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By Thomas Wheeler

When one thinks of The Corps, one generally doesn't tend to think of the words "Vintage" or "Collectible". The primary product of the Lanard Corporation, The Corps is probably best known as the longest-lasting and highest-quality "G.I. Joe wannabee" action figure line of all time. And the most affordably priced.

When G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was at its highest point, there were any number of imitators turning out 3-3/4" semi-military action figures. Some of these were fairly close in structure and quality to G.I. Joe. Others were such plastic disgraces they would've embarrassed the dinosaurs that went extinct and became the petroleum from which plastic is derived.

The Corps hung in there the longest, and even when G.I. Joe took a leave of absence after 1994 for a few years, The Corps kept right on going. Although the figures were not generally as well-detailed, and certainly not as well-profiled, as the Joe Team, and they seemed to be singularly lacking a distinct enemy force, the line remained reasonably popular.

What started to happen along about this time was that G.I. Joe fans, temporarily starved for product, discovered that Lanard's Corps line wasn't all that bad. Along with some reasonably decent figures, there was a host of very decent vehicles, and absolutely no reason whatsoever G.I. Joe or Cobra couldn't make use of them if they wanted to. They certainly fit, and some of the designs were very impressive, and unlike anything ever seen in the world of G.I. Joe. So to a degree, The Corps caught on with collectors, even if admittedly it wasn't taken all that seriously.

When G.I. Joe came out with its newsculpt format of figure in 2002, The Corps followed suit, introducing a new format of their own, which continues to this day. The figures are cool, and are pretty much in their own category, bearing insufficient resemblance in structure to any format existent within G.I. Joe to really make a fair comparison.

But apparently someone at Lanard decided that The Corps had enough of a reputation, history, and legacy, and decided that the time was right to bring back some original-style figures, because much to my surprise and delight, a ten-pack of classic Corps figures turned up in early 2009. Much to the surprise and delight it cost all of twelve bucks.

For the most part, the character choices are excellent, and include a particular group of four that were something of late-comers to the line, but have always been well-received whenever they show up, especially three of them. I have to admit I was a little disappointed that one Corps figure in particular, by the name of "Large Sarge", didn't make it into the set. I've always just liked that code-name. "Large Sarge". That's just a name that sounds like someone you really don't want to mess with.

One of the most distinctive things about most Corps figures as opposed to G.I. Joe figures are the wide upper torsos. This, I believe, is a construction detail as much as anything. For whatever reason, I don't think Lanard ever quite figured out how Hasbro was able to build the figures and squeeze both the head peg and the shoulder pegs into a relatively small space within the torso and still allow room for the O-Ring. The answer is fairly simple -- they edged off the shoulder pegs a bit. But if you see a G.I. Joe-like action figure that has particularly broad shoulders -- better check. He's probably a Corps figure.

The aside, I won't say that The Corps is as cool as G.I. Joe. It's not. But they are, in their own right, cool figures, that have managed over the years to establish enough of an identity and a fan base of their own. Otherwise, I don't think we'd be seeing this Vintage Collectors' Set now. Who says there's no place left for this style of figure? Here's ten of them right here! Let's consider them individually.

AVALANCHE - You know, there's a reason that Lanard doesn't put any little "TM" or "(C)" signs after their character names. And this is one of them. While Hasbro didn't make up the word "avalanche" -- the word was probably made up by some hapless Swedish or Norwegian skier who sneezed at the wrong time while coming down a loosely-packed slope -- Hasbro HAS used the name "Avalanche" twice in its run of G.I. Joe -- once to refer to the arctic member of Battle Force 2000, and a second time as the name of an impressive and large arctic tank-like vehicle that was released in the 1990's. And in those instances, you'd better believe that it was trademarked.

But, there's an Avalanche among the Corps, as well. What the heck, it's a good name, and imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, right? As long as the lawyers don't get riled up about it. Honestly, I could put out a list of names for Corps characters over the years that would probably tick off half of pop culture.

