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REVIEW: YOUNG JUSTICE 6" SPORTSMASTER
By Thomas Wheeler

Despite what's happened in the DC Comics Universe since the events of Flashpoint and the "New 52", I still consider myself a fan of the DC Universe. Maybe not the current DC Universe, but of the characters and concepts that made the DC Universe so great in the first place. And certainly I have been a fan of Mattel's excellent DC Universe Classics action figures.

The basic design of these figures actually got its start in the predecessor to DC Universe Classics, the Batman/Superman-centric DC Super-Heroes line. And it has also been used for the Batman Legacy line, and more recently, the DC All-Stars line, as well as the continuation of the DC Universe Classics series, now known as the Signature Series, through Mattel's online store at MattyCollector.Com.

And then there is Young Justice. Based on the current animated series of the same name, there are 4" figures based on the characters, and 6" figures. I haven't picked up that many of the 6" figures, since they tend to have animated likenesses, as one would expect, and as such, they don't really blend all that well with the DC Universe Classics figures, even though they tend to use at least some of the same body parts.

I made one exception a while back with the young archer known as Artemis. She is an excellent figure, with a headsculpt that isn't too far removed from the more realistic design of the DCUC line, and she works very agreeably with these figures.

More recently, I picked up another 6" Young Justice figure -- SPORTSMASTER, one of the notable villains in the series. Why did I choose to get him? A couple of reasons, really. First off, Sportsmaster is a classic villain whose original incarnation goes all the way back to the 1940's. He was one of the villains of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott. Secondly, he's not all that prominent in the modern day, and the odds of his classic comic book incarnation being brought into figure form are pretty slim. As for concerns over his appearance, he wears a mask that covers his entire face, so that problem is pretty well eliminated.

Let's have a look, briefly, at the Young Justice animated series, and then at the history of the character known as Sportsmaster.

Young Justice is an animated television series created by Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti for Cartoon Network. Despite its title, it is not an adaptation of Peter David, Todd Dezago and Todd Nauck's Young Justice comic series, but rather an adaptation of the entire DC Universe with a focus on young superheroes. The series follows the lives of teenaged heroes and sidekicks who are members of a fictional covert operation team called Young Justice. The team is essentially a young counterpart to the celebrity-level famous adult team, the Justice League. The main setting is the fictional universe of Earth-16, during a time period in which superheroes are a relatively recent phenomenon.

The pilot episode (later re-broadcast as the opening two episodes of season 1) aired a month prior to the debut of the regular series and introduced four characters: Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Speedy. It established their desire for greater recognition and respect, namely, a promotion from sidekicks to full-fledged superheroes. Met with opposition from their respective mentors in the Justice League, Batman, Aquaman, Flash, and Green Arrow, the protégés react in different ways. Speedy resigns from being Green Arrow's partner and begins calling himself Red Arrow. The others seek to persuade their mentors of their worth by secretly taking on a Justice League mission to investigate the Cadmus building.

During their infiltration of Cadmus' headquarters, the three heroes find a clone of Superman named Superboy. After the discovery, the team finds out Cadmus is creating living weapons called Genomorphs. The episode deals with this revelation, the origin of Superboy, and how this relates to a mysterious group of people called The Light (Cadmus's Board of Directors). In the end, Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Superboy negotiate with Batman to organize a covert operations team as a practical contrast to the Justice League whose celebrity status makes it difficult to maintain secrecy. After consulting with his colleagues, Batman establishes Young Justice in a secret cave on a secluded island. Here the teens are trained and mentored by the Justice League. Miss Martian makes an appearance at the end of the episode and joins as the fifth member.

Although Young Justice follows a continuity considerably different from that of the mainstream DC Universe, Weisman has stated that the series covers its early stages. Earth-16 was chosen by DC Entertainment for the show because it was largely untapped, freeing the series and its franchise from established continuity restraints set by either the main DC Universe or other worlds in the Multiverse.

There are crucial differences in the line-up of this Young Justice team as compared to the team in the comic series of the same name. Dick Grayson and Wally West were chosen over Tim Drake and Bart Allen/Impulse. Miss Martian, who was originally a White Martian in the comics, was added because the date of her arrival to Earth could still fit in the early DC Universe concept. Aqualad, as opposed to Robin, is established in the beginning as the leader of the team. Furthermore, the Aqualad presented in the show is an entirely new character created by Weisman and Vietti, with Bourassa responsible for the original character design. Arrowette was replaced by Artemis because of the producers' desire to focus on the latter's storylines. Some of the Young Justice characters' ages are tweaked from those of their original counterparts; however, the spirit and intent of the characters are said to be kept.

Characters who are a part of the line-up in the comic will also make an appearance in the show. This includes Garth, the first incarnation of Aqualad who later becomes the second Tempest in DC Comics; Arrowette, the archer of the team in the Young Justice comic book series; and Wonder Girl, whose legal issues originally prohibited the producers from using the character but later allowed her to be included. In the show, Garth features as the best friend of Aqualad/Kaldur'ahm.

As for Sportsmaster, The Sportsmaster is the name used by two DC Comics villains who used their sports skills for criminal purposes. The original Sportsmaster first appeared in All-American Comics #85 (May 1947), and was created by writer John Broome and artist Irwin Hasen.

He was the foe of the original Green Lantern as well as Wildcat. He was first known as Crusher Crock, a frustrated athlete who turns to a life of crime. He was a member of different incarnations of the Injustice Society. He helped capture the JSA using an exploding ball, after which they were hypnotized and then during the Patriotic Crimes he steals Old Ironside. He teams up with (and later marries) the Golden Age villainess Huntress. Later they have a child named Artemis Crock who became the third Tigress. In his later years he spent time behind bars but at least on one occasion was broken out of prison by his daughter - then a member of Injustice Unlimited. Following his death, his body was cloned by a secret organization called The Council for their enforcers (they had previously used Paul Kirk, Manhunter).

In the Elseworlds miniseries The Golden Age, set outside regular DC Comics continuity, Sportsmaster's real name was revealed to be Lawrence Crock. He first appears in issue #2, robbing a jewelry store in the same building as the GBS radio station. He battles Alan Scott in a physical fight. According to the mini-series, he had a daughter he could not see and was hoping to earn enough money committing robberies to win her back. Later he joins the forces of Tex Thompson (secretly Ultra-Humanite in Thompson's body). He dies trying to save a little girl from being killed by Dynaman. His death convinces Alan Scott to join the fight.

The Earth-One version of the character had the same name and origin, but was the foe of Robin and Batgirl. He also married his universe's version of the Huntress. After losing a villains versus heroes baseball game they reformed, and have not been seen since. Since the Crisis on Infinite Earths, this version was apparently wiped from existence or merged with his Earth-2 counterpart.

Crock uses sporting-themed weapons such as exploding baseballs, flying bases, rocket baseball bats, knockout basketballs, lacrosse snare nets, exploding hockey pucks. Their outfits generally included a baseball cap, catcher's mask, padded jersey, catcher's chestguard, football-style pants, and cleats.

Each of the Sportsmasters and Sportsmen had superb physical attributes on par with Olympic athletes in their prime.

As for his presence in Young Justice, Sportsmaster appears in the episode "Drop Zone" voiced by Nick Chinlund, as the presumed secondary antagonist of Season 1. He is shown as an operative of The Light at the time when they had Kobra mass-produced a neo-steroid that is a combination of the Venom Drug and the Blockbuster formula.

His costume and physical design have also been drastically altered, with a simple featureless mask covering his face, paramilitary armour and an arm plate. His personality is also similar to that of supervillain Deathstroke, and is implied to be a mercenary.

Though Young Justice manages to stop the shipment, Sportsmaster only recovers one remaining sample and hands it over to The Light. Sportsmaster is later revealed to be a very skilled associate/assassin for the League of Shadows in "Targets" where he is hired by Ra's al Ghul to assassinate Lex Luthor (which was later revealed to be a ruse orchestrated by Lex Luthor and Ra's al Ghul). Sportsmaster ends up fighting Red Arrow and Aqualad alongside Cheshire. While it appears their plan was foiled, the assassination was never meant to come to pass.

In "Misplaced," Klarion the Witch Boy, Wotan, Blackbriar Thorn, Felix Faust and Wizard's spell that split the Earth into the kids dimension and the adults dimension enabled a diversion for Sportsmaster and Riddler to steal an organism from S.T.A.R. Labs. It is brought before Brain during his meeting with the other members of The Light as Brain tells Klarion the Witch Boy that they plan to bring the organism "into the Light."

Clearly, this is a far more intense Sportsmaster than the one from the comics. Admittedly, the original Sportsmaster was little more than a "gimmick villain", which were certainly common enough at the time. These days, if all the Sportsmaster amounted to was a failed athlete who decided to use sports equipment to commit crimes, he'd probably be taken down in about five panels -- three of which would be used for the heroes to stop laughing themselves silly.

But, give the guy training and attitude on the level of someone like Deathstroke the Terminator, and some very interesting connections, clearly -- who just happens to use sports equipment as his modus operandi -- now, you've got a contender.

So, how's the figure? Very nicely done, although I have to say he didn't look especially comfortable in his package. It's interesting to note that one of the things that Mattel has stated about the forthcoming DC Universe Classics offerings from MattyCollector is that the figures will be presented in a basic, neutral position. I definitely approve.

I can understand wanting to put a figure in an action position for the sake of a little more marketing. On the other hand, there have been a few quality control issues over the years, where sometimes a figure will have a stuck part, and it doesn't help if that figure has been posed in a running position or whatever, that's only placed an additional strain on the assembly.

The 6" Young Justice figures not only come with a generous supply of accessories, but they come with enough equipment to build a personal diorama for the character. In Sportsmaster's case, he comes with what amounts to his own personal training center. And he is posed in such an extreme martial arts position that about the only way he could've been more drastically posed is if he was trying to do the Macarena while ducking under a limbo bar. He's got one leg in a martial arts kick behind him, while trying to balance on the other, waving a staff around in one arm, and probably trying to hold on for dear life to his internal plastic bubble package with the other.

The figure definitely looks cool. This is a Sportsmaster that one can take seriously. The original Sportsmaster -- okay, it was the 1940's. I get it -- and I have all the respect in the world for history. But some of the comic characters to come out of that time were pretty goofy, and Sportsmaster was one of them. His most notable signatures were the fact that he was pretty good-sized, had reddish hair, and wore a black mask tied around his face. Beyond that, he'd generally wear whatever sports uniform was appropriate to the occasion.

The only real similarity between that Sportsmaster and this one is that the package does identify his real name as Lawrence "Crusher" Crock, and references the fact that he's a master of martial arts -- and every other athletic endeavor.

The Young Justice Sportsmaster has blonde hair, and is wearing a gray hockey mask over his face. A bit "Friday the 13th" if you ask me, but what the heck, for a bad guy, it works. All that shows are his eyes, which are not so animated-exaggerated that you can't readily fit this figure into the DC Universe Classics line.

Sportsmaster is wearing what looks to be a white T-shirt, since his shoulders and part of his upper arms are white, but more than that, he is wearing some sort of protective chestpiece and backpiece. It almost looks like body armor, although I'm not entirely sure if that is its intention. It is purple in color, with a fairly high collar, black on the sides, with a few black lines on the front near the abdomen.

Sportsmaster also has a black belt with a gray buckle and numerous small purple pouches. He is wearing black trousers, fairly thick gray boots, black elbow pads, black fingerless gloves with gray knuckles, and sports-type shields on his left shoulder, upper arm, and lower arm. These are gray with black borders.

I believe at this point, the question does need to be asked -- how well does Sportsmaster really fit in with the DC Universe Classics figures? Well, he's not as easy a fit as Artemis was, although he's a smoother fit than anyone else I've seen in the line would be, but there are a few aspects to the figure that are stretches.

The only real parts of this figure that come directly from DC Universe Classics molds are the arms, from shoulders to wrists, and the lower torso region. The head works because the face is covered, and the hair has been sculpted with enough detail to pass. The hands are a bit of a stretch, because they have a slightly more cartoonish look to them than the average DCUC hand, but this is nitpicking. The torso can be explained as being some sort of padded or protective vest or armor, and so it wouldn't show the same level of muscular detail.

Arguably, the greatest stretch would have to be the legs. They don't show a lot of musculature. However, this can be at least somewhat explained if one accepts the idea that they're not intended to be skin-tight leggings typical of most super-beings. Indeed, they appear to have a rather loose fit close to the boots, and some indication of a loose fit near the knees, where Sportsmaster has knee pads strapped in place.

The boots themselves aren't that much of a stretch, given that their design indicates that they are a little large in the first place. I think it helps that Sportsmaster's legs are black. The somewhat more limited detail is not as evident.

I think Sportsmaster could readily be presented as a DC Universe Classics figure that just has a higher than average number of unique parts, and he'd hardly be the only one. Ask Deadshot, or Jonah Hex, or Mantis. Sportsmaster may not be as well defined as those figures, due to his animated place of origin, but his overall look is hardly enough to disqualify him.

The figure is very neatly painted, but really, there isn't all that much paint trim on him. Most of it is either on the head or the arms. However, it, and all of the paint detailing, is done with great accuracy.

Of course, Sportsmaster is superbly well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. I am pleased that no ridiculous "double jointed" articulation at the knees or elbows was inflicted on this figure.

Any complaints? One slight one. The left leg is exceptionally loose. I don't believe it's going to fall off or anything, and the figure can stand perfectly well. Nor do I have any reason to believe that all Sportsmaster figures have this problem. And, it's worth mentioning, my Artemis figure is a little loose in this respect, as well. This makes me wonder if whatever designated factory is producing 6" Young Justice figures needs to tighten things up a bit. However, in Sportsmaster's case, I can't help but wonder just a bit of the extreme pose he was given in his package did him no favors.

As mentioned earlier, Sportsmaster comes with enough accessories to create a sort of training center diorama for himself. All of this equipment is very nicely made. It includes four floor sections which can be assembled together, a target with a couple of throwing stars, a boomerang (probably beat up Digger Harkness to get it), a knife, a spear, a set of nunchuks, a display rack for most of this stuff, something that I assume is a martial arts practice dummy, and arguably the most traditional item for the Sportsmaster -- a baseball bat. Even though it's been painted silver, so it's an aluminum bat...

Let me say one additional thing. It may seem that with all of these comparisons to the DC Universe Classics line, that I'm putting down Young Justice. I'm not. It's a fine show, very enjoyable, I highly recommend it, and Mattel is doing a superb job with the toys for it. At the same time, I'll also readily admit that I am first and foremost a DC Universe Classics collector, and if I'm going to bring a 6" DC-based figure in from another line, it had better be able to fit. Sportsmaster is a bit more of a stretch than Artemis, but he fits, as well as being an impressive addition to the Young Justice 6" line in and of itself.

So, what's my final word? I'm very pleased with this figure. Well-designed, well-made -- one loose leg notwithstanding -- and he certainly comes with enough equipment to ply his villainous trade. Whether you're a Young Justice fan specifically, or a collector of DC Universe Classics that's open to some additions from elsewhere, Sportsmaster is an impressive addition to anyone's collection.

The YOUNG JUSTICE 6" figure of SPORTSMASTER definitely has my highest recommendation!