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By Thomas Wheeler

First showcased at the G.I.JOE Convention in Walt Disney World back in July, it came as quite a surprise to many collectors that this new G.I.Joe store exclusive set would be an exclusive to K*B Toys. Really, it shouldn't've been that much of a surprise. Hasbro has sent a number of Transformers to K*B as exclusives, mostly SpyChangers and the recent and very popular MicroMasters sets. And there have been some G.I.Joe exclusives, including the 12" Airborne figure, as well as the recolored Manimals a few years ago. Sadly, neither of those went quite as planned, as only three of the six Manimals ever hit the stores, and a later 12" G.I.Joe that I would have very much enjoyed, Bazooka, also went unproduced.

But, there's not much use in crying over spilled plastic, especially when a set as cool as this turned up in late November. I was actually bored enough on the day after Thanksgiving to walk over to my local mall and drop in on the K*B Toy Store there, just to see if there was anything interesting. I'd just popped into a Wal-Mart next door and acquired the second of two books in a Star Trek story, so maybe I was feeling lucky. A good new book and a cool new toy? I could definitely get with that!

And so I did. The OPERATION CRIMSON SABOTAGE set had arrived! Much like the VAMP/WHIRLWIND set which turned up at Toys "R" Us some time ago, this set consisted of one vehicle, one towable vehicle that could attach to the initial vehicle, and three traditional-style G.I.Joe figures. Unlike the G.I.Joe set at TRU, however, this one was all Cobra. Even more sinister, it was all Crimson Guard!

The Crimson Guards were first introduced in 1985. They were the worst nightmare of the modern world -- warriors that could function as well in the boardroom as well as on the battlefield. It's bad enough if you've got someone coming at you wearing an enemy uniform and armed to the teeth. How much worse is it if the guy inside that uniform is a lawyer!? You might as well say your prayers right there, because you know you're not going to get any mercy from that!

The Crimson Guards were Cobra's finest, on and off the battlefield. When they weren't in regular combat, they were in corporate boardrooms, courtrooms, tax offices, and executive washrooms across the country, seemingly upstanding citizens of the community, all the while working for Cobra to help conquer the world. Cobra Commander wasn't particular. If he couldn't win the world in military conflict, he'd take it in lawsuits and hostile takeovers.

The Crimson Guards were led by twins named Tomax and Xamot, who had an annoying pattern of double-talk, tending to finish each other's sentences, and whatever one felt physically, so did the other. They were easily as ruthless as any of their troops, and just as savvy businessmen, running the financial organization known as Extensive Enterprises on the side when they weren't running around in Cobra uniforms.

The original Crimson Guard figure was, in basic principle, typical of Cobra's legions. Nameless, faceless, and relatively anonymous. But the design of the uniform was very distinct. Head to toe a deep crimson red, with limited black and silver trim, and enough fancy detail so that it almost looked like a formal dress uniform. These were not troops readily sent to the battlefield. They were kept in reserve for when they were needed most, to deliver a final and fatal blow however best they could.

The Crimson Guards and their twin leaders became an instant hit in the world of G.I.Joe, and a vital part of the Cobra legions. The original figure was redone -- oddly with very little red -- in the original Python Patrol line, and then a new incarnation of the Crimson Guards, a far more battle-ready looking figure, appeared in 1991 - the Crimson Guard Immortal. One more CG figure, the Crimson Guard Commanders, turned up in 1993. One wondered what happened to Tomax and Xamot, and the figure had yellow trim instead of silver, so he was a bit of an oddball compared to his predecessors, but it was still a cool figure.

Tomax and Xamot returned in the 2002 G.I.Joe Convention Set, with Crimson-uniformed Vipers and a Crimson-uniformed Baroness. The Crimson Guard Immortal turned up in another K*B exclusive, the Crimson Attack Tank II. And in 2003, a new G.I.Joe, named Agent Faces, the first mail-order figure in some time, turned up wearing a slightly modified version of the original Crimson Guard uniform.

But what about the Crimson Guards themselves? Finally, they're back! And after such a long absence, you've gotta figure they're not in a good mood. And what comes in the new CRIMSON SABOTAGE set is clearly three Crimson Guards looking for trouble.

The set includes a Crimson version of the original HISS tank. Now this is not the first time this tank has been done in red. But it's been given a red canopy, red plating alongside the treads, and two distinct insignia labels, a very official-looking one that says "1st Crimson Division" and a somewhat less official-looking one that has a skull and crossbones and lettering that says "Crimson Brigade". It looks just piratical enough that you wonder which one of these guys suggested going to "Pirates of the Caribbean" when they should've been on duty.

The set also includes a Crimson version of the ASP, which stands for Assault System Pod. It's never been produced in this color scheme before, and in fact hasn't been seen for years. It's a towable vehicle, with legs that lower so it can be stationary when it fires its weapons.

The two vehicles are, unfortunately, somewhat battle-weathered. I will never understand this practice. If I buy a toy, I like it to look new, unless there's justified reason for it to look beaten up, such as might be the case with certain Star Wars vehicles like the Millennium Falcon. But there's no good reason to do it to these G.I.Joe vehicles except somebody at Hasbro is under the impression that it makes the vehicles look cooler. It doesn't. If I want a vehicle to look battle worn, I'll give it to a small child and send him to a sandbox for half an hour. Meanwhile, when I buy something new, I expect it to look it.

Fortunately, there were enough of these on display that I was able to choose the least weathered one, and the level of paint smeared on these vehicles is still less than the prototypes I've seen pictured, as well as less than I've encountered on some other G.I.Joe merchandise lately, such as the Cobra Ninja set of figures. So I'm not going to complain that much, except to say that I really believe, and I know plenty of others that agree with me, that this is a practice that needs to be stopped entirely.

Also fortunately, the three Crimson Guards are not in the least bit battle-weathered. And they look great. They're essentially identical, from the neck down, to the mail-order Agent Faces figure, except they have the same "1st Crimson Division" logo on their arms that the HISS tank has. It's a nice touch, especially since these figures aren't quite exact matches for the original Crimson Guards. Making them part of a special team like this helps to explain that.

And unlike the original CG's, these have removable helmets. With their helmets, the heads look a little big, but not intolerably so. The head sculpts underneath are all identical, but colored differently. One is African-American, one has black hair, and one has reddish-brown hair. They all have masks covering their lower faces, fairly traditional for Cobra forces.

It's interesting that African-Americans have turned up in some of these sets. There was also one in the Cobra Infantry six-pack sold at Toys "R" Us. In the 80's, it probably would've been way too politically-incorrect to put an ethic male on an evil team of terrorists. But, sold as part of a multi-pack, it's probably a little less risky. And at the risk of sounding racist, evil doesn't know any skin color.

There was some speculation that this head sculpt might've been the same one from the Star Brigade Cobra Commander in 1994. And granted, there is a superficial resemblance. But I'm almost positive it's an all-new head sculpt, and it's certainly not the Star Brigade Cobra Commander head. The face mask on that head sculpt was rather ornate with a sculpted pattern in it. These face masks are plain. It does look very similar, but it isn't identical.

The set comes with three rifles for the figures, and the Crimson Guard file card on the bottom of the box reads as follows:

CRIMSON GUARD COBRA ELITE TROOPER The CRIMSON GUARD troopers are elite shock troops of the COBRA legions. Each must hold a degree in either law or accounting as well as being in top physical condition. After rigorous training in COBRA combat and tactics, each "siegie" undergoes plastic surgery (performed by the COBRA surgeon SCALPEL) so that each trooper will look similar. Afterward, each is given their new assignment; a new life, in a new city. CRIMSON GUARD troops are too precious to be wasted on the conventional battlefield and are instead expected to become valued members of the community, to climb the political and corporate ladder and into positions of importance. Forming this force is thought to be one of the first actions of COBRA COMMANDER after he formed COBRA; the "sirgie" network may have been in place for more the 10 years. At least two, and perhaps more, prominent members of Congress (and dozens of lobbyists) are rumored to be "siegies" in deep undercover. Watch out. That town mayor of yours might just have a red uniform hanging in his closet!

Gee, can I get a little paranoia with my new toy?

Anyway, it's an excellent set. The vehicles are cool, and the figures definitely are. My one and only gripe with the figures might be that their gloves and silver cuffs are hand-painted, as are the black portions of their helmets. This is another practice that needs to be stopped, but unlike a few other times where I have encountered this practice, it's an easy enough fix. Repainting three pairs of gloves with decent precision is one thing. Painting thousands of them is quite another, which is why Hasbro should really stop doing it.

But whatever gripes I may have are minor, and only because I feel this line, as a whole, must be held to the highest possible standards. In short, the standards it set during its first run. Don't let my few negative comments keep you from adding OPERATION CRIMSON SABOTAGE to your collection! It's a very cool set based on one of the most significant detachments of troopers within the entire concept! It's certain to be highly popular -- indeed already is based on a little looking around I did in some discussion boards on the Web Site YoJoe.Com -- it's on a LOT of collectors' Christmas lists -- and it's only $19.99, so as such time as you see it -- get it! I most definitely give it my highest recommendation!