REVIEW: 2013 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CLUB CONVENTION "NOCTURNAL FIRE" SET
The Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club held its annual Convention this year in Indianapolis, Indiana. Although I was unable to attend, I was able to receive the 3-3/4" Convention Set, dubbed "Nocturnal Fire", and featuring the G.I. Joe special team known as NIGHT FORCE going up against a decidedly eclectic bunch of Cobra bad guys.
For the past several years, the G.I. Joe Convention sets have featured figures made in the modern style. While I lament the loss of the original-style figures, I understand that if I, or any other longtime fan, am going to maintain an up-to-date G.I. Joe collection, then we're going to need to accept the current figure format.
And, truth be told, they're perfectly decent action figures, and arguably a lot better in many respects than many other action figure lines currently available in the stores. And the Collectors' Club has seen to it that we're getting some very interesting individuals added to our collections, either characters that, for one reason or another, wouldn't likely make it into the current retail line, or even entirely new characters, which is always cool.
According to the introduction in the accompanying comic book, response to this year's Convention set was well beyond expectations. "Nocturnal Fire" set an all time record for sales of the 3-3/4" sets! I can see why. Night Force has always been a popular team, and the selection of Cobras available this year was extremely interesting.
With that in mind, let's review both sides of this set, starting with the NIGHT FORCE team of G.I. Joes. I mean, really, that's only fair. That's their logo emblazoned large on the box lid, and at fifteen inches from wing-tip to wing-tip is almost certainly the largest Night Force logo ever placed on a G.I. Joe product.
Night Force has an interesting history within the G.I. Joe line. The group included with this set really marks the third appearance of the team. Night Force was originally one of the longest-running (two years) and most extensive store-exclusive G.I. Joe offerings ever produced.
Night Force's original run was from 1988-89, and was exclusive to Toys "R" Us. The team featured two annual assortments of six figures each, that had been produced in the main G.I. Joe line the year before. That is, 1988's Night Force features Tunnel Rat, Psyche-Out, Crazylegs, Outback, Lt. Falcon, and Sneak Peek, all of whom had been originally released in 1987. 1989's Night Force featured Spearhead and his bobcat Max, Charbroil, Shockwave, Lightfoot, Muskrat, and Repeater, all of whom had been originally released in 1988.
The Night Force figures were substantially recolored, and given much darker color schemes, something that at this point in time was becoming increasingly unusual in the G.I. Joe line. They even recolored Spearhead's bobcat, Max, in an all black color scheme. Precisely what it takes to get a bobcat to hold still for an all-body dye job I'd rather not care to speculate.
Alas, the line didn't run for a third year. Pity. I was already guessing who from 1989 might make it into the 1990 Night Force. I think Downtown, Recoil, and Deep Six would've been cool additions to the team, don't you?
Night Force also featured vehicles -- five in the first year, three in the second. These vehicles were recolored in black and dark gray, with bright red highlights and glow in the dark labels. From a practical military perspective this didn't make much sense, but from a toy standpoint it resulted in some very cool items -- and I'll admit I've always been a sucker for glow-in-the-dark toys, even if it's just the labels.
Some of the most popular and impressive vehicles from over the years made it into the Night Force collection, including some rather large equipment, including the WHALE Hovercraft, the Cobra Moray Hydrofoil, and the SkyStriker Jet, all given new names that began with the word "Night".
It was an amazing and extensive collection, and Night Force remains extremely popular among fans and collectors to this day, with the various items being regarded as highly valuable.
A second iteration of Night Force turned up during the 2002-2006 era, when Toys "R" Us was offering multi-packs of traditional-style figures during this, the so-called "newsculpt" era. Several of these multi-packs were based on previously established and highly popular special teams, including Tiger Force, Python Patrol, and Night Force (which I think most people would consider the "big three" of special teams).
This Night Force was a little different. Everybody had pretty much the same uniform color scheme, even if their individual uniforms were different. The uniforms featured dark green shirts with black gridwork on them, a close approximation of actual military night-time uniforms designed to mess with night-vision devices, and black trousers with gray with several shades of gray urban-type camouflage. This Night Force seemed to be taking its moniker a little more seriously than their predecessors.
The team included Tunnel Rat, the only carryover from the original group, accompanied by Flint, Roadblock, Beach-Head, and Downtown.
There was a sixth figure in the set, who didn't really fit the team, but was an interesting figure nevertheless. It was the first-ever 3-3/4" figure of ACTION MAN, recolored from a Tracker figure, produced and integrated into the G.I. Joe line. Action Man had been the European version of G.I. Joe. For a time, when the G.I. Joe team was first released, the group was known as Action Force in Europe. Action Man, a 12" figure, returned some years later, and even turned up in the United States for a while. This figure finally made an official connection between G.I. Joe and his European counterpart.
The figure was excellent, but didn't exactly fit the Night Force motif. He was wearing a bright orange shirt, in keeping with the color of Action Man packaging in the 12" realm, and black trousers. Nevertheless, he had the Action Man emblem on his shirt, and a G.I. Joe logo on his pants, so as far as I'm concerned, it was an abundantly cool figure and a nice connection to make, even if he wasn't all that -- Night Force-ish.
Now, the Convention Set brings us the third incarnation of NIGHT FORCE, with modern-style figures. Clearly, the intention is to get closer to the original Night Force than the second version. And I don't have a problem with that. While the intricate uniforms of the second Night Force were very impressive, I rather like a little more visual variety in uniform colors, while still in keeping with the color schemes established for the team in their first appearance.
The team includes PSYCHE-OUT, CHARBROIL, REPEATER, MUSKRAT, SPEARHEAD, and new member HIT & RUN. Let's consider them individually.
PSYCHE-OUT - Psyche-Out was first introduced in 1987, as a "Deceptive Warfare" specialist. What that really meant was that he was a psychologist who understood both warfare and people's personalities, and knew how to play off of that to the G.I. Joe team's advantage, along with some technological advantages.
Psyche-Out definitely got around. Along with being a member of Night Force the following year, he was also a member of the European incarnation of Tiger Force, and an all-new version of Psyche-Out turned up a few years later as a member of the Super Sonic Fighters team.
The original version of Psyche-Out hardly seemed suited to the clandestine environment of Night Force. He had rather intense blonde hair, and wore a bright green woven sweater, with red straps holding an odd-looking bright silver chestplate in place, light gray sleeves and dark gray trousers. Between the hair, the red straps, and the sweater, he wasn't exactly covert.
His color scheme was toned way down for Night Force. The sweater went gray, the trousers went dark green, the chestplate went black, and somebody even convinced him to color his hair brown. Probably easier than convincing the bobcat, anyway...
So, how's the Convention figure? Extremely impressive. I am not enough of an expert on the modern figures to know whose body parts are being used here and there, so my analysis has to be based on how close the new figure resembles the original based on the parts chosen, and in this case, the Club has done a superb job.
The head is very specifically Psyche-Out. For one thing, the hair is parted down the middle just like Psyche-Out always has. But more notably, Psyche-Out has always used these really bizarre high-tech headphones that wrap around the back of his head and have a little antenna sticking up from them. They're as much a trademark for him as Gung-Ho's Marine Corps chest tattoo or Destro's steel face mask and helmet. And there they are.
Psyche-Out's uniform colors are right on the money. He has a light gray shirt, a black armored chestplate with a triangular emblem on it matching one that on the original figure was sculpted to one arm, black gloves, olive green trousers, and black knee pads and boots. Overall, it's a truly superb rendition of the figure in the modern style.
Psyche-Out has been given light brown hair, more or less splitting the difference between his original blonde, and the darker brown of his original Night Force incarnation. It's a fair compromise.
Psyche-Out's file card reads as follows:
NIGHT FORCE DECEPTIVE WARFARE
File Name: Rich, Kenneth D.
Psyche-Out got his degree in psychology from Berkeley and worked on various research projects involving the inducement of paranoia by means of low frequency radio waves. Posted to the Deceptive Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, he continued his pioneering work in the field of wave-induced behavior modification. Since joining the G.I. Joe team, and subsequently Night Force, he has led numerous classified Psy-Ops and disinformation operations against the legions of Cobra. His job involves complicated thinking and multiple layers of deception, along with using transmitters to hijack enemy broadcasts and relay misinformation.
From Lt. Falcon's Files: "Fear of the dark is primal. It is why we don't want to see what's lurking just beyond the campfire light, and why we're hesitant to find out what's making that noise under the basement stairs. With his subliminal sonic emitter, Psyche-Out uses that fear as a weapon against an enemy as surely and as reliably as a ninja can use a sword."
CHARBROIL - Charbroil was first introduced in 1988, as the G.I. Joe team's second flamethrower trooper, after Blowtorch in 1984. I don't believe he was ever quite as well regarded, probably due to a lack of media exposure at the time, plus the fact that his tan uniform with yellow-orange trim wasn't nearly as much of a standout as Blowtorch's yellow with bright red trim.
Nevertheless, Charbroil made it into the original Night Force in its second year, with his uniform recolored into dark gray with dark blue trim. What tended to make Charbroil stand out just a little bit was a rather odd helmet, with two huge eyepieces, and the fact that underneath that helmet, he had bright red hair.
So, how's the Convention figure? Very effective. This was one time when I was able to identify whose body was used, and it's a recent one. The body is the same as that of the "G.I. Joe Trooper" figure from the Retaliation movie line. But hey, it works.
The head is not that of the Troopers, but it's a nicely-sculpted head, and the bright red hair certainly makes it look like a modern take on Charbroil. The facial expression is a good bit sterner than the original, though. The original Charbroil headsculpt had a sort of easy-going expression on it. This guy looks like he's ready to open up a can of literal firefight on anybody that even looks at him funny.
Physically, the figure is less bulky-looking than the original Charbroil, and in my opinion, that's an improvement. The colors are certainly right on the money. Charbroil is wearing a dark gray bodysuit with dark blue trim.
Unlike the original Charbroil, the dark blue trim doesn't have the rather armored look to it. Rather, Charbroil is wearing a harness and some moderately armored-looking protection over his torso, that was molded as a separate piece and secured to the figure during assembly. He also has dark blue gloves and knee pads.
One touch the Club gave this figure that I especially get a kick out of is that the dark blue harness, gloves, and knee pads are actually dark metallic blue! He also has some metallic dark blue wristbands.
Completing the uniform are a couple of brown belts, with gold buckles, and brown shoes. The feet on this figure are interesting in that they include pants cuffs as part of the foot assembly, but it doesn't hinder the ankle articulation in the least.
Among the accessories is an entirely appropriate helmet, as well as a flamethrower and fuel tanks. It's really an excellent figure. His file card reads as follows:
NIGHT FORCE FLAMETHROWER
File Name: Shannon: Carl G.
As a childhood chore, Charbroil had to heat the water pipes in the family basement with a blowtorch to keep them from freezing and bursting in the winter. As a teenager, he worked in the mills on the Great Lakes, feeding coal into blast furnaces. When the Army recruiting sergeant asked him what type of job he was interested in, he replied, "What have you got with open flames?" Since then, he has become one of the premiere flame weapons specialists on the team.
From Lt. Falcon's Files: "Charbroil knows how fast his flamethrower weapon can ignite everything around him. Why do you think he wears a custom suit of flame retardant polymer fiber? He's the only one on the Night Force squad who enjoys wearing a full tank of jellied gasoline on his back. It's great for defoliating jungles and persuading entrenched enemies to leave, but would you want to be standing next to him if a hot tracer round hits that? For a flamethrower specialist, he's a pretty nice guy, but with that thing on his back, he isn't going to win a popularity contest in the middle of a firefight."
