During the grim days of World War II (at least in the Marvel Universe), America's greatest hero in the fight against the Axis powers was Captain America. But the United States was not the only Allied nation to have a distinctive hero that evoked a country's sense of patriotism and certainly reflected its national image -- or at least its national flag. There was another hero that wore a different red, white, and blue, and he represented the might of the United Kingdom. Appropriately, his name was Union Jack.
British heroes from Marvel Comics, as with most characters based outside of the United States, have been relatively few and far between. The two best known British heroes are arguably Union Jack and Captain Britain. The latter of these was actually created for Marvel's UK-based titles, and didn't appear in the United States until several years later in a two-part story in Marvel Team-Up, where he encountered Spider-Man as the two heroes went up against the maniacal assassin known as Arcade.
Union Jack is another matter. He was created for the American comics market, for the World War II-based title "The Invaders", but technically wasn't created until the mid-1970's, by writer Roy Thomas. Technically, though, there have been three individuals named Union Jack over the years, and one of them was given a connection to a legitimate Golden Age character that was one of the first characters ever created by Stan Lee.
Recently, both Wal-Mart and Target received exclusive assortments of the very popular, highly detailed and highly articulation MARVEL LEGENDS series of action figures. The Wal-Mart assortment is known somewhat as the "Ares" assortment, since the Build-A-Figure in the series was Ares, a fairly recent member of the Avengers, and the Target assortment was known as the "Red Hulk" assortment, since it included a Build-A-Figure of the enigmatic Red Hulk character. Both assortments have proven quite popular, and fairly scarce since their initial releases.
One of the characters in the Target assortment is UNION JACK. The entire assortment was a pretty bizarre one, with a host of otherwise unrelated figures including a black costume Spider-Man, a couple of versions of Wolverine, Spiral, Adam Warlock, and the peculiar Silver Savage character, an amnesiac Silver Surfer who turned up during the Planet Hulk story. I'm surprised this series wasn't called the "What the -- ?!" assortment. Not that there's anything wrong with the figures, and in fact I snagged several from the assortment, including Union Jack.
Although the package makes it clear that this is the third Union Jack, a certain amount of background on the history of the character as a whole would be appropriate:
The original Union Jack, James Montgomery Falsworth, first appears in comics in The Invaders #7. A peer of the realm as Lord Falsworth, James Montgomery Falsworth is first active as Union Jack during World War I. During his adventures, he encounters the mysterious Baron Blood, a vampire saboteur for the Germans. After the war, Lord Falsworth retires to his ancestral home in England to raise a family.
He is active again as Union Jack during World War II. He becomes a member of the Invaders after the original Human Torch saves his daughter - Jacqueline Falsworth - from Baron Blood. Jacqueline is revived by a blood transfusion from the Human Torch which grants her the power of super-speed. As a result, she becomes the costumed hero Spitfire. After the attack, Lord Falsworth offers up his mansion as the Invaders' base of operations.
After Baron Blood's attack on Jacqueline, James discovers the vampire is actually his brother, John. During a battle, Blood crushes Union Jack's legs under a boulder, effectively ending his career as a hero. Before the battle ends, James is able to impale Blood on a silver-veined stalagmite.
Although unable to use his legs, James travels with the Invaders to Germany. There they meet up with James' son, Brian. Originally thinking his son a traitor, James learns that Brian fights against the Nazis as the costumed hero, the Destroyer. As a result, the two reconcile their differences and James passes the mantle of Union Jack on to Brian, at which point Brian abandons his Destroyer identity.
However, the father outlives the son when Brian is killed in an automobile accident in 1953. Years later, James Montgomery Falsworth finally sees the end of Baron Blood with the help of Captain America and the third incarnation of Union Jack (Joey Chapman). After this episode, James Montgomery Falsworth passes away.
This last was actually a superb multi-part story from the pages of Captain America during Roger Stern and John Byrne's too-brief run on the title, and has been collected as part of a trade paperback entitled "Captain America: War and Remembrance". I highly recommend it. It will give you a greater respect for the Union Jack character, as well.
The second Union Jack, Brian Falsworth, is the son of James Montgomery Falsworth. He first appears as the Destroyer in Invaders #18, and becomes Union Jack in Invaders #21. He was also created by Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins.
Unlike Union Jack, who is a character "retconned" into the World War II timeline by the Invaders title, the Destroyer actually is an original Golden Age character. The Destroyer first appeared in Mystic Comics #6 (October 1941), published by Marvel Comics' predecessor, Timely Comics. In Roy Thomas' 1970s series The Invaders, the Destroyer's Golden Age identity of Kevin "Keen" Marlow is explained away as an alias. The Destroyer is notable for being one of the first creations of Stan Lee.
Brian, initially sympathetic to the Nazi cause, gains superpowers through the help of a German scientist who tries to recreate the Super Soldier Formula that resulted in Captain America. Brian escapes prison and becomes a costumed Nazi-fighter within Germany, after discovering the evil nature of the Nazi regime, calling himself the Destroyer.
After his father's legs are crushed by Baron Blood, Brian learns of his father's costumed identity as Union Jack. As a result, he takes up this identity in place of his father, joining the Invaders. Later, Brian is charged by magical lightning when fighting Thor. He gains the ability to shoot electricity from his fingertips. Following the war, Brian remains active as Union Jack. A car crash in 1953 abruptly ended Brian Falsworth's career and his life.
The third person to take on the role of Union Jack is Joseph "Joey" Chapman. He first appears in Captain America #253. He was created by writer Roger Stern and artist John Byrne.
Chapman's incarnation as the current Union Jack is unique in that he is not a member of the Falsworth line or part of any British aristocratic family. Rather, Joey Chapman, born in Manchester, England, is the working class son of a shipbuilder.
Chapman becomes Union Jack when, while visiting Falsworth Manor with his friend, Kenneth Crichton (nephew of Brian Falsworth), he dons the costume to stand in for Kenneth and save the life of James Montgomery Falsworth, Lord Falsworth, who has been targeted by Baron Blood.
For a time he fought crime on his own, serving as a hero for the common man as opposed to the aristocratic Captain Britain. Their rivalry was most apparent when they both were chosen as Knights of Pendragon by the Green Knight of Avalon. Captain Britain did not remain a Pendragon for long, but Union Jack stuck with the new team until it broke up when half the team traveled to a parallel world to offer humanitarian aid. During his time with the Knights, Union Jack's physique increased to near Hulk like proportions and he went through a series of alternate costumes. After the Knights break up and his enhanced musculature returns to normal, he reverted to the classic uniform and returned to fighting crime solo.
Chapman later wears an updated, militaristic costume, and joins the modern incarnation of the Invaders, led by Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch. He remains active in the UK's espionage community.
As to powers and abilities, they have tended to vary from one Union Jack to another, and even depending on various circumstances. As a general rule, however, Union Jack does not possess any significant super-powers. Chapman, at present, is an athlete in peak physical condition. In addition, his strength, speed, and endurance are enhanced by the Power of the Pendragon. Chapman usually carries a handgun of some variety (changing it as appropriate to the mission) and a silver-edged dagger used for supernatural foes. This is also typical of most Union Jacks, who have tended to carry a pistol and knife of some sort.
So, how's the figure? Really impressive. This is one truly excellent Marvel Legends figure of an admittedly less-than-prominent character. Most of the body uses the same "standard male hero" body molds as a number of other characters in the Marvel Legends line, including Quicksilver, Yellowjacket, Guardian, and possibly others. However, there are some differences.
Union Jack has sculpted bands around his wrists and ankles. This means that his lower arms and hands, as well as his lower legs and feet, are different from the other figures. They're also slightly less articulation, but sometimes I find myself wondering if too much articulation can spoil the look of a figure, even in the 6" range where it's easier to get away with greater articulation.
The articulation on the other figures that share body molds included a lower arm swivel, wrists, finger groups, a lower leg swivel, ankles, and the fronts of the feet. Now, this works all right on figures like Quicksilver and Yellowjacket, whose gloves and boots can be the separation point for those arm and leg swivels. It doesn't work as well on Guardian, whose costume design is different. It might've worked on Union Jack, whose costume is a solid dark blue in these areas, but then the wrist and ankle bands would've been tricky. And honestly, the articulation points would've shown rather considerably. I don't object to their absence.
As to the overall costume design, as much as Captain America reflects the colors of the United States, and to a degree the costume, Union Jack manages this to an even greater degree. The bulk of his costume is a very dark blue, even darker than we're used to seeing on Cap. The Union Jack, the symbol of the British flag, runs from his neck to his legs on both the front and back of his costume, and is very neatly imprinted on the figure. The alignment between the front and back pieces is really very well done, and I suspect it can't have been easy.
Union Jack's costume is almost completely all-covering, including a mask that only leaves his eyes visible. The eyes have been neatly painted, and the head has been sculpted so that, even without a visible mouth, just the downward turn of the brow gives the impression of someone who is ready to fight any threat that's thrown his way.
Union Jack is wearing a brown equipment belt that looks fairly military in appearance. His accessories include a classic-looking pistol, very nicely sculpted, detailed, and painted, and a dagger, similarly well done. There is a holster and a small sheath attached to the belt, that can actually accommodate these items. They seem to fit in quite securely, which is a good thing, otherwise their small size could easily make them vacuum victims.
As one would expect from a Marvel Legends figure, articulation is excellent. Union Jack is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows (double-jointed), wrists, mid-torso, waist (making the accuracy of that Union Jack emblem that much more impressive if you ask me), legs, upper leg swivel, knees (double-jointed) and ankles.
Strangely, there's a 2006 copyright date on the back of one of the legs, and a 2008 copyright date on the bottom of one of the feet, making me really think even more that the lower arms, hands, lower legs, and feet were especially crafted for this figure. Hasbro did a good job, too.
So what's my final word here? Granted, Union Jack is not the most prominent of heroes, any more than the British Empire is what it used to be. However, he's still a cool character, and hey, I had the opportunity to visit England a number of years ago and I had a really good time over there. So I certainly respect the country this character represents. Really, once we got past that Revolution thing a couple of centuries ago, we've been on generally good terms.
But this is an excellent figure in a superb format. Hasbro continues do to a very good job with their Marvel Legends line, even if sometimes the figures can be a little tough to track down. I will say that, as of this writing, Target (and distinctly unlike Wal-Mart) has continued to stock this series every so often. Granted that won't last forever, and it's entirely possible that by the time you read this review, they'll be long out of the stores. But there are always other sources.
And if you've ever enjoyed Union Jack, or been a fan of the Invaders, or just like to collect a fair portion of the Marvel Legends line and are wondering if Union Jack would make a good addition, please be assured that he would. This is a great figure of this character, easily the best ever. The MARVEL LEGENDS UNION BACK figure definitely has my highest recommendation!