REVIEW: SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON EXCLUSIVE: G.I. JOE/TRANSFORMERS SHOCKWAVE H.I.S.S. TANK with DESTRO and COBRA B.A.T.
If you were to ask anyone reasonably knowledgeable about the pop culture world as it applied to action figure toys in the 1980's which were the top concepts of the time, the answers would almost certainly include G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe.
Of those three, two of them -- G.I. Joe and Transformers -- were not only produced by the same company, Hasbro, but had animated series produced by the same company, Marvel/Sunbow, but also comic books produced by the same company, Marvel Comics.
Both were clearly action-oriented "boys toys", so it's really a wonder that they didn't meet up more often than they did. Although, once you get past the common points, perhaps it's not quite as much of a wonder, once you consider their core concepts. G.I. Joe was all about the adventures of the military force known as the G.I. Joe team, in their ongoing battle against the terrorist forces of Cobra, who were out to rule the world. The comic book in particular took as real-world an approach as the concept permitted, thanks to writer Larry Hama. The animated series was a little looser and a bit more fanciful, but it was still largely grounded in the real world.
On the other hand, Transformers focused on the ongoing battle between two factions of a race of giant sentient, and generally humanoid robots, native to the planet Cybertron. The heroic Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, was determined to put an end to the tyrannical ambitions of the villainous Megatron and his Decepticons. The robots were called "Transformers" because each of them could assume some other functional form, usually vehicular of some sort, apart from his basic robotic form.
About the only common point the Transformers had with G.I. Joe was a series of events that had brought factions of both Autobots and Decepticons to Earth, where the adventures of G.I. Joe took place, obviously, forcing them into Earth-based "alt modes" such as cars and planes. But the Transformers was a lot more sci-fi and fantasy than G.I. Joe was. There didn't seem to be enough of a conceptual common point between the two to allow for much in the way of co-existence.
Which didn't stop the fans of both concepts from clamoring for something. They knew it was possible. Both concepts were from Hasbro. This wasn't like trying to team up Superman and Spider-Man -- which had happened, by the way. The usual legal hurdles that usually exist in such conceptual crossovers, whatever form they take, didn't really exist here.
Finally, it happened. Although there was no real toy acknowledgment of it, a four-issue mini-series was published by Marvel Comics, which brought together the G.I. Joe team and the Transformers. G.I. Joe and Cobra -- Autobots and Decepticons -- all on the same pages.
This initial four-issue mini-series was -- capable, if not especially outstanding. I've always been of the opinion that the creators weren't as well versed in either concept as perhaps they should have been -- and Larry Hama is a tough act to live up to. There were a few parts of the overall story that just fell a little flat for me. Your opinion may differ.
The mini-series did, however, serve to set a precedent of sorts for future team-ups. Years later, the G.I. Joe comic would have a four-issue "internal" mini-series, co-starring the Transformers, having just entered their "Generation 2" phase. Really, the story helped to set the stage for the forthcoming Generation 2 title, and the Transformers even received full billing on the covers of the G.I. Joe comic in which this story took place. This tale was a lot more impressive than the previous one, I think in part because both concepts were a lot better established.
In more recent years, from other publishers, there have been additional G.I. Joe and Transformers crossovers. These have tended to take place in an alternate universe, one separate from both the current G.I. Joe and Transformers continuities, in which the Transformers were first discovered, still in stasis on board the Autobots' ship, by Cobra Commander! Four semi-connected mini-series of varying length proceeded, with solid storytelling and excellent artwork. The last of these threw in everything this side of a transforming kitchen sink, including appearances by the original G.I. Joe; Mike Power: Atomic Man; the first comic book appearance of Cobra-La, especially Pythona; Unicron; and even cameos by the Lunartix Aliens and, incredibly, the Battle Beasts! I keep checking the pages to see if there's a fly-by from Bulletman.
So there's certainly no shortage of comic book tales featuring both concepts. The animated series have been a little more limited in what they were able to do. However, the third season of Transformers, which took place after the animated movie, which bumped everything about twenty years into the future at that point, did have a scene at one point in which Earth Defense officer Marissa Fairborne sees an image of her father, and he looks -- and certainly sounds -- a whole lot like an older version of G.I. Joe team member Flint, who's real last name was Fairborne. And then there was the episode which featured an enigmatic individual with an all-too-familiar voice and a serpentine name, who assisted the Decepticons in trapping three of the most notable Autobots in humanoid bodies called "Synthoids". That was Cobra technology, from a G.I. Joe episode, and there was little doubt that the mysterious man was Cobra Commander!
Still, with all of this, there had never really been much in the way of a crossover with the toys. Until the 2011 San Diego Comic Convention, when Hasbro produced a special version of the recently released 30th Anniversary edition of the hugely popular G.I. Joe SkyStriker Combat Jet. The Convention version had markings to make it appear as though this plane was Starscream, one of the best-known Decepticons of all time. Now, the plane could not transform, certainly, but it was still Starscream, and it came with a special edition Cobra Commander figure as its pilot.
I'm sure there's some homage here to the fact that in the respective original animated series, Starscream and Cobra Commander were voiced -- with the same screeching pitch -- by voice actor Chris Latta. A conversation between these two characters is not something I'd want to be anywhere near without a good set of earplugs.
The package to that official crossover set actually connected itself to the original Marvel Comics crossover, being touted as a heretofore unknown "fifth issue", although there was no actual full comic book accompanying the set, and the original mini-series did reach a conclusion.
The set was obviously a massive hit, so Hasbro decided to produce another such set for the 2012 San Diego Comic Convention. And while I might have regarded the first set as nice to have if I could have acquired it readily enough, which I wasn't, the 2012 set, featuring three of my favorite characters from both concepts, was an absolute must-have.
The 2012 San Diego Comic-Con G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover set features well-known Decepticon Shockwave, in the form of a modern Cobra HISS Tank, backed by special figures of Destro and a Cobra B.A.T.! Let's consider the individual characters briefly.
SHOCKWAVE - As the Decepticons' military operations commander, Shockwave's power is second only to Megatron, and even that is disputed. His actions are carried out with the cold, brutal clarity and perfection one would expect of a purely mechanical being—his way is not that of blood lust, like so many other Decepticons, but rather that of a scientist attempting to solve a problem. And that problem is: how can he use his abilities to most effectively eliminate the greatest number of enemies? Unfortunately for the Autobots, it is rare that Shockwave does not find an answer.
Unlike most early Transformers Shockwave was not modified into an Earthly form, and retains his Cybertron alternate mode—a 35-foot-long ray gun. He possesses the power of flight in both modes, and commands the totality of the electromagnetic spectrum allowing him to emit beams of energy in a wide variety of forms. His high energy output makes him particularly fuel inefficient, but radioactive fuel sources stored in the reactor in his chest can help Shockwave to overcome this problem. Although his logical brain center is usually an advantage, human adversaries often pose more of a difficulty to Shockwave, as more intuitive and emotional thought processes often confound him.
While the animated series established Shockwave as fanatically loyal to Megatron, Shockwave's original bio and most fiction since have described him as coldly and patiently looking for ways to overthrow Megatron, not for personal power (as Starscream would) but simply because it was logical for him to do so. Shockwave concluded that he should rule so that no emotion should prevent the Decepticons from conquering the universe.
In the animated series, Shockwave was voiced by Corey Burton, who made Shockwave sound like a mechanical cross between Mr. Spock and Charles Emerson Winchester III.
I always found Shockwave impressive. He was more robotic than most of the other Transformers, in part because of his personality, but also in part because of his essentially faceless face, his head consisting of little more than an angular mount for his single, glowing, electronic eye. Then there was the fact that his left hand was replaced by the barrel of his blaster. His color scheme was relatively subdued, mostly purple and silver.
The original toy transformed into a battery-operated laster blaster with no shortage of its own built-in special effects besides just the transformation capability. Shockwave has turned up several times since, occasionally known as "Shockblast" for legal purposes, but there's no mistaking that creepy, single-eyed "face".
So how does Shockwave fare as a HISS tank? Pretty impressively, really. Not long after the first live-action G.I. Joe movie, Hasbro radically redesigned the iconic Cobra HISS, keeping the distinctive triangular treads, but reworking a lot of the rest of the tank into something more angular, detailed, faceted, and dare I say, even futuristic.
This design for the Cobra HISS was reworked yet again for inclusion in the G.I. Joe: Retaliation line of toys for the second live-action movie. The real treads of the predecessor were replaced by faux treads, with small wheels underneath. And yet, the new faux treads were actually more extensively detailed. The rest of the tank retained much of the shape of the original, but the rear turret was brought back from the original HISS Tank, the weapons array was somewhat reworked, and the cockpit now had a transparent canopy instead of an opaque one. In all honesty, it was all improvements.
