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By Thomas Wheeler

Here's a new G.I.JOE item that is certain to be a hit with any longtime fan of the Real American Hero.

This Toys "R" Us exclusive turned up in late September, and there's no reason it shouldn't be a very popular item now and heading towards the Christmas season. This set brings back two of the most popular early vehicles from the G.I.Joe Collection, and even throws in three traditional-style G.I.Joe figures, as well!

The V.A.M.P., of course, is based on the original G.I.Joe Jeep-like assault vehicle. This particular vehicle has seen plenty of use over the years. It was first introduced in 1982, and then resurfaced in 1984 as both the VAMP Mark II and the COBRA STINGER. It was reintroduced in 1988 in the Tiger Force line as the TIGER STING, cropped up in the STREET FIGHTER line, again as a Cobra vehicle in 1998, called the COBRA RATTLER 4WD, and appeared once again in the 2000-2002 line as the DESERT STRIKER, a fairly substantially modified version of the VAMP compared to earlier versions and their modifications.

The new V.A.M.P. has characteristics of both the original vehicle and its most recent version. It has the raisable hood of the Desert Striker, something the original V.A.M.P. lacked. It does not, however, have the explosives boxes, extended overhead rollbar, or mine-carrying drums in the back that the Desert Striker possessed. It's rollbar is the shorter version that most versions of the VAMP were best known for. Some versions of this vehicle had snap-on roofs and doors. This V.A.M.P. doesn't have those, but it does have a snap-on missile launcher that attaches to the top of the vehicle. So really, this newest version of the V.A.M.P. is an interesting amalgam of previous versions, molded in dark green, and the result is a very cool vehicle.

The Twin Battle Gun unit was originally known as the WHIRLWIND, and it hasn't been seen since its original use in 1982. The copyright date on the bottom has been updated to read 2003, which will be good news to collectors who pay attention to such things, because apart from this alteration, and the labels, there's virtually no difference between this version and the original.

That's not to put it down. It's a very cool-looking towable gun emplacement that features no shortage of moving parts and play ability. Given its origins in the earliest days of G.I.Joe, it also looks a lot more plausible than some of the stranger stuff from later years that some more military-oriented collectors take issue with.

I will offer one word of recommendation. The "shield" on the front of the Twin Battle Gun is prone to falling off very easily. This can be very easily remedied with a few drops of Elmer's Glue (or your favorite adhesive as long as it will work on plastic) in the three attachment points for this piece. None of them are visible at all when the vehicle is fully assembled, so you won't be affecting the look of your Twin Battle Gun in any way whatsoever. This also isn't a new development. As soon as it fell off of this one, I remembered that I'd had to do the same thing to the original.

The vehicles are both pre-assembled and have their labels applied. I honestly miss being able to put these things together on my own, but they come in a window box, so I guess they have to look good. At least the labels are neatly applied. This is something I can be very picky about. And despite appearances, the labels are all made out of vinyl plastic. The ones on the V.A.M.P. almost look like they're printed on paper, but they're not.

The set comes with three figures -- PATHFINDER, BIG BRAWLER, and CHIEF TORPEDO. All three figures are traditional style.

Pathfinder looks identical to the figure that was sold with the A.W.E. Striker when it was released as part of the 2000-2002 line, right down to the paler skin tone which was pretty much the traditional G.I.Joe skin color, but which really saw its last use with the Tiger Force set. Either Hasbro forgot to change the specs on this figure, which is the more likely of my two theories on why Pathfinder remains pale, or they had a bunch of leftover Pathfinders after they sold all their AWE-Strikers. It's a cool figure, if just a little dull looking, dressed all in shades of grey. Pathfinder was originally introduced in 1990.

Big Brawler looks pretty much like the darker-skinned version of his TIGER FORCE edition. They did revert to the darker skin tone midway through that run of figures, and changed Big Brawler's hair color from red to black. This Big Brawler has the darker skin and the black hair. The only real difference between this Big Brawler and the Tiger Force one is the color of the T-shirt. The Tiger Force figure has a gold T-shirt. This one has a white T-shirt. Still, it's a cool character, and a good figure. Big Brawler is one of the very few new characters developed for traditional-style figures, and he's also managed to maintain a decent presence in the line.

Finally, there's CHIEF TORPEDO. Originally known as TORPEDO and introduced in 1983, this Torpedo figure is fairly innovative. It uses the 1992 Wet Suit head, but with the darker skin and black hair (Wet-Suit had brown hair), it works for being Torpedo, especially given the character's Hawaiian origins. The body used is actually that of the 1988 Muskrat figure, a set of body molds most recently used to turn out the DREADHEADS for the G.I.Joe Convention set. In fact, the camouflage pattern on the trousers is pretty similar. Still, it's nothing to complain about. Not a lot of people own that Convention Set, and the combination here of Wet-Suit head and Muskrat body makes for a very distinctive Chief Torpedo figure for any collector to enjoy. It's really a very cool figure.

Their file cards read as follows:

PATHFINDER ALL-WEATHER ASSAULT SPECIALIST File Name: Ianotti, William V. Primary Military Specialty: All-Weather Assault Specialist Secondary Military Specialty: Forward Observer/Recon Birthplace: Key West, Florida (a good place to have an all-weather assault specialist these days) When a G.I.JOE Assault Team is faced with an obstacle, such as having to scale a 15,000 foot mountain to invade a Cobra fortress, PATHFINDER is there to get them over the "hump". Ever since his childhood days in Key West, he's always had a fascination with being able to "rough it" in the wild. When he was only 9 years old, he spent a week alone in the Everglades just to prove that he could do it. His only worry wasn't the alligators; it was also the mosquitoes. He can't stand bugs. After joining the G.I.JOE Team, he spent years learning how to overcome whatever difficulties he would encounter in the wilderness. His ability to survive in dense jungles, barren tundra, and sand-swift deserts is uncanny. "My job isn't just to find a path in and out for the team. It's to make a path if there isn't one. You'll always come out all right if you work with nature, have respect for it, and learn from it."

Interesting they should make a reference to climbing a mountain on a file card for someone born in Florida. Walt Disney World is rather proud of their claim that Space Mountain is the third highest mountain in Florida. I wonder if they have any such plans for the Everest ride they're building in Animal Kingdom?

BIG BRAWLER JUNGLE MISSION SPECIALIST File name: Mulholland, Brian K. Primary Military Specialty: Counterintelligence and Espionage Secondary Military Specialty: Survival Expert Birthplace: New York City, New York BIG BRAWLER started out in Army Intelligence before he was tapped to join the G.I.JOE Team, bringing an impressive catalogue of specialized skills and talents. Equally at home in dense tropical undergrowrth as he is in concrete urban badlands, he was survival and observation abilities on par with jungle cats and feral street criminals. Proficient in small arms, squad-level infantry weapons and platoon support weapons, Big Brawler also holds rank in several martial arts disciplines. Trained as a psychologist and having participated in several military psychological operations, he knows that as good as you are with a weapon, you can't win a fight unless you can think three moves ahead of your opponent, and then have a surprise for him! "Never start a fight you can't finish, never drink water that a purification tablet won't dissolve in, and always brush your teeth when you're in the jungle."

Pretty much the same file card that's been used for Big Brawler lately, but it's a good one, so no complaints.

CHIEF TORPEDO SEAL File Name: Leialoha, Edward W. Primary Military Specialty: Underwater Demolitions Secondary Military Specialty: Diving Instructor Birthplace: Aiea, Hawaii U.S. Navy SEALs are the toughest of the tough, and CHIEF TORPEDO may be tougher than all the rest. He goes out on a five mile run and does a hundred push-ups before breakfast, and after that he starts the serious training. Dropped from a moving helicopter into deep water, he can swim to shore with a hundred-pound pack full of weapons, run cross-country for ten miles, and still be back at headquarters in the for dinner at the mess hall. Chief Torpedo has no sense of humor, no bad habits, and amazingly enough, still manages to have friends and enjoy their company. His fellow G.I.JOE Team members respect him for his professionalism and skills, avoid sparring with him during hand-to-hand combat drill, and keep their distance when he shortens the fuses on his grenades. "You want a quote from me? I don't give quotes. Talk is cheap. I just do my job."

Now that's what I call a proper and professional military man. And I also call the V.A.M.P/Twin Battle Gun set a definite winner, something that any G.I.JOE collector will enjoy adding to his collection. It's a Toys "R" Us exclusive, retailing for $19.99, so head to your nearest TRU and pick one up! You will not be the least bit disappointed.