Although I am not one for browsing the preschool aisle in the toy store all that often, one particular line of -- let's call them "early years action figures" -- has caught my attention. It's what might be called a non-aligned spin-off of the popular Rescue Heroes line produced by Mattel under their Fisher-Price banner. It's called PLANET HEROES.
The basic premise is fairly simple -- imagine if every planet in our Solar System had intelligent life on it. Now also imagine that there's a bad guy out there called "Black Hole", or "Professor Darkness", that looks like a cross between Toy Story's Emperor Zurg and Spider-Man's arch-enemy Mysterio. Each of the nine worlds (YES, they counted Pluto) has a hero representing his or her planet, to defend against this villain's schemes.
Granted, we know that most of the worlds in our Solar System aren't inhabited. But keep in mind, this is a toy line for young kids. And frankly, if it can be used, even in its fantasy way, to encourage young kids to study more about the REAL Solar System, then hey, I'm all in favor of it.
So, categorized as a preschool toy or not, I'm getting a real kick out of this PLANET HEROES line. It is my intention to present individual reviews of the toys, and also to present some real-world (!) backstory on the planets represented by these characters. For this review, I'll be taking a look at the fifth planet in our Solar System -- JUPITER -- and its representative among the Planet Heroes team, a character named GUSTUS.
Let's consider some background history on the planet. Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the solar system. It is two and a half times as massive as all of the other planets in our solar system combined.
The planet was known by astronomers of ancient times and was associated with the mythology of many cultures. The Romans named the planet after the Roman god Jupiter
When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can reach an apparent magnitude of -2.8, making it the third brightest object in the night sky after the moon and Venus. (However, at certain points in its orbit, Mars can briefly exceed Jupiter's brightness.)
The planet Jupiter is primarily composed of hydrogen with a small proportion of helium; it may also have a rocky core of heavier elements under high pressure. Because of its rapid rotation, Jupiter's shape is that of an oblate spheroid (it possesses a slight but noticeable bulge around the equator). The outer atmosphere is visibly segregated into several bands at different latitudes, resulting in turbulence and storms along their interacting boundaries. A prominent result is the Great Red Spot, a giant storm that is known to have existed since at least the seventeenth century. Surrounding the planet is a faint planetary ring system and a powerful magnetosphere. There are also at least 63 moons, including the four large moons called the Galilean moons that were first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Ganymede, the largest of these moons, has a diameter greater than that of the planet Mercury. Its other best known moons are Io, Europa, and Callisto.
Although this planet dwarfs the Earth (with a diameter 11 times as great) it is considerably less dense. Jupiter's volume is equal to 1,317 Earths, yet is only 318 times as massive.
Theoretical models indicate that if Jupiter had much more mass than it does at present, the planet would shrink. For small changes in mass, the radius would not change appreciably, and above about four Jupiter masses the interior would become so much more compressed under the increased gravitation force that the planet's volume would actually decrease despite the increasing amount of matter. As a result, Jupiter is thought to have about as large a diameter as a planet of its composition and evolutionary history can achieve. The process of further shrinkage with increasing mass would continue until appreciable stellar ignition is achieved in high-mass brown dwarfs around 50 Jupiter masses. This has led some astronomers to term it a "failed star", although it is unclear whether or not the processes involved in the formation of planets like Jupiter are similar to the processes involved in the formation of multiple star systems.
Jupiter is perpetually covered with clouds composed of ammonia crystals and possibly ammonium hydrosulfide. The clouds are located in the tropopause and are arranged into bands of different latitudes, known as tropical regions. These are sub-divided into lighter-hued zones and darker belts. The interactions of these conflicting circulation patterns cause storms and turbulence. The zones have been observed to vary in width, color and intensity from year to year, but they have remained sufficiently stable for astronomers to give them identifying designations. The cloud layer is only about 50 km deep, and consists of at least two decks of clouds: a thick lower deck and a thin clearer region. There may also be a thin layer of water clouds underlying the ammonia layer, as evidenced by flashes of lightning detected in the atmosphere of Jupiter.
The best known feature of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot, a persistent anticyclonic storm located 22° south of the equator that is larger than Earth. It is known to have been in existence since at least 1831, and possibly since 1665. Mathematical models suggest that the storm is stable and may be a permanent feature of the planet. The storm is large enough to be visible through Earth-based telescopes.
