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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the more interesting exclusive G.I. Joe items commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Real American Hero to come out as a Convention exclusive and first available at the San Diego ComiCon was not, in fact, a figure.

Hasbro kept collectors guessing for weeks on GIJoe.Com by hinting about an additional exclusive that would actually be a freebie. They wouldn't really say what it was except that it had good play value -- which pretty much ruled out the typical guesses that it was a pin, or a cap, or a T-shirt, or some such.

It turned out to be a deck of playing cards. A very impressive commemorative deck of G.I. Joe playing cards, at that.

Now, I could get into the history of playing cards here, but I'm not going to bother. I honestly don't know how far back playing cards go. Did George Washington play cards at Valley Forge? Did Julius Caesar play poker with Brutus before he got knifed? Who decided on the number of cards, and the different suits? How did it come down to diamonds, hearts, clubs, and spades? And who cares? If you're reading this review, it's probably not because you're a major card player. You'd be watching World Series of Poker if you were. You're on this Web Site because you're a toy collector, and you saw something with the G.I. Joe name attached to it.

I've seen other "specialized" decks of playing cards where there are character images on each card, but it's the same for each numbered card. A "2" card will have the same character on it, same pose, for all four "2" cards. This can make games interesting if you don't pay attention to the suits.

All credit to Hasbro, when they decided to do a commemorative deck of playing cards for G.I. Joe's 25th Anniversary as a Real American Hero -- they didn't short-change the effort.

The box is nice, for starters. VERY thick cardboard, with the G.I. Joe and 25th Anniversary logo on one side, and a painted illustration of the Joe Team doing their Iwo Jima impression, a fairly legendary image for the team, on the opposite side. The box is sealed with a small silver star sticker across the flap.

The cards themselves are beautifully printed on a textured fiberboard. These are very high quality playing cards. Along with the usual fifty-two-plus-two-jokers, there are two additional cards in the box. One advertises the 25th Anniversary of G.I. Joe on one side, referencing the Anniversary figure line, and mentions the GIJoe.Com Web Site on the other. The second additional card has Snake-Eyes' 1982 incarnation on one side, and his 2007 version on the other. These two images have also been seen in magazine advertisements.

The back of all the other playing cards is identical. It has the G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary logo on it, with the G.I. Joe logo printed right-side-up and upside-down on either end. Red, white, and blue stripes rin the length of the back of the card, and the background is mostly black, although dark grey stars and Cobra emblems can be seen. It's an overall impressive image, really.

But not nearly as impressive as the cards themselves. EVERY card features a different illustration, and all are painted in the style of the painted card art from the original line (also being used on the 25th Anniversary product). Some of these illustrations are new, others have been very interestingly adapted from their originals.

The two Joker cards are, perhaps not surprisingly, Tomax and Xamot.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. The Joe Team takes the black-suit cards, Spades and Clubs. Cobra takes the red-suit cards, Hearts and Diamonds. And although between thet two groups, most of the characters shown do share the same card number, the illustration is different between the two, sometimes presenting some very interesting incarnations that one might well wish we had seen in figure form during the original run of the line, which these illustrations significantly reflect.

Let's do a basic run-down of the deck, by number and character, starting with the Joe Team cards.

ACE - I don't know if this is surprising or not, but it's not Ace. Okay, that would've been kind of cool, but let's face it, he's not as well- known as some characters. The Ace cards are Snake-Eyes. The images are almost identical. It's Snake-Eyes in his 1985 version. The images are reversed between the two cards, and the Ace of Spades also adds Timber.

2 - These cards feature Spirit Iron-Knife. The poses are identical, but the Clubs has him in his original 1984 colors, and the Spades pits him in his Slaughter's Marauders uniform colors.

3 - Here we have Wild Bill. I think this is a new illustration, since in his original appearance, he was a helicopter pilot, and didn't have a full painting. The Clubs card has him in his 1983 colors, and the Clubs card is identical, but changes the uniform colors to mostly blue.

4 - These cards feature Torpedo. The Clubs card has him in his best-known black diving suit, while the Spades card puts him in an orange uniform, a nice little nod to the original 12" G.I. Joe Action Sailor, if you ask me.

5 - Rock 'n' Roll takes these two cards. The Clubs card has R&R in his 1982 appearance, while the Clubs card alters the colors of the 1982 uniform to more closely resemble the colors of the 1989 Rock 'n' Roll figure, with a tan shirt and green camouflage pants.

6 - The six cards give us Snow Job, the original arctic trooper. The Clubs card has Snowy in his traditional white uniform, while the Spades card gives that uniform some extensive camouflage. One of those I wouldn't mind seeing released as an actual figure from the original molds.

7 - Here we have Stalker, and these two are just a little hard to tell apart. The Clubs card has Stalker in his traditional green camouflage, and the Spades card -- I think they were going for tan, but they sort of missed, and ended up with a sort of olive brown that's a little too close to the green. They're not bad illustrations, but they're a little too close.

8 - Shipwreck gets the eight cards. The Clubs version has Shipwreck in his original 1985 appearance, complete with parrot, and the Spades version changes Shipwreck's light blue shirt to white. It's an interesting look, although there was never a figure of it.

9 - The nine cards feature Beach-Head, and this is a weird one. The Clubs card features Beach-Head as we best know him, but the Spades card turns his uniform into a camouflage grey, making Beach-Head look rather unfortunately a whole lot like Firefly, one of Cobra's agents. If it weren't for the star background that all the Joe Team cards have...!

