email thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: 2010 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CLUB CONVENTION SET - "VACATION IN THE SHADOWS"
By Thomas Wheeler

As they have for many years, the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club presented fans and collectors with a truly amazing set of exclusive 3-3/4" G.I. Joe figures, made in the traditional style, at the 2010 G.I. Joe Convention, which took place April 29 - May 2, in Providence, Rhode Island, also the home state of Hasbro itself!

The set is named "Vacation in the Shadows", and features prominent G.I. Joe team member Flint facing an encounter with a mysterious enemy force known as the Red Shadows, with a little Cobra contribution from the enigmatic Interrogator.

Who, one might ask, are the Red Shadows? For that, we need to cross the shores and drop in on Europe. G.I. Joe is certainly a global pop culture phenomenon, but it hasn't always been known as G.I. Joe in some places. In Europe, for quite a few years, the toy line was known as Action Force, regarded as a spin-off of Action Man, who was the European equivalent to the original 12" G.I. Joe.

The Action Force toy line used some recolored and re-named G.I. Joe figures, but also used a number of unique figures that were designed rather differently, with articulation more akin to Star Wars figures of the time -- head, arms, and legs. Some G.I. Joe vehicles were recolored and worked into the Action Force line, while other vehicles were created entirely new for the European market. Just about any of these will readily set a G.I. Joe collector to drooling these days.

Ultimately, Action Force would "morph" into G.I. Joe even in Europe, and most of the figures and vehicles would largely become simple repackagings, with occasional recolored surprises thrown in. But in the early days, Action Force was a significantly different toy line in both form and content. The Action Force team was broken down into sub-units, with such names as Q-Force, Z-Force (pronounced "Zed-Force" if you want to use the proper European pronunciation), and others.

Cobra was not a factor initially. The bad guys were a group of largely red-uniformed soldiers known simply as "Enemy Force", led by a couple of no-goods named Baron Ironblood and the Black Major. Sinister-sounding enough, if perhaps a tad less inspired than Cobra.

So where did the name "Red Shadows" come from? Well, several of these enemy individuals and soldiers, being dressed in red and all, had the word "Red" as part of their overall name. Red Jackal, Red Vulture, Red Wolf, etc. Since the Red Shadows were the basic soldiers of the enemy force, their name eventually was used as the official name of the enemy army. The name wasn't incorporated into the American concept until Devil's Due Comics decided to do a bit of a nod to this enemy force, with a group of mysterious villains that went after both the G.I. Joe team and the Cobra forces, who were known as the Red Shadows. Although their leaders were no one that had ever been affiliated with the Action Force enemy team, and although the Red Shadows soldiers portrayed in the comic book bore no real resemblance to any European figure, it was generally assumed by most readers that it was, at least, a sort of sideways acknowledgment of that part of the European history of the toy line that eventually became G.I. Joe.

However, and I hasten to add this, if one reads the comic book that comes with the Convention Set, that particular aspect of continuity has clearly been dismissed. There's no mention whatsoever of the Devil's Due story, and in fact the Convention Set has any number of examples where these new Red Shadows are clearly based on those characters that appeared in the early days of Action Force, and largely disappeared when Cobra was finally introduced overseas.

The set features fifteen figures: Flint, Cobra Interrogator, Black Major, six Red Shadows Troopers, and six Red Torches flamethrower troopers. Let's consider each of them now.

FLINT - First introduced into the toy line in 1985, Flint actually had his debut in 1984, in the animated mini-series "The Revenge of Cobra". In both the animated series and the comic book, Flint was seen as someone perhaps best described as a rougher-around-the-edges version of Duke. He was a top-flight soldier and a superb addition to the Team , but unlike Duke, Flint definitely has the volume turned up in cockiness and occasional arrogance.

The code-name "Flint" is almost as mysterious as his specialty, but then again, his real name is listed as "Dashiell Fairborne". With a name like that, almost anything is an improvement. What is perhaps not as well known is that Flint was definitely a major player in the Action Force comic stories presented in Europe that really bridged the time between Action Force having only limited similarities to G.I. Joe, and becoming increasingly connected to the G.I. Joe team, and its concepts and toys. So he is not at all an inappropriate choice for inclusion in this set.

