REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES UNCLE SAM with DOLL MAN
I'll admit, in recent years, I've tended to consider myself more of a DC Universe fan than a Marvel Universe fan -- at least until DC pulled that abhorrent "New 52" stuff. Now it seems like most of my comic books are coming from IDW...
That being said, I have to be fair and admit that Marvel has certain types of prominent heroes that DC seems to lack. Want a high-tech hero with an ultra-fancy suit of weaponized armor? Marvel has Iron Man. DC -- well, there's Steel, but I wouldn't exactly call him one of the major players.
Want a character that's a noble, heroic personification of America and its ideals? Go to Marvel. You've got Captain America.
And yet, DC has their own living embodiment of America, and he's based on a character that didn't even really get his start with DC. He's not really one of the spandex-wearing set, but he's still certainly among the company of super-heroes. And I'm pretty sure that if Captain America ever met him, he'd certainly respect the guy. His name is UNCLE SAM, and he's the latest entry in the DC Universe Signature Series from Mattel's online offerings of DC Universe Classics-style figures through MattyCollector.Com.
Let's consider the history of Uncle Sam, not only as a comics character, but as a legitimate historical American icon.
I'm sure we've all seen those classic recruitment posters, that featured Uncle Sam, staring at us and pointing, "I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY!" The poster, featuring a white-haired man with a goatee, a determined expression on his face, wearing a top hat with a blue band with white stars across its base, and dressed in a navy blue jacket, white shirt, with a red bow tie, got its start in 1917. Created by J.M. Flagg, based on the original British Lord Kitchener poster of three years earlier, was used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II. Flagg used a modified version of his own face for Uncle Sam, and veteran Walter Botts provided the pose. The face also bears resemblance to the real Samuel Wilson.
However, the name dates back much further. Uncle Sam (initials U.S.) is a common national personification of the United States that, according to legend, came into use during the War of 1812 and was supposedly named for Samuel Wilson. The first use of Uncle Sam in literature was in the 1816 allegorical book The Adventures of Uncle Sam in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq. An Uncle Sam is mentioned as early as 1775, in the original "Yankee Doodle" lyrics of the Revolutionary War. It is not clear whether this reference is to Uncle Sam as a metaphor for the United States. The lyrics as a whole clearly deride the military efforts of the young nation, besieging the British at Boston. The 13th stanza is:
"Old Uncle Sam come there to change; Some pancakes and some onions; For 'lasses cakes, to carry home; To give his wife and young ones."
Uncle Sam was not the first personification of the United States. The earliest known personification of what would become the United States was a woman named "Columbia" who first appeared in 1738 and sometimes was associated with Liberty. With the American Revolutionary War came "Brother Jonathan" as another personification, and finally after the War of 1812 Uncle Sam appeared.
As to Uncle Sam's origin; Sam Wilson was a meat packer in New York, who supplied rations for the soldiers. They had to stamp their contractors name and where the rations were coming from onto the food they were sending. On the package, it was labeled "E.A – US." When someone asked what that stood for, a coworker joked and said "Elbert Anderson (the contractor) and Uncle Sam," referring to Sam Wilson, though it actually stood for United States.
By the 1850s the name Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam were being used nearly interchangeably to the point that images of what had been called "Brother Jonathan" were now being called Uncle Sam. Similarly, appearance of both personifications varied wildly. For example, one depiction of Uncle Sam in 1860 depicted him looking like Benjamin Franklin, (an appearance echoed in Harper's Weekly's June 3, 1865 "Checkmate" political cartoon) while the depiction of Brother Jonathan on page 32 of the January 11, 1862 edition Harper's Weekly looks more like the modern version of Uncle Sam.
However, even with the effective abandonment of Brother Jonathan (i.e. Johnny Reb) near the end of the Civil War, Uncle Sam didn't get a standard appearance until the well-known "recruitment" image of Uncle Sam was created by James Montgomery Flagg. It was this image more than any other that set the appearance of Uncle Sam as the elderly man with white hair and a goatee wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band, and red and white striped trousers.
The image of Uncle Sam was shown publicly for the first time, according to some, in a picture by Flagg on the cover of the magazine Leslie's Weekly, on July 6, 1916, with the caption "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?" More than four million copies of this image were printed between 1917 and 1918.
Flagg's image also was used extensively during World War II during which the U.S. was codenamed 'Samland' by the German intelligence agency Abwehr.
There are two memorials to Uncle Sam, both of which commemorate the life of Samuel Wilson: the Uncle Sam Memorial Statue in Arlington, Massachusetts, his birthplace; and a memorial near his long-term residence in Riverfront Park, Troy, New York.
As for Uncle Sam as a comic book character, he first appeared in National Comics #1 (July, 1940) and was created by Will Eisner. The title was published by Quality Comics during the so-called Golden Age of Comic Books, not by DC. He was depicted as a mystical being who was originally the spirit of a slain patriotic soldier from the American Revolutionary War, and who now appears in the world whenever his country needs him. The character was used for a few years from 1940 to 1944, briefly receiving its own series, Uncle Sam Quarterly.
DC Comics acquired the character as part of its acquisition of the Quality characters in the 1950s, and he was used as a supporting character in Justice League of America in the 1970s. This established Uncle Sam as the leader of the Freedom Fighters, a team of former Quality characters that briefly received its own title. This team was initially based on a parallel world called Earth-X, where World War II had lasted into the 1970s.
Uncle Sam's origin was rewritten somewhat in the pages of The Spectre, where Uncle Sam is described as a spiritual entity created by the Founding Fathers. This "Spirit of America" was initially bound to a powerful talisman and would take physical form by merging with a dying patriot. The new origin states that the Spirit of America had taken human form as the Minute-Man during the Revolutionary War, Brother Jonathan in later conflicts and, during the American Civil War, had been split in two as Johnny Reb and Billy Yank.
The Spirit of America first assumed its now familiar Uncle Sam incarnation in 1870, when it resurrected a political cartoonist. The second host of Uncle Sam fought in World War I. A third (the character's Golden Age Quality Comics incarnation) was a superhero during World War II but vanished at the end of the war, erasing any subsequent appearances from the fictional history of the DC Universe (although most of them had already been erased by the Crisis on Infinite Earths).
In The Spectre, the Spirit is resurrected in a new costumed form called the Patriot, but later reverts to Uncle Sam in a Superman issue.
In Infinite Crisis #1, the Freedom Fighters are attacked by the Secret Society of Super Villains. Three of the Freedom Fighters, Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, and Black Condor are killed in the battle. Uncle Sam himself seemingly dies at the hands of Sinestro. The other team members are brutally injured but survive. Uncle Sam is seen face down in rainwater. However, when the dead heroes are found strung up on the Washington Monument in Infinite Crisis #2, Uncle Sam is missing.
The character's latest incarnation appeared in the first issue of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, and spends the first few issues of this new series attempting to form a new version of the Freedom Fighters. This new Uncle Sam emerges from the Mississippi River at the same time as Father Time is elsewhere planning the future of S.H.A.D.E. with new incarnations of the Freedom Fighters members. Uncle Sam, disturbed by the deadly force used by the new versions of Phantom Lady, The Human Bomb, Doll Man, and others, successfully recruits these metahumans into his new Freedom Fighters team, which results in Father Time ordering his remaining S.H.A.D.E. personnel to pursue and kill Uncle Sam and his team. Although Uncle Sam is shown to be against killing, particularly rebuking Doll Man for murdering a crime lord in front of the man's young grandson (in issue #1), Uncle Sam is not against using deadly force when necessary.
Uncle Sam shows up in the Blackest Night crossover, helping many other superheroes fight the returning dead. This includes the slaughtered incarnation of the Freedom Fighters.
As to his powers and abilities, Uncle Sam has demonstrated various powers, including super strength, invulnerability, the ability to alter his size, enhanced speed, and some degree of clairvoyance. He is also shown to be able to transport himself and others to a pocket dimension called The Heartland; he does this to Doll Man in issue #2 of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.
The Pre-Crisis version of Uncle Sam could at one point travel to parallel universes, as he did with the Freedom Fighters to travel to Earth-X from Earth-Two (All-Star Squadron #36), however in Freedom Fighters #1, Uncle Sam and the other Freedom Fighters require the help of a scientist's machine to travel to Earth-One.
His power is said to be in direct proportion of the belief people have in the idea of America. In Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, Father Time states that tests indicate Sam is not a human, meta-, or magical being, and the question of what he is can be considered inconclusive. In issue #3 of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, he states that he does not have the ability to fly.
So, how's the figure? Really very impressive. And let's say that I'm very glad I didn't have to be responsible for the paint stencils on this guy.
As I indicated earlier, Uncle Sam isn't really one of the spandex-wearing set of super-heroes. He's dressed in a suit, reflecting the iconic design of the character well before he appeared in any comics.
From a figure standpoint, Uncle Sam uses, as one would expect, pre-existing body molds with a new paint job and, of course, a new head. There is a set of "suit" molds available that have been used for a number of characters in the line, and is open to a certain amount of modification. Characters such as the first Riddler, Gentleman Ghost, Sandman, Two-Face, and a few others have made use of these molds to one degree or another. They generally present an individual of somewhat thinner build than the usual muscular heroes, but obviously, that's not necessarily an indication of actual power levels. And I don't think a suit would work all that well on a really muscular figure, anyway.
What's a bit unusual, and maybe even a bit disquieting, about the Uncle Sam figure, is that he uses the exact same molds, right down to the collar with the string tie, as -- The Joker. Okay, Uncle Sam doesn't have Joker's acid-squirting flower, but apart from that, the color scheme, and the fact that Uncle Sam has slightly larger (and ungloved) hands, the molds are identical.
Fortunately, it's relatively easy to overlook, unless you stand the two figures side by side. Joker's garish appearance -- the white face, the green hair, the elongated chin and that maniacal grin, coupled with the fashion nightmare of his outfit -- purple coat, purple trousers with black pinstripes, orange vest, and green shirt, is in decided contrast to Uncle Sam's more patriotic color scheme. About the only thing they otherwise have in common is black boots with white spats, and that's more than sufficient.
Uncle Sam is dressed in a blue jacket, with rather long tails in the back, a slightly lighter blue vest, a white shirt with a red string tie, and trousers with white and red vertical stripes that must have been a painting nightmare, especially when one takes onto consideration the number of parts in the legs of these figures. You've got the lower torso, the upper legs, the swivel and knee, and then the lower legs. That's a total of seven parts that have to be painted well so they look good assembled.
Honestly, I'm of the opinion that the legs were painted AFTER they were assembled. Why do I think this? Because the circular pegs in the knees are partially painted, and the painting lines up with the stripes on the legs. There's no way that assembly of these figures was THAT precise. So Mattel must have set things up so that the legs could be assembled, painted, allowed to dry, and then assembled to the rest of the figure. I suspect this would be an unusual way of going about things, but it certainly worked well here.
Although the trousers are obviously very prominent, the painted detail elsewhere on the figure is very nicely done. The red string tie, for example, or the little buttons on the vest. This is some very impressive attention to detail.
Uncle Sam's headsculpt is that of an older man, but still one with plenty of fight left in him. He has a very determined expression on his face, and an intense stare in his eyes. The eyes have been painted blue. Nice way of staying within the patriotic color scheme, really.
Uncle Sam's hair is gray-white, as are his eyebrows and goatee. His hair is a bit longer than some might expect, and it is longer than some of the modern appearances of the character. However, consider how far back this character is supposed to go. Long hair was not that uncommon in the days of the Revolutionary War.
Uncle Sam's image is completed with a top hat, seemingly mostly white with a band of red stripes around its perimeter, a white brim, and a band of dark blue at its base. White stars have been imprinted on the band below each red stripe.
Of course, articulation is superb. Uncle Sam is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. I did have one brief moment of concern when I first opened the figure and it looked as though his left arm's elbow joint was pointed backwards. Until I realized that all I had to do was turn the arm around and then adjust the wrist. This is NOT something that would have worked had it been an actual mistake on one of the more muscular figures, and it wasn't even a mistake here. Uncle Sam has his correct arms.
Ultimately, Uncle Sam is a truly superb and remarkably well-detailed figure, and he also represents an iconic individual that people are likely to recognize even if they have no knowledge of the comic-book incarnation of the character.
Although Uncle Sam doesn't come with any accessories, he does come with a second, very small figure, of another Quality Comics character named Doll Man. The character is even mentioned on both the package, and the outer white box that these figures arrive in. So he's entitled to be part of this review. Let's consider the character's background briefly.
Doll Man is a superhero from the Golden Age of Comics, originally published by Quality Comics and currently part of the DC Comics universe of characters. Doll Man was created by comics legend Will Eisner and first appeared in a four-page story entitled "Meet the Doll Man" in Feature Comics #27. The issue's December, 1939 cover date indicates that Doll Man is the first comic book superhero with a shrinking power. He notably predates the more famous Ray Palmer (DC's Atom) and Henry "Hank" Pym (Marvel's Ant-Man, later Yellowjacket) by two decades.
The secret identity of Doll Man, "The World's Mightiest Mite," is research chemist Darrell Dane, who invents a formula that enables him to shrink to the height of six inches while retaining the full strength of his normal size. He was not only the first example of a shrinking superhero, but also one of the few that was unable to change to a height in between his minimum and maximum sizes (though artists would fail to keep his scale visually consistent).
His first adventure in Feature Comics #27 involves the rescue of his fiancee, Martha Roberts, from a blackmailer; he subsequently decides to fight crime and adopts a red and blue costume sewn by Martha. Years later, somehow Martha's wish to be able to join him in his small size comes true, and now possessing the same shrinking powers, she becomes his partner as "Doll Girl" in Doll Man #37. He also has the aid of "Elmo the Wonder Dog," a Great Dane who serves as his occasional steed and rescuer, and the "Dollplane," which was deceptively presented as a model airplane in his study when not in use. In his adventures published during World War II, Doll Man was also frequently depicted riding a bald eagle -- which one would think might've ticked off Uncle Sam a bit.
After Quality Comics went out of business in 1956, DC acquired their superhero characters. Doll Man and several other former Quality properties were re-launched in Justice League of America #107 (October, 1973) as the Freedom Fighters. As was done with many other characters DC had acquired from other publishers or that were holdovers from Golden Age titles, the Freedom Fighters were located on a parallel world, one called Earth-X where Nazi Germany had won World War II. The team were featured in their own series for fifteen issues (1976–1978), in which the team temporarily leaves Earth-X for "Earth-1" where most DC titles were set.
Doll Man was an occasional guest star in All-Star Squadron, a superhero team title that was set on "Earth-2", the locale for DC's WWII-era superheroes, at a time prior to when he and the other Freedom Fighters are supposed to have left for Earth-X. Doll Man then appeared with the rest of DC's entire cast of superheroes in Crisis on Infinite Earths, a story that was intended to eliminate the similarly confusing histories that DC had attached to its characters by retroactively merging the various parallel worlds into one. This erased Doll Man's Earth-X days, and merged the character's All-Star Squadron and Freedom Fighter histories so that he is primarily a member of the Squadron, of which the Freedom Fighters are a splinter group.
So, how's the figure? Tiny. Doll Man is essentially the third really small figure in the DC Universe line, the others being a figure of the Atom, sold as part of the "Collect-and-Connect" series that also built Giganta; and a small figure of Elasti-Girl, sold with the far larger figure of Elasti-Girl, a special figure in the Signature Series, to demonstrate that the character could shrink as well as enlarge.
The figure stands about 1-1/2" in height, making him distinctly taller than Elasti-Girl's 1", and roughly the same height as the Atom.
Doll Man has black hair, and even has little black slits painted on his face for eyes. I'm astounded that this was possible with this sort of precision. The eyes are literally 1/32" across. Yes, I have a ruler that goes that small. Just as amazing is the fact that there's actually some sculpted texture in his hair.
Doll Man's costume consists of a blue, sleeveless top and blue trunks. His arms and legs are bare. He is wearing a black belt with a gold buckle that has been painted with considerable precision. The figure also has a red cape with a fairly high collar.
The cape is just a little problematic. It was molded separately, and I suspect it was impossible to mold it any thinner than it is, but it is a little overwhelming on the figure. It also overbalances the figure, and he's incapable of standing up on his own.
Doll Man is not articulated. I'm sure that's no great surprise. However, the overall detail of the figure is remarkable, and well in keeping with the design and musculature of DC Universe Classics figures. And, with the line pretty much relegated to monthly offerings on MattyCollector.Com, and with Doll Man not exactly being an especially prominent individual in the DC Universe, I would suspect that the odds of ever seeing a full-size Doll Man figure are slim to none. So, it's cool that this little representation was included with Uncle Sam. And even his costume colors are a good complement.
So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. What we have here is a remarkable figure of a character whose overall history predates comic books themselves as we know them by potentially something like 150 years. That's a heck of a history. The character's likeness is based on a highly-recognizable iconic image, and has been rendered superbly well as an action figure here, and what I expected to be the toughest aspect of it all -- the striped trousers, has worked out in excellent fashion. And the inclusion of Doll Man is a nice bonus.
If you're any sort of fan of the Freedom Fighters, of even if you just like patriotic memorabilia, then here is the DC Signature Series figure for you! Uncle Sam Wants You -- to buy him! And I promise you won't be disappointed.
The DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES figure of UNCLE SAM, with DOLL MAN, definitely has my highest recommendation!