Saturday, May 1, 2010

1998 Hasbro JLA IV - The Atom Action Figure

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The Atom had his own eponymous series for three years in the Silver Age, a team-up title with Hawkman, his own segment in the 1960s The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure animated series, regular Justice League of America membership into the 1980s, another ongoing that same decade, and has maintained a solid profile through the present. Based on this, I always assumed Ray Palmer was a major player-- one of the DC icons, all my life. Only in recent years have I come to realize that his standing in terms of publishing history isn't much elevated from other Satellite-Era C-Listers like Elongated Man and Red Tornado, and he's seriously lagging in general merchandising. When Hawkman and Black Canary can scoff at you, lo' a Mighty Mite has fallen. I never would have thought of my own favorite, Martian Manhunter, as having overtaken pretty much any of his Silver Age contemporaries, much less the Tiny Titan. Still facts are facts. J'Onn J'Onzz got a Super Powers Collection figure, pretty much the status symbol of 1985, while poor Ray had to wait until 1998 to join him in the 4 3/4 inch preferred format of super-hero action figures.

Like Steel, Wonder Woman, Superboy, Supergirl, and the aforementioned Alien Atlas, Kenner was expected to include Atom in their Batman: Total Justice line, based on various extra merch like the 1997 Dollar General Total Justice Jumbo Coloring & Activity Book. Instead, their parent company Hasbro cut a deal with KB Toys and Diamond Comic Distributors to offer an exclusive line of figures from previously unused or reworked molds.

Although I can't find a match for the legs in any previous figures, the DC Copyright on the back of Atom's leg in dated 1995, three years prior to the release of the JLA figures. It also says "Made in China," just like Ryan Choi. Sorry, but that made me chuckle, at least.

Unlike obvious piecemeal figures like Martian Manhunter and Superman Red/Super Blue, all indications are that the Atom was among the first Total Justice prototypes, an all-original figure. Ray's head is highly distinctive, with an unusual pug nose and large, expressive eyes. The level of fine detail on the figure is incredible, to such a minuscule degree I had a fit trying to capture them via photo and scanner. Note the Atom symbol pressed into Ray's forehead, or the impossibly complex belt buckle, which I find mind-boggling in its generosity. It must have been hell to paint such a minute element that could easily have been cast aside.

Almost as fantastic is the additional shrunken figurine of the Mighty Mite included in the package. Again, I had to place it on a scanner to pick up its finer points. The full figure lacks only one essential element of the Gil Kane Atom, a fine ass, which is made up for in the second figures diminutive derriere. How awesome is it the the slightly below living scale Atom can shrink to as height of just three-quarters of an inch? Check out the scale!

Each figure in the line came with a sculpted plastic JLA logo base. Curiously, while it was very difficult to keep the awkward Total Justice figures on their feet, especially when weighted down with silly "Fractal Armor" snap-on accessories, the new figures were pretty stable without them. I've posed my Atom all over the house, and though he's a bit static, he's accommodates. In stylish red with silver trim, Ray got the best base of the bunch.

The base has a little slat on the back where you can cut out a spotlight comic cover image from the packaging and create your own "COLLECTOR DISPLAY!" Ray's issue is #27, and its true he has a major role to play in the essentially silly story, but his absence from the cover is rather lame. I assume they were only using JLA series images, because otherwise passing up one of those great George PĂ©rez Atom covers from Justice League of America would be unconscionable. The card back also has a very brief biography.

A true product of modern science, the Atom was born when physicist Ray Palmer harnessed a fragment of a white dwarf star, giving him unique powers that allow him to radically reduce his size while retaining his full mass-- and all with just a thought.

The Atom was part of the third and final JLA assortment, despite the "IV" designation on his card, alongside Wonder Woman, Red Tornado and an unmasked Bruce Wayne Batman. The previous assortments were already haunting K*B's discount bin, and the fortunes of the store itself had begun to turn. It's a shame, because while the line had its critics (the anatomy is admittedly dubious,) I found them dynamic and reasonably priced. Plus, he received a third figure from a variation on the line. If I recall correctly, Toys-R-Us carried the leftover figures that would have been in the last wave as two-packs, including DC Super Heroes The Flash & The Beetle with the Atom! Unfortunately, this additional "shrunken" figurine reflected the de-aged Teen Titans Atom with exposed hair and a brown leather vest, which wasn't even fashionable in the "bomber jacket" '90s.

I plan on doing a series of this type of Total Justice/JLA posts for my other blogs, so additional links are forthcoming as available. Now to close this thing out, here's the Super-Hero in the Cupboard...

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Ryan said...

That's a cool action figure. It baffles me that the DC Universe Classics Atom figure didn't include a shrunken version of himself; that seems so natural and obvious.

@Frank - Did you see the leaked variant cover to Brightest Day #2 by Ivan Reis?

Diabolu Frank said...

Ryan, I hadn't seen that! Thanks!

While I think the emphasis on articulation is probably a good idea, I really hate the sculpting on the DC Universe figures I've seen. I looked at the Atom one while preparing this post, and it was ugly by comparison. I still have an Air Warriors action figure from the 1980s, and when I think of it or the M.A.S.K. line, I figure that's how you do a shrunken Atom right.

LissBirds said...

Target currently has a Ryan Choi JLU figure in stock now that has a very similar "little Atom" companion figure with it like this set. I didn't realize it was Ryan until later becuase I just knee-jerked "Ooo...Atom!" and threw it in the shopping cart. But it's cool anyway. I think every Atom figure should have an itty bitty version. The DCUC Atom figure looks okay, but I think they went with a sculpt that's too bulky for my tastes. I think scientists (and runners/Flashes) should be a little leaner, IMHO.

Diabolu Frank said...

I wish they'd stick with a bulkier Wally West to go with the lean Barry Allen. Sprinter vs. biker/marathon runner, and greater differentiation. Variations in body type between the Atoms would be nice too, since poor Ryan only has that unfortunate costume variation.