10 - With ten we get Roadblock, and in this case, two completely different illustrations. The Clubs card presents Roadblock in his 1984 incarnation, while the Spades card gives us Roadblock as he appeared in 1986.

JACK - Two different characters entirely here, and instead of the "full body" shots, we get "torso-up" images. The Jack of Clubs is Gung-Ho, and the Jack of Spades is 1982 Snake-Eyes.

QUEEN - Same deal here, and I'm sure you can figure it out. The Queen of Clubs is Scarlett, and the Queen of Spades is Lady Jaye.

KING - Again two different characters. The King of Clubs is Duke, and the King of Spades is Flint.

What, no General Hawk?

Now let's consider the Cobra side of things. They take the Hearts and Diamonds suits. These cards have a Cobra emblem outline behind the illustrations.

ACE - If Snake-Eyes is the Ace for the Joe Team, then you know who the Ace is a going to be for Cobra -- sort of. The Ace of Hearts features Storm Shadow. Curiously, it's Stormy in his 1988 uniform when he'd switched over to the Joe Team. But even more peculiar is the Ace of Diamonds, which is either Storm Shadow dressed in an all-red uniform identical to his 1988 togs, or it's a Red Ninja (and a Red Ninja figure was made using the 1988 molds, for one of the comic sets). So -- you decide.

2 - Not too surprisingly, the two cards, the lowest number in the deck, features a Cobra Trooper. The Heart card features a standard Cobra Trooper, while the Diamond card features a Python Patrol version.

3 - Again a slight identity problem -- is it Rip-It on the three of Hearts or is it a blue-uniformed HISS Driver? You decide. The Three of Diamonds features a standard-uniformed HISS Driver. Again, as with Wild Bill, this had to be a new illustration, since the HISS Driver was a vehicle driver, and never got a "full body shot" illustration before.

4 - Everybody's favorite mercenary, Major Bludd, takes the four cards, and the illustrations, except for being mirror images of each other (as are most of the cards -- one wonders if Tomax and Xamot designed this deck and put themselves in as Jokers as an in-joke) are very close, although the Heart card has Bludd in his 1983 brown uniform, and the Diamond gives Bludd very dark blue trousers.

5 - Here we have the Crimson Guard. The Diamond card presents a traditional Crimson Guard, whereas the heart card gives the same illustration a black uniform, looking very much like the Crimson Shadow Guards that were offered as a Toys "R" Us six-pack a while ago.

6 - The six cards feature Firefly, apparently insistent on being in the deck after Beach-Head tried to copy his uniform. The Heart card features Firefly in his original 1984 appearance, and the Diamond card has the character in a completely different pose, with a non-camouflage, black uniform. Well, at least he didn't try to copy Beach-Head.

7 - These cards offer Buzzer the Dreadnok. The Heart card has Buzzer as we best know him, but the Diamond card gives him a red plaid shirt and tan pants. Interesting look for him. It's worth mentioning that red flames have been added to his chainsaw, an attribute the accessory has been given for the 25th Anniversary version.

8 - Here we have Zartan, and at first glimpse, the illustrations appear to be identical except for the coloration. But don't let Cobra's Master of Disguise fool you! A closer study reveals that the Zartan on the Diamond card is much more heavily armored -- and more heavily armed -- than the Zartan on the Heart card. The poses are the same, but otherwise they're not identical illustrations. And frankly, no one should mess with Zartan regardless of how well armored or armed he is.

9 - The nine of Hearts presents the Cobra Officer. The nine of Diamonds presents the character recolored in a light grey uniform as the Stinger Driver, just as the original Cobra Officer was.

10 - How the mighty have fallen. Serpentor couldn't even make it into the face cards. The 10 of Diamonds features Serpentor in his traditional look on his Air Chariot. The 10 of Hearts looks like Serpentor as he will appear in the 25th Anniversary line, a fairly different design for the character.

JACK - As with the Joe Team, the Jack cards feature two different individuals. The Jack of Hearts is Destro, and the Jack of Diamonds is Storm Shadow in his 1984 Cobra incarnation.

QUEEN - So, who thinks it'll be Baroness and Zarana? Uh-uh -- wrong! You think the Baroness is going to let that pink-haired Dreadnok get equal time? The Baroness is on both Queen cards. The Queen of Hearts has the Baroness in her traditional black uniform, while the Queen of Diamonds is the Baroness in her Crimson uniform, as seen in the 2002 G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Convention Set.

KING - Come on. Do I really need to tell you? That's right, it's Raptor and Big Boa! Hey, wait, come back! I'm kidding! Of course it's Cobra Commander on both King cards. The King of Hearts is Cobra Commander with his battle helmet, and the King of Diamonds is "ol' ragface" himself, the Hooded Cobra Commander.

There is one extra card, that was available at the San Diego ComiCon. It doesn't have a suit or a number. It's just an illustration. It's SGT. SLAUGHTER, who was on hand on person at the ComiCon as a special guest. The Sarge doesn't need any wimpy suit or number. The illustration has him staring and pointing right at you. You can practically hear the card yelling, "DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY, MAGGOT!" I suppose you could slip the card into the deck and have the Sarge represent any dang thing he wants to.

Now, some might see a deck of cards as kind of a silly premium. But then there are those of us who DIDN'T grow up in the Nintendo/XBox/ PlayStation age, that still know how to play actual card games and other similar entertainments without electronic enhancements. And just on its own, this 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe Playing Cards deck is a very cool item! If you have any chance to get it these cards, it certainly has my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation!