Target has had an affinity for some time of offering interesting figure and vehicle playsets of Hasbro products -- although up until now, they've tended to be devoted to Star Wars.
And certainly they've offered their fair share of exclusive vehicles and the like, although these also have tended to be devoted to Star Wars, although recently, G.I. Joe got in on that aspect of toy items.
And now, G.I. Joe has also entered the world of Target-exclusive figure-and-vehicle playsets, and in a whoppingly big way, with the aptly named ULTIMATE BATTLE SET, which turned up in late 2008. This amazing set featured seven 25th-style figures, and exclusive editions of the famed Cobra Trubble Bubble Flight Pod, the legendary Cobra HISS Tank, and no less than the amazing motorized G.I. Joe MOBAT Tank itself! All of this packed into a massive package with its own built-in diorama, measuring a decidedly considerable 24" x 10" x 11". I would think that any kid finding this under the Christmas tree would've been thrilled.
The package design itself is impressive. It is essentially a gigantic window box, with a backdrop and a raised floor. The figures and vehicles are mounted within this setting, including the airborne mountings of the Flight Pod and Stalker with his JUMP Jet Pack. The G.I. Joe team appears to be facing off against Cobra across a narrow ravine. In fact, the surfaces on which they are fighting are raised so that the vehicle instructions, blueprints, labels, file cards, accessories, and battle stands can be placed into plastic bags and packaged underneath these raised surfaces. Very nicely done.
Getting the package open, removing the various items, and preserving the setting, is not an easy thing, but if you can manage it, you do end up with a nice and fairly large display setting that can be used for these or any number of other vehicles and figures.
I would like now to review each item individually, starting with the vehicles.
COBRA FLIGHT POD - Commonly known as the "Trubble Bubble", this one-man flying contraption was first introduced in 1985, and saw fairly extensive use especially in the animated series. It doesn't really look like any sort of conventional aircraft. It's basically a seat within a half-cylindrical frame, with a control stick in front, a couple of jet engines on the back, and a partial dome -- that looks more like a large clear football helmet as much as anything -- over the seating area.
The thing is armed well enough, no question there. There's a couple of gun barrels right in the control console, a longer gun at its base, and two missiles along the side. The original Flight Pod in 1985 also came with a large bomb that could be placed in the seat. The Flight Pod could then be operated remotely and sent to a target objective.
Just how plausible in real life something like the Flight Pod would be I really don't know. I'm no engineer, but I'm inclined to say "not very". Even if it were, given the open cockpit design, you'd have to be a dedicated lunatic to fly it. Granted, Cobra has no shortage of such individuals.
The original Cobra Flight Pod was off-white in color. The new one in this exclusive set is steel blue. Honestly, it's an improvement. It makes it look more Cobra-oriented, and more menacing. The Flight Pod comes fully assembled, but I remembered from 1985 that the assembly of this vehicle was not especially easy. Sure enough, while I was putting the labels on, the jets fell off, then the seat came loose -- it all goes back together perfectly well, but if you'd like to avoid a little future frustration, then take my advice on this. Get a little bit of basic glue -- it doesn't have to be anything too strong -- Put a little of it on the two pegs that hold the seat in place and reattach it. Then do the same for the jets. You'll have a more stable Flight Pod.
Some of the labels on each of the vehicles are applied in advance -- mostly on the sides of the vehicles most in evidence on display in the package -- but you're still left with most of them to attach. I've never objected to this. In fact, as a graphic artist, I rather enjoy it. The ones for the Flight Pod are fairly easy to handle, although a couple need to go in some tricky places. Regardless, the labels to all three vehicles are excellent quality, printed on clear vinyl, and look superb once fully applied.
The trickiest one is one that's already applied, and it's the Cobra emblem on the dome. This one has always been a problem, because you're not going to put a flat sticker on a curved surface and have it stay put entirely. I've found that it works a little better to remove it, carefully trim away the circular area around the Cobra emblem, and reapply it, all of which should be done with extreme caution.
