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Superman

DC Direct
by yo go re

In 2008, DC Direct released a series of four toys under the Showcase Presents banner. In 2010, we finally reviewed our second figure from that series. Now, in the timeliest of manners, we're reviewing a third.

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! The most famous survivor of Planet Krypton was drawn by Curt Swan for three decades.

Curt Swan's only formal training as an artist came in 1952, when he'd already been working in comics for the better part of a decade. His first job for DC was Boy Commandos #16, in 1946. He told his wife that it would be "good for about two years," but in 1955 he was moved to the lead role on Superman, and held that job until DC rebooted the entire universe with Crisis on Infinite Earths. That's 31 years of being the definitive artist for a character - for comparison, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's "lengthy" run on Fantastic Four was 102 issues, which isn't even a full decade.

When Swan took over the art chores on Superman, editor Mort Weisinger had him begin making changes to the way the character was drawn: a smaller jawline, more pronounced muscles, etc. The changes were an incremental process, and Swan's style naturally changed over the years, meaning that a Curt Swan Superman from 1955 doesn't look at all like a Curt Swan Superman from 1985. So depending on your frame of reference, this figure may not match your idea of what Superman "should" look like. He's very thick and beefy, with just a hint of anatomical detailing. His cape comes down too far (it should stop at the back of the knees, not hang down below the top of his boots), but otherwise this is a perfectly servicable Swan. Early '60s, I'd say.

The face definitely looks like Curt Swan's artwork. He tried to make Superman look handsome and friendly, like somebody you'd want to be friends with. But while the face is perfect, it looks a bit too small on the head, like his features have all been pinched together. He's also got a surprisingly thick neck, which may be contributing factor.

The articulation is pretty much on-par for a DC Direct figure: hinged knees, T-crotch, swivel wrists, hinged elbows, swivel/hinge shoulders, and a swivel neck. It's far from an adequate amount, since the arms are really the only things that have more than one pose. This is especially disappointing, since one of the hallmarks of Curt Swan's artwork was that it was more dynamic and naturalistic than Wayne Boring, the artist who went before him. His Superman actually moved, while this one does not. The original DCD Superman remains supreme.

Of course, moving around excitingly is not the point of this figure. Rather, he's all about the accessories.

One of the reasons Superman gets a bad rap is that the writers would give him any power they wanted at the drop of a hat - he could see through time, juggle planets, build robots, use ventriloquism... anything at all. So there was nothing that was a real threat to him, which meant that they had to find more and more outlandish stories to subject him to. This figure, based on the Silver Age stories, includes lots of extra pieces to bring those stories to life.

In Action Comics #296, Superman flies into a Red Kryptonite cloud which temporarily gives him an ant head and the ability to communicate with the colony of giant alien ants who are marching on Metropolis.

Super-Ant-Man! And now immediately we see why this "Curt Swan" figure doesn't look too much like Curt Swan's artwork: Action Comics #296 was not drawn by Curt Swan, but instead by Al Plastino. They worked on the books at the same time, so it's no surprise their art would look alike (they both started out doing their best Boring impression, proving that having a "house style" existed in comics way before everybody at Wildstorm was expected to draw like Jim Lee). The head has large black eyes, ridges over the top of the scalp, and two antennae that have to be plugged into the forehead when you open the toy. There's no sculpted line between the red and pink areas of his skin, just paint. Not even a little bit of a fade.

The Man of Steel is seemingly replaced in Action Comics #256 by the "Superman of the Future" from 100,000 A.D. However this transformation was a hoax designed to reveal the assassins who are planning to kill the President of the United States.

Admit it: if you were an assassin out to kill the president, and Superman showed up looking like a glans, you'd reconsider your life choices, wouldn't you? I mean, personally I'd be freaked out enough if Superman showed up to thwart my assassination attempt at all - the rest of it would just be unnecessary. Just like the above example, the only part of this story drawn by Curt Swan was the cover. Thankfully, the toy tones down the overt sexuality of the art - and that was even before the whole "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" thing! While SuperAnt just kept the usual fists, Future Superman also gets new hands with stretched out fingers. The kind we'll all have in 98,000 years. The fingers are molded separately, not just as one solid karate-chopping chunk.

Superman finds himself transformed into a lion-man in Action Comics #243 when he refuses the marriage proposal of a descendant of the legendary sorceress Circe.

And here's the reason I bought this set: not for Curt Swan Superman, not for Ant Superman, not for Future Superman, just for Superlion. Come on, a plain Superman body with a lion head and paws? That's great! Again, this issue had a Swan cover, but not interiors. The fur on the paws is detailed nicely, and there's even a wash in the lower parts. The mane is slightly reddish, and there's a lighter tan on the tip of the muzzle than on the rest of the face. The hands and head pull of easily, making swapping simple. And then you have a Superman with a lion head!

As a plain Superman figure, this isn't very impressive. He doesn't move well, and as an artist-specific figure, the sculpt isn't as accurate as it could be. But the accessories are where it's at! Buy this one figure and you have four different versions of Superman; how many other releases can claim that?

-- 07/07/16


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