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By Thomas Wheeler

With the live-action GREEN LANTERN movie approaching, the ever-popular DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line of action figures produced by Mattel has decided to, at least for a while, spin off a specific branch devoted to the ever-expanding world of the Emerald Warrior, and has introduced GREEN LANTERN CLASSICS to the collecting community.

One of the figures in the first assortment is, if not necessarily overdue, then certainly welcome. His name is KYLE RAYNER, and for all intents and purposes, he completes the group of Earth-based Green Lanterns for the DC Universe action figure lines, which also includes Hal Jordan, who was introduced back in Series 3; John Stewart, who came along in Series 11; and Guy Gardner, who made his debut in the Walmart exclusive Green Lantern-based DC Universe five-pack in late 2010.

And, of course, there's Alan Scott, but he's a different sort of Green Lantern, and dates back to the Golden Age. However, a figure of him has been produced, and was part of the Walmart exclusive Wave 14, which also turned up in late 2010.

Technically the most recent character of the four, Kyle Rayner has nevertheless an extensive history, due to the fact that when he was introduced, it was part of an attempt to reboot the Green Lantern storyline with an all-new character taking on the mantle of Green Lantern. Let's consider Kyle Rayner's history, with some assistance from a bit of online research.

Kyle Rayner first appeared in 1994, as part of the "Emerald Twilight" storyline, in which DC Comics related Hal Jordan with Kyle Rayner, who was then the sole Green Lantern for years until the late 1990's. During this period he was also briefly known by the name of Ion.

Before he acquired a Green Lantern power ring, Kyle Rayner was a struggling but gifted freelance graphic artist. He lived and worked in Los Angeles. After Hal Jordan, grief-stricken over the destruction of his home town of Coast City, went on a mad rampage, killing members of the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of the Universe, under the influence of Parallax, Rayner was found by the last surviving Guardian, Ganthet. He was given the last Green Lantern power ring that would enable him to conjure any form of matter or energy through sheer force of will. Ganthet's reasons for choosing Rayner to bear the ring have never been made completely apparent, aside from Kyle having been in the right place at the right time. Ganthet commented at the time, "You will have to do."

At first Kyle took possession of the ring rather lightly. His girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, encouraged him to be more responsible, and helped train him for his new role as a super-hero. However, she was later murdered by the super-villain known as Major Force. The guilt over this event drove Rayner to take his role more seriously, and as a result he strove to be the best Green Lantern he could be. Rayner then moved to New York, as Los Angeled reminded him too much of his girlfriend.

Rayner grew up enamored with Superman and Batman, though he had only a passing knowledge of Earth's various Green Lanterns. This soon changed, and he found that the Green Lantern ring was the ultimate expression of his considerable imagination. While in battle, he often used the ring's power to create constructs of just about anything that his artistic mind could imagine; other superheroes, anime characters, mechas, futuristic weapons, and so forth. While other members of the Green Lantern Corps have questioned the practicality of those constructs, they often make Rayner an unpredictable and formidable opponent.

After relocating to New York, Rayner joined the Titans for a brief time, but eventually became a member of the Justice League. He initially clashed with the Flash (Wally West), who had worked with Hal Jordan and had reservations about Kyle, but eventually he became one of Rayner's best friends and biggest supporters. Surprisingly, another of Kyle's biggest supporters in the League was Batman, who often treated him with more respect than he showed certain other League members. Rayner also entered a romantic relationship with Jade, and formed friendships with Alan Scott, Green Arrow (Connor Hawke), Guy Gardner, and John Stewart, who were not active as Green Lanterns at the time.

For a brief period of time, Rayner achieved a vastly higher, near omni-potent level of power as Ion, after absorbing the energy that Hal Jordan had left in Earth's sun during the "Final Night" storyline. With his new powers, Rayner could bend time, space, and reality, allowing himself, for example, to be many places at once. The drawback of being "one with everything", was that Rayner could no longer sleep or separate himself from the overwhelming responsibilities these powers imposed upon him. Rather than sacrifice his humanity, Rayner abandoned the powers, using them to recharge the Central Power Battery on the Guardians' home planet of Oa, and helping to rebirth the Guardians as well. At this point he went back to simply being Green Lantern.

