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REVIEW: G.I.JOE OKTOBER GUARD
By Thomas Wheeler

Twenty-two years. That's half my life (as of this writing, anyway). That's how long I've waited to see these particular figures. That's how long I've felt that they've deserved and needed to be added to the G.I.Joe Collection.

Took long enough, but it finally happened.

The sixth and seventh sets of the highly popular G.I.JOE Comic/Figure three-packs finally, finally, FINALLY brought the complete, original Oktober Guard into the G.I.Joe world of action figures. Some background is obviously called for here, even though for most, this may be old news.

1982. Hasbro introduced the G.I.JOE action figure line in its new 3-3/4" form, and they flew off the shelves faster than you could say "Yo, Joe!", a phrase which actually wasn't created until the following year, but why quibble.

This new "Real American Hero" also featured an enemy team. Now, in the days of Reagan, and the Evil Soviet Empire, one might expect that the enemy team would have been Russian. But this was not the case. Hasbro felt this would've gotten a little too close to real-life for a toy line, and so the fictional "Cobra" enemy was created.

The comic book, however, written by Larry Hama and produced by Marvel Comics, was under no such constraints. They introduced a team of Soviet specialists, named the Oktober Guard (although initially it was spelled "October". It was later changed to "Oktober", which somehow looked a little more Soviet).

Although they opposed the G.I.Joe Team, they certainly had no love for Cobra, and in the two-part adventure, the Joes and the Guard had to declare an admittedly uneasy alliance in order to combat the greater thread posed by Cobra.

The very existence of the Oktober Guard made perfect sense. If the USA had a team of top specialists whose main purpose was to combat the global threat of the massive Cobra organization, then logic indicated that the USSR, the other great "super-power" in the world, would also have such a team.

Almost immediately the pleas began for Oktober Guard action figures, but Hasbro's upper levels were not willing to take the chance of producing Soviet soldiers as either allies or enemies within the toy line.

That didn't slow the Guard down elsewhere, however. They next appeared in G.I.JOE YEARBOOK #2, adding a sixth member at that time, a flamethrower specialist known as Dragonsky. A modified version of the Oktober Guard turned up several times in the original animated series. When the G.I.JOE SPECIAL MISSIONS title got started, the Guard turned up rather frequently there.

Ultimately, a number of the original members were sadly killed off in one issue of Special Missions. But this still didn't slow down the Oktober Guard. Two new members, Sgt.Misha and Lt. Gorky, turned up later on, along with the survivors. Even when the Soviet Union fell apart in real life, the Oktober Guard still returned in the pages of the comic.

It took until 1991 for Hasbro to finally make an Oktober Guard figure. But he wasn't anybody from the comic. He was a new character, named Red Star, who admittedly bore a fair resemblance to Oktober Guard team leader Colonel Brekhov from the comics. The following year, a second all-new character named Big Bear signed up in the figures. However derivative the names might have been, those who knew and loved the Guard were delighted to see any figures bearing that team name.

There were plans to do Dragonsky, as part of the Eco-Warriors, as well as a 12" Hall of Fame Red Star, but when the Soviet Union collapsed, so did Hasbro's plans for any more of the Guard. A three-pack was produced in 1998, and that seemed to be the end of it.

But what of the original Guard? There were five members: Colonel Brekhov, Daina, Horror-Show, Stormavik, and Schrage. While some of them could arguably be customized, that still just wasn't quite the same as authentic Hasbro figures.

When Hasbro announced their plans to do the Comic/Figure three-packs, and basically do them from the start of the comics run at first, a lot of Oktober Guard fans wondered -- when they get around to issues #6 and #7 -- will they do the Guard? Will they finally do Horror-Show, whose padded, patterned coat couldn't really be carried out with existing parts?

The answer was revealed at the G.I.JOE Convention, and the answer was a resounding YES! Although Set #6 was not on display, Set #7 was, with Horror-Show, complete with a newly sculpted torso and arms -- very unusual these days -- as he was always meant to be.

Hasbro's creative personnel, past and present, knew that these figures had been long sought-after by many long-suffering G.I.Joe fans. Just the prototypes on display at the Convention got a very positive reaction. I spoke to a well-regarded former Hasbro creative person, and when I told him that the Oktober Guard was finally being made as figures, he said, "It's about time!" He was a little wrong, there. They were long overdue.

Needless to say, I acquired these figures as soon as I was able to.

So, what do we have here? Set #6 features COLONEL BREKHOV, DAINA, and SCHRAGE. Set #7 features STORMAVIK, HORROR SHOW (who is "officially" listed as "Stepan 'Horror-Show' Drukersky"), and to round out that three-pack, a STALKER figure. Stalker figured prominently in this initial adventure, and was the one to propose the truce between the Joes and the Guard so they could deal with Cobra together.

Really, where does one begin here? It may seem a little silly, but I want to comment about two things regarding the packaging. First off, it's a real kick seeing the original Guard rendered in modern artwork with modern coloring techniques. Even in their last appearance in the comics, the advanced printing and coloring methods used today hadn't quite come into the comics world yet.

Secondly, I want to mention the file cards. They're deliberately quite different, and it's a nice touch. Where's both G.I.Joe and Cobra cards are mostly white with grey silhouettes of either a star or a Cobra, the Oktober Guard cards are dark green, with no background pattern. Where the Joe and Cobra cards have a bar code pattern along one edge, the Guard cards have a pattern of dots, like old-style computer tape. Whoever thought of doing it like this, it's a nice touch. I'll get around to the file cards' content a little later, though. Right now I want to discuss the figures.

COLONEL BREKHOV, not surprisingly, uses the Red Star body. However, he has a new head sculpt. And Hasbro needs to be commended. Although the head sculpts are still a little on the small side, they're nowhere near as bad as a couple of the early sets, such as Scarlett and Baroness. Brekhov's head sculpt is perfect. It looks exactly like the character in the comic book. The overall level of detail Hasbro is putting into these new head sculpts is truly amazing. A friend of mine, upon seeing Brekhov, said that the face looked distinctly Russian. And he's been over there, so he should know.

DAINA, again not surprisingly, uses the Lady Jaye body. But the colors are so different you can hardly tell. The original Lady Jaye was dressed in what looked like a bright green jumpsuit. Daina has a camouflage shirt and pale green trousers. She's also wearing the fur hat that she had in this storyline, which she later traded in for a pilot's leather helmet. The head sculpt is superb, and unlike the odd Volga/Daina figure of 1998, this Daina has both her proper name and her proper hair color -- blonde.

SCHRAGE uses the body, mostly, of Big Ben, a good choice since the ammo belts on this uniform go well with the ones Schrage is seen carrying throughout this story. And again, in order to differentiate Schrage's uniform from its original, Schrage's uniform is a consistent light tan, as opposed to Big Ben's two-color uniform.

STORMAVIK also uses the Red Star body, much as Colonel Brekhov did. This makes sense, since Stormavik has the blue-and-white-striped undershirt of the Soviet Navy, and so did Red Star. This is a real-life element worked into this figure. Stormavik's hair color was always a little uncertain in the comics, so Hasbro left the figure bald. And I'd swear the head sculpt looks like Mikhail Gorbachev.

HORROR-SHOW. Wow. My favorite member of the team, and the one I could never customize. There just were no existing parts for that padded, patterned coat he wears. So Hasbro went the extra mile and created a new sculpt not only for the head, which is dead-on perfect, but also for the torso and arms! When I finally opened the package and was holding an actual, official, Horror-Show figure, I could hardly believe it. I'm certain -- I haven't been this excited about a new G.I.Joe figure since the original line disappeared in 1994.

There are some common points that need to be noted here. The paint work is incredible on these figures. The buttons on the shirts for Brekhov and Stormavik. The zipper and buckle details on Daina. Best of all, I saw NO indication whatsoever that any of these parts were HAND-painted, a practice that, however good the painter, inevitably results in a certain sloppiness over the course of mass production!

Also worth noting is the very deliberately limited color palette used on these five figures. The Joes and, for that matter, the Cobras, can get away with a wider spectrum of colors. That would sort of seem out of place for Soviet troopers (although admittedly Dragonsky's magenta and purple outfit blew that theory to heck, but he's not part of this figure set). The pale tan on the uniforms for Brekhov, Schrage, and Daina is the same pale tan. The gold-tan on the uniforms for Stormavik and Horror-Show's trousers is the same gold-tan. The brown trim is the same. About all that stands out is Daina's camouflage shirt, and Horror-Show's big jacket. And even they blend in well.

One more point, one I usually don't make -- weapons and accessories. Everybody knows Horror-Show carries a huge RPG with him. It's as much "his weapon" as Roadblock's massive machine gun is to him. The people who worked on this set made sure that Horror-Show got his RPG. In fact, they made sure that all members of Oktober Guard were properly outfitted with the right sort of weaponry and assorted hardware. Daina comes with a Kalashinkov AKMS with fixed bayonet, Colonel Brekhov has a Makarov PM Pistol and Kalashinkov AKMS with fixed bayonet, Schrage is equipped with an AK Assualt Rifle with GP-30 underbarrel grenade launcher and AKMS with fixed bayonet, Stormavik has a AKMS with fixed bayonet, and Horror-Show has his Soviet RPG-7 Rocket Propelled Grenade. All surprisingly accurate Soviet weaponry (and thanks to Terry Dizard for helping me with the identification here).

Any complaints here at all? Just one, and it's one that's been encountered before. Hasbro has GOT to do something about the procedure used in molding the heads. The plastic that's being used is not filling the molds properly, and the result is these very nasty creases and crevices in the heads of the figures. Daina has a very noticable one in her hat. So does Schrage. My Hawk figure from Set #3 looks like somebody took the business end of a shovel to the back of his head. I'm not knowledgable enough about the specific procedures used in the manufacture of these toys to be able to state specifically what's causing this problem, but there is a problem, and it needs to be dealt with.

Now, let's turn our attention to the file cards:

COLONEL BREKHOV

OKTOBER GUARD COMMANDER

File Name: Brekhov, Ivan Nikolevich

Primary Military Specialty: Command and Strategy

Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry

Birthplace: Odessa, Ukraine

A tough, cigar-chomping veteran with a no-nonsense, no apologies style, COLONEL BREKHOV is the distinguished commander of the OKTOBER GUARD, a Russian counterpart to the GI JOE Team (although he maintains that the GI JOE Team is the American counterpart to the Oktober Guard). COLONEL BREKHOV has spent his entire adult life in military service. He genuinely cares about the welfare of his country and its people, and he feelsthat the best way he can serve them is to be the best soldier and commander possible. He is a superb strategist and is fearless in battle. His tactical mind is not above setting aside political differences to occasionally team the OKTOBER GUARD with the GI JOE Team to overcome the far greater threat posed by the COBRA organization.

"COLONEL BREKHOV is what some would call an 'old war-horse'. The military is all he knows, but that makes him a superb soldier."

It's worth mentioning that I corrected here two typos on the actual card, one of them rather glaring. The first one was right at the top, which listed Brekhov as "Oktober Guard Commando". I suspect they meant "Commander". The second was the sentence, "although he maintains that the GI JOE Team is the American counterpart to the Oktober Guard", which on the file card erroneously reads "although he maintains that the OKTOBER GUARD is the American counterpart to the Oktober Guard". These figures are great, but I think Hasbro could stand to hire a proof-reader. I'm available for that, by the way...

DAINA

OKTOBER GUARD SOLDIER

File Name: CLASSIFIED

Primary Military Specialty: Marksman

Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry

Birthplace: Czech Republic

DAINA is an expert marksman in the OKTOBER GUARD and its only female member. Known for her chronically bad temper, DAINA is also the most tactically intelligent member next to Colonel Brekhov, and often takes the role of second-in- command. Her rough edge is tempered by her coolness in the firld, when patience and silence are essential to achieving a hit and completing the mission. As the only woman in the group, DAINA feels compelled to do twice as much toprove that she deserves a place in the OKTOBER GUARD, but if you ask any of the other members, they all wouldn't have anyone else beside them in the field - the highest compliment you can receive from one soldier to another.

"You want charm, go somewhere else. I'm here to fight, and to win."

SCHRAGE

OKTOBER GUARD SOLDIER

File Name: CLASSIFIED

Primary Military Specialty: Infantry

Secondary Military Specialty: Battle Technician

Birthplace: Germany

SCHRAGE is a true soldier, a man more comfortable on the battlefield than anywhere else. He's a man of actions rather than words. He's well known for his monosyllabic comments and protracted silences, but even better known for his reliability, determination and courage. Fancy speeches mean little when you're chin-deep in a firefight and outnumbered by the enemy three-to-one. That's exactly when SCHRAGE appears at your side to fight beside you until the very last round of ammo is gone. He's got a natural feel for battle tactics and can be relied on to figure a fast, clean way to get the job done.

"Words are easy. How you fight, that's everything."

HORROR SHOW

OKTOBER GUARD SOLDIER

File Name: Drukersky, Stepan

Primary Military Specialty: Weapons Expert

Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry

Birthplace: Tbillisi, Georgia

The big Georgian fighter has plenty of strength and fighting skills, but he knows he's better off leaving the intelligence analysis to other members of the team. Just point him in the direction of whomever you want knocked down or taken out, and HORROR SHOW will get it done with brute force and no wasted punches or stray rounds of ammo. He grew up in a well-known theater family and though he acted with them when he was a boy, he never wanted to live and work in a world of illusion. He likes his battles real and his ammo live, when all that stands between him and making it to the next moment is his ability to be the best fighter in the world.

"I fight until I am the only one left standing. That is what I do."

STORMAVIK

OKTOBER GUARD SOLDIER

File Name: CLASSIFIED

Primary Military Specialty: Airborne Forces

Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry

Birthplace: Moscow, Russia

STORMAVIK is a member of the elite Soviet Airborne Forces. He's a tough fighter and a loyal soldier. As alliances and borders shift in frequent and contradictory ways, he regards COLONEL BREKHOV, the head of the OKTOBER GUARD, as a solid and consistent leader. He follows the core values of the Colonel: justice, honor, and dedication to his fellow soldiers. His complete commitment to duty caught the attention of Colonel Brekhov, and his unflinching courage convinced the tough Colonel that STORMAVIK would be a valuable member of the Guard. Totally fearless, he lives up to his name and storms into a battle with no other thought than to win.

"Fight, fight with everything you are, everything you have. That is the way to victory!"

I shouldn't turn away from reviewing these sets without a good word for the STALKER figure that comes with Set #7. It's an excellent Stalker figure, using the same superb new head-sculpt that the Stalker from Set #3 had, but much better uniform colors, a good dark green with black camouflage. This figure is easily the ultimate "original-look" Stalker figure, no question.

I'd like to draw a rather odd comparison here, as to the degree to which I believe the creative forces at Hasbro went "all out" on these two particular sets. During the run of the TV series "Star Trek Deep Space Nine", it was decided to do a special commemorative episode during Star Trek's 30th anniversary that, thanks to the wonders of computer special effects, would place members of the DS9 crew back during the time and events of a Classic Trek episode, specifically "The Trouble with Tribbles". However, it would still be necessary to reproduce many of the sets and costumes from that episode, for the sequences when the characters were on their own, and not sharing the screen with the likes of Kirk and Spock in previously shot footage from the 60's

To read the behind the scenes details of the DS9 episode, "Trials and Tribble-ations", from the book "The Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion", one can easily see how the entire production crew from top to bottom in every department threw themselves into this episode, determined that those portions of it which took place during the time of Classic Trek, looked as absolutely authentic as possible. And brother, it worked.

I sense the same level of commitment to the Oktober Guard. Don't get me wrong. I've been very pleased with the G.I.Joe Comic/Figure Sets to date, and I look forward to the ones coming in the future. Whatever "bugs" might have hampered those early sets seem to be gradually getting ironed out, as well.

But I believe there were people at Hasbro that knew full well there was no shortage of people like me in the collecting community, that had been waiting a very long time for actual, authentic Oktober Guard figures of the original team, and they went that extra mile here and there to make sure that they got it right in every possible detail. And brother, did they ever. Excellent head sculpts that are getting past that "shrunken head" syndrome more, fantastic levels of paint details, properly and precisely applied, a superb overall color palette, the right weapons. The people responsible for these two sets clearly went the extra mile.

Do I recommend these figures? Heck, if you haven't figured that out by now. If you're any sort of G.I.Joe fan AT ALL, you won't stop pestering your local Target, or Wal-Mart, or Toys "R" Us until these are properly stocked and you're taking multiple sets of them -- that's multiple sets, I said -- to the cash register.

And a huge thank you to Hasbro, for finally enabling me to add COLONEL BREKHOV, DAINA, HORROR-SHOW, SCHRAGE, and STORMAVIK to my collection!

Now, about DRAGONSKY, LT. GORKY, and SGT. MISHA...? :)

(Special thanks to Terry Dizard for computer graphics skills in placing the Oktober Guard as a group into an appropriate environment for the main photo.)