Monday, February 27, 2012

Justice League New Frontier Special #1

This 3-story book was published in celebration of the Justice League: New Frontier DVD release I mentioned in my last post. It contains a "lost chapter" from Darwyn Cooke's book, stories featuring two other artists, and a behind the scenes look at art development for the animated feature. It was included in the DC: New Frontier action figure boxed set I bought in 2010, but I stumbled onto it again, and thought I might give you a peek inside! 

The first story, or "lost chapter", is important in that it explains the story behind the original novel's brief newspaper snapshot of Superman fighting Batman, and how Batman came into possession of the "sliver of meteor" that protects him from the Kyrptonian he mentions to J'onn J'onnz  in New Frontier as well. Government agent King Faraday asks Superman & Wonder Woman to bring in the vigilante Bat-Man, per President Eisenhower's executive order. Diana gets a bad vibe from the whole thing, refusing to take part in what Kal-El insists is for "the greater good".

Superman meets President Eisenhower at  Mount Rushmore later to talk about his own conflicting issues with the situation. This President-to-Superman banter reminded me a great deal of Ronald Reagan & Superman's relationship in The Dark Knight Returns, the President referring to the Kryptonian as "Son", and Superman acquiescing to his wish to bring Batman by the end of the conversation. "If it helps you can consider it a presidential order", panders the sympathetic leader in conclusion.

But to Superman's surprise, the Bat-Man is ready for his arrival, beckoning him to the city junkyard with a searchlight, where the vigilante uses all at his disposal to lead the alien into his trap, including a chunk of Kryptonite stolen from someone you might suspect, by someone you'd never guess! Elements of this plot and character traits both remind me of Frank Miller's Dark Knight. Some of the inner dialogue and Alfred Pennyworth's dry humor about Wayne's "exemplary parking" are just great here during the conflict...

Batman ends up dragging Superman by the face behind his motorcycle toward a containment built for the alien before crashing, where Wonder Woman appears on the scene to break up the fisticuffs. I love the retro outfits in Cooke's artwork- the longer shorts, darker colors, and more reasonably proportioned bodies remind me of the old Fleischer & Famous Superman cartoons from the 1940's- Superman's red & black chest insignia in New Frontier is obviously a direct homage to this. I love that!

In the end, Diana suggests a plan to throw the feds off and keep Batman out of jail by staging a fight between the heroes before the public in which Batman wins & escapes. Though Kal is reluctant, she knows that their chance to shine together in front of the world will come later, and truly "for the greater good"...

The second story, "Dragstrip Riot", is more light hearted, starring Robin the Boy Wonder and costarring Kid Flash. By now you've likely gathered that I'm a huge Robin fan, and while the story is short, I enjoyed the pencilling by David Bullock that is definitely styled after author Darwyn Cooke's own art. On the trail of an explosives thief, Robin finds himself doing undercover reconnaissance amidst a tough group of street rodders, finding that Wally West, aka Kid Flash, has been snooping their trail the same way all along! In rewarding the youths for valor, JF Kennedy dubs them the Teen Titans in the end, adding to the Silver Age flavor that exemplifies author Darwyn Cooke's work.

The final story is even shorter, detailing Wonder Woman's displeasure with the way women are being objectified, and her subsequent crashing of a Playboy Club grand opening (in Gotham City, surprising an unsuspecting Bruce Wayne who excuses himself awkwardly nonetheless!), with gal pal Black Canary in tow. The humor is most prevalent in this last one, both in tone and illustration. Diana's exclamations, "Hera's girdle!" and "Mercury's codpiece!" set the tone, and by the end of their ideological battle against the angered mob at the club, Black Canary is suggesting Diana put her breastplate back on, the beaten men heaped on the floor smiling upward. If you enjoy humor with your icons of the DC Universe, you'll enjoy this  :D
More Later- Make It FUN!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Justice League: New Frontier Animated Feature, Flash & Martian Manhunter Figures!

I finally picked up the Justice League: New Frontier animated feature a couple weeks ago used at V-Stock. I had read the two-part TPB version of Darwyn Cooke's book back in November of 2010, and it blew me away! The retro-styled art, thoughtful character development, and great story made me cheer out loud upon first reading! I was fresh back into reading comics again as an adult, and this book made me glad I was- I felt like a kid all over again  :)

From Wikipedia, on DC: The New Frontier book:
World War II is over and the Cold War has begun. The Age of the Superhero is in decline. Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, who survived the anti-hero sentiment of the Cold War, as well as eager newcomers like test pilot Hal Jordan and scientists Barry Allen and Ray Palmer, team up to defeat a threatening alien presence on Earth. The New Frontier is set in 1945, 1948, and 1952-1960. Cameos from the likes of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon, as well as references such as the atomic testing, civil rights movement, and the Soviet Union, are done to give a sense of the era the series is set in. The storyline draws inspiration from the comic books and films of the period, as well as both the novel and film The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. The series attempts a dynamic re-imagining of the era that ushered in the presidency of John F. Kennedy. A major part from one of his speeches is used and the title also invokes John F. Kennedy's use of the term New Frontier.

As is often the complaint when taking a story from a book into motion picture form, much was cut in order to keep it around the 75 minute running time that a lot of these animated films keep. Some sequences were totally cut, and some reimagined to a degree, but the spirit of the book and Darwyn's art were intact. If you have only seen the movie however, you are missing out on a lot of the fleshing out of secondary characters like the Challengers of the Unknown and the Blackhawks. With a rating of PG-13 for violent content/images, this isn't really a children's movie, though I found it tame compared to the book and what a lot of kids are seeing on television and in video games these days.  

I'd got a boxed set of four of the DC Direct action figures designed after Darwyn Cooke's art awhile back, but hadn't shown you some of the other single figures I found from this series, including these most excellent Flash & Martian Manhunter!

The box these these single figures came in is quality- toned down in color to match the retro feel of the books artwork. It's classy & clean, featuring other figures from Series 2 of this line on the verso. I would have liked to see more characters done in Cooke's style, but DC Direct isn't known for extensive series within their action figure lines.

This is one of the best representaions of Barry Allen I've seen in action figure form. DC Direct recently released another great, classic Flash in their Flashpoint series of action figures that has a more realistic styling, but this one has a retro feel I enjoy due to his styling after Cooke's art, and gold highlights and boots. The Kirby-esque fabric stretch lines in his sculpt appeal to my appreciation of Silver-Age comics, and give the figure the illusion of a man in actual cloth bodysuit. The shrinking device designed by Ray Palmer that Barry used to defeat the Centre in New Frontier is represented in detail, secured to the figure's back with soft rubber straps pulled over the shoulders. A nice little accesory that ties into the story the figure was designed after.

New Frontier Flash has the typically limited articulation you find in a DC Direct action figure- he has a ball-jointed head, ball/hinge shoulders, hinged elbows & knees, T-hips, and a swivel at the boot tops. It works just fine. I can't believe it's taken me this long to open him, but I've enjoyed looking at this beautiful figure on my desk recently- his big smile makes me happy  :)

In both the movie and book, J'onn J'onnz asks government agent King Farady if he should take on a friendlier appearance before joining the other heroes battling the invading Centre so as not to be mistaken for the creatures emerging from it's bowels.  When appearing as the caped hero we all know as Martian Manhunter, identifying with another adopted alien hero of Earth, Faraday quips, "Suit yourself, J'onn, but real men wear pants, ya know."

To my delight, J'onn was a main character in Darwyn Cooke's New Frontiers, one of the most fun moments in the book and movie showing the dryly comedic Martian shapeshifting into different characters as he watches television late at night, including Groucho Marx and Bugs Bunny  :D   Somewhat ignorant of this deep and wonderful character as a youth, I clung to Martian Manhunter as a renewed, adult comics fan, once called the most powerful being on the face of the Earth by his friend Superman. He shares a great deal of the Man of Steel's special powers, but is also a powerful telepath, adding an interesting calm and intelligence to J'onn's personality.

New Frontier Martian Manhunter has the same articulation as Flash, but more of a barrel-chested physique. He also sports a smile, which is somewhat rare among my collection of Martian Manhunter figures  :)   The familiar red chest harness, blue collared cape and boots are present, but his black shorts make him unique, and add to the retro-overhaul of this great figure.

I'm a big fan of Mattel's DC Universe Classics, though there is a lot of sameness due to their sharing buck among figure throughout the line. One thing I like about DC Direct is variety throughout the different lines, in both anatomy and styling-  every character doesn't look like a steroid munching body builder. Here are comparison shots of these two New Frontier DC Direct figures with the DCUC Flash and Martian Manhunter:

Flash and Martian Manhunter with the DC Direct New Frontiers boxed set I got back in November of 2010:

*D.C. Comics NewFrontier page!
*Artist Darwyn Cooke's blog (author of D.C. New Frontier)
*Green Arrow figure from this series- had to rescue him, read about it HERE.
More Later- Make It FUN!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hasbro Marvel Legends Steve Rogers & Hope Summers

A couple weeks ago I heard the Hasbro Marvel Legends had arrived at Target, and though the toy aisle had not been reset, I knew the DPCI # and had the help fetch me a box from the back room  :D  Unbelieveably, all the variants were present in the said case- two blue Iron Men, the red-flamed Ghost Rider, and this Commander Steve Rogers! Through the grapevine I've come to realize that for whatever reason, variants are easy to find in this first wave of the long anticipated return of Marvel Legends. I like the way these are packaged- they're splashy & fun looking, though the artwork of the characters isn't my cup of tea, and I'm not a huge fan of the Legends logo either.