One fairly new development in the world of G.I. Joe, of which I heartily approve, is the addition of file cards, not just for the characters, but for the vehicles as well! And this set includes them for the three vehicles present here. The file card for the Flight Pod reads as follows:
COBRA FLIGHT POD
Cobra Flight Pods are small, jet-propelled aircraft that can be flown by Cobra pilots or operated as unmanned reconnaissance drones. Each Cobra Flight Pod has two laser-seeking anti-tank missiles and a mini-cannon for air-to-ground assault. Nicknamed "Trouble Bubbles" by the G.I. Joe team because of the clear dome canopy, Cobra Flight Pods were used by Cobra to attack the Oktober Guard and steal a new laser weapon. In battle, they buzz around like annoying hornets before blasting targets with their powerful "stingers".
The Flight Pod is a great little vehicle, and I love the new color it's been given in this set.
COBRA HISS: Easily one of the most legendary Cobra vehicles of all time is the HISS, the HIgh-Speed Sentry tank. Entirely a distinctive design, not really resembling any sort of conventional tank at all, the forward facing canopied cockpit, the triangular treads, and the top-mounted gunner position have become a classic within the world of G.I. Joe.
There have been several HISS versions over the years, including the impressive HISS II, the somewhat peculiar STRIKE HISS, and the extremely impressive DTC HISS which was offered at the tail end of the newsculpt line, sometimes called the HISS V. While that one may be my personal favorite, there's no questioning a classic, and the original HISS is certainly that, and has seen numerous versions over the years from its first outing in 1983 as an all-black and very menacing enemy vehicle.
For the Target set, the HISS has been rendered in red, its third outing in that color. Its first such incarnation was during the original run as part of a Sears exclusive, and its second red coloration was several years ago as a store exclusive where it came with a red-colored ASP and three Crimson Guards, essentially making for a special Crimson Strike Team figure and vehicle set.
This newest version of the HISS is impressive. Its previously standard registry number of "788" has been replaced by "818", in the same large stencil type, which is a nice change of pace. Most of the other labels are unchanged from the original.
As with many tanks in the G.I. Joe line, the treads do not actually turn. They're nicely crafted and well-detailed, but the HISS actually rolls on two sets of wheels hidden underneath the treads. The top of the canopy opens to allow a driver to enter, although one does sort of wonder how he climbs up into it in the first place. The gunner station in the back rotates, and has two long-barreled guns that I would not want to be on the wrong end of.
Those looking to add to what may already be a considerable collection of HISS Tanks have something cool to look forward to with this one. And of course, the vehicle has its own file card:
COBRA H.I.S.S. TANK
HIgh Speed Sentry (H.I.S.S.) tanks are one of the Cobra organizations primary combat vehicles; these armored workhorses can move at a good assault speed and can blast the G.I. Joe team with turret-mounted cannons. Cobra HISS commanders are specially trained to use the sophisticated electronics to maximum advantage: infrared for nighttime attacks and radar for pinpoint targeting accuracy. Cobra HISS tanks have been at the front defending Cobra Island and in the Battle of Springfield, the town controlled by Cobra.
Finally, vehicle-wise, let's consider the...
MOBAT - You know, a lot of people will say that the MOBAT, scale-wise to the figures, is a pretty small tank. And they may well have a point. At slightly less than a foot in length (not counting the main gun barrel), it's not really to scale with a 3-3/4" action figure, as tanks go. Even within the G.I. Joe line, size-wise, it's been outsized by the Mauler, and certainly by the Grizzly.
But the don't come much more classic than the MOBAT. Introduced in 1982
Forget the smaller size. It LOOKS like a tank. There's no fanciness or weirdness about it. It looks -- like -- a -- tank. The sculpted detail all across its surface is amazing. This tank's detail would be considered excellent by today's standards. In 1982 it was incredible.
Furthermore, it has real working treads, and a built-in battery-operated motor. This is a battery-operated toy, and it can roll on its own. The on-off-turn switch design is amazing. The upper part of the turret is the switch. Push it forward to make the tank move forward, back to make it go backwards, and to the left or right to make the tank turn. That's some pretty darned clever engineering.
