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Starro the Conqueror/Introduction of the JLA

DC Infinite Heroes
by yo go re

Despite being first to the market, the Infinite Heroes toys are pretty god-awful; there's a damn good reason the only one we've reviewed is one Rustin got for free. But Mattel is devious, and knows just how to force us fanboys into giving up our money. This year at SDCC, they finally pushed some Infinite Heroes into my collection, with the giant JLA vs. Starro set.

As usual, Mattel's gone overboard with the packaging. This is the single biggest item I got from SDCC this year. It's massive. More than 17" high and 10" across. Plus, the damn thing has lights and sounds! Here, since Mattel already made a video, you can start by watching that:

It flashes! It talks (in Batman's voice, no less)! It's ridiculously heavy, due to the electronics in the bottom. Still, you must admit, it shows off the figues well. Another win for Frank Varela. Several of the elements are actually raised off the back of the diorama, using the same simple technology pop-up books employ. Normally we bemoan the fact that all this fancy packaging is just more stuff to end up in the landfill, but this is one you'll want to hold onto: it looks great closed; it's designed to show off the figures even after it's been opened; and it'll talk to you, helping you pretend for one more day that you have a friend, that your life isn't an empty, lonely wasteland.

Aquaman. He was raised by and became the namesake of lighthouse keeper Arthur Curry, but in the water he truly thrived. In adulthood, Aquaman used his aquatic telepathy and great strength to patrol the seven seas and served as king of Atlantis.

As the packaging tells us, in its beautiful man-voice, 1960's Brave and the Bold #28 was the first time Aquaman had ever appeared on a comicbook cover. He'd debuted 19 years earlier, in More Fun Comics #73, but was overshadowed by another character who premiered in that same issue. He later moved over to Adventure Comics, just in time for Superboy to show up and keep him from ever appearing on a cover there, either. Nearly two decades of obscurity? Aquaman really is DC's buttmonkey, isn't he?

Along those same lines, this is the first time Aquaman has been an Infinite Hero. Although, is being included in this crap-sack toyline really an honor, or a punishment? The sculpt is good enough, I suppose, but non-descript. The upper arms are too short. Credit to Mattel for giving him pointed gloves and the fins on his calves, though. Heck, even the stylized A on his belt is new. Aq originally wore green gloves, but on this cover, they were yellow, and the toy follows suit. He's got the green stockings, black trunks and orange shirt - while most comicbook heroes were designed in primary colors (or at least one primary and one secondary), Aq bucks that trend by using two secondary colors. The shirt has a few scales painted all about, which works better than if the entire shirt were covered in them.

Aquaman has the "improved" articulation, which is a codeword for "hey look, Hasbro had an idea we can copy! Finally!" He has a balljointed neck (though it's so tight on there that it's basically a swivel), swivel/hinge shoulders and elbows, swivel wrists and (*snicker*) waist, swivel/hinge hips, swivel thighs, swivel/hinge knees and swivel/hinge ankles. It's a decent amount, to be sure.

The second person to take on the moniker The Flash, Barry Allen, was transformed when his laboratory was hit by lightning and he was bathed in the supercharged fluids. Determined to use his newfound powers to help humanity, he guarded over Central City with high-velocity vigilance.

Ah yes, Barry Allen. The guy whose best contribution to the world of superheroes was leaving it feet first. We'd call him the most boring character to ever come out of DC in the Silver Age, but even that would be wrong: being the most boring would give him some level of distinction he doesn't deserve. You can find him firmly plopped somewhere in the middle of the boringness spectrum; not right in the center, but shuffled off to one side slightly, where he'd be hard to notice if you were just glancing at it. Barry is so boring that people forget he's boring - which can be the only explanation (other than shamelessly catering to the expectations of his own inner 9-year-old) for Geoff Johns bringing him back to life.

Barry has the same body and articulation as Aquaman, but at least his dwarfish biceps are less noticeable due to the design of his gloves. He has the proper little wings on the tops of his boots, but overall, his paint is surprisingly splotchy. The yellow on his boots is incomplete and has obvious touch-ups that don't match the rest of the paint. On the plus side, the symbol on his chest is crisp, and the face is clean.

This is the first time Barry has been released with the new, more articulated body, so you can really get him into a lot more accurate running poses than the previous chunk could manage. When he's in his slot in the package, there's a representation of his powers: carbodard glued to the tray is decorated with the "speed stripes" he left behind him when he ran.

Wonder Woman. She was sculpted from clay by the Amazon queen Hippolyta. Armed with a magic golden lasso and bulletproof bracelets, in addition to her own natural powers, she carries the Amazons' message of peace to the outside world.

