REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES ROCKET RED
For decades, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in what has come to be known as the "Cold War". With both sides fully nuclear-capable, neither side really dared to make the first move that would surely have brought the civilized world down to ruin. Still, we were hardly on friendly terms. The United States represented freedom and individuality, while the Soviet Union represented tyranny and communism.
There was something fascinating about the Soviet Union, though. Its people didn't look any different from us, and yet they were otherwise so very different. Their way of government was totally anathema by American standards. Their language was a mystery. Even their alphabet was different. Some letters were recognizable, but there was that backwards "R", and some of those other letters that looked like nothing in English.
For most Americans, the Soviets were regarded, and not necessarily inaccurately, as the bad guys. This was certainly true in most pop culture outlets, including comic books. If there was a Russian in a comic book, the odds were that he or she was one of the bad guys. There were rare exceptions, but these were generally defectors who had seen the red, white, and blue lights of American liberty.
Still, after many decades, things started to ease up a bit. With the coming of "glasnost" and "perestroika" it was gradually possible to be Russian and still be one of the good guys, at least to some degree. And eventually, the comic book companies started to get some Soviet super-heroes that hadn't abandoned their homeland in order to become heroes. The Marvel Universe assembled the Soviet Super-Soldiers, later known as the Winter Guard, after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The DC Universe created -- the ROCKET REDS! And while their name might not be the most politically correct anymore, and their fortunes have certainly risen and fallen, much as the fortunes of the former Soviet republics, they're still very much around and active. And a Rocket Red has just joined the DC Universe Classics line through its current online exclusive edition, the DC Signature Series, available on MattyCollector.Com.
When Mattel first announced their planned DC Universe line, via the subscription service known as Club Infinite Earths, there was also a poll to choose the first of the "Fan's Choice" figures. These were characters that, for one reason or another, couldn't be released in the standard retail line, largely because of size issues, but there was no such hindrance in the subscription line.
Of the four contenders, I've tended to think that two were something of a joke. I just tend to question whether there was a significant demand for a Black Lantern version of Swamp Thing, and I wonder how many fans even knew (or cared) who the Shaggy Man was.
But the other two contenders were a lot more popular. They included Rocket Red, and Metron. It honestly didn't surprise me that Metron won. There had been a significant New Gods presence in the DC Universe Classics line, but Metron, a very prominent individual in that group, had been distinctly absent, not because of the character's size -- he was a fairly normal-sized individual -- but because of his Mobius Chair, which Metron would HAVE to come with. This was not a small piece of hardware. It couldn't plausibly be done at retail -- but as an online special? Yeah, that could be done. And so it was.
For me, the choice wasn't easy when the poll came up. I liked both characters. And when the winner was announced, I remained hopeful that we would also get Rocket Red someday. And -- here he is! Makes me wonder just how close that poll was.
So, where did the Rocket Reds come from? Let's have a look at their history in the DC Universe, and then the figure.
Rocket Red was created by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton, he first appeared in Justice League No. 3 (July 1987). His first DC Universe canon appearance was in Green Lantern Corps No. 208 (January 1987).
The term "Rocket Reds" refers to any member of the Rocket Red Brigade; the name in the singular is used to refer especially to the three individual characters named Rocket Red who were members of the Justice League. These comprise the original Rocket Red No. 7 (later revealed as an android), Dmitri Pushkin (Rocket Red No. 4) and Gavril Ivanovich.
Originally created for the Soviet Union by Green Lantern Kilowog, the Rocket Red Brigade — normal human beings enhanced using "forced evolution" and armored battle-suits — proudly defended the USSR.
Their abilities included super strength, invulnerability, flight (through rocket packs/boots), the ability to project powerful energy blasts and "mecha-empathy" — the ability to sense and control computers and machines (though to what extent is not clear).
Among the more notable Rocket Reds are: Decorated Russian soldier Josef Denisovich, who was a close friend of the alien Green Lantern Kilowog. He was also the first member of the Rocket Red Brigade. Josef was turned against Kilowog by the Soviet government, and died fighting Kilowog.
The man known as Vladimir Mikoyan turned out to be a Manhunter. Vladmir was the first Rocket Red admitted into Justice League International. During the Millennium event, he was exposed as a Manhunter android and destroyed by Booster Gold (with the assistance of the Justice League and a force of other, human, Rocket Reds). After the Manhunter was discovered, Dimitri Pushkin was admitted into the Justice League.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, the other Rocket Reds fell on hard times. Several were brainwashed to serve as agents of the super-criminal Sonar. Many of the suits ended up on the black market. As seen in the pages of Chase #3 (April 1998), some of the more unscrupulous Rocket Reds began working for the Russian Organizatsiya Mafiya in order to feed their families.
