With the advent of the 25th-Anniversary style G.I. Joe figures, representing many of the most popular G.I. Joes from the original Real American Hero line in a new design format, many fans wondered if vehicles would, at some point, make their way into this line. The answer, as it turns out, is yes, starting with a series of three vehicles exclusive to Target, although more will be available later in 2008 to all retailers.
These three vehicles represented the G.I. Joe aspect of a special exclusive series of items to Target that also included Star Wars and Transformers. All of the various items were price marked at $9.99, which for a G.I. Joe vehicle with a figure driver, was one heck of a good deal.
These vehicles include the G.I. JOE AWE-STRIKER, COBRA HISS TANK, and G.I. JOE NIGHT SPECTER. Let's start with the AWE-STRIKER.
Although the figure design is entirely new, the vehicles are derived from the molds used in the original line. That's fine with me. G.I. Joe saw some of the most amazing vehicles throughout its run, and I'm not about to complain about some of them returning.
The original AWE-Striker was released in 1985, the fourth year of the original G.I. Joe line. Up until this point, the G.I. Joe Team had largely relied on a couple of VAMPs for its main ground transportation -- the original VAMP from 1982, and its successor, the VAMP Mark II, in 1984.
The AWE-Striker was something completely different. Less of a jeep-like vehicle and more like a dune buggy, it was designed as an all-terrain vehicle intended for fast entries and fast exits. It didn't really come across as that much of a combat vehicle. It simply wasn't well protected enough in its design.
And yet, very similar vehicles have been use by the real-life United States military -- although how many of these have seen actual combat action I couldn't really say. But there must be something to the design, and I would suspect that "something" is an ability to handle a wide range of treacherous environments that would stall anything else.
The original AWE-Striker was molded in olive green, and was a two-seater vehicle with standing room on the sides. It came across as little more than a framework with a solid area up front, a roll cage, and an engine in the back which was actually removable. It had a large gun on the top of the roll cage which could be operated remotely by whoever was sitting in the passenger seat.
The AWE-Striker saw a surprising amount of subsequent use. It turned up in the Eco-Warriors line, molded in a rather obnoxious blue and yellow, with a squirt gun mounted on the top of it, and renamed the Eco-Striker. Its next appearance wasn't even in the G.I. Joe line. Instead, it turned up as a vehicle in the short-lived line based on the original Stargate movie, its two-seater motif turned into a single seat for the larger scale of figures in that line.
It's turned up a few more times in recent years, within the G.I. Joe line, with its double-seat restored, and in interesting color schemes, one black, the other one black, grey, and white camouflage, with assorted driver figures.
The original driver of the AWE-Striker was a character named CRANKCASE. His file card reported him to be a rather short-tempered sort who was happy only when he was driving as fast as he could behind the wheel of this vehicle. According to his file, Crankcase saw the rest of the world as moving in slow motion, and it aggravated him no end.
Crankcase had a couple of appearances in the comic book, but as far as I can recall never appeared in the animated series. The same is not true for the AWE-Striker, which put in multiple appearances over the course of the daily series. It even turned up in the alternate universe of "Worlds Without End". Now that's what I call a versatile vehicle!
I wasn't too surprised that the AWE-Striker made the grade when it came to issuing some vehicles for the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe line. Those two versions that I cited a couple of paragraphs back were relatively recent, within the past three years or thereabouts. Obviously, Hasbro kept track of the molds, although there is one interesting difference which I will discuss shortly.
Clearly, Hasbro sought to reproduce the original AWE-Striker as closely as possible with this Target exclusive. The overall coloration is extremely similar, pretty much the same military olive green, although the new AWE-Striker may be a bare fraction more intense of a color. Either that, or my original AWE-Striker that I compared it to has faded ever so slightly in its 23-year lifespan.
The only really obvious difference between the original AWE-Striker and the new one is that the seats in the original AWE-Striker were molded in dark grey. The new one has olive green seats. This is not a big deal at all. If you're going to be driving this thing into battle and taking fire from Cobra, I suspect one of the last things on your mind is going to be the color of the upholstery, as long as it doesn't start getting filled with holes.
