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By Thomas Wheeler

In 2012, a very interesting set of G.I. Joe figures turned up at the most unexpected of places -- a "discount" chain of stores known as Dollar General. Predictably, these became known as the "Dollar General Joes". Unlike some items that turn up at similar stores, which are largely previously released merchandise placed on clearance, these figures were new! They were all familiar faces -- Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Duke, Shipwreck, Cobra Commander, and a Cobra Trooper, and for the most part they all used previously existing parts, but it was their designs and color schemes that were entirely new to the modern line.

Mostly, they were based on previous incarnations from the original G.I. Joe line -- just versions that had yet to be brought into the modern line, and ones which didn't likely stand much chance otherwise. Much as the 25th Anniversary line sought to replicate the basic looks of the original characters in the new figure format, so these figures sought to do the same. Snake-Eyes was based on his unusual 1991 incarnation. Storm Shadow looked like his initial Ninja Force version. Shipwreck, amazingly, was based on his dramatically different "newsculpt" version from the 2002-2006 era. And so forth.

The timing of the figures' arrival, more or less, couldn't have been better. They pretty much came between the initial release of the "Retaliation" figures at the more usual retail outlets, which as it turned out was before the last-minute delay of the release of the movie itself, and the return of the Retaliation figures more in time with the actual release of the movie. But far more than a convenient fill-in, these were extremely capable figures in their own right.

And now, they've returned -- in all-new color schemes! These figures are massively popular and not easily acquired, but with the help of a friend of mine who has so many Dollar Generals in his area that they literally overlap each other on the average online map, I am now in possession of a set of these figures, and this review will take a look at everybody's favorite ninja commando -- SNAKE EYES!

There's no small amount of irony in my opinion in the fact that when Snake Eyes was first introduced into the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line, as part of its introductory year in 1982, he was, simply stated, intended as a money-saver. Yes, he required a distinctive headsculpt, something that not all of the figures that year had, with any number of them sharing the same head, just with different-colored hair, but the thing that set Snake Eyes apart from all the others was -- he had no paint applications whatsoever.

The original Snake Eyes figure was solid black. Black ski mask, black uniform, black accessories molded to the uniform -- just black. No painted facial details, belts, straps, hands, boots, hair, knives, hand grenades -- nothing. In 1982, G.I. Joe as a 3-3/4" army of individual specialists was an untested concept. No one was the least bit sure it would work. That's why the figures used as many common parts as they could, and why one of them saved a few bucks here and there by being completely unpainted.

As limited as the file cards were that first year, there was nothing really to set Snake Eyes apart. He was a commando, and clearly expert in a wide range of weapons and combat techniques. It was Larry Hama who took this otherwise relatively dull-looking figure, and made him into a star through the comic book. There was nothing on the file card to indicate that Snake Eyes' face underneath the mask was horribly scarred as the result of a combat accident that had also cost him his voice. Larry Hama used the anonymous look of the figure to present a character whose thoughts remained his own, and who let his very dangerous actions speak for him. Before long, he had a reputation as the most dangerous fighter on the G.I. Joe team. Even Cobra didn't particularly want to mess with him.

Later, as Storm Shadow was introduced, Snake Eyes story was expanded into what we know it to be today -- that the men who would become Snake Eyes, Stalker, and Storm Shadow served together in Southeast Asia. That Snake Eyes returned home to discover his family had been killed on the way to the airport to meet him. That he would then travel to Japan to train with Storm Shadow's family -- the Arashikage ninja clan, until tragedy drove him from there, as well, and would drive his sword brother Storm Shadow to the evil side of Cobra, at least for a time. Eventually, Snake Eyes was plucked from a hermit-like existence in the High Sierras by Stalker and Hawk, and recruited to the G.I. Joe team. On an early mission, a helicopter exploded next to the one Snake Eyes was on, catching him full in the face, disfiguring him horribly and virtually destroying his vocal cords. He has remained with the G.I. Joe team ever since, and the only time he has been heard to speak since the accident was when he spoke Scarlett's name, when he believed she was going to die.

Not bad for a character that was initially developed to save a few bucks of paint, hmm?