Other than a few weird diversions, Wonder Woman has only worn two versions of one costume, right? Red and gold top, star-spangled blue bottom, red and white boots... the in the Golden Age she wore a skirt and today she wears trunks, and that's about it. But apparently to the people who keep track of these things, that idea is insulting. They'll tell you she's gone through more than a dozen costume changes over the years. Of course, we're talking "changes" like "her belt connects to her breastplate"/"her belt doesn't connect to her breastplate." You know, ridiculously minor tweaks that don't actually count as anything more than artistic license.

By those standards, this is her third costume: first the skirt was changed into a pair of shorts, and then second she traded in her boots for sandals. In theory this was so she'd look more like a classical Greek hero, but in practice, it makes her look like she went shoe-shopping with the horse-faced chick from Sex In The City and bought something "strappy." This was the '50s, when all her stories started to be about marriage instead of kicking ass, so that didn't help, either. The figure's proportions are terrible. Granted, Diana wasn't the muscular powerhouse back then that she is now, but she was still well fit, and this figure is best described as "scrawny." She's got supermodel-thin arms and her shoulders are nearly as narrow as her waist. It might be okay if this matched the 1960 art, but it doesn't even do that, and since it's likely to be the new generic base body for Infinite Heroes women, it's disappointing. While her legs are as articulated as the guys', she has neither elbows nor wrists. Not good at all.

What is good is her paint. It can't have been easy to put those stars all over her drawers, but they did it well. Some of the stars are even split by the joints, but still line up well. Her bracelets are blue, which is accurate to the art - ditto for the white belt, which really looks out of place to modern eyes. Her head is a new sculpt, because before 1974, she never wore her hair over her tiara: it's sculpted all the way around the back, but the paint is too thin, and doesn't adequately cover the black of her hair.

Diana comes with her lasso, an 18½" golden cord. It's tied to her right hand in the package, but it's a loose knot and you can undo it easily. You might not want to, though, because her hand isn't molded to hold anything. That's good planning!

Hailing from the planet Mars, J'onn J'onzz had many powers, including shapeshifting, telepathy and invisibility. He attempted to blend into society on Earth by posing as a police detective until going public as the Martian Manhunter with the formation of the Justice League of America.

Although Barry Allen's debut in Showcase #4 is generally cited as the beginning of the Silver Age, but Martian Manhunter showed up the previous year, in Detective Comics #255. Of course, Barry got the cover all to himself, and since Detective is Batman's house, J'onn was just a backup feature - the whole thing with him posing as a policeman is because back then, comicbooks actually tried to live up to their names. Detective Comics featured comics about detectives. It's a crazy idea, I know. But think about it: Action Comics is about Superman, not action; Adventure Comics is about Superboy, not adventures; My Chemical Romance is about emo, not warm emotions regarding tetrasodium pyrophosphate. It's all a big scam, I tells ya!

Martian Manhunter has those same goofball arms, but seeing them for the third time, now, I begin to wonder if perhaps the unknown designer (remember, the Four Horsemen do DC Universe, not Infinite Heroes) intends us to think of the actual joint area as being part of the bicep. If you do that, and pretend the area below the joint is the elbow, the proportions are much better, much closer to reality. But if that's the case, it's even stupider. GI Joe has been making elbows in this scale for nearly three decades, and has never released an elbow this off-the-mark. Forget asking who designed the joint: who approved it and let it get out the door? Remember the Mattel motto: if you can't do something right, do it anyway and sell it for one and a half times what you should.

J'onn's torso is entirely his own: not only are the large red straps across his chest a new sculptural element, but he gets a unique belt, as well. It's just a simple thing, but good on Mattel for bothering. This is the same mold used for the the solo-carded MM, so it makes sense. His cape is a separate piece, of course, but the clasp for it is just sculpted on his chest. Odd. His head looks weird by modern comic standards, but it's definitely the way he used to be drawn. Good paintwork, too: the balljoints in his hips are blue rather than green, so his trunks look fuller.

Green Lantern, a man with no fear. Test pilot Hal Jordan was given a power ring by the dying alien Abin Sur that allowed him to make real anything he could possibly imagine. Jordan accepted the ring, becoming the first Green Lantern Corps member from planet Earth.

If any hero would be glad to be shrunk down to 4" size, it's Hal Jordan - he can finally start hitting on Polly Pocket! This figure is a straight repaint of the one included with the Green Lantern: First Flight dvd when you bought it at Best Buy. Man, even Martian Manhunter got a new head - all Hal gets is his original costume. And his original costume really wasn't that good! Other than that pesky time he killed all his friends and tried to remake reality in his own image, Hal's always worn the same thing with minor tweaks. But with the green constricted only to the trunk, and those large armholes, it looks like he's wearing a potato sack.

