REVIEW: G.I. JOE "DOLLAR GENERAL" SNAKE EYES
In the vicious world of entertainment, it's not unusual for a movie's release date to be bumped a week or so here or there to try to find a more agreeable slot for it -- you know, so it's not trying to go head-to-head with an obvious box office record breaker.
It's far less common for a movie to be bumped back for almost a year, but that's precisely what happened with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the live-action sequel to the first movie. Originally planned for a summer 2012 release, it was bumped all the way to spring 2013, so much at the last minute that it seemed to catch everyone by surprise -- including Hasbro and the retailers.
And as for the action figures, given the very last-minute delay in the movie's release, most retailers already had a fair amount of Retaliation merchandise in their warehouses, if not the back rooms of their stores. Hasbro basically said for the stores to go ahead and sell what they had in stock, which they did, and then G.I. Joe would essentially take a break until early 2013. As of this writing, there are no G.I. Joe figures at Target or Walmart, and Toys "R" Us mostly has leftovers.
With as much Retaliation merchandise rounded up as the collectors could expect to see for a while, this left many fans wondering -- what to do in the meantime?
Answer -- find your local Dollar General store. It seems that a very interesting and distinctive series of G.I. Joe figures has been turning up there.
Now, this isn't the first time that G.I. Joe has put in an appearance at one of these types of stores. But it is the first time that these were new figures, exclusive to this particular series! Need it be said, the fan community was enthusiastic about this.
Finding the figures has proven -- challenging. Personally, I have yet to see any locally, although the last time I checked a Dollar General, there was at least a shelf tag for them, displayed at the front of a very empty peg. But that's still more than was there the last time I checked. Fortunately, with a little help from some friends online, I've been able to gather this interesting assortment into my collection.
The series features very interesting and previously unseen modern versions of six popular G.I. Joe and Cobra characters -- Duke, Snake Eyes, Shipwreck, Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander, and a Cobra Trooper. This review will take a look at SNAKE EYES.
There's no small amount of irony to me 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, plain and simple, 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. Then Snake Eyes returned home to discover his family had been killed on the way to the airport to meet him. After that, he would 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.
So, what makes this Dollar General version of Snake Eyes so distinctive? Simply stated, it's the fact that it's based on perhaps the most unusual version of Snake Eyes from the original line.
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! A colorful Snake Eyes!? Isn't that, like, a contradiction in terms?
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.
It certainly wasn't the most colorful or intense color scheme in the line by any means, but for Snake Eyes -- well, it was sort of like walking into a comedy club and seeing Mr. Spock sitting at a corner table, grinning. He's not laughing out loud, but it's still extreme for the character. Snake Eyes' new color scheme was definitely extreme for the character.
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.
So, how's the figure? Amazing, truly amazing. Here's what amazes me. 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.
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. The visor has been painted red, and the front of the mask has been painted silver. It looks more like Snake Eyes than the 1991 version looked like Snake Eyes, and yet it just as clearly has the color scheme of the 1991 figure.
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 the source material -- well, that's impressive. Snake Eyes looks to be wearing a black, sleeveless jumpsuit, with assorted details on it, over a blue shirt, with black gloves, and blue tops to his boots. The blue is a somewhat darker color than the original 1991 figure, but it works superbly well.
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. This Snake Eyes has black armbands on his upper arms, that the original figure lacked.
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.
Ah, but I have not forgotten about the light gray vest with the equipment pouches. That is here as well, 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 create a modern-style version of an unusual classic figure using all previously-existing parts.
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 blue 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!?
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. 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, such as the all-black-uniform Cobra Trooper, that are definitely worthwhile additions to any G.I. Joe collection.
And this certainly includes Snake Eyes. Although this is certainly one of his more unusual incarnations, one which perhaps garners a somewhat mixed reaction among some fans, it's also well-established in the concept. This particular incarnation of Snake Eyes is entirely valid, and has plenty of history in the various media forms surrounding the G.I. Joe concept. I'm pleased that this figure was made, I'm glad to have him, and I believe that any collector of the modern G.I. Joe line will be delighted with him.
The "DOLLAR GENERAL" version of SNAKE EYES from G.I. JOE definitely has my highest recommendation!