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By Thomas Wheeler

1998 was not the best year for collectors of 3-3/4" military style action figures. The only Joes on the horizon were a handful of Toys "R" Us exclusives, mostly packaged in three-packs or with vehicles. And while this series would have its highlights -- the Cobra Infantry Set, the Conquest X-30, the Cobra Rattler Jeep -- for the most part, there wasn't a whole lot out there.

Lanard continued with its similarly-constructed, same-size CORPS figures, but really, these were little more than rehashes of figures that had been around for years. And while some of the CORPS vehicles were pretty cool, sometimes catching the eyes of Joe collectors for being something entirely different than Hasbro had ever produced, the figures were, for the most part, not especially inspired. Overly wide, flat upper torsos, less than expressive head sculpts, and a general lack of significant detail had rendered most of the CORPS figures as somewhat -- generic.

Then in 1998, something odd happened. Several new figures appeared in the CORPS line. More than that, they were pretty darned impressive-looking. Heads above most of their contemporaries, these newcomers were arguably on a par with G.I.Joe!

They originally turned up -- at least around here -- at Wal-Mart. Single-carded, for less than a dollar apiece. Although later on, they would best be known for coming in a three-pack with a load of weapons and a small motorcycle. A friend of mine, a fellow collector, told me about them, and several G.I.Joe newsgroups at the time had some kind words about them -- even from people that normally couldn't care less about the CORPS, so I decided to investigate on my own.

It didn't take long for me to find them, nor did it take too long for me to see what the appeal was. These new figures were extremely cool. There were three of them, and although they were not set apart in any way from any other CORPS figures, their appearance alone set them apart from any previous Lanard figures in the basic line.

For starters, there was a certain commonality of colors used. All three of them were dressed in dark grey uniforms, with significant amounts of black and olive green trim, with lesser amounts of silver and red. Each one had the word "CORPS!" on his uniform somewhere, and each also had a number somewhere on his uniform. The numbers used were 2, 3, and 8, which proved to be a little frustrating for a time, as I expected to find 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7 somewhere at some point, but it was not to be. They also each had a little walkie-talkie sculpted to his uniform.

Although the upper torsos were still somewhat wider than G.I.Joes might have been, they weren't nearly as absurdly wide and flat as most CORPS figures tended to be. The level of detail on the figures was as good as almost any G.I.Joe. Their names, I would come to learn a little later, were FULL PROOF, LARS LAZER, and JUSTIN CASE. Okay, so not everything about these three was all that inspired.

FULL PROOF was an interesting-looking individual. He wore a helmet that had a huge silver faceplate that easily took up half the entire helmet. One could well imagine this being some sort of internal computer display. What sorts of scans and readouts played before the eyes of this character, as he entered into battle against whatever adversaries he might have to face?

LARS LAZER was easily the coolest-looking of the lot. Dressed head to toe in a uniform that revealed nothing of the individual within, he had a certain futuristic look to him. And there was also no question that the helmet design bore a strong resemblance to the original Cobra Eel from the G.I.Joe line. In fact, a Lanard sculptor later admitted he'd based Lars' helmet on that design -- an admission roughly akin to admitting that water is wet -- and that he'd planned to change it later on, but the figure proved so popular, and Hasbro didn't raise a ruckus, that they kept the design.

JUSTIN CASE was probably the most ordinary-looking of the three, but they probably wanted at least one down-to-earth type to keep the two more futuristic ones in balance. Justin wore a cap, and had a top that looked like a knit sweater as much as anything else. He managed to compensate for this with arguably the fanciest pair of boots of the threesome.

There was a fourth new figure, who didn't really fit the pattern of the other three, but managed to break the pattern of the CORPS well enough, and was also a new character for 1998, that he's worth mentioning. His name is TRACKER TOM. A Native American, he has a rather derivative appearance, but at least it's a well-designed one. The skin color is probably the best I've seen for an action figure of Native American ancestry. There were several Indians in the G.I.Joe line, but they never seemed to quite get the color right. The head sculpt is excellent, and he's dressed in an interesting combination of traditional and military, with a chestplate that is reminiscent of some Native American designs, and desert camouflage trousers.

In the past year or so, Lanard redid their entire CORPS line so that the figures are now designed to look more like the new-style G.I.Joes. Personally, I thought that was a shame. But it was Lanard's choice. However, prior to this overhaul, they got more than a few uses out of FULL PROOF, LARS LAZER, and JUSTIN CASE. A wide range of missions and color schemes awaited these new CORPS recruits. But I'll save THAT "Flashback" for another time...