Subsequent to this, he went in a lengthy sojourn away from Earth, giving John Stewart a power ring and asking him to take his spot in the Justice League. It's reasonable to assume that this happened in part to provide some coordination between the Justice League comic book and the animated series, which was airing at this time, in which Stewart was the primary Green Lantern.

During the events of "Green Lantern: Rebirth", which brought back Hal Jordan as Earth's primary Green Lantern, as well as re-established the Green Lantern Corps, it is discovered that Parallax is the non-corporeal embodiment of fear, just as it would subsequently be learned that all colors of the emotional spectrum have some creature-like embodiment to empower them, and that Parallax actually possessed Hal Jordan following the destruction of Coast City. Rayner, assisting in this revelation and the defeat of Parallax at the time, was given special status among the Guardians, who consider him the "Torch-Bearer", the Green Lantern who carried the legacy through the Corps' darkest hour.

During the events of the Infinite Crisis, Rayner once again gains the power of Ion, and has his own short-lived series entitled "Ion: Guardian of the Universe". It is ultimately revealed, leading into the events of the Sinestro Corps War, that "Ion" is in fact the name of the non-corporeal embodiment of willpower, much as Parallax is the embodiment of fear, and that Ion has basically taken up residence within Kyle Rayner.

During the course of the Sinestro Corps War, Ion is expunged from Rayner (later taking up residence in the Daxamite Green Lantern named Sodam Yat for a time), and Rayner is briefly possessed by Parallax. With help from Jordan, Gardner, and Stewart, all of whom are once again active Green Lanterns, Rayner is freed from Parallax. The Guardians suggest that Kyle is no longer destined to be Ion, and ask him if he is willing to downgrade himself to a regulation Green Lantern after serving as host to Ion for so long. Kyle quickly agrees, and charges his ring to join the others in the final battle against the Sinestro Corps.

After the war he is assigned to the Honor Guard as Guy Gardner's partner, and sent to counsel Sodam Yat, the new Ion. Kyle and Guy decide to move to Oa, giving them better access to performing their duties. He continues to serve as a Green Lantern, and as a member of the Honor Guard, Rayner ranks only below Salaak, direct adviser to the Guardians.

As to his powers and abilities, Rayner is semi-invulnerable, capable of projecting hard-light constructions, flight, and utilizing various other abilities through his power ring, which are only limited by his imagination and willpower. Kyle's constructs tend to be much more elaborate than those of any other Green Lanterns, often fading into view like a sketch refined into an illustration. Kyle is even able to utilize his skill as an artist to manipulate the pigments and dimensions within his constructs, making them appear far more realistic than most.

Rayner's ring was construction from what remained of one of Hal Jordan's spare rings by Ganthet. It is keyed to Rayner and Hal Jordan's DNA, making it only accessible to Rayner, Jordan, and anyone who is closely related to them. This is done by Ganthet to prevent the last ring from being stolen. Unlike most of the Green Lanterns' rings, Kyle's did not require a recharge every twenty-four hours, only when the ring's capacity was depleted.

Rayner's ring was the first to show evidence of not suffering a weakness to items colored yellow. Kyle states that he didn't know about the weakness and never had any trouble with it. Ultimately this has been explained that power rings can affect yellow once the user faces and overcomes their most significant fear. As an artist, Kyle had dealt with the fear of rejection every time he showed his artwork, and this extended to his constructs, which he considered part of his artwork.

In addition, he has been given combat training by Donna Troy, and as a member of the Justice League, Kyle would occasionally train in the League's combat training systems on the Watchtower and under the tutelage of combat-experienced members of the League, such as Batman. Even though Rayner is now a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, it is not his specialty, for even though he held his own in a hand-to-hand fight with Sinestro, the villain proved to be a better fighter due to his greater experience.

So, how's the figure? Really superb. I'll admit, when Kyle Rayner was first introduced, I wasn't that crazy about him. DC was overhauling several characters at the time. This was about the same time Connor Hawke took over the role of Green Arrow, and it just seemed to be that a number of classic characters were being tossed out or heavily reworked because the creative teams at the time didn't think there was anything further to be done with them. So I'll admit I didn't follow Rayner's adventures all that closely.

I think it can certainly be said that current Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns has proven that Hal Jordan has abundant adventures to experience, and that the world of the Green Lantern Corps around him is an immensely cool place. At the same time, it has also been shown that Kyle Rayner has a place in that universe, just as Guy Gardner is at his best as a Green Lantern, rather than as a solo, unrelated character, and that John Stewart has his own special personality as a Green Lantern as well. So I can be more welcoming towards Kyle Rayner these days.

This DC Universe Classics figure is not the first Kyle Rayner action figure by any means. There have been several previous, not the least of which was a large-scale 12" figure with a cloth costume produced by Hasbro when they had the DC license.

Add to that the fact that Kyle Rayner has had a wide range of costumes over the years. When Ganthet first gave Rayner the Green Lantern ring, it manifested a costume on Rayner that was basically identical to Hal Jordan's own. This had been the costume of every member of the Green Lantern Corps, allowing, admittedly, for certain extreme anatomical variances, such as additional appendages and the like. But within reasonably humanoid parameters, the costume that Hal Jordan wore was the uniform for all.

Of course, since Rayner lacked the history of the Corps, and possessed a vast imagination of his own, he soon reworked the costume to something a little more to his liking, and maintained this costume for quite some time. He had his own distinctive costume and Ion, and later a few other costume designs, both as Green Lantern and in his second go-round as Ion, before finally taking on the costume he presently wears, which is, I am very pleased to say, reflected in the figure.

It's worth mentioning that the Green Lantern Corps itself, since its reformation, has since followed suit in regards to costume individuality. Although many Lanterns wear a fairly traditional costume, not all of them do, and the Guardians of the Universe don't seem to have a problem with this, as long as the ring-bearer has the Green Lantern insignia somewhere on him, and his costume is substantially green, with the secondary colors of black and white. Given the number of other-colored Corps flitting around the galaxy these days, it's probably a good idea not to vary too far.

Of course, in the case of the planet-sized Green Lantern, Mogo, one might suspect that as long as his vast jungles, which form a continent-sized Green Lantern emblem on his surface, are well-watered, there's no problem there. Talk about the one DC Universe character that'll never get made as an action figure -- not to scale, at least.

Anyway, Kyle Rayner is outfitted in his most current uniform. It's an interesting design, and arguably his least radical. Personally, I applaud this. It was mentioned in the online research that Rayner regarded one of his earlier costume changes along the way to be a "reflection of maturity". If that's the case, then I would have to say that this costume design is a further reflection of his maturity as a Green Lantern, a desire to not stand out any more than necessary, since he is no longer the host for Ion, and more willing to be part of Earth's contingent in the Green Lantern Corps.

Kyle is obviously younger than the other Lanterns, and this is reflected in is headsculpt -- as much of his face as can be seen. Arguably, it's most reflected in his hairstyle. Kyle had black hair, and it's styled to look fairly trendy, and maybe just a little bit spiky. Don't know where he'd get hair gel on the planet Oa, but that's none of my concern. A significant portion of his face is covered by a mask, but the lower portion of his face is visible, and is superbly sculpted, and seems to have a somewhat younger look to it than other Lanterns.

One of the things that Rayner's newest costume has brought back was probably his most distinctive characteristic -- his mask. Far more than just a tight-fitting mask concealing his eyes and the upper part of his face, Rayner's mask is more like a construct, a double-segmented piece with an upper section and a lower section, distinctly protruding from his face and obscuring the lines of his face underneath. It has been painted metallic green on the figure, which is a nice touch. Rayner's eyes appear as the typical superhero "blank white" eyes within it, fairly deep set. It's a cool mask, even if it's not the best match in the world for the simpler, moderately more traditional design of the rest of the uniform. Granted the mask worked a little bit better on Rayner's original costume. But the mask is so characteristic of Rayner that is it nevertheless appropriate.

Rayner's costume, far more than any he's ever had, is reasonably close to traditional lines. It starts green at the next and extends to the shoulders, and then tapers down in the front and back. The sleeves, sides of the torso, and legs are entirely black. Rayner has the traditional white gloves and green boots of most Green Lanterns. No metallic finish, nothing all that fancy. Compared to this, Guy Gardner's outfit qualifies as fancy. But I think for Kyle Rayner, it works well. Granted the character is not quite as prominent as he was when he was the sole Green Lantern. Granted also, I sincerely believe the costume to be a further reflection of Rayner's maturity. He's learned that it's not a flashy suit that gets the job done.