Like we said, this is a repaint of the First Flight figure, so the head is cartoony. So not only is it not accurate to the comic art it's allegedly representing, it doesn't even look like it belongs with the rest of the figures in this set. Scratch that, with the rest of the figures, period. Remember when Kenner made those 5" Total Justice figures? You couldn't just drop one in with a JLU collection and expect it to fit.

Green Lantern's articulation is a laughable throwback to the way this line started. Oh, he still has the pseudo-balljoint elbows, knees and ankles, but the hips are a T-crotch. Before Hasbro's Marvel Universe shamed Mattel into upping their game, the IH line had swivel hips, hinged knees, and no ankles. They used to have hinged elbows and no wrists, too, but Animated Hal was one of the first to improve that. Downside? The swivels in his forearmsare highly visible, since they cut right through the white of the gloves. He is, however, the first IH GL to come with a ring construct: a giant fist, no surprise.

So that's the Justice League of America, five figures released for the first time ever (in these incarnations) in this package. And yet they're all just disposable window dressing that many fans will just toss in a box and forget about forever. Why? Because nobody's buying this set for those chumps.

In The Brave and the Bold #28, the alien creature Starro the Conquerer attempts to invade Earth. Five founding members of the Justice League of America spring into action to battle the fiendish villain.

It's kind of appropriate that the first time Aquaman ever appeared on a comic cover, he was fighting a giant starfish - especially when you consider how many issues of More Fun with Aq inside had aquatic scenes on the cover, but kept him relegated to the back pages.

The idea of a giant conquerer starfish from outer space is rather outlandish, but the guy's actualy pretty tough. You already know that if a starfish is cut in half, two new whole starfish will grow from the segments; it's one of the ways they reproduce, and makes them funtionally immortal. Plus, the spiny calcium carbonate spikes that protect normal starfish from predators are strong enough on Starro to deflect bullets. So he's as tough as Superman and he heals like Wolverine. Still think he's a joke?

To keep him looking organic, the Starro figure isn't exactly pentamerous ("having pentaradial symmetry"), so what size he is depends on which way you're measuring. Figure about a 9-10" diameter. There's no traditional articulation to list, because the entire thing is bendy: it's a huge solid chunk of rubber, with wires allowing you to pose each of the arms slightly. Because it's solid, Starro is damn heavy. You could break a window, dent a wall or give your cat a concussion with this thing!

The sculpt is really good, with a slightly pitted texture on the top and wrinkles along the sides. His eye bulges out from the center, and the lid looks like it's ready to blink. Did you know real starfish have eyes? Not in the middle, obviously, but at the end of each leg. That's even weirder! Flip him over, and you'll see dozens of horrible little nubs on the bottom: those are obviously meant to be Starro's tube feet, and man are they gross! He has a mouth back here as well, lined with 25 hot pink teeth. Ghastly!

Looking at the actual art, Starro is too small in comparison to the figures, but that's okay: Starro's species doesn't start out huge, they have to grow to maturity. Pretend he's still young. In fact, it's that attitude that's driving sales of this set. Face it: the Infinite Heroes line has been a failure; the overlap of people who care about DC Comics and peope who will buy any shitty toy you put in front of them apparently isn't as large as Mattel thought. The line has its fans, sure, and we don't begrudge them that at all - if you like Infinite Heroes, more power to you. But DC Universe is much more popular, and a lot of us are buying this set to add Starro to a 6" collection. Again, the size isn't quite what it should be, but as Shocka pointed out, even if Mattel were to someday make a DCU Starro BAF, it wouldn't be much bigger than this.

Starro was available through Mattel's notorious website, but if you bought the set at SDCC, you got a bonus: four "Starro spores." Starro's method of conquering is to release tiny copies of himself that latch onto a person's face and take over their mind (when he first appeared, his goal was to fire all the world's nuclear missiles explode all the world's atom bombs, so he could absorb the released nuclear power for energy). The spores are polybagged, and designed to fit over a figure's face. Proving that Mattel had no illusions about why anybody was buying this set, the spores are sized to fit on a 6" toy, not on Infinite Heroes. Damn, IH, you can't even get any support from the company that makes you? That's cold.

The Starro set cost $50 new. If you're one of the three people who just want the Infinite Heroes, that's $10 apiece, which isn't much more than retail. If you, like the rest of us, were only after Starro, it's a much harder pricetag to swallow. But the toy is good - yes, even the Infinite Heroes, for all the smack we talked about them in this review, are fundamentally sound - and the packaging is terrific fun. Want a Starro for your real toys to fight? Buy this set, and consider the Infinite Heroes an extremely ornate bit of packaging decoration.

-- 08/26/10

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