Flint's first figure incarnation is perhaps his best known. The figure was dressed in a black shirt, with black beret, green camouflage trousers, and brown boots. The black shirt especially seemed to set him apart from most of the other Joe Team members at the time, and seemed to enhance his more rugged or rougher personality. Flint would turn up repeatedly in the ensuing years, including on a number of special teams. He followed Duke over to Tiger Force in 1988, rather reluctantly signed up with the Eco-Warriors in 1991 (making some snide remarks about their uniforms in the comic book, subsequently being told that the outfits were made out of recycled action figures), returned to regular duty in 1994 as a desert paratrooper, and continued to turn up during the 2000-2002 line, and made his way, in original figure format, at least, over to Night Force as part of a special six-pack of Toys "R" Us figures, which interestingly enough included the 3-3/4" G.I. Joe version of Action Man, the European character who had enjoyed recent moderate success in the United States in a 12" format. Flint just can't quite seem to escape something of a European connection, can he?

The Convention Set figure of Flint is absolutely spectacular. G.I. Joe has most often touted itself as a "Modern Army Action Figure". The only conundrum that comes with that declaration is that the real-world Army is always looking for better ways to outfit its troops -- including uniform and camouflage patterns. What worked a few years ago doesn't necessarily work now, and as cool as many of the camouflage patterns on the uniforms of figures within the original Real American Hero line may have been, the sad fact is that most of them would be considered obsolete in the real world today. They're still cool figures, with iconic appearances, but that "Modern Army" description doesn't quite hold as true as it did when those figures were first released.

What we have with this Flint figure is a superb, original-style, 3-3/4" G.I. Joe figure that can make a very legitimate claim to indeed being a "Modern Army" action figure, and as such very nicely bridging the time gap between the original Real American Hero and the modern day. The figure uses the original Flint headsculpt, which is certainly the best known of the lot. Here is Flint, with that confident and borderline cocky grin on his face, beneath the equally determined and heroic stare, black beret set at an appropriately rakish angle. The beret is not changed from its original colors. It's still black with a red emblem on the front, as well it should be.

The rest of the figure uses the body molds of the 1993 Duke. That particular figure presented Duke in some very authentic-looking desert camouflage. It was, almost certainly, the most realistic-military-looking figure that had been produced for the G.I. Joe line for several years at that point in time, and needless to say was extremely popular.

The basic design of the uniform, colors notwithstanding, certainly holds up well today. It features a short-sleeved, collared shirt, with a limited harness over the chest and back, with a grenade attached, standard issue military trousers, with a knife sheath strapped to one leg and a pistol holster strapped to the other, and standard army boots. Flint is also wearing a wristwatch on his left wrist.

The major change, obviously, is the color scheme. The uniform has been molded in a very pale olive green, and given a speckled pattern of camouflage across its entirety that does a really excellent job of mimicking the intricate pattern of computer-designed camouflage that is currently common to many military uniforms. This is easily the most intricate camouflage I've seen on a 3-3/4" G.I. Joe figure. Some figures might have more colors, or seemingly more complex patterns, but as far as intricate detail is concerned, Flint would be tough to top.

Flint's boots are black, and the straps of his harness are a darker shade of green, as are the leg straps, holster, and sheath. The grenade on his chest harness is painted silver, as is the handle to his pistol. The handle to his knife is copper.

This is really an outstanding figure of Flint. It would really be an outstanding figure of anybody. I'm glad Flint got the nod, though. He's an interesting character. And with this uniform, he definitely looks ready for action, and certainly looks like a G.I. Joe!

All of the figures in this Convention Set come with their own file cards. Flint's reads as follows:

G.I. JOE WARRANT OFFICER
Code Name: FLINT

File Name: Fairborne, Dashiell R.
Primary Military Specialty: Rotary Wing Aircraft Pilot
Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry
Birthplace: Wichita, Kansas

Flint is a classical scholar and graduate of the Special Forces School and Flight Warrant Officers School. He brings a broad intellectual background as well as finely hones technical skills and tactical knowledge to the G.I. Joe team. He is proficient with all NATO small arms and explosive devices, and rated to fly all current U.S. Military helicopters as well as rotary-wing aircraft in the services of most western and former Soviet Bloc powers. Flint has been part of or led numerous covert hostage rescue missions in hostile territories. The exact nature and details of these missions are highly classified and unlikely to ever be made public or even acknowledged.

