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

As I've said in my previous Legion reviews, 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. 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 MATTER-EATER 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 traveled 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 MATTER-EATER LAD -- okay, he's one of the more peculiar members of the Legion, or at least one of the more peculiar-powered, and by Mattel's own admission, it's one of the reasons he was included in this set. Let's consider his background.

Matter-Eater Lad, real name Tenzil Kem, possesses the power to eat matter in all forms, as do all natives of his home planet, Bismoll. He first appears in Adventure Comics #303, December 1963.

Matter-Eater Lad is the fifteenth member inducted into the Legion of Super-Heroes, joining soon after Bouncing Boy. In his first appearance, Matter-Eater Lad explains his origins, saying that the natives of Bismoll found that microbes had made all their food inedible, and that the populace evolved their ability to eat all matter as a survival mechanism. Tenzil's mother is named Mitz Kem, his father Rall. His brother, Renkil, tries to take Tenzil's place in the Legion during one story (Superboy #184). Their family life is shown to be rough. He has an unrequited crush on Shrinking Violet, which features for the bulk of the Legion's run in Adventure Comics.

He appears rarely in Legion stories, as the writers struggled with the problem of how to make his power useful in a fight and was routinely written out via a plot device where Tenzil was constantly being drafted into his planet's political system due to his fame as a Legion member. During one of his first draftings to be in politics, he put in a good word for fellow Bismollian, Calorie Queen, who had somewhat similar powers as him, but also had the ability to turn caloric energy into super strength.

Matter-Eater Lad does have one major moment of heroism though, saving the universe in Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes #251 by eating the previously thought to be indestructible Miracle Machine, though the energies of the device leave him insane for several years. He is ultimately cured by Brainiac Five.

He would later avert the conquest of Bismoll by an army of Computo replicas, with the assistance of the Legion of Substitute Heroes (this mission would cause Polar Boy to disband his group, and join the Legion proper).

It was not until the launch of Legion of the Super-Heroes, volume 4, that the character becomes a major figure in the Legion series. Keith Giffen, who had infused his own brand of humor in his 1987 Justice League relaunch, revamped Tenzil Kem (which could arguably be a explained as consequence of his regained sanity) as a free spirit who rebels against his planet's virtual enslavement of him as a senator by becoming a multi-media celebrity, using his planet's tax money to finance multiple television shows that allow Tenzil to leave his planet for multiple trips to Earth and other planets for adventure and fun. (The scariest notion there is that television still exists a thousand years from now...)

While Tenzil's exploits make him persona non-grata with his world's rulers, they make him even more popular with the masses of his homeworld, resulting in Tenzil being kept on as senator. "Trust me, I'm a senator" is an oft-uttered catchphrase during this period.

Tenzil eventually comes into conflict with former Legion villain Prince Evillo, founder of The Devil's Dozen, and is sent to a Hades-like dimension. Having been technically "dead," Kem is voted out of office by the opposition party, who dislike both his disrespect for their traditions and his overwhelming popularity, and leaves Bismoll to find adventure.

After the events of the Zero Hour miniseries, Legion continuity was completely rebooted. Tenzil Kem (along with Bouncing Boy) are recast as part of the Legion's civilian support staff. Tenzil serves as the team's personal chef. Unlike the post-Zero Hour Bouncing Boy (who ultimately does join the team, as the group's pilot) Tenzil never joins the team, though he does help the team out during several battles when the group's base is attacked. Unlike his pre-Zero Hour counterpart, Tenzil's spit is similar to acid.

The events of the Infinite Crisis miniseries have apparently restored a close analogue of the Pre-Crisis Legion to continuity, as seen in "The Lightning Saga" story arc in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, and in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" story arc in Action Comics. Matter-Eater Lad is included in their number but is MIA.

In Superman #694, Matter-Eater Lad is revealed to have been masquerading as Mon-El's friend Mitch, owner of a local cafe. He reveals his identity by stepping in to save a woman trapped in a burning car, allowing Mon-El to continue fighting the larger threats.

