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REVIEW: G.I.JOE COBRA CRIMSON SHADOW GUARD SET
By Thomas Wheeler

I'll admit, I was fully prepared to be basically disinterested in the
latest six-pack of traditional-style G.I.Joe figures arriving at Toys "R"
Us. I mean, the CRIMSON SHADOW GUARD set was basically just
six identical figures, and a recoloring of one, the modern Crimson Guard,
that has seen substantial use anyway. They've popped up in two slightly
different Crimson Guard 6-packs (one set with Tomax, one with Xamot), three
more appeared in a K*B Exclusive Set with a couple of vehicles, and technically,
the body mold was first created for a mail-in figure named Agent Faces. Who
needed more Crimson Guards?

I was also very disappointed when I learned that the set wouldn't include
perhaps a recoloration of one of my favorite figures, the Crimson Guard
Immortal. We know Hasbro has the body molds for it. It was used for the
K*B Exclusive C.A.T. II vehicle, and the body was used for Destro in the
Convention Set.

Six identical, and arguably overused figures. What was the big deal?
Still, I'm always prepared to give traditional-style G.I.Joe figures a chance.

I was in Toys "R" Us in late July, talking with one of the clerks who I
knew in there, updating him as to what remaining G.I.Joe products the
store could expect, since the line has otherwise shifted to an online
exclusive. When I mentioned the Crimson Shadow Guard set, he said, "You
know, I think we got that in just today. I haven't had a chance to bring
it out yet." He went in the back, and returned with the box. Then he had
to report to the registers, so I stocked the figures for him. What the
heck, he was nice enough to bring the shipping box out to me.

I didn't expect to be impressed with this set. I was mistaken. Okay, yes,
it's six identical figures. Even the hair color under the helmets is all
the same. But -- they're darn cool looking figures.

There is something distinctly -- Darth Vader-like -- about a Crimson
Guard figure molded completely in black. I don't know if this was
intentional on Hasbro's part, or just a happy discovery. Given that
Hasbro also has the Star Wars toy license, and given the fact that this
year saw the "Revenge of the Sith" with Anakin Skywalker's final
transfomation into Darth Vader, I'm not entirely prepared to write this
off as coincidence.

You don't really see it when the Crimson Guard is in his traditional red
uniform. But mold the entire figure in black, especially the helmet, and
you can practically hear Darth Vader saying, "Now just a doggone
minute...!" or perhaps Cobra Commander saying, "As long as Lucas never
sees these guys..." Between the angle of the helmet, and to a degree, the
face mask on the helmet, well, I wouldn't call a Crimson Shadow Guard a
brother to Darth Vader, but maybe a cousin twice removed on a distant
uncle's side. There's definitely something there.

And it works! These guys look menacing as heck. There's something about
the red-uniformed Crimson Guard that, appropriately, says "Elite".
There's something about the black-uniformed Crimson Shadow Guard that
says, "Dangerous beyond anything you want to know about." Maybe there's
something about a black-uniformed figure whose face you can't see that,
in the world of G.I.Joe, is inevitably going to evoke the image of Snake-
Eyes, as well. And if there's anybody in the world of G.I.Joe that
qualifies as "Dangerous beyond anything you want to know about," it's
him. While I highly doubt that even these Crimson Shadow Guards would be
a match for the Joe Team's favorite ninja/commando, I suspect that if ol'
Snakes stepped into a roomful of these guys, he might just wonder if this
is a fight he really wants to start -- for about three seconds longer
than usual. For Snake-Eyes, that'd be an eternity.

Speaking of ninjas, the weapons that the Crimson Shadow Guards come
with are interesting. I don't normally make a big deal about accessories, but
in this case it's worth noting. There isn't a gun to be seen here, unless
you want to imagine that one or more of them is carrying some firepower
in the backpacks that they all have. All of these Crimson Shadow Guards
are outfitted with what would be considered "silent weapons". We've got
two different swords, two different crossbows, a set of claws, and a set
of nunchuks.

The figures themselves have minimal paint, which I think is good for two
reasons. There's a bit of silver on the helmets, a gold Cobra logo
stamped on the jacket, and a very minimal bit of silver and gold trim
elsewhere on the uniform, mostly on buckles and distinct ornamentation.
Of course the head underneath the helmet is properly painted. But I think
the minimal amount of painted detail helps these figures live up to their
name and reputation even better, and, more to the point, it means that
there wasn't any chance for these figures to be afflicted with a practice
that really needs to be stopped -- hand-painting.

I'm going to digress for a moment to address this matter. For some time
now, a lot of traditional-style G.I.Joe figures have received hand-
painted details. It seems to be especially common on the legs, even after
camouflage details have perhaps been mechanically applied. Now,
technically, all details on G.I.Joe figures are hand painted in one sense
of the word. But there's a word of difference between lining up a
specifically carved stencil to a toy part and spraying a nice even
coating of paint over the area, and hanging someone a brush and expecting
them to paint a boot or a leg pouch or something over and over again,
hundreds of times, with a decent amount of precision. I don't blame the
painters. It's just plain humanly impossible.

And sloppy mistakes are inevitable. There was such a glob of dried paint
on the bottom of one figure I pulled out of a six-pack a while back that
I had to sand it off. I'll admit -- I'm picky. I'm a perfectionist when
it comes to this sort of thing. Comes from my own background as a graphic
artist, I suppose. But here's what really annoys me. This isn't a
practice that I've seen used on any other major toy line, and it
certainly wasn't used on the original G.I.Joe in the 80's and 90's. I was
especially disheartened to discover it had been used on the rather
intricate leg details of the Convention G.I.Joes this year, the Steel
Brigade three-pack and two-pack. These are otherwise fantastic figures.
They should not have been subjected to this.

I don't know if it's a cost-saving move, or just the procedure of the
factory in China. But it needs to stop. There is no good reason why the
modern-day traditional-style G.I.Joes cannot be of the same quality --
and precision -- as their "ancestors", and this is a big mark against
that level of quality and precision being achieved.

Fortunately, getting back to the review at hand, the Crimson Shadow
Guards do not have this problem. There isn't enough painted detail on
their uniforms. The most paint, really, is on the heads underneath the
helmets, where hair, eyes, and facemasks all had to be painted. The
figures honestly look better with their helmets on, of course. And
unfortunately, some of the heads still have the molding crease problem,
which shares the top spot with "hand painting" on my list (and it's a
short list -- #3 is gluing the upper leg halves) of problems that Hasbro
needs to really address on these figures as a whole.

Like I said, though, the figures look better with the helmets on, and the
helmets have no molding or paint problems. About the only paint problem,
really, is that the face mask on the head isn't painted down far enough,
so there's this little line of flesh-colored plastic right at the collar.
This, fortunately, isn't anything that can't be remedied by a brief
disassembly of the upper body, and a bit of work with some black paint
and a brush. And even this is a minor point.

The text on the back of the toy package reads as follows: For years, a
silent army has been infiltrating society to do the nasty work of Cobra
Commander. Part of the main Crimson Guard force, the Crimson Shadow
Guards so their evil deeds in the dark hours of the night. Like all
Crimson Guard troopers, they are highly educated and well-trained
individuals who conduct most of their battles within the system,
corrupting and manipulating laws, businesses and monetary funds to
benefit Cobra. In the night and the shadows, the Crimson Shadow Guard is
preparing to rise up and take control -- and it's up to the G.I.Joe Team
to stop them!

I've often wondered, ever since the Crimson Guards first came out, how a
kid is supposed to play with a Crimson Guard figure within his assigned
role as a manipulator of laws, businesses, and monetary funds. I can't
really see an eight-year-old setting up a corporate boardroom and acting
out a hostile takeover, can you?

Anyway, the file card reads as follows:

CRIMSON SHADOW GUARD
Cobra Elite Trooper

Crimson Guard troopers are the elite members of the Cobra legions. Each
must hold a degree in either law or accounting as well as being in top
physical condition. After rigourous 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 his new assignment; a new life, in a new city, where they are
expected to climb political and corporate ladders into positions of
importance. The "siegie" network may have been in place already for more
than 10 years with many wielding great power. The Crimson Shadow Guard is
a subgroup of the main Crimson Guard force. They are infiltrators and
saboteurs who specilize in covert operations conducted in the night and
the shadows. Silent and invisible as they conduct their evil deeds, they
leave behind no trace oftheir existence - only destruction and betrayal.

The file card is basically the current Crimson Guard card, with a few
sentences explaining the Shadow Guard at the end. But it does explain why
they're all carrying silent-type weapons. Opening up with full-auto
firepower would tend to blow that "silent and invisible covert
operations" bit of their.

Have to say, though, I always find the line about holding a "degree in
law or accounting" a little demoralizing. It's not pleasant to think of a
half-dozen action figures being better-educated than I am.

Anyway, as I said, I didn't really expect to be impressed with the
CRIMSON SHADOW GUARD set. And I most definitely am. Any G.I.Joe fan,
especially fans of the Crimson Guard, and those who like to "army-build",
will enjoy this set. There's something especially menacing about a
Crimson Guard outfitted entirely in black. They look mean, they look
dangerous, they look very cool, and the set most definitely has my
highest recommendation!

COBRAAAAA!