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REVIEW:
DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS ORION FIGURE
By Thomas Wheeler


There's certainly no question that Mattel's line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS, essentially a revitalization and expansion of their Superman-Batman-based DC Super-Heroes line, is proving to be a popular DC counterpart to the Marvel Legends line, even if it has a ways to go before it becomes as extensive. Granted, Marvel Legends has had a heck of a head start. But give Mattel credit. They're turning out some impressive figures, with excellent designs and articulation, and their future plans for the line seem to be well considered, with a good number of interesting characters to look forward to. Hopefully, this line will have at least as long and healthy a run as its Marvel counterpart has had.

One of the characters in the initial assortment of DC Universe Classics is ORION, one of the so-called "New Gods" characters created by Jack Kirby for his "Fourth World" stories. Certainly, the best-known character in this concept is the malevolent Darkseid, who has proven time and time again to be a thorn in the side of super-heroes everywhere, as he searches for the "Anti-Life Equation" which will give him control over all sentient life, everywhere.

But a close second would be Orion. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that this character receives such an impressive action figure at this time, given that events taking place within the DC Universe, in the pages of Countdown, the forthcoming Final Crisis, and certainly the mini-series "Death of the New Gods", looks to unravel the legendary Fourth World into who-knows-what. Scores of characters from this concept have already met their demise, and it seems unlikely that many of them will survive. At least we have a cool action figure of him.

Let's consider the character of Orion. It's little wonder that he's proven to be one of the more fascinating characters of the concept, given his background and origin.

Orion first appeared in New Gods #1, in 1971. To understand Orion, one must understand the relationship of the New Gods to Darkseid. Darkseid rules the grim and foreboding world of Apokolips, a ravaged planet in another dimension that has been turned into a hellish place of despair and destruction, the specific design of its tyrannical ruler. Apokolips' counterpart is the neighboring world of New Genesis, a bright, friendly, advanced world, homeof the so-called New Gods, and ruled by the benevolent Highfather Izaya.

Naturally, a state of war existed between the two planets. In order to barter a truce between the worlds, the sons of Highfather Izaya and Darkseid himself would be exchanged. Darkseid received Izaya's son, who would become Scott Free, later known as the hero Mister Miracle. Izaya received young Orion. Raised as the son of Highfather Izaya, he was taught to control his rage and anger, becoming the most powerful warrior either world has ever known. This in itself was not an easy task given that his heritage boiled with the rage of the brutal and merciless Darkseid. Learning how to control his dark nature consumed much of Orion's youth, but as he grew, his friends among the New Gods helped him direct his anger. Orion counts among his friends Lightray, Metron, Jezebelle, Scott Free, Barda and Forager. He is a hero dedicated to the ideals of New Genesis. His fighting skill and stamina have earned him the nickname "The Dog of War".

Orion has served two terms with the Justice League. He first demanded to join the League alongside his friend, Lightray. (Justice League America #42, 9.90). They were accepted into the ranks and stayed on until after the battle with the Evil Eye. Later, he and Big Barda were sent as agents of New Genesis to serve in the JLA. (JLA #17, April 1998) During his time in the League, Orion helped to defeat the returned Starro when its actions put almost the entirety of North America to sleep, and also aided Green Lantern, Steel, Plastic Man, and Barda in capturing a White Martian that had regained its original memory. However, Orion and Barda's central mission was to help mobilize Earth's heroes against the coming of the massively powerful Mageddon. Once Mageddon was defeated, he and Barda resigned.

Most recently, in 2008's Death of the New Gods, Orion initially suspects the New God killer to be his father, Darkseid, but then discovers this is not the case. He himself is then suspected by the other New Gods, leading to a showdown with Mister Miracle which Superman diffuses. Orion ultimately challenges the God Killer to single combat, intending to sacrifice himself so his friends can discover the God Killer's identity. He sees the killer approach and charges him on his Astro Harness, leading to his death a cataclysmic explosion which blinds even Superman. All that can be found of him afterwards is his empty helmet, and it is revealed that so great was his wrath that in his death, he perished whole and returned to the Source, as opposed to having his soul stolen like most other New Gods. After his death, his father Darkseid senses it and looks into the skies of Apokolips with a trace of sadness, declaring that their joined story has at last ended.

Given the nature of his death compared to the other characters, and given rumors afloat that a so-called "Fifth World" is already in the works, despite Darkseid's declaration, one might suspect we have not seen the last of Orion.

For a Kirby creation, the character has an almost surprisingly plain appearance. He dresses in a plain red uniform, rather typical "superhero tights", with a blue collar, blue gloves, blue trunks, and blue boots. The ornamentation on his costume is limited to a silver belt and a silver-grey border around the top of the boots. One wonders if Kirby was having an off-day.

Orion's helmet, on the other hand, looks distinctly more Kirby-esque and is a bit more ornate. It's solver in color, with two pieces on either side that are upraised. They don't quite look like wings or horns. I'm honestly not sure what to call them. There is an ornate gold line around the face of the helmet, and a small, sun-like symbol on the forehead.

Orion's primary abilities are his superhuman strength, speed, stamina and durability. His physical strength is difficult to gauge accurately, but he has successfully defeated Darkseid at least once. He has also been shown to hold his own against the likes of Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Superman. No normal Earth-made barrier or substance can possibly stop Orion if he wishes to enter an area. Few barriers, even in the Fourth World are capable of stopping Orion. Battles that have had Orion at the scene are known to be catastrophically destructive.

In addition, Orion also possesses a regenerative Healing Factor in the event that enough force is brought to bear on him which might actually cause him any type of severe injury. He is also able to call upon his "Mother Box" to assist in healing injuries or to sustain his life energies. Like all denizens of Apokolips and New Genesis, Orion does not age and is extremely difficult to kill, being functionally immortal by human standards.

Kirby's distinctive design style comes through on Orion best not on the individual himself, but on his vehicle, a rather peculiar piece of work called the Astro-Harness. This is a device which fits over Orion's chest, has extensions which his arms fit into, and cables which run to two additional pieces that fit over his feet.

The Astro-Harness is an alien artifact of unknown origin even amongst the New Gods. It is capable of several abilities and is used exclusively by Orion. He is able to use his Astro Harness to project the "Astro-Force", an energy described by Orion as "the Wrath of the Source". Orion can also channel the Astro-Force through his wristbands for smaller blasts when away from the Harness.

Orion's dual nature is crucial to his use of the Astro-Force; only someone like himself, who stands "poised between the ferocity of Apokolips and the compassion of New Genesis", can wield it.The Astro- Harness can also produce a force field barrier, and can absorb energy from the local environment in the event that its access to the Source has been cut off. It also has the ability to place a "Magna-Lock" on an object; this is similar to a tractor beam, allowing Orion to tow an object from a distance. The Harness can be programmed to fly another person to safety and then return to Orion. The device also allows Orion to travel at faster than light speeds in space. Like much of the technology of New Genesis, the Astro-Harness is capable of self-repair and will repair itself completely as long as any portion of the device exists.

Mattel has done an excellent job with their figure of Orion. He stands about 6-1/2" in height, and has an appropriately super-heroic physique. There's nothing all that unusual about Orion's size or build, other than his helmet. His uniform has been properly designed, and the helmet looks superb. I rather wish Mattel wouldn't get into the habit of spraying detail over the musculature of the figures in this series, but at least it doesn't look like some sort of dirtying weathering, and whoever designed it for Orion did a decent job of it. I'll live with it.

The articulation of the figure is excellent, with Orion able to pose at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists (interestingly enough NOT the glove tops), mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Mattel's design method for allowing a figure's legs to move outward as well as back and forth is a rather interesting one, with the movement designed as two separate components, rather than the sort of ball-and-socket construction that a lot of figure lines use to achieve this. That's not intended as an endorsement or a put-down of either method. But it is an interesting design.

The figure's uniform is nicely done. Mattel added a little extra detailing to Orion's otherwise rather plain outfit by making the collar and glove cuffs metallic blue, rather than plain blue (this might also explain the unusual location of the wrist articulation).

One interesting note -- the manufacturing/copyright date on Orion is '08. I checked the other DC Universe Classics figure I have, Red Tornado, and so is his. Interesting, seeing as how I did first see these figures in the last week of 2007.

Of course, Orion comes with his Astro-Harness, and Mattel has done an excellent job with this. ToyFare magazine recently declared it the "Best Vehicle" of Mattel's DC 6" line. Never mind the fact that to date, it's the ONLY vehicle. However, it is extremely well made, and certainly does a good job of reflecting Kirby's intricate if peculiar design tendencies. What's especially interesting to me is the attention paid to the admittedly limited painted detail on it. just a few little specks of metallic red and blue here and there on the front and back of the harness. This could arguably have been left off and no one would've noticed. But Mattel decided to give a proper level of attention to detail here, and they should be commended for it.

Any complaints about the figure? Just two. The legs are a little spindly, and a little pre-posed. The upper right leg and the lower left leg don't want to come in as far as they should, Mattel should really concentrate on doing as straightforward a figure as possible and leave the poseability to the articulation and not worry about doing anything dramatic to the basic design. Orion could also stand to have his legs beefed up just a little bit. The moderate pre-posing of the legs is also something that I encountered on the Red Tornado figure. I don't really know what Mattel's trying to accomplish here. Look, guys, seriously, just do a good straightforward sculpt. I know you can. These figures, on the whole, are excellent. Let the articulation take care of the posing.

Secondly, and somewhat more noticeably, it's fairly obvious to an experienced action figure collector's eye that the back of the feet have been trimmed down just a bit by hand, and BEFORE they were painted. This was apparently in order for the feet to fit into the feet of the Astro-Harness. What's really strange is that I saw a second Orion figure where this had NOT been done to the boots, and they still fit into the harness fine. So -- what the heck happened here? Beats me...

However, let's not gripe too much. Let's consider a few things. Mattel has never specialized in action figures. Over the years, they've been best known for Hot Wheels cars, and Barbie dolls. Their notable action figures over the time that action figures have existed, can probably be numbered on one hand -- Major Matt Mason, Big Jim, and Masters of the Universe.

With the acquisition of the DC license some years ago, and more recently with its upgrading to a master license, Mattel finally has the opportunity to really make an impact in the action figure world. And I believe they have done so, with their Batman line, with their Justice League line, with their DC Super-Heroes line, and now, with their DC Universe Classics line. If done properly, and Mattel seems determined to handle the DC license with the respect it is due, and turn out a wide range of action figure merchandise that will greatly appeal to fans of these longtime legendary characters, Mattel can turn out some of the most impressive action figures ever seen of the heroes and villains of the DC Universe.

The DC Universe Classics line is a good start to this. Mattel has a few things they could work on to improve it, but one could say that about any company's product. I think they're on the right track, I think they're turning out some very cool products, and this Orion figure is certainly representative of that.

The comics may have recently killed him off. But there's no reason whatsoever you can't bring ORION into your collection, and this DC Universe Classics figure of him certainly has my definite and enthusiastic recommendation! Long live ORION!