This Avalanche would appear to be an arctic-dedicated medic. He's dressed in a white uniform, with blue trim, but he's also wearing an orange vest with a white pouch on it that has a blue cross imprinted on it. Avalanche also has a black furry collar, and black belt. He's wearing a white ski cap with a blue band around it, and has wide black dark glasses, and a mustache and small goatee.

Another mark of many Corps figures also tends to be a rather large head, and admittedly it tends to be in the heads where detail sometimes falls a little short, but Avalanche is okay. The figures don't have file cards, so some of what I say about them is going to be moderate supposition based on their appearance. Avalanche's appearance is pretty obvious. He comes with a nice pair of skis, and ski poles.

Avalanche has a copyright date on his inside leg of 1990, so assuming this figure is entirely made from the original molds, he came along a few years into the run of The Corps.

CROC - The Corps' answer to Crocodile Dundee, or maybe the G.I. Joe team's Recondo, Croc looks for all the world like a jungle specialist who likely hails from Australia. He's dressed in a dark green shirt that's had the sleeves ripped off well up to the shoulders, and tan trousers with dark brown belt and boots. He's also got a tan hat that looks like he mugged Indiana Jones somewhere along the way. He has black hair and a significant mustache, as well as a fairly mean look in his eyes.

Croc is also wearing an ammo belt around his chest with several grenades hanging off it. While it was certainly not unusual for Corps figures to trade parts, I find it difficult to imagine who else might have worn Croc's shirt, although I suppose it's possible.

Croc has a slightly darker skin tone than some Corps figures, which tended to stick to the somewhat paler skin that G.I. Joe did in its initial run. G.I. Joe got a little more varied with its "Caucasian" coloration in later years, and so has The Corps. Whether Croc started out with this color, I really don't recall. The inside of his leg has a copyright date of 1986, which would make him one of the earliest Corps figures. It makes sense for someone like this to look a little more -- suntanned -- since he certainly seems to be the outdoors type.

Croc comes with a rifle that looks like it is ideally suited for jungle problems. Lions, tigers -- terrorists...

SHARK - Okay, so it's not a particularly imaginative code-name. "Croc" isn't exactly intellectual prose, for that matter. Need it be said that Shark is the obvious underwater specialist for The Corps?

You've got to figure there's a certain intimidation factor in the name. I mean, think about it. You're standing on a beach, waiting for this guy to swim in from -- wherever. The place is crowded, and it's getting annoying. Finally he shows up. You call out to him. Now, how many people within the range of your voice are going to hang around after you've just yelled "SHARK!" at the top of your lungs, to find out that you're just referring to the guy in the wetsuit? Face it, you've got that area of the beach pretty much to yourself.

Shark is a fairly straightforward diver-type figure. He's dressed in a tight-fitting, dark grey diver's suit, with black straps around the chest and a black belt, both with yellow details. The Corps logo is stamped on the chest strap. He has a yellow device on his left wrist, and a black knife with a yellow strap on his lower right leg. Most of his head is covered by a dark grey hood, but his face is exposed. The only other exposed area on Shark are his ankles.

Shark's facial expression is a fairly mean-looking one. The guy looks determined, but also just a bit ticked off for some inexplicable reason. Maybe he's just that way. Better to let him get back underwater where he can't bother anybody.

The figure doesn't include swim fins, but somewhat amusingly, he does have rather large and somewhat flat feet. I think this was sort of an odd compromise on Lanard's part. Extend the feet enough so they look like swim fins, but not so far that he can't stick him in the package.

Shark has a 1986 copyright date on him, so he goes back to the earliest days of The Corps, as well. He comes with a mask which fits over his face and attaches via a peg to a little hole in the back of his head (maybe that explains his ticked-off look), and a set of oxygen tanks.

JOHN EAGLE - Here we have a slight case of -- well, call it ethnic mystery. With a name like that, you'd sort of figure he might be Native American. And yet the figure's headsculpt looks more Asian. Then again, who knows what, if anything, Lanard might have intended him to be? No offense against the company whatsoever, but these guys were generally not quite as well thought-out as G.I. Joes.

John Eagle clearly is intended as a commando for The Corps, someone specializing in nasty little covert ops. He is dressed very darkly, in a dark blue sweater with a wide black collar, blue gloves, black trousers, and black boots.

In a clear example of mold re-usage, John Eagle has the same arms, legs, and lower torso as Croc (and the same 1986 copyright date) -- which is sort of interesting when you consider that Croc's arms are sleeveless. But in John Eagle's case, he has a little bit of flesh-tone painted around his lower arms to give the impression of the sweater he's wearing ending before we get to his gloves.

John Eagle is also wearing a dark blue ski cap, and has a brown holster strap around his chest, with a black pistol holster.

The sweater has the Corps logo stamped on it. His facial expression, whatever its ethnic origin, is a fair bit meaner-looking than average, as one might expect for someone with his apparent specialty.

His weaponry is clearly designed to allow him to travel light. He has a small pistol, and a walkie-talkie of some considerable size, relative to today's cel phones, and even, as a direct comparison, the walkie-talkie device carried by Firefly, the Cobra saboteur, who came out in 1984. That tiny piece is probably one of the most easily lost accessories of all time. Has to be. John Eagle's, while perhaps inordinately large, is perhaps a little less likely to become vacuum cleaner bait.

STRYKE - As The Corps progressed, the figures got a little more ambitious in their appearance. We've already seen one 1990 representative -- Avalanche -- now here's another -- Stryke.

This guy could almost be a bad guy, except really, until the Marauders came along in the modern Corps line, I don't think The Corps ever had a distinctly defined enemy. You could probably make some of them good guys and some of them bad guys at your leisure. Let's say for the sake of argument that this set is all good guys. There's nothing on the package to indicate otherwise.

Stryke, based on his equipment, is intended as a mortar specialist for the Corps team. He comes with a nice big mortar launcher with adjustable stand. The figure himself is an interesting design.

For one thing, I don't recall ever seeing too many figures in either The Corps or G.I. Joe with receding hairlines. What's even funnier is that Lanard painted more hair on him than can be justified by the sculpt. If they'd painted it according to the sculpt, there would've been this little nubbin of hair on the top, and the hairline would've started near the back of his head -- let's say at "Captain Picard" levels, but Stryke's hair is black.

However, the way Lanard chose to paint it was to start at the little tuft on top of his head, and then just curve it sideways until it met the wisps near his ears. It's like Stryke decided to try to use that spray-paint product that's supposed to make your head look hairier or some such, and it didn't work very well.

Good thing he carries a mortar launcher around -- he can threaten teammates with it who give him a hard time about what he's done to his head. To top it off, he has fairly thick eyebrows, as well as a distinct mustache-into-goatee. Sure, he can get hair to grow on the rest of his head, it's the top where he has the most trouble.

Fortunately, he has a reasonably friendly look on his face. If he had one of the nasty scowls that some of the others seem to have, I'd really be worried.

Stryke has a distinctive uniform. Now, there's no reason for The Corps to have specifically military uniforms. Although it would probably be accurate to say that The Corps is pseudo-military, they're probably also even less affiliated with anything specifically military than the Real American Hero.

Stryke is wearing a very dark grey uniform with silver trim in the form of a chest harness, belt, and ridged wrist bands. He also has orange knee-pads, and some orange trim around his boots. Most unusual is the orange emblem on his chest, an orange segmented circle that as much as anything looks like the silhouette of a steering wheel. I'm not sure what this is supposed to represent, but it'd make a heck of a target on a battlefield.

Overall, though, Stryke is an impressive figure, and a clear indicator of the greater diversity and detail that worked its way into The Corps line over the years.

GASMAN - Okay, can we just admit right here and now that this may be the single worst code-name in the history of code-names? Lanard could probably go ahead and copyright this if they wanted to, because I can guarantee that no G.I. Joe would want to be known as "Gasman". For that matter, I don't think any super-hero or super-villain from DC, Marvel, or anywhere else would want this moniker. I don't think you'd even want to give this name to a Clone Trooper.

It doesn't help that the figure is wearing this silver gas mask over his face -- with bright green eyepieces, and in the package, has his arms posed raised up over his head, almost as if panic has set in and he's yelling, "Get it off! Get it off me!

Gasman is another 1990 entry in The Corps, and apart from the name, it's not a bad figure. The gas mask is a little strange, but not really that bad a design. Gasman is an African American, and I initially thought his hair was a bit -- strange. It looked like an afro with a few dreadlocks in the middle of it. As it turned out, these were additional straps for the gas mask, but they'd been left painted black, like his hair, which appears to be a low afro.

Gasman is dressed in a dark grey tank-top shirt with bright green borders, dark grey trousers with a black belt and boots. The belt has a bright green buckle, and the boots have bright green laces. He has a black strap across his chest and a large knife in it -- presumably for anyone who makes fun of his code name.

Interestingly enough, he has the same arms as Croc and John Eagle, but they're painted with black wrist bands.

For the final four in this set, I have to say first off that Lanard misnamed them on the back of their own packaging. The names are all switched around from how they've been known for -- oh, about the past eleven years when they were first introduced in 1998. Given the choice between that and following what the package says, in this case I'm going with the historical reference.

In 1998, Lanard created four new figures, three of which were largely intended as a group unit, and which subsequently made multiple appearances as such in half a dozen different color schemes. These four figures featured the greatest level of detail yet, and are arguably the most "G.I. Joe-like" as far as high quality is concerned, of any Corps characters ever. Although for the most part their color schemes are not new, I'm still truly pleased to see all of them included in this set. Let's start with the more independent of the four:

TRACKER TOM - This character was very obviously a Native American member of The Corps, bordering on the stereotypical, but still a cool design. He has an appropriate color to his skin, fairly long black hair, a red headband, Native-American-style chest and back armor, tan trousers, and dark brown shoes.

Armor notwithstanding, he is shirtless. Interestingly, the whites of his eyes are painted. This is a very uncommon practice for Corps figures. The overall headsculpt is distinctly more detailed than average, and isn't as disproportionately large as some of the others.

The figure doesn't have the really broad shoulders of typical Corps figures. Honestly, if it weren't for the Corps logo on the trousers, you could slip this guy into a G.I. Joe collection even more readily than most of the figures and get away with it.

One would assume that as his name implies, Tracker Tom is a tracking specialist for The Corps. Precisely what that might imply in this day and age of GPS and everything else, I'm really not sure. Nevertheless, the figure is very cool, and I think appears here in a color scheme that, if it's ever been used before, was not used widely. I don't recall one with red armor and blue arm pouches and knife sheath.

Now we come to what I, and I believe many other fans, regard as The Corps' three finest figures ever. Introduced in 1998, these were easily the most impressive Corps figures of all time.

Although each looked different, there was a certain unity about them. They all had dark grey uniforms with significant areas of black, a fair amount of silver, and some red and olive green trim. Each one had a number on his uniform, a 2, 3, or 8 (for the longest time I wondered if we were going to get other numbers in new figures -- sadly, we didn't).

Their names were LARS LAZER, FULL PROOF, and JUSTIN CASE, and Lanard had clearly gone all out on them.

They were a hit and Lanard knew it. Over the next several years, the company enlisted this threesome multiple times. They have them their own distinctive three-pack. Then they recolored them in green, with tan trim. Then they moved them over to The Corps' outer space division, S.T.A.R. Force, and recolored them three times over, in silver, metallic green, and copper, with white trim and dark blue glasses or visors. Justin Case, the most "ordinary" looking of the lot, found a little extra work on the side, sold with a vehicle and dressed in desert tan.

Finally, the group appeared one more time, this time around each one looking a little more distinctive, although not straying too far from their original colors of dark grey, black, and olive green.

I was very delighted to see these three guys turn up in this set, even if they were in familiar color schemes. Basically, all three have the same color schemes they had when they last appeared, the somewhat more "independent" color schemes. Let's have a quick look at each one.

LARS LAZER - Easily the most futuristic of the lot, Lars is wearing a very fancy uniform and an all-covering helmet that undeniably looks a lot like a helmet from the original Cobra Eel, from G.I. Joe. Except in Lars' case, there's a visor covering his entire face. The rest of his uniform looks like a somewhat protective body suit, and from a couple of decades in the future.

The uniform is mostly dark grey, with black chest armor. There's a wide silver strap across the chest, and very fancy silver and black boots. The visor on his helmet is painted yellow. Here we have something of a mystery man, really. Is Lars Lazer The Corps' version of Snake-Eyes, perhaps? Whatever the case, he's an immensely cool figure.

FULL PROOF - Setting aside one of two bad pun names, Full Proof looks almost as futuristic as Lars, and seems to be better protected. The entire front of his helmet is a very thick-looking visor, painted in silver. Only his lower jaw appears.

His uniform consists of thick black chest passing, atop a uniform that is otherwise dark grey, with red straps, and an olive drab belt, arm straps, and boot details.

Full proof's coloration matches the original incarnation of the figure, including the enigmatic number that all three of these were given, but which only Full Proof retains. In his case, it's the number "8", and it appears on the side of his helmet, and the front of his lower left leg.

JUSTIN CASE - Another bad pun of a name, and here is the most ordinary-looking of the three. Justin is wearing a cap with headphones, and thick silver glasses. His lower face is visible. He is wearing what appears to be a corduroy sweater, with some chest armor protection. His uniform is mostly dark green, including the cap, sweater, and trousers.

He manages to get in on the futuristic look with some odd silver components on his lower legs. Armor protection? Equipment pouches? I've never been entirely sure.

His chest padding, and some protective padding on his legs, is black.

One additional thing unifying this threesome is that they all have little silver walkie-talkies sculpted to their uniforms, just off the left shoulder on the front of their uniforms. No other Corps figures, not even Tracker Tom, have this particular detail.

One other note about the entire set -- these figures come very well accessorized. You like equipment? You've got it. Skis, ski poles, diving equipment, guns, a wide assortment of rifles, and even a mortar. It's all here, molded in a very sensible black, and ready, really, for any 3-3/4" scale figure to use.

I'm not sure what Lanard's specific purpose was with these three. If it was to create the three most impressive Corps figures of all time, they succeeded. If it was to create a particularly notable group of three Corps figures, they succeeded. If it was to create a set of three figures -- since the three-packs had certainly existed before this -- that would be especially notable and even catch the eyes of G.I. Joe collectors -- they succeeded. These three guys are great, and they certainly deserved to be included in this set.

So, what's my final word here? The Corps is not G.I. Joe. It's not Transformers. Its participation in the pop culture world of the 1980's to the modern day has been somewhat peripheral, as one might expect a "wannabee" imitator line to be. And that's what The Corps started out as -- it knew it wasn't G.I. Joe, but it was close. It was designed to be close. It was designed to be a close, inexpensive, alternative-slash-addition to a kid's collection, who just wants to "play soldier" and isn't going to be all that concerned whether he's playing with Gung-Ho and Roadblock, or John Eagle and Gasman, as long as they all play well together.

And yet -- The Corps has endured, far longer and well after every other imitator has died off. It expanded into S.T.A.R. Force, it expanded into a wide range of emergency service figure and vehicle sets -- heck, there was a Construction Corps set that featured a pick-up truck and figures dressed as everything from carpenters to painters, and they all had individual code names!

The Corps has managed to cross the line, while never entirely losing its identity as a G.I. Joe hanger-on, into something of its own. Show me another "imitator" line that can release a "Collectors Vintage Series" line this, and be justified doing it! And actually get a response about it in a number of modern-day G.I. Joe fan-based message boards!

So what IS my final word? They're not G.I. Joe. And I don't think The Corps cares if it's G.I. Joe anymore. It's The Corps, and that's good enough. These are cool figures. And THE CORPS COLLECTORS' VINTAGE SERIES 10-PACK definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!