REVIEW: MY EXPANDED OKTOBER GUARD
I'll admit it. I've always been a huge fan of the Oktober Guard, the Soviet version of the G.I.Joe Team. And before anyone calls me a Closet Commie or something, I'll have you know I'm a registered Republican, dedicated conservative, and I voted for Reagan both times when he was calling the USSR the "Evil Empire" even as he was trying to reasonably deal with Gorby with the map of Albania on his forehead.
That having been said, within the G.I.Joe universe, the presence of a Soviet team of military specialists reasonably akin to the Joes made a lot of sense. The main enemy was not the USSR. It was Cobra, a GLOBAL terrorist organization. They were as much of a threat to the USSR as they were to the USA, and more often than not, when the Oktober Guard showed up, they were fighting COBRA, not the Joes! They even teamed up with the Joes on numerous occasions.
It even made sense that the Oktober Guard was a smaller team than the Joes. The type of individualistic atmosphere and character of the G.I.Joe Team wouldn't work quite as well behind the Iron Curtain.
And yet, when all was said and done, there were still only eight of them. At least as far as the comic was concerned. Cartoonwise, I am desperately trying to forget "Wong". Toywise, there were only three -- Brekhov lookalike Red Star, Big Bear, and years later, Lt. Volga, who was really supposed to be Daina.
But ultimately, for those that regard the comic book as official continuity -- only eight. Nine if you count Red Star's late appearance, and they didn't even all serve at the same time.
It took TWENTY TWO YEARS for Hasbro to finally getting around to making figures of the first five members of the Oktober Guard. And granted, once they did, they did one heck of a good job. No complaints there whatsoever. That was the biggest, best, high point in the G.I.Joe world in a decade.
Meanwhile, those of us inclined towards customization -- had to do what we could. Which in my case meant expanding the ranks.
Some existing Oktober Guard members could be customized fairly readily. I'm not going to show the Daina, Schrage, or Stormavik figures that I've done in this review, since those now exist officially from Hasbro. I will show the Gorky figure. In my opinion, Horror-Show and Sgt. Misha are too difficult to customize given the unusual nature of their uniforms (and in Horror-Show's case, his size) compared with existing parts. But, we now have a superb official Horror-Show figure. And I've always felt that a very effective Dragonsky figure could be made by repainting a Barricade body in the proper colors, and admittedly Dragonsky was the most outlandish of the Guards, which tended towards more traditional military colors, perhaps due to their nationality, and tacking on a Salvo head.
But there wasn't anything stopping me from coming up with new characters, either. And I've got eight here to offer in this review, only two of which were previously established characters.
The first of the two existing ones is Lt. Gorky. Introduced in G.I.Joe #101, Gorky was one of two replacements on the Oktober Guard team after most of its members were killed sometime before (something I'll never quite forgive Larry Hama for). Gorky represented the Black Sea Regiment of Naval Infantry. To that end, his uniform was predominantly black. The character was blonde-haired, with a black beret, and spent a fair amount of time on the way to the mission flirting with Lady Jaye, much to Flint's profound annoyance.
The uniform was easy enough. I just repainted a Red Star uniform and gave it different arms. The basic uniform look was right, and it had the advantage of having the blue-and-white striped undershirt, a traditional mark of the Russian Navy. I used a 1991 Dusty head, as it looked about right and had a beret. I just changed the hair and beret color, and voila! Lt. Gorky was ready to go. One of my easier customs, really.
The other character from existing ranks that I added was Captain Bulgakov, although in fairness the figure needs a bit mor work. Bulgakov was technically not a member of the Oktober Guard. But he was the captain of the ship that was transporting the Oktober Guard in G.I.Joe Special Missions #1, even though he turned out to be a defector.
I've sort of worked around this, from a character standpoint, by claiming that once the Soviet Union fell apart, the Oktober Guard was nonetheless maintained, but Bulgakov returned to help keep them on a proper path in the new government system.
The figure uses the 1991 Mercer head, the 1994 Windchill upper body, and the lower legs of Red Star. Technically, the colors need to be reworked. I just haven't gotten around to it. The coat should be blue, and the hair should be orangeish, a redhead, not dark brown. But overall, I think the figure works.
Then there's the newcomers. An awful lot of the Soviet Union was arctic wilderness. Ever hear of Siberia? Where the heck was a polar specialist for this team? So I came up with Polar Bear. Granted, not the most imaginative name in the world. I suppose I saw it as a sort of variant of Big Bear, since that's whose head I used. I repainted the hair dark brown, and actually thickened it somewhat. I added whie trim to the previously all-grey hat, and gave him the uniform of the 1989 Windchill figure, which I repainted somewhat with red shoulder clasps, and camouflage on the trousers. I also *whoops!* filed off the "US" letters that were embossed on the gun holster!
Every team needs at least one good pilot, so I created Mig. Again, not the most imaginative name, but if Hasbro can name their British team member "Big Ben", then I'm not going to feel too bad about any derivative names I come up with.
I used the head of the Star Brigade Duke, after removing the eyebrows (I don't know why, somehow it makes him look more Soviet -- it certainly makes him look less like Duke), and filing the nose down just a bit. At least I didn't use the 1991 Duke here. That figure has such a honker on him I'd need a belt sander to deal with it properly.
The uniform was cobbled together from various parts that I thought would make a good pilots uniform, and spray painted in a dark tan (which I thought would make a good "basic" Oktober Guard color, since it had been used in the comics rather extensively, and set them apart from either the "basic" Joes, who tended towards Army green, or Cobra's distinctive blue), and added details in green and grey. Of course, I also added a red star, which I got quite adept at sculpting out of modeling putty.
The next member of the team was a diver. I had a 1985 Cobra Eel who had become slightly damaged. I realized I could do some repair on him, but there was no fixing the half-scraped-off Cobra insignia. I'd gotten him in a lot of used figures, and I hated to see him go to waste.
Thus was born MERMANSK -- a play on words on both the term "Merman" and the name of an actual Soviet port. The character's file card lists him as a former Cobra Eel who decided to defect -- TO the Soviet Union. Shows you how bad life in Cobra must be. In this, he's sort of the Oktober Guard's version of Mercer, the former Cobra Viper who joined the Joes. The uniform was a pretty simple repaint, doing the uniform in ran, with black and red highlights. I put a little blue on the shoulders for a bit of extra color, and because the Soviet military really does use that color blue. Learned that in some books I located. More on that later.
Then I created RED SKY. I wanted a paratrooper on the team and the helmet of the original Snow Serpent, later used on the Heli-Viper, which this character is a repaint of, was a reasonable match for helmets used by actual Soviet paratroopers. I got that from those books I mentioned, too.
Red Sky was a pretty straight repaint of a Heli-Viper, with a sculpted red star attached to the uniform. I used several shaded of tan, with black and silver trim, and just for some color, I made the eyes in the visor blue. This character's interesting point is his personality. When I wrote his file card, I made him, sort of, the team's "Snake-Eyes". He was in a horrible accident that left him disfigured, but in some respects, he's meaner than Snake-Eyes. He doesn't have the ninja training, so he's not as well-disciplined, or as dangerous as everybody's favorite ninja commando. Basically, when the Oktober Guard have an especially nasty job to do that requires insertion by air, they send Red Sky. He jumps out of the airplane, and God help anyone on the ground when he gets there.
Next up we have an Oktober Guard member for the STAR BRIGADE team. I know, a lot of people didn't care for the outer space contingent of G.I.Joe, but I did. And, I suppose, continuing in my tradition of predictable names, I called him SPUTNIK. I used the 1991 General Hawk body, which itself was used within Star Brigade, for that matter. I painted the side trim red, the collar, gloves, and boots silver, General Hawk's gold general's star red (thanks, Hasbro, for saving me at least one sculpting job), and gave him the head of Salvo. Okay, granted, this head would also work for Dragonsky, as I mentioned before, but I think it looks good here, as well.
Finally, there's WATCHDOG. This character was a result of studying a couple of books I had purchased (don't worry, I'll get to that), plus the fact that I sort of figured that a team that still managed to be as individualistic as the Oktober Guard was, would likely have somebody keeping an eye on them. Watchdog is a KGB Border Guard. But assigning him to the Guard sort of backfired. Obviously the Guard didn't want him there, but the first time Watchdog went into actual battle against Cobra, the Guard realized that Watchdog knew how to react in a fight, and Watchdog realized that Cobra was such an unconventional enemy, that it would take an unconventional team to deal with them.
Watchdog is a repainted Red Star body, with the head of Hot Seat, the driver of the G.I.Joe Raider, a fairly stern-looking fellow and the only grey-haired Joe ever made! I tried to duplicate the colors of the KGB Border Guards as closely as available paints would allow.
Now, if you want to expand the ranks of your Oktober Guard, let me give you a few hints -- and two excellent references. First off -- Except for Dragonsky's uniform, the Oktober Guard is nowhere near as flamboyent as the Joes. Consider the five Oktober Guard figures that came with the comic book sets. Those five figures actually use a very limited color palette. Intentionally, I suspect. I did the same with my Oktober Guard. Earth tones, perhaps with an emphasis on tan, was always my choice. I've also felt that the Guard is likely to stick closer to the uniform code than the Joes, too. Horror-Show and Dragonsky are notable exceptions to this.
Secondly -- there's no shortage of interesting divisions within the Soviet military -- or former Soviet military, that would make cool- looking figures. And there's two good books where you can get an excellent look at some of them.
One of the leading publishers of military reference books is OSPREY. Two of the books in their "Elite" Series include #5 - "Soviet Bloc Elite Forces", and #12 - "Inside the Soviet Army Today". Both books are obviously a little dated, since technically, there is no Soviet Bloc or Soviet Army today, but from a pictorial reference standpoint, you can't go wrong with these books. More to the point, each book has sixteen full color pages with magnificent illustrations by one of the best military artists in the world today, Ron Volstad.
If you like the Oktober Guard, and you have a skill for and enjoyment of customizing G.I.Joe figures, these two books will provide you with considerable resources and ideas for expanding your own Oktober Guard special forces team. And I hope you have enjoyed this look at the ones I have done.