Flint has a passion for knowledge and studies the history of World War II in his spare time. It isn't often that he gets to take a vacation, so when his S.A.F. (Special Action Force) colleagues invite him for an extreme sports European adventure, he accepts the challenge. Little does he know that shadowy figures have sinister plans for him and this vacation will be one that he never forgets. How will this renowned rescuer be saved from his own poisoned mind?

"I'm not arrogant, I just always look good doing my job."

I love that personal quote. As for the details of the second paragraph of the file card, please be patient. I'll get around to that when I review the comic book included with the Convention Set.

Now, let's consider the lone Cobra representative in this set:

INTERROGATOR - Here we have one of the truly mysterious individuals from the ranks of Cobra. The character was originally introduced in 1991, but received virtually no media attention from either the animation or the comic book. He was originally offered as the pilot figure in one of the zipcord-operated Battle Copters that came out at the time.

The name "Interrogator", while certainly describing the character's function, wasn't especially reptilian-sounding, and there was something of a mystery as to why Cobra's chief interrogation specialist would need a one-man helicopter-like device to do his job. Just about as surprising was the fact that the figure was an entirely new design, not any sort of repaint or "frankenstein" whatsoever.

Interrogator was a cool-looking figure. His uniform was dark grey and dark blue, and almost certainly his most distinctive characteristic was the black helmet. Somewhat squared-off on top, it flared out somewhat at the base, and had a cap-like brim over the front visor, which was red, and vaguely T-shaped. The helmet, in 1991, was not removable.

Interrogator was re-released two years later, in a mail-order two-pack alongside his G.I. Joe counterpart, fellow Battle Copter pilot Major Altitude. Both figures were the same as their original incarnations, just recolored. Interrogator didn't fare all that well here, trading in his grey and blue uniform for one that was purple and yellow, with a bright yellow helmet with a black visor.

Interrogator was integrated into the newsculpt line during the 2002-2006 run, and regained some of original colors -- with a new figure that looked quite a bit like the original, at least as far as existing body parts with a new helmet could manage. The figure was part of one of the few newsculpt six-packs offered by Toys "R" Us, a set called "Viper Lockdown", which also featured three Cobra Vipers, and the only newsculpt figure of the "original" G.I. Joe, and the only 3-3/4" figure at all of G.I. Jane! Not bad company for Interrogator to be in. Although the uniform design was somewhat different from the original figure, the colors and as much of the detail patterning as possible was back to the original color scheme.

Interrogator never gained all that much prominence in the world of G.I. Joe, despite a decidedly menacing look, especially that helmet. I'm sincerely pleased that he's returned again, with some explanation of what he's been up to, behind the scenes.

The Convention version of Interrogator uses the upper torso of the 1991 Snake-Eyes, the arms of the Cobra Laser-Viper, and the lower torso and legs of Red Star. The overall combination, however, works superbly well, with the original parts recognizable only to a very well-informed G.I. Joe collector. Interrogator's uniform has been done entirely in grey this time around, with the shirt being a light grey, and the trousers a dark grey. The equipment harness on the torso is black, with extremely well painted little silver details, such as buckles and snaps. The gloves, boots, and leg holster are also black.

Of course, there's that trademark helmet, which looks precisely as it should, with only two differences this time around. One, it has a Cobra emblem imprinted on the cap-like brim. And secondly -- it's removable!

So -- what does Interrogator look like with his helmet off? Who is he? I'm a little embarrassed to admit (no, make that a lot embarrassed) that while the headsculpt looked familiar to me, I couldn't quite place it. Finally, with a little help from some more observant friends, Interrogator's identity was revealed.

