REVIEW: G.I. JOE OFFICIAL COLLECTORS' CLUB DIAL-TONE FIGURE
As they have for quite a number of years now, the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club has presented its members in good standing with an exclusive 3-3/4" scale G.I. Joe action figure. In 2011, that figure was a 25th-style version of the 1986 classic Dial-Tone, one of the G.I. Joe team's prominent Communications specialists.
An unusual choice, you say? Perhaps so, to a certain degree. After all, in 2010 we finally saw an o-ring style release of Big Lob, a character from the animated 1987 movie, who had never before been released as a figure. And there have been previous luminaries, such as the Undertow, done in Iron Grenadiers colors akin to the 2005 Convention Set, the glow-in-the-dark version of the Cobra Heavy Water trooper, the first incarnation of the Jungle Viper, and others.
So why, in the midst of long overdue characters, glow-in-the-dark figures, and original troopers, did the Club decide to bring out a 25th-style version of Dial-Tone -- of all people?
From the context of the Club Membership figures, Dial-Tone does seem like a somewhat odd choice. From the context of the 25th-style, and more to the point 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe figures, it makes a very great deal of sense.
The 25th Anniversary series of G.I. Joe figures, which actually ran for better than two years, could arguably be summed up in a number of categories -- the best and the brightest, prominent characters such as Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Duke, Cobra Commander, Destro, as well as prominent troopers such as Vipers, Snow Serpents, Eels, and the like; a smattering of characters that had been previously established but hadn't received figures before, such as the Cobra Divers; and a few new faces here and there, such as the Para-Vipers and the very cool Matt Trakker. All of this along with a few boxed sets and special editions that brought in whomever could be reasonably worked out one way or the other.
For the most part, the characters brought into the 25th Anniversary line never really went much past characters introduced beyond 1986. There were a few exceptions, but not many. The early years of G.I. Joe have generally been regarded by fans as the best, especially around the 1984-1986 region, when not only was there a comic book, but the popular animated series, to really bring home the action. This was the era of the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier, the Cobra Terror-Drome, of high adventure in the animated series and military action in the comic book.
The 25th Anniversary line had just really started getting into some of the 1986 characters, with a nod to 1987 in the form of Lt. Falcon and Nemesis Immortal, and an acknowledgment of two particularly popular special teams with a handful of Tiger Force and Python Patrol characters -- when the world of G.I. Joe had to radically shift gears, and start turning out product based on the forthcoming live-action movie. Hail and farewell to the extended 25th Anniversary line. The new format of the figures would remain, but the line's concept was taken in an entirely different direction.
And that left a fair number of well-regarded 1986 characters out in the cold. Including a certain communications specialist. The Club decided to correct that.
Set your sights back to 1986. G.I. Joe has just had one of its best years ever. It's turned out a 7-1/2-foot-long aircraft carrier. It has introduced amazing new characters to the line, including the Dreadnoks, the Crimson Twins, and popular Joe Team members such as Alpine, Bazooka, and others. What's in store for 1986?
Plenty. Zartan's siblings would sign up, along with a couple of new Dreadnoks, one of which would bring the infamous Thunder Machine with him. Cobra's new infantry forces, the Vipers, would take their place in the ranks, alongside the new and dangerous Battle Android Troopers. Cobra would finally hire a full-time scientist, Dr. Mindbender, so they could finally stop kidnapping anybody who had a membership in MENSA. And let's not forget the introduction of Serpentor, the genetically-engineered Cobra Emperor!
On the G.I. Joe side of things, a new rough-and-tough Ranger would sign up, by the name of Beach-Head, along with a new Marine named Leatherneck and a new SEAL named Wet-Suit who would spend most of the year yelling at each other. The team got a new medic with Lifeline, a much-needed computer expert in Mainframe, and now General, formerly Colonel, Hawk, would return in an all-new figure format that would also allow him to finally make his way into the animated series. Just in time for Sgt. Slaughter himself to show up and whip everybody into shape!
