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REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS NEGATIVE MAN
By Thomas Wheeler

Even the DC Universe has its misfit heroes. And for the DC Universe, one of the most prominent such groups of misfits would have to be the DOOM PATROL. Mattel's superb line of DC Universe Classics action figures has already provided one member of the team, Robotman, back in Series 9. Series 13 gives us a second member of the team, a fellow named NEGATIVE MAN.

Not the most inspirational sounding name, is it? But that's the Doom Patrol for you. Some of the online research I did on this character gave a rather concise explanation for the team's -- mindset, for lack of a better term. It indicates that Negative Man, along with Robotman, Elasti-Girl, and The Chief, tend to see themselves as victims as much as super-heroes, and their powers as much a curse as a blessing.

The original Doom Patrol first appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963).

The first Doom Patrol consisted of super-powered misfits, whose "gifts" caused them alienation and trauma. The series was canceled in 1968, and Drake killed the team off in the final issue, Doom Patrol #121 (September-October 1968).

In the years after this story several subsequent Doom Patrol series were launched. Each series tried to capture the spirit of the original team, but the only character constant to all was Robotman.

The Doom Patrol first appeared when the DC title My Greatest Adventure, an adventure anthology title, was being converted to a superhero format. The task assigned writer Arnold Drake was to create a team that fit both formats. With fellow writer Bob Haney and artist Bruno Premiani, he created the Doom Patrol, a team of super-powered misfits regarded as freaks by the world at large. Doctor Niles Caulder motivated the original Doom Patrol, bitter from being isolated from the world, to use their powers for the greater good. The series was such a success that My Greatest Adventure was officially retitled The Doom Patrol beginning with issue #86.

When the popularity of the book waned and the publisher canceled it, Drake ended the series in a dramatic manner: he killed off the entire Doom Patrol. In Doom Patrol #121 (September-October 1968), the Doom Patrol sacrificed their lives to save the small fishing village of Codsville, Maine. This marked the first time in comic book history that a canceled book ended by having most of its cast of main characters die.

Following this, the Doom Patrol would be resurrected with other members and in various incarnations, most of them featuring exceptionally bizarre stories, which seemed to be the niche the Doom Patrol had found. Success -- varied.

Without getting too in-depth here (for which I would recommend the Wikipedia entry on the Doom Patrol), certain events of Infinite Crisis restored the original Doom Patrol, and they are once again active in the DC Universe, in a title of their own helmed by Keith Giffen. Hey, if you want weird...

So, what about Negative Man? His real name is Larry Trainor. His career as a superhero began when he was accidentally exposed to a radioactive field in the atmosphere while piloting a test plane. This experience leaves him radioactive himself, but also gives him a strange super-power: the ability to release a negatively-changed energy being from his body.

This being, also referred to as Negative Man, or sometimes the Negative Spirit, can fly at high speed, cause solid objects to explode, and pass through solid materials. It resembles a shadowy silhouette of a human being, surrounded by a bright glow. The being us under Trainor's control and appears at first to have no mind of its own. Unfortunately, Trainor is weak and defenseless while the being is separated from his body, and he can only risk sending it forth for 60 seconds at a time without risking death.

After his accident, Trainor is required to wear specially treated bandages, wrapped over his entire body, to protect bystanders from his radioactivity.

How Trainor survived the explosion that supposedly killed all members of the Doom Patrol at the end of their original series remains unexplained. He turned up alive, permanently separated from the energy being, but still radioactive, bandaged, and weak in its absence. The Negative Spirit possessed a Russian cosmonaut, Colonel Valentina Vostok, who became Negative Woman and was active with a subsequent version of the Doom Patrol for a time.

Trainor has since been reunited with the energy being and is an active member of the current incarnation of the Doom Patrol. Recently, he has shown the ability to cover himself with the negative energy that is inside of him instead of releasing it, thus gaining the same powers as the Negative Spirit. The negative energy being can now exist apart from Trainor's body for much longer than sixty seconds, although Trainor apparently becomes unconscious when the being leaves his body.

During the Blackest Night storyline, a Black Lantern version of Negative Woman turns up, and she and Trainor send their respective energy beings to battle each other. Negative Man is successful in destroying the Black Lantern Negative Woman.

Larry Trainor is currently presented as someone with, shall we say, a few screws loose. For example, he's convinced that he's being stalked by a pelican on the Doom Patrol's current island headquarters. He tends to have a rather random running monologue with himself, and yet is capable of being serious, and is still a valued member of the team. Precisely what's going on inside his head is anybody's guess.

So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. Now I think it's worth noting that the DC Universe Classics line currently presents itself as a Collectors' line, and not so much as a kids' line. The package, which also commemorates DC's 75th Anniversary with the graphic "DC Comics - 75 years of Super Power!" is specifically marked "Adult Collector", and these days, the figures come with a little pinback button with a comic image on it, the metal pin requiring a warning on the package about how it's not suitable for children under 4, and that it contains a "functional sharp point".

I believe that this has had the effect of opening up the DC Universe even more than before. Now if you consider the history of this line, it really started as a Superman/Batman-centric line called DC Super-Heroes. It expanded beyond those horizons when it transformed into DC Universe Classics a few years ago. I think what's happening now is that the line's creators want to bring in more and more obscure characters, rather than rehash new versions of more prominent personnel any more than they have to, and so this "Adult Collector" bit has been enacted.

