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DC Direct
by Artemis

You don't get many new characters in Big Two comics - or rather, you do, but they have the same life cycle as a new flavour of Coke, visible for a few months then shuffling morosely into obscurity as people keep on buying the same stuff they've always bought. But now and then, a breath of fresh air squeaks through the status quo barricades, through a combination of good writing, clever placement, and a bit of luck. For instance:

Granddaughter of the original Red Tornado, Maxine Hunkel is extremely intelligent, with a bubbly personality. Infected with nanobytes as a child, Maxine derives her powers direct from that source. With the ability of flight and air/wind manipulation, Cyclone is a force of nature within the Justice Society of America.

The Justice Society is - out here in reality, as well as in-universe - a good nursery for up-and-coming superheroes. Rather than the aforementioned big-launch/fade-to-triviality cycle, the JSA slips its newbies comfortably into its ranks under the aegis of its big-name mainstays, where they can have their own little subplots and character-developing scenes, building up a fanbase, without having to worry about sustaining reader interest all on their lonesome (Marvel tried the same trick with Avengers: The Initiative, but nine out of 10 issues were steamrollered by crossover tie-ins so it didn't take). The "legacy hero" concept helps, affording a ready-made source for new-but-not-too-new characters, as does the involvement (until recently) of one Geoff Johns, who's responsible for much of the above. Result: the appearance of a fresh face in the JSA may not get front-page attention (for all that it helped Batwoman - she couldn't have asked for more publicity on launch, and look how much editorial grief she had to endure just to get a few measly issues of Detective Comics to call her own), but they get a warm, cushy spot to settle into their stride and gather fans. I'm one of them.

Maxine first appeared - retroactively - in Kingdom Come, but just as a background character. Her real genesis was in the Justice Society of America relaunch, when Johns and collaborator (and Kingdom Come co-creator) Alex Ross were kicking around ideas for new recruits, one of which reminded Ross of his future-Red Tornado. With foreshadowing Kingdom Come (after a fashion - it's actually a parallel universe) being one of the new JSA's hallmarks during Johns's tenure, Maxine Hunkel's destiny was decided. That said, she's still a young 'un now, and there's a lot of years (and body confidence) between her current form and her skimpy-skintight-spandex-clad future.

Cyclone's present-day costume owes more to L. Frank Baum than Siegel & Shuster - Maxine's an Oz fan, especially Wicked, which is presumably why she doesn't mind looking more like the witch than the supposed hero, although she is a very adorable witch. So far as action figure design goes, the big challenge is the folded-over top of her dress, which wraps all the way around her body - the prototype featured a fold separated into torso and sleeve pieces, which was inaccurate and none too attractive, but luckily someone came to their senses, and the final figure goes with a soft rubber attachment, allowing the arms to move (somewhat) while maintaining the look of the thing. Beneath the fold, Maxine's red tank top extends down to her waist, which isn't quite right - the dress is actually all one piece, covering everything beneath its top fold, but it's largely invisible, and doing it this way has the benefit that there's no green edge to peek up above the fold if it shifts a little lower than the sculptor intended (as can happen on the arms, though just a fraction).

Fans will be delighted (if they're prudish) or annoyed (if they're properly detail-obsessive and/or horny) to learn that she's also got red underwear on - due to Alex Ross's Marilyn-Monroe-inspired cover of Cyclone for Justice Society of America #3 - which doesn't actually show anything, but comes about as close as humanly possible - it's become accepted fan lore that Maxine's going commando under her dress. One suspects that several of JSA's recent artists have been in on the joke, given how her wind-based powers avoid flipping up her dress completely for a panty shot - which, DC not being Jim Balent, would require panties - but do tend to show off her suspiciously bare hips a lot. Said hips on the action figure depend on which side you view her from - on the left the red underwear (the central hip piece) is just visible, albeit in shadow and obscured by her arm, while on the right the dress's slit doesn't quite reach high enough to reveal anything but skin.

Like all comic characters, Maxine's face varies from artist to artist, so unless a figure is copying a particular image or artist, it's difficult to hold them tightly to any given likeness. However, I still feel her face is off-target - it's appropriately pretty, but the expression is unlike her, with its placid eyes, enigmatic smile, and amusedly-raised eyebrow looking like a good-natured schoolteacher, where Maxine tends to be far less calm and self-possessed - she's excitable and wears her emotions for all to see, so if she's looking this calm it can only be because nothing interesting is going on, and that's pretty unlikely in the Justice Society. Her freckles - which are occasionally absent, but there more often then not - are also missing from the figure, with only a touch of blush colouring her face.

She's got her trademark whirlwind hair, though - as noted on the edge of design sketched published in the back of her debut Justice Society trade paperback, and carried on pretty consistently ever since, her cyclonic powers rarely seem to entirely switch off, causing her hair and costume to always be stirring about in a self-generated breeze. That said, unless she's actually in flight or hurling a tornado at someone, her hair doesn't usually launch itself skywards this much, but it's forgivable, especially in light of the sculpt and paintwork being very convincing - the paint wash is one of the best I've seen on this grade of mass-produced figure. It also raises her total height over 8", which can make her look unusually large for a DC Direct figure - hair aside, though, she's in scale with the rest of their work, tallish but not unnaturally so.

Her articulation is unfortunately a bit weak even for DC Direct, especially these days when they're finally experimenting with expanding their repertoire of joints. She has a balljoint neck, which her gravity-defying hair does nothing to hinder, but which is rather tight, and uninclined to move in some ways - for instance, I've been unable to get her head perfectly straight, so she's always tilting it slightly to the right (which works well with her expression, but is still worth noting). Her shoulders are mere swivels - possibly a holdover from the split-costume prototype, although the fold of her dress would render the hinge part of swivel/hinge joints rather useless anyway. The swivels aren't that useful either, though, since raising her arms more than a little will force the front of the fold up off her torso, and since it's sculpted to her breasts, that looks a mite odd if it's hovering above them (it's glued on at the back, so it won't just slip off completely). She has swivel elbows, which her gesturing hands suggest are meant to be raised, as if she's casting a breeze ahead of her, but no wrist swivels, even though there are wrinkles in her sleeves there that would help hide them. Likewise she could have had thigh swivels, at the tops of her stockings, but they're solid - her legs have peg hips and pin knees, but luckily also swivel ankles, which help her stability, and to give her a little variety in how she seems to be standing.

For accessories, she's got a base - a circular, scaled-down version of the old "Justice" series bases, which is far more economical on shelf space, while still providing welcome stability (she can stand on her own, but has a slight forward lean that can make solo posing tricky), and unlike the Green Lantern-derived bases I've been getting lately, puts her pretty well in the display sweet spot, centred side-to-side and a bit behind the midpoint front-to-back. Sadly that's all she gets - granted the hat she occasionally wears (a Wicked Witch pointy hat, naturally) would have required an alternate head to realize, given the hair, but it's a shame she doesn't have Frankie, her pet monkey - dressed, of course, as an Oz flying monkey.

Minor drawbacks aside, it's really just the face that bothers me about this figure, and even that not very much - it's not right, but it's close enough, and attractive by its own standards, likeness aside. Although Maxine's secured a good spot in the DC universe, and can hopefully look forward to a long and interesting career, she's still just a minor character, and in all likelihood won't see another action figure in the foreseeable future (and if Mattel did her, it'd just be a crappy reworking of that same bland female body anyway), so this is it for her - but speaking as a big fan of hers, I'm not disappointed by it.

-- 05/19/10

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