And yeah, there was this new Communications Expert by the name of Dial-Tone. Not surprisingly, the second season of the animated series wanted to focus on these new characters as much as possible. It's not unfair to say that their characters may have actually seen more development in a shorter period of time, since the second season of the animated series was shorter than the first. The first season of the animated series did a more than capable job of giving certain characters the spotlight when the story suited them, but it wasn't always a requirement. The second season seemed to realize that the spotlight needed to shine a little more specifically, because it wasn't going to shine as long. A higher percentage of episodes seemed to be devoted to one or maybe two specific characters. The end result was a group of new recruits whom we came to know very well in a relatively short period of time.
Dial-Tone seemed like a nerd, because he still had to manage to be good enough in the military services to qualify for the G.I. Joe team, and that is no easy feat any way you look at it. But the guy's personality was still -- pretty nerdy. He had a sort of nasal quality to his voice, not quite a whine, but close. He seemed both ill at ease and ill-prepared in social situations. When reluctantly invited for a night on the town with some of the other G.I. Joes, he showed up dressed -- let's say "less than trendy". Now, I'm hardly one to talk. I wouldn't know trendy if it bit me and I doubt I'd want much to do with it whether it bit me or not, so it's not exactly my place to criticize. I'm just saying. If Roadblock hadn't taken some pity on Dial-Tone, it would've been a disaster.
Probably the only one on the Joe Team that got on their nerves more was Lifeline, who was such an avowed pacifist that he wouldn't touch a weapon even to save his own life, and who, when one of the G.I. Joes would shoot a Cobra boat into splinters, would throw life preservers to the Vipers. Okay, and there's Shipwreck, but by 1986, he was well-established for getting on everyone's nerves -- sometimes intentionally.
Dial-Tone managed to get into the spotlight a few times in a number of second season episodes, including "The Most Dangerous Thing in the World", where he, Lifeline, and Shipwreck were "promoted" to colonels (thanks to some Cobra computer hacking), putting the three least qualified-for-command team members in charge of the team; "Joes Night Out", the aforementioned night on the town, which saw the G.I. Joes visit a new nightclub which turns out to be a Cobra rocket, with the intent being to hold the rich and famous club attenders hostage in space; and most notably, "Sins of our Fathers", in which Dial-Tone, seemingly discharged from G.I. Joe, acquires new employment with a covert Cobra project, designed by Cobra Commander to raise a horrific monster from a pit in the ruins of Destro's castle.
Small wonder that a good number of collectors were rather disappointed that Dial-Tone didn't quite make it into the 25th Anniversary line. Well -- G.I. Joe Collectors' Club to the rescue!
Dial-Tone has actually had a large number of versions over the years, even just within the original-style figures. Along with his original incarnation, he was released a second time that same year as part of the Toys "R" Us exclusive "Mission Brazil" set (and Dial-Tone is also a part of the 2011 G.I. Joe Convention "Mission Brazil II" set, so he's made it twice again already!). Dial-Tone would later turn up as part of the Sonic Fighters team, receive an entirely new figure in 1994, and see his original figure version recolored multiple times over the course of the 2000-2002 line, and during the 2002-2006 era. There's no shortage of Dial-Tones out there.
It's even been revealed that Dial-Tone has a sister! A second Dial-Tone was released with a five-pack of movie-based figures. Although the continuity between the movie and the original toys and their media connections is obviously open to a lot of interpretation, Dial-Tone has made at least one reference to his sister in the comics published in the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Magazine. Whereas Dial-Tone's real name is Jack S. Morelli, his sister Dial-Tone's real name is Jill S. Morelli -- making for the most blatant multiple name pun in the G.I. Joe world since the first three Dreadnoks were named Tom Winken, Dick Blinken, and Harry Nod.
Regardless, as one would expect, the Club used the original uniform colors for the 25th-style Dial-Tone figure. In 1986, the color palette for G.I. Joe uniforms was expanding somewhat, but hadn't reached the rather garish levels that would be the hallmark of certain aspects of later years, such as the Eco-Warriors and some portions of other teams. Cobra was getting a little -- vibrant, by now, but the Joe Team was still within a fairly reasonable color realm for the most part, with the notable exception of Sci-Fi.