The oval object rotates counterclockwise, with a period of about 6 days. The Great Red Spot's dimensions are 24-40,000 km * 12-14,000 km. It is large enough to contain two or three planets of Earth's diameter. Kind of puts monsoon season into perspective...
Jupiter has a faint planetary ring system composed of three main segments: an inner torus of particles known as the halo, a relatively bright main ring, and an outer "gossamer" ring. These rings appear to be made of dust, rather than ice as is the case for Saturn's rings.
So far the only spacecraft to orbit Jupiter is the Galileo orbiter, which went into orbit around Jupiter on December 7, 1995. It orbited the planet for over seven years, conducting multiple flybys of all of the Galilean moons and Amalthea. The spacecraft also witnessed the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 as it approached Jupiter in 1994, giving a unique vantage point for the event.
However, numerous other spacecraft have performed briefly fly-by missions of Jupiter, on their way to outer worlds, using Jupiter as a gravitational boost to carry them outwards.
The Pioneer missions in 1973 and 1974 obtained the first close-up images of Jupiter's atmosphere and several of its moons. Six years later, the Voyager missions vastly improved the understanding of the four Galilean moons and discovered Jupiter's rings. They also confirmed that the Great Red Spot was anticyclonic. In 2000, the Cassini probe, en route to Saturn, flew by Jupiter and provided some of the highest-resolution images ever made of the planet.
The New Horizons probe, en route to Pluto, flew by Jupiter for gravity assist. Closest approach was on February 28, 2007. The probe's cameras measured plasma output from volcanoes on Io and studied all four Galilean moons in detail, as well as making long-distance observations of the outer moons Himalia and Elara. Imaging of the Jovian system began September 4, 2006.
Certainly, Jupiter is one of the most fascinating worlds within our Solar System, as are many of its moons. If you want to watch an interesting science-fiction movie about Jupiter and its moons, then I recommend the movie "2010". It's the sequel to the famous "2001", and frankly, it's a much better film than the ponderous and often confusing original.
So indeed, Jupiter is one of the most interesting planets we have. I wish I could say the same about the toy in the Planet Heroes line, but of all the Planet Heroes figures, Gustus comes up short -- which is a heck of a thing to have to say about the toy representing the largest planet in the Solar System.
Now, please note that I am trying to emphasize the word "toy" or "figure" here -- not "character". I'm sure a good amount of thought was put into the character. It's the toy that comes up short. But really, the character isn't without his own quirks. I almost find myself wondering if the design people at Mattel just couldn't figure out what to do here or were somehow determined to work a robot into this line somehow or other, and the end result is that Gustus, a name which makes sense only when considering the action feature of the figure, is a giant cyclopean robot with a few screws loose in his programming.
As he appeared on the CGI animated DVD that comes with certain Planet Heroes toys, Gustus reminded me more than a little of B.E.N., the scatterbrained robot from the sorely underestimated Disney animated movie "Treasure Planet" (rent it right along with 2010 if you like -- it's a cool film). Gustus is good-natured enough, certainly one of the good guys, but if he gets flustered, he starts sounding off like a radio where someone is spinning the dial trying to find something worth listening to.
Then there's the toy. *Sigh*. Okay, look. I know that technically speaking, this isn't an action figure line. It's a preschool line of figure toys. The fact also remains that most of the toys in this line pretty well qualify as action figures. They're not G.I. Joes. They're not Power Rangers. They're not Marvel Legends. But they still fit the basic criteria of action figures. Gustus -- we end up having to stretch that criteria pretty thin, and it's mostly because of his action feature.
I've never really liked action features that were incorporated into action figures. I think the only time it worked worth a darn was with the Super Powers line. I've seen it flub too many times, and by "flub" I mean that the action feature does something to the figure that restricts its basic capabilities as an action figure. Either articulation is hindered -- G.I. Joes Ninja Force and some of their Street Fighter offerings would be good examples here -- or the entire figure's basic design compared to its counterparts is altered -- again Ninja Force -- or the figure's articulation is loosened to allow for the feature to work. Any Star Wars figure with "lightsaber-swinging" action would fir the bill here. And no, I'm not trying to pick on Hasbro products. That's just what came to mind offhand. There's plenty of other examples, I'm sure of it.
My bottom line on action features within figures is this: If it hinders or otherwise negatively affects the construction or articulation of the figure, especially if compared to other representatives from the same line that do not have such action features, then it's most likely NOT a good idea.
