REVIEW: HALO REACH WALGREENS EXCLUSIVE WHITE JFO SPARTAN
When McFarlane Toys acquired the rights to produce action figures based on the popular video game series HALO, one of the things that was a prominent feature of the line was an astonishing number of store exclusives, including to some stores that weren't really known for having store exclusives – or even significant toy departments.
One can readily understand exclusives to places like Toys "R" Us, Walmart, and so forth. But GameStop? Spencer Gifts? There were even international exclusives, which pretty well drove collectors more than a little crazy. If Master Chief had owned a dog, he probably would've been exclusive to Petsmart.
That level of exclusives has tended to let up – a bit, anyway, but I was recently made aware of an exclusive figure that once again turned up at a somewhat unusual location. It's a white-armored JFO Spartan from Halo Reach, and the figure is exclusive to – Walgreens?
Walgreens is a pharmacy. Now, admittedly, they're the largest pharmacy chain in the United States, with, according to available information, 8300 outlets in all fifty states and Puerto Rico. They were founded in 1901, and are headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois.
But they're still a pharmacy. And pharmacies aren't generally known for really spectacular toy departments, let alone exclusive merchandise. Now, in fairness, I have to say that Walgreens – at least the ones in my immediate area – have above-average toy departments – for pharmacies.
I've actually fared rather well at them from time to time. Although their prices are higher than one would tend to encounter at, say, Walmart or Target, sometimes one does find something worth picking up. I found my G.I. Joe figures of Sci-Fi, Lifeline, and Airtight at Walgreens, well before I ever saw them anywhere else. I have acquired occasional Transformers and Ben 10 figures there as well.
But none of these items were exclusive to Walgreens, and Walgreens is still a pharmacy, and their toy department is still very limited. It's about a third to half of one side of an aisle in any given store, and is pretty well split between boys toys, girls toys, and a certain amount of preschool merchandise. The boys toys area generally consists of some action figures and die-cast cars, and maybe some role-playing card games.
One thing I hadn't seen at Walgreens were Halo action figures. The only Halo items I'd seen at Walgreens, and it was hardly every Walgreens, for that matter, were Halo Mega Bloks sets. And those aren't made by McFarlane.
Fortunately, I had plenty of places to check. With 8300 locations in all fifty states, that's a lot of locations. There's at least half a dozen Walgreens stores within relatively easy access on my side of town alone. I have no idea how many Walgreens total are in this city, but if it's anything less than twenty I'd be surprised.
It took a while for me to find this figure. In fact, it wasn't until I visited the sixth Walgreens that I even saw evidence of Walgreens carrying Halo action figures, and I was about ready to chalk it up to "urban legend", despite the reliability of the information source. But finally, there they were, and there was the white JFO Spartan from Halo Reach.
I relate all this to say, the figure does exist, he is marked as an exclusive, with that little "e", on the back of his package card, and he is at Walgreens. Just not ALL Walgreens by any measure. So if you're a Halo fan and you want this figure, it might take some serious traveling around to quite a few pharmacies, but you should eventually be able to find him.
The JFO Spartan is from the game, Halo Reach. Let's take a brief look at the history and story of this particular entry in the Halo video games.
The game takes place in the year 2552, where humanity is locked in a war with the alien Covenant. Players control Noble Six, a member of an elite supersoldier squad, during the battle for the human world of Reach.
Humans, under the auspices of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), have been waging a long war against a collective of alien races known as the Covenant. By the events of Reach, almost all of humanity's interstellar colonies have fallen. Reach itself is an Earthlike colony that serves as the UNSC's main military hub. The colony is home to over 700 million civilians in addition to the military presence. The game follows the actions of "Noble Team", a UNSC special operations unit composed of elite supersoldiers known as Spartans.
Noble Team, dispatched to discover why a communications relay has gone offline, discovers Covenant forces on Reach. Soon after, the team defends "Sword Base", an Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) installation, from a Covenant vessel. The team meets Catherine Halsey, a scientist and the mastermind behind the Spartan program and their MJOLNIR powered armor. Halsey informs Noble Team that the Covenant forces at the relay were searching for important information.
Jun and Six are dispatched on a covert mission to assess the Covenant's strength and discover an invasion force. The following morning, Noble Team leads UNSC forces in assaulting a Covenant ground base. When a massive Covenant super-carrier joins the fight, Jorge and Six take part in a plan to destroy the carrier using a makeshift bomb. The Spartans use starfighters to infiltrate a smaller Covenant ship, prepare the bomb and set the ship on a docking course with the carrier. The bomb's timer malfunctions, so Jorge stays behind and sacrifices himself to destroy the carrier. Moments later, huge numbers of Covenant ships arrive at Reach and begin a full-scale invasion.
Six returns to the surface and travels to the city of New Alexandria. The Spartan aids the local military in fighting the Covenant and evacuating the city, reuniting with Noble Team along the way. They retreat to an underground bunker when the Covenant begin to "glass" the city, but Kat is killed by a Covenant sniper before they reach it. Recalled to Sword Base, Noble Team is guided underground to an ancient artifact that Halsey believes is key to winning the war against the Covenant. Six, Carter and Emile are entrusted with transporting the artificial intelligence Cortana, and the information she carries concerning the artifact, to the UNSC ship Pillar of Autumn. Jun leaves the team to escort Halsey to another base.