Let's face it, despite an appearance in the Teen Titans animated series, not that many little kids are going to know who Negative Man is. They'll recognize Batman, Superman, Green Lantern -- but Negative Man? For a longtime DC fan, and action figure collector, such as myself, and plenty of others, this is great. But one might suspect it's a bit of a tough sell to the retailers sometimes. So we have this strategy of, "Well, you see, it's an adult collectors line! These characters are part of a universe that's been around for 75 years! Maybe the little kids won't necessarily know them, but your adult collectors will!" And I do tend to think that there's a bit more respect for adult toy collectors than there used to be.

And so we have Negative Man. The figure is dressed in his classic Doom Patrol costume, which is mostly red with a white "V" shape down the front, with purple boots, and a purple belt with a "D" on it in silver. Well, nobody ever said Niles Caulder was a fashion specialist.

For the most part, the body uses the same standard body molds of most of the male heroes in this line. It's a superb design, and I do not object at all to its frequent use, since it lends a certain consistency to the line that I sincerely appreciate and which is seldom seen in the action figure world these days. Of course the belt is a distinctive piece, but also interesting to note is the fact that the boots have a clearly molded top to them. They're not just painted on. I'm not sure if these were created specifically for Negative Man and might now see use elsewhere as appropriate, or if they've seen previous use and I just can't quite recall where. In any case, they look good. Additionally, the feet of the boots have slightly raised heels, something else I haven't encountered all that often.

Then there's Negative Man's head and hands. The online research that I did indicated that Negative Man tends to look like the classic cinematic version of "The Invisible Man", who wrapped his head in bandages so that he could be seen, at least somewhat. Well, maybe so, but I don't think the classic Invisible Man went around in red and purple spandex. If anything, I think Negative Man looks more like a mummy -- in red and purple spandex.

This had to be a slightly tricky sculpt for the design team of the Four Horsemen. They had to basically obscure most of the facial and hand features beneath layered bandages, and yet still leave something that looks recognizable. And really, they did a superb job. The face and neck are clearly wrapped in bandages, but there's a raised area representing the nose, and small "breaks" in the wrapped layers to represent the eyes and mouth. These breaks have been painted in a medium gray, as well, to give them greater depth appearance.

Similarly, the hands are wrapped very effectively. There are no visible fingers -- the hands are wrapped more like mittens, which must be a huge nuisance at times, but the overall design is very nicely done.

One thing bugs me just a little about the Negative Man character. All the technology available in the DC Universe, and the best that can be come up with for this poor guy is bandages? Where's a high-tech containment suit? Where's some super-fabric that can absorb the radiation? Heck, can't they even figure out what the bandages are made out of, and make him a full costume from that?

Okay, I understand dramatic impact. If Negative Man could be turned into some sleekly-dressed super-hero, he'd sort of lose that tragic side that the Doom Patrol seems to carry around with them. Even so, this guy's plight in light of the capabilities of the rest of the DC Universe does seem to push the boundaries of "willing suspension of disbelief" just a little more than most.

There is a variant of the Negative Man figure out there, by the way, and I actually saw it before I saw this one. But this was the one I wanted to get. The variant has Negative Man's face unwrapped, exposing the -- face -- of the Negative Spirit. Basically it just looks like a big, shiny, black void, as far as I could tell. I found it just a tad disturbing, and decided to stick with the more classic version of the character. Credit to the Four Horsemen, though, for the alternate sculpt.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Negative Man is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

I would like to address two articulation matters. One is -- Negative Man seems to have a stuck leg. I really thought we were past this sort of quality control glitch. It hasn't happened to me in a very long time, and I hope it doesn't again. I'm not saying all the Negative Man figures are like this, but come on, Mattel! You dealt with some of the problems that this otherwise excellent line should never have had to endure in the first place! Don't start slipping!

The other matter isn't directly related to Negative Man, but rather DC Universe Classics and its future in general. Photos of figures upcoming as of about Wave 16 show an articulation alteration, that I also encountered here in Wave 13 with Blue Beetle -- double-jointed elbows and knees. Unlike the entirely unique Blue Beetle, however, this seems to be being inflicted on more common-design figures.

I'm all for good articulation, which DC Universe Classics already has. But a line needs to be drawn at the point where articulation starts to have a noticeably detrimental effect on the look and sculpt of the figure. And the double-jointed elbows and knees do, most emphatically, have such a negative effect. Add to that, that if implemented on a widespread basis on figures that would otherwise be made from the standard molds, it pretty well kills one of the line's strongest points -- CONSISTENCY OF DESIGN.

I'm raising a ruckus about this, and I really hope that this will be a short-lived aberration, and that someday, the previous two paragraphs of this review will be considered very much "old news" regarding something that came and went in short order. I hope...

Let me add one final thought, on another matter. We now have Robotman and Negative Man from the Doom Patrol. The Chief, Niles Caulder, would probably be a little tricky, as he is confined to a wheelchair and would doubtless require an entirely new sculpt. But Elasti-Girl, or Elasti-Woman as she now calls herself, is possible. Honestly, given that the most frequent display of her power is growing to substantial height and size, she'd make an excellent "Collect-and-Connect" figure for some future wave, using at least some of the same molds that were used to make Giganta. Might as well get another use there!

So, what's my final word here? Okay, the Doom Patrol is not as well known as the Justice League, or the Legion of Super-Heroes, or even the Outsiders. But they're still a cool team with plenty of history in the DC Universe. I'm glad we got Robotman. And I'm pleased we now have Negative Man. And if you've ever enjoyed the Doom Patrol, then you'll be very impressed with this figure, as I am, and be glad to add him to your collection.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of NEGATIVE MAN definitely has my highest recommendation!