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By Thomas Wheeler

Even though Mattel is still turning out too many of the "big seven" of the superb animated Justice League Unlimited series, and generally putting them into three-packs with new characters, resulting in the required purchase of yet another Batman, or Superman, or Flash, or Green Lantern, or Wonder Woman -- well, you get the idea -- in order to get figures of the second-tier characters, sometimes it's worth it. And recently, several new three-packs have turned up. I'll review a couple of them here, and then go on to share some recent (as of this writing in late July, anyway), news.

WONDER WOMAN - HAWK - DOVE: The grabber for this set is Hawk and Dove, who admittedly only had one main episode of JLU devoted to them. That's still more than some of the characters turning up in this line have gotten.

I suspect one of the reasons the JLU series appeals to a lot of fans is because it cuts away a lot of the often weird baggage that these characters collect in the comics over the decades. Hawk and Dove turned up decades ago, in the pages of Teen Titans. Predictably for the age, they reflected the extremes of militarism and pacifism that were dividing the country so severely.

Hawk was Hank Hall, a roughneck and a brawler who tended to think with his fists and wanted a good fight as much as anything. Dove was Don Hall, Hank's brother, who was a pacifist at heart, and sought peaceful and non- confrontational solutions to problems. That they argued the points of their respective outlooks on life with regularity goes without saying.

The characters largely faded into obscurity, but made something of a comeback due to an incident in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Dove was killed. At some point after that (I'll admit I didn't follow their adventures that closely), a long-lost sister turned up. Dawn Hall became the new Dove, with pretty much the same mindset as her late brother.

Then, in 1991, came another crossover event called ARMAGEDDON 2001. Years in the future, a man named Matthew Ryder determined that the so-called "Age of Heroes" had come to an end because one of their own had betrayed them. Becoming Waverider, he traveled back to 1991, and looked ten years into the future of most of the heroes of the DC Universe, to try to determine which one it was.

Ultimately, it was Hawk. Ryder's future was governed by the tyrannical hand of a man called Monarch, and yet no one knew who he was. Monarch also went back in time, captured Hawk and Dove, and killed Dove. Hawk then killed Monarch, unmasking the villain, revealing his older self. His mind already frayed, Hawk then donned the armor of Monarch, and took his place.

And if that sounds weird, you don't even want to know what happened after that, and I'm not going to get into it here.

The Wonder Woman figure is actually an improvement over the original one offered in the Justice League line. The legs allow for a better stance, and she's articulated at the waist. Has a better facial sculpt, too, in my opinion.

Fortunately, the animated Hawk and Dove have been spared all of that nonsense. Hawk is still Hank Hall (and vice versa), and Dove is still Don Hall. The figures are excellent likenesses of the characters, with a powerfully built Hawk and a somewhat slighter-looking Dove. Articulation is pretty much what it was for the early Justice League figures -- head, arms, and legs. But that's okay. I don't have a problem with it, and at least the figures aren't pre-posed.

SUPERMAN - AZTEK - SINESTRO: Okay, first off, someone needs to tell Mattel to hire a proofreader that at least knows the proper names of the characters. They misspelled Aztek as "Aztec". While that may be the correct spelling for the ancient people, it's NOT the correct spelling for the character! His name ends in a "K"

Some of the characters turning up in the Justice League line are interesting choices. I've been a faithful viewer of the series, and I don't recall any episode giving Aztek any significant emphasis. He has been seen, certainly, and I think he's even had a line or two. But it's a little surprising to see an action figure of him.

I'll admit I'm not that familiar with the character of Aztek. He had a short-lived comic that I didn't follow, and then was briefly a member of the JLA. I had to do some online research (thank you, Google, although I really didn't need all those hits on the Pontiac Aztek...) to come up with a character profile, courtesy of a Web Site called Definitely one to remember.

According to the Web Site, Aztek's background is as follows: Trained from birth to be the champion of Quetzalcoatl, the god of Light, Aztek was the peak of human conditioning and abilities, backed up by a highly advanced occult engineered helmet, he stood ready for the return of Tezatlipoca the dark god. Basing himself in a city called Vanity, he assumed the identity of the deceased doctor Curt Falconer. He had been trained by the mysterious Q-Society and seemed unwilling to just sit there waiting for the dark god, so he became a superhero of note and served for a time as a member of the JLA. He later gave his life in the battle against Mageddon, thought to be an incarnation of Tezcatlipoca. Realizing that Mageddon was the entity he was created to oppose, Aztek eventually unleashed the 4- dimensional energies in his harness. Although dying in the process Aztek's sacrifice weakened the entity and gave the heroes enough time to disarm the Mageddon warhead and thereby fight off the threat.

It also mentions that the Q-Society received funding from Lex Luthor's LexCorp, unknown to Aztek at the time. Luthor hoped Aztek would get into the Justice League, which would give Luthor an unwitting spy in the ranks of Earth's greatest Super-Heroes.

Aztek does have a cool visual appearance, with a white and black uniform -- unusual for most super-heroes, and the distinctive gold helmet. It might well have been the visual that inspired the reason for the figure. So far, Aztek hasn't been prominently featured enough in the animated series to determine if his unwitting connection to Lex Luthor, who has certainly been prominently featured, carries over to the animated series.

Sinestro is better known, and marks one of a very small handful of villains that have made it into the toy line. Sinestro of Korugar was once one of the most distinguished Green Lanterns of all, and even helped to train the legendary Hal Jordan of Earth. But Sinestro's ego and megalomania eventually led him to conquer his homeworld, something the Guardians of the Universe, who manage the Green Lantern Corps, did not approve of. Stripped of his power ring, Sinestro eventially was given a yellow power ring by ancient enemies of the Guardians. The color yellow is a weakness to the Green Lanterns.

The Sinestro figure is cool, but it betrays something that I think Mattel is doing to save a few bucks in molding process. They've created a generic "muscle body" for certain characters. There's no sign of Sinestro's power ring (nothing a little paint can't remedy for those with customization skills), and there are no sculpted details to the costume design. Consider that the Superman figure very clearly has the "S" symbol sculpted into the costume. The patterns of Sinestro's costume are painted on, not sculpted on.

Really, though, it's not a bad figure, and it's an understandable practice. In this case it falls a little short because of the lack of the ring, but I can think of a fair number of characters where this would not be an unreasonable practice.

The Superman figure (and I would hope I don't have to explain his origin...!) is decent, and is one of the ones with increased articulation, but again, he's really just a way of putting one of the "big seven" into the set.

If I have one complaint about any of thse figures, it's the way the legs are molded. And that would be "very carelessly". I realize we're dealing with rather exaggerated body proportions here, that tends to make most of the figures rather top-heavy. That having been said, Mattel REALLY needs to pay closer attention to designing the legs so that the figure can at least STAND UP ON ITS OWN! You wouldn't believe what it took to get Hawk and Dove to stand up long enoough for their picture to be taken. And these figures don't even have display bases, or footholes to allow for them. Come on, Mattel, is it THAT hard to align the legs a bit!?

Other new sets recently released include Batman/Metamorpho/Wildcat, and Flash/Hawkgirl/Waverider. This last one is a surprise, since I don't recall Waverider turning up in the series AT ALL. And I doubt that the next season is planned out that far yet.

Now, for a bit of further Justice League news. The series HAS been renewed for at least one more season of thirteen episodes. A brief preview was shown at the San Diego ComiCon (which I dearly wish I could have attended) to rousing approval. Apparently there will be some focus on a new team of villains, including Luthor, called the Legion of Doom! Expected guest stars throughout the season include the Metal Men, Warlord (!), and the Legion of Super-Heroes (!!). And one might think -- Waverider!?

There's good toy news, as well. Mattel unveiled a ton of new figures at the San Diego ComiCon. Of special interest is a three-pack featuring the JUSTICE LORDS, the alternate-universe versions of the Justice League. These have been in demand since the two-parter before the series took on the "Unlimited" suffix and expanded its ranks. The three-pack will feature Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

Another three-pack will feature Green Lanterns. Of course John Stewart will be included, but so will Tomar Re and Kilowog!

Target will be receiving several exclusive three-packs. Target, along with Toys "R" Us, seems to be the only store that gives a decent amount of space to Justice League. I can't recall the last time I saw any Justice League toys at Wal-Mart, the stinkers. So Target is being justly rewarded with the following three-packs: SUPERMAN - GREEN ARROW - BLACK CANARY; BATMAN - WONDER WOMAN - BIZARRO; and GREEN LANTERN - MARTIAN MANHUNTER - ORION. The only unusual thing here is that, much like the current three-pack with WAVERIDER in it, I don't recall Bizarro appearing on the show!

Other figures in the works, and this is not a complete list, include LEX LUTHOR in his green and purple battle suit; DR. LIGHT, VIXEN, SUPERGIRL, STEEL, and quite a few others.

Good times for Justice League fans, and I definitely recommend all of these current three-packs, and the ones yet to come! I'll do my best to review these sets as they come out and I am able to afford them.