The MOBAT has put in several appearances over the years. Along with its 1982 debut, it also appeared recolored in black and red as a Cobra vehicle, the Crimson Attack Tank, as a Sears exclusive. K*B Toys would bring it back in black and red, the colors reversed from their original use for the most part, during the 2002-2006 run, as the C.A.T. II, complete with a recolored Crimson Guard Immortal. The MOBAT would also appear during the 1997-98 line, with a camouflage paint scheme.
I've always liked the MOBAT. I mean, let's face it, if you're going to come up with an action figure line that's based on soldiers, you've got to include a tank. I've always been very pleased that Hasbro included one right from the outset. And it's a very impressive tank.
For its inclusion in the Target set, the MOBAT has been molded in a very dark olive green, that I'm reasonably certain is a good bit darker than the original. Regardless, it's an excellent color.
The MOBAT has the most extensive labels of any of the three vehicles, and given the sculpted detail of the vehicle itself, the most complicated placement. Most of the labels fit in precisely where they're supposed to. I had to trim a couple of them down, but that was easy enough. As with the Flight Pod and the HISS, the labels are of excellent quality, printed on clear vinyl. Many of them are white, which is a color that prior experience has shown me can sometimes get botched a bit, but that's categorically not the case here. The fully-labeled MOBAT looks superb. This is one very cool tank.
And certainly if any vehicle ever deserved a file card, it's this one. The card for the MOBAT reads as follows:
The G.I. Joe team's unrelenting battle tanks roll over the toughest terrain. The tanks have a main turret that rotate 360 degrees, so it doesn't matter from which direction the enemy vehicles come - these tanks will find them and fire on them. With the infrared night scope, the enemy cannot hide in the darkness or the shadows. The tanks have super-traction treads for climbing over rough ground with ease, and triple-thick armor plating that can withstand heavy firepower.
And now you also know what "MOBAT" stands for -- look at the Designation.
I would have to believe that the MOBAT was one of the main selling points of this set. The fact that it was a motorized vehicle was also highlighted on the outside of the package.
Now, let's consider the figures. Although I have not been extensively collecting the current incarnation of G.I. Joe figures, they came with the set as a whole, so they're certainly worth a look. Let's start with the members of the Joe Team:
SGT. STALKER - Stalker comes wearing what could arguably be considered a fourth vehicle, insofar as when it was originally offered in 1982, it was sold as a separate item. This is the JUMP Jet Pack unit. It's attached to his back, but is removable. Unfortunately the labels for the JUMP are not included with the set, but this is somewhat compensated for in that the control panel, which clips to the wrist, has been given some painted detail, I believe for the first time ever.
Stalker is a character who goes all the way back to 1982, along with almost everyone else in this set. The uniform colors the figure has been given are a superb match for the original figure, who was the first G.I. Joe to actually have a camouflage uniform, with darker green sprayed over the lighter green base color. Stalker's headsculpt is excellent, a very nice interpretation of the character. There have been plenty of Stalker figures over the years, some better than others. This one does a nice job of emulating the original, and what many would regard as the best.
The figure has a separately-molded harness that greatly resembles the original, and has a removable pistol in a holster. A removable knife is also holstered to his upper right leg. The overall sculpted detail is excellent, especially on such things as the boots and harness, and the paint detailing is very neatly done.
Although his file card doesn't mention it, Stalker was in the same military unit as Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow in Vietnam, so he's got history with some of the most popular characters in the concept. His file card reads as follows:
Code Name: SGT. STALKER
Sgt. Stalker is one of the original members of the G.I. Joe team. Prior to enlistment, he was warlord of a large urban street gang. He is fluent in Spanish, Arabic, French, and Swahili. He graduated top of his class in Basic Combat Training and Advanced Infantry Training. His specialized training includes the US Army Language School and Intelligence School. Qualified expert: M-14 rifle, M-16 rifle, M1911A1 automatic pistol. M3A1 submachine gun, and M32 gun.
"He functions well under high stress situations. He's intelligent and perceptive, and moves like some sort of jungle cat: silent, fast, and strong."
