Okay, now if you've been following the most recent editions of Cheesy Toy Knockoff, you realize that I'd uncovered a connection between some of the entrants in the "Great GI Joe Knockoff" series. To be specific, it seems that the ACTION TEAM figure sets spewed forth from the same factory as the WILD GEESE SOLDIER and ARMY HEROES FORCE accessory sets. Further, these sets are notable because they feature what appear to be items either copied from other manufacturers, or perhaps even the product of stolen molds and tooling. Plus, they mold a lot of stuff in goofy rubber and stupid blue plastic.
Having had my revelation about these shenanigans, I was keeping my eyes open for just that sort of infraction last fall, when somebody posted in the Sandbox (alt.toys.gi-joe) that the Army Surplus catalog, Cheaper Than Dirt, had what looked like an assortment of Hasbro and 21st Century figures on sale for $12.95. Since the price was cheap (although to be honest, I've found dirt that costs less), I decided to gamble that these guys were not exactly what they seemed. The worst that could happen was that they got their hands on some legitimate close-outs. They may even be more fodder from the elusive ACTION TEAM company.
I wasn't disappointed. These were not legitimate Hasbro or Ultimate Soldier items. They were knockoffs, labeled "Military Figurines", they each came in a generic box, the back of which showed all six styles that were available. A check mark told you which one you had (or you could look in the front of the box). I had struck knockoff gold! However, these are NOT in any way related to the ACTION TEAM, or other sets.
The body design is different, even though they both feature copies of some of the same heads. These sets are specific detailed copies of particular figure sets from GI Joe and the Ultimate Soldier. Six styles are shown on the box, but only five were sold through Cheaper Than Dirt.
The sets copied are the Ultimate Soldier SWAT Commander, Navy Seal, and 82nd Airborne boxed figure sets, and the GI Joe Doughboy, and Talking MP, although this version doesn't talk. The set not offered by Cheaper Than Dirt, but shown on the box is a copy of the carded GI Joe Grenade Throwing Joe, without the throwing mechanism.
These sets are precise, but clunky copies of the original sets, which leads to quite a disparity between them. The Doughboy set and the Ultimate Soldier sets offer the figure, dressed in a uniform, with tons and tons of equipment. All of the equipment is swiped from the original sets, even down to the trademarks. The MP set doesn't talk, like the Hasbro set, but only comes with his uniform and rifle. I guess the reason they didn't bother to import the Grenade guy was that he only comes with a grenade, and no shirt.
Like I said, the accessories are very close copies of the original items. They either swiped the molds, or cast these pieces from the originals. Probably the latterthere's a noticeable lack of definition here. It's a clear theft of intellectual property, but at least they worked hard at it. The high quality of the accessories was my first clue that these were not cranked out of the ACTION TEAM/WILD GEESE factory.
The uniforms are, uh .a good effort, if not quite "A" caliber work. They are very close copies of the originals, but the belts are frayed, and while they do use snaps instead of Velcro, they use snaps that are quite a bit bigger than the original ones. And if you thought that the Ultimate Soldier WWII web gear was a pain, wait until you try to assemble an inferior copy of it. Still, there are nice touches. They did a great job ripping off the Doughboy. He looks really sharp.
Now the body itself is another matter. I was sort of hoping that these would be the same as ACTION TEAM. That way I could just chalk this up to being yet another step in the mystery of that great unknown knockoff company. But it wasn't the case. The body is nothing like the ACTION TEAM body. They swiped the same Hasbro head, but if you put them side-by-side, you can tell that they aren't made by the same folks. This body is held together with three screws, and features a totally different body sculpt. Most notably there is no neck articulation. The head mounts onto the neck, which is molded as one piece with the torso. To quote the packaging, "The figurine body constructed with total joint capability, the amazing facial details and the comprehensive accessories make each of these figurines more than just a toy." You gotta love it when knockoffs feature text.
There are some other oddities: The skin tone of the bodies does not match the skin tone of the heads. These guys are sturdier than the ACTION TEAM guys. The skin tone of the 82nd Airborne guy is darkly unreal---you've heard of people with olive skin? Well this guy has olive drab skin. And white lips.
And just so you don't think I'm heaping too much praise on these dirty, dirty toy bootleggers, let me quote from the back of the box, "Introducing the most incredible MILITATY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT COLLECTIBLE ACTION FIGURES you have ever seen." Yes Indeedy, they are "incredible" (and they did spell "Military" wrong on the back of the box). These guys are jaw-droppingly amazing rip-offs. It takes a special quality to produce such an astoundingly transparent stolen toy. You have to wonder how they get their pants on.
Ultimately, this is a diversion from the search for the ACTION TEAM folks. It's not by the same company. There are no blue pouches or rubber rifles. What it means is that there are at least two different toy factories that are producing and distributing knockoffs of Hasbro and Twenty First Century Toys products that are such blatant rip-offs that these companies would be sued out of existence ..if they could only find out who they are (and if they weren't based in China). .
As for the value of "Military Figurines", they were a bit pricey for knockoffs, and Cheaper Than Dirt eventually knocked them down to $7.95 before they stopped listing them on their website, but there was something about them. Perhaps the packaging said it best, "They are not only nostalgic memorabilia for yourself, but also great story pieces for you to reminisce with your buddies and family." Yeah, that was itgreat story pieces!
For a few bucks more, you could find the legit versions, and feel a little better about yourself. These are more pirated toys than knockoffs, and that takes some of the fun out of it. These guys are for novelty value only.
Next time, the "Great GI Joe Knockoff" series continues and the trail grows warmer for our mystery company as we dive headfirst into the Summer 2001 Big Lots Bonanza!.