Back in the 1960's, a very popular segment of the original 12" G.I. Joe line was called "Soldiers of the World", and it featured half a dozen G.I. Joe figures outfitted like various foreign soldiers. In some cases, the basic G.I. Joe headsculpt wasn't suitable, largely for ethnic reasons, and so additional headsculpts, which were close to the original design but allowing for needed modification, were prepared. One of these figures was a German Stormtrooper.

The headsculpt for the Cobra Interrogator figure is based on that headsculpt. I knew it looked familiar. It's not too far removed from the original 12" G.I. Joe headsculpt, but it looks a bit meaner. The figure has pale blonde hair, and extremely neatly painted brown eyebrows and blue eyes. And he looks pretty good for someone who was arguably active way back then. Nothing on the file card confirms any of this, nor does the story in the comic book. But once you realize who that headsculpt is based on, there's also no getting around it, either, and the implications get pretty interesting at that point for G.I. Joe, Cobra, and the Red Shadows. And given some of the history of the Red Shadows as stated in their file cards, Interrogator fits in rather well as their Cobra liaison.

Interrogator's file card reads as follows:

COBRA INTERROGATION SPECIALIST
Code Name: COBRA INTERROGATOR

File Name: CLASSIFIED
Primary Military Specialty: Psychological Tactics
Secondary Military Specialty: Chemical Experimentation
Birthplace: CLASSIFIED

The Cobra Interrogator is an enigma and no one knows his past or the true man behind the mask. He has the unique ability to siphon information out of even the most obstinate prisoner simply by talking to him. Unsubstantiated claims are that he uses a voice modulator/synthesizer built into his helmet that works with a transe-inducing LED display. His subjects listen to his baritone voice, stare into the flashing lights and spill their most guarded secrets. If there are any prisoners who prove to be resistant to his spell, he would just as gladly use even more extreme chemically or physically induced methods.

It was the Cobra Interrogator who first made contact with the Black Major about the Red Shadows leader's interest in joining with Cobra. However, it was not until he learned about their mind control chemical that he offered to assist him in completing a special task that would grant an audience with Cobra Commander. What are his real plans and ulterior motives that involve the capture of the G.I. Joe team's Warrant Officer?

"I will break you one way or the other!"

The first paragraph of that file card is certainly well in keeping with Interrogator's established history, and he certainly makes an interesting addition to the set.

Now, let's turn our attention to the focal point of this year's Convention Set, the RED SHADOWS, and their commanding officer...

BLACK MAJOR - Given my somewhat limited knowledge of the Action Force stories, I worried that I didn't have much to say about the Black Major. So I did a little online research, starting with the name "Red Shadows", and -- boy, did I find some history!

Created first in print in the British "Battle Action Force" comic books, the Red Shadows are led by Baron Ironblood and are believed to be fanatical in their devotion to their leader and cause, as described in their comic strip portrayal:

"An evil genius threatens the world. His name is Baron Ironblood and his twisted criminal brain dreams of only one thing... world domination. Using powerful and sophisticated weaponry, Ironblood's ruthless followers would gladly die for their master. Baron Ironblood has vowed to destroy Action Force."

In later editions of the Battle Action Force series, Ironblood betrays the Red Shadows, leaking information about their bases and intentions to the UN. As the Shadows are under attack, Ironblood goes into hiding and constructs a new identity for himself.

This was all part of transitioning both the toy line and the comic book towards Cobra.

The continuity of the storyline was maintained as the Black Major (a former traitor from Action Force), Red Laser and Red Vulture re-grouped the Red Shadows and sought revenge against Cobra Commander and the newly-amalgamated "AF" while prominent Red Shadow character Red Jackal was given his own storyline, transforming to Destro and joining Cobra.

This goes a long way to explaining why we have the Black Major in this set, and not Baron Ironblood.

The Black Major figure uses the head of M. Bison from Hasbro's G.I. Joe-based Street Fighter line. It's hardly the first time one of these heads has popped up -- so to speak. Sagat and Zangief were overhauled into a couple of new Dreadnoks several years ago, for example. Given that the Hasbro Street Fighter line presented more realistic likenesses of the Street Fighter characters, rather than their more anime-styled looks, the use of the heads works quite well without really stepping on any Street Fighters' toes.

