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By Thomas Wheeler

I know I've said this before, but I really don't make a habit of checking the Preschool section of the average toy store or toy department. I suppose there are some areas of a toy store that even an action figure collector is a little reluctant to admit he might find himself in.

But some time back, I passed by a very interesting display of figures, produced by Mattel's Fisher-Price division. For years, the company has maintained a very popular line of toys called Rescue Heroes. This new line was clearly a not-especially-attached spinoff of it, called PLANET HEROES.

I immediately loved the concept. I've felt for a great many years that the lack of emphasis real-life space exploration is given in our educational system is absolutely deplorable. I've encountered kids that don't even believe that we've put men on the moon. I encountered one youngster once, years ago, that believed a manned moon mission was impossible, because the rocket would have to fly too close to the sun on its way to the moon. And he was certainly old enough to know better than that.

So if Fisher-Price wanted to create an admittedly fanciful line of space-based characters, that might, just might, get youngsters interested in learning more about the planets and other phenomenon in our Solar System, then I was all in favor of that, and I would do whatever I could to support it. Including reviewing those toys here at Master Collector, and throwing in some legitimate space science in the bargain.

The basic concept of Planet Heroes revolves around the notion that each of the worlds in our Solar System has at least one native life-form that is part of a team of heroes that combat various threats to our Solar System -- generally found in the form of the concept's main bad guy, one Professor "Black Hole" Darkness, who honestly looks like a cross between Spider-Man's enemy Mysterio, and Emperor Zurg from the Toy Story movies. Him I haven't picked up yet.

All nine planets are represented in the line. And yes, that includes Pluto, although in what I think is a nice little shot against the astronomers who summarily dismissed the world as somehow less than the real deal, Pluto's representative on the Planet Heroes team, a little guy named Shiver, has somewhat of an ill-tempered attitude about the whole thing, frequently declaring that Pluto, "is SO a real planet!" Personally, I agree with him.

The various characters of the Planet Heroes team are quite the assembly of the fanciful. Earth's representative is a boy named Ace, arguably the most normal of the lot and doubtless the one kids can most relate to. The only other reasonably human character in the line is Dazzle, an adult female (also the only female on the team), representing Venus. Mars' representative is a rocky-looking little guy named Digger, who in the nicely done CGI adventure that comes with some of the toys, inexplicably has a Scottish accent. And so forth.

But for all the nine worlds, plus a recently introduced character representing Earth's moon, there seemed to be one particular astronomical body that hadn't received a character within the line. It was -- oh, you know. That big yellow thing that hangs in the sky during the daytime hours that you're not supposed to look directly at.

Right -- The Sun.

Now, in fairness, the CGI adventure does seem to portray these strange, glowing-globe-headed beings, who look like good-guy versions of Professor Darkness, frankly, as being representative of the sun, as well as the overseers of the Planet Heroes team. But "field adventure" types they're clearly not, and they probably would be rather dull figures. So, to bring a new character into the line, Fisher-Price has introduced an all-new character, called simply "Commander" (like he'd be anything else), and he specifically represents the Sun. I'm going to take to calling him Commander Sun for the purposes of this review.

The Sun (Latin: Sol) is the star at the center of the Solar System. The Earth and other matter (including other planets, asteroids, meteoroids, comets, and dust) orbit the Sun, which by itself accounts for about 99.8% of the Solar System's mass. Energy from the Sun, in the form of sunlight and heat, supports almost all life on Earth via photosynthesis, and drives the Earth's climate and weather.

The surface composition of the Sun consists of hydrogen (about 74% of its mass, or 92% of its volume), helium (about 24-25% of mass, 7% of volume), and trace quantities of other elements, including Iron, Nickel, Oxygen, Silicon, Sulfur, Magnesium, Carbon, Neon, Calcium, and Chromium. The Sun has a spectral class of G2V. G2 means that it has a surface temperature of approximately 5,780 K, giving it a white color which, because of atmospheric scattering, appears yellow as seen from the surface of the Earth. This is a subtractive effect, as the preferential scattering of blue photons (causing the sky color) removes enough blue light to leave a residual reddishness that is perceived as yellow. (When low enough in the sky, the Sun appears orange or red, due to this scattering.)

Its spectrum contains lines of ionized and neutral metals as well as very weak hydrogen lines. The V (Roman five) in the spectral class indicates that the Sun, like most stars, is a main sequence star. This means that it generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. There are more than 100 million G2 class stars in our galaxy. Once regarded as a small and relatively insignificant star, the Sun is now known to be brighter than 85% of the stars in the galaxy, most of which are red dwarfs.

The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy at a distance of approximately 26,000 light-years from the galactic center, completing one revolution in about 225-250 million years. Its approximate orbital speed is 220 kilometers per second, plus or minus 20 km/s. This is equivalent to about one light-year every 1,400 years, and about one AU every 8 days.

The Sun is currently traveling through the Local Interstellar Cloud in the low-density Local Bubble zone of diffuse high-temperature gas, in the inner rim of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, between the larger Perseus and Sagittarius arms of the galaxy. Of the 50 nearest stellar systems within 17 light years from the Earth, the Sun ranks 4th in absolute magnitude as a fourth magnitude star.

The Sun is a Population I, or heavy element-rich, star. It is also a magnetically active star. It supports a strong, changing magnetic field that varies year-to-year and reverses direction about every eleven years around solar maximum. The Sun's magnetic field gives rise to many effects that are collectively called solar activity, including sunspots on the surface of the Sun, solar flares, and variations in solar wind that carry material through the Solar System. Effects of solar activity on Earth include auroras at moderate to high latitudes, and the disruption of radio communications and electric power. Solar activity is thought to have played a large role in the formation and evolution of the Solar System. Solar activity changes the structure of Earth's outer atmosphere.

Although it is the nearest star to Earth and has been intensively studied by scientists, many questions about the Sun remain unanswered. Current topics of scientific inquiry include the Sun's regular cycle of sunspot activity, the physics and origin of flares and prominences, the magnetic interaction between the chromosphere and the corona, and the origin (propulsion source) of solar wind.

The Sun is a yellow dwarf star. It comprises approximately 99% of the total mass of the solar system. The Sun is a near-perfect sphere, with an oblateness estimated at about 9 millionths, which means that its polar diameter differs from its equatorial diameter by only 10 km (6 mi). Not bad for something that's 1.392*109 meters in diamater.

The Sun is also capable of many amazing phenomena, including sunspots, solar flares massive enough that if our world were anywhere close to them, we would be completely engulfed, and magnetic field disturbances that can play havoc with your TV reception...

And we literally couldn't live without it.

Makes sense that a character representing this amazing sphere would be such an impressive member of the good guys' team.

The Commander Sun figure is, not surprisingly, part of the somewhat more expensive (but worth it) Deluxe assortment of Planet Heroes toys. The bulk of his massive body is a very bright orange. Like I said, he's impossible to miss. He's distinctly larger, as well he should be, than even the previously largest of the Planet Heroes character, the unfortunately less-than-impressive Gustus, Jupiter's representative. Gustus stands about 6-1/2" in height. Compare that with Earth boy Ace's height of 5" (and keeping in mind that Gustus is pre-posed with his knees bent) and then compare that to Commander Sun's impressive 7-1/2" in height, and he is also clearly vastly bulkier than Gustus, who except for some impressive Jupiter-patterned shoulders, has pretty scrawny limbs.

There is absolutely nothing scrawny about Commander Sun. His arms are bigger around than Ace's body, and just about as long as Ace is tall. He has a powerful cheat and mighty legs. His head is somewhat recessed on his shoulders, but is an entirely appropriate design. It is as though there is a bright yellow and white sphere contained within the more or less spacesuit design of the character's uniform, with a friendly but determined looking face on the front, and flame-like hair trailing behind.

There's not a subdued color on this figure. Really, would you expect there to be? Commander Sun's primary color is a very intense, very bright orange. This is the color of his suit. His head is yellow with white highlights. His eyebrows and eyes are red. His shoulder pads are yellow and white. His gloves, boots, and belt ornamentation are red. The only dark color on this figure is a certain amount of black, I think in some respects just to differentiate the figure a bit from Dazzle's rather bright color scheme.

Then there's the action feature, which is also Commander Sun's identifying mark. Most of the Planet Heroes figures have a numerical insignia on them somewhere, denoting their respective planet's location within the Solar System, inside a circle that is more or less a diagram of that planet. Ace has a number 3 in front of a circular image of Earth. Digger, from Mars, has a number 4, in front of an image of Mars. And so forth.

So, what does Commander Sun have? Well, the CGI image of him on his package and trading card shows what looks like an actual flaming sun image. I doubt very much that something like that would pass safety parameters on any toy line, let alone a preschool one, so something a little more agreeable had to be developed, and indeed, something was.

Commander Sun has a huge circular, almost dome-like area in the center of his chest, framed by sculpted flames painted red. Press the belt buckle on the figure and watch the red dome light up and flash in colors of orange and red for several seconds.

The overall design of Commander Sun is really impressive. Many of the areas of his uniform are textured, and the detail is really imaginative and very well done. Commander Sun does come with an accessory -- which sort of surprised me since the figure is so massive I'm surprised they were able to fit anything else in the package. But Sun comes with a small bird -- not surprisingly named Phoenix. Rather than looking flame-like, though, the designers chose to give him feathers. To be honest, he looks like a prehistoric parrot. But the overall detail work is good. The bird is red with yellow highlights, and interestingly enough, his tail has the circular insignia on it that the other Planet Heroes figures have. However, it has no number, since the Sun is at the center of the Solar System, and the image is designed to look like the Sun, perhaps during a period of sunspot activity. Coming up with a decent-looking circular image of the Sun can't have been that easy.

There are several posts on the Commander Sun figure -- one on the right shoulder and one on each of the lower arms, where Phoenix can perch.

A few unusual points about the Commander Sun figure. His hands are positioned with the fingers clenched, but with circular openings in the middle of them. I suppose he can hold some of the other accessories of the other Planet Heroes characters, since except for Phoenix, he doesn't come with any of his own. He's far too large to ride in their vehicles, however. And there's a curious little square on his back, heavily detailed in the sculpting, that almost looks as though something was supposed to be clipped on to it.

I hate to say it, but I almost wonder if this figure was originally intended to be part of some larger playset that didn't happen, that would have utilized this feature. There seems to be no other purpose for it. I sincerely hope this line isn't in any sort of trouble. I'd hate for that to be the case.

Articulation of Commander Sun isn't bad, but let's remember that these are preschool toys. They're not really "action figures" in the technical sense. Nevertheless, Commander Sun moves at the arms (outward as well as back and forth), wrist rotation, and legs.

So what's my final word here? Well, if you're going to have the Planet Heroes, and if you have a youngster in your home that needs some fun in his life that also might teach him some space science that he's really not going to get much of anywhere else, then I would certainly recommend the Planet Heroes line, you really need to have Commander Sun as part of that line. He does, after all, command the team, but he represents the center of the Solar System, one might even say the centerpiece, without which none of us would be here, and none of the planets would amount to much.

So certainly, the PLANET HEROES COMMANDER SUN figure definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!