Later four of the suits came into the possession of Vandal Savage, during the DC One Million event. He imprisoned four of the Titans, Jesse Quick, Arsenal, Tempest, and temporary member Supergirl, in them and used them as missiles. He managed to destroy the South American city of Montevideo, Uruguay though Tempest managed to save himself. The other Titans were saved as well before their respective suits could detonate.
Surviving members of the Rocket Red Brigade took their armor back from the Russian Army to fight the world prison break during the events of Villains United. They also appeared protecting Russia's border in 52, wearing new, more advanced suits of armor. They were seen again in One Year Later protecting Russia while hindering Green Lantern Hal Jordan's attempt to apprehend an interstellar criminal in Green Lantern #10. After the ensuing situation was resolved, the current Rocket Red #1 is even promoted as a possible Justice League member in the future, should the League plan to expand. Ice was hidden in a suit of Rocket Red armor during her regeneration.
In Checkmate v.2 # 22, it is revealed that Checkmate has since recruited the current Rocket Red # 1, Captain Maks Chazov, as its White Queen's Knight, with the apparent consent of Chazov's Russian government superiors.
In Blackest Night #3, the Rocket Reds were briefly seen in battle with Dimitri Pushkin, whose body had been reanimated as a Black Lantern.
In Justice League of America #45, the League meets the German Rakete-Auslese, or "Rocket Elite", who Batman notes are the German equivalent of the Rocket Reds, and use some of the same technology in their flying battlesuits.
During Mon-El's tour of the earth, he visits Moscow and helps the Rocket Reds during a battle with Georgian terrorists. Afterwards, a female Rocket Red pilot named Ivana takes Mon on a tour of St. Basil's Cathedral and gives him the first kiss he's ever received from a human.
The Rocket Red Brigade appears in Justice League: Generation Lost #4. One of their former number who had served under the USSR, Gavril Ivanovich, joins the members of the former Justice League International in tracking down Maxwell Lord.
During The New 52, Gavril is admitted into the new, United Nations-sanctioned Justice League as the official representative of Russia.
Sadly, this Rocket Red was killed during an early mission, and not too long after, the Justice League International title was canceled.
I don't necessarily want to draw too much of a connection here, but let me throw in the fact that years ago, in Marvel Comics, not long after most of the Soviet Oktober Guard team met their demise in the G.I. Joe: Special Missions title, that book was canceled. There's a lesson here: if you want to have a successful comic book run -- don't kill the Russkies.
As to some further details on individual Rocket Reds: Dmitri Pushkin (Rocket Red No. 4) became a member of the Justice League International after the previously assigned Rocket Red No. 7 was revealed to be a Manhunter android. A kind-hearted and jolly man with a taste for American culture, Dimitri served with the Justice League International for many years.
When his armor was destroyed by Lobo, he replaced it with a more advanced model made on Apokolips. This happened during a small-team Justice League mission to save Mister Miracle. He also suffered the destruction of his battle suit while facing Time Commander in Animal Man No. 16 (Oct 1989), when Dimitri served with Justice League Europe. During this time, Maxwell Lord made arrangements with the Russian government for Dmitri's wife, Belina, and his two children, Mischa and Tascha, to live with him at the League's Paris embassy. He also became friends with Buddy Baker, in a manner similar to the friendship of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Dimitri and Buddy initially bonded because they both had wives and children.
Dmitri is featured in the second Captain Atom Annual, helping to defend the country of Bialya from various threats.
In Justice League Europe No. 28, Dimitri was part of the resistance against Starro because his armor prevented the alien from controlling his mind. Dmitri was neutralized when Starro threatened to harm his family. He willingly surrendered to the alien's control in order to keep them safe. Other Justice League members eventually defeated the menace.
Later, Dmitri and most of the Reds are taken over by the sound-using criminal Sonar. In the same issue, Russian government reports have him listed as retired.
Dimitri was the only European on the team initially. He retired from super-heroics for a long time before dying in The OMAC Project, self-destructing to save the other members of the old JLI. His last words to Booster Gold were "My wife and children, Michael ... tell them I love them."