It is the Retaliation HISS design that has been given to Shockwave. While it's a little hard to imagine how the popular Decepticon might transform from this into any sort of recognizable robotic mode, if you study the toy, it's not as hard as you might think. The HISS has the same angular look as Shockwave himself. Figure that the side treads might become his legs, the rear weapons mounts his arms, and the rest of it his body and head, and it's not really impossible. However, as is explained on the package itself, Shockwave does not transform.
The HISS tank has been given a really superb metallic purple finish, perfect for Shockwave, with a light gray lower body, and silver trim around the weapons mounts on the side near the rear turret. The multi-barreled machine guns themselves are transparent purple. All of this is entirely in keeping with Shockwave's overall color scheme.
Huge Decepticon emblems are on either side of the tank, as well as on the sides of the treads, and a fifth emblem near the front, on the top of a small weapons mount in front of the cockpit, that has a black grill with a single golden orb peering out from it -- Shockwave's cyclopean eye. This definitely gives the tank a proper degree of Shockwave's personality.
An additional piece has been made for the Shockwave HISS tank, a massive angular fixture to place over the main gun on the turret. This entirely reflects the business end of Shockwave's previous "alt mode", the laser cannon, and really serves to complete the image of this HISS Tank being none other than Shockwave.
The set does come with a transparent purple missile, which can be fired from the spring-loaded gun underneath this attachment, but it has to be removed first. Not a big deal -- just consider it part of Shockwave's transformation capability.
I was delighted to discover that this set includes three file cards -- one for Destro, one for the B.A.T., and one for Shockwave. The cards for Destro and the B.A.T. Are done in traditional G.I. Joe style. The one for Shockwave has been done very much in accordance with classic Transformers style. His file card reads as follows:
SHOCKWAVE - DECEPTICON
Shockwave seeks to overthrow Megatron and rule Cybertron by using a cold and brutal scientific approach to war. However, logic dictates that Shockwave should not just rule one world, but Earth as well. Once all the variables had been computed, working with the human weapons manufacturer known as Destro became a moat rational choice. Shockwave has been able to upgrade his alt-mode into a Cobra H.I.S.S. Tank and integrated his astro-blaster into the vehicle's design. This new battle-ready alt-mode increases the likelihood that Shockwave will be victorious over any opposition, either human or Cybertronian, exponentially.
Now let's consider the G.I. Joe side of the set:
DESTRO - Introduced in 1983, as an "Enemy Weapons Supplier", Destro soon became one of the most popular characters in the entire concept. The initial figure was slightly taller than -- really, everybody else in the line, coming in at a full 4" in height, and between that, the nearly all-black uniform, and the chrome-plated helmet, Destro certainly had an impressive visual.
In the comics, Destro was developed quickly from a man of mystery, who clearly knew the Baroness from some pre-Cobra encounters, to a man who, despite running an armaments company that was prepared to sell weapons to any customer with the cash, nevertheless had a strong personal sense of honor.
The animated series, while not exploring the character quite as in-depth, gave Destro a powerful, deep voice, and a frequent disgust for Cobra Commander's failed plans and maniacal rantings. One episode did explore Destro's background, maintaining the Scottish connection established by the comic book, but incredibly, making him distantly related to Lady Jaye, something never brought forth in the comics. Apart from this, Destro was a villain, but every so often served as a voice of reason amidst the chaos of Cobra.
In the comics, Destro finally grew so frustrated with Cobra Commander and the rest of the psychos in the hierarchy of Cobra, that he left. He would subsequently form his own army, the Iron Grenadiers, rescuing the Baroness from Cobra Island. From that point on, until he actually took control of Cobra for a time, Destro was a frequent foe of both G.I. Joe and Cobra, but every once in a while allied himself with the good guys if it was either good business to do so, or if it suited his personal sense of honor and justice.
The Iron Grenadiers would prove to be a very popular group within the G.I. Joe toy line, as well. Introduced in 1988, an all-new Destro figure led his distinctly non-Cobra troops into what was now a multi-sided conflict. Ultimately, Destro would return to Cobra, and has generally been regarded as associated with them ever since, although the Iron Grenadiers continue to exist, so one sort of wonders just what Destro's real plans truly are.
So, how's the Destro figure in this set? Extremely interesting. It would appear that Destro has found some new friends. The uniform he's wearing does not have a Cobra emblem on it, nor does it have Destro's emblem from the Iron Grenadiers. Rather, it has a Decepticon logo, emblazoned large on the protective chestplate.