En route to the Autumn's dry dock, Carter is critically wounded. He rams his ship into a Covenant mobile assault platform, allowing Six and Emile to safely reach the shipyard. Emile uses a railgun emplacement to defend the Autumn while Six fights through Covenant ground forces to get Cortana to Captain Jacob Keyes. When Emile is slain by Elites, Six remains behind to control the gun, ensuring the Autumn's escape. The Autumn flees from Reach and discovers a Halo ringworld, sparking the events of Halo: Combat Evolved.
The post-credits scene puts the player in control of Six's last stand against overwhelming Covenant forces. After sustaining heavy damage, Six drops his or her shattered helmet and is overwhelmed, which leads to his or her death. Years later, Six's helmet remains on the grassy plains of a now-restored Reach. A narration by Halsey eulogizes Noble Team, who ultimately enabled humanity's victory over the Covenant.
Granted, this sounds a tad depressing, but since this is a prequel game, technically speaking, Noble Team ultimately cannot win. All they can really hope to do is accomplish their specific missions and inflict as much damage on the Covenant as possible.
So, where does an unnamed JFO Spartan come into play? Well, Noble Team are hardly the only operatives on the planet. I've been impressed with the game's ability – and McFarlane Toys' – to bring in a wide range of assorted specialized, if unnamed Spartan type troopers into the game that had not previously been established in any other Halo game.
Now, there have been Spartans with various abbreviations before. EOD, CQB, and any number of others, and most of these do have legitimate military counterparts. So one might ask, what does JFO stand for?
Fortunately, a Wiki-type Web Site devoted to Halo, as well as some research into what the real-life military counterparts of this particular military specialty do, reveal the answers.
The MJOLNIR/JFO armor variant is a type of MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor. It was designed and tested by the UNSC at Beweglichkeitsrüstungsysteme on Earth.
JFO stands for Joint Fires Observer, a United States military designation for troops who coordinate fire support from land-based artillery and naval gun formations, as well as close air support.
The JFO Armor System was produced by the same company that made the CQB variant, and has a similar visor configuration: the visor goes over both eyes and stretches down from the nose towards the chin, leaving the cheeks covered. Some have pointed out that this is similar to ancient Greek Corinthian helmets and the helmets used by Clone Troopers in Star Wars. A resemblance to Iron Man has also been cited.
A military artillery observer or spotter is responsible for directing artillery and mortar fire, as well as close air support (ground attack by aircraft) and naval artillery support, for any mission supporting ground maneuver elements. Because artillery is an indirect fire weapon system, the guns are rarely in line-of-sight of their target, often located miles away. The observer serves as the eyes of the gunners, calling in target locations and adjustments to the Fire Direction Center (FDC) via radio or, (less commonly) landline and electronic means. The FDC then translates the observer's orders into firing solutions for the battery's cannons. Artillery observers are often deployed with combat arms maneuver units, typically infantry companies or armored squadrons.
On land, artillery observers are considered high-priority targets by enemy forces, as they control a great amount of firepower, are within visual range of the enemy, and are often located deep within enemy territory. The artillery observer must be skilled not only in fire direction, but also in stealth and, if necessary, combat in self-defense.
So, with all of that, how's the toy? Extremely impressive. As with most Halo Spartan armors within any given game, the figure uses a largely common body armor, with the helmet and shoulder armor, as well as the chestplate, being what sets one specialty type of Spartan apart from another.
The JFO Spartan stands about 5-3/8" in height. It's an unusual scale, not really compatible with anybody else. It's certainly far too large for anybody in the 4" scale, such as G.I. Joe, Star Wars, or Marvel and it's distinctly too short for anyone in the 6" or so scale, such as DC Universe or Masters of the Universe. Halo pretty well has this mid-range to themselves.
McFarlane Toys has crafted an excellent overall figure with these Spartans, and has really done an excellent job with the license since they've had it. When the Halo Reach line began, they significantly reworked the figures, slightly altered the scale for reasons unknown, but at the same time, dealt with a few bugs that had been occasionally problematic with earlier Halo figures, including some rather fragile areas, especially the wrists, and an overly-complex and quirky leg articulation.
The JFO Spartan, like his compatriots, is a very solid and sturdy figure. Although perhaps more intended for collectors than for kids, I tend to be of the opinion that, unlike some other collector-oriented action figures, the JFO Spartan would withstand a fair amount of play.
Sculpted detail, on both the armor and the black undersuit, which has limited armor of its own, is excellent. Very precise detailing, from the panels and little gizmos attached to the armor, to the turtleneck portion of the undersuit, are all in ready evidence.
Painted detail is similarly impressive. Admittedly, the figure has a rather battleworn look to him. There's a lot of scuffs and scrapes on the armor. Normally, I don't like this sort of thing. But in fairness, by the time of the events of Halo Reach, the battle has been raging for some time, and I doubt that any Spartans have had much of an opportunity to break out a polishing and touch up kit.
The armor is, shall we say, a very dirty white. There's a silver square in an indentation on the top of the helmet, a black patch over the visor, and some red striping on the sides. A black UNSC emblem is visible on the chestplate, and there are little specks of light blue on the entirety of the armor, that I've always taken to be indicative of small lights. Most of these have been neatly painted, but a few show some sign of being rather obviously painted by hand.
There are some additional imprinted details, including some red and yellow triangles, and some yellow and black striping on the feet. The knees have rather distinct red patches on them.
So, what sets the JFO Spartan apart? Well, there's the helmet, of course. One thing I noticed right off was that the visor was silver. This is somewhat unusual. Most Spartan helmets in my experience tend to have gold visors. Although I have to say that on the white armor, the silver visor looks pretty cool.
The comments from the online description that the helmet looks like Iron Man, or Star Wars Clone Troopers, is in my estimation something of a stretch. The visor, which starts out wide near the eyes and tapers in somewhat as it reaches the chin, may have a very slight approximation to that of the Clone Troopers, but it is far wider than the relatively narrow T-shape of the average Clone Trooper helmet.
Iron Man – hmmm. Again, I think this is a bit of a stretch. The visor, while it might be similar to the shape of Iron Man's visor from the movie, completely lacks the eyeslits and visible mouth associated with the Armored Avenger, and the rest of the helmet isn't terribly similar. Of course, there was another Halo figure a while back whose helmet I thought looked a lot like that of a Cobra Viper from G.I. Joe, so people see what they see.
And on the whole, it's a cool helmet design. The visor is distinctive, and the black area above the helmet helps to set it apart rather nicely. The sides of the helmet jut out a bit along the base, as does the jaw. Given the proximity of these protrusions to the mouth and ears, one tends to wonder if, in keeping with this Spartan's specialty, there's some extra communication equipment in there.
Then there's the distinctive shoulder pieces. This is something else that tends to set a Spartan apart. The JFO Spartan's shoulder pieces are quite wide, and are especially distinctive for having two narrow, angular protrusions pointing upwards on each shoulder. I have no idea what these might represent. Perhaps communications antennae? At the very least, they look like they'd made good can openers, and it certainly is a unique aspect to this particular Spartan.
The chestplate is perhaps not as distinctive as the helmet or the shoulder pieces, but it's still nicely made, and has a sheathed knife attached to it on one side, and some evidence of electronic gadgetry in the center of the main section.
Articulation of the figure is superb. Not all of McFarlane Toys' products have had this range of movement over the years, but Halo has ways tended to fare well in this respect, especially the Spartans. The White JFO Spartan is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel) wrists, mid-torso (superbly blended with the armor), legs, upper leg swivel, knees, ankles, and the fronts of the boots. Almost all of these articulation points have a multiple range of motion.
As for accessories, the JFO Spartan comes with a small device which, even though the package illustration shows the Spartan holding it like a small pistol, it honestly looks a lot more like a futuristic camera to me. This would, in some respects, be in keeping with this Spartan's specialty. Thanks to a friend of mine, who is much more of a gamer than I am (not that this is hard), and enjoys HALO, I do have the backstory on this device: The weapon is a H-165 Forward Observer Module or “Target Locator” is interesting because it has not come with any other figure thus far. While in the game its usage is spectacular -- it is used to target tanks to be destroyed via incoming missiles from your unseen space-based air support above, with devastating results -- it appears in one mission only, and you only have two shots. The package art tries to show him in an action form, but all he is really doing there is holding the laser steady for three seconds until the target can be acquired.
He also comes with a small grenade, which is a common item with Halo figures, and I personally recommend putting the whole lot of them in a Ziploc bag to avoid loss. They're pretty small, and it wouldn't take that thick a carpet for them to vanish. However, a friend of mine, who follows Halo more closely than I do in some respects, has informed me that this particular grenade is a little uncommon. He explained that it is a plasma grenade, traditionally carried by the alien Covenant forces. As far as he knows, this is the first time a human Spartan soldier has come with one of these, as they usually come with a standard frag-type grenade. That's interesting, but it should still be stored in a way that it can't be easily lost.
So, what's my final word? This is a very impressive figure. I'm still a little surprised that Walgreens got a Halo exclusive, since really, I don't recall them even carrying the line up until now. With Halo 4 on the horizon, I believe we can expect to see the Halo Reach line wind down in the near future, as of this writing, and so this JFO Spartan, listed as part of Series 6 of the line, is probably one of the last of the Halo Reach toys.
Fortunately, he's a cool one, and certainly if you've been enjoying the Halo Reach figures, he's definitely worth tracking down. And with 8300 Walgreens locations nationwide, even if not all of them seem to be carrying these figures, you should be able to find one without too much difficulty.
The Walgreens' exclusive WHITE JFO SPARTAN from HALO REACH definitely has my highest recommendation!