Monday, August 31, 2009

Super Powers Collection #4

Traditionally, for a variety of reasons, I refrain from posting complete chunks of comic book narrative in this blog. Last week's nostalgic foray into the bygone era of the Super Powers Collection sparked some interest, however, and I'm willing to make an exception. Here, by popular demand, is the Super Powers Collection Flash mini-comic in its entirety. (For those just joining us, a review of Super Powers Collection #4 launched our anniversary crossover, the latest "Crisis on Earth-Blog," early last week.)

Thrill to the triumphant sights of the crimson comet averting disaster and saving innocent lives! Read on in horror as the ghastly alien android Brainiac captures the members of the Justice League one-by-one! Most significantly of all, see if you can resist the pull of the powerful subliminal marketing techniques concealed throughout these colorful panels. Truly, this is comic book storytelling at its most commercial.

Enjoy, boys and girls!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sight and Sound: Super Powers Collection

The Super Powers Collection from Kenner Toys debuted in 1984 and was heavily promoted in a variety of media. This scratchy recording of a Saturday morning television commercial promoting the line, one of the few to feature the scarlet speedster, offers a demonstration of the Flash figure's dynamic "Power Action Lightning Legs." It co-stars the Superman figure, wielding its "Power Action Punch," which these ads clearly reveal was the star of the collection. Even those quaint little mini-comics are put forth as a selling point. Of course, the true focus of this and any other toy advertisement is the emphasis on interactivity, as evinced by the Super Powers slogan, which encouraged boys and girls everywhere to play god with their favorite heroes and villains. Will Superman and the Flash be able to defeat the combined might of Lex Luthor and the Joker? "You decide!"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Crisis on Earth-Blog: Super Powers 25th Anniversary

Our colossal comic blog crossover celebrating a quarter-century of the Kenner Super Powers Collection continues here at Crimson Lightning! Fifteen superhero blogs--banded together from remote galaxies--have joined forces to commemorate this anniversary and bask in a little well-deserved nostalgia for one of the greatest action figure lines of all time!

Previously on "Crisis on Earth-Blog," we reviewed the remarkable marketing contrivance that is the four-inch mini-comics packaged with Super Powers brand action figures. I don't know about you but, after reading about the Flash's run-in with one of Superman's great arch-nemeses, I was ready to log on eBay and seek out a Super Powers Brainiac! Thus, today we're going to remember the toys themselves. Beginning twenty-five years ago, Kenner released a line of DC Comics-inspired products that soon came to encompass thirty-four action figures, eight vehicles, and one super-cool playset. Neither Kenner nor DC Comics could have predicted the precise impact these toys would have on comic fandom. The Super Powers Collection was quickly recognized as the line of superhero action figures and has earned a cherished place in a superhero history.

The Super Powers Collection is celebrated to this day and the reasons for its success are many yet also quite simple. Kenner's range of action figures was extensive, mixing famous comic icons with lesser known heroes and villains. It also debuted at a pivotal moment in the marketing of DC Comics's characters. Rob of the Aquaman Shrine astutely observes the importance of Kenner's fortuitous timing, noting that "by 1984, the debut of the line, the long-running Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoon show was wrapping up its run." Truly, as in so many great successes stories, Super Powers offered a well-produced product marketed and distributed at just the right cultural moment. Bee of Love Dat Joker succinctly describes the genius inherent to the line's design: "The Super Powers Collection were marked out by a hidden mechanism they featured that would trigger a particular 'trademark' action when the arms or legs were squeezed--that they were hidden meant that the figures themselves remained unmarred by visible levers or buttons, retaining a purity of resemblance to the characters they were based on."

As a result, Kenner's collection allowed young comic book fans to interact with the characters they knew and loved and, on some imaginative level, to approximate the sort of storytelling they had learned from the pages of their favorite books. The titular "Super Powers" offered an added incentive but, crucially, it was a gimmick that did not interfere with the all-important aesthetics of the sculpts. In the case of the Flash's figurine, squeezing Barry Allen's biceps activated the toy's "Power Action Lightning Legs," simulating a mad dash at super-speed. At the same time, however, the figure's design beautifully approximated the character being drawn by the likes of Carmine Infantino, right down to the scarlet speedster's disarming smile. The success of the line soon led to merchandising mayhem and, as some of the items on display at Tommy's Bat-Blog will show, the signature Super Powers shooting star logo became ubiquitous for a time. Check out the Aquaman Shrine's look at the Super Powers Give-a-Show Projector, for example!

