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By Thomas Wheeler

For years, the primary competition -- or accompaniment, I suppose, depending on who you ask and your own thoughts on the matter -- for Hasbro's G.I.JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO Collection has been Lanard's CORPS Collection. Until Hasbro revised the construction of their figures in 2002, the two lines were
constructed identically, and were size-compatible as well. Lanard's CORPS has not always been as well-detailed or as varied, but often-times their vehicles have been interesting and diverse, even if their global distribution and limited availability in the United States sometimes made certain items difficult to acquire.

Lanard's latest extension of the CORPS Concept -- in fact the CORPS logo doesn't even appear on the box or the items themselves, is called ACTION RESCUE. This is doubtless an attempt to appeal to those who, in the shadow of September 11, 2001, are finally seeing policemen, firemen, emergency medical
personnel, and other such types as the heroes they generally are.

Some of it is turning up at TARGET as part of their in-house toy line which always manifests itself around Christmas. In past years it's been called Kool Toyz, but this year seems to lack a central name. A decent variety of CORPS and ACTION RESCUE items are also turning up at WAL-MART, which seems to be the largest supplier of Lanard action figures to the public.

There are only two down points to any of it. Number one is that Lanard has adopted the practice of paint-splattering most of their vehicles and figured to make them look dirtied. This is marginally acceptable but rather unwelcome when it's done to military style vehicles. It's absolutely ridiculous when done to an emergency or rescue vehicle. I can honestly say that I have never seen police, fire, or medical vehicles look this dirty, and I live in Arizona, which has no shortage of blowing dust and dirt. I would be rather reluctant to trust a paramedic coming towards me who looked like he'd just finished a mud-wrestling tournament. And nobody likes a dirty cop (sorry, couldn't resist). Why Lanard has adopted this practice to waste large quantities of dark brown paint is beyond me.

Down point number two is availability. There are a great many items, most of them medium to large vehicles, some in some rather interesting categories, that are not that likely to appear in the United States through conventional means. Lanard is a global company and distributes their product worldwide, with a rather sporadic methodology that seems to defy patterning. In layman's
terms, you never know what's going to turn up where.

Fortunately, there is an online store called SMALLJOES.COM. They carry an astounding variety of Lanard products, and fairly recently added a massive supply of these new ACTION RESCUE sets to their line-up. Two in particular caught my eye.

They were two different HAZMAT vehicles, with figures. For those who don't know HAZMAT stands for HAZardous MATerials. These are the guys that come in and clean up the messes that no one else can, and I don't mean your toddler's diaper after junior has polished off half a box of crayons and two containers
of Play-Doh -- although it might be tempting. I'm talking about nuclear waste, toxic chemicals, poisonous substances, radioactive materials, that sort of thing. (And no, I STILL don't mean your toddler's diaper...)

The vehicles for the HAZMAT series almost look radioactive in and of themselves. They're molded in a neon yellow-green, one of those colors that doesn't process too well on camera film or on computer monitor screens, so you're sort of going to have to take my word for it. When I dragged these vehicles outside on a sunny afternoon to photograph them for this article, I was sorry that I'd forgotten to wear my sunglasses -- and NOT just because it
was a nice sunny day. The figures' protective suits are molded in the same color.

There are two vehicles in the line, both of which have seen use before in both the CORPS and S.T.A.R. FORCE segments of Lanard products, but never before in this color scheme! One is a medium-sized four-wheeled "open" sort of vehicle, vaguely resembling a lunar rover, with a generous amount of built-in hardware, seating for two, and room in the back for the storage
of equipment. This comes with one figure, who comes with a helmet, backpack, and radiation detection equipment.

The other vehicle is a good-sized personnel carrier. I've always liked this vehicle, and have it in other forms. It's like a slightly shorter version of G.I.JOE's popular APC, except the roof opens up on Lanard's version, and doesn't look like it's made of simulated canvas. For the HAZMAT version, the back has a sort of "mobile lab" in it, equipment attached to the upper rack
including a working red searchlight, and it comes with two figures, both with helmets, one with the backpack and detection equipment that came with the smaller vehicle.

The figure, identical in all three cases, is a little on the plain side
from a detail standpoint, but in a way, that's to be expected. If you're working in hazardous materials cleanup, you want your suit to do one thing -- protect you from whatever it is you're cleaning up. You'll be carrying tools apart from the suit that will let you carry out that responsibility. It basically looks like a one-piece jumpsuit with a few straps added for some measure of detailing. The helmet is a separate piece that really doesn't fit all that well, but the idea still comes across. If you want it to stay put, I recommend a little "Fun-Tac" putty in the inside of the helmet. Overall, except for the paint splatters, the end result is pretty much what you'd
expect a HAZMAT worker to look like.

About the only mildly creepy thing is that all three figures, between the two vehicles, have the same head mold. Lanard is not lacking for basic human head molds. While I'm sure this was done for the sake of simplicity, it's still a little strange. You can't help but wonder if these guys are triplets or if this is just some strange result of working around toxic, possibly mutating materials for an extended period of time. I mean, it's not an ugly head, it's just a bit generic-looking, and they're all -- the -- same...

I haven't seen these two particular vehicles anywhere in the United
States, and with Lanard, there's probably a good chance that they won't be turning up at any stores. I do highly recommend them as an interesting addition to your 3-3/4" collection.

There's also some other cool stuff available, including an excellent
Rescue Chopper with some cool features, and much more. So if you're so inclined, check out SMALLJOES.COM and see what's available. I'm sure you'll be impressed.