REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION TREAD RIPPER TANK with CLUTCH
I'm not sure when you might be reading this review, as I often hear from fellow collectors who read my reviews long after they've been initially posted to the Web Site, and I always welcome such contact. However, as of this writing, it's become common knowledge that (a) The sequel to the live-action G.I. Joe movie, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation", has been bumped from an initial summer 2012 release date to spring of 2013 for various reasons that I won't bother to get into here, and that (b) the change in release date came so close to the release of the toys that it was literally impossible for either Hasbro or the various retailers carrying the line to call them back. So it was basically decided to put out what had shipped, and let it sell through, with the intention of releasing more product closer to the revised release date of the movie.
This was done, and it seemed to be decently successful. As of this writing, most retailers are resetting their toy departments for the fall season, which means a lower emphasis on summer-movie-based toys -- and one toy line that was sort of a non-movie, at least temporarily. But to be honest, I saw very little G.I. Joe: Retaliation product remaining even before the reset. Hopefully this means good things for G.I. Joe's future early in 2013.
As to the movie, the film is expected to feature the G.I. Joe team coming into a conflict with Zartan, Storm Shadow and Firefly, all serving under the newly released Cobra Commander. Zartan (who is last seen in disguise as the President of the United States) controls the U.S. Government and frames all G.I. Joe operatives as traitors to the United States, exterminating most of them and leaving a small group of survivors. Zartan and the Commander now have all the world leaders under Cobra's control, with their advanced warheads aimed at innocent populaces around the world. Badly beaten, outnumbered and outgunned, the Joes make a desperate plan to overthrow Cobra Commander and take back the world, with their secret black operation called the "Second American Revolution", which involves the original G.I. Joe General Joseph Colton.
In January 2011, it was confirmed that Byung-hun Lee will reprise his role as Storm Shadow in the sequel. Channing Tatum and Ray Park are also returning to the film as Duke and Snake Eyes, respectively. Rachel Nichols, the actress who played Scarlett in the first film, said that most cast members will not be returning, except for the three aforementioned actors.
In June 2011, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was cast as Roadblock, D.J. Cotrona and rapper RZA were cast as Flint and Blind Master respectively, while Elodie Yung was in talks for the role of Jinx. In July 2011, Adrianne Palicki was confirmed for the lead female role of Lady Jaye, and Ray Stevenson was confirmed to portray the villain Firefly. Arnold Vosloo also confirmed that he would reprise his role of Zartan, and in August 2011, it was confirmed that Bruce Willis was cast to star in the film as the original G.I. Joe. Ray Park also revealed that Snake Eyes' pet wolf, Timber, would be appearing in the sequel.
There were a few last-minute toy items that barely made it out under the wire. One of these will be reviewed here. It's called the G.I. JOE TREAD RIPPER TANK, and it comes with a driver known as CLUTCH.
The Tread Ripper has its origins, somewhat, anyway, with the Cobra H.I.S.S., as unusual as that may sound.
The original Cobra H.I.S.S., easily one of Cobra's most iconic vehicles, was first produced in 1983, and was one of Cobra's first vehicles, as they had not received any in G.I. Joe's first year in 1983. The HISS was a most atypical-looking tank. Although it featured an angular and rather armored-looking main body and tank treads -- faux treads, anyway, which concealed small wheels, the cockpit with the clear canopy that jutted forward from the main body, the open turret on the top with the double-barreled cannon, and especially the unusual triangular design of the tank treads, which pretty well became the HISS tank's signature point, were hardly standard designs for a military tank. The HISS, as much as anything, put people on notice that Cobra wasn't going to do things the way anyone else expected them to, or how they'd been done in the past.
The HISS was such a hit for Cobra that over the ensuing years, there have been multiple versions and recolorations, including several store exclusives, the rather unfortunate "Septic Tank" version in the Eco-Warriors concept; the larger but still recognizable HISS II, the HISS III, really just a recolored version of the original, the HISS IV, also known as the Strike HISS, and a somewhat more realistic version of the HISS, sometimes known as the HISS V, and was released towards the end of the "newsculpt" run. The original returned for the 25th Anniversary of G.I. Joe, and stayed around for quite some time, even being turned out in white for a first-ever arctic edition.
The HISS was rather completely reworked following the first live-action movie, retaining only a minimal resemblance to its predecessors, most notably with regard to the triangular tread configuration, which for the first time ever in the history of the HISS (would that be "HISStory"?) were actual treads, and not just faux treads concealing small wheels which actually allowed the vehicle to roll, a common practice for any number of tank-like vehicles in the G.I. Joe line.
However, there was a second, smaller vehicle, that just barely made it to any sort of market -- the SCOUT HISS. Turned down for whatever reason by American retailers, the Scout HISS, along with a transformable motorcycle for the G.I. Joe team that rounded out the two-vehicle assortment, managed to find a home in rather limited quantity in Canada. G.I. Joe fans and collectors throughout the United States were quickly calling in favors to their northern counterparts, and I was fortunate enough to eventually obtain both vehicles.