Take it from a boy who remembers, these toys were irresistible. The value associated with the figures and accessories today can be directly correlated to the cherished memories the children of the 1980s have for the Super Powers toys. I still own a sizable sampling of the collection. Tucked away in a box in my closet are Superman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman, Firestorm, the Joker, the Penguin, and others--though, quite tragically, I seem to have lost my Hall of Justice playset at some point during the last two decades! As I noted yetsterday, the Hawkman figure was a particular favorite of mine. Carter Hall's broad "Power Action Flight Wings" were just so awe-inspiring and majestic, even at four inches!

Of course, each of the toys is showing their age. My own beloved Flash figurine, pictured to the right, is evidence enough. The paint job has been worn right off poor Barry's nose and his chin, revealing the bright red plastic beneath. There are deep scratch marks along both legs. The mechanism of those "Power Action Lightning Legs" is just about completely worn out; squeezing his arms to active the advertised super powers barely causes his left leg to tremble at this stage. All of this, of course, is to say that I had more than my share of fun with the Super Powers Flash back in the day. As any appraiser would tell you, this is one well-loved action figure! Clearly, as a child I had not even the faintest inkling or care that this would one day be a valuable collector's item--I was having entirely too much fun with it!--and, honestly, that's as it should be.

As Kelson explains over at Speed Force, a proposed fourth wave of action figures would have added the crimson comet's friends and allies to the mix. "Among the proposed figures were Kid Flash and the Reverse Flash, which would have rounded out the major Earth-One speedsters." Even though the line boasted an impressive sampling of characters, fans can't help but imagine what might have been if the famous line had continued. Truly, the Super Powers Collection from Kenner will not be soon forgotten.

Comic Blog Crossover: Blogs will live! Blogs will die! The latest "Crisis on Earth-Blog" continues elswehere in this multiverse of blogospheres. I've offered my memories of the Super Powers Collection toys here but to learn more about this legendary line of action figures and its countless tie-ins you'll have to visit the fourteen other outstanding blogs involved in this crossover. Be astounded by anecdotes on action figure acquisition! Thrill to the tales of those marvellous mini-comics! Bask in the glory of those innocent, bygone, halcyon days of 1984. Choose a comic character and click a link...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crisis on Earth-Blog: Super Powers 25th Anniversary

Some threats are too big for one hero to handle. Some crises encompass more than one world in the multiverse. Certain epic adventures call for a crossover!

That's right, boys and girls, it's time for another comic blog crossover! And, in true comic book fashion, these events continue to build in size and scope. This particular "Crisis on Earth-Blog" is undeniably epic! In order to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Kenner Toys's fondly remembered Super Powers Collection line of action figures featuring the heroes and villains of DC Comics, Crimson Lightning is teaming-up with over a dozen other superhero blogs!

The Super Powers Collection encompassed thirty-four figures, eight vehicles, and one playset released during a three-year period in the mid 1980s. The Flash was a key component in the first of three waves, launched by Kenner in 1984, but, truly, one of the great joys of the Super Powers line was the way in which the sheer number and variety of its figures represented the vastness and intricacy of the great DC Universe itself. Imaginative kids playing with the Super Powers toys in bedrooms and backyards had a chance to put all of their favorite heroes and villains together and participate in epic comic-style storytelling.

This celebratory anniversary crossover intends to achieve a similar effect. Crimson Lightning and Speed Force will be covering the crimson comet's part in the Super Powers line-up but, to learn more, you'll be able to link to a veritable multiverse of blogs, from Bat-Blog to Justice League Detroit to Love Dat Joker, with a dozen sites in between. This particular crossover event is so big, in fact, that it's going to take up several days this week here at Crimson Lightning. Today we'll review The Flash mini-comic packaged with its corresponding action figure. Tomorrow we'll reminisce about those wonderful Super Powers toys themselves. The end of the week will bring a few associated surprises. Do you remember the halcyon days of the Super Powers Collection? Whether you once owned one of these legendary action figures or not, I and the others hope that you enjoy the latest "Crisis on Earth-Blog!"

Super Powers Collection #4: The Flash

Title: N/A
Date: 1984

Synopsis: One sunny afternoon, Superman disappears from the skies above Metropolis after unexpectedly encountering Brainiac's ominous skull ship. Soon, other key members of the Justice League are disappearing from their hometowns as well: Hawkman from Midway City, Wonder Woman from Washington, D.C., and Batman from Gotham. Zeroing in on Central City's fleet-footed defender proves a challenge for the alien android, however. Moving at super-speed, the Flash is not only able to avoid the dangerous beams being emitted by Brainiac's starship but also manages to rescue a number of innocent civilians caught up in several unrelated disasters. The scarlet speedster's humanitarian efforts to save the survivors of a shipwreck, however, slow him down just enough to be captured at last. As the Flash takes his place in Brainiac's menagerie of super-powered heroes, the true extent of the extraterrestrial menace's evil scheme is revealed. Only the quick thinking of the fastest man alive can save his teammates from certain doom!

Commentary: Produced as a tie-in packaged with Kenner's celebrated Super Powers Collection of action figures, the fourth of twenty-three Super Powers mini-comics stars none other than the Flash. Let's make one thing clear up front: this pocket-sized book is little more than a flagrant marketing gimmick, a comic book story written and illustrated in order to encourage kids to both purchase and play with Kenner's extensive line of toys. That being said, the story is masterfully crafted to achieve that effect, thematically echoing and exploring the very acts children would come to associate with the action figures themselves. The story stars the scarlet speedster but, like all other mini-comics in the series, makes sure to include a number of his superfriends as well. If they didn't already own them, any child reading this mini-comic was sure to want to add the likes of Superman, Batman, Hawkman, and Wonder Woman to his or her collection. (I'm living proof. I had them all, though I was particularly fond of the Hawkman figure with its majestic, flapping wings!) In fact, the story's chief villain, the recently redesigned Brainiac, has assumed the role of a collector himself in the pursuance of his evil plans. The alien supervillain is desperate to collect a complete set of superheroes, as is evident when he exclaims upon spying the scarlet speedster, "There is the Flash! He shall be my next prize!" In their glass suspension tubes, the captured members of the Justice League clearly resemble action figures in mint-condition blister packs. Each scene, each individual panel of the adventure imaginatively simulates the sort of play we'd associate with the toys. From a marketing perspective, at least, this is an impressively presented scenario.

Though compact, the story also covers a lot of ground, too. The narrative not only sets-up Brainiac's (admittedly simplistic) scheme but also shows us the scarlet speedster saving lives during not one but two full-scale disasters and makes an effort to showcase a variety of his usual super-speed tricks. As regular readers know, I'm always appreciative of any tale that takes steps to creatively convey the true extent of the Flash's abilities; regardless of the fact that the goal here is simply to make the action figure's "Power Action Lightning Legs" more enticing, I appreciate an adventure that shows the scarlet speedster isn't simply a superhero who "runs fast." The art is detailed, dynamic, and colorful enough for this sort of thing and it's wonderful to see our hero granted the opportunity to face off against Brainiac, one of the man of steel's classic foes. The skeletal, Ed Hannigan-designed Brainiac seen in this book is visually terrifying, a wonderfully horrific creature. I've always loved Brainiac and I particularly appreciate Hannigan's distinctive pre-Crisis design. With a grim visage like this, Brainiac is an impressive villain, even when he's being senselessly tossed about in silly little stories like this. (Could that metallic, tentacled skull ship of his be any more imposing? It outright dominates any story it appears in!)

This Super Powers Collection mini-comic tie-in is slight but it's entertaining in a childish sort of way and, even more amusingly, it cleverly incorporates its marketing ploys into the narrative at just about every level. If you've managed to put down your Super Powers Flash long enough to read this mini-comic, you're sure to snatch the toy right back up following its denouement.

High-Speed Highlight: Demonstrating one of his trademark high-speed stunts whilst striving to save the victims of a maritime disaster, the monarch of motion dashes across the surface of a lake, skipping like a stone, much to the amazement of Brainiac, who covets such a wonderful super power.

Quotable: "What? The Flash runs faster than my light beam! I've missed him!" --Brainiac, despite all of his supposedly superior computational powers, is inexplicably stupefied upon witnessing the Flash's distinctive and well-known super powers and describes them for us quite concisely

Credits: Over at the Aquaman Shrine, Paul Kupperberg offered the following notes regarding the Super Powers Collection mini-comic credits (or lack thereof): "I wrote only one of the Kenner minis, for Steppenwolf (#13). Alas, I have no real memory of having done it. Art looks to be Jose Delbo. The rest were probably written by the likes of Jack Harris, Rozakis, and the like. Wish I could remember more about them: I don't even recall who the project editor was... probably Barry Marx, who worked under Joe Orlando in Special Projects."

Comic Blog Crossover: Wait, there's more! The multiverse-shattering "Crisis on Earth-Blog" doesn't end here! Special thanks go out to the irredeemable Shag Matthews of Firestorm Fan and Once Upon a Geek for making this remarkable event possible. Thanks to Shag's direction, this crossover connects no less than fifteen comic book blogs. Each blog is dedicated to a different character represented in the Super Powers Collection. (Fans should take note that Barry Allen participates in at least two other mini-comics. In Aquaman's tie-in, the fastest man alive and the sea king team-up to defeat the Penguin. In Green Arrow's book, the Flash and Martian Manhunter assist Oliver Queen in fending off the New God Kalibak. Additionally, the Flash has a cameo in the Hawkman mini.) Now that you've heard the thrilling tale of the Flash's Super Powers mini-adventure be sure to visit our team-up partners for their own heart-stopping stories of superheroism, prime merchandising, and terrific toys...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Flash Facts: Fireflies

"Fireflies are soft-bodied beetles with a luminous organ in the abdomen. It is believed the flashing of these insects enables them to find mates."

Illustration: "West Indian natives use perforated gourds filled with hundreds of fireflies as lanterns!"

Issue: The Flash #203 (February 1971)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fast Talk: Vibration Recorders

Vibration Recorders: The denizens of Gorilla City are simply amazing. On the list of exotic locations in the DC Universe that I'd most like to visit, Gorilla City ranks right up there, if only so that I could marvel at their architectural and technological achievements. Just consider their communications infrastructure. In a moment of great urgency, with the flick of a toggle switch, the great leader and scientist Solovar is connected with the city's equivalent of directory assistance. Imagining a telecommunications system operated and maintained entirely by diligent apes is outrageous enough--heck, seeing Solovar chatting on the telephone is worth this comic book's cover price--but the telephone operators here have some incredible information at their fingertips. Solovar needs to track down his good friend the Flash in a hurry, and what better way to accomplish that than to lock on to the crimson comet's disctinctive vibrations? In Gorilla City it seems that "the vibration recorders would automatically have recorded his vibration-frequency." The operator is quick with a response: "You were right, scientist Solovar! Our records did register Flash's vibration-aura! The number is gamma frequency 54-8321!" And it's printed right there on a handy three-by-five index card. Now that's what I call information services! Of course, by posting this scene as this week's installment of Fast Talk I have very publicly disclosed the precise frequency of the scarlet speedster's vibratory aura. I must insist that you demonstrate the wisdom and integrity of Solovar himself, boys and girls, and that you use this information only for the purposes of good, not evil.

Issue: The Flash #107 (June-July 1959)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Flash Facts: Constellation Changes

"Since the stars comprising the Great Bear Constellation (Big Dipper) are moving with varying speeds in various directions, the constellation will be completely unrecognizable 100,000 years from now."

Illustration: "How the Big Dipper will change in 100,000 years."

Issue: The Flash #113 (June-July 1960)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fast Talk: Redefining Impossible

Redefining Impossible: The weekly Fast Talk feature is dedicated to observing those comic book scenes in which The Flash seems to flaunt a casual disregard for the limitations of science but, as the deranged ramblings of the Rogues often suggest, perhaps we simply need to shift our perspective on things a little. With cold guns, weather wands, and trick mirrors achieving the impossible on a regular basis, perhaps it's our terminology that's in error. The third chapter of Mark Waid and Greg LaRocque's "Born to Run," presented in The Flash (v.2) #64, chronicles Kid Flash's chilling first encounter with the Mirror Master. Upon discovering Sam Scudder's invisible fortress on the outskirts of Central City, Wally gazes in terrified wonder upon the incomprehensible contents of the villain's lair. He reflects that the Mirror Master's technological wizardry "redefined the word impossible." Nothing is simple in the world of the scarlet speedster and absolutely anything is possible! Given the nature of our universe, perhaps we should be prepared to redefine impossibility at a moment's notice. In light of this expanded view of scientific possiblities and accurate phraseology, however, it would be downright misleading to characterize the Mirror Master's arsenal as consisting of "ordinary mirors," particularly considering the fact that Kid Flash is soon swallowed whole by one!

Issue: The Flash (v.2) #64 (Early June 1992)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Find the Flash: Chicago Comic-Con

Another summer weekend, another comic book convention. This means that the Windy City was overrun with costumed superheroes last week, granting us an opportunity to Find the Flash. This freeze frame captures two rival speedsters representing two rival comic book companies in a moment of intense competition. Fortunately, from this angle it appears as if the Flash has the edge on Quicksilver. Perhaps those stylish new forearm gauntlets are granting the crimson comet some renewed confidence? Visit Chicago Comic-Con's Facebook page for more fan-submitted photos of cosplay fun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Flash Facts: Lightning Energy Output

"If the combined energy of all the lightning flashes that strike over the Earth every hour could be harnessed, it would be greater than the entire output of Niagara Falls."