This included Dial-Tone. The original Dial-Tone was dressed in a pale tan shirt, black trousers, black gloves, a black beret with a silver shield on it, and a dark turquoise vest, knee pads, and boots, which was undoubtedly the most unusual aspect of his overall color scheme. He had a red insignia on his upper left sleeve. It's worth noting that most of the emblems on the sleeves of G.I. Joe team members have a real-life basis to them, the concept being that the G.I. Joes have been transferred to the Joe Team from some other, established, real-life unit of the United States Armed Forces. Dial-Tone's emblem is a shield-like shape with a horse and a lightning bolt that represnts his involvement with the Army Special Forces unit.
The original Dial-Tone had a black strap running from the right side of his belt over his left shoulder, a couple of black grenades attacked to the right side of his vest, and some silver technological-looking doo-dads attacked to his sleeve cuffs and belt, with another on his upper right leg. He had a brown belt with a silver buckle.
So, how well did the 25th-style version of Dial-Tone come in representing the original? Very effectively, I would have to say.
The headsculpt is excellent. Dial-Tone has brown hair and a thin brown mustache. These are present and accounted for, as is the black beret with the silver shield emblem on it. I would have to call Dial-Tone's facial expression determined, but maybe just a little worried-looking. This is not atypical for the character's behavior in the animated series. He always wanted to do his best, and was determined to do so, but was never sure it was enough.
The original Dial-Tone's tan shirt poked through the vest at the top, and gave clear evidence of a shirt collar, and that is present on the new figure as well. The torso has been molded in the turquoise color, and the color match is excellent. It's just enough of an offbeat color that I wonder how tricky it might have been to get it just right. They certainly did so. Dial-Tone has a tan collar, and the turquoise vest. The sleeves of his uniform are also pale tan, and the red insignia on the upper left sleeve has been duplicated perfectly. If anything, it's a little bolder and clearer than before.
Dial-Tone's trousers are black, with turquoise knee pads and boots. Differentiating from the original figure, where the knee-pads and boots were painted turquoise, they have actually been molded in that color on the new figure. Again, this isn't a common color in the current G.I. Joe line, and probably took a fair bit of matching.
There are some differences, and this is pretty much inevitable. Nor is it the fault of the Club. Figure format aside, I have yet to see a 25th-style figure that was a perfect design match for its original series counterpart. They come close, using available parts, and the results are generally very agreeable and impressive, but there are some differences.
In Dial-Tone's case, they're relatively minor. The silver electronic gadgetry around his cuffs has been replaced by just silver cuffs. Of course, technology being what it is these days, he could be concealing half a dozen "thumb drives" in there and we'd never know it.
In place of the strap that went from his right side over his left shoulder, Dial-Tone now has a separately molded strap and belt, single piece, in black, with a strap that goes over his right shoulder. The buckle is silver, as is a pouch on the left side of the belt, and so are four very nicely detailed grenades on the belt and strap. It's a nice piece, and really, close enough. As something of a compensator, Dial-Tone has a black shoulder pad on his left shoulder.
The silver whatever-it-is on the upper right leg of the original figure has been replaced by a tan pistol holster. And yes, among Dial-Tone's accessories is a pistol for the holster.
On the whole, the 25th-style Dial-Tone figure is easily as capable a modern rendition of the original figure as any other 25th Anniversary figure I've encountered, and I would be very prepared to say that it's better than a lot of them that I've seen. It does an excellent job of capturing both the essence and the likeness of the character in the modern figure format. Clearly a lot of time and attention went into making sure that this Dial-Tone was as faith as possible to the original.
