REVIEW: G.I. JOE DESERT RAM CYCLE with SANDSTORM
The toy world can be a very harsh and mercurial place at times. Few toy lines, especially in the action figure world, endure for any length of time. Even among those that do, certain segments can fall by the wayside faster than one might like, due to oversupply of previous assortments, lack of interest, or because the external media upon which that segment is based has run its course before the toys themselves could be properly introduced. This can even be the case with store exclusive items.
The flip side of that coin is that sometimes, you just never know what's going to turn up where. If a toy company has existing inventory of something, they would certainly prefer that it not go to waste, even if the original retail customer is no longer interested. Even in that instance, there are outlets available.
It used to be that a frequent outlet for such merchandise was K*B Toys. Unfortunately, they no longer exist. But as a result of this, certain notable clearance department stores, such as Ross, TJMaxx, and Marshalls, have developed often very interesting toy departments. They're generally not as consistently (or neatly) stocked as a Walmart or a Target, and you never really know what you're going to find there, and I have learned the hard way that if you see something you want, you'd better grab it the second you see it, or you might as well scratch it off your shopping list for good -- but more often than not, the prices are very agreeable, and there are often some interesting surprises.
I found a Power Ranger figure at Ross that I never saw at Walmart, Target, or Toys "R" Us, where one might think I should've. I've found Star Wars sets that I had never even heard of. I've gotten DC Universe figures that never turned up anywhere else. And then there is the interesting matter of a certain assortment of G.I. Joe toys...
During the run of toys based on the live-action movie, Target carried an assortment of store exclusive items. These consisted of small vehicles, with an exclusive figure. The SNAKE Armor was reissued in black. The Cobra CLAW returned, with an Air-Viper Commando. Grand Slam showed up with an Air Assault Glider. And so forth...
But, just as an additional assortment was starting to be rumored and reported on the Internet as in the works, but not in the stores, the line came to an end. With the movie having run its course, Target, which tends to be rather merciless with its merchandise anyway, clearanced what they had, and this final assortment never turned up -- which was a shame since it looked to be the coolest of the lot.
Then, word got out that this assortment had in fact turned up, Target exclusive stickers and all -- at Ross. G.I. Joe collectors, myself included, quickly headed to their local Ross, if they had one, while those that didn't started begging favors all over cyberspace. For myself, after two days of totally striking out at my nearest Ross, I finally scored the toys, which by two days later -- you'd have never known they had ever been there. And this was from a fairly decent supply.
Among this highly impressive assortment is the vehicle and figure I will review here, the RAM MOTORCYCLE, definitely recolored for a desert environment, and its driver, a G.I. Joe named SANDSTORM. It's worth noting that I got the last one at Ross.
Before I get to the vehicle, I'd like to mention the packaging. Unlike the previous assortments of these Target exclusives, which were packaged in window boxes with the vehicle and figure on ready display, this particular assortment was packaged in a solid box, with a small window displaying the figure only, much like the G.I. Joe vehicles of the 1980's. Although, of course, these boxes bore the movie logo.
Additionally, the illustration on the front of the box was amazing. Now, I may not be the world's biggest fan of either the live-action G.I. Joe movie or the current figure format of G.I. Joe. But I like to think I know good artwork when I see it, and the artwork that has accompanied the modern G.I. Joe line starting with the movie and ever since has been nothing short of staggering. The illustration on the front of this box shows the RAM with Sandstorm charging into battle against over the dunes, kicking up dirt, with a couple of surprised Neo-Vipers in the background, on their way to a large and somewhat futuristic-looking fortress in the background. Hasbro could do worse than to consider selling lithographs of some of this stuff.
The other thing that surprised me with these items was how Hasbro managed to pack them in such relatively small boxes. Each item was encased within a smaller box inside the outer box, while the figure sort of had his own space. And each time, I thought, "They managed to squeeze a -- whatever it was, in this case, the RAM -- into THIS!?" And yep -- they had. Some assembly required to some degree, but I didn't have a problem with that.
Now, let's consider the RAM. I like to call this one the Desert RAM, since that's clearly its intended purpose, although the box just says RAM CYCLE, although there's a little notation below it that reads "Desert Battle", and if your driver's name is Sandstorm, you're not likely plowing through snowdrifts.
The RAM is just about as iconic a vehicle in the world of G.I. Joe as the VAMP or the MOBAT. No great surprise, this is because it came out in the same year as those two vehicles, which was the first year of G.I. Joe - 1982. The original RAM, which did not come with a figure of its own, represented a very low-cost means of getting SOME vehicle into the hands of the kids, to give their individual G.I. Joe figures some means of wheeled transportation, while they either saved up a bit for larger specimens such as the VAMP and MOBAT, or pleaded for them for birthday or Christmas presents.
A military motorcycle is hardly an unusual thing. Motorcycles were first invented in 1885, by German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, although if you want to nit-pick, there was actually a steam-powered motorcycle in 1868 in France, followed by an American version one year later.
When G.I. Joe first introduced the RAM, it looked more or less like a standard motorcycle, with one notable exception. It had this wedge-shaped piece on the front, in place of conventional handlebars. Although there are no visible handlebars, one has to assume that kids were supposed to "imagine" the handlebars were within this wedge-shaped piece, and position the figures accordingly. It's worth noting that in 1982, the G.I. Joe figures had not yet developed the "Swivel-Arm Battle Grip" which would have allowed them to grasp actual handlebars appropriately.
The original RAM, like all G.I. Joe vehicles that year, was molded in a military olive green. It had a squared-off seat which didn't look especially comfortable, two non-functional "Saddlepaks" on either side in the rear, a nicely detailed and realistic-looking engine, a lowering kickstand, and a sidecar of sorts which was actually a gatling gun system on a single wheel. However, this provided some impressive armaments for the RAM, as well as giving the vehicle a third, stabilizing wheel so that it could roll across a floor. On its own, without the kickstand, it couldn't even stand up on its own. The sidecar was detachable. The front wheel of the motorcycle had a small turn radius to the left and to the right.
The RAM would see a second use, as one part of a two-vehicle Sears exclusive set a couple of years later, called "Dreadnok Ground Assault", where it was joined by a recolored Cobra Stinger Jeep. Despite a rather outlandish color scheme which gave the RAM a dark red and dark blue body and green wheels that changed color in sunlight, it was nevertheless the first actual motorcycle assigned to this feared biker gang, and pretty well remained the most plausible motorcycle they'd get, certainly looking more so than the bizarre three-wheeled Dreadnok Cycle of 1987 with its raised weapons platform.
However, following this, the RAM vanished from use. The Silver Mirage was introduced in 1985, and the RAM never returned. For that matter, neither did the Silver Mirage until 1997. Motorcycles in general just didn't seem to be high on the list of vehicular priority for G.I. Joe, Cobra, or anyone else. Nevertheless, the RAM managed a certain iconic status due to its first-year introduction, and its use in both the comic book and the animated series.
With the 25th Anniversary line, the RAM returned, in a special boxed set, somewhat overhauled, as a number of classic vehicles were. That edition of the RAM maintained the color scheme of the original, but it is also that edition of the RAM which has been recolored for use as the new Desert RAM that turned up among these special sets.
The new RAM is, as one would expect, colored in tan, for its desert exploits. But that's not the only change from the original. The most obvious difference is the appearance of visible handlebars on the top. The wedge-shaped front shield is still in place, giving the new RAM the same iconic detail as the original, but G.I. Joe figures have long been able to move their arms in such a way that they are able to grasp an actual set of handlebars, so there was no reason not to include them. While the seemingly hidden handlebars on the original RAM gave it, in an odd way, a semi-futuristic look, the clearly visible and traditional-looking handlebars on the new RAM make it look just a tiny bit more plausible as an actual motorcycle.
The handlebars turn, and the front wheel turns with them, and it has a slightly greater range of turning than the original RAM. The new RAM is no larger than its predecessor, and the sculpt is very, very, very close in most respects. And yet it's also apparent that the new RAM is an entirely new sculpt. The seat is somewhat larger. The exhaust pipes connected to the engine are separate pieces, whereas they were not previously. Actual transparent plastic is used for the headlight and taillight, which is a very nice touch.
There are other details. The saddlepaks are larger, and they actually open now. The interior of the saddlepaks have a sculpted lining, making it look slightly padded. There's probably enough room in each for one M&M. Maybe two. Paint detailing is better, as well. The wheels are molded in a greenish brown, that is also used for the seat, saddlepaks, exhaust pipes, and the gatling gun on the sidecar, and then the tires are painted black. On the original RAM, tires and wheels were molded dark gray, and unpainted. The engine has been painted silver. It too was unpainted on the original.
The sidecar, like the motorcycle itself, is very similar to the original, but there are some differences. Most notably, there's a knob in the back of the sidecar, that enables the user to rotate the gatling gun. This was not possible with the original. And like the bike, the wheel is molded in the greenish brown, with the tire painted black.
Of course, any good G.I. Joe vehicle has labels, and this includes the Desert RAM. Many of them are extremely similar to the original, and pretty much go in the same place, such as ones denoting the location of an Aid Kit, a Tool Box, and a couple of Danger warnings. Most of these labels fit well where they're supposed to, but some are a little large, and you may have to get a little imaginative, as I had to with a few, especially the ones for the Saddlepaks. But you can still get them in the general vicinity.
A couple of the labels are worth particular note. On the front of the original RAM is a label with two circles, one of which has the number 36 in it, the other has a symbol which looks like a castle tower. That's been replaced by two circles, one of which has a palm tree with two crossed swords -- not inappropriate for a desert-dedicated bike -- and the other has two crossed lightning bolts.
On the side of the RAM is a sticker that is alternating red and white vertical stripes. I couldn't quite figure this one out, until I noticed that its position corresponded to a label of the American flag on the original RAM. Why this, of all markings, was not carried over to the new RAM I'll never know, and it really should have been.
Then there's a label on the sidecar which has the letters "USA" on it, but also has a circle with a very particular stylized "Z" in it. And basically, it's the same style of "Z" used by the Z Force (pronounced "Zed-Force") contingent of the European Action Force team, the counterpart to G.I. Joe. And they, indeed, had the RAM Motorcycle over there, in a slightly different color of green, and it is especially notable for coming with a very popular figure, that of Quarrel, the blonde, green-and-black uniformed recoloration of Scarlett! I personally doubt that the presence of their emblem on the Desert RAM is coincidental. I'm just wondering how many fans will pick up on it.
Then we have the driver, who goes by the name of SANDSTORM. I like the name. In the original line, it took a while for the G.I. Joe team to bring in a desert trooper. Seeing as how I have lived in a desert environment for some years before G.I. Joe came along, I always felt that my region got the short end of the stick. Oh, there were plenty of arctic toys. And then when the Joe Team did finally induct a desert trooper, in 1985, they named him -- Dusty. There was a Sandstorm in the original line, but that was the name of Dusty's coyote, when the character got a new figure in 1991.
As far as I could determine, this is the first time that an actual soldier, a human character, has been named Sandstorm, and as far as I'm concerned, it's long overdue. I don't object to the character of Dusty, and certainly he's earned his place on the G.I. Joe team, and has had some excellent adventures in both the comic book and the animated series. But "Dusty" isn't exactly a code-name that seems related to a battle-ready soldier. "Sandstorm", on the other hand -- I've seen a few mild sandstorms, and even gotten caught in a few. It's not an experience I would recommend. You don't want to mess with a sandstorm, and a soldier carrying that name, one would expect you don't want to mess with him, either.
According to the rather limited information on his file card, Sandstorm's real name is Joseph A. Benjamin. No place of birth is listed. The card describes Sandstorm as a military police officer assigned to the G.I. Joe team, who guards vehicle routes, conducts perimeter patrols, and does whatever is necessary to eliminate all threats to the people and bases he's assigned to defend.
The figure is interesting. The top half appears to be wearing a high-tech armored uniform, along the lines of the high-tech armored uniforms that the G.I. Joe team acquired during the course of the movie. This one is molded in dark brown, and the plating, somewhat mimicking human musculature, has been given some dry-brush detailing to make it look like the paint has been scraped off. Normally I dislike this sort of weathering, but on Sandstorm, it isn't inappropriate. The armor is bound to be protective on a motorcycle, but it's also going to take a beating, or perhaps a blasting, riding around in the sandy desert. It wouldn't take much to scrape the paint off.
By contrast, Sandstorm's legs are wearing traditional military trousers, light tan in color, with squared-off desert-color camouflage imprinted on it. It's a good design, and quite modern-looking. One hopes they're reasonably rugged. The uniform is completed with dark tan boots of a fairly conventional design.
Sandstorm is wearing a very impressive helmet, and it's very impressive. The piece in the front of the face is thick, and looks to be extremely protective and all covering, only allowing for a small visor around the eyes. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that it has a limited oxygen supply. If you end up in an actual sandstorm of sufficient intensity, breathing can be a real problem. The helmet is mostly a dark gold in color, with the piece in front of the face the same dark brown as the armored shirt.
Removing the helmet does little to reveal much about Sandstorm's face. He's wearing a mask that covers his entire head except for his eyes. This makes sense from a protective standpoint as well. About all that can be discerned from what can be seen is that Sandstorm is white, has dark brown eyebrows, and blue eyes. The details are superbly well painted, I must say.
Sandstorm is wearing a belt, with a non-removable pistol in a holster. The set also includes a rifle for his use. And the eagle-head emblem from the movie is imprinted on the chest of his armor, in white. Of course, the figure is nicely articulated, and also stands well. Overall, he makes an impressive, entirely new character addition to the G.I. Joe team, something I consider rather unusual for a toy originally intended as a store exclusive.
So, what's my final word? Okay -- this set is NOT going to be easily found. The assortment to which is belongs came and went at a clearance-type store that is notorious for having certain toys ONCE, and then they're gone. I have no idea what the total inventory of this assortment might have been, but word scarcely got out about these, and they vanished from the shelves.
However, as I often tend to say with these hard-to-find toys -- they exist. They're out there, they've been released to the public, if on a rather limited and unexpected basis, and that means, that they can be found. Doubtless through the "secondary market" at this point, but it shouldn't be impossible.
And this is a particularly cool set. It presents a very effective recoloration of one of the most iconic G.I. Joe vehicles there is, one which dates all the way back to the first year of the line, and which looks really great in desert colors. Furthermore, it introduces an entirely new character to the G.I. Joe team, who has a cool code-name that should've been considered for a lot more than a coyote years ago. Any G.I. Joe collector will be pleased to have this set, and it's worth the hunt, I assure you.
The G.I. JOE DESERT RAM CYCLE with SANDSTORM definitely has my highest recommendation!