The torso of the Black Major is from Hardball, a G.I. Joe character from 1988. And to be honest -- I'm not really sure whose arms and legs these might have previously been. The left leg has a copyright date of 1993 on it, but I don't recognize it.

This is not a big deal. The end result is nevertheless a very cool figure, who certainly does respect to his original counterpart. Black Major, true to his name, is wearing a predominantly black uniform, with red and white trim on his upper sleeves, and a red hat with a black brim. He has a mean scowl on his face, and the Red Shadows logo, a stylized skull and crossbones, emblazoned on his jacket in white. The belt buckle has been painted silver.

I've heard a few complaints that the figure is rather plain-looking, but please consider the time period he originally comes from. Most G.I. Joe figures were pretty plain back then, and even those that weren't specifically derived from G.I. Joe figures for Europe were not overly ornate. What we have here is a Black Major figure that is an excellent and official G.I. Joe rendering of admittedly a figure created quite some time ago, who bears an excellent likeness to that original design. And in my opinion, that's what he should be.

Black Major's file card reads as follows:

RED SHADOWS COMMANDER
Code Name: BLACK MAJOR

File Name: CLASSIFIED (Alias) Shepherd, John
Primary Military Specialty: Military Strategy
Secondary Military Specialty: Combat-Control
Birthplace: CLASSIFIED

The man now known as the Black Major is a former member of the S.A.F. (Special Action Force) and a brilliant military commander and tactician. He was one of their best trained Marine Commandos before being captured by the Red Shadows leader, Baron Ironblood. Sophisticated brainwashing turned him into a dedicated and ruthless follower. He became totally emotionless and carried out the Baron's orders without question - until his leader vanished. The Black Major took the remaining Red Shadows into hiding to rebuild the hierarchy. His goal is to continue their mission of global domination through chaos, destruction, and fear.

He has secured the unique chemical matrix that allows for the constant brainwashing of his armies and has been able to manufacture a more potent version in gas form. Using this to grow his army of Red Shadows Troopers, he has combined them with the menace of his Red Torches Flamethrowers into an unstoppable force prepared to do his bidding unquestioningly. His plan is to join with Cobra to make use of their worldwide resources, and eventually take control of them - and the world!

"The Shadows will rise again!"

It's nice to have a life plan, isn't it...? Anyway, a plan like this isn't going to go anywhere unless you've got an army to back you up. And the Black Major certainly does. Indeed, the Red Shadows have returned, so let's have a look at them:

RED SHADOWS - Originally, these were some of the non-Hasbro figures, with more limited articulation, that were used in Europe before the gradual overhaul into a strictly Hasbro-based line. Once again, the online research proved valuable in tracking down some history on these guys.

The standard Red Shadows were depicted in the comic books of the mid 1980s in quasi-German military uniform from the World War II era. Their red clothing was similar in style to the WWII German military wear including long black boots, black gloves and 'Jerry' style helmets, albeit extended to cover the face. In addition, the weapons they carried also included German-style stick grenades and bazookas. This was due to the Red Shadow figure being made from a modestly altered (by adding the face plate) WWII German soldier figure from an earlier figure release.

Yep, before the Action Force story concept got going, the Action Force line initially produced 3-3/4" representations of authentic military soldiers from the past and present -- including a World War II German.

Obviously, parts like that never really existed in the American G.I. Joe line, so what parts were rounded up for the new Red Shadows? Well, the head was sculpted entirely new, specifically for these figures, and based very closely on the original Red Shadows. The helmet does have a certain World War II German look to it. There's an angled faceplate in front of it, that has a swath of black across the top, with two white streaks representing eyeslits. The Red Shadows emblem is emblazoned on the front of the helmet. The back of the helmet has some little technological gizmo back there.

The uniform is largely that of Red Star, the first Oktober Guard figure ever inducted into the G.I. Joe action figure line, in 1991, although the arms are different. Now, it may sound a little insulting to use Red Star's body to mimic a uniform design that in its original form was vaguely based on a World War II German, but some of the uniform design aspects are close enough to work quite well. Granted also, the Red Star body has seen a lot of use in recent years, being partially if not mostly responsible for three other Oktober Guard figures, including Colonel Brekhov, Stormavik, and Sgt. Misha (torso only). But lest we accuse it of being overused, none of those guys were wearing a bright red uniform, and so you don't really notice it quite as much.

I've said this before -- it does seem like the basic bad guy troops of any given enemy faction always seem to get really cool uniforms. Cobra Vipers, Iron Grenadiers, even HeadHunters. And the Red Shadows are no exception. The almost entirely red uniform looks very menacing, and on another note -- trust me, you're not going to be confusing these guys with Cobra's Crimson Guards. They're a much more straightforward RED in color, not the darker crimson red of the Crimson Guards.

The uniform trim is limited to black, with a little bit of white and silver. The grenade and the belt buckle are silver. The gloves and boots are black, as is the belt, harness, and holster. Most impressively, and certainly giving these Red Shadows some style, is the black collar and shoulder trim, lined with white. That can't have been an easy paint job, either.

You get six of these guys in the Convention Set. Their file card (and you get six of those, too), reads as follows:

RED SHADOWS TROOPER
Code Name: RED SHADOWS

File Name: Various
Primary Military Specialty: Infantry
Secondary Military Specialty: Close Quarters Combat
Birthplace: Various

The Red Shadows are an international criminal group bent on chaos and world domination. They are an organization that, while predominantly active in Europe, Asia, and South America, has a history of criminal activities that predates the Cobra organization, possibly coming into existence just after World War II. Led currently by their jackbooted commander, the Black Major, they have survived pressure both from the S.A.F. (Special Action Force) and their own internal power plays. The backbone of their group are Red Shadows Troopers, an army of foot soldiers with an almost fanatical allegiance to their cause. Their blind devotion appears to be brought about by constant, low-level exposure to some type of mind-controlling chemical. This chemical is possibly in their uniforms or helmets, as almost all of their operatives appear to remain completely covered from the open air at all times. This would explain how their numbers seem to swell even after years of defeats.

The latest contingent of Red Shadows appears to have the same willingness to give their lives for their maniacal leader, serving as infantry foot soldiers and personal chauffeurs (using an old World War II German staff car), to transport the Black Major and any captives to their hidden bunker. If they were to align their forces with those of Cobra, would G.I. Joe and the S.A.F. together be able to stop them?

"Devoid of fear or independent thought, the Red Shadows' limitations are not yet known - if there even are any!"

That comment about being chauffeurs, and using an old World War II German Staff car is a reference to a very impressive vehicle that was part of this year's Convention offerings, and it also proved to be massively popular.

Finally, we have the other troopers available in this Convention set...

RED TORCHES - These are entirely new characters within the ranks of the Red Shadows. There is no previous precedent for them, but what the heck? It's a cool sounding name, and an impressive figure.

The body used for the Red Torches -- in an interesting bit of irony -- is largely that of the Eco-Warriors version of Flint! This was first introduced in 1991, and saw a later use -- in a different color scheme -- when Flint was the assigned driver of a desert version of the VAMP Jeep that came out during the 2000-2002 era. Still, much like the Red Star body being used for the Red Shadows, you'd hardly recognize it. In the Eco-Warriors line, Flint's uniform was a very bright green. His desert edition was a very pale tan. As one would expect, this version is a very straightforward red.

The chest harness and most of the other details are black, with a bit of silver trim. A modification of the Red Shadows insignia, a skull and crossbones surrounded by, of all things, a GREY flame, is in evidence on the upper right arm. Grey fire. That's a new one, and frankly, it looks pretty creepy. That's not an insult. For a bad guy, it works!

The helmet was a mystery to me, but I was informed that it was used for a Cobra trooper called "Shadow-Viper" that was part of the BTR line of G.I. Joe toys. This was Hasbro's entry into the "building-block" world, akin to Lego, several years ago, during the newsculpt run of G.I. Joe. Transformers also got in on the act. In G.I. Joe's case, the building sets could build a variety of vehicles, and each came with a G.I. Joe figure. Apparently the Shadow-Viper helmet had to be enlarged somewhat, but the end result looks great on this figure, and I suspect that Shadow-Viper is an obscure enough fellow so that no one's really going to make that much of a connection. The helmet is mostly red, with a silver visor framed in black, and a black mouthpiece that looks like a filtered breathing apparatus. Really, he looks like flamethrower soldier, as well he should.

