REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION STORM SHADOW
As of this writing, the long-anticipated live-action movie "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is going to have to be anticipated a little longer. The premiere of the movie was bumped at the last minute from June 2012 to March 2013. The reasons for this are quite varied, including a conversion to allow for 3D showings, and I won't get into them to any extent here.
The announcement of the delay, however, came too late to stop the toys from hitting the stores, and Hasbro's official position was pretty much along the lines of, "Whatever we've already shipped to the retailers will be put out for sale, so go ahead, buy and enjoy them."
Thanks, I think I will. Despite a decent 30th Anniversary line with a partial tie-in to the Renegades animated series, it's honestly been quite a while since I've seen any decent supplies of G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles in the stores. The Retaliation figures have shown up in reasonable supply, and that includes one of the major stars of the movie, and the focus of this particular review -- STORM SHADOW!
G.I. Joe: Retaliation stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, with Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce and Lee Byung-hun reprising their roles from the first film.
The film will feature the G.I. Joe team coming into a conflict with Zartan, Storm Shadow and Firefly, all serving under the newly released Cobra Commander. Zartan (who is last seen in the last movie in disguise as the President of the United States) controls the U.S. Government and frames all G.I. Joe operatives as traitors to the United States, exterminating most of them and leaving a small group of survivors.
Zartan and the Commander now have all the world leaders under Cobra's control, with their advanced warheads aimed at innocent populaces around the world.
Badly beaten, outnumbered and outgunned, the G.I. Joe team makes a desperate plan to overthrow Cobra Commander and take back the world, with their secret black operation called the "Second American Revolution", which involves the original G.I. Joe General Joseph Colton.
And what about Storm Shadow? This white-garbed ninja is easily one of the most popular characters in the entire G.I. Joe concept -- as well as one of the most conflicted.
Storm Shadow was first introduced in the comics in the legendary "Silent Issue", #21 of the Marvel Comics run. In this title, a mysterious ninja working for Cobra has kidnapped Scarlett. He brings her to Destro's castle in the Carpathian mountains, which is being used as a base by Cobra Commander. Destro is also on hand, of course. No great surprise, Snake-Eyes parachutes into the area to effect a rescue, doing quite a bit of collateral damage to assorted Cobra troopers, as well as a squad of red-garbed ninjas who clearly serve at Storm Shadow's command.
In the end, it comes down to a confrontation between Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes. Scarlett intervenes, nearly at the cost of her life. Snake-Eyes and Scarlett escape, but in the last couple of panels of the story, we observe that both Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow have the same, identical tattoo on their lower right arms. An instant and very mysterious connection is made between this newcomer, and one of the most popular characters in the G.I. Joe universe.
As this story was told entirely without words or captions of any sort, we wouldn't learn the name of this mysterious ninja until the following issue. Not long after, he would be captured by the Joe Team -- if very briefly -- and sometime after that, an initial history between Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes was revealed.
Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow served together, along with Stalker, in the same Long Range Recon Patrol unit in Southeast Asia. Following the end of the war, Storm Shadow returned to his ancestral homeland of Japan, while Snake-Eyes returned to the United States, only to watch his life fall apart, as his parents and twin sister were killed in a traffic accident on their way to meet him at the airport.
Snake-Eyes had a standing invitation to join Storm Shadow in the "family business", and really having nowhere else to go, Snake-Eyes accepted the invitation. The "family business", it turned out, was the Arashikage Ninja Clan. Not exactly your average karate school, y'know?
Snake-Eyes excelled at this, possibly a little too well. He actually surpassed his friend, and the Clan's leader, the Hard Master, was considering making Snake-Eyes the eventual head of the Ninja Clan, over Storm Shadow. This, among other factors which would be revealed over the years, drove a wedge between the friendship of the two men.
It all came to a head when the Hard Master was assassinated, seemingly by Storm Shadow, who was observed fleeing the scene. With the ninja school in ruins, Snake-Eyes returned to the United States, and lived the life of a recluse until eventually recruited for the G.I. Joe team. Storm Shadow's whereabouts went unknown until he turned up in the service of Cobra.
Storm Shadow revealed to Snake-Eyes that it was not he who had killed the Hard Master. Rather, the real assassin had retrieved one of Storm Shadow's arrows and had used it in order to frame him. The assassin had escaped in a Cobra helicopter, and Storm Shadow had joined Cobra and worked his way up to eventually learn the identity of his uncle's assassin.
Storm Shadow eventually became fed up with Cobra when Cobra Commander ordered his own son, who had made an attempt on his life, to be placed into the torturous Brainwave Scanner. Storm Shadow freed Billy, and fled the area.
Ultimately, Storm Shadow learned the identity of the Hard Master's killer. It was Zartan, and Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes attempted to track down the mercenary on Cobra Island. The attempt seemed to result in Storm Shadow's death, but he was brought back during the cloning of Serpentor, and once again fled Cobra's clutches with, of all people, the Dreadnoks.
Finally, Storm Shadow was able to convince the G.I. Joe team -- not to mention Snake-Eyes -- that he had reformed and wanted nothing further to do with Cobra. He went into semi-retirement, but came out of it to aid the G.I. Joe team on a number of occasions, including forming and training the Ninja Force squad.
Alas, Storm Shadow couldn't stay out of the action indefinitely. He was eventually captured by Cobra, and submitted to an upgraded version of the Brainwave Scanner, which brought him back under Cobra's control. He struggled for years, even opposing the Joe Team again, until finally breaking free from Cobra once more. These days, at least insofar as the "Real American Hero" comic published by IDW is concerned, Storm Shadow is one of the good guys.
The character has been popular enough to even have a seven-issue comic book of his own, something no other character in the G.I. Joe universe has ever had. It was published by Devil's Due, and its official continuity as such has likely been discounted, or "Disavowed", to use the official term being applied to the Devil's Due stories these days, but it was written by Larry Hama, and presented some interesting adventures.
The animated series was a little more straightforward. Storm Shadow was a Cobra agent in the first series, and a member of the G.I. Joe team in the second. This all had to do with timing. The first series took place from 1984-1987. The only Storm Shadow figure during this time was the original Cobra version. By the time of the second series, which was produced in the early 1990's, there had been a couple of Storm Shadow figures in which he was clearly allied with the G.I. Joe team.
Storm Shadow's figure history has been as interesting as the rest of him. The original Storm Shadow figure came out in 1984, and was massively popular. I recall a store clerk whom I knew telling me that at one point, they had opened a box of G.I. Joe figures that was mostly Storm Shadow, and they'd sold out in about an hour. That sort of thing just doesn't happen these days.
The second Storm Shadow figure came along in 1988, and this Storm Shadow was clearly allied with the G.I. Joe team. This marked the first time that an actual toy product within the G.I. Joe line had officially switched sides.
The next Storm Shadow came along in 1991, and was still affiliated with the G.I. Joe team. This Storm Shadow led the new Ninja Force unit. Personally, I was never all that fond of this team, as I felt that the spring-action features built into the figures were a hindrance to the articulation. This Storm Shadow turned up a second time as part of the rather peculiar Shadow Ninjas team.
Had the line continued into 1995, Storm Shadow would have appeared once again, in a new figure form, as part of the Ninja Commandos squad, but this didn't happen. The original Storm Shadow figure was recolored in 1997, as part of the return of the line, and from that point forward, Storm Shadow has continued to turn up in every G.I. Joe incarnation that has existed -- multiple times, needless to say.
There have been literally dozens of Storm Shadow figures over the years. He, along with Snake-Eyes, Cobra Commander, and Duke, rank among the most frequently-produced characters in the entire line. Storm Shadow has been in not only every version of the 3-3/4" - 4" line, but has had several 12" figures, and more than a few entries in the Sigma Six line.
Generally speaking, these days, despite what the Real American Hero comic book may be presenting, Storm Shadow is usually siding with Cobra as far as the action figure line is concerned. One suspects that Hasbro's reasoning is that there's more action and drama to be had by placing one super-ninja-commando on each side of the conflict. Even with this, Storm Shadow still has his noble side.
The initial G.I. Joe movie maintained the conflict between Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes, as well as the bulk of its history. Their ongoing conflict made for one of the most prominent, and action filled, subplots in the first movie, and with both characters back for "Retaliation" -- along with what looks like a rather large supply of Red Ninjas based on the trailers -- it looks like that conflict is certainly going to continue.
In the first film, Storm Shadow is portrayed as a Korean ninja who has trained in Japan. The young Storm Shadow is seen speaking in Korean while training in Tokyo.
Storm Shadow has a long history with Snake-Eyes going back to when they were kids, when he caught a starving Snake-Eyes attempting to steal food. However, much to Storm Shadow's chagrin, Snake-Eyes is immediately welcomed into the dojo. While Storm Shadow is initially superior, Snake-Eyes persists and eventually earns the favor of the Hard Master. Shortly after, Snake-Eyes is proclaimed the best student, and it is made to appear that Storm Shadow murdered the master and fled the scene. This turns their rivalry into bitter hatred as they find themselves on opposing sides. This, except for the aspect of Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes knowing each other since childhood, is extremely similar to the comic continuity for the characters.
In the movie Storm Shadow serves as McCullen's (Destro's) assassin and as both bodyguard and mentor to the Baroness. Sent by McCullen to support the Baroness in acquiring the nanomite warheads, Storm Shadow was also given a direct order to kill Baron Daniel DeCobray if he ever touched the Baroness again, with her intentionally giving him reason as DeCobray outlived his usefulness to them. In another instance, however, Zartan mocks Storm Shadow for his unwillingness to kill women.
During a lengthy fight in Cobra's arctic base, Snake-Eyes slashes Storm Shadow several times, eventually compelling the latter to remove his white uniform. At the end, he is stabbed by Snake-eyes and falls into icy water.
Yeah, like that's going to keep a ninja down. In "Operation HISS", a comic sequel to the film, Storm Shadow survived his apparent death in the film. Actor Lee Byung-hun had stated that he is signed on to return to future sequels, and it was confirmed by the trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation that Storm Shadow does indeed return -- to absolutely no one's surprise, I'm sure.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. Traditionally, Snake-Eyes wears black, and Storm Shadow wears white, and that's certainly been carried over into the movie figures. Unlike the G.I. Joe team, who have to look at least a little military, Storm Shadow is probably free to outfit himself as he pleases, and the end result is what I would tend to call "21st century ninja modern".
Storm Shadow is wearing a mask over his head that only leaves the area around his eyes exposed. This is entirely in keeping with the character as he first appeared as an action figure. In fact it's a dead-on match.
The torso of Storm Shadow's uniform is somewhat tight-fitting, and appears to have a certain amount of protective padding. It definitely has a high, upturned collar, which is an interesting design element. The sleeves are looser-fitting than the rest of the shirt, and appear to have ridged, protective padding at the biceps, and armored protection on the back of the lower arms. Storm Shadow is also wearing white gloves. Really, the figure is entirely covered except for the area around the eyes.
Storm Shadow's trousers, unlike most of his shirt, are very loose-fitting, almost billowing, up to the point where they are brought in by armored knee pads. Storm Shadow's boots are very high-tech in appearance, including what looks like armored protection on the fronts of the lower legs, and some sort of protection on the back. The feet are designed in such a way that Storm Shadow's big toes appear to be separated from the rest of his toes.
Most of the costume is white. There is some light gray detailing around the collar, and down the sides of the front of the shirt. Part of Storm Shadow's belt is gray. The ridged padding on the biceps is gray, and the armored elements on the lower arms, knees, and lower legs are silver-gray.
This trim does a nice job of off-setting the otherwise entirely white uniform without detracting from it. I've seen some Storm Shadow costumes over the years where they just tried too hard to make him a bit more colorful. He doesn't need some massive red dragon image sweeping up from his legs to his shoulders, for example. The only additional color trim on this Storm Shadow figure is a small red Cobra emblem on the upper left chest. And, of course, there's some flesh tone visible around the eyes, and one can also see his eyes and eyebrows. These are very neatly painted.
On the whole, it's a truly excellent design, and I am extremely impressed by it. Storm Shadow's main color -- white -- is readily apparent, and there's just enough additional color to make it a bit more interesting without taking away from it. I look forward to seeing how this costume works on the big screen when the movie premieres.
Storm Shadow is superbly articulated. There have been some criticisms concerning the articulation of some of the figures in the Retaliation line, and some of these criticisms do have merit. However, it appears that the ninjas in the line have definitely caught a break in the articulation department. Storm Shadow is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles.
The ankles are particularly interesting, as the feet not only move "up and down", but have a certain "side to side rotation", which allows for better balance in more action based stances. It's a little difficult to explain, and it's not an articulation point that I see very often. If you can imagine the axis of rotation being along the toes and heel, you've about got it. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a G.I. Joe figure has had this particular motion, and Storm Shadow also shares it with the Snake-Eyes and Red Ninja figures.
Storm Shadow comes with an interesting array of accessories. As one would expect for a ninja, he comes with a pair of very nicely made swords, which can fit into a pair of sheaths that are attached to his back. He also has a spring-loaded "Launcher-Pulley" device which comes with five feet of string and can act as a zip line device. Based on some of the footage I've seen in the initial trailers, which features ninja battle along the side of a sheer mountain, something like this could come in handy.
So, what's my final word? This is really an excellent Storm Shadow figure. The design is superb, well in keeping with the iconic design of the character, nearly painted, and certainly well-articulated. The swords are superb accessories, and if the Launcher-Pulley is a little on the "toyetic" side -- well, let's be fair, these figures have to appeal to kids as well as collectors, and the zip line mechanism should certainly help in that regard.
This is really one of the more impressive Storm Shadow figures I've seen in a while. Storm Shadow made an excellent transition into the 25th Anniversary line and figure format, and this may be the best Storm Shadow figure that's come along since then. I sincerely believe that any longtime G.I. Joe fan and collector will be very pleased to add this particular Storm Shadow to their collection.
The STORM SHADOW figure from the G.I. JOE: RETALIATION line definitely has my highest recommendation!