In the Booster Gold series, Rocket Red's grandfather, Dr. Sergei Pushkin, was a Russian scientist working with the U.S. on the space race in 1952. Task Force X was given a mission to expose Pushkin as a traitor to the American cause. Thanks to Pushkin, the launch was ahead of schedule, and the Russians were conducting a flight to outer space that night. Booster Gold traveled through time to stop it, giving a diversion to Task Force X to apprehend Pushkin without exposing him. Pushkin became more careful, and the space program started to lag behind until he was exposed by Frank Rock as a traitor in 1954. Because he was a valuable source, the U.S. placed him under house arrest where he worked on the Rocket Red armor in secret until he was sprung in 1957 by the Soviets. He did not live to see his work completed, and it was up to his son, Dimitri, to finish the suit. The legacy of the Rocket Reds was secure until 1962.
The 2010 ongoing series Justice League: Generation Lost introduced a new Rocket Red named Gavril Ivanovich. In this title, several members of the erstwhile JLI, pursuing a group of OMACs controlled by the resurrected Maxwell Lord, encounter a fight among a group of Rocket Reds, whose infighting was triggered by renegade Rocket Red (Gavril Ivanovich), who remains loyal to the old Communist cause and is resistant to the capitalist values of the modern Rocket Red brigade. He also sports a bulkier, outdated suit of armor that resembles Pushkin's armor rather than the sleek, modern suits worn by the other members of the brigade. The Justice League members intervene to prevent collateral damage, and Ivanovich joins the group (somewhat to their initial reluctance) in a move that paralleled Pushkin's choice to join the original JLI years earlier.
Gavril cements his membership in the new group during a fight against the Checkmate organization, suffering serious injuries but earning the team's respect. While the team deals with the apparent loss of Blue Beetle, Gavril bonds with Fire. He shares his insecurities about being thought of as a joke by his teammates due to his poor grasp of the English language, and the two grow close, eventually sharing a passionate kiss. During the final battle against Lords' army of OMACs, Gavril's armor is heavily damaged. Once Lord is temporarily defeated and the battle ends, the injured Gavril sets out to repair his suit.
In the timeline of The New 52, Gavril was featured in the ongoing series Justice League International as a member of a United Nations-assembled superhero team led by Booster Gold, until he is killed early in the title's run. One more reason to hate the New 52.
It has long seemed to me that the DC Universe is sorely lacking in armored characters (unlike the Marvel Universe -- I'm talking to you, Tony Stark), and while Rocket Red may not be as major a player as some, I'm glad he's around.
This new figure is not actually the first Rocket Red figure. A version based on the Apokolips-built armor was produced a number of years ago as part of the Justice League Unlimited line. But this is the first time Rocket Red has appeared in a modern, non-animated line.
So, how's the figure? Really spectacular, but an equally valid question is -- who's the figure? Who's under this Rocket Red armor? Unfortunately, there's no way to know.
The text on the box very specifically says "Real Name: Varies", and goes on to confirm most of what I've already stated above. "Created to protect Russian airspace from foreign intruders, the Rocket Reds are soldiers sporting powerful armored battle suits that grant them the ability to fly, shoot plasma blasters, and use mecha-empathy - the power to sense and control electronics. Continuously upgraded with the newest technology, the Rocket Reds are an extremely proud fighting force, willing to sacrifice everything to protect the land they love."
As part of the Rocket Red armor, each Rocket Red has a large number emblazoned on his chestplate. Honestly, I had the idea, and even suggested it to Mattel in an e-mail, that it might be a cool idea to have the figure come with some vinyl stickers, like G.I. Joe vehicles, and let the buyer decide what number to give the figure. In retrospect, this might not have worked out. The chestplate is somewhat curved, and has a semi-metallic painted surface. I've had trouble with stickers on surfaces like that.
The Rocket Red has an "01" on his armor, but over the years, I've seen a wide range of numbers, even edging into three digits. As to who's in this armor -- well, it could be anybody, and honestly isn't all that relevant to the figure.
I would like to take a moment and commend whoever is doing the artwork on these DC Signature Series packaged. It's excellent, and the painting of Rocket Red is one of the most impressive I've yet seen.
Back to the figure. For starters, and this is doubtless why Rocket Red had to be held off for the Signature Series -- he's huge. The average size of a DC Universe Classics type figure is 6-1/2". Rocket Red is more like 9-1/2". This does, as such, require a certain amount of speculative explanation.
