REVIEW: DC RETRO-ACTION LEX LUTHOR FIGURE
He's been a mad scientist, a billionaire businessman, an organizer of one of the largest societies of super-villains ever assembled, and even President of the United States. But if there's one thing he wasn't, which he certainly should've been, back in the day, it was an 8" cloth-costumed Mego action figure. And if anybody should've been on the short list for that once Mego started adding super-villains to their line-up of "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" in the 1970's, you'd've thought it would've been LEX LUTHOR.
The man was finally sporting a costume of his own, fairly recently at the time, after years of conducting his plots against Superman in either a business suit or prison greys. But for whatever peculiar reason, when Mego created an assortment of super-villains, it featured the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler -- all legitimate contenders are arguably Batman's "Big Three" -- and from the ranks of Superman's villains -- Mr. Mxyzptlk?!??!
Never mind the fits that must've given kids and parents alike, trying to pronounce that one. Did they really need to use the "chubby" body they'd created for the Penguin? It's not like it didn't see other uses over the years. Where in the world was Luthor?
Allow me to offer a little history on the Mego Corporation, for those who may want some background. Basically, the Mego company dominated the action figure world in the 1970's. They came along first with a product called "Action Jackson", a somewhat generic 8-inch figure that, much like the 12" G.I. Joe from Hasbro, could be outfitted in a number of ways, although AJ wasn't restricted to military or adventure themes.
I think part of Mego's success was timing. G.I. Joe was starting to wane, and the next big thing in action figures -- Star Wars -- was still years away. Similarly, Mattel's major offering in the action figure world -- Big Jim -- was doing reasonably well, but was starting to slide a bit.
Mego's other main claim to success was that they pretty much licensed everything they could get their hands on. Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, the Wizard of Oz, CHiPs, The Waltons -- if there was the slightest action figure potential, they wanted it. If it didn't have to be licensed, they'd make it anyway. Knights, Pirates, Western characters, Robin Hood, you name it. They created a good, basic, 8" body mold that could be used for practically everybody, just by placing a different head on it, which was the easiest thing in the world, and then crafting a cloth costume for it.
Their "bread-and-butter", though, and certainly the thing that skyrocketed their popularity and success, were their World's Greatest Super-Heroes. Mego managed to license both Marvel and DC characters, something that has not happened since. Although both Mattel and Hasbro have produced DC and Marvel characters since, neither company has done so simultaneously under the same company.
Mego remains highly popular today, even though the company hasn't existed for decades. There are Mego conventions. A company called EmCe Toys, with the blessing and participation of Mego's founder, Marty Abrams, brought back the Mego-style body, and licensed Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, as well as some new concepts. Especially in the case of Star Trek, EmCe produced some astounding figures, including the first ever figures of Sulu and Chekov, who never made it into the original run, as well as a vastly improved Gorn.
The only oddity about Mego was, on occasion, their character choices, especially in the super-hero lines. Some characters are more obvious than others. If you're going to do DC, then of course you're going to do Superman and Batman. If you're going to do Marvel, then of course you're going to do Spider-Man and Captain America. After that, some of the more logical choices, which did see figures made of them, would be Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Thor, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel (aka Shazam for legal purposes). Beyond that -- things get a little odd.
One would think that logical contenders in the DC Universe would include Flash and Green Lantern -- but Mego never made these. They did make Green Arrow -- a very cool figure, but not quite the same level on the DC playing field. And when it came to the villains, well, like I said, how did Mxyzptlk get in there ahead of Luthor!?
Although Lex would see other Mego incarnations in other sizes, especially notably a 12" version from a line of Superman figures very loosely tied into the movie (in that the Superman figure bore some resemblance to Christopher Reeve), there was never an 8" Mego figure of Lex Luthor.
Until now. Well, technically, it's not a Mego figure. Mattel has the DC license these days, and they're turning out some of the most amazing DC Universe figures ever crafted. Mattel is not unaware of history. They know full well what Mego accomplished. Moreover, they know full well some things that maybe Mego should've done and never really got around to.
Mattel has started a new line of figures, called RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES. The packaging is definitely Mego-themed. The figures -- 8" figures with a definite retro feel and cloth costumes -- are certainly Mego-themed. And one of them -- is LEX LUTHOR.
Hey, only took something over 35 years, but we've finally got him! Let's consider a little of Luthor's history, before we have a look at the action figure.
Alexander Joseph "Lex" Luthor is the archenemy of Superman and first appeared in Action Comics #23 (April 1940), and was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Luthor is described as "a power-mad, evil scientist" of high intelligence and incredible technological prowess. His goals typically center on killing Superman, usually as a stepping stone to world domination.