REPEATER - Repeater was first introduced into the G.I. Joe line in 1988, and joined Night Force in 1989. He has the unusual specialty of "Steadi-Cam Machine Gunner". A "Steadi-Cam", from a non-military point of view, is a specially designed camera mount designed to be worn by a camera operator who is going to be using a motion picture camera over rough terrain. It's designed to hold the camera steady and provide a smooth track for the footage. One can certainly see the military applications of maintaining a steady line of fire, for that matter.
I've always been of the impression that Repeater, given the substantial size of his equipment, was supposed to be something of a continuation/successor to characters like Gung-Ho, Roadblock, or even Leatherneck. But I tend to think that since he came along several years after these characters, who were first introduced in 1983, 1984, and 1986 and had become very well established, or at least in the case of Leatherneck had been very heavily featured in the second season of the animated series, and given the lack of animated media in 1988, Repeater just couldn't quite make the grade to their level.
He did have one significant adventure in the comic book, in an episode in which he was one of a handful of G.I. Joe trainees -- admittedly the one with the greatest previous military experience -- but this was likely the biggest share of the spotlight the character received.
So, how's the Convention figure? Big and impressive. The modern G.I. Joe line has had no qualms about producing a much greater size range of figures. Some of the female figures are quite short and small. Then you've got taller individuals like Destro, and truly massive individuals such as Road Pig or Roadblock. Repeater fits into this category, which as far as I'm concerned lends further credibility to the original intention of the character.
Take a picture of this Night Force Team and you can't help but notice Repeater. Everybody else stands around 4" in height, give or take a slight fraction. Repeater stands a full 4-1/2" in height -- which is significant at this scale -- and he's impossible to miss.
The headsculpt is excellent. Repeater has a very definite "serious tough guy" look to his face, and he's wearing a very nicely sculpted cap with the word "Ranger" and an eagle actually sculpted to the front of it.
The original Repeater wore a tan uniform with dark brown urban camo on it, and a green vest. The Night Force version traded in the camo for a black shirt, brown trousers, but kept the green vest. And that's the uniform this Repeater is wearing. It's easily one of the most effective carryovers from original version to modern style.
The cap is green, and Repeater is wearing a black, short-sleeved shirt. The vest or harness is a separately molded piece, attached during assembly, with loads of equipment pouches on the front -- each one with a little silver-painted clasp. Repeater has brown trousers with green knee pads, several black straps around the upper legs, and black shoes. He's also wearing black gloves with the fingers open. There's also a small black knife sheath on his lower left leg.
To be honest, I find him to be one of the most impressive G.I. Joes in this set. Night Force or no Night Force, Repeater looks like some serious military business with plenty of attitude. I think if I saw him coming toward me, I'd surrender immediately and hope he was in a good mood.
It's also easy enough to spot his accessories among those stashed underneath the foam liner in the box. Just look for the 4-1/2" long machine gun with the big ammo belt and the extra-large backpack with the Night Force logo on it. Trust me, it's hard to miss. Repeater's file card reads as follows:
NIGHT FORCE STEADI-CAM MACHINE GUNNER
File Name: Therien, Jeffrey R.
With close to twenty years in the Army, Repeater never got any higher in rank than Staff Sergeant. His performance in the field was always top-notch but he could never hack it in the garrison. He's not a barracks soldier and not officer material. But send him out in the bush beyond the furthest base camp, and you'll find that he's the one the other grunts want to soldier with - because he's the one who's going to bring them back in one piece. As our Night Force machine gunner, he has to draw enemy fire while the unit moves in to get the mission accomplished.
From Lt. Falcon's Files: "Being the machine gunner is probably the toughest job in an infantry squad. For one thing, he's got the heaviest load to carry. Secondly, as soon as he starts firing, the enemy knows where he is and he becomes their primary target. Thirdly, the squad depends on him to provide maneuvering cover. Your machine gunner should always be the strongest, most stand-up trooper you have... and this tough guy is not one to disobey an order!"
MUSKRAT - Muskrat was first introduced in 1988 as the G.I. Joe team's "Swamp Fighter". An unusual specialty in my opinion, but they'd pretty much used up most of the other notable environments. By 1988, the G.I. Joe team had distinct specialists for underwater, the arctic, mountains, the desert -- there wasn't much left. Besides, the Dreadnoks were known for hanging around in the swamps of Florida, so you might as well have someone familiar with that sort of environment.
Muskrat made it onto Night Force in 1989, and then turned up once again, as an entirely new figure, in a 1993 Battle Corps extension that was originally going to be the second year of Drug Elimination Force. Here, he had the new specialty of "Heavy Fire Specialist". The character saw some action over the years in the comic book, and probably fared a little better as such than some other characters introduced in the later years of the line. And now, he returns to his Night Force specialty.
So, how's the Convention figure? An excellent carryover of the original. To me, Muskrat's appearance had two notable trademarks. His shirt was sleeveless, and he wore a somewhat floppy hat that looked like he'd gotten one of Crocodile Dundee's castoffs.
Both elements are present on this figure. The original Muskrat's uniform was almost entirely dark turquoise. The Night Force version traded that in for black and dark steel blue, which is the color scheme given to this Muskrat figure. Muskrat appears to be wearing a black undershirt and black trousers, with olive green leg straps, belts, and boots. The dark steel blue vest is a separate piece attached during assembly, and is superbly detailed and very neatly painted, right down to little silver buckles and other small details. Muskrat is also wearing black gloves.
His hair, appropriately, is a reddish brown, just like the original, and his hat, a separate piece, is dark blue with a black brim. I'm impressed with the fact that the hat stays put on the head as well as it does, and is a good fit. It doesn't look too large or anything.
Really, overall, this is a truly excellent modern incarnation of Night Force Muskrat. His file card reads as follows:
NIGHT FORCE SWAMP FIGHTER
File Name: Williams, Ross A.
Muskrat spent his formative years up to his knees in one Louisiana swamp or another, hunting raccoon, possum, and wild pig. He was able to hold his own against poachers, gator skinners, moonshiners, escapees from the chain gangs, and smugglers. Army Ranger school and JWTC (Jungle Warfare Training Center) seemed like summer camp to him. When he was tapped for Night Force duty, he was sent to advanced night warfare school. By the time he graduated, ht was teaching the experts a thing or two about nighttime swamp fighting.
From Lt. Falcon's Files: "If I had to go chase down Muskrat in the swamp at night, I'd give up before I started. He'd be sprinkling cayenne pepper in his tracks to throw the dogs off, laying false trails into water moccasin lairs, rigging deadfalls, setting snares, and having himself a good ol' time, never even working up a sweat. I'd just as soon go home and watch a football game on TV."
SPEARHEAD and MAX - Spearhead was the designated "Point Man" for the G.I. Joe team, first introduced in 1988, along with his pet bobcat, Max. Two things always struck me as odd about Spearhead. What kind of "Point Man" -- that is, someone who leads the way on a patrol or into battle -- wears a tan uniform with bright red-orange camouflage on it? You're already going to be a target for any enemy along the way -- why ask for more trouble? But such were the color schemes that were coming along at the time.
Then there was the pet bobcat, Max. PET bobcat!? We have bobcats around the area where I live, and they're not exactly known for being domesticated. It says something that Spearhead was able to train one. It says something else that he was inclined to in the first place. And I wonder what Junkyard and Order think of this...
Spearhead saw a little time in the comics, but was never all that prominently featured. When his Night Force version came out, his uniform was changed to something a lot more logical. It was now dark gray with a brown vest and a few dark turquoise highlights, such as the belt and boots. Max was dyed black.
So, how's the Convention figure? Excellent, really, and as with many of the others, a superb carryover into the modern style using existing parts. The headsculpt is a good one, but as with some of these figures, there was nothing all that distinctive about the original headsculpt, so anything that's close enough is going to work, and this is certainly close enough.
The uniform is actually dark brown, but I don't really mind the color switch, since there's more than enough dark gray in this set as it is. The vest is a slightly lighter brown, with turquoise highlights, and Spearhead is wearing a separate ammo belt over his left shoulder, definitely something the original figure had, and should certainly be seen as a significant part of his appearance.
Completing the likeness is a turquoise belt, boots, and gloves, which are interesting, since the original Spearhead didn't wear gloves. But the hands are definitely molded as gloved, and it's a nice additional use of the distinctive color without going overboard.
Max is also present and accounted for, and is a really great sculpt. The fur detail is outstanding, and the size is about right for a bobcat. The likeness is excellent. The one thing they didn't do, and I think it's just as well, was dye him black. He's a light gold-brown, which is appropriate, with a few black spots on his back, and exceptionally neatly painted eyes and mouth.
Spearhead's file card reads as follows:
NIGHT FORCE POINT MAN
File Name: Millman, Peter R.
Spearhead was the youngest and most successful insurance salesman in the Pacific Northwest. It was said that he could sell a term policy to a dead cow. Everybody liked him, trusted him, and bought more insurance from him than they could afford. He denies that guilt was a factor in his decision to join the army - he simply felt that somebody had to do it. This determination to put the mission before his own needs made him a natural for the G.I. Joe team. When Night Force conducts attacks against Cobra bases, Spearhead and his nocturnal pet bobcat Max always lead the unit to give it an added punch through the enemy's defense lines!
From Lt. Falcon's Files" "When some guys try to lead a combat assault, they jump up and holler 'Follow me!' and charge full tilt at a bunker. Halfway there, they look back, and no one's behind them! Of course not - the guy was a jerk. Spearhead could jump face first into a vat of rabid hyenas and fifteen guys would follow him. No hesitation. They'd jump smiling. And of course, that feral feline he trained would always be a source of inspiration."
HIT & RUN - Now we come to the new guy on the team. Hit & Run has never previously been a member of Night Force.
Hit & Run was first introduced in 1988, and has long been a personal favorite of mine, even though the character has never had all that much prominence in the media. He was introduced as a Light Infantryman, at the time a relatively new division within the military. I even remember seeing TV commercials for it.
I appreciated the fact that Hasbro saw fit to add one to the G.I. Joe team, and I liked the look of the figure. He was very definitely military, at a time when G.I. Joe was starting to get away from that a bit. I've tended to be more forgiving of that than some fans, but I always appreciated the occasional return to it, and Hit & Run definitely qualified.
The original Hit & Run was outfitted in a green military uniform with black camouflage. Interestingly -- and I really got a kick out of this -- even his face was molded in a slightly lighter green color, and given several streaks of black camouflage. The only real bit of overt color on the figure was a red visor on his goggles.
Hit & Run made a second appearance right around the same time, as a Target exclusive that came with a working parachute pack. But that was pretty much it for the character -- at least in the United States.
Hit & Run had a couple of international appearance, the most notable of which was as a part of the European incarnation of Tiger Force. And wow, what a recoloration! This Hit & Run had an orange, tiger-striped helmet, a bright blue shirt, an orange tiger-striped harness, and green trousers with brown camouflage. So at least he didn't entirely trade in his military look, but it's tough to think of the Tiger Force Hit & Run and NOT think of that blue shirt and orange helmet.
So, how's the Convention figure? Not bad at all, really. When I first learned that Hit & Run was going to be part of the Convention Night Force team, I wondered how they were going to do him, since he'd never been part of the team before. I personally envisioned a sort of color reversal of the original Hit & Run, perhaps a mostly black uniform with some green camouflage. I wasn't sure how well that would work on the face, but it was just a theory, anyway.
Ultimately, it's not what happened. Hit & Run is wearing a black shirt with a green collar, a somewhat darker green harness, and light green trousers with black knee pads, leg straps, and black boots. His face and lower arms are a normal flesh color and have no camouflage.
It's not a bad figure at all. I just have a little trouble seeing it as Hit & Run. Additionally, I might have chosen a headsculpt that didn't look quite so -- um -- experienced. The headsculpt of the original Hit & Run always struck me as looking like a rather young man, and let's face it, these days we have to be in an era of "slowed aging" on the part of the G.I. Joe universe or they'd all be retired. But this is just a personal observation.
Honestly, the dark shirt and the light green pants remind me more than a little of another Night Force member known as Sneak Peek, although he had a dark gray shirt with black padding on the front of his shirt, so that's not entirely an accurate comparison, either.
Ultimately, this is Night Force Hit & Run, and I'm pleased to see the character included in the set. The accessories also make an acknowledgment of his Target-exclusive parachute special, as he comes with a large (non-working) parachute pack with the Night Force emblem on it.
Additionally, this year's official "Parachute Drop" figure was a Kre-O version of Hit & Run with a working parachute. Kre-O is a Lego-like building toy that Hasbro is producing, linking it to a number of their product lines, including Transformers, Battleship, and G.I. Joe. There were several Kre-O exclusives at the Convention, including the parachute figure, which, allowing for its structure, is a good match for the standard figure. Hit & Run's file card reads as follows:
NIGHT FORCE LIGHT INFANTRYMAN
File Name: Scott, Brent
Orphaned at the age of three by a drunken driver, Hit & Run grew up in a county institution from which he escaped with alarming regularity, climbing down sheer walls and running for miles across the plains in the middle of the night. When asked what he was running away from, he replied, "I'm not running away from anything. I'm practicing." He went from the custody of the county directly into the United States Army. He was tapped soon after for the G.I. Joe team, where he finally found himself in a "family."
From Lt. Falcon's Files: "Infantrymen don't march, they run. They run to get to the battle, they run during the battle, and they run to get away from the battle. The Army doesn't call it running. They call the first 'advancing', the second 'maneuvering' and the last, 'disengaging'. Hit & Run calls it all running, and he's real good at it. Besides, a guy who can run in pitch darkness over dangerous terrain carrying a full load is perfect for Night Force."
That's the good guys. Who do we have for the bad guys in this set? We have an all-new female Cobra agent by the name of CRIMSON ASP, a couple of South American agents known as LETAL and COBRA MORTAL, accompanied by three Cobra FRAG-VIPERS and three Cobra S.A.W.-VIPERS. Let's consider the individuals first.
CRIMSON ASP - This is the new character in the set, and one of three females offered at the Convention this year, two of whom, including Crimson Asp, are brand new characters. I'll mention the other two at the close of this review.
When I first heard the name "Crimson Asp", I rather expected someone who was affiliated with the Crimson Guard. But this is not the case. I was even more surprised when I saw the figure and discovered that she was dressed mostly in shades of green. But there's even a logical explanation for this. She is a redhead, so I suppose we get a bit of crimson out of that.
So, how's the figure? Very impressive and very interesting. She could almost pass for Scarlett, if it weren't for the eyepatch and the Cobra uniform. She has a patch over her right eye. Maybe she can hook up with Major Bludd and they can keep an eye on each other.
Okay, sorry about that one.
Her uniform is a dark green jumpsuit with light green body armor. It's obviously largely derived from a version or two of the Baroness, especially given the sculpted Cobra emblem on the front, but the color scheme is so different from anything the Baroness has ever worn that Crimson Asp manages to make it her own very effectively.
The legs are derived from Agent Helix, a figure released around the time of the first live-action movie, although her main claim to fame at the time was turning up in a video game. She's since made some notable comic book appearances in the IDW titles.
Crimson Asp also has a tunic wrapped around her waist, that descends about halfway down her lower legs. This is dark green in color with a light green border and interior.
Really, the overall design of the figure is quite remarkable, and likely needed a few new paint stencils here and there. Certainly the headsculpt is entirely new, and most impressive. The hair is very nicely done, the eyepatch is effective, and she's got this sort of dispassionate mean look on her face. It's rather intimidating.
While most of the uniform is dark green, the collar, torso armor, belt, gloves, and high boots are light green. The main trim color is black, and this outlines the collar, the tops of the gloves and boots, and assorted belts and straps, as well as the Cobra emblem itself.
Since this is the first time this character appears, we have to rely on her file card for information about her. It reads as follows:
File Name: Nathair, Siobhan A.
Crimson Asp is an elusive saboteur and mercenary for hire. Following a disastrous demolitions mission in her homeland long ago that cost her an eye, she has since gained extensive tactical combat experience, established countless connections in the criminal underworld, and now fights guerrilla campaigns around the globe for anyone that will pay her. As cold-hearted as her reptilian namesake, her terrorist activities have become as much a personal vendetta against her perceived enemies as they are an extremely profitable enterprise.
Crimson Asp is equally skilled at using explosive devices against property, and flame weapons against personnel. Her desire to inflict the most destruction and horror possible has become her personal calling card. She has most recently taken employment with Cobra Mortal, funding her brutal strikes against a number of South American targets.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That's why I turn everything I see into ugly piles of unidentifiable rubble!"
COBRA MORTAL - The character of Cobra Mortal is one of a small handful of very distinctive South American figures that have become pretty much legendary in the G.I. Joe collecting world. The companies that made G.I. Joe-type figures, under local names such as "Comandos Em Acao" or "Comandos Heroicos" had no qualms about mixing and matching the easily interchangeable parts of the original figures, and between this and recoloring the parts, coming up with entirely new characters.
Among these are Glenda, a blonde version of Scarlett with a blue and chrome-silver uniform; Cobra de Aco, a figure using Flash's body and Snake-Eyes head, but with a chrome silver head, and a black uniform with yellow padding; and Cobra Mortal.
Easily the strangest of the lot, Cobra Mortal was pretty much a straightforward recoloration of Snake-Eyes. But what a recoloration! The figure was molded in chrome silver, except the right arm and the left leg were RED, including the boot, although the right boot was black! This was bizarre by anybody's standards.
The Collectors' Club did include Cobra Mortal in a Convention Set a number of years ago, and this was a faithful recreation of the original Cobra Mortal, using traditional-style molds, right down to the chrome.
I was curious as to how the Club was going to pull off a modern-style Cobra Mortal, since the type of plastic used on modern G.I. Joe figures doesn't really lend itself all that well to the chrome treatment. And then I saw a picture of the Cobra Mortal figure, with a silver head but an almost entirely white uniform, and I was really confused.
Now, I can understand making certain modifications between the original version of a figure, especially if the original version of that figure is a bit outlandish, and a modern G.I. Joe figure, when it's become increasingly common for modern G.I. Joe figures to have a more realistic color palette. Still, there have been exceptions, even in the retail line. Sci-Fi is still dressed in his bright green uniform, for example.
An all-white uniform for Cobra Mortal seemed like a bit of a stretch, until I read a little factoid about this character. According to the information I discovered, an all white figure was revealed to be a Venezuelan version of Cobra Mortal. That's the version of Cobra Mortal that we have here.
So, how's the figure? Very impressively done. The head is obviously that of Snake-Eyes, as one would expect it to be. Unlike the original it's been painted silver, and not chromed.
This is not a real problem, however. The head has been painted a very bright silver and looks perfectly fine. And honestly, the chrome techniques that are used these days -- I believe the term is "vac-metallizing" or some such, can be very fragile. As cool as it looks, sometimes it doesn't hold up well. I can live with silver.
I'm not sure whose body parts comprise the uniform, but to make it a little more visually interesting, the upper body has a corduroy-like pattern to it. That means that it could have come from Beach-Head, I suppose. The legs are interesting in that the trousers extend right to the tops of the shoes, and the shoes are painted to look like the trousers have straps that go underneath the shoes. These could be from a Cobra Commander.
The figure is molded entirely in white, even including white gloves, but there is some color detail. A red Cobra emblem has been very neatly imprinted on the chest, and that probably wasn't easy given the corduroy pattern. The shoes and some straps on the legs have been painted black, and the figure is wearing a black harness of straps with several pouches, a silver grenade, and a pistol holster.
As to why he'd be wearing white in the first place, for that, we need to turn to the character's file card.
File Name: Unknown
The title of Cobra Mortal has been given to many men, but only those with the most guile and foresight survive to keep it. The current malefactor is greatly feared by all in the region and is considered the top of the food chain in his territory. He rose to power by aiding corrupt administrators within the Venezuelan government to overthrow the democratic governments neighboring them, reducing legitimate petroleum competition and increasing illegal exports. He is a firm believer in Cobra Commander's goal to throw the world into economic turmoil while his own wealth and power grows.
Cobra Mortal believes that with his political connections, no military force can supplant him now. However, he prefers to stay protected behind the walls of his mountain fortress, letting his personal bodyguards and hired mercenaries do his bidding. By employing Crimson Asp and the Cobra Demolitions Team, they have successfully raided, terrorized, or destroyed most of the oil supplies of neighboring countries.
"The superstitious peasants believe I have returned from apparent demise so many times because I am a ghost. How do you know they are wrong?"
COBRA LETAL - By the time this figure came along, as part of the Brazilian line of figures, I had greater awareness and was paying closer attention to the international aspect of G.I. Joe. And here was Letal, essentially a Cobra Frag-Viper recolored with a bright green uniform, and assigned to the Brazilian version of the Sonic Fighters.
Honestly, I had no idea that Letal was intended as an individual. I don't read or speak Portuguese. All I really knew was that, much like the Sonic Fighters versions of the Cobra Viper and Cobra Lamprey, here was an interesting recolored version of the Frag-Viper. If I could somehow get hold of a few, I would simply dub them Sonic Frag-Vipers and leave it at that.
I don't want to say too much about Letal's structure, since I'd rather save those details for the Frag-Vipers, who are on deck next. Suffice to say that it's an amazingly impressive modern version of a figure that cannot have been an easy translation into the modern line, given how unusual the original figure was. Letal has the distinctive and unusual Frag-Viper helmet, and a very bright green uniform, that's actually very slightly brighter than the original. A black Cobra emblem is imprinted on his chest, and most of his trim is an appropriate blue, and he has black gloves and boots.
This is really a very cool figure of an unusual character in the overall global G.I. Joe universe, and I'm pleased to see a modern figure incarnation of him, that certainly would not have happened were it not for the Club and this Convention Set. Letal's file card reads as follows:
COBRA GRENADIER COMMANDER
File Name: Unknown
The mysterious Cobra Letal is the commander of the South American unit of Frag-Vipers. He is a superb chess player and guides his troops with the same tactical efficiency of moving pawns into dominating positions around the board. He fights alongside them with an array of weapons chosen to best thwart any dominating military force. His pinpoint accuracy with a bazooka can easily destroy enemy tanks, and the hail of bullets from his sub-machine gun can compel even the bravest of infantry to retreat.
As part of the Cobra Demolitions Team, he uses the Frag-Vipers to spearhead assaults that destroy enemy installations, armored vehicles, emplacements, weapons, and personnel, or to weaken their fortifications. This makes it easier for Crimson Asp to carry out her sabotage operations for Cobra Mortal.
"You will never know what hit you - unless I want you to live to tell the tale!"
COBRA FRAG-VIPERS - One thing you can say about Cobra's trooper divisions over the years -- they've gotten away with some interesting appearances. That's what happens when you're a fictional force and your designers aren't at all bound by any established military uniform precedents. Not that that stopped any number of G.I. Joes, as far as that goes, but Cobra could really push the envelope.
Witness the Frag-Vipers, first introduced in 1989. As grenadiers, they had a very distinctive way of delivering their weaponry, a personal launcher that was based largely on the equipment used in the game jai-alai. Their helmets were these bulbous, bug-eyed things with arched brows, extended muzzles, and some sort of jutting peg-like protrusion. They wore tan jumpsuits, that were adorned with a series of blue straps that looked as much as anything as if they were trying to make some sort of trendy fashion statement.
Even for Cobra, these guys looked a bit peculiar. The only time they returned, before now, was when one Frag-Viper in particular, based entirely on the original molds, was lucky enough to be recolored with a black helmet (to this day I'm trying to decide if it was an improvement, but it certainly made him look more menacing) and a green camouflage uniform with tan straps, and he was presented as one half of the Jungle Team, alongside a recolored Night-Viper, as part of the Collectors' Club's "Operation Flaming MOTH" series.
There are three modern-style Frag-Vipers included with the Convention Set.
So, how are the figures? I have to say, very impressive. When I learned that Frag-Vipers were going to be included in the Convention Set, my first thought was, "How are they going to pull THAT off!?" The Convention Sets, with rare exception (and generally those exceptions are new headsculpts) use existing body parts. And I could not think of a great many existing body parts that would make for an agreeable Frag-Viper. Not that weird uniform with all the ornamental straps.
Well, the Club found a way. The helmet is recast from the original. Why mess with such a distinctive design? It's been colored the same as original, a semi-metallic battleship gray, with the same creepy black bug-eyes underneath an angled brow, and the same muzzle and little jutting protrusion.
The Frag-Vipers are wearing tan bodysuits, that are a tighter fit than the originals, but they look good on the figure. I'm not entirely sure whose body parts these are, but there's not that many figures in the line that use this degree of skin-tight parts. To a large degree, I'm sensing diver figures here. The lower right arms have a little folded-down crossbow on them. That's a new feature.
The formerly decorative straps of the original Frag-Vipers have been repurposed to better purpose this time. The straps on the arms have little pouches on them. The straps on the legs have sheaths or holsters. The Frag-Vipers are wearing a pair of belts around their waists. It's all the right color blue, it's just been made more functional.
But then there's the big strap across the chest. This is more decorative, and the parts choice was an excellent one. I recognize that high collar. They used the left-shouldered sash from Tomax and Xamot, the Crimson Guard Commanders. And it works superbly well.
The Frag-Vipers, like Letal, have a black Cobra emblem on the other side of their chests. This is actually a change from the original Frag-Vipers (and Letal), who had a smaller silver emblem actually on the shoulder strap. That wouldn't have worked all that well this time around, and honestly, I like the larger logo. It looks good and works well.
The Frag-Vipers have black gloves, and black shoes more than boots, but the articulation range in the shoes is well above average, and given the slender build of the overall figures, the range of poseability on these Frag-Vipers is way above average. I'm abundantly impressed. Their file card reads as follows:
File Name: Various
An integral part of the Cobra Demolitions Team, the Frag-Vipers can toss high-explosive fragmentation grenades with all the range and accuracy of an M-79 or M203 grenade launcher, but without the noise from the muzzle blast. The secret lies in the manual hurling basket, based on the cesta used in the Basque sport of jai alai. The Frag-Vipers' cesta is equipped with an automatic feed and variable-time fuse grenades with a computer link to the helmet's automatic range finder. Their insect-like goggles contain electro-optical image-intensifiers that provide both infrared and night vision capabilities to locate targets wherever they may hide.
The Frag-Vipers carry a fifty round magazine with an automatic feeder, and can deliver fifteen rounds per minute. They follow the tactical guidance of Cobra Letal, and have become so efficient and stealthy that their enemies never know where their attacks are coming from!
"We only have fun when things get blown up into tiny bits!"
COBRA S.A.W.-VIPERS - As with the Frag-Vipers, there are three S.A.W.-Vipers included with this Convention set, but in a way, I tend to see the S.A.W.-Vipers almost as the "odd man out" -- or odd men -- in this set, since they don't have a specific connection to any of the individual Cobra agents, nor do that, as far as I know, have a specific South American connection. I think the main reason they've been included in this set is because they're admittedly a rather odd-looking Cobra trooper division that didn't stand much other chance of being brought into the modern-day collection. And, what the heck, I can live with that.
The S.A.W.-Vipers -- the abbreviation stands for "Squad Automatic Weapons", and they are designated as Cobra's Heavy Machine Gunners, first introduced in 1990. They didn't receive a lot in the way of media time, although I believe they turned up in the second, DIC-produced animated series here and there.
Arguably, it was one particular S.A.W.-Viper who made a particular impact in the comic book. When a number of G.I. Joes were captured by Cobra during a mission in the fictional nation of Benzheen, it was a particularly rude and nasty S.A.W.-Viper who took it upon himself to misinterpret Cobra Commander's orders and cut loose on the captured G.I. Joes, killing seven of them, something that heretofore had not happened in the comic book. Don't worry, he got his comeuppance at the hands (and swords) of Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow not long after.
The original S.A.W.-Vipers had a rather unusual uniform color, but so did a lot of G.I. Joes and Cobras at this point in time. The S.A.W.-Vipers were dressed in a burgundy helmet with a wide, bright green visor, a thick, reddish-purple padded vest with a series of pouches on the front, similarly-colored trousers with high burgundy boots, black sleeves, and burgundy gloves. It was hardly the most military color scheme ever seen, but it had a certain consistency to it, at least.
The S.A.W.-Vipers returned as part of the second Python Patrol team, offered as part of a six-pack during the 2002-2006 era, but even here, the S.A.W.-Viper couldn't catch a color break. While most of the figures had black uniforms with a dark red Python pattern and limited gold and red detailing, the entire torso of the S.A.W.-Viper was bright red.
Now, we have the three S.A.W.-Vipers in the modern style as part of the 2013 Convention Set.
So, how are the figures? Very interesting, I must say. I think the best way I can describe the S.A.W.-Vipers is to say that the military structure of their uniforms has been raised from the originals -- that is, the detailing of the uniforms as a whole looks more military. The flip side of that particular coin is that the original color scheme has not only been maintained, but intensified.
The only significant black areas on the uniforms are the gloves, boots, and something like a ski mask worn over the head. The helmets, unlike the original S.A.W.-Vipers, are removable. There is some black ridged padding on the arms, but the sleeves are not entirely black as they were before.
The S.A.W.-Vipers are wearing a burgundy-colored uniform, that in basic appearance is more military-looking than the tighter-fitting uniform of the original S.A.W.-Vipers. Over this, the S.A.W.-Vipers are wearing a very thick padded vest, that has a black Cobra emblem imprinted on it -- something the original S.A.W.-Vipers were missing -- and which has several narrow equipment pouches near the belt line, as well as a couple of knife sheaths. There is also a small gray walkie-talkie attached to the vest. A nice touch, really.
The vest, however, is a rather intense magenta-pink color that is definitely brighter than anything found on the original S.A.W.-Viper. It might be in the same general realm of the color spectrum, but it's still brighter. The knee pads on the S.A.W.-Vipers are the same color.
The helmets are burgundy, with a wide, bright green visor, and they have a little microphone extension. The green color can also be found on the walkie-talkie. I think, ultimately, what we have here is an extremely impressive modern-style S.A.W.-Viper, brought together from existing parts, and given an appropriate if intensified color scheme. I think the question that needs to be asked is, given that the figure is brought together from existing parts, does it work as a modern-style S.A.W.-Viper. And I would say to that, yes, it does, very capably. And we certainly weren't likely to get a modern-style S.A.W.-Viper any other way. Their file card reads as follows:
COBRA MACHINE GUNNERS
File Name: Various
S.A.W.-Vipers are equipped with a gas operated and air-cooled light machine gun. These handheld weapons have a quick-change barrel and can be fed from both linked ammunition and magazines. This means that they have a highly accurate, rarely malfunctioning machine gun that doesn't burn out the barrel during intense rapid-fire bursts. It's nothing for them to zone in on an enemy nestled in heavy brush over 800 yards away in pitch darkness, and pick them off in one short burst of gunfire.
As part of the Cobra Demolitions Team, the S.A.W.-Vipers maneuver into position and provide cover fire for Crimson Asp to complete her sabotage operations. Together, they create a nightmare of crisscrossing rounds and violent explosions that utterly demoralize anyone who survives.
"We will mow you down before you even hear the sonic boom of our bullets!"
And, frankly, anybody that can do that can dress however he pleases. I'm not going to be the one to make fun of their uniform colors...
I know I haven't discussed accessories all that extensively. Suffice to say that everyone comes very well equipped. The SAW-Vipers come with an abundance of hardware, the Frag-Vipers have their jai-alai-inspired grenade-throwing cestas, and especially impressively, the Night Force team members have the Night Force logo very neatly imprinted on the larger portions of their respective equipment. The accessories, where appropriate, are also very neatly painted and detailed. A lot of work was put into the equipment as well as the figures, and the Collectors' Club should be proud of the results.
One might ask, what about other members of Night Force? Why is Lt. Falcon mentioned on their file cards? The comic book story that comes with the set reveals that Lt. Falcon is the commander of the Night Force Team. A figure of him is planned for the second series of subscription figures offered by the Club. Crazylegs makes a cameo in the comic book, and I think some people were a bit disappointed that he wasn't this year's Parachute Drop figure, since a standard version of the figure did come out a little while back.
However, there were three additional figures offered at the Convention. One is a carded figure of a Night Force Lady Jaye, very impressively done. The other two were a bagged two-pack featuring Chuckles and a new female character named Freestyle.
Chuckles, best known for his flowered Hawaiian shirt, seems like an odd choice for Night Force, until one realizes that his specialty is that of undercover operations. The Night Force version toned down the shirt somewhat, but the flowered patterning, in keeping with the labels on the original Night Force vehicles, glows in the dark!
Freestyle is a fighter pilot, and a very impressive looking figure. In the comic book, she pilots the Night Boomer, the Night Force version of the SkyStriker, which was also offered separately at the Convention. It is my hope to one day own these figures, but at this time, I don't have them or the means to get them. If I ever do, you can count on a good review.
The comic book that accompanies the Convention Set tells a cool story, called "Nocturnal Fire." Basically, Cobra's agents in South America, including Letal, Mortal, and Crimson Asp, are stirring up trouble by blowing up oil reserves and the like. This sabotage tends to take place at night, hence the name "Nocturnal Fire". The G.I. Joe team sends in Night Force to deal with the matter, and the expected chaos and battle follow suit. Crimson Asp and Cobra Mortal in particular come across as a couple of seriously dangerous nutjobs. On the whole, it's an excellent story, and I highly recommend it in and of itself to any G.I. Joe fans who have enjoyed any of their comic adventures over the years.
So, what's my final word? Every year, I wonder how the Collectors' Club is going to match or top the previous year's effort, and every year, they do a darn good job of doing just that. From Crimson Vipers to Black Dragons to Dreadheads to Mercenaries to the Oktober Guard and the Iron Grenadiers and beyond. Since 2002, the Convention Sets offered by the Collectors' Club have added dozens of amazing new figures to the already massive G.I. Joe collection, and each and every one of them has been a welcome addition to the line.
2013 is no exception. Six impressive members of Night Force, three distinctive villains, one of whom is entirely new and the other two being based on international characters, plus three each of a couple of later Cobra trooper divisions from the original line that likely would not have seen the light of day in the modern line through any other means. Really, you can't go wrong with that.
The 2013 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CLUB SET -- "NOCTURNAL FIRE" -- starring NIGHT FORCE and a most interesting gathering of COBRAs, most definitely has my highest recommendation!