One thing that's never been dealt with extensively in the comics is Stalker's gang history -- which as far as I'm concerned is just as well...
SHORT-FUZE - There's only one probable reason for Short-Fuze's inclusion in this set, and that's in order to get one more of the "Original 13" G.I. Joe characters into 25th-style figure form.
When G.I. Joe first started, there were thirteen core characters -- nine individuals: Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Grunt, Stalker, Flash, Zap, Short- Fuze, Rock & Roll, and Breaker, plus four who were sold with vehicles: Steeler, Clutch, Grand Slam, and Hawk. For that first year, the figures were a little less detailed overall in their designs than in later years, simply because the line was just starting out.
So you have a situation of these founding characters, most of whom, within several years, needed a bit of a makeover. Most of them got it, too, during the original run of the line.
So now we have the 25th Anniversary line and it's all-new figure format. And a lot of fans want to see the entire Original 13 remade. But, let's be fair, some of these guys are better known and more popular than others. It's no great stretch to bring in Scarlett, or Snake-Eyes, or Stalker, or Rock & Roll. Short-Fuze? Despite having a number of incarnations over the years, including a recent 12" version, he's not exactly a top-tier character, and his inclusion in this set is probably the only way he was going to happen.
Short-Fuze is the team's Mortar Soldier, and indeed he does come with a remake of his original mortar. The figure is a nicely done rendition in the new format of the original. One thing I especially appreciate is that they included his glasses. When the comic book got started, many of the first year figures had common heads. Someone, wanting to provide for a little more individuality in appearance, gave Short-Fuze glasses in the comic book. That was never carried over into the figures until the first Short-Fuze version in the comic-based three-packs of traditional- style figures, where Short-Fuze was given a new headsculpt that included sunglasses.
This Short-Fuze is wearing silver-lensed glasses, but they look good and I'm glad to see them present and accounted for. The figure's uniform is entirely the proper shade of green, the painted detail is very nicely done, and he has a pistol in a holster on his harness, and a knife in a holster on his leg. His file card reads as follows:
Code Name: SHORT-FUZE
Short-Fuze comes from a military family: his father and grandfather were both career Top Sergeants. He enjoys abstract mathematics and can actually plot artillery azimuths and triangulations in his head. He's logical and sensitive; he has a tendency to blow his stack, which accounts for his code name. Specialized Education includes Artillery School, Engineer School and Advanced Infantry Training. Qualified
"I can pinpoint targets with over ninety-five percent accuracy so that we give Cobra forces a real incentive to turn tail and run if they know what's good for them."
Interesting note about the file card is that while a lot of the file cards in this series are using the original artwork from the 1980's, Short-Fuze's illustration is new -- to account for the glasses.
STEELER - is the commander of the MOBAT Tank. Since a 25th-style version of Steeler was already released with the Armadillo Mini-Tank in general release, this version has been recolored with a tan uniform.
To be blunt, this Steeler may be the least impressive figure in the set, in my opinion. There's nothing wrong with the tan uniform -- it's just not that good of a remake of the original Steeler. The original Steeler figure in 1982 was one of the few figures from that year that had some really distinctive parts to them, including a prominent collar on his uniform, as part of a distinctive torso that also included a sidearm on his chest. The sidearm is present, as a separate harness piece, but the fancy collar is missing, and to be honest, I miss it.
The figure's not that bad, overall, I suppose. The tan is a decent color, and the figure has a knife in a leg holster and a small pistol in a holster near his right boot. And somebody's got to drive the tank, and that somebody really needs to be Steeler.
Despite the prominence of the vehicle, the character has never had that many figure versions. There was the original in 1982, an interesting European version that came along not long after, a recoloring of the original, a remake during the traditional-style comics line, and one as part of the 2007 Official Collectors' Convention set. That's not bad, really, but one would almost think that a Tank Commander would get more attention.
