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By Thomas Wheeler

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is true, then G.I. Joe - A Real American Hero was abundantly flattered during the course of its original run. Any number of 3-3/4", pseudo-military action figure lines, many of them using the identical construction parameters, came along over the years.

Easily the best known of these has been THE CORPS! Produced by a global company called Lanard, these inexpensive, but still nicely made action figures, while not quite reaching collector levels, still have enjoyed a great deal of popularity over the years. The Corps has been known for same-as-Joe construction, some interesting characters, and some truly impressive vehicles.

When G.I. Joe altered its design format in 2002, The Corps followed suit. Personally, I thought this was a horrific mistake. Given the mixed reaction that the "newsculpt" G.I. Joe line received, I've always felt it would've made more sense for The Corps to have continued making figures in the style of the original Real American Hero. But this is not what happened, and honestly, I lost interest. Recent additions to The Corps have looked to me to be rather odd in their color schemes, along with ugly headsculpts.

But now, in 2008, there's a whole new series of The Corps coming out, and I have to admit, Lanard's got a pretty impressive idea going here. Along with a dramatic new logo, the new CORPS has been divided into four distinct teams of three members each, each named special team with a distinct specialty, and for the first time ever as far as I can tell, there's a three-man ENEMY force!

The enemy characters, known as the MARAUDERS, were released in a series of two-packs, each with a Corps member, in a series of figure sets called "Rival Face-Off". A lot of fans were wondering, since the package backs included listings for all twelve CORPS members, as well as the three Marauders, how Lanard was going to get all of these characters out without seriously overpacking the enemies.

The answer to this has come along in a new series of THREE-packs, entitled simply, "3-MAN RECON". However, each three-man set distinctly represents one of the four CORPS teams. To date, there does not seem to be a 3-Man Recon set for the Marauders. However, I will review those figures as a group in another review at another time.

Since Lanard has been so considerate as to provide distinct three-packs for all four of their new CORPS teams, each three-pack retailing for $3.97 which includes three figures, a load of accessories, and a small one-man vehicle -- I thought that the best and most logical way to review these sets would be to take them as distinct team sets.

I will deal with the MARAUDERS another time. This review will focus on the four CORPS 3-Man Recon teams, which are SEA SQUAD, TERRA TEAM, FLYING FORCE, and COVERT COMMAND.

The basic structure of CORPS figures these days is such that, really, it can't quite be fairly compared to any previous or current format of G.I. Joe. It takes some cues from the traditional-style and newsculpt G.I. Joes, but isn't really that identical to either one, and since the G.I. Joe figures on the shelves these days are the 25th Anniversary style, which bear almost no structural resemblance to the current CORPS figures, I think it's fair to say that The Corps has established its own "structural identity", and while I might like to see their "similar-to- traditional-G.I. Joe" format back someday, in and of itself, the current Corps design isn't a bad one.

The figures stand just very slightly over 4" in height. They are molded from a plastic that has a certain amount of flexibility, distinctly setting them apart from their ancestors and the original G.I. Joes. Their articulation includes head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, waist, legs, and knees. The only real detrimental area to the design is that the legs are in a "T-crotch" design, allowing them to move forward and backward, bot not outward. Some figures are very slightly preposed with their legs slightly outward, but not severely.

The new headsculpts are truly superb. Well-designed, nice-looking, very well-detailed and very well-painted, right down in some cases to whites of the eyes and even different colors for the eyes themselves and the outline "eyelashes" around the eyes. The sculpts look very human, nothing exaggerated or extreme, and honestly, I'd put them up against any headsculpt in a similar size range from any number of lines as far as overall quality of design and attention to detail is concerned. That's not to malign any other action figure line. Lanard has just done that good and that impressive a job this time around.

Now, let's start with SEA SQUAD. As their name implies, and as the package describes, they are a "Specialized Sea Combat Unit"

Lanard has come up with a very cool package design this time around, which uses six-sided shapes in an interlocked pattern to denote the members of the four CORPS teams, and a separate diagram for the Marauders. Each team has its own distinctive logo. Sea Squad's is a circle with alternating waves at the base, and two triangular lines near the top, tapering into a red diamond.

First among its members is a character named SPARKS. Need it be said that Lanard doesn't always fully trademark their character names, some of which step on a few toes. Some of the characters in this series of Corps would probably tick off both Hasbro and Marvel Comics. We have Fixer, Ravage, Vulture -- you figure it out.

Anyway, Sparks' real name is SEAN O'BRIAN. The Corps toys don't really provide major file card details for their characters, so I can't really tell you much about his personality. One might assume from his code name -- along with the fact that he's wearing a pair of headphones and mike (presumably waterproof), that he's a radio engineer of some sort.

The figure has a superb headsculpt, wearing a dark blue knit cap, the aforementioned headphones and mike, and he has brown hair and eyebrows, and blue eyes.

Spark's body features an upper torso that is molded very smoothly, as if it is a protective vest of some sort, to which an oxygen tank and a breather mask are molded to the front. One interesting thing about some of the current Corps figures is that a certain amount of texturing has been molded to them, as if to simulate the texture of fabric. Sparks' chest does not have this. The torso is the same dark blue and turquoise as the cap. His legs are a slightly darker color, with black shoes. The figure has black sleeves, with lighter turquoise fingerless gloves, which match, colorwise, a holster on his left leg. I think it's fair to say what we have here is a diving radio specialist. Interesting combo.

Next in the group is GILLS, a cool if not unpredictable name for a member of a Corps team calling itself Sea Squad. Gills' real name is CARLOS PEREZ. As to what he looks like -- that's a heck of a good question. Gills is one of very few figures in this new Corps series to use a previously-sculpted head. Fortunately, it's not one of the ugly ones, but it is an all-covering one that doesn't reveal any facial details. It's a diving helmet with goggles over the face, and a thick breathing hose in place. Whatever else you can say about this guy, you can certainly say that he's well protected for any dive.

As one might expect, the rest of his uniform is a diving suit, and a very nicely designed one. Gills looks rather thin compared to his teammates, but I believe the intention here was to create a figure that looked like he was wearing a fairly tight-fitting diving suit, and in that, Lanard has succeeded.

Gills is wearing a turquoise diving suit, with black gloves and boots, a brown harness over his chest, some silver detailing on some of the equipment, and black goggles with yellow lenses, the most notable color detailing on the entire figure.

Overall, Gills is a superb rendition of a generally believable diving figure, ready for combat. Lanard should be especially proud of this one.

Finally, we have RIP, real name MARCUS DUNDEE. This figure has one of the new headsculpts, and it's an impressive one. The face is highly detailed, with somewhat bony ridges in the cheeks, making Rip seem perhaps just a little bit older than his peers. His hair is somewhat upswept, and sort of looks like a long crewcut. He's not trying to be Guile from Street Fighter or anything, but it's an interesting hairstyle. Rip has blonde hair, with brown eyebrows and blue eyes. The painted level of detail on these faces (those that show, anyway, no offense to Gills) is really very impressive.

Technically, Rip uses the same body mold as Sparks, although the color scheme is so different I almost didn't catch it. And I'm generally not easily fooled. Rip's uniform is molded in an extremely dark green, almost black. There is lighter blue-green camouflage imprinted on his arms and legs. The oxygen tank and breather mask on his chest have been painted light brown, as is the leg holster. His shoes and gloves (not fingerless in this case) are black.

I think the intention with Rip was to create a character that looked like a Navy SEAL, to some fair degree, and Lanard has done a very impressive job with this. Of all the figures, Rip looks to be the most ready for action, and probably the most dangerous member of the Sea Squad team.

The Sea Squad set comes with a nice assortment of accessories -- two large pistols and two very large rifles. The rifles are distinctly different from one another.

There is also a small vehicle, described on the package as an "Aquatic Sub-Diver". This is a small, one man underwater sled, with handles on the front for the figure to grip, and a large fan-like propeller in the back. There is a directional vane within the propeller that can be turned from side to side. This vehicle is nicely painted, and is primarily dark blue, with turquoise trim, and some silver detailing.

Next up, let's have a look at TERRA TEAM. As their name implies, and as the package describes, they are a "Specialized Land Assault Unit"

The logo for Terra Team looks like the circular crosshairs of a weapons sight, with a mountain in the middle of it. Either one of these guys has some incredible range and precision on his weapon, has a distinct overestimation of its capabilities, or is carrying around something that's gotta be against the Geneva Convention if it can take out an entire mountain...

First up on the Terra Team is ALEX BRODY, presumably no relation to the Brody family of the "Jaws" movies, although if he is, one can hardly blame him for wanting to be associated with Terra Team and not Sea Squad. His code name is RUCKER. The head sculpt is excellent. A well defined face with a black crewcut, fairly thick eyebrows, and nicely painted eyes with green irises. It's really a testament to Lanard's capabilities, the amount of detail put into these figures' faces, both in the sculpting and painted detail, that they are as impressive as they are, especially given the price point. I've seen product that cost five times as much from better known toy companies that didn't look this good. And clearly there's no reason it shouldn't.

Rucker is wearing a thick-looking, tan, long-sleeved shirt with black gloves. The shirt has a brown harness and belt molded to it. He has dark green trousers with some darker green camouflage sprayed on it, with brown boots and a large brown holster on his right side with a gun handle protruding rather prominently from it.

His overall uniform coloration certainly suits him well to a group called Terra Team, and he's a very cool Corps figure.

For "cool" in a more literal sense, however, we need to turn to the next member of the Corps' Terra Team. This would be a fellow named ICE. In keeping with the not-necessarily-American origins of the team members, Ice's real name is LUKAS JORGEN. You almost can't say that name without throwing some sort of Nordic accent into it. For that matter, the illustration of the character on the back of the package shows him with a pick ax and other mountaineering equipment, with the snow-capped top of a mountain in the background. Gee, wonder what his specialty might be?

He certainly looks the part. Again, we have a superbly detailed headsculpt with this character, with grey hair, although I don't think this is intended to necessarily be indicative of age, and a grey beard and partial mustache. He also has blue eyes.

Ice is outfitted with a thick, ridged and textured sweater that I think is really supposed to be a jacket. There is a length of rope sculpted to him, slung over one shoulder. A green equipment belt slung over the other shoulder includes what is no doubt vital equipment for someone whose specialty is poking around in mountains - a communications device. The green belt tapers down to the left leg, to which is molded a green holster and pistol handle.

Ice's trousers are tan, in keeping with the Terra Team color scheme, and his boots and knee pads are brown. Ice is easily one of the most distinctive figures in the entire new Corps assembly, with his white jacket-sweater and grey hair. Definitely an impressive figure.

Finally for Terra Team, we have a Corps member named CRASH. Right, sure, and the picture of the guy on the back of the package card shows him riding a motorcycle. That's smart. Crash's real name is ZANDER BAPTISTE. Sounds vaguely French to me...

The first thing you notice about Crash, though, is not his name, but his appearance. This guy looks so much like Clutch from the G.I. Joe Team that it's spooky. I'm almost surprised it's not illegal. Crash has black hair, more or less a thick-looking crewcut, along with black eyebrows, mustache, and beard. He's also the only one of the three not to have a distinct iris color in his eyes. They're just painted black, too.

Crash is wearing a green shirt and green trousers, with a tan belt and harness, and darker green details on the harness including grenades and a knife. Theres a tan holster attached to his right upper leg, and a pouch on his left upper leg that is painted tan. His boots and gloves are brown. The shirt is short-sleeved. In a somewhat odd move to me, it looks like his lower arms were molded in the color of the gloves, and the arms above the gloves were painted in flesh tone.

The overall uniform detailing on all three of the figures is excellent. Neat sculpting, and quite extensive. Stitching on the harnesses and belts, some texturing on the uniform "clothing" in some areas, snaps, buttons, buckles where they should be, the woven texture of Ice's rope is nicely done. Granted the uniforms are somewhat lightly painted. Doubtless it is here where Lanard saves a little money. But they still look very cool and most impressive.

The accessories include three good-sized and nicely detailed rifles, molded in black. There is also a small vehicles included with the set. For Terra Team, this is a motorcycle. The package calls it an "All-Terrain Cycle", and it does seem to be designed along those lines. It's a fairly common item that's appeared in Corps sets for years. In fact it has a 2000 copyright date on it. But it's still a nice design and well made. The wheels roll, the spokes are nicely sculpted as are the other details on the bike, and it has a good color scheme for Terran Team -- mostly green with some tan camouflage on it. One can pretty well imagine Rucker and Ice begging Crash to try to bring the bike back from his mission in one piece...

Now, let's consider FLYING FORCE. As their name indicates, and as the package also states, they are a "Specialized Air Assault Unit"

For Flying Force, their logo is shield-shaped, blue in color, with a darker blue triangular shape in the middle of it, with a white lightning bolt in the middle of that, and two white wings out to the side. It's really quite an impressive insignia, and certainly appropriate for a team calling itself Flying Force.

First up for Flying Force we have EAGLE EYE, whose real name is ELLIOTT REAVER. Eagle Eye is a good name for an air specialist, if a little cliche, perhaps. Eagle Eye's headsculpt is also just a little cliche in my opinion. Don't get me wrong. It's an excellent headsculpt. But there's something about the determined expression with that hint of a grin that tends to makes me think of the heroic flyboys of any number of World War II-type films, that proclaimed their prowess as they took off into the sky to go shoot down some Nazis or whatever. Still, one can't argue the amount of detail that Lanard has put into this latest series of headsculpts. It really is excellent, both from the sculpting and painting aspects. I've seen worse from more prominent toy companies that should easily be capable of just as good as this. Some of them should get the names of whoever Lanard hired to do these and give them some more work.

Eagle Eye also has a pair of headphones and a mike extension sculpted to his head.

The primary color of Flying Force uniforms is blue. Eagle Eye is outfitted in a light blue shirt and dark blue trousers. His gloves and boots are black. There is some dark gold detailing on his uniform, including a harness and knee-pads, and some dark silver detailing on him as well, including what I think is a row of small grenades across his chest, and a holster on his upper right leg, and a pouch on his upper left.

The uniform itself has a certain textured quality to it, something that Lanard has incorporated into a number of their more recent Corps figures. It's an interesting feature, and a nice touch in my opinion.

Eagle Eye is a pretty impressive Corps figure, all things considered.

Next up we have CONDOR, and in keeping with the fact that the Corps is considered an international team, his real name is IVAN LUSHKA. Yeah, that's about as American as borscht. I wish I could tell you what his face looks like, but this is one of the very few figures in this newest Corps concept who's wearing an all-covering headpiece, in this case a helmet, that totally conceals his face.

Honestly, the helmet is so large in appearance that Condor here looks more than a little like a blue version of Wild Weasel, the famed Cobra pilot from G.I. Joe.

However, it's a very nicely designed helmet, mostly dark grey in color, with a silver visor, blue details, and a black face mask. Condor actually uses more shades of blue than either of his teammates. His vest is a very dark blue, with several light blue straps on it. The sleeves of his uniform are the same shade of light blue, while his trousers are more of a medium blue. His gloves and boots are the same dark grey as his helmet.

There's even some orange detailing on him, including what I believe is an oxygen hose on his vest, and some straps on his legs.

One curious thing about Condor's design are the two -- I'm not sure what you'd call them -- attachment holes protruding from his shoulders. From a toy standpoint, they look very much as though they're designed to have a small parachute attached to them. I honestly couldn't recall any previous Corps set that had working parachutes, but I also had to admit to myself that I hadn't paid a lot of attention to the line since the format switch. However, I did a little asking around, and no one else could recall a Corps set with a working parachute either. So I'm going to assume that these attachment holes either have had no prior functional purpose (and the molds have seen at least one previous use), or maybe somewhere along the way Lanard planned a working parachute set and the idea (please excuse the moderate pun here) fell through.

Overall the detailing on Condor is definitely above average. Sculpted straps, uniform segments, all designed to make him look as though he's wearing a very authentic flight suit -- colors perhaps notwithstanding. There's even a protective grid-like pattern to the back of his vest. Someone, whoever was responsible for sculpting this particular figure, really got very meticulous with him, and the end result is really superb. Condor would be a winner of a figure just sold on his own, even outside of a three-pack, just for the detail level. It's also one of the more distinctive uniforms. While some of the other Corps figures can swap parts, and certainly do, I think Condor's would be difficult to swap to anybody in the current concept.

Finally we have a character named JUMP -- rather ironic name since it looks like Condor's better suited for a parachute. His real name is BILLY JOHNSON. The illustration on the back of his package, and for that matter the way the figure's hair is sculpted, makes me think that Billy was supposed to be African-American, but his skin isn't any darker than Eagle Eye's, who clearly isn't. Oddly, though, although both Eagle Eye and Jump have the same color skin, it's a slightly darker shade than that of the members of the other Corps Teams, at least those whose faces we can see. So -- draw your own conclusions on that.

Jump has a nicely detailed headsculpt, with a distinct grin on his face. Between his code name and his positioning on his package illustration, I think it's fair to say he's the team's paratrooper specialist. How anyone could do this with a grin on their face is beyond me. Then again, I think you'd have to be a little bit nuts to jump out of a perfectly good airplane to begin with.

There's a pair of giggles sculpted to Jump's head, blue with orange lenses. Jump's uniform is mostly dark blue with light blue camouflage, an interesting and likely effective combination, but he's wearing a tan vest, as well. There's a black harness and belt with several pouches sculpted over the vest, and Jump's gloves, boots, and a pouch on his upper right leg are also black.

Once again we have a figure with excellent sculpted uniform details, including visible stitching, nicely designed knee pads, and much more.

Accessories for Flying Force include two small pistols, and two large machine guns.

Of course, Flying Force comes with a small vehicle, as do all the 3-Man Recon teams. For Flying Force, it's what the package calls a "Mach Storm Glider". I'd call it a mechanized-looking hang glider, but it's a nice design and well made. It has a wingspan of about 6-1/2", and is blue in color. There are two braces on the underside into which a figure can fit, and a control handle that pivots down for the figure to hang on to. Two large machine guns to the side provide the flyer with some weaponry. Obviously the glider doesn't actually fly, but I'm sure any kid's decent imagination can fill in the blanks on that one.

Finally, let's get into COVERT COMMAND. As their name suggests, and as the package describes, they are a "Specialized Deep Cover Unit"

For Covert Command, their insignia is an interesting one. It's a tilted green rectangle with the silhouette of a star in it. Sort of like you're seeing the shadow of the star on the green rectangle without seeing the actual star itself. Fitting enough for a team calling itself Covert Command, and an impressive bit of artwork in and of itself.

First off, let's start with the Covert Command member calling himself GHOST. His real name, in keeping with the generally international flavor of The Corps, is HIRO NOMURA. Lanard has done a really good job of crating a headsculpt for this figure that manages to look reasonably Japanese without looking cliche. And Lanard has done a really, extremely impressive job with all of the new headsculpts in their current Corps concept. I've seen far lesser work from far more prominent toy companies.

If I have one little gripe about Ghost, it's his hair. Somehow, the mop on his head looks just a little too trendy for its own good. Maybe it's the addition of the mustache and tiny little patch of a goatee. Maybe it's that barest hint of a cocky grin on one side. But this guy looks like someone who every once in a great while might be late for a mission because he's spending too much time with his hair gel.

Fortunately, some of his hair is covered up by a burgundy headband with an impressive array of assorted green-tinted lenses.

As one might expect, Covert Command's uniform colors are dark. Ghost's shirt is a dark grey, and has the textured look of a sweater. There is a dark orange strap over one shoulder, with black-painted accessories attached to it, and a tan length of rope slung over the other shoulder. There is a dark orange holster on his upper left leg.

Ghost's gloves are the same burgundy color as his headband, and his trousers and boots are black, with grey knee-pads. There's a little scar underneath his right eye, and Ghost isn't the only one to have a scar on his face in Covert Command. This is either some sort of weird initiation for the team, or this bunch is managing to get into some nasty scrapes for a team that's supposed to be covert. The idea is NOT to get caught snooping around!

Overall, though, hairstyle notwithstanding. Ghost is a cool figure.

Next we have a character named FIXER, whose real name is GERARD RAINER. Now, sometimes I think there's a reason we don't always see the little "TM" after character names in The Corps, and I think here's one of the reasons. There's a character in the Marvel Comics Universe who's also named Fixer, and if that isn't coincidence enough, Covert Command's Fixer looks a lot like him, facially. Marvel's Fixer is bald, and has been known to have a slight beard at times. Covert Command's Fixer is bald, and has a slight beard. At least they didn't make his real name P. Norbert Ebersol, or Lanard would've really had a problem on their hands.

As it is, I think we can let one action figure who arguably is no threat to any of Marvel Comics' toy efforts whatsoever slide on by, but it was still worth commenting.

Fixer looks like the type of guy who probably builds and repairs the advanced equipment a team like Covert Command would use, but doesn't actually go out into the field with them. This despite a nasty scar underneath his left eye. What sort of mishaps are these guys getting into?! Fixer has a headpiece with a single telescopic lens on it, painted green. The level of detail on these headsculpts is really impressive. Fixer's uniform is a medium, grey, with black camouflage. It is short-sleeved, and he is wearing a harness and belt that are bright green. This all adds to my theory that Fixer is not a field operative. He also has a bright green holster on his upper right leg, and a green pouch on his upper left. Two grenades and a knife on his chest are painted silver.

Whatever his actual function on the team, Fixer is yet another cool addition to the current crop of Corps figures.

Finally we have a character named SHADOW, who's real name is HUGO ORTIZ. And it is difficult to get around the notion that Shadow came into being based on some theory that "Every para-military group needs a Snake-Eyes." This guy is downright scary-looking, there's little question in my mind that Shadow is probably one very effective covert operative, with maybe a bit of a mean streak in him. Even the package illustration of him on the back is a bit creepy, with part of his face -- what you can see of it to begin with -- concealed in shadow.

Most of Shadow's head is covered by a pullover face mask, with a ridged area near the mouth. His eyes are exposed, but one of these is covered by one of a series of lenses he is wearing on a headpiece. The lenses are painted green. The one eye that does show has a brown iris, and is wide open. And frankly looks just a little crazed if you ask me. I've been saying all along that Lanard has done a really good job with these headsculpts, both in the sculpted detailing and in the painting. Shadow is no exception. The head is molded in black, the small area of face that shows is painted in flesh tone, and the white of the eyes, the "eyelashes" in black, and then this brown center iris (as well as a brown eyebrow). Throw in the burgundy headpiece and the green lenses, and that's a lot of paint steps! And then to make him look as mean as he does -- like I said, that's impressive.

Shadow's uniform is -- surprise -- black. However, it is very well designed, nicely detailed, and textured in some areas. He does have some colored detail on him, including a burgundy harness with some light green something or others in the center. Small grenades, maybe? Also the holster on one leg and the pouch on the other hand been painted burgundy.

Still, there's no doubt in my mind that Shadow here is very good at his job, entirely belongs on the Corps' Covert Command, and is somebody you definitely don't want to have as your enemy.

The accessories for the team include three large rifles -- one might assume they have silencers.

There is also a vehicle with the pack, of course. In this case, it is a motorcycle, described on the package as a "Stealth Cycle". It's a common design that has popped up in many Lanard Corps products for years, but it's a very nicely designed motorcycle nevertheless. It rolls well and looks cool, and is well-suited to the Corps. This particular edition of it has a mostly grey body with black camouflage.

Although there are no individual character profiles for any of these characters, there is a general overview for The Corps on the back of the packages, which reads, "In a time of confusion, a fearful world requires men of honor and courage to step forward; heroes whose mettle has been tested and whose skills have been honed. From around the world they step forward, the best of the best, and take up the mantle of THE CORPS! An ever-ready team devoted to protecting every person, every country; our world."

On the whole, I am very impressed with this new direction, and well-organized team divisioning for THE CORPS. I think it's an excellent overall concept, and I think Lanard has done a superb job with it. I am also impressed with the introduction of an enemy force.

The Corps will never be G.I. Joe, nor is it ever likely to be ranked up there with the highly collectible, easily recognized action figure lines of all time. However, it's still a very capable, well-done, and generally well-made and well-thought-out action figure line. Lanard should be proud of it, and this latest incarnation comes across extremely well.

This current CORPS line-up of 3-MAN RECON Sets. including SEA SQUAD, TERRA TEAM, FLYING FORCE, and COVERT COMMAND, definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!