'm one of the few people I know who thinks that "Superman Returns" wasn't all that bad. I mean, it was reasonably respectful to the Christopher Reeve movies, and let's face it, even among the Reeve movies, Superman III and IV were disasters.

And there's certainly something to be said for modern-day special effects. There seems to be very little that well-rendered CGI effects cannot accomplish these days, and that's certainly going to be of benefit to a character like Superman.

Still, I do appreciate well-made, well-detailed action figures, and whenever there's a new DC-based movie these days, Mattel usually offers a few new entries in their "Movie Masters" line. They did it for Green Lantern. They did it for the last Batman movie. And they've done it for the new Superman movie. So, what the heck, I decided to bring in the Superman figure.

Superman is one of those characters that I really feel a little silly writing any sort of background about. If you don't know Superman, then you've been living so far outside of civilization that I doubt you own a computer to read this review. So let's keep that part of it short, and then have a look at this new "Man of Steel" movie, and then the Movie Masters figure...

Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and sold to Detective Comics, Inc. (later DC Comics) in 1938, the character first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) and subsequently appeared in various radio serials, television programs, films, newspaper strips, and video games. With the success of his adventures, Superman helped to create the superhero genre and establish its primacy within the American comic book. The character's appearance is distinctive and iconic: a blue, red and yellow costume, complete with cape, with a stylized "S" shield on his chest. He is widely considered to be an American cultural icon, and deservedly so.

The origin story of Superman relates that he was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father Jor-El, moments before Krypton's destruction. Discovered and adopted by a Kansas farmer and his wife, the child is raised as Clark Kent and imbued with a strong moral compass. Very early he started to display superhuman abilities, which upon reaching maturity he resolved to use for the benefit of humanity.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had initially created a bald telepathic villain bent on dominating the world, in the short story "The Reign of the Super-Man" in Science Fiction #3, a fanzine Siegel published in 1933. Siegel re-envisioned the character later that year as a hero bearing no resemblance to his villainous namesake, with Shuster visually modeling Superman on Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and his bespectacled alter ego, Clark Kent, on a combination of Harold Lloyd and Shuster himself, with the name "Clark Kent" derived from movie stars Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. Lois Lane was modelled on Joanne Carter, who later became Siegel's wife. Siegel and Shuster then began a six-year quest to find a publisher.

The character became more of a hero in the mythic tradition, inspired by such characters as Samson and Hercules, who would right the wrongs of Siegel and Shuster's times. It was at this stage the costume was introduced, Siegel later recalling that they created a "kind of costume and let's give him a big S on his chest, and a cape, make him as colorful as we can and as distinctive as we can." The design was based in part on the costumes worn by characters in outer space settings published in pulp magazines, as well as comic strips such as Flash Gordon, and also partly suggested by the traditional circus strong-man outfit, which comprised a pair of shorts worn over a contrasting bodysuit. However, the cape has been noted as being markedly different from the Victorian tradition. Gary Engle described it as without "precedent in popular culture" in Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend. The circus performer's shorts-over-tights outfit was soon established as the basis for many future superhero outfits. This version of the character was given extraordinary abilities, although this time of a physical nature as opposed to the mental abilities of the villainous Superman.

Although Siegel and Shuster were by now selling material to comic book publishers, notably Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publishing, the pair decided to feature this character in a comic strip format, rather than in the longer comic book story format that was establishing itself at this time. They offered it to both Max Gaines, who passed, and to United Feature Syndicate, who expressed interest initially but finally rejected the strip in a letter dated February 18, 1937. However, in what historian Les Daniels describes as "an incredibly convoluted turn of events", Max Gaines ended up positioning the strip as the lead feature in Wheeler-Nicholson's new publication, Action Comics. Vin Sullivan, editor of the new book, wrote to the pair requesting that the comic strips be refashioned to suit the comic book format.

And the rest, as they say...

As to the new movie, Man of Steel is a 2013 American superhero film directed by Zack Snyder, produced by Christopher Nolan, and scripted by David S. Goyer. The film is a reboot of the Superman film series that portrays the character's origin story. The film stars Henry Cavill in the title role with Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon as General Zod, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El. Man of Steel is intended to launch a shared fictional universe of DC Comics characters on film.

And I'll give it credit for that, at least. Let's face it, Marvel Studios has been kicking DC's tail all over the place in that regard, taking the first two Iron Man movies, the Captain America movie, the Thor movie, and even the second Hulk movie, and used them as lead-ins of one sort or another to create a group project that blew out box office records faster than you could yell "Avengers Assemble". It's way past time the DC characters followed suit, and it was announced at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con that the next film will unite Batman and Superman for the first time on film.