The AWE-Striker has a number of interesting features. Of course, it rolls, and rolls very well on almost any reasonable surface. However, all four wheels also have a shock absorber system. They allow the vehicle to "bounce" a little bit, in a rather realistic effect, and to seem to climb across uneven surfaces more effectively.
The AWE-Striker has its large gun in place across the top of the roll cage, and this is linked via a cable (which I personally recommend gluing in place) to a small aiming camera situated on the passenger side of the dashboard. It may look like the AWE-Striker's main gun should be capable of firing spring-loaded missiles, but its original production was in 1985, years before that sort of thing was incorporated into the G.I. Joe line. The weapon does not fire.
The AWE-Striker also has a removable engine cover in the back, and for that matter, a removable engine, so Crankcase and whoever he's driving around can perform maintenance on the vehicle should it be needed.
The overall detail on the AWE-Striker is excellent. Please take special note of the gridwork on the standing platforms to the sides of the seats, and the "ridged metal plate" look of the areas above the rear wheels. For that matter, note the neatly sculpted padding of the seats.
This new AWE-Striker, unlike its predecessor, came fully assembled in a very nicely done window box. My only complaint here is that the vehicle includes two long radio antennae that did not fit well into the common box design put forth for this and the other two Target exclusive vehicles. The antennae were curved into the box, and it looks like it's going to be a while, if ever, before they straighten out. It doesn't look too bad if you rotate the antennae and point them backwards -- sort of creates the illusion of moving at high speed -- but I really think that Hasbro should have packaged the antennae separately, and flat, perhaps on the floor of the packaging, and left that assembly step to the buyer.
Now, one of the more extensive assembly steps of any G.I. Joe vehicle in past years has also been the labels, with representative logos, insignias, and assorted warnings. This too has been a step generally done at the factory in recent years, along with the product assembly. But this time around, it's only been partially done. Only those labels facing out in the window box have been applied, and then only the most noticeable ones. The labels on the reverse side of the vehicle, as well as some of the smaller detail labels that read things like "Danger", "Aid Kit", and such, have been left to the buyer.
Personally, I don't mind a bit. My graphic arts sensibilities come into play here and I really try for as much precision as possible, something, with all due respect to the factory workers, just isn't going to be as consistent on a mass assembly line.
And the AWE-Striker comes with no shortage of labels. I even recalled that there were a few which didn't work all that well on the original vehicle, such as those that had to be placed on the curved surface of the roll cage bars. These I opted to leave off, but that was strictly a personal decision.
The labels seem to be of a good quality. They're a little lighter weight than the originals, but aren't as rubbery in texture, which I suspect may be a good thing, since some of the original labels have been known to have a tendency to shrink a bit over time, and build up a sticky residue around their edges that is very difficult to deal with. And in fact I believe the overall printing on the new labels may be clearer and brighter. I would say that they need to be handled a little more carefully than their predecessors, but the end result may be superior.
Now here's where we get to the other structural difference between the original AWE-Striker, and in fact its descendants, and this new one. All previous AWE-Strikers, including the two most recent ones, have a thin raised ridge down the middle of the front portion of the vehicle. While a harmless area of detail in and of itself, it did tend to create something of an obstacle for certain labels that had to be placed on the "hood" (a term I'm reluctant to use since the engine is in the back), and over the ridge -- which in the case of the original AWE-Striker included a large white star and the words "United States".
For whatever reason, and I doubt it was just to accommodate the labels, the hood section of the AWE-Striker has been redone -- without the ridge! It's nicely smooth, and the star and "United States" labels go on very nicely, thank you very much. I may not know what prompted this structural alteration, but i'm not complaining about it either.
With regard to the figure of CRANKCASE, it's a very capable 25th-style version of the original figure. Proper colors, good facial likeness, although somewhere along the way he decided to grow a beard. The original Crankcase only had a mustache.. What I find interesting, though, is this character's addition to the overall collection. Certainly Crankcase is the proper figure to be included with a release of the AWE-Striker in commemoration of the original line, since Crankcase was the vehicle's original driver, although some other figures have come with the vehicle in later releases.
