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By Thomas Wheeler

Of all the G.I.Joe comic books, few are better known than G.I.JOE #21. The famed "Silent Issue" which featured dynamic artwork by Larry Hama, the regular writer for the title. This wordless comic book showcased a story in which Scarlett was kidnaped by the mysterious new Cobra ninja STORM SHADOW, in his very first appearance, and taken to Castle Destro.

The silent commando SNAKE-EYES would stage a rescue operation, fighting a troop of Red Ninjas under Storm Shadow's command to rescue Scarlett from the dungeon of the castle, and briefly facing off against Storm Shadow himself, in a battle that would reveal that both Snake-Eyes and the new ninja character had the same strange tattoo on their arms.

What was the connection? G.I.JOE #21 was the beginning of one legend -- Storm Shadow -- the development of another -- Snake-Eyes -- and a previously unheard of achievement in comics -- an story told without one single word balloon. Just the art. Small wonder, then, that this remarkable issue would become part of the Comic/Figure Collection.

The set includes, along with a reprint of the aforementioned comic book, figures for SNAKE-EYES, STORM SHADOW, and a RED NINJA, technically designated a Red Ninja Viper. Let's start with SNAKE-EYES. To be honest, he's the least of the three. Now that's not that much of a cricitism.

Apart from the Oktober Guard figures in sets #6 and #7, and maybe Kwinn in issue #2, this has probably been the most anxiously awaited set in the collection. A classic story, and some of the most popular characters. But in fairness, we've seen Snake-Eyes redone using these body molds several times in recent years, and to be honest, I'm a little tired of seeing the 1982 body molds on just about anybody. They're not as detailed as just about any figures from later years, and frankly, they look it.

On the positive side, this is an excellent version even using these body molds. The figure is black from head to toe, and painted details are kept to a minimum, really just some tan and grey on the belt and straps, and a few weapons. Snake-Eyes also has a new headsculpt for this set.

Perhaps he didn't especially need one, but it's a good one, with more detail given to both the ski mask and the goggles. He looks a little more determined and square-jawed, too, even through the all-covering mask. Structurewise, either I got very lucky with this particular figure, or Hasbro finally found a way to get that blasted 1986 Roadblock lower torso to work well with 1982-year upper legs so that they don't go flopping all over the place like the figure's trying to breakdance when you try to stand him up properly.

Snake-Eyes file card reads as follows: SNAKE-EYES - G.I.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.

Let's turn our attention to the RED NINJA VIPER next. Although not an especially accurate representation of the Red Ninjas from the comic book, it's still a very cool figure. It uses the 1988 Storm Shadow molds, done in red. Better still, the figure doesn't have the annoying paint-wipes that the Red Ninjas from the Toys "R" Us Cobra Ninja Strike Team set got stuck with.

That set also used the 1988 Storm Shadow, as Storm Shadow, and I had several people tell me (as I experienced myself) that that figure had a very loose arm socket, a defect that had developed in the mold over the years. It would appear that someone corrected it, because the Red Ninja Viper here does not have that problem.

The Red Ninjas appeared quite frequently in the G.I.Joe Comic Book, sometimes in the employ of Cobra, sometimes as an independent force. I can readily see collectors who like to "troop-build" wanting several of these sets just for the Red Ninja. His file card reads as follows: RED NINJA VIPER - COBRA NINJA WARRIOR Primary Military Specialty: Mercenary Secondary Military Specialty: Ninja Red Ninja Viper warriors, wearing the symbol of the Arashikage clan, are ruthless mercenaries who work mainly for Cobra Commander. They earn top dollar in battle because they are one of the most formidable clans of ninja warriors existing today.

When Red Ninja Viper troopers enter a fight, they're in it until the bitter end (or until they get paid more money to fight someone else). The GI Joe Team is the only force that has ever defeated them. Red Ninja Viper warriors possess advanced ninjutsu skills that are hard to find, and they fight with razor sharp moves that are almost faster than the eye can see. "We spin and slice with the skill of the great masters, but only for the best price."

Finally, we have STORM SHADOW. And believe me when I say I have saved the best for last. This figure is not only the top prize in this three- pack, not only the top prize in this lastest assortment of three-packs, he may well be one of the top-prizes in the entire collection, even as such time as it resumes, if it does (I can hope, right?) Here's why.

The original, 1984 Storm Shadow is a lot of people's favorite version of this extremely popular character, and with good reason. The 1988 version was cool. I never much liked the Ninja Force figures, so I won't comment about that here. But when most people think about Storm Shadow, they think about the original. I recall a friend of mine who worked in a department store at the time saying they'd gotten in a special shipment of G.I.Joe figures that was MOSTLY Storm Shadow. It was gone in a few hours.

That's how popular this character was in 1984. But there's a little problem that comes up once in a while with some action figures, especially if they're molded in light colors -- like white. Water is part of the process of manufacturing and molding plastic. And if that water is contaminated, it can have a slow but very negative effect on action figures. And need it be said, the Orient doesn't have the most carefully regulated, filtered water on the face of the planet. What can happen over time, especially if the figure is exposed to sunlight a fair bit, is that the figure will discolor. It will take on a yellowish tinge.

So anybody who's dressed in white, or even light blue, is especially susceptible to this, and it will be very noticable. Snow Job, Frostbite, Spirit, Shipwreck... Storm Shadow... Try to find a pure white Storm Shadow from 1984. They're out there. It's not impossible. Neither is it easy. Nor is it generally inexpensive. And even if you find one, he might have other problems. Wear on the black or silver painted details. Or worse, that intricate, delicately applied Cobra logo might be partially worn off.

I suspect there's people that have been waiting for a really good reissue of the original Storm Shadow almost as long as they waited for the original members of Oktober Guard to be rendered in plastic. My original Storm Shadow not only turned yellow, he turned TAN! (Don't worry, I customized him into a character of my own creation. I'll write a custom review about that sometime.) We knew Hasbro still had the molds.

The Black Dragon Ninjs and Red Ninjas from the TRU six-pack proved that, and it was practically a given that issue #21 would be a part of the Comic/Figure collection, and would have to include Storm Shadow. Boy, did it ever. Thankfully, in this case, the figure was not given a new head-sculpt. It's Storm Shadow from top to bottom. The skin color is slightly darker, but I think that makes him look more dramatic. The only major change was a positive one.

Every image, both on the original card art and in thecomic book, showed Storm Shadow as wearing a sleeveless outfit. And yet the figure had short sleeves. Those have been eliminated with the use of a different upper arm (whose, I have no idea), and the end result is a figure that can only be described as the Ultimate Storm Shadow -- with a nice white uniform.

Here's his file card: STORM SHADOW- COBRA NINJA File Name: Arashikage, Thomas M. Primary Military Specialty: Ninja Secondary Military Specialty: Sabotage One of the most dangerous men on the face of the planet, STORM SHADOW was once a master of the ARASHIKAGE Ninja Clan. Now, he sells his arcane skills to the evil forces of COBRA in order to pursue his twisted plan for revenge against his former sword brother SNAKE-EYES. Ninjas are mystic warriors, spies, master swordsmen, acrobats, conjurors and tricksters. They can do all sorts of amazing things - or at least seem to do them, because the ninja's prime directive is embodies in a major precept of the ancient warrior sage Sun Tsu, who said, "All warfare is based on deception." This should give COBRA pause to consider the loyalty of STORM SHADOW and ponder the question, "What does he really want?" "A sword hidden away in its scabbard does not lose its edge. The same can be said for my loyalty and honor!"

Now, before I conclude, I want to discuss one other thing. The accessories. I don't normally talk much about the weaponry and accessories that these figures come with. I don't tend to display them with the figures, and as far as I'm concerned, a lot of it is asking to be vaccum cleaner bait if it ever got lost. But the accessories that come with thie set are deserving of commentary. They're really outstanding. There's enough equipment in here to make any ninja happy.

And moreover, a lot of it has been PAINTED! There's something you really don't see very often! Nice extra little touch, there, Hasbro. This particular Comic/Figure 3-Pack, featuring STORM SHADOW, SNAKE-EYES, and the RED NINJA, from Issue #21, is truly outstanding. Any G.I.Joe collector will be happy with it, and probably want to buy more than one. It has my highest recommendation.