Cheesy Knockoff #9 Wild Geese Soldier/ Army Heroes
Still smack dab in the middle of our great "GI Joe knockoff" series, this week we're taking a look at two different brands of Joe-sized carded accessory knockoffs that seem to have a great deal in common. In fact, they have quite a bit in common with the previous cheesy knockoff, ACTION TEAM.
Both these carded sets came from Big Lots, an American discount chain that specializes in clearance merchandise and off-brand items. The summer of 2001 will probably go down in history as the Golden Age of Joe knockoffs at Big Lots. This "Big Lots Bonanza" has seen no fewer than four different 12" action figures with military themes, two different lines of knockoff uniforms and accessories, and even an assortment of knockoff vehicles, including boats, motorcycles, jeeps and rafts.
But these guys pre-date this year's Big Lots knockoff orgy. Our first cheesy knockoff is "The Wild Geese Soldier", which was an assortment of six carded accessory sets featuring an array of items that are either copied very closely, or perhaps even made using stolen or discarded molds from Hasbro and Twenty First Century Toys. There were reports of an accompanying soldier for this line, but they never made it my neck of the woods. Selling in the US for a buck-forty nine, these sets have been spotted in Europe, South Africa, and Indonesia as well. They first appeared in 1999, which explains why there are no knockoffs of Dragon accessories included.
The six sets consist primarily of rifles, BARs, various machine guns and small arms, grenades, pouches and canteens copied closely from the big two 1/6 scale military toy companies. Of particular note is one set that offers a very close copy of the Ultimate Soldier 50MM machine gun, complete with ammo can, a pouch, a canteen, and a set of Hasbro binoculars. Unlike most of the larger guns, this guy is molded in rigid plastic and is a terrific value at less than a buck-fifty. Another notable set features the mortar from the early Hasbro Classic Collection mortar accessory card, along with a Hasbro map case and a radio, ammo can and other accessories swiped from Twenty First Century Toys.
One particular point to note is that the pouches, canteens and other belt attachments that are copied from Twenty First Century Toys don't have the wire hangers on the back, as the originals do. Instead, these knockoffs have a soft, black plastic clip that doesn't work very well and usually falls right out. Aside from this bit of cheesiness, the price was right for these sets and, except for the possibility of them containing dangerous lead paint, they're perfect for kids who are just getting into 1/6 military toys.
One other thing to point out is the presence of blue plastic in this set. The same items that were molded in blue in the ACTION TEAM figure sets are present here, molded in the same varying shades of blue. Even some of the rifles are in blue rubber. So there's a good chance that these sets plopped out of the very same factory that produced ACTION TEAM. Either that, or there's TWO different companies in China copying the same exact pieces from other companies and molding them in the same offbeat, wrong color.
Another cheesy thing about this set is the packaging. Featured on the card is what looks like an illustration of German WWII machine gunners swiped from a Volstad piece, and superimposed on top of that is an enlarged detail of a US soldier firing an M-1. At the bottom of the card, barely visible behind the blister, are two more German Machine gunners. There are no German WWII weapons in any of these sets, unless you count the Luger, which is swiped from the Hall Of Fame Cobra Commander. The back of the card features pictures of all the sets, and has the requisite choking hazard, recyclable paper and "CE" symbols common to so many internationally distributed knockoffs.
Printed on the front of the card is the legend, " Distributed by Midwestern Home Products Inc. PO Box 0591 Wilmington DE 19899 MADE IN CHINA". This means nothing in terms of who made this set. Midwestern Home Products is a division of Big Lots that acquires these items directly from the manufacturers and sells them through Big Lots and their sister stores (Mac Frugals, Pic N Save, Dollar Tree). But the connection to Big Lots is important, since it has a bearing on some of the upcoming cheesy knockoffs and explains a bit about the next item in this round of cheesy knockoffs.
Late last year, Big Lots received a new batch of accessory knockoffs, this time called "Army Heroes Force Peacekeepers", which differ from the "Wild Geese Soldier" sets in two respects. First, they have a different name and package art. Second, they cost fifty cents more. Other than that, these are just the "Wild Geese Soldier" sets under a new alias. In the accompanying illustration, you'll see examples of both of these accessory lines, and if you look closely, you'll notice that they are exactly the same set. The same rubber rifles and blue pouches are in exactly the same place on the blister card.
The illustrations are better on the "Army Heroes Force Peacekeepers" line, and that's probably because they intend to get their money's worth out of this design. The same name and card art is currently being used on a vast line of 3 3/4" knockoffs that include figures, vehicles and accessories, all featuring the same card art that's used on this set.
Now, are these sets worth the money? Well, for less than two bucks, it'd be hard for them not to be. They're good kitbash fodder. The blue pouches and other accessories are useful for fantasy or adventure themes. The mixture of Hasbro and Twenty First Century Toys parts is amusing, and has some novelty valueespecially for the pieces where they make no effort to remove the name of the original company. I mean, they're crap, but at least they're cheap crap! And the 50MM machine gun has a coolness to cost ratio that can't be beat. There are better 50MM guns on the market, but not for less than TWO BUCKS! If we had these in the 60s, we'd be speaking of them in reverential tones today.
But our mystery deepens. Who is this company that's risking the wrath of Hasbro and Twenty First Century Toys? Will they be content with creating one knockoff figure and two knockoff accessory lines, or is there more in the works? What is their connection to the current cheesy knockoff explosion at Big Lots?
Check out the next Cheesy Knockoff for a wrong turn in our quest for the Big Cheese.