Development began in 2008 when Warner Bros. Pictures took pitches from comic book writers, screenwriters and directors, opting to reboot the franchise. Nolan pitched Goyer's idea after story discussion on The Dark Knight Rises, and Snyder was hired as the film's director in October 2010. Principal photography started in August 2011 in West Chicago, Illinois, before moving to Vancouver and Plano, Illinois.

The film was released to the general public on June 14, 2013, in conventional, 3D and IMAX theaters. The film has grossed more than $647 million at the worldwide box office, despite a polarized response from critics. Some critics highlighted the film's narrative, acting, visuals and reinvention of the titular character, while others were critical of the film's pacing and lack of character development. And as I said, a follow-up featuring Batman is expected to be released in 2015, with Snyder, Goyer, Nolan, and most of the first film's main cast set to return. Same year as the expected Avengers sequel. Good luck...

In the story, the planet Krypton faces imminent destruction due to its unstable core, the result of years of depleting Krypton's natural resources. The ruling council is deposed by the planet's military commander General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his followers during a military coup. Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Zurer) launch their newborn son Kal-El on a spacecraft to Earth after infusing his cells with a genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race. After Zod murders Jor-El, he and his followers are captured and banished to the Phantom Zone. However, Krypton explodes some time afterward, freeing them. Obviously more than a few liberties were taken with the origin story.

Kal-El's ship lands in a small Kansas town. He is raised as the adoptive son of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively), who name him Clark. Clark's Kryptonian physiology affords him superhuman abilities on Earth, which initially cause him confusion and ostracism, but he gradually learns to harness his powers to help others. Jonathan reveals to a teenage Clark that he is an alien and advises him not to use his powers publicly, fearing that society will reject him.

After Jonathan's death, an adult Clark spends several years living a nomadic lifestyle, working different jobs under false identities, while saving people in secret as well as struggling to cope with the loss of his adoptive father. He eventually infiltrates a U.S. military investigation of a Kryptonian scout spaceship in the Arctic. Clark enters the alien ship, and it allows him to communicate with the preserved consciousness of Jor-El in the form of a hologram. Jor-El reveals Clark's origins and the extinction of his race, and tells Clark that he was sent to Earth to bring hope to mankind.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a journalist from the Daily Planet who was sent to write a story on the discovery, sneaks inside the ship while following Clark and is rescued by him when she is injured. Lois's editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), rejects her story of a "superhuman" rescuer, so she traces Clark back to Kansas with the intention of writing an exposé. After hearing his story, she decides not to reveal his secret.

Meanwhile, Zod and his crew seek out other worlds that the Kryptonian race colonized. However, the colonies did not survive long after Krypton's destruction. They eventually pick up a Kryptonian distress signal sent from the ship Clark discovered on Earth. Zod arrives and demands the humans surrender Kal-El, whom he believes has the codex, or else Earth will be destroyed. Clark agrees, and the military hand him and Lois over to Zod's second-in-command, Faora, at Zod's request.

Zod reveals that he intends to use a terraforming "world engine" to transform Earth into a new Krypton and use the codex to repopulate the planet with genetically-engineered Kryptonians. This transformation will result in the destruction of mankind. After Clark and Lois escape Zod's ship with Jor-El's help, Clark defeats Faora and Nam-Ek, convincing the military that he is an ally.

Zod deploys the world engine and initiates the process in Metropolis and over the Indian Ocean. Clark, now being called "Superman", destroys the world engine, while the military uses the spacecraft that brought him to Earth in an aerial strike on Zod's ship over Metropolis, sending Zod's forces back into the Phantom Zone. Superman destroys the ship that carries the Genesis Chamber, the pivotal technology to restore the Kryptonian race with the codex.

Only Zod remains, who engages Superman in a destructive battle across Metropolis. When Zod attempts to murder cornered civilians in revenge for his defeat, Superman is forced to kill him. Some time later, Superman continues to try to earn the U.S. government's trust, though evading their efforts to uncover his secret identity. To create an alias that gives him access to dangerous situations without arousing suspicion, Clark takes a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet.

So, on the whole, it sounds like a decent superhero action movie. But I have to say, I do think it takes a few too many liberties with the Superman mythos. Granted, there's any number of super-hero movies I could say that about.

So, how's the figure? Well, if you can wrap your head around the costume design, it really is an excellent figure.

The headsculpt is excellent. I'm honestly not sure how hesitant some people were to accept Henry Cavill, a British actor, as Superman, who despite his Kryptonian origins has always tended to be regarded as an American. And early pictures that I saw of him didn't exactly make me think "Superman". However, he does succeed in looking the part better than I expected, and the headsculpt of the figure does credit to the actor. I do miss the "S" curl in the hair, but it's sort of there, just combed to one side a little more.

The face has a relatively neutral, but serious expression on it. The facial details and hair are superbly sculpted, and the various painted details have been done with great precision, especially the eyes, which are very thorough, including the whites of the eyes, blue irises, black pupils, a little white dot of light reflection, and a line over the eyes representing eyelashes. Very impressive work here.

The costume. Okay. I'm still not fond of this design. The blue is too dark, the "S" symbol is just a little too much of a stretch, and I miss the red trunks. However, from the standpoint of duplicating the costume as it appeared in the movie, the figure does an excellent job.

Although lacking the red trunks, the costume does have some additional details on it. The entire costume has a sort of sculpted texture to it, which I assume the costume in the movie also had, although probably not quite as pronounced. There is some dark gray ridged detailing around the wrists and waist, the latter more or less taking the place of a belt. There is an oval shape in the center that could represent a belt buckle, but the rest of the sculpted lines do not take the form of a belt.

The "S" symbol is present, of course, and is more or less the same five-sided shape it has always been. However, the "S" itself is rather dramatically different than before, and in my opinion has been taken too far afield. However, the figure has done an excellent job of accurately duplicating this particular "S".

About the only unaltered part of the costume from the conventional design is the boots. They're present and accounted for, in red, with the pointed front with the little angular notch cut into them. Very nicely done.

Then there's the cape. It's huge! It practically drags the ground. It's a good thing Superman can fly, because I'd be worried about him tripping over this. Length notwithstanding, the sculpt is excellent, if just a little peculiar in one aspect. The cape "drapes" in such a way that one furl of it flows between Superman's legs. It's as though the cape is being blown from behind him. In all honesty, I think this might have been done for the sake of the figure's balance. If the cape flowed entirely behind him, given its size and weight, I don't think he would've been able to stand up on his own.

Superman's articulation is excellent. One thing about these Movie Masters figures -- they're almost as poseable as Mattel's excellent DC Universe Classics/Signature Series line. Superman is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles.

One question to ask -- how does he stand alongside other Movie Masters figures? Well, put him next to Green Lantern and Batman, and he's not bad. He's a bit taller than either of them, and honestly, Batman comes across looking just a little shorter than he should, although neither figure is as tall as Supes. But hey, if anyone deserves to be a bit taller in a group of super-heroes, it's got to be Superman. And as I said earlier, it is sort of cool to have at least half of a live-action Justice League here.

This Movie Masters Superman came with an accessory. Now, I have noticed that some Movie Masters Superman figures have this item, and some don't. It may, and I emphasize may, be store related. The ones I saw at Target didn't have it. But I bought this one at Walmart, and he was posed differently in the package, and came with the accessory.

It's called a "Kryptonian Command Key", and it's on a length of actual chain that's big enough for a person to wear. Honestly, I think that's the point. This isn't so much an accessory for Superman, but for whomever buys the figure. What really gets me is that this thing is a hunk of fairly heavy metal, with the Superman emblem at one end, but the rest of it has a very jagged appearance. So get that description. A fairly heavy, jagged chunk of metal on a long chain. This thing passed safety regulations?! I'm not in the habit of issuing warnings in my reviews, but this is not an item that you would want to leave in the hands of a small child. A little kid would almost certainly start whipping it around in a circle, and this could do some serious damage to siblings, pets, walls, windows, fragile household decorations, and himself. My advice -- stash it away.

Superman also comes with a display base, modeled after his "S" emblem, but he stands perfectly well on his own.

So, what's my final word? Okay, I know I've been harsh about DC's "New 52", and frankly, the design of the Superman costume in this "Man of Steel" movie. I don't apologize for that. However, if you enjoyed the "Man of Steel" movie, and the box office for it would certainly indicate that a great many people did so, then this is really an excellent Superman figure of the character as he appeared in the film. It's accurate, fantastically detailed, well articulated, and really, everything you could want in an excellent action figure. No complaints about any of that whatsoever, and this would certainly be the Superman that any fan of the movie should have in their collection.

The MOVIE MASTERS figure of SUPERMAN from the MAN OF STEEL movie definitely has my highest recommendation!