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By Thomas Wheeler

This year's G.I.JOE CONVENTION was held in Norfolk, Virginia, June 27-30. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to insufficient finances, for the second year in a row.

I have mixed feelings about that. Based on the information included with the Convention Set which I received in early August, there was a very clear 3-3/4" emphasis at this Convention to a degree previously unseen at these conventions. This makes sense seeing as how it was the 20th Anniversary of the G.I.Joe 3-3/4" concept. Conversely, however, I remain largely unimpressed with the nature of the new merchandise for the "G.I.Joe vs. Cobra" line, much of which was on display courtesy of Hasbro, so perhaps I might not have had as good a time as the basic theme implies. Just kidding, of course. The G.I.JOE COLLECTORS' CLUB CONVENTION is always a winner, and I wish I could've been there. I wish I could've gone to the San Diego ComiCon, too, and I wish I had about ten million dollars. Unfortunately, we don't get everything we wish for.

The one thing I dearly wish I had known about was the fact that longtime and soon-again G.I.Joe comic writer LARRY HAMA was on the premises, and was the focus of two Roundtable discussions. I was easily one of the most prolific letter-writers for the original comic series, and this was enough for Larry Hama to give me a nice "thank you" as part of an overall group of fans in the last issue of the Marvel title, and we had some contact subsequent to that, and yet I've never actually met the man. Had I known he was going to be there -- well, I still doubt I would've been able to make it, but I might've tried a little harder. Or felt worse about it. Something. Hey, try to get him for 2003, okay?

Anyway, the biggest treat of the Convention as far as I was concerned was something that I didn't need to attend the Convention to acquire -- the CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM, the first official 3-3/4" G.I.Joe Convention Exclusive since the recolored "Action Pilot" from 1994 -- eight years ago! And this was a whole lot more than just one figure!

The CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM consists of recolored versions of the BARONESS, TOMAX, XAMOT, and twelve-count-em-twelve COBRA VIPERS! All complete with accessories and packaged in a superbly illustrated box.

I might add they were also superbly packaged. Open the box and find a layer of carved foam rubber, with fifteen little human-shaped slots, each containing a figure. A nice pin is hidden under the center piece, and the accessories and file cards are beneath the foam rubber.

The figures are excellent. The traditional figures for Baroness, Tomax and Xamot, and the original 1986 Viper were used -- or as close as possible on the Viper since they've had to use the original B.A.T. legs for several years on this figure now. But it still works.

Tomax and Xamot look excellent in crimson red. They should've been recolored in this color scheme years ago, and I'm truly pleased that they finally have been. Baroness, although she never really had much to do specifically with the Crimson Guards, also looks good in red. The Vipers look excellent, and you certainly get plenty of them!

The file cards provide an interesting backstory to this Crimson Strike Team. It seems that Tomax and Xamot have united with the Baroness, who of course is really only looking out for her own best interests, to gather together a secret organization of the most top-of-the-line, roughest, meanest, greediest Cobra Vipers available, and persuade them through whatever means necessary that their loyalty is best placed, not with Cobra Commander, but with the Twins and the Baroness. The eventual intention, of course, is to usurp control of Cobra from the Commander. It's Cobra intrigue and deception at its very best, as often portrayed in the comic book and occasionally in the animated series, and it was a refreahing breath of nostalgic air to see it played out in the file cards.

According to a friend of mine, there have been some complaints about "production errors" in the set. I studied the figures carefully, and found all of the following: They dropped the lipstick from Baroness' face, probably a cost-saving measure. One Viper had a bit of silver paint chipped off his visor, and another had one half of a black leg strap unpainted. All of these can easily be remedied with a thin paint brush and a little bit of Testor's Model Master in the proper colors. And with regard to the Vipers, I defy anybody to take one dozen of any action figure -- G.I.Joe or anyone else -- Star Wars, Gundam, Transformers, whoever -- and not find some minor gaffes here and there. It's going to happen, and as long as it's something that can easily be dealt with, it's not worth griping about. I think the case here is that it's very unusual to be presented with one dozen identical action figures at the same time, so whatever minor errors may exist are likely to seem that much more prominent as a result.

I have no complaints about this excellent set of figures, and the G.I.Joe Collectors Club and Hasbro are to be truly commended for producing and offering this wonderful set. They are a truly worthy addition to anyone's 3-3/4" G.I.Joe Collection, in a day when there are, in my opinion, very few items bearing the name G.I.Joe that meet that criteria!

There was also a nice little bonus figure. One of the events at the Convention was a 3-3/4" Parachute Drop from the Convention Hotel's roof. Reportedly this was a success in a number of ways, not the least of which was among the kids waiting at the bottom who snatched up as many figures as they possibly could. That's the report, anyway. I wasn't there to see it happen, and if I had been, I probably would've been laughing too hard to report it properly. I certainly would not have been up on the roof! I am not generally bothered by heights, but I also am not entirely comfortable on the open roof of a tall building. There's generally not enough of a railing, and it's frequently windy.

Interestingly, the Convention Schedule lists this event as follows: "Mass Parachute Drop. If you want to toss from the roof, please come at 7:30 to registration". All I could think of when I read that was, "Yeah, I'd've tossed from the roof, all right -- my cookies." Memo to whoever wrote out the schedule -- next time don't try so hard to get every event on one line if the result is bait for a bad joke... :)

Anyway, the figure that was part of this Parachute Drop was a nicely recolored version of the 1991 Dusty figure. Although Dusty was originally a Desert Trooper, and this particular figure saw a slightly peculiar but not too bad recoloration in the 2000 line, I tend to think that this time around he wasn't so much intended as Dusty as just a semi-generic G.I.Joe. The figure has a green beret (and I'm not impliying as such that he's a Green Beret), dark green shirt, and lighter green camouflage pants. Brown belt and straps, black boots with nice detail on the laces. This was a very nicely done figure overall. It comes complete with a working parachute, of course, but I think mine is going to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground just like his owner, thank you. As for a character name and file card, he doesn't come with one. I suppose I could make something up.

The only item I can't review is one that was available at the Convention itself. A recolored "HISS III" tank (which was really just a recolored HISS I tank anyway) was offered as part of the Crimson Strike Team. From what I heard, it was a red HISS with the HISS III labels already applied. But I'm sure the tank was most appreciated by those who received it.

Overall, I have to say that the G.I.JOE CONVENTION SET, including the CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM and this PARATROOPER, is a definite winner, and I'm very pleased I was able to receive it, and once again, I would like to thank the G.I.JOE COLLECTOR'S CLUB for keeping the G.I.Joe community both informed and entertained with these superb Conventions (maybe I'll see you in 2003, friends), and for HASBRO for being willing to produce this excellent set of figures.

Kind of thing where you still hear that cry -- YO JOE!