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DC Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

The whole "New Gods" thing is really interesting. The New Gods were a group of characters created by Kirby when he moved to DC Comics. The comics were an odd mix of 1950s-style science fiction and classic superhero adventure, and the characters' relationship to the DC Universe has always been a bit weird. While the overall concept of the series had a lot of potential, I was constantly distracted while reading the stories by some of the names, like "Mister Miracle," "Granny Goodness," "Darkseid" (pronounced "Dark-side"), and especially Darkseid's homeworld, "Apokolips." These are the sort of names one finds in a 1980s toy-based cartoon, and they're especially incongruous next to better names like Metron, Kalibak, Desaad and Orion.

Born the son of the tyrannical Darkseid, Lord of the planet Apokolips, Orion was adopted by the kind ruler Highfather and raised on the neighboring planet New genesis as part of a truce between the two worlds. Orion's feral nature made him the fiercest fighter of all the New Gods and ultimately helped him defeat Darkseid's plans to control the universe.

The second Jack Kirby creation in this series (and the third for Mattel overall), Orion is arguably the main character from Kirby's original New Gods stories (though not the most famous - that distinction now falls to the Nixon-inspired Darkseid).

The New Gods was supposed to be a finite story with tangential connections to the DC Universe, but the series was canceled due to low sales before the story ended and the New Gods were absorbed into the general DC comics universe, where they've never quite worked (with the possible exception of Darkseid, who became one of Superman's greatest foes). Now DC seems to be trying to close the book on them once and for all with the Death of the New Gods miniseries, though rumor has it at least one character will survive (our money's on Darkseid, because he's too valuable to DC as a member of Superman's otherwise-anemic rogues gallery).

But I digress. Orion is the greatest hero of the New Gods, the son of Darkseid but raised by the good guys on New Genesis. A determined warrior with vast powers, Orion is nonetheless cursed with a hideous face due to his Apokoliptik heritage. Most of the time, he uses his powers to hide his ugliness behind a handsome facade.

Orion is also the wielder of the Astro-Harness, a strange alien artifact with vast powers.

While Orion is a fine and welcome addition to the DCU Classics line, he's still a little uninspired next to the other figures in the wave series. It could be because his sculpt is so simple, outside of the helmet and the Astro-Harness. Orion features the same body sculpt as Batman and Red Tornado. The retooled features are his boots, his bracelets, and of course his head; otherwise, he has the most basic body sculpt of the line. There's some nice, Kirby-esque detail on the bracelets. But I think the head is a little too wide and round, making it more of a Walt Simonson Orion than a Kirby one. The helmet is not removable, though this was probably done because a removable helmet would have looked much too large (or the head would have had to be too small). Perhaps an exclusive version in the future will offer an alternate "beaten-with-the-ugly stick" head.

Like Red Tornado, Orion appears to have been molded in red. However, it's a slightly darker red, with a nicer wash, and so Orion doesn't have the toy-ish look of Tornado. The bracelets and collar are painted a shiny blue, and the red detailing on the helmet is clean.

I tend to fall in line with those who feel that the ToyBiz figures - such as Marvel Legends and, now, Legendary Heroes - have just a little too much articulation. The double-hinges at the elbows and knees, while allowing for great poses, make the figure seem a little... wimpy. It's caused by the anchor joint at the elbow, which makes the arm look just a little too long and thin. But what really detracts from most Marvel figures are the huge, ugly balljoints at the hips. They definitely distract the eye from the sculpt, and they also tend not to work all that well. That's why the DCUC articulation works so well. Orion's complement of joints are fairly standard: balljoints at the neck and shoulders, hinge joints at the elbows, knees, ankles and abdomen, post-hinge joints at the hips (for balljoint-style range of motion), swivel joints at the wrists, biceps, thighs and waist, and slight side-to-side motion on the ankles for balance.

Where Orion gives you your money's worth is his accessory. While his body sculpt is simple, the Astro-Harness makes the figure. It's made from a rubbery plastic that is easily taken on and off Orion's body. There's a lot of intricate detailing, such as the Mother Box on his left shoulder (sadly, not removable) and the weapons near his hands, which seem to have a small amount of articulation. One beef with the harness is that it doesn't quite fit his feet properly - there's not enough room in the back to slide over the heel. But it's a minor issue, and Orion will stand fine in the harness.

Of course, Orion also comes with a chunk of Metamorpho. He gets Rex Mason's muddy right leg and a display base. Yes, because the Elelment Man won't be substantially larger than any other DC Universe Classics figures, he's got accessories and extras of his own. Good stuff!

It's worth mentioning the packaging for the DC Universe Classics. The line may have the dumbest name in recent memory, but the packaging is a sight to behold. The figures are on blister cards, since Mattel has never really fallen prey to the clamshell trap, but this isn't your standard specimen. The plastic bubble is nearly the same size as the backing card, leaving no room for a hangtag at the top - that's handled by a separate piece of plastic glued onto the back. The figure is shown off well in this giant blister, and the wrap-around insert at the bottom not only identifies the figure, but also lets you know which section of the BAF is included. The card behind the figure is orange, with original comic-style drawings of all five characters in the line and a starburst pattern. The rear of the package shows off all the figures (including the BAF) and provides a biography and some quick statistics for the specific character, just in case you find yourself unfamiliar with the particular piece of plastic. Overall, this is an attractive presentation.

-- 02/18/08

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