DC Direct – Alex Ross’ Justice League – Wave I
June 1, 2005

by Cuban Zod
A line of Justice League figures and Villains based on the artwork of Alex Ross… A line rumored to eventually feature 30 figures, heavy on Ross’ modern interpretations of the “Legion of Doom” villains from the Hanna-Barbera series—who instead of colorful costumed crooks, will be realistic and menacing threats to humanity. The line will also see Ross’ faithful (for the most part) designs of classic Justice League characters—folks like Superman, The Flash, Batman, Aquaman, and Black Canary. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Little did DC think that this popular line, based upon Ross’ upcoming JUSTICE comic series, with the first wave sculpted by Tim Bruckner, would become a centerpiece in the “Artist Specific” versus “Classic/Generic” figure debate!



See the argument goes something like this… For years, Toy fans had been getting classic DC characters with their “classic” designs—witness figures like Uncle Sam; Phantom Lady; a Perez-esque Cyborg; Mirror Master; Captain Cold; 1940s Vandal Savage and the Shade—the list went on and on. Fans of these classic interpretations were happy, and hopeful that THEIR character—be it the Doom Patrol, Jonah Hex, Blackhawk, or whomever—would soon see the light of day.

“Classic” Superman fans meanwhile—essentially those that loved him Pre-Crisis (and there are many of these folks!) were hopeful that they’d get their dream figure—a Superman based on the iconic designs of Curt Swan. Oh sure, there was one false start—a “Silver Age” Superman and Lois 2-pack—that was very 1950s esque… He sort of had a little Wayne Boring in his upper chest and arms—but his head sculpt was sort of an amalgam of different “Supermen” over the years. Super-fans (patient folks that they are!) bided their time…

Then DC Direct began artist-specific lines… The "Frank Miller" Dark Knight Returns and "Jim Lee" HUSH series 1-3 sold like gangbusters… DC Direct began to focus on character interpretations that were currently appearing in the comics, and big figure sales were the result. They also went heavy on the Superman and Batman figs to lure in the casual fan—but as these were sculpts based on contemporary comics— there was no “Neal Adams Batman.” Or “Curt Swan Superman.”

Classic Superman fans, having a shelf-full of Silver Age Flash, Green Lantern, etc.—basically said—"Hey! We’ve seen all the Super-variants—Frank Miller Supes, Black Suit Supes, etc. (You can see these and the other 6” Super-variants below) We want one uniform style—so my Michael Turner Zatanna isn’t standing next to a Silver Age Aquaman and an Ed McGuiness PUBLIC ENEMIES Superman!" For these folks—and I understand their point of view—Ed McGuiness (Ed’s done Supes for a few short years) getting a figure made in HIS style before Curt Swan (who drew him for three decades) is a lot like seeing hot young Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada get into the Baseball “Hall of Fame” before Cal Ripken!

So do you like a classic rock song, or the hot “cover” of it by new alternative bands? The “Classic Rock” folks, if I may call them that, want a “classic” Swan Superman, Jor-El, Lara, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and a few key rogues. Many of these same “classic rockers” want either classic characters or characters that have yet to be produced—rather than new versions of already-made characters. The “Alternative Rock” folks meanwhile—well—they have lots of money to spend too—and they want something that’s cool and “now.” For the near future, DC Direct is doing lots of artist-specific stuff. Alternative Rock folks happy. Classic Rock folks, not so much. Well, at least the classic folks got a Joe Shuster-esque “First Appearance Superman” as he appeared in 1938.

So out of respect for Ross fans—and classic interpretation fans—maybe we can find some middle ground… Maybe if we can compare and contrast the two styles of Supermen, as well as the other four figures in this line—both groups can learn to appreciate each other. At least a little. You can go see some of Alex Ross’ preliminary character designs here.

The figures all come with a generic stand that is vaguely art deco-ish. It looks nice, but is a bit hard to use with some of the extreme posed figures like Cheetah or Flash.

Let’s start with Curt Swan’s Superman. Swan’s Superman isn’t overmuscled for the most part—he’s less stocky and stiff than the previous Wayne Boring 1950s Superman. Swan’s Superman is in his early 30s, maybe even 29, he’s youthful, he’s optimistic, he’s still a boy scout. (Think the late Christopher Reeve.)