As I said earlier, Steeler first arrived on the scene in the 25th-style line as the driver of the remade Armadillo mini-tank. Looks like he finally got his MOBAT back. His file card reads as follows:
Code Name: Ralph "STEELER" Pulaski
Steeler comes from a blue-collar middle-class background. He put himself through college on an ROTC scholarship and by working as a heavy equipment operator. He entered Armor School at Fort Knox, graduating at the top of his class. One of the first to join the G.I. Joe Team, he has taken part in countless operations against the Cobra organization. He drives one of the G.I. Joe team's mini-tanks, pushing the vehicle to its limit as he tears his way through an onslaught of Cobra tanks with turbojet engines firing hot and cannons blazing.
"What some people call 'reckless' is me just making absolutely sure the other guy knows exactly where he stands: you lose, Cobra!"
One wonders if maybe the text of the card should have been modified to remove that "mini-tank" reference.
Let's turn our attention now to the Cobra figures offered in this set, and I suppose we'd better start with --
COBRA COMMANDER - Well, really, what do I need to say here? I hardly think I have to explain this character all that much. Founder and leader of the evil forces of Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world, and all that. Cobra Commander has generally been portrayed as a highly dangerous individual whose inability to achieve his goals stems from either -- in the animated series -- a certain incompetence or -- generally in the comic books -- the absolute dedication of the G.I. Joe team and the backstabbing tendencies of his own minions.
There have already been several versions of Cobra Commander in the 25th-style line. The one included in this set is based on Cobra Commander's most classic look, with the original uniform and the battle helmet. Interestingly, the shirt underneath the jacket, which shows just at the collar, has been colored a lighter blue, which was a hallmark of the animated series, so we have a little nod to the cartoon here.
He even comes with his legendary "Venom" laser pistol, which clips into the back of the figure, as it did with the original Cobra Commander.
The file card reads as follows:
Code Name: COBRA COMMANDER
Absolute power! Total control of the world... its people, wealth, and resources -- that's the objective of Cobra Commander. This fanatical leader rules with an iron fist. He demands total loyalty and allegiance. His main battle plan for world control relies on revolution and chaos. He personally led uprisings in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other trouble spots. Responsible for kidnapping scientists, businessmen, and military leaders, then forcing them to reveal their top-level secrets.
"Cobra Commander is hatred and evil personified. Corrupt. A man without scruples. Probably the most dangerous man alive!"
That bit about kidnapping scientists wasn't part of the original file card in 1982, but he certainly made a habit of it in the animated series...
DESTRO - I've always liked Destro. Unlike Cobra Commander, Destro had a certain level of class and honor. It's perhaps not too surprising that over the course of the comic book, he rebelled against Cobra and occasionally even helped out the Joe Team.
The figure included in this set is an interesting one. The design is clearly based on Destro's second figure appearance from the original line, from 1988, when Destro founded his own para-military organization called the Iron Grenadiers. At that point in time, he traded his original chrome silver head mask for a gold one, and most of his new uniform's trim was gold, as well.
What we have here with this figure is a figure that is based on that uniform design, but using the color scheme of the original, silver-masked Destro. The headsculpt, a capable modern rendition of the character (there were a couple of Destro heads even in the original line that were distinctly lacking) has been given silver chrome, and the shoulder detail and wrist detail have been painted a dark silver. There is also a certain amount of red on the uniform, also appropriate for the character.
Destro has a small pistol holstered to his left hip, and he's also carrying a large and rather ceremonial-looking sword. There is a lengthy sheathe attached to Destro's belt, that pretty well sticks out behind the figure quite a bit. I think he'd be hard-pressed to sit down in any of the vehicles in this set as such, and it doesn't seem removable.
One nice touch on the paint trim -- his black boots have been given a glossy finish, offsetting them just a bit from the rest of his black uniform. Overall, this is a cool-looking Destro. His file card reads as follows:
Code Name: DESTRO
Destro is the faceless power behind Military Armaments Research System, the largest manufacturer of state-of-the-art weaponry. To Destro, war is a man's most natural state - the fittest survive and the greatest technological advances are made. He maintains a luxurious lifestyle around the world. Destro provides high-tech arms to any side able to meet his price and will incite war where it does not exist. He dons his silver battle mask (a family tradition) and enters battle himself, either with Cobra Command (Destro is their major weapons supplier) or against them if it's better for business.