Issue: The Flash #209 (September 1971)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ad Run: The Flash (1978)

This week's Ad Run feature, an ad that appeared in Aquaman Album #1 (1978) from Australia's Planet Comics, was generously submitted by our good friend Rob Kelly of the Aquaman Shrine. Rob's an expert at collecting and cataloging comic ads from all over the world having hosted the now-defunct Coming Super-Attractions, a real treasure trove of an archive. Thanks, Rob!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Fast Talk: Radio-Reception Watch

Radio-Reception Watch: Never underestimate the brilliance of Barry Allen. He may have been endowed with genuine superpowers when he was struck by that errant bolt of lightning but our hero possessed some amazing abilities even before that fateful lab accident. Don't let that drab tie, humdrum lab coat, and his bureaucratic surroundings fool you. This is a man who uses his spare time to develop revolutionary new technologies as a personal hobby! Here we see Barry tinkering with his wristwatch. Is he changing the battery, perhaps? Nothing so mundane! In fact, Barry has invented a "radio-reception watch" that allows him to "keep in touch with the battle of police against crime--all over the world!" Indeed, the first transmissions to be heard are intercepted from Scotland Yard! The practical improbabilities of such a device are obvious, of course. Even Dick Tracy's legendary radio wristwatch surely had a limited range. Given that this radio-reception watch likely represents an early prototype for the gadgetry that the scarlet speedster would later install in his winged earpieces, we can only image what sort of communication signals the fastest man alive is capable of intercepting while in costume! (Think about that the next time you're trying to have a private conversation on your cell phone.) Yes, Barry's a bright spark alright, and it's important to remember that his scientific genius owes nothing to those electrified chemicals. It's amazing what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it. Stay in school, kids!

Issue: Showcase #13 (March-April 1958)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Quick Quiz: Casting Call

More than a year after the release of The Dark Knight, it looks as though things are finally beginning to line up as they should over at Warner Bros. Though the journey has ironically been slow and drawn-out, some promising progress is being made on The Flash feature film. Geoff Johns has submitted a script treatment for the film and has also signed on as a producer. Additionally, both Grant Morrison and Marv Wolfman have been hired by the studio to act as consultants on various upcoming DC Comics superhero movies. It looks as if the next epic Warner Bros. release to hit theaters, however, will be Green Lantern. The long-awaited comic adaptation has a brilliant, accomplished director at the helm in the form of Martin Campbell. And in a development that will fluster most fans of the fastest man alive, none other than Ryan Reynolds, the man hand-picked by David Goyer as the perfect match for Wally West, an actor who campaigned for years to win the role of the scarlet speedster, has been cast as hero Hal Jordan!

It's been a long time since our last Quick Quiz poll and, with all this cinematic excitement in the air, it's only fitting that Crimson Lightning's monthly reader poll return with a question that has confounded and divided comic fans for years. When The Flash debuts at a theater near you, who should portray the fastest man alive? As Ryan Reynolds has traded in those wing-tipped yellow boots for a power ring, we're still no closer to a clear-cut choice. Does Neil Patrick Harris, who voiced the character in the animated Justice League: The New Frontier, possess the nerdish charm to breathe life into Barry Allen in a live action adventure? Might the talented Anton Yelchin imbue the character with an appropriate mixture of wit and youthful vigor? Should we consider Paul Walker for the role simply because he's associated in the minds of moviegoers everywhere with films that are obsessed with speed? Help Crimson Lightning cast The Flash by voting in this month's Quick Quiz poll, to be found in the righthand sidebar.

This is destined to be one of our most controversial polls to date and, quite honestly, I look forward to the ensuing arguments. More than ever, I encourage you to elaborate on your choice using the comment facility below. Are the listed choices wholly unsuitable? Is there an ideal actor who has been left off the list? For that matter, precisely what role is being cast in this poll? Should the film feature Jay, Barry, Wally, or Bart? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

As always, a review of the results will be posted--and debated--once the poll has closed.

Addendum: A similar survey is taking place over at the Aquaman Shrine, where Rob Kelly is asking readers to cast an Aquaman feature film! (A visit to Atlantis may be closer than you think! The film is set to be produced by Leonardo DiCaprio through Appian Way Produtions.) What master thespian could rightly embody the wise and majestic king of the seven seas? Find the match and win a prize! Be sure to visit the Aquaman Shrine to participate in the Aquaman Casting Call Contest.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Flash Facts: Rotation of the Sun

"It takes twenty-five days for the sun to complete a rotation on its axis about the equator, but thirty-four days near its north and south poles."

Illustration: "The sun's rotation revealed by a sunspots 's movement across the disc."

Issue: The Flash #121 (June 1961)