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By Thomas Wheeler

Alas, I was unable to attend the 2003 G.I.Joe Collectors Convention. However, I was able to obtain all of the various elements of the 3-3/4" offerings from the Convention. Now that they've all been gathered together and decently phorographed, I think it's time for a review of them.

The core of all the cool stuff that came out was the OPERATION ANACONDA Set. Code-named AMBUSH AT COBRA ISLAND, the basic "storyline" behind this set had three G.I.Joes attempting to infroltrate Cobra Island in order to break up a meeting between Cobra Commander and a new villain named Black Dragon, who had his own organization to back him up. Of course both enemy leaders had a cadre of troops in tow.

Last year's 15-figure set was all Cobra, and was designated the Crimson Strike Team, and features special editions of Tomax, Xamot, and the Baroness, along with twelve Vipers. A very cool set. This year's was a little more diverse, and certainly raised the bar on 3-3/4" Convention Sets!

Let's start with the Joes. The team of three is led by a relatively obscure character -- MAJOR STORM, who was released in 1990 with the massive vehicle known as the GENERAL. This huge rolling battle platform was really the last of the truly immense G.I.Joe vehicles ever produced for the collection. According to the Major's file card, his vehicle was seriously damaged by unknown parties, and the intelligence gathered indicates that the saboteurs can be traced back to Cobra Island, so Major Storm rounds up two top Joes for a special assignment -- and probably a little revenge.

As for the figure, it's very cool. The only flaw I would comment on is that the darker skin tone being used on Joes these days does not lend itself well to certain hair and eye colors. When I first got the Major out of the box, I almost thought they'd forgotten to paint the hair and eyes. Either the skin should've been lighter (preferably) or the hair and eyes darker.

Also on the team is LT. FALCON. A well-known character originally released in 1987, this Green Beret still has managed to be a bit of a screw-up when he's appeared in the animated series. He's way too cocky, and the fact that he's the half-brother of Duke doesn't help matters. This is actually alluded to on the character's file card, something which hasn't been mentioned before. Somehow, though, Falcon always seems to manage to get the job done, and he certainly wouldn't be a Green Beret if he didn't have the skill for it.

As for the figure, it's cool, but the legs and lower torso have been replaced, curiously with the lower torso and legs from the earliest Joes in 1982-83. The original Falcon legs were last used on the 1993 "Leatherneck" figure (not-so-affectionately known as "Old Giraffe Pants" by some collectors) and obviously couldn't be rounded up for use in this special collection. I don't mind part swap-outs when they're necessary, and Falcon still looks cool, but I am surprised they went as far back as they did for his replacement legs.

Finally there is LADY JAYE, certainly a popular character, and with all the skill needed to be a valued member of the team. The figure is excellent, bearing the same not-quite-Tiger Force-but-more-plausibly-colored camouflage pattern on her uniform as Falcon and, to a degree, Major Storm. The result is a very impressive Lady Jaye figure. My only complaint, and I can understand more or less how it happened, is a really sloppy paint job around the eyes. But these figures are produced on a much shorter time frame than is normal for action figures, so I can see how this happens. And fortunately, I also have the ability to repair it.

So much for the good guys. Let's turn our attention to the enemy forces.

COBRA COMMANDER: The figure used for this was originally used for the 1991 Talking Battle Commanders collection, and was reissued in 1993 as part of Battle Corps, sans screechy-voiced backpack (thank God). It's a good figure, although I've always felt that the hood was a little short. But the figure has been done in superb colors, a very authentic Cobra blue, with red and gold trim, and they even have ol' Ragface a cape. It's plastic molded, and I think it's from the new-style Dr. Mindbender. It fits well enough, though, and gives Cobnra Commander a certain added air of authority for his meeting with the other enemy leader...

BLACK DRAGON: Let me say one thing right off -- I DESPISE the Ninja Force bodies. If something happens, like an O-Ring snaps, it's impossible to disassemble the body for repair. And the spring action gimmick tends to huinder articulation. Having said that, the Black Dragon figure is really VERY cool, and the concept of a new enemy force entering the fray is also very appealing. Black Dragon's file card has considerable background, making him seem as much of a threat as Cobra. The figure is quite innovative, too. It uses a Ninja Force body with the head used for the ninjas from Hasbro's MORTAL KOMBAT Collection. This head was originally used to bring the likes of Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Smoke, and Reptile to the toy world. It's just vague enough of a connection so that Black Dragon comes across as looking very distinctive.

Of course, a leader needs troops to follow him, especially when you're meeting with another enemy leader:

SWAMP-VIPERS: Patrolling the coastlines of Cobra Island are the Swamp-Vipers. Five of them come with this set. And it's a very cool figure. It's really one that should've been done years ago. Remember when Hasbro re-colored the somewhat ridiculous ICE CREAM SOLDIER from 1994 into the new COBRA SHOCK-VIPER? Granted the figure wound up as part of an assortment that was eventually only sold to online retailers, but it was still an improvement over the original. What can be said about the original? Good molds, weird background, lousy color scheme. There's another figure that this could be said about, and his name is the MEGA-VIPER. Assigned to the Mega-Marines in 1993, this figure had a very cool design, but was molded in neon yellow and pinkish-purple. A lot of people always sort of figured that if he were redone in better colors, he'd be a very cool figure. And indeed, he is, as the Mega-Viper was recolored into the SWAMP-VIPER for this special set. And I have to say, that the grey and blue uniform looks a lot better.

BLACK DRAGON TROOPER: Again, five of these are included with the set. So -- WHO damaged Major Storm's fancy GENERAL vehicle? As a gesture of "good faith" towards Cobra, it was these guys, the Black Dragon Troopers! Don't call them ninjas. Black Dragon doesn't like that (can't say as I blame them -- talk about an overused gimmick...). But they are experts in a great many fields, none of them especially pleasant. The figure is interesting. It uses the head and upper body of the Iron Grenadiers FERRET figure, a vehicle driver, and the legs of the Cobra STAR-VIPER. The end result is still reminiscent of the Ferret, given the very distinctive and somewhat peculiar helmet and face plate, but heck, Destro could've sold those to anybody. It's still a unique enough figure, and certainly looks menacing enough.

Those are the fifteen figures, complete with file cards and plenty of accessories, that come with the boxed Convention Set. But those are NOT all of the goodies that could be had at the Convention by any means. Oh, no.

AIR-VIPER. Last year and this year there was a parachute drop from the high lobby of the hotel. Last year the figure was an unnamed Joe recolored from 1991 Dusty. A very nice figure. This year there's a bit more background to the figure, and it's interesting that they close the name "Air-Viper", a trooper division within Cobra that's been alluded to several times but never seen. Finally, there's an actual Air-Viper figure. He's recolored from the VAPOR, a Cobra pilot from 1990, whom I always thought had a very cool uniform and one of the silliest, butt-ugly helmets ever devised. Painted silver in 1990, it looked like a malfunctioning B.A.T. It looks a good bit better in black, and at least gets a decent explanation on the file card this time around. Overall, it's a cool figure. Air-Vipers, fortunately, are trained to parachute drop into hazardous territory. One would assume that includes a hotel lobby full of kids...

FIREFLY 2-PACK. Firefly, it seems, isn't too happy about the new alliance between Cobra and the Black Dragon organization. And who can blame him? This famed Cobra saboteur does not need a bunch of Black Dragon troopers doing his job for him. So he's determined to infiltrate the meeting to see what's really going on. Firefly comes in a jungle infiltration uniform -- a more menacing repaint of the Tiger Force Wreckage figure which is based on Firefly, and an almost all-black uniform, with silver trim, that makes Firefly look more sinister than ever. The original Firefly figure remains one of the coolest overall designs for any figure Hasbro ever created, and I am delighted to see it receiving so much use as it presently is.

HISS II-B TANK. Last year's vehicle exclusive was a "Crimson" recolor of the HISS tank. This year, the HISS II, originally released in 1989, was called back into service. I always liked the HISS II a little better. It was both more detailed and more plausible-looking, in my opinion. The new version is made in a much darker blue than the original, a more "Cobra" blue. Apart from that, it's pretty much identical to the original, but really, it's an excellent vehicle that acts as both an attack tank and a personnel carrier. You can't go wrong with this.

ONE-MAN SUBMARINES: So just how did Major Storm, Lady Jaye, and Lt. Falcon get to Conra Island? Why, in a set of three one-man submarines! Molded from the "side subs" that originally came with the COBRA HAMMERHEAD vehicle in 1990, these new subs have been molded in the same "Cobra blue" as the HISS II-B. The Cobra logo has been crossed out and replaced with the Joe logo. One might think it's reasonable to assume that Cobra uses these Hammerhead "side subs" on their own to patrol the coastline of Cobra Island from underwater, and that our heroes managed to pilfer a few of them and probably left a few Swamp-Vipers in a great deal of pain someplace. They're excellent vehicles even on their own like this, and I have to say I especially like the transparent blue canopies.

So, as you can see, there was no shortage of very, very cool G.I.Joe items to be had at the 2003 Collectors' Convention. I can hardly wait to see what's in store for 2004. It is, after all, the 40th anniversary of the G.I.Joe concept, and the 3-3/4" Joes have as much right to celebrate that as their "big brothers". Moreover, the Convention is in Walt Disney World, one of my favorite places on the planet, and it's at the Contemporary Hotel, my favorite HOTEL on the premises. In all honesty, I am hoping to be there next year. Hope I can make it, and hope to see you there!