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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the newest entries in the continuing JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED series of action figures is notable for three things: He's notable for being a single-packed figure that wasn't part of a three-pack beforehand. He's notable for being made entirely out of new parts, as opposed to using an existing standard body mold. And he's notable for arguably being the only figure within the Justice League Unlimited line that qualifies as an "army builder" -- which is probably why he's been so darned hard to track down. Unlike Batman, or Superman, or Green Arrow, but very much like "trooper" type figures from other lines, such as Cobra Vipers or Clone Troopers, there's more than one ROCKET RED in the world.

Rocket Red is the designation given to a series of suits of high-tech, if rather boxy-looking armor developed by the former Soviet Union to create a super-powered force of armored warriors.

They first appeared in Green Lantern Corps #208, in 1987. Here is their origin according to the DC Universe:

Disturbed by the rapid increase of superheroes in the USA, the Soviet government decided they had to create their own super-powered agents. The alien Green Lantern Kilowog had shown interest in Communism (since it reminded him of the constitution of his home planet Bolovax Vik) and agreed to cooperate with the Soviet Doctor Krenshikov to create the powerful Rocket Red technology. The first Rocket Red, Josef Denisovich, became good friends with Kilowog. Later, Kilowog realized that the Soviets abused his inventions, and in an ensuing battle, he was tragically forced to kill Josef.

The Brigade, however, grew in size, soon becoming the national super- guard of the Soviet Union. They defended their nation against foreign interests, bravely battled alien forces during the Millennium event and the Invasion!, and encountered American super-heroes such as the Green Lanterns, the Suicide Squad, and the Justice League. Indeed, when the League went International, a Rocket Red was admitted into their ranks. Rocket Red #7, Vladimir Mikoyan, later turned out to be a traitor and an agent of the alien Manhunters, and was replaced with the more trustworthy Rocket Red #4, Dmitri Pushkin.

When the evil Extremists first appeared on Earth, many Rocket Reds were killed and their ranks decimated. New members were recruited later, but the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War made their future uncertain.

Subsequently, the Rocket Red organization has become a real mess. Some of the more heroic members (like Dmitri) are still active or semi-active from time to time, while others have retired completely, or even gone rogue. Pieces of Rocket Red armor have been stripped and sold on the black market.

During the "DC One Million" storyline, four of the original Rocket Red suits were purchased by Vandal Savage, who used their nuclear capacity in an attempt to take over the world. Three of the missiles were stopped, but the fourth tragically destroyed the entire city of Montevideo.

More recently, the Rocket Reds seem to be back, in armor close to their original incarnations, defending the borders of Russia and other former Soviet countries from any interdiction by outside superhumans.

The Rocket Red character as he appeared in the animated series (which wasn't all that often, but he is there), and as such the action figure, doesn't bear that close a resemblance to the Rocket Reds as they initially appeared in the comic books. However, there were a number of Rocket Red armor incarnations over the years in the comics (during a time when I wasn't really paying that close attention to the Justice League), and I have no doubt that Rocket Red as he appears in the animated series bears a decent resemblance to at least some edition of the comics version.

The figure, in keeping with the general image of the Rocket Reds, is rather bulky in appearance. He uses entirely new molds, as well. The head is an anonymous helmet with a visor. The main body of the armor is red, with a flexible plastic chest-back-and-shoulders piece placed over it. The gloves and boots are red, as well. The boots are particularly massive in size. No problem with this figure standing up, that's for certain! The arms and legs are dark grey, and ridged in appearance.

The figure comes with a weapon which resembles a machine gun. This accessory can be used several ways. It can be attached to a peg on the left shoulder, or it can have a handle attached to it, and placed in the right hand of the figure. The figure also comes with a small red rocket
(!) which can be traded out for the barrel of the machine gun.

The figure is neatly assembled and painted, although it's worth noting that the shoulder/chest harness was not molded as one piece. One can see that the shoulder segments were glued on. Whether this was done before or after main figure assembly I don't know, but it's fairly obvious that this harness is not intended to be removable.

Articulation is somewhat limited. Arms and legs only. The head does not turn. On the other hand, these guys never were known for their agility.

When you can locate them, in theory, buy as many as you like and build your own Rocket Red army. And at a comparatively meager $4.99 apiece, not a bad price for a 5" action figure these days, you can build that army fairly inexpensively -- assuming you can find enough of them, which is apparently the real trick just now. No doubt it also helps sales that Rocket Red is not part of any three-pack, so you're not going to get stuck with yet another Superman, or Green Lantern, or whomever they might have considered packing him with.

One additional note, for you army-builders out there who might be inclined to do some customizing. The original Rocket Reds all had a red Soviet Star on the front of their armor, and a number. While I don't know if that was the case with this version of the Rocket Reds, certainly that large, smooth, and rather plain light grey chestplate is just asking to be modified by anyone with sufficient talent. And I wouldn't be surprised if some nice stick-on red number sets and red stars of a good size could be found at your local crafts or hobby stores. Just a thought.

Do I recommend ROCKET RED? Absolutely! Any fan of the Justice League should be pleased to add one or more of this guy to their collection. It's a good figure, well made (how is it Mattel has been so successful at avoiding the paint problems and mold creases that's plaguing other companies?), certainly distinctive and likely to stay that way (I doubt anyone else is going to be using these body molds in the line), and is one of those characters where this is likely to be the only action figure of him ever made.

He's currently available in an assortment that also includes single-carded versions of Metamorpho and Copperhead. If you see them, then you know that Rocket Red was at least there, and if he isn't right then, then keep looking. Hopefully once the army-builders are finished, he'll be more available. And ROCKET RED definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!