Now Alex Ross has a decidedly different take on the MAN OF STEEL. His Superman is LATE 30s, possibly 40. And he’s no optimist! Ross’ Superman is world- weary, battle-hardened, and wears his frustration on his sleeve. He’s got a more rugged and masculine look than Swan’s Superman, perhaps owing a debt to the facial designs of Joe Shuster and the Max Fleischer cartoons. But he’s not fireplug stocky like Shuster’s Supes, his body is basically Swan’s plus 30 pounds of sheer muscle. (He’s more of a Russell Crowe type.)

So is their any commonality between the two? Well, in the early 1980s, Curt Swan began drawing Superman with a few more wrinkles. As you can see from the later Swan pictures, Swan began to etch into Kal-El’s face the notion that this was a veteran hero now, and his boyish 30s were a bit behind him. To some extent, Ross took that notion and ran with it. Eventually in the “Ross-iverse,” Superman will see so much death and loss that he’ll retire as a super-hero, only to re-emerge a decade or so later to take on Magog and a new lethal & irresponsible breed of “hero.” A 6” version of the older, “Kingdom Come Superman” was released in the first wave of Kingdom Come figures and again in the DC Direct Signature Series.

Superman’s Artistic Influences
Curt Swan
Curt Swan
Max Fleischer
Joe Shuster

In spite of Ross’ devotion to the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoon, his Superman design doesn’t seem to have much in common with the 1970s animated design of that character. That thick haired, 35-year old “Big Biff Buffman” of a Superman— sort of melded Swan and Boring—and added a whole lot of styling mousse to boot.

As for me? I’m a fan of Alex Ross. I thought his projects MARVELS and KINGDOM COME were excellent books—and his reverence and respect for the classic characters really permeates his work. That said, I certainly sympathize with the classic folks—who are becoming more vocal by the day—as more and more of the artist specific stuff is designed and made—but still no Curt Swan Superman. Or Silver Age Brainiac or Mxyzptlk. Or key Silver Age Flash Rogues like Professor Zoom or Captain Boomerang. So the debate rages on— but for now “artist specific” seems to have the upper hand.

Superman 11- head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, wrists

Okay—there’s really one classic Flash artist to talk about—and that’s Carmine Infantino, who re-designed him in SHOWCASE. Infantino’s early 60s Flash-work depicted a very thin, angular, and skinny Barry Allen—one who seemed to be in his mid to late 20s. The fun of a “running speedster hero” and his colorful rogues even permeated Infantino’s facial designs—Flash seemed to be a happy fellow—bemused by the nuttiness of Central City.

The 1970s and 1980s saw Infantino draw a more muscular Flash—with a less-broad grin than he had before, but the smile was still there. Flash’s optimism couldn’t be completely crushed—but he wasn’t the young rookie he had been prior. Flash was older now—and by the time he was put on trial for the murder of Professor Zoom—he looked positively 40.

Ross really takes very little from the Infantino Flash—save for the happy grin. Ross’ Flash also has little in common with the "Challenge of the Super Friends" Flash—his primary inspiration design-wise seems to be the 1990 FLASH TV Series, starring John Wesley Shipp. Shipp’s Flash had gold trim (not yellow) and a gold lightning bolt emblazoned across the chest. His mask was more cowl-y than Infantino’s—which was generally skin-tight. Like Shipp’s Flash, Ross’ is well-muscled and actually is sculpted in a running pose.

The Flash’s Artistic Influences
Carmine Infantino
TV Flash

In the Ross-iverse, Barry Allen still dies in the CRISIS—and Wally West will become a blur of a speedster and wears a mercury helmet to honor Jay Garrick, the original, Golden Age Flash.

You’ll note a few pictures feature not only the cosmic treadmill, but a few rogues, and some recreations of the Superman-Flash races. Over the years, the Superman-Flash race has become a tradition—DC even released a trade paperback of their greatest races, and one was even made into an episode of Superman: The Animated Series.

Flash has 9 points of articulation- head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees.

Sinestro of Korugar. Much like Infantino and the Flash—there’s one artist who really defined Green Lantern for decades. And that’s Gil Kane. And as you can see from the Gil Kane cover below—Ross does his best to capture the long limbs of Sinestro and the general style of Kane.

Kane seemed to love skinny and tall characters—even his Hal Jordan Green Lantern is lean– and Ross is certainly faithful to that. I’d argue there’s only two substantive deviations from Kane’s work—and that’s the fact that Sinestro’s face bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Donald Sutherland—and the inexplicable cosmic rod (from Qward, maybe?) he’s toting. Other than that—you’d be hard-pressed to make a big argument that Ross is being unfaithful to Kane’s classic Sinestro.

Sure, some folks would say this is Sinestro “number 3” in 6” form, that we had a Silver Age Sinestro (which was really sculpted to imitate Kane’s later work, not his early stuff) and that we also have had a SUPER FRIENDS Sinestro. If DC ever makes Sinestro in his Green Lantern uniform from before he turned to the “dark side,” the boos just may equal the cheers. Not that those classic folks don’t love the yellow-ring toting scumbag—they do—they just want to see other Silver Age villains made first. To them, another Sinestro means one less chance at a Felix Faust or a Gentleman Ghost or a Chronos. But for many, an Alex Ross designed Sinestro is pretty darn hard to pass up. And is a lot more menacing than the smiley “Silver Age” version previously released.

Sinsetro’s origin has pretty much remained the same Pre and Post-Crisis,as well as in the Ross-iverse. Sinestro of Korugar was the greatest Green Lantern of them all—he even initially trained Hal Jordan. But arrogance and lust for power got the better of him, and Sinestro’s “turn to the dark side” was complete. Stripped of his power ring, Sinestro got a yellow one from the Weaponers of Qward—knowing that the one weakness in all Green Lantern’s rings was the color yellow. And he’s been busting Hal Jordan’s chops ever since.

Sinestro has 11 points of articulation- head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, wrists.

For starters, one has to compliment the sculpt of Tim Bruckner on this one. Never has Bizarro looked so creepy and disturbing, like he stumbled off the set of “Night of the Living Dead.” There’s been lots of artists who drew Bizarro—but where did Ross get his inspiration from this corpse-like undead version?

Certainly not from Wayne Boring or Curt Swan or even the Super Friends… All of those Bizarro’s bore some resemblance to a “Frankenstein” roughly chiseled in stone and bleached white. The first artist who seemed to hint that Bizarro was a shuffling cadaver was John Byrne, in the mini-series Man of Steel #5. But he seemed like a fairly fresh corpse in that issue, one who crumbled to dust with one hard punch from Superman. Then, in the Mark Millar Elseworlds series “Red Son”—artist Dave Johnson went whole-hog with the “Bizarro as Corpse” idea—and gave us the scariest looking Bizarro yet.

Well, Ross basically took the Byrne and Johnson Bizarro—and upped the ante. He didn’t go with the Bruce Timm idea that Bizarro was all asymmetrical—no Bizarro is really, really proportioned (for a muscle bound villain that is!). And he’s really, really dead. Or undead, as the case may be. In the Pre-Crisis Universe—Bizarro was an imperfect duplicate of Superman made from a duplicating ray. In the post Crisis world, Bizarro was a botched clone of the Man of Steel commissioned by Lex Luthor. In the Ross-iverse who knows—but he’s one scary looking dude!

Bizarro has 11 points of articulation- head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, wrists

Ross really decided to make his biggest design leap of the five characters with the Cheetah. Like Harry G. Peter (who designed the original Cheetah)—Ross’ Cheetah is definitely human. (And Peter’s version would later be fairly faithfully adapted in the SUPER FRIENDS.) As previously stated, Ross kept Cheetah human— but also rejected all the whimsical skin-tight Cheetah suit in favor or someone a little more lethal looking…

Instead, Ross took a little of the feral savagery of George Perez’s Cheetah redesign—(who in many ways is inspired by Marvel Comics Tigra)…So Ross designed a vicious little jungle minx in roughly sewn Cheetah skins that looks like she wants to tear Wonder Woman’s throat out.

So who is Cheetah anyway? Well current DC Continuity establishes that Wonder Woman’s mom Hippolyta was the first Wonder Woman, and she hung out with the JSA in the 1940s. One of her arch-enemies was Priscilla Rich, a wealthy actress with a split-personality. Winner of the 1938 “Miss New York” Beauty pageant, Priscilla’s “evil side” emerged as a cunning jewel thief. She and Hippolyta duked it out over the years, tearing each others’ clothes, and hitting each other with pillows, until they eventually shared a brief, soft kiss… err—I digress.

Anyway, in modern times, archeologist Dr. Barbara Minerva went seeking a tribe of cat-people in South America. While in South America, she fed a rare blood drinking plant (Audrey II?) a blood sacrifice to the cat god Urzkartaga. Urz rewarded Minerva by transforming her into the ferocious Cheetah—a furry “catwoman” with vicious claws who likes to scratch Hippolyta’s daughter Princess Diana, and hit her with pillows, and—I digress again.

Current storylines saw Barbara Minerva Cheetah KILL the Priscilla Rich version—who was an elderly woman in her 80s—basically to impress the new Reverse-Flash. I mean really, Cheetah! Was it really THAT tough to kill the helpless old bag? Shame on you! Rum Tug Tugger never whacked an old broad!

Cheetah has 10 points of articulation- head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, tail

Although Ross is best known for his DC comics work, he did first make his mark in the biz with the art for the "Marvels" mini series that he made with writer Kurt Busiek. This look at how the "real world" sees the Marvel Universe was our first glimpse into Ross’ vision of flesh and blood superheroes. The series came to a climax with the iconic events leading up to the capture and death of Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy at the hands of the original Green Goblin.

Ross later revisited these scenes in paintings done for the credits of the Sony Spider-Man 2 movie. While not specifically labeled as such, Toy Biz has released versions of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin that are based on Ross’ artwork. "Dual Web Swinging" Spider-Man was recently released as part of the 12th series of Spider-Man figures. The Green Goblin came as part of the "Sinister Six" boxset released last year. The body of the Goblin was modified from a previous Hobgoblin figure, but the head is pure Alex Ross, complete with translucent goggles with a brand-new glider. The Spidey is also the closest we’ve gotten to a classic John Romita Sr. style head, not to mention a version that’s close to our beloved "Electic Company" Spider-Man. AFI is happy to go the extra mile to present these photos to our readers.

And that wraps up our review of this first series! We hope you enjoyed it, come back in a few months for series 2!

Daniel Pickett
Daniel “Julius Marx” Pickett has been around toys his whole life. The first line he ever collected was Mego’s World’s Greatest Super Heroes line back in the 70s. He has been surrounded by collectables ever since. In 1999 he was confounded by a lack of information and news about some of his favorite toy lines he was collecting. Since he couldn’t find the information he decided to pursue it himself thinking other people might also be interested in the same news. He started writing a weekly column on the toy industry and action figure for a toy news site and in a years time he tripled the sites daily traffic with his updates, reviews and product features. He built relationships with every major toy manufacturer and many sculptors, painters and mold makers. He grew his hobby into a world wide expertise that the industry has embraced. In 2004 he teamed up with his toy buddy Jason “ToyOtter” Geyer and they created their own website www.ActionFigureInsider.com. Daniel has been quoted in both industry and mass media press outlets. Over the years Daniel and AFi have been sought out as experts in the field. Daniel was regularly featured on “Attack of the Show” on the G4 network as the primary contributor to their “Mint On Card” segment, and our front page has been linked to from USA Today’s “Pop Candy” Blog twice. Daniel’s content has also been featured on MSNBC.com, Wired.com, Fark.com, Boing-Boing, Gizmodo.com, Ain’t It Cool News, the Official Star Wars blog, Geekologie, G4, CNet and Toy Fare magazine, among many others. He has consulted on toy lines, books, documentaries and TV shows. But all of that really just sounds snooty and “tootin’ his own horn” – the long and short of it is that Daniel loves toys and he LOVES talking about them.
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