My only criticisms are very minor ones. The neck is a little short. Dial-Tone looks a bit like he's hunching his shoulders for some reason. And the skin tone is surprisingly dark. I realize that not all G.I. Joe figures have the relatively pale shade of the originals anymore, and that skin tones can and often are all over the map, and maybe it's the pale tan of the shirt adding to the effect, but Dial-Tone does look like he could use a little sunscreen. But these are minor issues. The figure is well-designed, well-assembled, and well-painted. I have no significant problems with it whatsoever.
Let's consider the accessories momentarily. Along with the aforementioned pistol for the holster, Dial-Tone also comes with a display stand, a rifle, and an excellent remake of his original communications backpack. This was certainly one of the most distinctive pieces of hardware ever given to a G.I. Joe figure. While Dial-Tone himself might not have been as radical in appearance as Joe Team members that would appear in later years -- or one of his contemporaries (see previous mention of Sci-Fi), his backpack was another matter entirely. Having a curved, sort of "high-tech teardrop" shape to it, this bizarre piece of gear had plenty of detail sculpted into it, ending in a series of concentric circles that resembled some sort of massive speaker that looked powerful enough to emit a racket that would send Cobra running for cover on any battlefield -- along with dogs, cats, and any wildlife in a two-mile radius. It also featured a fold-down microphone that was one of the few "headset" type microphones (although it was attached to the backpack) that looked large enough to not immediately get lost in the carpet should it become detached from its source.
As with Dial-Tone himself, this backpack has been meticulously brought back for this figure, and the Club has done a really outstanding job with it. It fits well into the peg hole on Dial-Tone's back, although you might have to push the strap aside just a little to get it in firmly enough. The microphone unit swings down effectively, but it can detach, do do be careful with it. The backpack and the microphone are certainly singular pieces.
And Dial-Tone comes with a full file card! Here is where I would especially like to commend the Club. Ever since the 2009 movie, G.I. Joe file cards just haven't been what they used to be. Roughly the side of trading cards, they feature a large head shot of the given character or trooper (in fairness, the artwork is usually very excellent), followed by a few brief lines of basic data amidst assorted emblems and other decorative material. There just isn't room on these things to present much information!
The Club has steadfastly maintained the original file card format for all figures appearing in Convention Sets and elsewhere, and I sincerely hope that they continue to do so. Reading about the full backstory of these characters is a big part of the fun of G.I. Joe, in my opinion. Dial-Tone's file card reads as follows:
Dial-Tone built his own crystal set when he was ten years old. By thirteen, he was part of a CB network, and had his own ham station by the time he was sixteen. Dial-Tone made all his own equipment, buying parts with the money he earned bagging groceries. He saw the army as a means to furthering his education in his chosen field, and quickly found that instead of a stepping stone, it was a goal in itself. Operating a radio in the field wasn't just passing time - it was a job with a purpose.
He is an expert electronics repairmen and holds the U.S. Army record for setting up a mobile satellite transmitter under battlefield conditions in less than three minutes. Not content with just bouncing messages off a tactical multi-channel communications satellite halfway around the globe, Dial-Tone prefers to be in the middle of the action. Unfortunately, Cobra has made him a primary target for capture and the G.I. Joe team must rescue him before it's too late.
"Whether calling for assistance or requesting an air strike, I always deliver loud and clear!"
That last line about Dial-Tone being captured is likely a holdover from the 2011 Convention storyline, where Dial-Tone was captured in Brazil by Cobra forces in the region, including Steel Cobra and Python Patrol. It's worth mentioning that while the other version of Dial-Tone was part of the Convention Set, this version was available on a card at the Convention.
And I wonder how many people today even know what a crystal set, a CB radio, or a ham radio even are any more!?
So, what's my final word? This is an abundantly cool and impressive figure. It accomplishes the objective that it is supposed to have -- it joins the rest of the 25th Anniversary collection by being a very effective 25th-style rendition of the classic, original version of the character and figure. And certainly, I believe that Dial-Tone deserved the distinction! Any G.I. Joe collector would be most pleased to add this figure to their collection!
The OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CLUB edition of DIAL-TONE definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation.