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REVIEW:
G.I. JOE 8" TOYS "R" US EXCLUSIVE LAND, SEA, & AIR THREE-PACK
By Thomas Wheeler


It was confirmed at the 2007 G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention that the 8" series of G.I. Joe figures was being brought to a close. Well, for a line that is unfortunately on its way out the door, it's certainly managing to have some interesting and impressive last-minute product additions! Case in point -- The Toys "R" Us exclusive "Land, Sea, and Air" three- pack, technically an addition to the "more military than usual" Combat Squad series of 8" G.I. Joes.

Clearly a lot of work went into this set, even from the standpoint of packaging. Hasbro designed a very cool logo for this set, which appears on the top and back of the box. Looking very military, it shows a mountain range in the backgrounf, an eagle and an anchor in the foreground, thus covering all three environments. The eagle and anchor are in gold, as is the curved, bold, stenciled lettering across the logo which reads, "LAND SEA AIR". Very nicely done.

The three figures are packed in individual compartments within the box, each with his own backdrop. Backblast, the land specialist, has a backdrop of rough mountain terrain. Deep Six, the sea specialist, has a backdrop of deep water. And Barrel Roll, the air specialist, has a backdrop of clouds in the blue sky.

The back of the box is a photograph showing all three figures against a single background that manages to incorporate all of the environments. Backblast is standing on a rock outcropping near some trees, while Deep Six is coming ashore from a nearby body of water, and Barrel Roll is gliding through the sky.

Let's consider them individually, shall we?

BACKBLAST - G.I. JOE LAND ASSAULT

The name Backblast dates back to 1989 in the G.I. Joe universe. Backblast was introduced as an Anti-Aircraft specialist, and was a fairly military looking character for the time period, dressed in a black T-shirt and green trousers. He was released again in 1993, recolored somewhat, but still an impressive figure, and still fairly military in appearance in a time when many collectors felt that the G.I. Joe Team wasn't especially military anymore.

The new 8" Backblast, although bearing little facial or uniform resemblance to his smaller predecessor, manages to live up to both a reasonably military appearance, as well as a Land Assault Specialist.

All of the figures in this set are recolors and reconstructions of one sort or another. I do not have a problem with this as long as the end result is interesting, and this set as a whole certainly qualifies. Backblast uses the distinctly larger body structure favored by both Heavy Duty and Grand Slam. This makes sense from a specialist standpoint. You don't want to be too heavy if you're going to be flying around on a winged jet pack. Similarly, if you're going to be swimming underwater most of the time, it helps if you're rather sleek of physique. But a Land Assault Specialist? It probably actually helps if you're above average in size. You can plow through obstacles that an air or sea specialist isn't likely to encounter that much easier.

Backblast uses the head of Grand Slam, the upper body that was used by both Grand Slam and Heavy Duty, and the legs of Heavy Duty, which on Heavy Duty, were covered by fabric trousers, but which still were designed to feature the protective, strength-enhancing "Sigma Suit" of the line's early "Sigma Six" days.

Technically, this is NOT a Sigma Six figure. Backblast is supposed to be part of the Combat Squad. But what we have here is an interesting blend of military "reality" and the fantasy of the Sigma Suit. If a real-life Sigma Suit were designed, and given a more military color scheme than the black-with-individual-color-trim that most of the Sigma Suits were known for, then it would probably look a lot like this.

Backblast's uniform is mostly a very military olive green, with medium brown trim. It's not quite a camouflage pattern, but it uses the right colors. His gloves are brown with grey trim. The shoulder pads are also grey. His boots are black with grey trim, as is his left wrist-band, which includes the Sigma Six communicator. There was no real way to eliminate that. Besides, I always thought it was cool, and there's no reason to assume that its usage would be restricted to the Sigma Six Team.

Backblast's helmet is grey with green trim and a transparent green visor. In order to differentiate the character from Grand Slam, the hair was painted blonde. This is not in keeping with the 3-3/4" Backblast, but really, I don't think there's a need for that close a connection in this instance.

The end result is a figure that stands nearly 9-1/2" in height, in a line that is scaled to 8" for a "typical adult", and is very powerfully built. In other words, this isn't someone you want to mess with. And between the enormous size and the high-tech uniform, Backblast looks ready to take on any terrain the planet can throw at him. And if that isn't enough, he comes with some serious hardware. The 8" G.I. Joe line has always made amazing accessories, and this three-pack is no exception.

Backblast comes with a good-sized rifle, a tripod, and a contraption that looks like a high-tech rocket launcher, and indeed, it is spring- loaded and can fire a missile.

There aren't extensive character profiles for the figures on any of the Combat Squad items, but there is a bit of background. For Backblast, it reads:

G.I. JOE LAND ASSAULT

Code Name: BACKBLAST

Expertise: Land Combat

Special Training: Wilderness Tracking

Weapons Proficiency: Thunder Cannon, Pistol

Tactics: Following the enemy without being seen

Background: Scouts inside enemy territory.

In any case, what we have here in Backblast is an extremely impressive and large addition to the 8" G.I. Joe Collection.

DEEP SIX - G.I. JOE SEA ASSAULT

The character Deep Six was first introduced into the G.I. Joe line in 1984, sold with the SHARC, a so-called "Flying Submarine" (a name which it reportedly garnered during product testing by Hasbro when kids mistook it for an aircraft rather than a sub). The original Deep Six may go down in history as the least articulated G.I. Joe figure of all time. Technically designed as a diving toy that could either sink to the bottom of the bathtub or some other moderate body of water, and rise back to the surface, it had a solid body with weighted feet. It could move its arms. It had a nicely detailed head, but this was trapped underneath a helmet.

A highly impressive -- and more articulated -- Deep Six emerged in 1989, designated as a Deep Sea Diver. This figure was recolored for in rather bright colors in 1993, but not inappropriately for deep sea work. This Deep Six was a mail-order offering.

The body used for the 8" Deep Six is probably one of the most-used body molds in the entire 8" G.I. Joe line. It's seen previous use as Sea Ops Duke, Wet-Suit, and Lt. Torpedo. What's amazing is that Hasbro can keep coming up with enough color schemes for this garb to make it look individualistic enough for each character, and certainly no one's going to argue that Wet-Suit and Torpedo certainly have their own undersea legacies.

Of the three figures in this set, Deep Six looks the most -- Sigma-ized. But this is due as much to the color scheme of his outfit as anything, and not anything intentional on the part of Hasbro. And, for that matter, black and yellow is not an uncommon color scheme for a diving suit. It's just that Hasbro followed the sculpted pattern of the uniform design, which admittedly was initially created as a Sigma Suit. What else were they supposed to do?

Fortunately, the end result is extremely impressive. Deep Suit looks like he'd be just as dangerous underwater as Backblast would be on land. The uniform is predominantly black, with yellow-orange trim along the sides of the body, arms, and legs. The helmet is mostly yellow-orange, as is the undersea jet-pack vehicle which also acts as his air tanks. His swim fins are mostly black with yellow-orange trim along the sides.

The head underneath the mask is that of Long Range, not exactly a personal favorite of mine. I never really liked the excessive, and frankly uneven, Elvis-esque sideburns on this particular headsculpt. Fortunately in this instance, there is a simple solution -- just leave the helmet in place.

Deep Six has an approximate height of just short of 8-1/2", which is just about right for this line. I would describe him as having an average build, not to skinny, not too muscular, not really exaggerated. If there's a "standard" in the 8" G.I. Joe world, this is probably it.

The left wrist does have the Sigma Six communicator device, and for that matter so does Barrel Roll, but as I said, there really wasn't any way around that, and there's no reason to assume that G.I. Joes outside the Sigma Six team wouldn't use the same equipment. An advanced communication device can be a lifesaver.

Deep Six's backpack does double-duty as an undersea jet sled. As an oxygen tank, it's a fairly large device that seems to bear a couple of reserve tanks, although they're light enough so that the figure can stand up on his own even carrying all of this back-weight. Two air hoses very authentically attach from the pack to the breathing gear attached to the helmet.

Deep Six's profile reads as follows:

G.I. JOE SEA ASSAULT

Code Name: DEEP SIX

Expertise: Ocean Combat

Special Training: Deep Sea Diving

Weapons Proficiency: Sea Vehicle, Knife

Tactics: Launching underwater attacks

Background: Patrols enemy waters.

Nice to see the reference to "Deep Sea Diving" there. It is a particular specialty of the character. Now let's consider the final entry in this three pack:

BARREL ROLL - G.I. JOE AIR ASSAULT

Unlike Deep Six and Backblast, Barrel Roll has no history in the original line. He's a more recently developed character, first introduced in the newsculpt line which ran from 2002-2006. However, an interesting backstory was created for the character, which certainly went a little further than average for most G.I. Joe characters, especially those in that time period.

Barrel Roll is part of a -- shall we say dysfunctional family? His brother, known as Blackout, works for Cobra, and their sister, known as Bombstrike, was a G.I. Joe agent who went missing for a time, before finally turning up as an action figure during the newsculpt run, but even then, her file card indicated that her status was uncertain.

Unfortunately, not a whole lot has been done with this potentially very interesting story. While not exactly on the same level as the Snake-Eyes/ Storm Shadow saga, there was a fair amount to work with, and while the comic book has brought it up from time to time, it's never given it any specific, individual focus to a prominent degree.

Barrel Roll, it's worth mentioning, is named for a Hasbro employee named Dwight Stall, who worked on the G.I. Joe line. Whether he has an evil brother or missing sister I honestly do not know.

It actually took me a while to figure out precisely whose body had been used for Barrel Roll here. Initially I thought it might've been Hi-Tech. Then I wondered if it might've been a body used on a figure that I simply didn't have. I have not been a completist with the 8" G.I. Joe line. I really don't need that many versions of Duke, or Snake-Eyes, or Storm Shadow.

