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By Thomas Wheeler

Brian Savage has been kind enough to give me permission to write the occasional "Custom" review. Think of these as another spin-off of my basic reviews, akin to the "Flashback" reviews I sometimes write on toys from years past. It allows me to keep my columns fresh when the toy aisles in the stores aren't.

I suspect there's many toy collectors out there who, possessed of sufficient skill, talent, and resources, enjoy customizing some of their action figures. One look around a G.I.Joe Convention, if nothing else, is proof of this. I've seen some astounding work there that is far beyond my ability to match. At the 2004 Convention, there was a Crimson Guard Terror Drome, a Tiger Force HISS Tank, and even some larger-scale G.I.Joe figures based on Marvel Legends figures. It's not a scale I would want to see done by Hasbro, but as a custom project, it was fascinating.

And customizing is hardly restricted to G.I.Joes, although the construction of the figures does lend itself well to this. Take a look at "Twisted ToyFare Theater" in ToyFare magazine. Somebody had to make those Mego-ish super-hero figures based on characters that Mego never got around to.

So, at the risk of having these particular columns come across as boasting, I thought I would share some of my customs from time to time. The vast majority of these will be based on 3-3/4" G.I.Joes. But there will be some other entries from time to time.

When I do a custom G.I.Joe character, I don't just do a figure. I try to come up with an entire background for the character, including file card information.

For this particular project, I decided to create a Dreadnok. It was more fun than I'd thought.

The thing about the Dreadnoks, is that you can come up with almost anything, as long as it manages to be a reasonable balance between the humorous and the vicious, and it's going to work. We're not talking about some of the real-life and truly dangerous motorcycle gangs here. We're talking about a bunch of brain-dead nitwits whose diet consists largely of grape soda and chocolate frosted donuts (not that there's anything wrong with either product), and who seem to manage to cause a decent amount of trouble for the G.I.Joe Team simply because they're as well armed as they are, and they're so dim that they're almost totally unpredictable.

Come on, you've got a handful of Australian bikers, a modern-day pirate, an animal poacher who was quoted in the cartoon as enjoying mowing his lawn with a flamethrower, and a mountainous split-personality who one minute is quoting Shakespeare and the next is dumber than a brick.

Obviously there's not a lot a person can add to that personality-wise, so I decided to work mostly on the look of the figure, and then hope I could come up with something for the file card that, if not making him the most prominent Dreadnok, then at least give him something that would let him fit in.

A chose a Street Fighter GUILE figure for the project - pre Jean-Claude Van Damme. Why Guile? Well, the body worked. The upper torso was Road Pig anyway, and the legs were bulky enough. And the head sculpt seemed both suitably weird and ugly, with that scowl and the wild hair. Yes, the Guile figure would make a good Dreadnok.

But I didn't want him to look TOO much like Guile. Guile, after all, is a good soldier -- who just happened to let his crewcut get out of control. Guile's a good guy. The Dreadnok wouldn't be.

The nice thing about customizing a G.I.Joe figure is that you can disassemble it into its component sections for individual painting. So the first thing to do was get the screw out of the back and the two screws out of the legs.

Most Dreadnoks wear blue jeans -- at least until they went for those wild-colored camouflage trousers in the 2004 Convention Set. Guile's original molded pants were camouflage. So I spray-painted them dark blue, and then went over that with an overspray of light blue. What you see was not done with an airbrush. I do own an airbrush. And one of these days I'll learn to use the thing. No, once the dark blue had dried, I took a spray can of light blue, stood several feet away from the leg pieces, and basically "squirted" them a few times to get the effect. Then I painted the boots and belt by hand.

Next was the shirt. I figured it would be more trouble than it was worth to try to mask off the upper chest and shoulders where the "tank top" didn't go, so I painted it black, a color not used on any Guile variant, by hand. Of course, a blank tank top is rather dull. So I added the lettering "COLD SLITHER", a reference to the music band that the Dreadnoks briefly formed under orders from Cobra Commander, in the animated episode of the same name.

Then there was the head. I decided to paint that inverted haystack of hair (it's a little known fact that Guile is the only G.I.Joe-style figure that can stand on his head without supporting himself with his arms) green. Why green? Well, clearly this figure had weird hair, anyway you looked at it. I wanted to do something to set the figure apart from Guile, and this seemed the way to do it. And the green color struck me as something a Dreadnok would do, or somebody with a like mentality.

I also added a scar along the side of the face, which would be explained in the file card. I came up with the name "Slagg" just because it sounded Dreadnokish. We've got characters named Torch, Buzzer, Ripper, Monkeywrench, Thrasher, and if you count the Convention characters, which I do, Crusher and Demolishor. "Slagg" seems to fit in with that rather well somehow.

So, what's his background? He was hunting wild eagles in some mountains one time, and saw the Dreadnoks being chased by military vehicles. Slagg hates the military, so he caused a landslide that blocked the mountain road and allowed the Dreadnoks to escape. Grateful (in their own way), and sensing a kindred spirit, the Dreadnoks offered Slagg membership in their elite organization. For a Dreadnok, Slagg's a bit more intelligent and a lot more gung-ho. For someone who hates the military, he maintains an almost military level of personal discipline, and has been trying to whip the Dreadnoks into better shape so they're more of a threat to the G.I.Joe Team. He's a sort of twisted perfectionist that does not tolerate weakness in himself or others, and lives to cause mayhem and destruction.

Oh, and that scar on his face? His one mistake. As an attempt to prove his own toughness to himself and as an example to others, he went a little too far with the "body-piercing" craze, and tried to pierce his eyeball -- and missed.

So that's my Dreadnok -- SLAGG. Maybe a bit of an ignominious start to my "Custom" columns, but don't worry, there's plenty of other cool custom characters to come.