However, Crankcase is not exactly someone I would deem a major player in the world of G.I. Joe. In point of fact, the only previous Crankcase figure in any format in the entirety of G.I. Joe was the original Crankcase figure included with the original AWE-Striker back in 1985. As I said before, I do not offhand recall the character appearing in the animated series, although the AWE-Striker itself certainly did, and the character's only significant appearances in the comic book were his debut in issue #44 alongside several other new recruits, including Bazooka, Heavy Metal, and Airtight, who were being put through their paces by Lady Jaye before the whole lot of them got captured by Cobra, and some years later, when Crankcase was one of the unfortunate casualties of the Battle of Benzheen.
If there is currently a character in the 25th-Anniversary-style line that would warrant the designation of "Least likely to be made as a 25th-style figure who actually HAS been made as such", it would almost certainly go to Crankcase.
So, what are my thoughts here? I'm extremely impressed. This AWE-Striker is a superb vehicle on its own, and a very nice remaking of the original AWE-Striker in most respects. And since it's derived from the original, it'll work just as well with an original G.I. Joe collection, even though it's now designated as part of the 25th Anniversary collection.
Now, let's turn our attention to the COBRA HISS TANK.
Certainly, anyone who's ever followed G.I. Joe to any significant degree will recognize the Cobra HISS. Introduced in 1983 along with the Cobra FANG Helicopter, it was one of Cobra's first-ever vehicles, as well as indicative that when it came to vehicles, Cobra did not in any way feel bound by conventional military vehicle design.
The HISS has, to one degree or another, been a part of the Cobra stable of vehicles ever since. The original was recolored in red and offered as part of a Sears exclusive. 1989 saw the introduction of the HISS II, an all-new vehicle that still took a lot of cues from the original. The original HISS even made its way into the Eco-Warriors line with the rather embarrassing name of "Septic Tank". During the 2000-2002 line, the original returned again, but was rennamed the HISS III. During the days of the newsculpt line, the new STRIKE HISS, a rather bizarre creation, was introduced, effectively becoming the HISS IV if not in official name. The original HISS returned yet again as a store exclusive, recolored red with some Crimson Guards, and yet another all-new HISS, technically the HISS V but really just called the HISS, appeared as part of Hasbro's online "DTC" offerings. Few vehicles have seen so many incarnations over the course of the history of G.I. Joe.
I'll be honest -- that DTC HISS is one extremely impressive vehicle. While taking most of its cues from the original HISS, it looks a good bit more menacing, and in some respects, more "real-world plausible", than any previous version. I think it's the framework around the canopy and all the extra missile launchers that really help it.
However, I can't imagine encountering a really dedicated, long-time G.I. Joe fan and collector that doesn't have a soft spot for the original Cobra HISS Tank. It was one of Cobra's first, and it has a distinctive design, and certainly a solid legacy, that is not easily overlooked, ignored, or dismissed. No way.
And so it is that original HISS Tank that Hasbro has brought back as part of the Target-exclusive triad of vehicles. And the Cobra HISS is looking really good even after all these years.
When it was first introduced in 1983, the COBRA HISS (High Speed Sentry, for those of you wondering) showed that Cobra was not at all bound by conventional vehicle design in their bid to take over the world. To what degree newly-enlisted weapons expert Destro had a hand in designing the HISS has never been made known, but what we had here was a tank that didn't look much like a conventional tank at all. It had treads, and it had a turret, but that was about it.
The very fact of its name indicated that this was a different sort of vehicle than one normally expected from something based on a tank. High Speed Sentry. One does not usually equate a tank with "High Speed". One usually thinks of a tank as a large and rather lumbering piece of well armed, armored metal on treads, and whatever it doesn't blast away with its considerable firepower, it's just as likely to run over with its considerable tonnage.
That wasn't what Cobra wanted. They wanted a tank-like vehicle that could get in, do damage, and get out -- in a relative hurry for something rather tank-like. This was consistent with Cobra's M.O. of terrorist activities. They got it in the HISS.
What we have here is a sports-tank. Like a sports car. It's smaller than a traditional tank, and it's designed for speed as well as the capability to inflict the sort of damage one expects from a tank. The HISS has a rather angular design to it, also unusual for a tank. It has a front cockpit with a single-seat driver's area, covered by a raisable transparent canopy. It's only visible weapon is the double-barreled machine gun -- LARGE ones, I'll grant that -- operable from the open turret towards the back of the vehicle. The detailing along the sides of the HISS indicate that it's well-armored, but it's also somewhat limited in its armaments. The turret can swivel in any direction, but the firepower is entirely in the guns (this may be why subsequent HISS designs have had more weaponry).
Now, one may think that a potentially fragile transparent canopy and an open turret are going to be a liability in battle, and perhaps they would be. But if you consider Cobra's mindset, they probably considered it an incentive for the driver and the gunner to be that much more precise with where they drive and shoot.
The HISS Tank's tread design is as interesting as the rest of the vehicle. It's triangular in shape, with the emphasis of the additional angle up front. This makes design sense, since the HISS Tank tends to look just a little front-heavy with the driver's cockpit extending beyond the treads. I'd also think the tread design looks like it'd make the vehicle faster. At least it sort of looks like it does. I'm no engineer.
On the toy, the treads aren't real. Only a handful of tanks in the entire G.I. Joe line have ever had actual treads. It's simply too expensive a procedure to do with every vehicle. Rather, a reasonable compromise has been worked out, where the treads are molded to the side of the vehicle, and there are small wheels underneath them, reasonably well concealed in most cases (including the HISS), that allow the vehicle to roll along well on any flat, smooth surface.
The HISS has a standing platform in the back for two additional troopers, and a tow hook underneath the platform to take along an additional weapon of some sort. The first recolored HISS came with a recolored version of the Mobile Missile System. The later version, that came with a triad of Crimson Guards, also came with a recolored Cobra ASP, both towable items.
The original HISS was colored in black, and here we have a deviation from the original with this Target-exclusive HISS, I suspect because I've heard that a black HISS will be part of a general release series of vehicles later in the year. The Target HISS is a dark steel blue. It's certainly a color that works well for the HISS, and in fact makes it look very close to the HISS III, without all the battlefield "dirt" splattered on it. A plus in and of itself as far as I'm concerned.
This new HISS came fully assembled in a very nicely done window box. Sometimes I sort of miss putting the vehicles together, but if memory serves, the original HISS didn't have that many assembly components, anyway. Just as soon leave that part to the factory, and the HISS has been very well assembled for this latest appearance.
As to the labels: the HISS does not have a lot of labels, but I was pleased to be able to put at least some of them in place. One of the more notable markings on any HISS Tank is, of course, that big stenciled number up front. Traditionally, this has read "788". But, since this is a special edition tank, and really, they can't ALL be "788", the number has been changed to "827" for this edition. You know, I think that's a local phone exchange...
With regard to the driver figure that comes with this vehicle, it's not the actual HISS Driver, who has in fact recently been issued as part of the 25th-style line on an individual card. Now, I assume that he can certainly be used with this HISS Tank, but the driver that actually comes with the HISS tank is, in fact, a rather interesting recoloration of an otherwise fairly standard Cobra Trooper.
In fact, the file card for this figure designates him simply as "Cobra Infantry Trooper" with the code-name of "Cobra Driver". But it's the colors that are interesting. The figure's shirt has been given the same pale grey color that the Stinger Driver -- both the original and the 25th-style figure in the Cobra Legions 5-pack -- was best known for, and yet the trousers are molded in black and given a light grey camouflage, more in keeping with the Cobra Night Watch set that was a Toys "R" Us exclusive part of the 25th-style line.
The end result is actually a very interesting and distinctive-looking Cobra soldier, especially with the black helmet. Good composition. I honestly don't know why the actual HISS Driver figure, or a recoloration of it, was not included with this item, other than possibly it simply wasn't ready or available for some reason, but at least Hasbro came up with an interesting looking Cobra Trooper to take its place, and I would suspect that those who are collecting the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe figures will be interested in this one because of its distinctiveness.
I'm extremely impressed. This HISS is a superb vehicle on its own, and a very nice addition to the rather considerable ranks of HISS tanks that have been produced over the years. And since it's derived from the original, it'll work just as well with an original G.I. Joe collection, even though it's now designated as part of the 25th Anniversary collection.
Finally, let's take a look at the NIGHT SPECTER.
Now, admittedly, there hasn't previously been a vehicle called the Night Specter. On the other hand, if there's been another vehicle in the history of G.I. Joe that has undergone more name changes over the course of quite a few versions than the SHARC, I don't know what it is.
Consider the bizarre history of the vehicle to begin with. Introduced in 1984, Hasbro considered the SHARC to be the first submersible in the series. It even came with a rather peculiar figure called Deep Six, who will certainly go down as the least-articulated G.I. Joe figure of all time. He could move his arms. The figure was designed to look as though he was wearing a thick, high-tech diving suit. The figure was mostly hollow, and a set of weights in his legs and a small air-pumping bellows allowed the original Deep Six figure to dive and return to the surface in a small body of water, such as a bathtub or a shallow pool.
However, during product testing, the angular and seemingly winged shape of the SHARC vehicle confused kids a bit, who treated the vehicle as though it was an aircraft, not a small submarine. No big deal for Hasbro, although possibly a bit of an embarrassment for the design department. They designated the SHARC to be a "Flying Submarine".
The SHARC has returned on several occasions since its original incarnation, although its name has been different every time. It turned up as part of Night Force in 1988 as the Night Shade, in 1990 as the Sky SHARC within the Sky Patrol line, and in 2001 as the Wave Crusher, when it switched sides and was assigned to Cobra. It even made an appearance in Brazil as the Turbo Submarino. Weird enough kids turned an intended submarine into an aircraft. Poor thing couldn't even keep a consistent name...
Now it is the Night Specter, although based on an advertisement I have seen for forthcoming non-exclusive G.I. Joe vehicles, it looks like the original SHARC might yet return. Somewhat hysterically for those of us who know the history of this craft, it was pictured flying in the sky.
Clearly the Night Specter is intended as an aircraft. The text on the back of the package reads, "The G.I. Joe Team launches an all-out attack on Cobra Island after members of the elite team are captured! The G.I. Joe NIGHT SPECTER swoops down to strafe Cobra forces and open a path for G.I. Joe ground forces to invade the island." Doesn't say a thing about any waterborne capabilties.
The vehicle, whatever its intended purpose, is an interesting design. It's a rather angular vehicle, that admittedly looks as though it could work well either in the air or under the water. It borders on looking boxy, but not quite. I wouldn't exactly call it "sleek", though. It has a fairly long, narrow, central body that is more or less trapezoidal in configuration. Out to either side are a pair of rather short, angled wings, with engines incorporated as part of the wing design. There are two short fins at the back of the top of the main body, with adjustable rudders.
On the underside of the vehicle are two -- well, depending on where they're used, I suppose they could be either missiles or torpedoes. Perhaps they're dual use capable? The Night Specter has no landing gear, which sort of lends more credibility to its original intended purpose as a submarine. But there are three fins underneath that allow the vehicle to rest on a solid surface evenly.
The Night Specter has a large canopy that actually opens sideways. The cockpit will doubtless be found to be very roomy for any conventionally- sized G.I. Joe figure, since it was originally designed for the very bulky Deep Six. On the other hand, the design of the craft is such that it is meant to be piloted with the person in the cockpit resting prone on their stomach. How comfortable or even safe this would actually be I really don't know. I suppose it would depend on the padding.
This Night Specter, of course, also came fully assembled in its window box. And although as I said, sometimes I sort of miss putting the vehicles together, as I recall, the SHARC was a bit of a hassle to assemble. And I've intentionally not mentioned until now one additional little "action feature" of the vehicle. If you slide the tabs on the bottoms of the wings, these little gun turrets pop up through opening hatches on the tops of the wings. That was a fairly complex assembly step on the original vehicle that I am more than happy to leave to the factory this time around. It's a cool feature, but it was no fun to try to put together.
The Night Specter comes with some very interesting labels. A fair percetage of them don't resemble the original SHARC labels at all. For starters, you've got the color scheme. The Night Specter is molded mostly in an extremely dark grey. The original SHARC was off-white. Some of its labels contain white lettering. That would not have shown up too well on the original vehicle.
Then you've got that great big fanged mouth and eyes running across the front and sides of the Night Specter. This is more in keeping with a Tiger Force vehicle, really. Granted, it still looks pretty cool. Honestly, I don't think the Night Specter is intended to be directly affiliated with either Tiger Force or even Night Force, despite its coloration or markings. If anything, I think the purpose behind its new color scheme and name was to denote it as a sort of stealth attack plane, and to a considerable degree, that works. The SHARC's unusual appearance compared to conventional military aircraft -- well, it's not too much of a stretch to see it as some sort of stealth prototype that a group like the G.I. Joe Team might get to play with.
Regarding the GRAND SLAM figure, it's a very good rendition of the character in the 25th-style format. Grand Slam, to me, has always had a little trouble getting respect. He had few appearances in the comic book, and fewer still in the animated series. He had a more or less distinctive uniform for a first-year G.I. Joe, one of the original 13, but it was a uniform design that he shared with the better-known Laser Rifle Trooper, Flash.
And it really wasn't fair. Grand Slam originally came with a very cool item, the Heavy Artillery Laser, and the following year, was packaged with the JUMP Jet Pack system. Here is where Grand Slam got his better known color scheme, as the red padding that he shared with Flash was changed to silver, and that particular designation has stuck in recently years. Although the DTC newsculpt Grand Slam figure had red padding, the 2007 Convention Exclusive Grand Slam figure used silver padding, probably to offset him from the presence of the Flash figure in the same year's offerings. Flash wasn't part of the DTC newsculpt series, but he is part of the 25th-style figures, so clearly Hasbro decided to use the silver padding once again to denote a reasonably significant difference.
One note about the padding on this 25th-style Grand Slam -- it's much more intricate than the original. While I tend to believe that "heightened detail", just in general on modern action figures, is open to some level of interpretation and opinion, there's certainly no question in this instance that the padding on the chest, upper arms, and upper legs of the 25th-style Grand Slam (and Flash, of course), is significantly more intricate than their 1982 predecessors, and is very nicely done.
And with fans of the 25th-style G.I. Joe line clamoring for all of the "original 13" to be rendered into the line at some point, this Target exclusive isn't a bad way to make sure Grand Slam is included in that roster, as he should be.
His file card is also worth a mention. It lists his official title as "Laser Artillery Soldier", which was his original "job description", and the file card also makes mention of his expertise with the original "HAL" Heavy Artillery Laser. This may be a tad confusing to any newcomers to the line, since the Night Specter doesn't have any apparent laser-like capabilities, but the card is at least faithful to the original Grand Slam.
And hey, if Hasbro happens to decide to re-release the HAL at some point, fine with me. It's a cool item.
So, what's my final word here on the NIGHT SPECTER? I'm highly impressed. Granted the SHARC and its renamed successors have always been seen as something along the lines of oddballs, especially when one knows the background story. Even so, the Night Specter looks cool and works well as an advanced combat plane that, perhaps due to its name and coloration, might just have some high-tech stealth secrets. And since it's derived from the original SHARC, it'll work just as well with an original G.I. Joe collection, even though it's now designated as part of the 25th Anniversary collection.
Grand Slam may be an odd choice for a pilot, but maybe there's some laser technology in there for him to work with. And, for those who want to see the entire "Original 13" G.I. Joes brought into the 25th-style line, Grand Slam does bring that goal one step closer.
As for all three of these vehicles, I suspect that as short-lived Target exclusives, they will probably be out of the stores, along with the Star Wars and Transformers items that they was part of, by the time this review appears for you to read. But as I always say in such matters, there's always the secondary market.
And these vehicles are worth definitely worth tracking down. The G.I.
JOE TARGET EXCLUSIVE AWE-STRIKER, COBRA HISS, and NIGHT SPECTER all
have my highest enthusiastic recommendation!