The most distinctive part of the costume is the placement of the Green Lantern emblem, and to a degree, the colors. It's off to one side of the chest, rather than centered. It's sort of right where Robin wears his emblem, although I'm not trying to draw a comparison between the two characters. Unlike most Green Lantern emblems, which have the Green Lantern insignia within a circle of white, Rayner's is within a circle of black, with a white circle outlining the entire emblem. It's a little different, while still being respectful to the Green Lantern Corps.

Paintwork on the figure is excellent, if admittedly not all that extensive. But where it appears, it is very neatly done, right down to the metallic green on the ring on Rayner's right hand.

Articulation is excellent. I had heard some reports online from other collectors that their Kyle Rayner figures were rather loose in the waist. I am pleased to report that mine is not. In fact, Kyle Rayner's articulation is nice and tight across the entirety of the figure. Not stuck -- just nice and tight.

I am also pleased to report that, contrary to come early concerns I had, Kyle Rayner does NOT have the double-articulated knees-and-elbows that are being inflicted on certain characters in this line, starting with this first wave of Green Lantern Classics. I don't really know how extensive this practice is going to be, but I sincerely hope it is short lived. One figure that does have it, in the knees, anyway, is the Manhunter Robot (see separate review), and frankly, it looks awful. There's just no need for it with these figures. Frankly, with the exception of some Gundam robots a number of years ago, I have yet to see any action figure from any line or any company where I thought this double-articulation stunt looked good or worked well. But these DC Universe Classics figures are such superb pieces that it's really that much more disturbing here.

Thankfully, Rayner was spared. I'm especially grateful in his instance, since it means he works and looks that much better alongside Jordan, Stewart, and Gardner. And one certainly can't argue with the range of articulation that he has. Kyle Rayner is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. And that's as it should be, and is certainly abundant.

Kyle Rayner comes with two accessories. The first is his Lantern, which as one might expect, is distinctly more ornate than most Green Lanterns. It's more reflective of Rayner's earlier days when he was the only GL around, but it's still cool. It's been painted a very impressive metallic green.

The other accessory is a ring construct, which certainly reflects Rayner's artistic, creative bent. I'll admit, the one thing I always did like about Kyle Rayner was the fact that he was a graphic artist -- something I myself have been. That and the fact that he's able to extend his imagination into the use of his power ring. Kyle Rayner's ring construct is a gauntlet that fits over his right hand, and is wielding a sword. The sword is not removable, but that's not a big deal. The sword is extremely ornate in design. Hey, after all the medieval hardware they've had to design for the Masters of the Universe Classics line, I'd expect the Four Horsemen to turn out a good sword. The gauntlet is even more ornate, appears to be heavily armored in multiple segments, has several nasty-looking spikes on it, and a raised sculpted Green Lantern emblem on the back of the glove. Nor surprisingly, it's one of the fanciest accessories I've ever seen a Green Lantern figure come with.

There is one other item in the package, apart from the "Collect and Connect" piece of Arkillo, one of the most prominent members of the Sinestro Corps. It's a Green Lantern mask, with the eye pieces designed like 3D glasses. Apparently this can be used to play some sort of online 3D game. I'm lousy at video games, and for some reason 3D doesn't work that well for me, but the mask is cool, and interestingly enough, appears to be of a size that would fit an adult just as readily as a child. One suspects Mattel knows where its main audience for DC Universe Classics is these days.

So, what's my final word? I'm extremely impressed. Kyle Rayner may have started out as the "johnny-come-lately" of the Green Lantern world, but he's earned his place in the modern Green Lantern universe, I'm very pleased that we finally have a good, not to mention up to date, figure of him, to join the other three modern-day Lanterns, and I am especially pleased that he has the proper level of articulation. It's an extremely well-made, well-painted, nicely-detailed figure, that will be a welcome addition to any DC Universe Classics collection, especially for Green Lantern fans.

The DC UNIVERSE GREEN LANTERN CLASSICS figure of KYLE RAYNER most definitely has my highest recommendation!