Cheesy Knockoff

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Cheesy Knockoff #11
The Big Lots Summer Knockoff Bonanza!

by Rudy Panucci

Okay, a quick review: In the most recent installments of Cheesy Toy Knockoff, we've examined a series of plastic imitators who have taken shortcuts in their quest to produce a knockoff of the classic action figure, GI Joe. One of these imitators went so far as to crank out near-perfect copies that included a generous amount of accessories that were directly swiped from both Hasbro's GI Joe line, and also the competing Ultimate Soldier line.

I'd been looking for more work from this cheesy knockoff company, but the trail had grown cold. After producing "Action Team" figures, and "Wild Geese Soldiers" accessories in 1999, the only sign of them since had been the repackaged accessories, which were now sold as "Army Heroes Force Peacekeepers", and those had hit most Big Lots stores in early 2000. We had a false alarm with "Military Figurines" from the mail order outfit, Cheaper Than Dirt, but those turned out to be a totally different set of very close, actionable, knockoffs from a different anonymous Chinese knockoff company. So I was getting a bit discouraged that these monumentally cheesy knockoffs would not continue . . . but I was wrong.

During the summer of 2001, Big Lots suddenly became Cheesy Knockoff Heaven for 12" action figure collectors! The now almost classy Power Team Elite showed up in full force with terrific new headsculpts and cool cheap vehicles. The inexpensive carded GI Joes showed up to check out the new troops on the front line of the discount stores. And most importantly, a new wave of knockoffs, many from our friendly, familiar mold thieves, flooded Big Lots. While we still don't have a name, we can rest, secure in the knowledge that the little company that could crank out funky rip-offs was still chugging along.

First up, Big Lots coughed up a figure set "Special Forces Military Soldier", for $4.99. This set included a figure, with a familiar body-it's the same one that came with the "Action Team" set, with one minor change: That figure had nipples sculpted onto his chest, while this figure seems to have had them burnished off. Also, the headsculpts are no longer ripped off of Hasbro's efforts, but seem to be new, or at least ripped off of a figure that I haven't seen yet.

But there are plenty of tip offs that this is from the same factory as "Action Team". First of all, there's the packaging: The cardboard is thin, corrugated board, and measures 11 inches wide and 13 1/2 inches tall. It's about two inches deep. The figure is attached to the backing insert with only two twist ties at the waist and ankles, and his arms will swing freely inside the package. Sound familiar? It's exactly the same configuration as "Action Team".

However, the folks at this knockoff factory have broadened their horizons somewhat. No longer content to simply rip off the work of Hasbro and Twenty-First Century Toys, they now include accessories and uniform pieces that are direct swipes from M&C Toys Power Team Elite, and Formative International's Soldiers of the World.

The uniform pattern, web gear, and helmet are straight out of the Power Team Elite wardrobe, while some of the weapons seem to be direct swipes of Formative's work. The body, however, is the same second-rate copy of the Hasbro Classic Collection Joe, with one new cheesy element: While this body has the exact same number of holes for screws to hold the body together, in this case some of the screwholes are empty. I guess they decided that they could save few pennies here and there by eliminating some of the screws. That explains why these guys are just a tad floppy. But for five bucks, it's a killer deal! You get a figure in an outfit that isn't too bad, (it even uses snaps instead of Velcro, but the snaps aren't sewn on very well), the set I picked up includes a good 50mm machine gun, with legs and ammo strip, lots of pouches, canteens, knives, grenades, and a pistol, a bazooka, a mortar, and a sandbag. As a cheesy knockoff fan, I'm thrilled, but if I were a kid with limited allowance money, I'd be going nuts!

You'd think that I'd be satisfied with finding such a cool knockoff with such a demonstrable lineage. And to be honest, I was, but then Big Lots surprised me again! Not content to spew forth a new chapter in my quest for cheese, the self-proclaimed "Blowout Store" coughed up another gem from the bowels of Chinese knockoffitude!

The day that I stopped in to pick up the "Special Forces Military Soldier", I found a uniform set called "Combat Mission". It was $2.49, on a smallish card, and included a cheesy uniform (much like the ones found on "Action Team" and along with a largish accessory, like the now ubiquitous 50mm machine gun, or a new anti-tank weapon that looks like a Formative International sculpt. I figured "what the heck" and picked up a couple, even though these sets were a tad overpriced compared to the Wild Geese, or the figure set I already had in my other arm. As I was swaggering down the aisle (Hey, finding knockoffs is my job, and when I do a job well, I reserve the right to swagger!) one of the Big Lot worker bees stopped me and said, "I think we just got some more stuff like that in on the truck. If you want, I'll go git it for you." After being momentarily stunned that a stock person at Big Lots could actually speak, I said "Sure!" and temporarily put my swaggering on hold.

After a few minutes in the back, this stock person came out bearing a huge box and plopped it down in front of me. I pulled open the top of the box and foundů..Combat Mission. Only this wasn't the "eh" but overpriced uniform sets. NO! This was a full-fledged figure, packed in a box crammed with knockoff accessories, and selling for only $4.99! SCOOOORRRE!!!! TWO NEW CHEESY KNOCKOFFS IN ONE DAY! There would be much more swaggering today!

But that wasn't all. On further examination, I can confirm that "Combat Mission" is made by the same exact factory as "Action Team", "Wild Geese Soldier", and "Special Forces Military Soldier! There are a few things different about the set, but the bodies are identical, down to missing the same screws and having the burnished-off nipples. This was a mild surprise, because the boxes are different, but I guess these knockoff guys have to be flexible. The "Special Forces Military Soldier" has a distribution note printed on the package for Big Lots' in-house distribution company, Midwestern Home Products, while the "Combat Mission" sets seem prepped for general distribution, being devoid of anything more specific than "L.A., CA 90021". That's the Chinese import district of Los Angeles, where thousands of companies are headquartered.

As for this set, it's got the decent second-rate Joe body, a head that seems to be swiped from Power Team Elite, a plastic belt/holster swiped from Hasbro's police sets, a Power Team helmet, an anti-tank weapon, a flaccid rifle, some big ole shells, half the ammo crate from the GI Joe carded Vietnam set, and two sandbags. Not too shabby for five bucks.

While we can laugh at the clunkiness, cheesiness, and general goofiness of these things, that's mainly a sign of how far the 12" military hobby has come in the last ten years. Ten years ago, sets with this much stuff and figures this well made, would have sold for thirty for forty bucks, easy. Heck, there are items in these sets that put to shame some of the best-selling works of the customizers of ten years ago. The cool thing about these sets is that they're cheap enough that they can bring kids into this hobby. A kid can't be expected to save his money for a Dragon or BBI figure-if they're going to save that much money, they'll probably spend it on a video game. But for five bucks, a kid can get a cool figure with enough to accessories to maybe get him addicted to collecting this stuff. And the real exciting part of all this is that if this factory is going to knockoff stuff this cool for this cheap today, how long will it be before they start producing decent knockoffs of Dragon, BBI, and Sideshow Toys products? Whoever the heck you are, keep up the good knockoff work, you thieving little sons of guns!

So, we salute this mystery knockoff company, for providing cheap thrills and cheaper toys to a new generation of kids who might one day grow up and become so addicted to the GI Joe collecting hobby that we could dream of maybe selling our old Hall Of Fame Joes to them without taking a loss

Oh, and we'd welcome them to this great hobby, too.

Next time, the Joe knockoffs keep coming!

later, Rudy