The character was originally depicted as a mad scientist who, in the vein of pulp novels, wreaks havoc on the world with his futuristic weaponry. In his earliest appearances, Luthor is shown with a full head of red hair; despite this, the character later became hairless as the result of an artist's mistake. A 1960 story by Jerry Siegel expanded upon Luthor's origin and motivations, revealing him to be a childhood friend of Superboy's who lost his hair when Superboy accidentally destroyed his laboratory; Luthor vowed revenge.
Thanks to the Multiverse, the red-haired Luthor was eventually seen as the Luthor of Earth-Two. Given the rather odd motivations of the Earth-One Luthor -- vowing revenge over his hair loss (although it was believed that something in the destruction of his laboratory mentally unbalanced Luthor), Lex's character has received a number of overhauls, especially since the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the initial John Byrne re-imagining of the Superman universe.
Following the 1985 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, the character was re-imagined as a powerful industrialist and technologist, basically running all of Metropolis, even briefly serving as President of the United States. In recent years, various writers have somewhat revived Luthor's mad scientist persona.
In the origin story printed in Adventure Comics #271 (1960), young Lex Luthor is shown as an aspiring scientist who resides in Smallville, the hometown of Superboy. Luthor saves Superboy from a chance encounter with Kryptonite. In gratitude Superboy builds Luthor a laboratory, where weeks later he manages to create an artificial form of life. Grateful in turn to Superboy, Luthor creates an antidote for Kryptonite poisoning. However, an accidental fire breaks out in Luthor's lab. Superboy uses his super-breath to extinguish the flames, inadvertently spilling chemicals which cause Luthor to go bald; in the process, he also destroys Luthor's artificial life form. Believing Superboy intentionally destroyed his discoveries, Luthor attributes his actions to jealousy and vows revenge. That revenge first came in the form of grandiose engineering projects in Smallville to prove his superiority over the superhero, only to have each go disastrously out of control and require Superboy's intervention. The mounting embarrassments further deepen Lex's hate for Superboy for supposedly further humiliating him and he unsuccessfully attempted to murder the superhero.
This revised origin makes Luthor's fight with Superman a personal one, and suggests that if events had unfolded differently, Luthor might have been a more noble person. These elements were played up in various stories throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
In the 1986 limited series The Man of Steel, John Byrne redesigned Lex Luthor from scratch, intending to make him an evil corporate executive. Initially brutish and overweight, the character later evolved into a sleeker, more athletic version of his old self.
Superman: Birthright, a limited series written by Mark Waid in 2004, offers another revised look at Luthor's history, including his youth in Smallville and his first encounter with Superman. The story has similarities to the 2001 television series Smallville, which follows Clark Kent's life as a teenager and into early manhood; among the elements shared with the show is Lex Luthor's problematic relationship with his wealthy father, Lionel. Birthright also reinvents the Silver Age concept of Luthor befriending Clark Kent as a young man. Waid's original intention was to jettison the notion of Lex Luthor being an evil businessman, restoring his status as a mad scientist. However, he ultimately conceded that the CEO Luthor would be easier for readers to recognize. In Birthright, Luthor remains a wealthy corporate magnate.
A concise biography for Luthor, later outlined in Action Comics #850, first appeared in the 2007 limited series Countdown to Final Crisis. Luthor's current origin appears to be a synthesis of aspects from Silver Age continuity and The Man of Steel mini-series. Recent changes to DC Comics continuity were revealed to have been a result of the 2005 Infinite Crisis mini-series.
As outlined in a backup profile in the 52 weekly series, the post-Action Comics #850 Lex Luthor of current continuity is the son of business mogul Lionel Luthor and his socialite spouse, Leticia. As shown previously in Superman: Birthright and the pre-Crisis stories, he spends part of his adolescence in Smallville, Kansas. It is here that Luthor comes into acquaintance with Clark Kent, Lana Lang, and Pete Ross. He is described as having left Smallville "under a cloud of rumor and suspicion." He later resurfaces in Metropolis and founds LexCorp. Luthor's rise to the Presidency and his removal from office are also recounted in this biography
Honestly, given the number of times this character's history has been overhauled, it's a wonder it's as coherent and cohesive as it is...
As one would expect, the Retro-Action Lex Luthor takes its cues from the 1970's Luthor, right around the time when he stopped using prison greys on a regular basis, and developed a costume of his own. So -- how's the figure?
Well, let me put it this way -- if Mego had actually made Luthor as part of their World's Greatest Super-Heroes line back in the 1970's, instead of that 5th-Dimensional vowel-deficient imp -- I'm pretty sure that figure would've looked a whole lot like this. That's a compliment, by the way. This figure is superb!
Luthor's then-newly-developed costume was a rather distinct contrast to his arch-enemy Superman's. Whereas Superman's costume uses primary colors, especially red and blue, Luthor's costumed used secondary colors, notably green, and purple, sort of a reddish-purple. It was the first time that Luthor had adopted the spandex-style of costume used by most super-heroes and super-villains, and really, it was an excellent design.
Mattel has done a truly superb job of, shall we say, Mego-izing it. Luthor's costume featured a reddish-purple shirt, with a somewhat flared collar, green gloves, green trousers, and reddish-purple boots. Mattel has used a stretchy sort of fabric, very similar to what Mego used, to create the costume. The shirt and trousers are perfect. The shirt has the flared collar, very nicely designed and sewn. There's a little bit of black fabric underneath it as a sort of undershirt. The hands of the figure have been molded in the proper shade of green, which became customary for "gloved" figures along the way for Mego, and the lower sleeves of the figure have leather-like "upper gloves" sewn to them.
The boots are of a design similar to Mego's. Mego actually had several boot designs. These don't really that closely resemble the ones typically used for their super-heroes. If anything, they look more like trimmed down versions of the somewhat larger and more detailed boots that I recall first appearing when Mego did a Klingon figure for their Star Trek line. That's not really a criticism here -- it's a perfectly good boot design.
Luthor's costume has a certain amount of black trim on it. There are straps across the chest, a belt, and stripes down the legs. The stripes down the legs are made from an elastic fabric. The belt and straps across the chest are made from a leather-like material. I think Mattel went into a little more complexity than Mego might have if they had made this figure, in that the straps criss-cross over the front and the back, including over the snaps on the back of the costume. I am sort of the opinion that Mego probably would have had the straps end at the seam on the back somehow, but that's just speculation.
I believe that the uniform would be removable, but there's no good reason to. About the only thing "missing" are these little equipment cartridges that Luthor wore on the chest straps. However, one thing Mego did tend to do every so often was simplify a figure just a little, doubtless for the sake of manufacturing costs. It's not that big of an issue here, and I suspect it's something that Mego would have done.
If one were to remove the costume, as I did with the Green Arrow figure, which was the first in this line, and one were sufficiently knowledgeable about Mego, which I consider myself to be, one would discover that the body design is not precisely Mego. It's similar, but not exact. I suspect the "actual" design is probably locked up with EmCe Toys, or Abrams himself these days. Overall, it's a good design. My one criticism of it is that the lower torso is too narrow. It doesn't accommodate the legs as well as it could, and it can make the overall proportions of the figure, especially since they're wearing tights, look a little odd.
Articulation of the figure is excellent, and entirely in keeping with what Mego accomplished back in the day. Luthor is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. The legs don't like to hold a pose all that well, but to be honest, that was something that could be an occasional problem back in Mego's days. These new Mattel figures are assembled differently, and I really don't think there's much to be done for it, but let's face it -- these figures aren't being created for extensive play. Luthor stands well on his own two feet, so he certainly looks good on display.
The headsculpt is superb. Once again, if Mego had actually made Luthor in the 1970's, I'm pretty certain this is what it would've looked like. Of course, he's bald. The features are well-defined. He has an intelligent but somewhat menacing face. The eyes are painted with great detail. One little personal point -- for some reason, I always recall that Mego sculpted the ears of their figures with particular detail. Luthor's ears look just like this.
The Luthor figure does come with a small accessory -- something that most Mego figures didn't unless it was absolutely necessary, like Captain America's shield, Thor's hammer, or Green Arrow's bow and arrows. Luthor comes with a small piece of Kryptonite! It's a little angular piece of transparent green plastic.
So, what's my final word here? I wish I could find a time machine, go back about 35 years or so, and set this figure in a Mego display in a department store -- preferably right outside Mego's headquarters. It'd drive 'em nuts. "Luthor!? When the heck did we make Luthor!?"
These Retro-Action Super-Heroes are very much intended for the collector, who's old enough or knowledgeable enough (or both!) to remember Mego. I certainly remember them. I had a ton of these as a kid and a teen. And I wish Luthor had been among them then. Well -- here's the next best thing, and it's pretty darn close. I applaud Mattel for having the idea for doing these, and I applaud them for doing such a great job with them.
The DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES figure of LEX LUTHOR definitely has my highest recommendation!