FLASHBACK REVIEW: C.O.P.S. By Thomas Wheeler
Empire City is in trouble. This metropolis of the future is plagued by the criminal mastermind known as Big Boss, and his band of Crooks. The regular police can't handle the situation, so a new team is formed - C.O.P.S. - Central Organization of Police Specialists!
Introduced by Hasbro in 1988, COPS would enjoy a healthy if sadly shortened two-year run of action figures and vehicles, along with a decent animated series and a comic book.
The tag-line for the concept was "Fighting Crime in a Future Time", although that "future time" was never specifcially defined. But there's reason to believe that it was probably somewhere in the second or third decade of the 21st century. I'll explain that reason a little later.
While some might have expected a law-enforcement version of G.I.Joe, this turned out to not quite be the case. There were certainly some conceptual similarities. The characters had code-names as well as real names, and they all had file cards on the back of their packages. But the figures themselves were quite different. They stood, on the average, six inches in height, and their physiques were somewhat exaggerated. Although some were more extreme than others, the most "basic" body shape still had notably wide shoulders, a fairly puffed-up torso, and somewhat longer- than-normal legs. Actually, in these regards, they weren't unlike the newer-style G.I.Joe figures that were introduced in 2002. However, since COPS didn't have a previous format, there was no reason to object, although I suspect some were disappointed that the COPS figures weren't more compatible with the Joes.
Construction-wise, however, the figures were pretty much identical to G.I.Joes. Metal arm rivets, swivel-arm feature, body halves holding a rubber O-ring in place, attached to a metal T-hook which held the legs in place, with back and leg screws completing the assembly. Hasbro used this method on several toy lines other than G.I.Joe. It can also be found on COPS, Visionaries, and to a somewhat modified degree, Transformers Action Masters. What the heck, it's a good design.
The only thing that bothered me a bit about the toys was the inclusion of accessories that fired caps. And a roll of caps was included. I don't think you could get away with something like that today, and I wasn't entirely at ease with it at the time. However small, caps contain gunpowder, an explosive. And I don't think it's a good idea to give that to kids, especially since the COPS line was, in some respects, clearly tailored for a somewhat younger audience than G.I.Joe.
The background story for COPS was this: The massive future city of Empire City was under a crime wave by the criminal known as Big Boss. Federal Agent B.P. Vess comes to Empire City to put together a special force of the best police officers he can find. He's been after Big Boss for years, even capturing his twin brother years before. Big Boss gets wind that Vess is in town, and sends a couple of his boys to stop him. The plot fails, but requires Vess to undergo cybernetic surgery to save his life. The assemblage of the COPS Team continues, and the ongoing story, from our perspective, finally begins.
The character line-up for both the COPS and Crooks was easily as interesting as the average G.I.Joe line-up in a given year, and the characters were given very complete profiles. Leading the COPS was B.P. Vess, given the code-name BULLETPROOF following his cybernetic surgery. The figure was African-American -- rather an interesting choice to make even then -- and wore a nicely made fabric trenchcoat that concealed his cybernetic torso. His second-in-command was LONGARM, a local Empire City police officer, who was probably the most "police"-looking figure in the entire line. Very traditional appearance.
The other COPS Specialists in the first year of release included OFFICER BOWZER, a K-9 officer who came with a robotic police dog named BLITZ; SGT. MACE, who came with some serious firepower and wasn't afraid to use it; BARRICADE, a crowd control officer with a heavily padded uniform; HIGHWAY, a motorcycle officer of sorts; and SUNDOWN, a Texas Ranger who certainly looked the part.
The CROOKS included BIG BOSS, of course, a massive mountain of a man with a fancy white suit and a cybernetic (and chrome-plated) left hand; DR. BADVIBES, a scrawny lunatic with a transparent skull and a pet robot named Buzzbomb; BUTTONS McBOOMBOOM, a 20's style gangster type, albeit with a magenta suit, and twin machine guns in his chest (I suspect no one kidded him about the color of his suit more than once); ROCK KRUSHER, a rather traditional-style looking escaped crook complete with striped shirt with prison numbers on it; and BERSERKO, Big Boss' nephew, basically a street punk so dim in the head he could make the Dreadnoks look like candidates for MENSA.
Of course the line included vehicles, and many of these also came with figures of their own (again, in the grand tradition of G.I.JOE). The COPS vehicles included the BLUE STREAK Motorcycle (something for Highway to ride); the ARMORED ASSAULT VEHICLE, which came with HARDTOP; and the AIR RAID Helicopter, which came with Bullseye. I always liked the helicopter. The one blue canopy and one red canopy was a cool police-like touch.
The CROOKS got the AIR SPEEDER, a peculiar if more or less nondescript one-man flying vehicle, and the ROADSTER, a strange-looking car that came with a driver named TURBO TU-TONE. Put him together with Berserko and you might just get half a brain between them. Not much of a brain, but maybe enough to walk and chew gum at the same time.
The line fared well enough to enter a second year of merchandise in 1989. This was good news for both Hasbro and for action figure fans of the time, after the unfortunate and abrupt demises after only one year's worth of product of AIR RAIDERS and especially VISIONARIES in 1987.
New COPS figures included AIRWAVE, a communications specialist with a Heli-Pak; NIGHTSTICK, a skinny little guy but a martial arts expert who was not to be taken lightly; TASER, an appropriate code-name for a policeman, even if he came with a cannon instead of an actual taser; INFERNO, a firefighter assigned to the COPS team (presumably in case Big Boss decided to hire any arsonists); A.P.E.S., a police officer with a fancy rig that looked vaguely like something out of either Exo-Squad or Centurions; POWDER KEG; an explosives expert with an exploding, cap- firing briefcase (this figure was, for some reason, notoriously hard to find at the time); and CHECKPOINT, a Military Policeman with an interesting history.
Despite the size difference and more exaggerated bodies, Hasbro obviously decided to make a subtle link between the COPS and G.I.Joe. If you read Checkpoint's file card, it states that "Father was a member of a top- secret military team in the 80's and 90's", or words to that effect. Assuming that Checkpoint is somewhere between 20 and 30 years of age, this would place the COPS timeline in the same fictional universe as the G.I.Joes, and operating off the time period in effect then, given that the Joes are still active today, that would place the COPS somewhere around 2015, give or take a few years. As to which Joe is Checkpoint's father, Checkpoint's real name is listed as "Wayne R. Sneeden III". A little research turns up a Joe named Wayne R. Sneeden -- BEACH-HEAD, the rough, tough, take-no-guff Ranger first introduced in 1986.
Although one does sort of have to wonder what happened to Wayne R. Sneeden II...
It's also worth noting that Checkpoint's head sculpt is a fair approximation of a classic G.I.Joe, if a little exaggerated, and comes complete with a military-style crew-cut, and even a distinctive scar on one side of the face. Nice touch.
While the COPS got cooler, the CROOKS got weirder. New additions to this group included HYENA, a Joker wannabee; KOO-KOO, a furry-Mohawk-haired stringbean with an obsession for TIME bombs (and clocks in general); BULLIT, a walking arsenal who was probably the most sensible and plausible Crook on the year; LOUIE THE PLUMBER, who, shall we say, handled some of Big Boss' more -- underground operations; and NIGHTMARE, a cybernetic thing put together by Dr. Badvibes, and possibly the only being ever wanted for felony ugliness.
Vehicles for 1989, for the Crooks, included the DRAGSTER, which pretty much lived up to its name; and for the COPS, they got the PURSUIT JET, a very cool one-man flyer; the A.T.A.C, a huge police van that was the largest of the COPS vehicles, which came with a driver named HEAVYWEIGHT; and the HIGHWAY INTERCEPTOR, a sporty-looking police car with an equally sporty-looking driver named ROADBLOCK.
And if that name sounds familiar to G.I.Joe fans -- well, sorry, no relation. The COPS' Roadblock was white, with blonde hair, and he wore a fancy white jacket and dark blue sunglasses. However, Hasbro was certainly not above carrying names over from one concept to another. Let's not forget there was an Autobot named Inferno, and the names Bulletproof, Barricade, Airwave, Longarm, and Mace would later be used in G.I.Joe.
COPS would enjoy a very decently made animated series, produced by DIC. Although the visuals were even more exaggerated than some of the figures, the stories were generally very capable by the standards of the time, and the overall quality of the animation was excellent. A number of new characters were introduced, mostly females, that predictably would not see the light of day as figures. These included MAINFRAME, a computer specialist for the COPS (and another name brought over from G.I.Joe), and MS. DEMEANOR and NIGHTSHADE, a couple of Crooks. Ms. Demeanor was a female body-builder who was as mean as she was ugly, and Nightshade was a sneak thief. One other character who turned up a couple of times was SGT. YUKON, a Canadian Mountie. Someone else I would've liked to have seen a figure of.
One of the more notable episodes dealt with drug abuse. A character named Addictem was introduced, and he'd managed to get a fair portion of Empire City hooked on his drug. He tried to make a deal with Big Boss, but the criminal overlord wanted nothing to do with drugs. Even Big Boss has some morals, and drugs served no purpose other than to kill people. Later in the episode, Big Boss' nephew Berserko was exposed to an accidental overdose of Addictem's drug, and the Crooks actually teamed up with the COPS to bring the drug pusher down. I love episodes like that.
There was also a comic book, surprisingly produced by DC! Until that point, all of Hasbro's books had been handled by Marvel -- G.I.Joe, Transformers, even the short-lived comics based on Visionaries and Air Raiders. DC turned out a decent 15-issue run for COPS, with surprisingly good stories and excellent artwork for a toy-based series.
There was a third series of COPS figures in the works for 1990. I've seen catalog pictures, and even concept package artwork. I've even heard that the figures reached some level of production, but that when the line was cancelled, the toys were destroyed. That makes me mad to this day, to think of that happening.
The COPS would've gotten some very cool members, including STREETWISE, a Gang Control Officer (someone who, unfortunately, we could use to this day); IRONHAMMER, a State Trooper, and SGT. STONE, a Precinct Officer, among others.
The Crooks would've gotten weirder yet, with a new sub-group called the Pranksters, a bizarre bunch of circus types, that frankly make for some bad jokes. One came with a ventriloquist dummy that shot caps, certainly lending a new definition to the term, "shooting off your mouth." Another one, a clown-like character, came with, and I quote the catalog here, a "noise-making bladder cannon". Yeah, if someone hit me in the bladder with a cannon, I think I'd make a noise, too...!
Alas, these figures were not to be, and I think that even if they had, it would've been the end of the run for the COPS. There were no new vehicles listed for 1990, just a couple of large, cap-firing backpacks. Still, it would've been nice had the figures come out.
COPS had a very brief resurgence some years later, when CBS brought the animated show back under the name "Cyber-COPS", but the toys were not re- released, and the show didn't run very long. COPS has, unfortunately, faded into a certain obscurity that a lot of the fairly short-lived lines of the 80's and early 90's have entered. But it remains, in my opinion, a very cool concept, and a very cool toy line. I hope you have enjoyed this Flashback review.