As with the Red Shadows, there are six Red Torches, all with file cards, in the set. The file card reads as follows:

RED SHADOWS PYRO-TROOPERS
Code Name: RED TORCHES

File Name: Various
Primary Military Specialty: Flame Weapons
Secondary Military Specialty: Chemical Weapons
Birthplace: Various

The Red Torches are flamethrower troopers that enjoy burning everything to the ground, and seem to relish the thought of anything living being caught in their fiery path. While most modern armies have voluntarily abandoned the use of unstable flamethrowers in favor of napalm rocket launchers, the Red Torches appear to be using a new, much more controllable chemical - albeit just as frightening to witness in action. It may be that the additional terror the streams of flaming materials produce is an intentional side-effect.

They also disperse a mind-altering chemical mixture to capture prisoners for the Black Major. This unknown neurotoxin causes fear, paranoia, and hallucinations, but ultimately allows for complete mind control of the subject. It appears to be a fast,acting, and potentially permanent version of the chemical used to produce the devotion-until-demise seen in the Red Shadows arms. If Cobra Commander had access to chemicals such as this, would be even need an alliance with the Red Shadows?

"We'll keep burning, and burning, until everything has been incinerated!"

Finally, there's the comic book, to tie it all together and explain it. Titled VACATION IN THE SHADOWS, the story starts with Flint having some sort of nightmare. Flash back two days earlier to the USS Flagg (nice to see the Carrier), with Flint dealing with assorted corporate bureaucrats. Flint manages to shut himself in a conference room with Lifeline and S.A.F. Member Natalie Poole.

Understandably stressed out -- Flint is a man of action, not a paper pusher -- Natalie suggests a kayaking expedition that she and fellow S.A.F. Member Lt. Dolphin have planned. Lifeline strongly recommends Flint join the vacation, and he'll tag along to get some additional training at S.A.F. Headquarters.

Switch to the Black Forest in Germany, where the guide for Flint, Natalie, and Dolphin recommends a brief side trip to check out a former World War II military outpost, sensing Flint's obvious interest in military history. Along the way, the guide stumbles and hurts his ankle. Natalie goes to assist, suggesting that Flint and Dolphin continue on their way.

The two discover an old military bunker that is currently occupied by the Red Shadows. Dolphin escapes, but Flint is captured and brought before the Black Major. Here we get the proof that these are not the Red Shadows from the Devil's Due comic, but rather are an update of the original Red Shadows, as Flint makes the remark, "Great. I've been taken prisoner by a terrorist group that hasn't been seen since feathered hair and thin ties were in style."

Ouch. However, that does correspond with the last known appearance of the Red Shadows in the European Action Force Comics, which was around 1987.

I don't really want to spoil the rest of the story for you. Suffice to say that the Black Major is trying to arrange an alliance with Cobra, albeit for his own purposes, and he sees Flint as a means to that end.

So, what's my final word here? The Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club continues to impress with its Convention Sets, and this one is certainly no exception. I think what makes this set especially interesting is its history. There have been previous Convention Sets based on other-than-Cobra enemies before -- we've had sets for the Dreadnoks, the Iron Grenadiers, the HeadHunters, but the Red Shadows have never previously been brought this far into an American-based set of G.I. Joe figures. Indeed, Black Major and the Red Shadows troopers have never before been made in an actual G.I. Joe figure format!

I'll admit my own knowledge of the Red Shadows and that particular era of Action Force is a little sketchy. It did seem to me that trying to reconcile the European Action Force and Red Shadows history with that of G.I. Joe and Cobra was a difficult endeavor at best. And if you study it enough, there's still a few points that would be difficult to work out. However, the major aspects of it that the Club has used work perfectly fine, and they have done a superb job in integrating the Red Shadows enemy force into the modern world of G.I. Joe -- and given us an amazing set of action figures and a cool comic book story in the process.

So, the 2010 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CONVENTION set of "VACATION IN THE SHADOWS" most definitely has my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation!