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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 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, and possessed of some of the most ugly headsculpts I have ever seen.

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 (which admittedly was introduced towards the tale end of the "ugly-mug" series), 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!

While the twelve members of the four three-man Corps teams -- TERRA TEAM, SEA SQUAD, FLYING FORCE, and COVERT COMMAND, were all available in "3-Man Recon" sets, this has proven not to be the case with the enemy group, known as the MARAUDERS. Instead, these figures were released in a series of two-packs, each with a Corps member, in a series of figure sets called "Rival Face-Off".

Now, admittedly, this means that you're going to get an extra Corps figure if you've picked up the Corps teams in their three-pack form and still want the enemy Marauders, but with a price tag of under two dollars for one of these "Rival Face-Off" two-packs, how much of a financial burden is that? You're still getting the three Marauder figures for about six dollars. That's just about, if not slightly less, than the average price tag of a single 3-3/4" action figure from quite a few different toy lines, including G.I. Joe, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, WWE -- what's to complain about? I customize the extras and stockpile their weapons. :)

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 -- especially since they stopped making headsculpts that looked like horror movie rejects -- or victims.

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 consider these MARAUDERS. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that the Corps has actually had a named enemy. It's conceivable that over the many years and variations of the line, some of its characters have intended to be bad guys. There was a character one time whose origin placed him in East Germany, and he didn't look entirely pleasant. There was another character who looked like he was wearing leather and chains who could've been a Dreadnok reject. But I don't believe there's ever been an actual organized enemy.

"Marauders" isn't a bad name. A little generic perhaps, but what can we say about "The Corps", as far as that goes? Each of the individual teams within the Corps for this new storyline has a separate and distinct logo, and of course, so do the Marauders. There's is a black "M" with a border of white on a field of red, with a black snake coiled around a green globe beneath the "M". A snake, huh? Wonder who's funding them...?

Their uniform color scheme also strongly emphasizes the color red. Here, I don't think they're trying to imitate anything from any established line. They're not trying to be Crimson Guards or Red Shadows here. It's just a color choice that (a) looks reasonably menacing, (2) looks reasonably different from any established military or pseudo-military organization, and (3) looks distinctly different from any of the colors used by the Corps teams.

The Marauders are described on the package as simply "Arch-Enemies of the Corps", and their grid block on the generally fascinating and impressive package design on the back of the card is distinctly separate from the four linked Corps teams. Unfortunately, we're rather sorely lacking in any significant biographical detail other than code names and real names. I think it's safe to assume that based on their logo alone, the objective of the Marauders is global conquest. As to their personalities, we'll have to simply speculate a bit. Let's consider them individually, shall we?

While no distinct leader of this group is denoted, it wouldn't surprise me if their leader is the character known as RAVAGE, given a real name of ARTURO ZORIN. I don't know why, but there's something about the name "Arturo Zorin" that strikes me as the world-conquering type. Don't get me started on his code-name. There's a reason you don't see that little "TM" symbol after the character names here, and the Marauders are prime examples.

The headsculpt for Ravage is excellent. He looks a little older than the other two characters, and a little saner. Looks like the type that could keep the other two organized, as well as the rest of the Marauders organization, however large we're supposed to assume it might be. He has well-defined, somewhat angular features, and rather long, dark grey hair, as if it started out black and has started to show some signs of age -- or stress. Hey, running a world-conquering organization can't be easy. Why do you think Cobra Commander stays masked? And look at Emperor Palpatine! He didn't exactly age well.

Ravage is dressed in an outfit that exemplifies the level of detail that Lanard is able to put in their figures. The suit looks like a very heavy coat with a ridiculously high collar, and thick trousers. Color it white and it would probably be an effective arctic suit, and perhaps it has seen previous use as such. It is heavily ridged, as if made from some sort of thick corduroy. The uniform is red, with patches of darker red camouflage on the front. There's also some lighter red camouflage, but it's so close a match to the red of the plastic itself that it only really shows in certain light.

The uniform has a grey harness on the front, and black gloves, boots, and knee pads. The very high collar, and as such, the mounting point for the head, actually make Ravage distinctly taller than his teammates. Ravage stands a good 4-1/4" in height. One of his teammates is an even four inches, and the other one, while almost approaching 4-1/4", needs the help of a large helmet to do it. The two do not quite stare each other eye to eye.

I'm sure it's the uniform, but Ravage comes across as looking powerfully built. Probably depends on how thick we're supposed to believe that uniform is. Either way, he doesn't look like someone you'd want to mess with.

Next up we have VULTURE, whose real name is VICTOR ROKAV. This is obviously the flight specialist for the Marauders, between the name and the uniform. He's dressed in a flight suit. Now, admittedly, this flight suit is identical in every way except color scheme to one used by one of the members of Flying Force on the Corps side. But before you criticize, think of all the really "big name" toy lines that have swapped parts around. Okay? It's really a very common practice, and given that the making of molds is the single most expensive part of toy production, one can hardly blame Lanard for doing so.

Vulture actually uses one of the previous Corps headsculpts. At least for one of the bad guys, it works. No one expects the bad guys to look especially good. It's a decent headsculpt, and frankly not as ugly as some of the ones from the same batch. The overall detail work is excellent, if perhaps not quite to the same level as the newer headsculpts incorporated in this line.

Vulture is dressed in a flight suit that is almost entirely red. The sleeves and trousers are a slightly darker shade of red than the vest, and the arms and legs also have black camouflage stripes on them. The one odd point to the uniform, and I made this same point when I reviewed Flying Force, is the presence of two protrusions on the shoulders that look as through they're designed to have something hooked onto them. This could easily be used as the basis for a working parachute set, but my investigations have turned up no evidence that Lanard has ever done a working parachute set for its Corps figures. Perhaps something was in the works here and didn't quite make it, but the figure molds were used.

Vulture has a grey helmet that is molded to the head,with black goggles with red lenses. His gloves and boots are black, as is his belt and two straps on the vest.

Finally, we have PLAGUE, a charming code-name for anyone to use. His real name is SIMON CRILL. Arguably the most basic of the three figures, Plague does have a new headsculpt, that if I may make a G.I. Joe comparison, makes the figure look a little like Mercer -- assuming Mercer were a little more nasty and nuts than he already is. There's a really evil smirk on this figure's face. Actually, it's somewhere between a scowl and a smirk. If Lanard starts reusing these headsculpts a few years down the road, I don't see much way they could make this one into one of the good guys.

Lanard has dome something interesting with both Plague and Ravage that I think was intended -- and succeeds -- in making them look nastier. It's not uncommon for an action figure to have a line painted over the eyes, representing eyelashes. It's extremely unusual for an action figure to have a line painted under the eyes, but both Ravage and Plague do. It gives them a more sinister look, making their eyes look more deepset. Ravage, at least, has a relatively sane expression on his face despite this. Plague -- he looks like he's running through a list in his head of ways to do you bodily harm that will be the most amusing to him.

The figure uses a set of what I would call "reasonably military" body molds that have turned up on some of the other figures in this series, but as with Vulture, it's the color scheme that makes it, even though Plague has the least amount of red on him of the three. His vest is red, with a copper-colored ammo belt and a couple of cylindrical grenades attacked. His sleeves are grey, with brown gloves, and his trousers are grey with black camouflage stripes on them, and dark brown boots. Some additional red can be found on the large holster on his upper right leg, and the equipment pouch on his upper left.

And as it turns out, Plague is a little more distinctive than I thought. I checked the twelve Corps members, and although the same leg molds have seen use among them, the torso is unique to Plague. I didn't think that ammo belt looked especially familiar.

Although there are no individual character profiles, there is a general overview for The Corps concept on the back of the package, 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."

So, it's a little vague. And it doesn't really say anything specific about the Marauders. Let the kids who get these toys use their imaginations to fill in the blanks.

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 this enemy force in the MARAUDERS. It's really something that's long overdue.

The Corps will never be G.I. Joe, nor are the Marauders even close to Cobra. I don't think it will ever 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.

The package back has the tag line "Enlist Them All!", and certainly that would be my recommendation, even if in the case of the Marauders there is no distinct "3-Man Recon" set for them, and they will need to be purchased individually in the "Rival Face-Off" two-packs. It's still worth it, especially at the bargain price.

Lastly, it was recently announced that Devil's Due Publications will be producing an all-new comic book, the first ever, based on THE CORPS! While the specifics of the lead Corps characters are still being worked out, it has been stated the the comic book will feature these three villains - PLAGUE, RAVAGE, and VULTURE!