"I respect the G.I. Joe team for their combat skills and expertise, but I abhor that they waste those skills to maintain peace. I dedicate myself to seeing them undermined, subverted, or destroyed."
Great card, except -- "Thief"?! Come on, he doesn't have to resort to that... How'd that get in there...
HISS DRIVER - The Cobra HISS Driver -- no distinctive code name given to him -- was really the first "specialist" trooper in Cobra's legions, when he was introduced in 1983. That was the year the Cobra HISS came out, complete with driver figure. Prior to that, the only Cobra figures had been Cobra Commander, the Cobra Officer, and Cobra Trooper.
Unlike the distinctive blue uniforms of the other Cobras, the HISS Driver was outfitted in red, although he had a blue chestplate with a large silver Cobra insignia on it. He had a very distinctive and detailed helmet and mask, and ridged high boots. It was really an impressive figure for the second year of the line.
The HISS Driver made his way into the 25th Anniversary-style line, curiously enough as an individually-carded figure! But there have since been two other versions of the figure, including the one with the Target set. One was offered with the standard retail version of the HISS Tank, which presented the vehicle in its original black. Here, the HISS Driver was given a largely dark blue uniform with a red chestplate.
And then there is the HISS Driver that we have here with the Target set. He has the original red uniform, but the chestplate is silver with a red Cobra emblem on it. It's actually a pretty interesting color scheme.
The figure is otherwise a good 25th-style rendition of the original. The helmet is a decent match, with its broad silver visor, and the high ridged boots look excellent, as well. The HISS driver is wearing a pistol on a holster attached to his right upper leg. His file card reads as follows:
Code Name: Cobra HISS Driver
Cobra HISS drivers are selected from the best of the Cobra infantry forces for specialized training in how to operate these top-of-the-line armored tanks and use the vehicles' sophisticated electronics systems. They're chosen for their skills, physical strength and initiative (which means they're some of the nastiest, toughest and most aggressive troopers in the entire Cobra army). Cobra HISS drivers are graduates of Cobra Battle School and Advanced Weapons Systems Training.
"We are dedicated to destroying the G.I. Joe team and will crush them under the treads of our tanks!"
COBRA VEHICLE GUNNER - An entirely new designation for a Cobra trooper, I suppose somebody needs to man the turret while the HISS driver is driving the thing. And it would make sense for Cobra to come up with a specialized division to do just that.
The figure is really just a recolored Cobra Trooper from the 25th-style line, but he's been given an interesting dark grey uniform, not a common color for Cobra outfits, with a red Cobra emblem in the center, and some red trim on his black harness. There's a bit of red trim around his sleeve cuffs, as well, and he has a red face mask. His gloves, boots, and knee pads are black, and he comes armed with a rifle.
In one sense, the figure is a little on the ordinary-looking side. On the other hand, he is a distinctive trooper that is, to date, only available in this Target set, and that's likely to be quite a draw for dedicated collectors of the 25th-style G.I. Joe line, especially those that like to build up their Cobra ranks. Here's his file card:
Code Name: COBRA VEHICLE GUNNER
He is just one of the nameless, faceless troopers who have given their loyalty to the Cobra organization. Each Cobra Vehicle Gunner is highly skilled in the use of explosives, all NATO and Warsaw Pact small arms, sabotage, and the martial arts. Qualified expert in most pistols, rifles and submachine guns used by various military forces throughout the world.
"Cobra vehicle gunners swear absolute loyalty to their fanatical leader, Cobra Commander. Their goal: to conquer the world for their own evil purposes."
So, what's my final word here? Where were sets like this twenty years ago? Kidding aside, for any modern G.I. Joe collector, this is an amazing set. You get three popular vehicles, one of which is fully motorized, and seven impressive figures including some very prominent and popular individuals.
These sets pretty much disappeared after Christmas, but there's always alternative ways to acquire these things. And you won't be disappointed in it, I can assure you. Hasbro really put together something very impressive here. The G.I. JOE ULTIMATE BATTLE SET definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!