The Rocket Red armors have varied over the years. Some of the earliest models were very boxy looking. Then there was that Apokolips version, and the more modern version, which this figure is based on -- thank goodness, since it is the most impressive of the lot. Depending on the artist, the Rocket Reds have tended to be portrayed as slightly to substantially larger than an average human being, but at least some of this has been attributable to the armor. Again, depending on the artist, there's been no indication that the wearers themselves are substantially larger people -- at least not by THIS much, despite the well-defined human-looking musculature of much of the armor.
So I suspect we're left with either a case of the armor being designed to mimic a large but otherwise human-looking form, and being able to house an otherwise normal-sized human that can still fully utilize the armor, or that remark about "forced evolution" being part of the Rocket Red program has resulted in soldiers capable of some rather considerable growth spurts every time they don their armor.
Rocket Red lives up to his name by being mostly red. The helmet, arms, and legs are all red, as is the abdominal area. And the limbs all closely mimic human musculature. The helmet is mostly red with a somewhat T-shaped silver visor. I'm a bit reminded here of a Cobra Battle Android Trooper as far as basic appearance is concerned, but it still looks cool.
Rocket Red's hands are gloved, but not in any bulky sense. They're red just like the sleeves of the armor. Interestingly enough, the thumb and index fingers are distinct, but the remaining three fingers of the hand are sort of unified in a sort of partial mitten. The backs of the hands have raised lines that are painted in a metallic white.
Strapped to the lower arms are a pair of plasma blasters. These are rather long, somewhat trapezoid-shaped units, with two distinct barrels at the front.
Rocket Red is wearing a heavily armored chestplate, with broad, flared shoulders. The chestplate is mostly smooth, with a red star on one side, and the "01" number on the other. Rocket Red also has a backplate, which includes a futuristic-looking jetpack. The chestplate and backplate are a semi-metallic white in color. He also has protective trunks (hey, if I was going into some sort of superhuman battle, I'd want that area protected), which are also metallic white.
The uniform is completed by very fancy boots, which like the other raised sections of his armor, are a semi-metallic white in color, with a bit of silver trim, most notably the knee pads and some ridged detail on the front.
Rocket Red uses some previously established body parts. The torso and lower torso armor pieces are separate attachments, over an otherwise standard body. This is the body that has been used, to one degree or another, for several large male heroes, whose proportions are otherwise relatively normal, such as Atom Smasher, Colossal Boy, and Apache Chief. Certainly they also work well for Rocket Red, whose torso armor makes him look a bit bulkier.
Distinct to Rocket Red are the lower arms, hands, lower legs, and feet, to accommodate the unusual gloves, the plasma blasters, and the highly detailed boots.
Paintwork on the figure isn't all that extensive. Really just the faceplate on the helmet, the lines on the backs of the gloves, and a bit of silver detail on some of the armor. And, of course, the red star and number. However, I suspect that this was a relatively easy figure for the paint crews, due in no small part to the lack of a distinctive face.
Any criticisms? Just one. The head has a number of what I call "mold creases" in it, which tends to happen when the plastic is not sufficiently liquefied before being injected into the mold. If this figure had possessed a standard human face, it would've been a disaster. But it's still a little problematic, especially since the silver visor brings out the creases that much more. Let's hope this isn't going to be an increasing problem with these figures.
Of course, Rocket Red is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
Let me address one other question -- Could Rocket Red be the newest "army-builder" in the DC Universe Classics line? Granted, the line hasn't had that many army-builders. The only other two I can think of would be the Parademon and the Manhunter Robot.
Rocket Red was not inexpensive, but if you've got the disposable income, I see no reason not to have more than one in your collection. The only problem is the "01" on the armor. Technically speaking, every Rocket Red has a distinct number, and all of the figures have "01".
Now, maybe you're skilled enough to find a way to safely remove the existing number and paint a new one in its place. If so, congratulations and good luck to you. For those of us disinclined to try that, but who still want more than one Rocket Red, let me suggest a little conceptual dodge here. Maybe there's more than one Rocket Red per number. Maybe they operate in units. Or maybe the Russian government assigns the name number to more than one Rocket Red just to keep people fooled as to how many Rocket Reds they've really got working for them. Just a thought.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely pleased to see Rocket Red join the DC Universe Classics/Signature Series collection. Mattel's done a really excellent job with this figure, and he's wearing the most up to date Rocket Red armor, which in my opinion is the best design of them all. I truly believe that any DC Universe fan will be pleased to add this superb figure to their collection.
The DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES figure of ROCKET RED definitely has my highest recommendation!