The number of Snake Eyes figures that have come along since then numbers literally in the dozens. The first new Snake Eyes figure came along in 1985, introducing his iconic "venetian-blind" visor. This would hardly be the last version in the original line. Snake Eyes has been a part of every incarnation of G.I. Joe since then. He was in the 1997-98 line, the 2000-2002 line, the newsculpt line of 2002-2006, the traditional-style figures that were also offered during that time, he's had a number of 12" incarnations, he had several versions in the Sigma 6 series, and of course, he's had plenty of versions in the modern line that commenced in 2007 as part of the 25th Anniversary, and it goes without saying that he's had his share of movie figures, where he was played by Ray Park, best known as Sith Lord Darth Maul, who can obviously wave a ninja sword around as well as a lightsaber.

I'm reasonably certain that Snake Eyes has had more versions over the years than any other G.I. Joe figure. There are some contenders -- Cobra Commander, Duke, and Storm Shadow -- but I think Snake Eyes is the leader of that pack. It wouldn't surprise me at all to one day see a 100th Snake Eyes figure offered, unless it's already too late for that.

The initial Dollar General figure of Snake Eyes selected what I believe is his most unusual incarnation from the original line to emulate. In 1982, Snake-Eyes was black -- period. The 1985 version of Snake Eyes threw in some dark gray trim. By this time, the character was well-established, and obviously deserved some paint on his all-new figure. The 1989 version of Snake Eyes had a bit of silver trim, mostly on the visor and a couple of crossed knives on his chest. But he was otherwise still mostly black.

Then we come to the 1991 Snake Eyes. Whoa, stop the presses. This Snake Eyes was almost -- colorful! We need to consider the time period. By 1991, G.I. Joe in general was getting more colorful. The toy market had changed, and by now was being dominated by a certain foursome of martial arts turtles. Toys in general seemed to be more colorful, and Hasbro needed to do what it could to draw attention to their product. By this time, G.I. Joe as a concept had become very well-established, and seemed to be slightly less about a relatively realistic military line, and more about a character-driven, good-vs-evil conflict of G.I. Joe vs. Cobra. Wilder, more colorful designs, while met with a mixed reaction by some traditionalists, were obviously not considered out of bounds by the designers at Hasbro, and so we got the likes of the Eco-Warriors, the Mega-Marines, and no shortage of colorful designs even within the basic lineup.

If Snake Eyes was going to be a part of this particular era of G.I. Joe, he needed to, shall we say, lighten up a bit. The 1991 Snake Eyes was still mostly black. He had black trousers, black gloves, and a black protective-looking vest. Also, most of his ever-present ski-mask was black. However, the rest of his shirt was a fairly intense blue, the front of his mask was silver, his goggles had neon-red lenses in them, his boots were partially blue, and he was wearing this pale-gray harness with assorted equipment pouches on it.

Oddly, this unusual color scheme came along at a time that resulted in it getting perhaps more media time than it otherwise would have. The second animated series from DIC definitely focused on this uniform design, usually anytime Ninja Force turned up, even though Snake Eyes was not yet officially a member of that team (and when he did join, he went back to basic black). The 12" Hall of Fame line was getting started right around this time, and obviously, Snake Eyes needed to be one of the initial figures out of the gate, and so a 12" version of this Snake Eyes was the very first 12" Snake Eyes ever produced. He even turned up in the comic book for some time in this uniform, although somebody darkened the blue a few notches.

What's remarkable is that the initial version of this Dollar General Snake Eyes actually managed to get away with the look. It did what the comic book did -- darkened the color scheme, and managed to look cool with it.

So, how's the Version 2 figure? Very impressive, and even more distinctive. As one might well expect, these "Dollar General" figures make use of existing parts. Now, I am not enough of an expert on the modern G.I. Joe line and who's used whose bodies over the course of it to know which parts comprise this Snake Eyes -- with the obvious exception of the head. What impresses me is that existing parts could be rounded up, properly colored, and assembled in such a way as to get as close to a really amazing, modern-style incarnation of an admittedly unusual version of Snake Eyes as this figure represents.

And then we have the recolored version, which just about returns Snake Eyes to his black-uniform roots, but throws in a color seldom seen on Snake Eyes -- green!

Snake Eyes' head is mostly black, with a very, very dark gray muzzle over the lower face. The visor in the goggles is green, as though Snake-Eyes has built-in night vision -- which wouldn't surprise me a bit. His torso and legs are black, but his sleeves are green! It's an interesting shade of green, as well. It's just about the same color green used by Cobra's Night-Vipers.

Well, if it works well for them, I can't see why Snake Eyes wouldn't use it. His gloves are black, and he also has black armbands. This green color also appears as the tops of his boots, and his vest-harness has been colored a darker olive green.

Now, as I said, there have been dozens of versions of Snake Eyes. I do not own them all. So I asked around a bit, among some of the G.I. Joe-based online fan communities. You address a question to enough fans of anything, and sooner or later you're going to get a decent answer. In this case, my question was whether there had been a Snake-Eyes in this color scheme before.

Some thought that, except for the lack of camouflage-colored trousers, he looked a bit like the Snake-Eyes figures that were in some of the later Toys "R" Us multi-packs that were offered during the 2002-2006 era. I have those figures, and it's a bit of a stretch, but I can almost see that. Someone else thought he had some resemblance to a Sigma 6 version of Snake-Eyes. I don't know or own that line in its entirety, so I really couldn't make that comparison. I think it's at least fair to say that this is a very distinctive and unusual version of Snake Eyes that might take some cues from a few previous editions, but not have previously existed in this exact color scheme.

The head, obviously, is Snake Eyes. It's a repainted version of the modern-style version of the original Snake Eyes. And, you know -- it works really well here.

As for the rest of the figure -- I really don't know where any of these parts came from. But for them to be combined and recolored and look this good, to look this much like a straightforward version of Snake Eyes, that's impressive.

Some of the minute details are different. The original 1991 Snake Eyes' trousers seemed to be rather tight-fitting, and didn't really have any additional accessories secured to them. This is not the case with this Snake Eyes, who has equipment pouches on both legs, with distinct straps on one, and armored-looking knee pads.

The original 1991 Snake Eyes had gauntlets of sorts on the backs of his gloves, that had a sculpted decorative symbol on them. Those are lacking here, but really, talk about a specialty part that would have had to have been made.

Ultimately, though, these are minor points, and not worth quibbling over. Given the parts used, the figure is an amazing modern-style incarnation of its unusual ancestor.

The vest is molded as a separate piece, and it is removable this time around, should you decide to do so. From the front, it looks superb. The back is a little excessive, large and rather heavily padded, but much like the other details, it's amazing to me that the fine folks at Hasbro were able to get as close as they did to initially create a modern-style version of an unusual classic figure using all previously-existing parts, and then to recolor it to look this cool.

Paintwork is minimal -- no great surprise on a figure intended for a budget outlet -- but where it exists, it is excellent. This includes the visor and front of the mask, the black detailing on the arms, and the green detailing on the boots.

Snake Eyes comes with a single accessory -- a ninja sword. Believe me, that's all he needs to make somebody's day miserable. He also comes with a display stand.

The package these figures come on do not include file cards. The package cards are common to all of the figures, and simply showcase the entire group of six on the back. Instead, there's a little insert inside the plastic bubble that denotes the individual character's name, specialty, and allegiance. Interestingly, all of the good guys are denoted by the Arashikage Clan emblem. Since when did Shipwreck become a ninja!? Or Duke!? Obviously, this is a bit of a connection to the movie, which has a certain ninja presence.

Anyway, the lack of a file card isn't really any big deal in this instance. If there's one G.I. Joe that needs no introduction, it's Snake Eyes. And for the curious, any of his several dozen file cards can be accessed online.

So, what's my final word? Obviously, these "Dollar General" figures aren't the easiest G.I. Joes in the world to find, although supposedly this recolored second assortment is supposed to receive better distribution. However, they ARE worth it. All six of them represent either modern incarnations of somewhat less-prominent versions of very well-known characters, or slightly new takes on popular characters, that are definitely worthwhile additions to any G.I. Joe collection.

And this certainly includes Snake Eyes. The first version of this particular figure represented an excellent modern take on a distinctly unusual classic version of this legendary character, and this recolored version is a superb new take on Snake Eyes, as well.

The "DOLLAR GENERAL" Version 2 edition of SNAKE EYES from G.I. JOE definitely has my highest recommendation!