The figure is really excellent. Destro has his traditional chrome-plated helmet, which I understand came from a previous figure that was rather hard to come by called "City Strike Destro". His uniform is almost entirely dark purple. Offhand, the only parts I recognize are the arms, which come from the Techno-Viper. Appropriate color there, anyway.
The rest -- I simply don't know, but it's an impressive assemblage of parts, that makes it appear as though Destro is wearing a highly advanced and highly protective uniform of some sort, probably necessary for helping Shockwave convert his alt-mode to transform into a H.I.S.S. Tank. Who knows what sort of radiation a Decepticon might give off?
The uniform has huge, scuffed-looking metallic knee-pads, and the protective chest and back piece has a series of metallic-colored pouches attached to it. This gives the impression that Destro was doing some serious "hands-on" work with Shockwave. He wasn't going to trust this project to any of his underlings.
The only negative thing I can really say about the figure is that the protective chest and back piece has this very high collar, that blocks the lower part of Destro's face. It's just a little -- odd-looking, like Destro's tried to wrap a cloth around the lower part of his face mask or something.
Paintwork on the figure is very nicely done. I love the fact that the helmet is actually chromed, and the Decepticon emblem is extremely cool. If there's perfect evidence of a crossover between the two concepts, here it is. Destro's file card reads as follows:
DESTRO is a major supplier and advisor to the Cobra organization, but he also pursues his own diabolical aims. He makes a deal with the Decepticon Shockwave that benefits them both. He sells Energon cubes - so valuable to Transformers - to Shockwave for a huge amount of cash, which will fund his nefarious schemes to acquire even more wealth and power.
"The McCullen clan has a long history of working with anyone who can pay the price for what they desire. I will allow Shockwave to pursue his plans - up until they interfere with mine, and then I will deal with him myself!"
Riight -- with an ego like that, it's a wonder he can get his head inside that helmet.
COBRA B.A.T. - Talk about the perfect addition to a G.I. Joe/Transformers set -- a robot from the G.I. Joe line!
The Cobra B.A.T.s, or "Battle Android Troopers", were first introduced in 1986. These clanking humanoid monstrosities have long been touted as the "perfect" fighters for Cobra's army. They don't need to be paid, they don't need to be fed, they don't require medical care, and they don't complain about their living or working conditions. They're cheap to make and easy to program.
They do have a few faults. They have an unfortunate tendency to basically consider anything that moves as a potential target on a battlefield, so they're almost as likely to start shooting at Cobra troopers as they are members of the G.I. Joe team. I think if I were a Cobra Viper and I saw B.A.T.s showing up, I'd dig myself a nice foxhole as quickly as I could and stay there until everyone -- and everything -- ran out of ammo. Last thing I'd want on my epitaph is that I bought it at the hands of a mechanical contraption only marginally smarter than a microwave oven.
While Cobra B.A.T.s probably aren't especially popular with the human rank-and-file in Cobra, they certainly proved popular with the fans and collectors. B.A.T.s have been part of every incarnation of G.I. Joe ever since. The B.A.T. II came out in 1991, and a huge, heavily armored version, called the B.A.A.T., was introduced as part of the Star Brigade Armor-Tech line just a few years later.
A mail-order offering presented an entire group of B.A.T.s, including some recolored B.A.T. II's, done in transparent red and now known as "Inferno B.A.T.s". The Battle Android Troopers also made their way into the "newsculpt" line of 2002-2006, with several versions of the B.A.T. v.3, B.A.T. v.4, and even introduced the B.A.T. v.5 in a special six-pack of figures. Word has it that had the "newsculpt" line continued, a storyline called "Robot Rebellion" would have seen the B.A.T.s try to take on -- well, everybody. That would've been interesting.
Even the Sigma 6 line brought in B.A.T.s, with the Ninja B.A.T., and the Sky B.A.T., a large take on the B.A.T. v.5. There was even a 12" B.A.T., based somewhat on the B.A.T. v.3, and rather hilariously wearing what looked like spandex biker shorts. There were even B.A.T.'s offered in one of the Convention Sets, assigned to the HeadHunters, and not inappropriately using parts of all three original-style versions of the B.A.T.
With the advent of the 25th Anniversary line, and the overhaul of the figure format into its present form, the B.A.T.'s continued, with a new B.A.T. Fashioned to look like a modern-style version of the original 1986 B.A.T. There have since been several versions of this figure, one designed to look like the original toy, another designed to look as the B.A.T.s did in the animated series, a third assigned to the "Resolute" line, and even a Jungle B.A.T. -- easily the toughest of the lot.
So now we come to the Battle Android Trooper assigned to work with Destro and Shockwave. And -- WOW -- talk about bright! This B.A.T. has very specifically been given the color scheme of a special team of Decepticons known as the Constructicons.
The Constructicons were the first "Combiner" team of Transformers. They were a group of six construction vehicles, that could not only transform into individual robot forms, but could also combine into the massive single robot known as Devastator! Although they have certainly been many combiner teams for both the Autobots and the Decepticons since then, the Constructicons and their combined form as Devastator remain the best known and best-regarded.
The Constructicons were bright green construction vehicles. And I'm talking fresh-out-of-the-can near-neon tennis ball green. And they had purple trim. Deep, grape Jello purple.
So what we have here is a Battle Android Trooper who's managed to keep his scuffed metallic gray head and arms, but who's wearing a bright green uniform, with a purple belt, shoulder strap, leg holster, and boots. One would hope it's not overloading his optical processors.
The front of the box shows a picture of Destro, in Shockwave's turret, with an entire legion of these B.A.T.s following along on either side. Now, you only get one B.A.T. in the set, but I think it would be safe to say that if you were able to build a small army of this particular division of Battle Android Troopers, "stealth mission" would not be in their repertoire.
For some additional color, the B.A.T.'s visor is red, and the mechanical details underneath his transparent chestplate are a nice variety of primary colors - red, blue, and yellow.
I know I'm making fun of the color scheme, but it really is a spectacular figure, and certainly a distinctive one. I'm very pleased to have him. His file card reads as follows:
COBRA ANDROID TROOPER
B.A.T.s are the perfect Cobra troopers. They never question orders, complain about the chow, shirk duty, or surrender. They require no leave time, sick pay, or benefits of any kind, and they are cheap and easy to replace. Their robotic design allows them to be customized for specific needs, such as the CONSTRUCTICON B.A.T., which can interface with Transformers to exchange information and supplement firepower.
"Standard B.A.T. troopers are dangerous to everybody, so this hybrid version is a whole new kind of menace. These alien upgrades are more complex than we truly understand, so we can't be sure that we know everything they're programmed to do."
And isn't THAT just a little cryptic...!
Let's discuss accessories, which are considerable. Destro comes with a bright green firearm -- guess he couldn't quite opt out of the color scheme -- and the B.A.T. comes with a black rifle, and a purple backpack with several purple arm attachments. Additionally, there's a purple suitcase with a Decepticon logo on it, that's loaded with little stacks of cash, very neatly imprinted dollars and euros. There's also a small cart with stacked Energon cubes, the fuel that powers all Transformers, on it. So the deal between Destro and Shockwave can be acted out right here.
But there's something more. There's a tiny, familiar-looking blue cassette player, with several teeny-tiny little cassettes, that can be popped into the top of the cassette player, one at a time. This cassette player has a peg, so it could be worn as a backpack by either Destro or the B.A.T.
Of course, this is a very small, non-transformable version of the popular Decepticon SOUNDWAVE, and some of his cassette minions. What's he doing in this set? Well, if you look at the artwork on the very impressively illustrated box that this set comes in, although it certainly doesn't tell an entire story, there is one panel that reveals that Soundwave, typical for him, is spying on Destro and Shockwave. Rather obviously, whatever deal they have going on here hasn't had the approval of Megatron. Or, with all probability, Cobra Commander.
Soundwave, very nicely detailed and painted, is an inch wide, and about 5/8 of an inch high. His cassettes are barely 1/2" x 1/4". In other words -- put these things in a Ziploc bag for safe-keeping.
So, what's my final word? How about -- WOW! I am hugely impressed by this set. Shockwave as a H.I.S.S. Tank is a cool idea, and it's an impressive vehicle (I also have the standard Retaliation version). These are great versions of Destro and the B.A.T., and the accessories are extremely well done. Hasbro lined this one up and knocked it out of the park.
If you're a fan of G.I. Joe, or Transformers, or even better, BOTH -- do not miss this set. I'm not saying you'll find it easily or even inexpensively, but it is definitely worth it.
The SAN DIEGO COMICON EXCLUSIVE for G.I. JOE/TRANSFORMERS, featuring the SHOCKWAVE H.I.S.S. TANK, DESTRO, and the CONSTRUCTICON B.A.T., definitely has my highest recommendation!