REVIEW: LANARD MODERN-STYLE STAR FORCE FIGURES
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then a company known as Lanard has been sincerely flattering Hasbro's G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO for years. When the 3-3/4" Modern Army Action Figure came on the scene, there were no shortage of quick pretenders, most of whom faded into obscurity in relatively short order. The only other notable exception would be the second round of a line of figures called Bronze Bombers, which actually used Hasbro old molds, mostly with new heads. They turned out an impressive boxed set of a dozen figures not long after the Real American Hero took a break in 1994.
But then there's THE CORPS, Lanard's mainstay product. For years, their figures, designed along the exact same lines as G.I. Joe, enjoyed a certain amount of shelf space in the stores close to their better-known brothers-in-arms. The Corps were, at the very least, an inexpensive means of bolstering the ranks and motor pools of a kid's collection, as there was a very decent range of figures and vehicles available over the years.
Lanard came up with other similar figure products, as well. They turned out Lazer Force, a line of chrome-plated figures; Bio-Wing Battle Squadron, a very bizarre team; Atomic Rangers, an attempt to jump on the Power Rangers train, and more. In 1998, during a period of minimal G.I. Joe product, they even came out with a handful of new figures, which were better detailed than the average Corps.
One of Lanard's figure products was called STAR FORCE, sometimes spelled S.T.A.R. FORCE (although what this abbreviation might have stood for, if it was ever explained, I don't recall). These were figures outfitted in futuristic astronaut suits. Most had seen some use before, either in Lazer Force or the Atomic Rangers line.
Over the past several years, with Hasbro completely redesigning their G.I. Joe line, Lanard did the same with the CORPS. While they didn't imitate Hasbro's overhaul of G.I. Joe, the figures were noticeably different than their predecessors. Slightly larger, with plastic rivets, and lacking the T-hook-and-rubber-band internal design that allowed for the ball-and-socket leg joint and which mostly held the figure together. The new Corps figures are nicely detailed, if not as compatible with G.I. Joe as they used to be, and they have an impressive range of vehicles, which honestly are pretty compatible with the Joe Team.
What I hadn't seen any evidence of was any of the other groups of figures that Lanard had developed.
Admittedly, Lanard's products are not that prevalent. You can usually find a small supply of CORPS items at Walmart -- sometimes Kmart. Target and Toys "R" Us - not so much. But all I had ever seen in the modern style of Corps figures were Corps figures. I'd never seen any STAR FORCE figures, and certainly the package is distinctive.
So, how are the toys? Extremely impressive, really. The figures are packaged on very distinctive dark blue cards, with a bold white logo in a very cool futuristic block lettering fint that says STAR FORCE in white, bordered in black, with the silhouette of a planet with a sun rising behind it. A head-and-chest shot of an astronaut appears above the logo.
The dark color of the card makes the primarily white suit of the astronaut really stand out. The two astronauts do not have individual names - which is a little unusual since the modern Corps figures do have individual names.
There was a third STAR FORCE astronaut pictured on the back of the package card, and I was able to track him down rather quickly, thanks to an online auction site. I also learned of a fourth figure in the series, and was able to obtain him, along with quite an abundance of equipment that I shall get into over the course of this review, via the same means at a very reasonable price.
STAR FORCE, as a team, has been given something of a background. The back of the package card has some text on it which reads as follows: "THE EXPLORATION CONTINUES... Through great advances in space technology, landing on the moon, living on space stations and exploring Mars, Earth's elite team of astronauts known as Star Force continue to explore and unravel the mysteries of space for the eventual colonization of other planets. Always ready to respond to the mysteries of space and the possibilities of alien intelligence of our universe and beyond..."
The headsculpts are similar, but not identical. One astronaut has blonde hair, the second brown, the third has black hair, with a bit of white trim, as if he's slightly older and is perhaps the team leader. The fourth has dark brown hair styled as a crewcut with a rather pointy front. The headsculpts, although reasonably distinctive, are also quite similar. The hairstyle and color are the main differences. Short, ordinary-looking hairstyles and rather serious expressions on their faces are the common points.
I do have to say that the eyes are a little strange, Typically, eyes on action figures, at least in this size range, feature a white area, with a black pupil (and maybe a colored iris if the figure is especially fortunate), and a dark line over the eye to represent prominent eyelashes. These four figures have the whites of their eyes completely encircled in black, which leaves them looking like -- well, I'm not sure. They've either been up too long without a break, or they're fans of the WWE Superstar known as the Undertaker. Either way, it's a very slightly creepy look.
The astronaut suits themselves are spectacular. When Lanard redesigned their figures, they really upped the level of sculpted detail, as well as increased the depth of that detail -- that is, how deep the detail was sculpted into a figure -- by a considerable margin. And these Star Force figures showcase that just as well if not a little better than Lanard's current CORPS offerings. Ridged panels, visible stitching, pads, hoses, attached equipment, the works. These are some superbly well-detailed figures. I've seen more expensive product from more prominent companies based on better-known licenses that didn't look this cool.
One thing I get a kick out of is that three of them have one or two hoses attached to their upper legs that are also connected to their lower legs, and are molded from flexible plastic, so they bend with the knee joint. The fourth one, the green trimmed one, has hoses attached to his upper arms that connect to the lower arms, with the same flexible plastic. That's some seriously impressive extra effort.
Just as impressively, the suits are not identical. All four have a look of futuristic plausibility to them. But they're also entirely unique.
Articulation is impressive. These figures are fully poseable at the heads, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, waists, legs, and knees. Each astronaut also comes with an individual, removable helmet with a transparent faceplate, a large backpack, a small equipment case, and a weapon -- so they're very well accessorized.
Paintwork is, for the most part, quite neat. There are a couple of areas that could've been a little better done, but I don't see anything on either figure that I would describe as sloppy.
And then we have one more special feature. The figures are advertised as "Glow in the Dark". That's always an attention getter for me. Now, based on the picture of the astronaut on the back of the package card, it appeared as though it was the colored trim on each figure that glowed. Well, toss that idea out the airlock. I checked these figures, and I wish I could take a photo of them actually glowing, but their ENTIRE WHITE SUITS glow! Now that's seriously cool.
And, just to throw in a little bonus -- so do their faces. That's cool, but it's also a little weird. Makes you wonder if maybe they've been wearing those suits a little too long...
Now, I'd like to discuss some of the additional equipment that I received with the green-trimmed astronaut. I have no reason to believe that it was originally packaged with him, as this was sold as a group lot, that even included a couple of spare astronauts.
Clearly Lanard put some serious effort into this line, which makes my rather accidental discovery of it that much more mysterious. Where the heck was this stuff in the stores!?
Easily the most amusing accessory, if it can even be called that, is a monkey in a space suit. It's designed to look like a chimpanzee, but what's impressive about the little guy is that he's pretty much as well detailed as any of the humans, his helmet is removable, and he even has articulation! There's not a lot of animal accessories in any other action figure lines that can say that. His head turns, and his arms move forward, backward, and even outward. He's posed in a crouched, seated position, and just like the human astronauts, he also glows in the dark!
Just what I always wanted -- a glow in the dark space monkey...
Among the vehicles, I received a four-wheeled buggy that doesn't look too implausible, mostly white with gray wheels and bright green trim. Interestingly enough, the axles are metal. When's the last time you saw that? The other vehicle is a very angular-looking treaded vehicle (with concealed wheels), also mostly white but with yellow details, and two moving gun barrels up front. Honestly, it looks like it took more than few cues from the G.I. Joe Battle Bear Skimobile, but the very angular look makes it look like a bit of HISS Tank was thrown in for good measure. For a small, one-man craft, it's really very cool.
The largest item, which looks like some sort of lander, is this big, two-passenger thing with a series of three girder-like pylons for landing legs, and a couple of somewhat cylindrical chambers with transparent domes, each of which can house one of the astronaut figures. There are opening doors on the back. It's mostly white with some blue trim. The design reminds me a whole lot of some of the stuff that Major Matt Mason used to produce.
Just so we don't leave one of the astronaut's trim colors out, there were some large, box-like console units that have a bit of orange trim on them. Very nicely detailed, really.
And it's certainly worth noting that the two wheeled vehicles and the larger lander also all glow in the dark! You know, I've got quite a bit of glow-in-the-dark stuff in here. I've got Scare Glow from Masters of the Universe Classics, I've got Night Fighting RoboCop, I've got the glow-in-the-dark variant of The Spectre from DC Universe Classics, and a few other items. Now I've got all this glowing Star Force stuff. Much more and I'm gonna buy a Geiger counter, just to be on the safe side, y'know?
So, what's my final word? I don't know where you might find these figures, or their vehicles and accessories. But I am impressed. And it's getting harder and harder to be impressed with the action figure world these days, just as it's getting harder to find much of anything in the stores.
These STAR FORCE figures might not be G.I. Joe, or Batman, or Iron Man, but they are cool. I'm glad to have them, and if you're fortunate enough to come across them at some retailer, then I definitely suggest that you don't just pass them over as bland generic-type toys. They're cooler than you might think, and I believe them to be a worthwhile addition to any action figure collection.
These modern-style STAR FORCE astronaut figures from LANARD definitely have my highest recommendation!