First up, and the one I was most interested in, Commander Rogers! I was thrilled to have stumbled apon the variant of this figure featuring the clear shield. I've yet to read any Marvel books with Steve Rogers in this uniform sporting his photon shield, Bucky Barnes carrying both Rogers' mantle as Captain America and his trusty shield. The shield can fit into the hole in his back or onto his arm using a peg and clip device. This works well, but coulsd be more easily broken that a couple elastic bands like some of the other Captain America figures I've seen.

Everyone reviewing this variant has said his suit is black, but it looks like a really dark navy blue that probably looks black next to the his counterpart which has a lighter blue wash/highlights- you can tell by comparing his very black, shiny boots. Commander Rogers' shinguards, belts, and gloves are lighter in tone than the other version as well.

This action figure has some pretty great articulation, but I found getting him to stand in any variety of poses a mild challenge. Commander Rogers has ball and hinge shoulders, bicep swivel, double jointed elbows and knees, forearm and thigh swivel, a generous abdominal crunch and full waist swivel, those ball hinge hips that are sometimes cranky, and swivel/hinge ankles. He also has a ball and hinge neck with outstanding range, but like several of the Marvel Legends I have, Commander Rogers would benefit from a stand. That said, I'm a patient and masterful action figure poser   :D

The laser-sighted pistols Commander Rogers came with fit pretty well into his left hand, his forefingers clawed to fit in the triggerguard, but the right is a little loose. Like more than one dork, I feel a couple holsters and perhaps a paint wash for these accessories would have been cool, but I do like the silver color. And why they gave this figure a swivel in they forearms instead of at the gloves is beyond me- the skin tone below the paint can be seen arond the cut.

I was supremely impressed with the 3 3/4" Marvel Universe Commander Rogers by Hasbro last Fall, who bears the remebmblannce of a young Robert Redford if you ask me. I wish they'd put the stars on the Legends version like the MU version, and wish they'd given the MU version a photon shield like the Legends variant, and am unsure why they didn't do either. What a great oppurtunity for one of my favorite activities here at the Super-DuperToyBox, BIGTOY/littletoy!   :D

While I felt somewhat ho-hum about several of the characters in this 1st wave of the return of Marvel Legends, I knew I wanted to pick up a Hope Summers too.  While I know almost nothing about the "Mutant Messiah", I've recently transformed into a rabid Cable fan after reading so much early X-Force stuff, and have yet to read the Cable: Homecoming hardback I picked up at Comic Headquarters in December, which features Hope. That might take awhile as I'm STILL catching up on X-Force and should probably read Messiah Complex first, but I digress!

Several plastic junkies have said this may be the the same absurdly large gun Marvel Legends Forge came with, but this little girl doesn't like holding it. Like Commander Rogers, Hope has a difficult time standing, further exacerbated by somewhat loose knee joints and a heavy cape on a waif buck. And I'm certain warpage due to the packaging has occured in her right leg, perhaps contributing to Hope's issues remaining upright. I've read opposite reports on some reviews of Hope,  most of which feature several pictures of her in virtually one pose, so... Maybe it was an off night for me? Well she fell over on the shelf while I was writing this, so there ya go. She can do a kneel on one leg with her gun, which is more stable.

Complaints aside, Hope looks pretty great! The worn texture on her poncho is well detailed, matching the wrappings on her shinguards.  Her body is molded in semi-metallic evergreen I really like. Hope's arm guards can be moved, but still manage to get in the way of her gun handling. I find her little face to be pretty, though some have described it as plain. Is it her skin tone? I think she's cute :)  Her hair sculpt is a nice windblown look, but hinders her articulation considerably, as expected. Speaking of which,her articulation is similar to Commander Rogers', except she has a swivel/hinge elbow as opposed to a bicep swivel, and a swivel/hinge wrist what would help her hold the gun better if it only fit better in her hands! Her abdominal joint is different too, which appears to be some sort of  limited hinge/swivel or ball & socket.

Here's Hope with a couple other female figures of different manufacture : Mattel's DC Universe Classics Donna Troy, and DC Direct's Soranik Natu...

Commander Rogers came with the crotch of this wave's BAF, Terrax, and Hope included his head and weapon, the latter in two parts. This looks to be a killer figure, but I doubt somehow I'll pick up the entire wave. I might get the Extremis Iron Man & Modern Thor, but that'll probably be it.  I realize this is a big moment for hardcore Marvel Legends fans, but I'll cherry-pick this line like nearly every other I get into. These were $14.99 at Target, which some mind find a bargain compared to the $18.00 that Mattel asks for DCUCs now, but it still seems like a damn lot to me!

Commander Rogers and Hope Summers with my Lord of Asgard Thor...

*See MarvelLegends.Net for the Legends visual checklist!
More Later- Make It FUN!