Finally, the jagged shoulder pads gave it away. Barrel Roll's body was originally that of Firefly, the Sigma Six version of the figure. But the details, especially around the lower legs, have been repainted in such a different pattern that I didn't catch on. Add to the fact that the color scheme is vastly different -- Firefly's uniform was black with red trim, whereas Barrel Roll's is light grey with quite differently-placed black trim, and -- well, it's nice to know that Hasbro can change the color schemes enough to fool even me sometimes. The fact that Barrel Roll lacks Firefly's very prominent (and separate) knee and elbow pads was doubtless also a factor.

So then, of course, I had to get fooled by the headsculpt. You know the old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?" Well, shame on me. I pulled the helmet off, and I thought the head was from Gung-Ho. It certainly looked like Gung-Ho. Brown hair, handlebar mustache. Nope. It wasn't Gung-Ho. It was a Duke head with brown hair instead of blonde, and a mustache painted on.

It's a nice head sculpt, but honestly, it does look a little TOO much like the 8" Gung-Ho head, even if it isn't. And given how distinctive Gung-Ho looks, this is another case where the helmet is probably best left in place.

Of course, if Barrel Roll is going to be an "Air Assault" specialist, he's going to need some way to get into the sky. And brother, does he ever have it. The figure comes wearing a huge jet pack, with these two huge, flip-out wings.

The level of sculpted and painted detailing on this jet pack is astounding. Even taking into consideration the high level of attention paid to accessories in the 8" G.I. Joe line, this is really above and beyond. There is painted detail even on very small features, the wings have sculpted panel lines and rivets, as well as two huge fanblade engines in them (they do not turn), and three removable missiles on each wing (which are easily lost -- please be careful with them). The wings are not spring loaded per se, but they do raise outward and retract back down with the use of a switch on the back of the pack.

Honestly, as tough as it was to identify the figure parts used, I have no idea where this jet pack came from. I have to assume it was used on a figure that I do not have in my collection. It's certainly not Kamakura's Airglide contraption. I seem to recall that there was a very hard to find Jet Wings Duke or something along a similar name, that I recall seeing only in passing a couple of times, and which I didn't add to my collection. That's the only figure that comes to mind that might have previously used this jet pack.

Whatever the case, it works astoundingly well on Barrel Roll, and the end result is a very impressive addition to the three-pack. His profile reads as follows:

G.I. JOE AIR ASSAULT

Code Name: BARREL ROLL

Expertise: Air attacks

Special Training: Parachute jumps

Weapons Proficiency: Jet Backpack, Machine Gun

Tactics: Jumping into battle from high altitudes

Background: Covers ground troops from air.

Let me conclude by making a few additional review comments about all three figures. First off -- good luck getting them out of their packages. They are each harnessed into a plastic freamework that is attached to their respective backdrop. You will have to detach the plastic framework from the cardboard backdrop first. And even then, getting some of them loose will not be easy. I had to cut the plastic framework holding Barrel Roll and his Jet Pack down into many small plastic scraps before he was finally free, and it's a mystery to me how they packaged him like that in the first place. I recommend allowing yourself a fair amount of time, several pairs of scissors of varying degrees of sturdiness and fineness, and a lexicon of assorted vulgarities.

All three figures have the "KUNG-FU GRIP" feature on their right hands. A variation on the original Kung-Fu Grip from the 1970's, the new edition features a spring mounted in the hand that allow the fingers, as a group, to spring out and back, allowing the figure to get a decent grip on his weapon. This cannot have been easy on Backblast, whose hands are formed like the spiked "energy gloves" that Heavy Duty originally wore, pre-Kung-Fu-Grip. But they still did a good job with it.

All three figures also have the 8" "non-Sigma" G.I. Joe emblem on their uniforms and metal dogtags. This consists of a series of three short stripes ending in three angled stars. Basically it's the tail end of the modern G.I. Joe logo.

Now, admittedly, a three-pack of 8" G.I. Joes is not going to seem inexpensive. And some of you may be asking yourselves, "Why would I want to pay that for a set of repaints?" Well, because frankly, they're three extremely impressive and well-outfitted figures that manage to rise above their "repaint" status very effectively. They are all new characters within the 8" universe -- Backblast, Deep Six, and Barrel Roll have never previously appeared in the line -- but I realize that's not necessarily reason enough.

Bottom line? Regardless of whether they've been brought together from previously existing parts, they've been brought together so well, that I wish ALL repaints came across this effectively, and they're a worthy addition to anyone's 8" G.I. Joe collection.

If you've enjoyed any aspect of the 8" G.I. Joe -- Sigma Six, Combat Squad, Adventure Team, whatever -- then you will definitely want to give very serious consideration to the LAND, SEA, AND AIR three-pack featuring BACKBLAST, DEEP SIX, and BARREL ROLL! It receives my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation!