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Red Lantern Mera

DCD Blackest Night
by yo go re

Hello, I'm yo go re, and I'll be your "Emergency Backup Artemis" today.

With a heart full of rage, Mera is chosen as a deputy of the Red Lantern Corps in the battle against the Black Lanterns. During the battle, Mera must confront Aquaman - who now possesses the reanimated corpse of their son. But Aquaman has no idea a ploy such as that will never work - and Mera destroys her own son.

For anyone who started reading comics in the '90s, the name "Mera" means only one thing: the lady who came back from the dead to make Aquaman feel bad about sleeping with Dolphin. She was more familiar to Silver Age readers, since she debuted in 1963's Aquaman #11, but she'd drifted off to limbo at some long-distant point in the past. She made a few unimportant appearances through the '90s and '00s, but that was it. One of Geoff Johns' goals for Blackest Night was to push Mera to a place of prominence in the DC Universe, and if action figure releases are any kind of barometer, then mission accomplished!

Mera was recruited into the ranks of the Red Lanterns during Blackest Night, and that's what this figure gives us. She's actually had two toys before, but both were dolls: Tonner did one in 2007, and the other was released 40 years prior, in Ideal's "Super Queens" line. This is her first actual action figure, and it's a beaut! There are several factors working in favor of this Mera: first of all, she's based on Blackest Night: Wonder Woman, which means she's based on the work of Nicola Scott, who is - no joke - one of the best artists working at DC today. Then, on top of that, the figure was sculpted by Karen Palinko, and she's an incredible talent, as well.

Since she's a Red Lantern (for 24 hours, at least), Mera is all about the "rage." It's not easy to make a face look both angry and attractive, because if you distort the face enough to show the extreme emotion, it begins to look grotesque. Her face is stretched vertically, not horizontally, so she's "sexy" angry, not "ugly" angry. She's snarling, not grimmacing.

Mera's traditional costume is a simple green bodysuit, but the Red Lantern makeover has changed more than the color of her tights. There are bony armor growths on her hands, forearms and shoulders, and a Red Lantern symbol under her ribcage. Judging by the sculpt, the fins on her calves are meant to be bone as well, but they've been painted incorrectly. The costume is covered by countless tiny scales, and that's not just some fancy pattern: Palinko sculpted the usual musculature first, but made the body skinnier than usual; she then cut tiny dots of wax and applied them individually over the body. So look at the sculpt and know that every one of those scales was applied by hand. And it's not just a case of laying them out in a straight grid, either: the rows have to wrap naturally around her fine callipygian form. Her Red Lantern ring is sculpted on her ring finger, rather than the more usual middle finger.

The paint is mostly good, but there's one major flaw - and no, it's not the mis-colored fins we mentioned before. The skin looks plasticky, suggesting the figure was cast in that color and the skin was left unpainted. She has dark circles around her blank white eyes, but that doesn't make up for everything else. Her costume is metallic red, which has been done in the usual manner: a silver basecoat, with a translucent color applied above. You can tell, because there are a few spots where the paint is already starting to rub off - not all the scales have the clearance needed to avoid scraping when the joints move.

That said, it's impressive how little paint rub there is. Mera is slightly less articulated than the usual DC Direct release, with a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, hinged elbows, swivel hips and hinged knees. That sounds incredibly light, doesn't it? The lack of any joints in the lower legs makes sense, but why on Earth doesn't she have any wrists? The bony bits on the back of her hands could have been made mobile, if DCD wanted to. And though the large, swirly hair does give her a perfect sense of motion, it and the shoulder pads work together to lock her head into one position. The pins running through the hinge joints are made from clear plastic, which is never good news. Anyway, to ensure that all the joints had room to move without ruining the scales, Karen Palinko designed the joints first, then added the scales afterwards, periodically putting the sculpture in the freezer to keep the tiny scales from deforming.

Mera's accessories include a Red Lantern battery (reused from Atrocitus) and her spear/staff/trident thing. She can hold either in her right hand, but not at the same time. This, of course, is something wrists would have helped with: if you could turn her left hand to the side, you could hang the lantern from her fingers. She has the Red Lantern base, as well, but that's no surprise. What is surprising is the final item in the package - it's not really an accessory, more of a pack-in.

Dex-Starr is the most sadistic and malicious of all the Red Lanterns, having murdered the Sinestro Corps Member from Sector 3... with his Red Lantern vomit.

Dex-Starr, the Red Lantern kitty! He started as a joke by artist Shane Davis, drawn into a two-page spread to take up space, with the intention that it would be erased before publication. But Geoff Johns and the editor loved the little guy, so he stayed. Stayed and, in fact, got one of the book's biggest scene-stealing moments all to himself. He's a fan-favorite, and that's why he's included with this set. (It's why Mattel will be making their own version this year, too.)

Dex isn't an alien who just looks like a cat - he actually is a cat. A normal Earth housecat, with a heartbreaking origin story. The figure was sculpted by Karen Palinko, just like Mera was, and he's clearly based on a single piece of artwork. Unfortunately, what works in a comic doesn't necessarily work in plastic, because there's no way to make the figure stand. In the art, he was floating in space - this figure is subject to gravity, so all he can do is lay around uselessly. [So just like a real cat, then? --ed.] He really needs a display stand of some sort, and it's a shame DC didn't include one. They could have made it look like his Red Lantern vomit!

Actually, there are two ways to display Dex-Star without having him lay on the ground. First, you can have him leaning on Mera's leg, biting at her knee like she just got home from work and he wants his can of tuna. But for a better look, try wedging his foot into the spines of Mera's shoulder armor - it'll make him look like he's hovering next to her, and since she can't look that direction anyway, he'll never be in the way. The figure has two joints: one in the neck and one at the base of the tail.

Mera is an underrated character in the DC Universe. She's strong, she's regal, she can be a commanding presence when she wants to be... she's basically Wonder Woman without 70 years of conflicting origins and personalities. She's her own character, not a spin-off of her male equivalent - she's never been "Aquawoman" or "Aquagirl," you know? The figure is a beautiful piece of work, from first design to final execution, and this is the only way to get her: Mattel is doing an entire series of DCU figures based on the deputized heroes, but she didn't make the cut (probably too expensive to tool). It's not a perfect release - she'll never be a ToY nominee - but Mera and Dex-Starr are a highlight of the entire Blackest Night toyline.

-- 01/27/11

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