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By Thomas Wheeler

One thing that the original G.I.Joe line from 1982-1994 seemed to have was a bias towards arctic troopers as opposed to desert troopers -- on both sides. The Joes had Snow Job, Frostbite, Iceberg, Sub-Zero, Windchill, Snow Storm, Avalanche, among others, while Cobra had Snow Serpents, Ice Vipers -- but where were the desert troopers? The Joes had Dusty. Granted, Duke got a nicely realistic desert camouflage uniform -- in 1993. And while Cobra introduced their Snow Serpents in 1985, they didn't get around to their Desert Scorpion troopers until 1991.

For someone who lived in Arizona as I do, it didn't seem entirely fair. There were even plans to produce special desert sets, during the original Desert Storm, and again in 1998 (actual versions of this latter set have turned up, but are as scarce as Ninja Commandos), but neither made it to production.

But, seeing as how our last two military conflicts have taken place in desert environments, desert troopers have become more prevalent in G.I.Joe. And now there's a nice set of traditional-style figures among the Toys "R" Us exclusive six-packs to join the team.

The set features, at least in name, four well-known characters, and two lesser-knowns. The four well-known characters include SNAKE-EYES, GUNG-HO, STALKER, and DUSTY, and the group is filled out with TUNNEL RAT and AMBUSH.

SNAKE-EYES is the 1991 version of the figure, which I am personally delighted to see return. Most people regard the 1985 version of Snake-Eyes as the best of the lot. Not me. I always felt the 1991 version was the best, although the color scheme got thrown off with a light blue shirt and pale grey vest. When the body mold was redone all in black for the Street Fighter movie line, I quickly painted a Snake-Eyes head black, did a head swap, and had a customized all-black 1991-style Snake-Eyes.

This new Snake-Eyes comes close. His top half, at least, is predominantly black, or at least dark colors. And it looks right. I have to say, though, that giving Snake-Eyes rather pale-colored desert camouflage trousers, however much it might help him fit in with the set, makes him look a bit like he grabbed the wrong pants on the way out the door. It's a little odd-looking.

GUNG-HO is probably the most impressive figure of the group. This is the 1992 version of Gung-Ho, and while perhaps not as memorable as the original 1983 version, it's still a capable edition of Gung-Ho. His tattoo is in the right place, the overall detail work on the ammo belt is well-painted, as well as shirt buttons, and the end result is an excellent Gung-Ho figure.

STALKER, I would have to say, is also a good figure, but not without a couple of problems. The most glaring is they forgot to paint his mustache. It's sculpted there, but left unpainted, it looks like he's got a split lip. Fortunately, this is an easy enough fix for anyone with a little black paint and a thin brush. The figure uses the 1989 Stalker head, a good choice, and the 1991 Duke body -- not one of my favorites, but since it was the head of that Duke figure that always bothered me (thing had a nose on it like you wouldn't believe), and since that obviously isn't an issue here, the overall Stalker figure is a good one.

Then there's DUSTY. I almost want to put that name in quotes. Trying to pass this figure off as Dusty is like trying to pass Chuckles off as Cobra Commander. They're part of the same line, but that's about it. The figure uses the 1991 Low-Light body and the Stretcher head. Stretcher was used in the recent Anti-Venom figure set, except there he was called Lifeline. The most silly part of this "Dusty" figure is that -- I think in an attempt to make him look different than the "Lifeline" use -- they used the helmet mike as a "guide" to paint what looks like an excessive turtleneck collar up the figure's neck and over the jaw. The end result makes the figure look a bit like he's wearing a whiplash restraint.

TUNNEL RAT is a perfectly decent figure, although strangely, I've heard a couple of people complain that he's turning up too much. Come on, people, if you're going to complain about somebody, complain about this one they tried to call "Dusty". Tunnel Rat last appeared in Night Force roughly a year ago. I don't have any problem seeing him here, and while desert combat might not he his primary specialty, the bandana the figure wears tends to make him look well-suited for the job.

Finally we have AMBUSH, who on the package has his full name spelled out around his name, which is how Hasbro is managing to bring back some of these characters in instances where, for legal reasons, they can't use the character's code-name on its own, so "legally", this is Aaron "Ambush" McMahon. It's a good figure, although it's an interesting selection of parts. The body is that of the original Ambush. The head is actually that of the 1991 Low-Light, whose body was used on this set's "Dusty" figure. This particular head has more recently been used for various editions of Big Brawler, but I suspect that Hasbro couldn't use the original Ambush head, because that head sculpt has been used by Funskool in India for their version of Big Brawler. Did everybody get that? Good, because I don't want to have to repeat it.