As revealed in Adventure Comics (vol. 2) #8, Matter-Eater Lad is part of a secret team sent by the late RJ Brande to the 21st century to save the future in the Last Stand of New Krypton storyline.

In an episode of the Legion of Super Heroes animated series, Matter-Eater Lad appears (in his civilian identity as Tenzil Kem) as a participant in the Intergalactic Games, an Olympics-like event in which Lightning Lad also competes. When the Fatal Five attack the Games, Kem, along with Jo Nah of Rimbor, better known as Ultra Boy to longtime Legion fans, helps the Legion defeat them, at one point eating through the handle of the Persuader's Atomic Axe. He does not have a speaking part in the episode. He reappears in the episode The Substitutes, where he tries out for the Legion as Matter-Eater Lad and gains membership. He distinguishes himself by calmly eating an ionosphere-eating monster without a worry - and notes it tasted like chicken. In addition, he appears in the first season finale, Sundown, helping to stop the Sun Eater. He returns in the Season Two premiere, taking a bite out of Emerald Empress' magical weapon, the Emerald Eye of Ekron, and accidentally putting himself into a coma. In the episode "In The Beginning", he is shown to be conscious, but still in the hospital. In the "Dark Victory" two-parter, he is shown to have returned to active duty.

You know, I really hate to say it, but this guy is next to impossible to take seriously. His super-power is that he can EAT anything? Arguably he and Bouncing Boy are the silliest members of the Legion, and at least Bouncing Boy can be reasonably effective in battle by caroming off bad guys.

I'm not entirely sure anybody ever really took this guy all that seriously. I mean, consider the name of his homeworld -- Bismoll? Really? What's the capitol city? Pepto?

And keep in mind, everybody on his homeworld has this ability. Can you imagine what that must be like? Some poverty-stricken people might consider burning the furniture in their home in order to stay warm. On Bismoll, they'd probably eat it. This would be the only world where a furniture store could double as a deli. Imagine showing someone from Bismoll your fancy new table, and commenting that the wood is cherry. They're likely to take a bite out of it and say, "Funny, it doesn't taste like cherries..."

Picture an automobile dealership. It used to be an old joke that if you were buying a car, you should kick the tires. I wonder if on Bismoll, you lick the tires? And the car paint probably has to be flavored.

A kid puts a penny in a gumball machine, but doesn't get his gumball. No big deal. Probably just takes a bite out of the machine, and then steals a handful of gumballs.

I can picture warning signs in Bismollian restaurants. "Please Eat The Food -- Please Leave The Plates!" (and the table, and the silverware, and the chairs, and the carpet...)

Speaking of carpets, on Bismoll, they don't call small pieces of carpet "remnants". They call them "leftovers"...

And one would have to believe that the absolute worst job on all of Bismoll -- granted I think the same could be said for just about anywhere, but we're talking magnitudes of severity here -- would be cleaning public restrooms. I don't even want to think about it...

Anyway, now that I've got my stand-up routine done -- and half of my action figures are standing against the far wall weeping...

One does sort of wonder how this guy got into the Legion set. Well, I think Mattel wanted to have a little fun. They wanted to include one "silly" Legionnaire, and I can understand that. And arguably, the two best-known "silly" Legionnaires are Matter-Eater Lad, and Bouncing Boy. And guess which one DIDN'T require entirely new molds?

So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done, if a little peculiar. But, hey, so's the character, so that works.

Matter-Eater Lad uses a set of body molds which I've been inclined to call "Teen Hero v.2". They're somewhat larger than he body molds that were used for some early teen characters in the DC Universe Classics line, such as Robin, Beast Boy, and Kid Flash, but they're not the same height as adults, either. Portions of these molds first turned up in the figures of Kamandi and the Connor Kent Superboy, both of whom had some distinctive parts that didn't fit the usual superhero bill of "tight costume", so Mattel had to basically complete the body design for use with a significant percentage of the Legion of Super-Heroes figures, and it really is a good design.

It maintains the same articulation and high attention to detail that we've come to expect from the DC Universe Classics line, with a good muscular physique, excellent articulation, and is entirely compatible and consistent with the DC Universe Classics line on the whole.

Matter-Eater Lad's costume -- well, you know, some characters have powers or names that lend themselves well to a distinctive costume design -- others not so much. Matter-Eater Lad is a little problematic. I suppose you could put a big toothy grin on his costume, but then the Joker would probably sue. Or you could just have a big wide open mouth, but then a whole bevy of rock stars would sue -- probably starting with Mick Jagger. One later incarnation of this character, during the various continuity shifts and reboots that plagued the Legion following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, gave him a tooth for a logo. Not only did this seem a little insufficient under the circumstances, but it made him look like he'd gotten his uniform at the 31st century equivalent of a dental supply house.

Interestingly, Matter-Eater Lad's costume is one of the relatively few that was not overhauled by either Dave Cockrum or Mike Grell during their respective much-heralded runs on the Legion title -- probably because they couldn't think of anything to do to improve upon the existing design or necessarily make it more power-specific or anything like that.

I am of the opinion that Matter-Eater Lad's costume is distinctive, if not necessarily reflective of his powers, given a somewhat unusual color scheme, one that doesn't seem to exist significantly anywhere else in the Legion, and seldom anywhere else in the DC Universe of heroes. Matter-Eater Lad's costume is mostly a straightforward green, with bright yellow, and a certain amount of black trim. And it's divided up rather distinctively, as well.

The torso, trunks, and boots of Matter-Eater Lad's costume are green. His shoulders and gloves are black. His arms, legs, and belt are yellow, with a small black triangle on the belt. There's a limited amount of additional trim, including narrow yellow stripes on the shoulders, and a black ring around the top of the neck.

There's nothing about the design or the color scheme that really reflects the character's powers, but it's a distinctive design and color scheme nevertheless. And Mattel has done a superb job rendering it onto the action figure. The upper arm swivel was an especially good break point for the black trim on the shoulders.

Then we have the headsculpt. Like many of the Legionnaires, Matter-Eater Lad looks basically human. He has a Caucasian face, and black hair, relatively short, and combed back from his forehead. The figure has been given blue eyes, very neatly painted.

But then there's a little added -- something -- on the headsculpt. There's a bulge on the right side of his face, near his mouth, obviously intended to look as if he's chewing -- well -- who knows what, really...

It's amusing, in its own way, but I do have to say that it might be just a bit much. None of the other figures in the collection are really giving demonstrations of their powers -- which admittedly in some instances would have been impossible anyway. But in all honesty, I would have preferred a more standard facial expression here. One could just as easily see this as he's getting ready to spit -- considerably -- or he just took a punch in the chops from Superboy and he's waiting for the swelling to go down. I'm not really complaining about the figure, and I'm glad the character is included in this set, but this particular facial detail is just a little over the top.

However, it's also my only criticism on an otherwise superb figure. Matter-Eater Lad is nicely made, well-designed, neatly painted, and certainly well-articulated, fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles.

So, what's my final word? Obviously, I'm hugely impressed with the entire set, and I'm sincerely pleased that Matter-Eater Lad is part of it. He's certainly not a character that one would expect to see sold individually, whatever future plans Mattel may have for the Legion within their DC Universe offerings.

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 must say that there's still plenty of Legionnaires out there. Although the line will be largely restricted to a monthly subscription starting this year, I'd still like to think we haven't seen the last of the Legion. There's still many characters that I would like to see -- Element Lad, Blok, Sun Boy -- plenty more to work with.

In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful for this amazing twelve-pack, and certainly for Matter-Eater 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 MATTER-EATER LAD, part of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 12-pack, most definitely has my highest recommendation! Long live the Legion!