Now, in basic form, he looks fairly cool. He's the only one of the Deluxe series of Planet Heroes that doesn't come with a vehicle, because he's so big on his own. Including his arms, he's wider than the rest of the Planet Heroes characters are tall. And the basic design of the character -- nore the emphasis on the word character -- isn't bad. Although comical for a robot, again we need to remember the intended audience for this line. We don't expect Optimus Prime. Gustus has a silver head with a jutting jaw, a single green eye in the center of his head (but TWO eyebrows -- go figure that one), a bulky body of silver and orange, the latter not an inappropriate color for Jupiter, huge feet, and rather thin arms, but massive shoulders.
The spherical shoulders of most of the Planet Heroes figures are intended, in most cases, to represent the planets from which they come. Certainly Gustus' do, for the most part. They're far larger than the spherical shoulders of the others, and they've been painted to look like a simplified version of Jupiter. With just one fairly glaring problem. They put the Giant Red Spot in the upper part of the planet.
I wish that was the extent of shortcomings on Gustus, but they're not. His head is not articulated, and the rest of the problems can be attributed almost entirely to his special feature. The name "Gustus" is intended to represent his power to twirl his body around, wave his arms, and generate tremendous winds, presumably just like the Great Red Spot itself. This despite the fact that other planets are windier.
The way this feature works is you hold Gustus, press the button that is located -- well -- it's on his rear-end, but of his entire upper body is going to spin, I don't suppose there's anyplace else to put it -- and then his very loosely articulated waist and the loose sideways articulation of his arms are supposed to let the figure spin around and flap his arms.
The problem is, not only does this feature have a detrimental effect on the figure's articulation, but it doesn't even work all that well. I have yet to be able to figure out a way of holding the figure and getting him to spin. The button tends to not work all that well, either, although this might be a result of safety regulations concerning just how fast and how many times the toy can actually spin around without being classified as a safety hazard. I also wonder if somehow smaller hands than mine would be able to get this toy to work better, but somehow I doubt it.
Although the arms can be moved forward and backward somewhat, just to top all of this off, the legs are posed in a bent-at-the-knees position, making what should be a truly massive character ultimately no taller- looking than his more average-sized teammates, and the legs are not articulated AT ALL!
Okay, at least he's got his proper Planet Heroes insignia, a circle on his chest with an image of Jupiter and the numbr "5" on it. But seriously -- as generally opposed as I am to seeing the same character turn up in a given toy line repeatedly, if anyone ever needed a remake, it's Gustus.
Certainly the Planet Heroes line has been a success to date, and I have seen a couple of new characters recently, whom I look forward to reviewing. And I was sort of wondering where they would take the line since the initial aspect of it did include representatives for ALL NINE planets. I was expecting remakes. But Mattel has found a way around that, at least for now. Still, if they wanted to do one remake, even though it'd need to be redone from scratch, and not just a rePAINT, here it is.
Just to top off the unfortunate ridiculousness, Gustus comes with a robot dog. Specifically why, I don't really know. The dog looks pretty much like a cartoonish robot bulldog. He's bronze in color, with a single green eye just like his master. He has a blue tail which allows two appendages, described as wings on the package but looking more like they were intended to grasp objects, to pop out of his sides. But here's the thing. The dog's head is articulated, as are all four of its legs -- individually. The accessory is better articulated than the main figure. That's pretty silly.
Now, I'm not going to say "Don't get Gustus". If you're going to collect the Planet Heroes line, and I DO recommend them, then you really should have the representatives of all nine worlds. On that basis, I DO have to recommend Gustus. But consider this review fair warning of what you'll be getting. From an action figure standpoint, he's unfortunately the least impressive of the lot. And the planet Jupiter deserves better.
Overall, though, I am impressed with the PLANET HEROES line, and the concept behind it, and I look forward to bringing more of them into my collection and reviewing them along the way, and I am pleased to see that it appears to be doing well sales-wise. For all of their fanciful aspects, they're not at all a bad way to introduce youngsters to the real world of space science and space exploration, and that can't be a bad thing to do. And even Gustus can aid in that, even if the toy comes up as less impressive than his counterparts. Even so, for the sake of the line, and with the advisories I have included with this review, I do have to give GUSTUS, representing JUPITER, my recommendation.