File cards for this set are as follows:

SNAKE-EYES GI JOE COVERT MISSION SPECIALIST File Name: Classified Primary Military Specialty: Infantry Secondary Military Specialty: Hand-to-Hand Combat Instructor Birthplace: Classified Some people say that ninjas own the night. If that's the case, SNAKE-EYES owns the whole twenty-four hours. Anybody who isn't a mouth-breather has a reasonable chance of sneaking up behind a sentry in the dark. Snake-Eyes can do it at high noon on a gravel path with no cover. A qualified expert with all NATO and former Warsaw Pact small arms, he is proficient in twelve martial arts systems and a master of the same ninja clan (Arashikage) that produced Storm Shadow. His one known hobby is collecting spike-knuckled trench knives. At one time Snake-Eyes and the COBRA ninja Storm Shadow were sword brothers, but circumstances forced them apart and led Storm Shadow down the evil road to COBRA. Although others see them as bitter foes, Snake-Eyes looks at the COBRA ninja and sees the only best friend he ever had, so he dreads the day that he may have to draw his sword against him in earnest.

GUNG-HO MARINE RECON File Name: LaFitte, Ettienne R. Primary Military Specialty: Reconaissance Secondary Military Specialty: Heavy Weapons Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Fer-De-Lance, Louisiana Although he is courteous, soft-spoken, and kind to small animals, this does not prevent GUNG-HO from being an in-your-face snarling fighting machine when it comes to a major head-to-head with COBRA forces. He has even been known to help COBRA prisoners pick up their teeth after the fight. GUNG-HO can sleep in a wet foxhole and wake up alert when it's his turn to pull perimeter patrol. He can make a meal out of a dead snake, and he can drink water that's thick enough to float a purification tablet. He will also willingly sprint across a withering COBRA cross fire to help a fellow GI JOE soldier. He can do all this without having his DNA altered by venom serum like the so-called "special" COBRA V-Troops. "The only genetic altering i ever received was at beautiful, scenic parris island where I was transformed from a shy adolescent into a tough-as-leather marine."

This Gung-Ho card is easily the best and funniest file card I've read in months, even with the obvious "Valor vs. Venom" references towards the end. Larry Hama had to be responsible for this one.

SGT. STALKER RANGER File Name: Wilkinson, Lonzo R. Primary Military Specialty: Infantry Secondary Military Specialty: Medic/Interpreter Birthplace: Detroit,Michigan The survival instincts of SGT. STALKER were honed at an early age on the mean streets of his home town, a fact which gives him a distinctive edge over those who first received their combat training in their late teens under less demanding circumstances. He's no poser; he doesn't just walk the walk and talk the talk. He's the real thing, and he's taking names. Ranger trained and airborne qualified, SGT. STALKER has gone through some of the toughest programs the army can offer. He is resilient and resourceful, capable of adapting to changing situations and not hidebound by standardized procedures. He knows through experience that no battle plan survives the first shot and that the soldier who thinks the fastest on his feet is the one who will win the day. "So FIREFLY got himself some new genes; what's the big deal? I could kick his butt before he got them, and I can kick his butt now."

You know, I'd like to say that the Detroit that's described here is an exaggeration. But seeing as how I spent my first fourteen years in its classier outskirts, although with reasonable knowledge of what the downtown environment was like, I can say with some confidence that, unfortunately, it's not.

DUSTY DESERT WARFARE SPECIALIST File Name: Tadur, Ronald W. Primary Military Specialty: Infantry Secondary Military Specialty: Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Birthplace: Las Vegas, Nevada DUSTY feels totally at home in the desert, but he also knows that is is an unforgiving environment to those who take it for granted. He trains hard to keep himself in top physical condition, and he is not tooproud to ask other, more experienced team members for tips in field-craft and combat-readiness. Simply making it through the day in the harshest desert conditions is extremely difficult, especially if you are carrying up to a hundred pounds of weapons, ammo, food, water, and equipment. to DUSTY, it's just a stroll through his back yard. He doesn't fight his environment, he co-exists with it. "ZARTAN might think he's blending in with the desert, but he doesn't spend as much time studying the desert as I do. He's not getting over on my, not by a long shot."

TUNNEL RAT EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE DISPOSAL File Name: Lee, Nicky. Primary Military Specialty: Explosives and Demolitions Secondary Military Specialty: Combat Engineer Birthplace: Brooklyn, Mew York There isn't a mine, booby-trap, or bomb in the world that TUNNEL RAT can't disarm, defuse, or otherwise deactivate in less than thirty seconds. This comes from constant practice on dummy devices, or whatever he can get his hands on that ticks. Once the entire GI JOE Team missed formation because TUNNEL RAT had deactivated all the alarm clocks. TUNNEL RAT is one of the team who clears the way for the others. A qualified expert with most heavy assault weapons, he is in the forefront of every attack on fortified COBRA positions, and can be counted on to deal with any traps, or other nasty surprises that might brunt the attack. "Somebody once said that a soldier is somebody who is very good at breaking things. That's me all right. Only when I break things, they become safer."

AARON "AMBUSH" McMAHON CONCEALMENT SPECIALIST File Name: McMahon, Aaron Primary Military Specialty: Concealment Specialist Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry Birthplace: Walnut, California Aaron "AMBUSH" McMahon has no trouble staying out of sight. When he was ten years old, he participated in a neighborhood game of hide-and-seek, then disappeared for three days. It wasn't until the national guard was called in to aid in the search that his well-camouflaged hiding place was discovered under his parents' front porch. After he joined the army, he became so evasive that even his drill sergeant was unable to account for his whereabouts during the day. There's nothing he won't do to accomplish a mission. Once, he concealed himself as a shrub, tumbled into a heavily-guarded COBRA weapons depot, captured their base commander, then safely delivered him to GI JOE headquarters for interrogation. "Concealment is all about using the ordinary and obvious to trick the enemy into seeing only what you want him to see."

There's a few common points worth mentioning. The package illustrations, as has been the practice of late, more greatly resemble the classic incarnations of these characters more than what you actually get in the package, especially in the case of Dusty. However, the illustration for Ambush is an incredibly generic helmeted soldier, as if nobody could remember what this less-than-prominent character looked like originally.

The figures, for the most part, follow a common color scheme. A sort of dark greenish-grey shirt, with desert camouflage trousers. The exceptions are Stalker, who is dressed in all camo, and Snake-Eyes, whose shirt is largly black, although he does have green-grey trim. What's just a little bothersome about this is that this is the exact same color scheme, even down to the colors on shirts and trousers, that was used by the recent Anti-Venom six-pack, although the camouflage on the trousers of the Desert Patrol set is more authentic-looking. You could essentially put both sets together and have twelve Joes all dressed pretty much alike (two of which would even have the same head).

There is one sure way -- other than the trouser camo -- to keep them apart. The Desert Patrol Squad does have a very nicely done Desert Patrol Insignia, which is either on the shirt sleeve of the figure, or "tattooed" on the upper arm. Talk about a reason to keep your shirt on. Suppose you were transferred to another unit within G.I.Joe!? Still, the marking is a nice touch.

The overall painting detail on these figures is excellent. Bullets, buttons, buckles, all have individual paint jobs that in many cases exceed what was done with the figures when they appeared in the original collection. This is to be commended. So is the desert patterning in the trousers, even though the "chocolate chip" pattern is a little outmoded in real life (so, we can say it's been reassigned as a specialized pattern for the Joes). What is not to be commended is that Hasbro still hasn't gotten off the practice of HAND-PAINTING some parts, especially boots, and this does inevitably result in occasional sloppy work. I don't blame the people doing the work. When you paint thousands of the same part by hand, they're not all going to come out well. I blame the practice itself, and it needs to stop.

So does paint-wiping dirt on these figures, but in this case, the meager bit of tan paint scuffed across their boots is almost laughable.

Now, I need to discuss one assembly matter. Allow me to explain how the legs are put together. There are two upper leg halves that have a round peg at the "knee". The lower leg, a single piece, has a round hole at the top, and this is placed over this peg, and the two upper leg halves are assembled. Except recently, for whatever bizarre reason, a lot of the lower leg pieces do not have a round hole. They have a hexagonal one. And this causes an articulation problem whereby the knee will not stay put when moved to a "straight down" position. It will snap back slightly, which makes it very difficult to stand the figure. This can be corrected by opening the leg, taking the lower leg, and re-drilling the hole to be round, which must be done very carefully, otherwise the knee joint will be too loose. But I can't imagine why the lower leg would be molded like this in the first place.

Overall, though, this G.I.JOE DESERT PATROL SQUAD is probably the best team to come out in some time, and it certainly has the least inexcusable annoyances. The heads are not pointlessly painted in flesh tone like the Anti-Venom set. The figures are not dipped from head to toe in paint-dirt like most of the Cobra Ninja Set. It's got one loser figure ("Dusty") out of six. I can live with that.

Hopefully, this is a sign of gradual improvement, although really, Hasbro has yet to top the Tiger Force, Python Patrol, or Cobra Infantry sets in the minds of many collectors. I'm not sure what's on deck for 2005, but the word I'm hearing is that these sets sell very well, and Toys "R" Us is extremely pleased with them and wants to continue them. So I'm sure we'll see something. Meanwhile, minor glitches aside, I most definitely recommend the G.I.JOE DESERT PATROL SQUAD to round out your year of Toys "R" Us G.I.Joe sets. YO JOE!