The Scout HISS has to be regarded as a "mini-tank" reduced to as absolute bare-bones a status as possible and still somehow get away with qualifying for the definition, if not by much. It consists of the two iconic triangular treads, which once again were actual treads, with an unshielded cockpit in the middle with no canopy, and whose only real protection were the treads themselves. In a head-to-head confrontation, the HISS Driver that came with the Scout HISS wouldn't stand much chance. There was a rather small, double-barreled cannon in the back, on a rotating turret that also allowed the cannon to raise up. One assumed it was on a remote control from the cockpit. There was also a platform in the back with a foot peg. Standing back there almost had to qualify as punishment duty.
In any case, it was a cool vehicle, if perhaps a little impractical for the battlefield (as if that was especially unusual), and not the easiest vehicle in the world to find, either.
Perhaps it's no great surprise that Hasbro has reworked the Scout HISS into the Tread Ripper -- complete with new parts. Why not get an additional use out of a vehicle that saw only a limited release the first time around? Still, coming out at the tail end of a toy line for a movie that got bumped nine months down the road -- this poor vehicle is having a hard time catching a break.
A fair bit has changed, from the Scout HISS to the Tread Ripper. In fact, the only item that remains unchanged is the center cockpit, and even that had its copyright date updated on the bottom to 2012. The new treads that snap onto the sides of the vehicle are not actual treads. They're actually better detailed and more intricate in appearance than the real treads of the Scout HISS, but they're not real. As with other such vehicles, they conceal small wheels on their undersides.
The turret connection from the original Scout HISS is now the connection point for a framework canopy that fits over the top of the Tread Ripper. This canopy has its own turret mounted into it. The new canopy still doesn't look especially protective, especially from the front, but the end result is a more impressive and more durable looking vehicle. Think of the canopy as something of a roll bar, perhaps. The Tread Ripper is a cross between a HISS Tank and some sort of off-road sport vehicle. With firepower.
Speaking of which, the Tread Ripper clearly outguns the Scout HISS. The Scout HISS had one relatively small double-barreled gun mounted to its turret. The Tread Ripper has a distinctly larger cannon, as well as an even larger spring-loaded missile launcher. Both guns are able to rotate on individual turrets, but not all that far. They do have a tendency to run into each other.
Of course, the color scheme is different. The Scout HISS had a very dark blue cockpit, with black treads and red trim. Cobra colors, in other words. That's not really going to work well with G.I. Joe. The Tread Ripper has a light grey cockpit, with beige-colored machinery within the treads, and an olive green canopy with light gray weapons mounted on the top. It's definitely a "brighter" vehicle.
An additional design note. I don't know if it was intentional or not -- I'm assuming it was -- but the sculpted framework of detailing within the treads of the Tread Ripper very nicely complements the framework of the canopy. It does help to bring the design of the entire vehicle together very well.
The canopy does open, although it's almost not necessary for it to do so, and the vehicle rolls well. It features a generous supply of labels, most of which fit very well into their designated areas based on the instructions. However, let me suggest this to you, with some emphasis -- LABEL THE VEHICLE BEFORE YOU ASSEMBLE IT. Believe me, it'll be a lot easier. Most of the labels, as you might expect, go to distinct parts of the vehicle -- tread assemblies, cannon, missile launcher, central body. Trust me, it's a lot easier to apply these labels to those pieces on an individual basis, than it would be to try to work with the entire vehicle. I looked at the completed vehicle and where some of the labels were, and more than a few times found myself thinking, "Well, THAT would not have been fun if I'd waited until now to try that."
A few things I noticed about the labels. One is, many of them have the emblem of Snake-Eyes' ninja clan. This does seem to be the emblem being used for this movie, but really, is everybody a ninja to the point it has to be on all of their vehicles? There's also what appears to be some Japanese symbols on a number of the labels. I have no idea what it says, but I did find it a little unusual to see. Although one of the labels is a bit of a kick, as it looks like a license plate, and is properly applied to the back of the vehicle. Another label, on the back, has wording in both English and Spanish. Finally, one of the labels, that goes on the back of the missile launcher, is one of the more intricate designed labels I've encountered in G.I. Joe vehicles. Most of it applies to a flat surface, but a small portion of it, which is cut to fit, applies over a curved section to one side. It wasn't difficult to apply, but I've never really encountered that before.
On the whole, though, the Tread Ripper tank is a cool vehicle, and for those who have been unable to add the Scout HISS to their collection (which I highly recommend), the Tread Ripper also represents quite a distinctive vehicle.
Now, let's consider the vehicle's driver, by the name of CLUTCH. There's a name with a generous amount of history in the G.I. Joe world. Clutch was introduced in the very first year of G.I. Joe, as the driver of the VAMP, a four-wheeled, modern-looking jeep-like vehicle. He turned up again a couple of years later, in a recolored form, when the VAMP itself was recolored and given a few additional parts, and dubbed the VAMP Mk. II.
Clutch was a mechanic and all around car nut from New Jersey. He was also a self-professed ladies' man who pretty well drive Scarlett nuts in the early comic book adventures. It is to Scarlett's great credit that she never used her crossbow to pin Mr. Lance "Clutch" Steinberg to the nearest wall.
Clutch was obviously a rather fearless sort, and not just because he one time drove the VAMP right down the side of a mountain to catch up in a car chase -- with Roadblock in the passenger seat, no less. He was also good buddies with Rock 'N' Roll, and the two went on a couple of road trips together during leave time. These road trips generally didn't end terribly well, as the two tended to have the bad fortune of running afoul of the Dreadnoks, once getting hospitalized for their trouble, another time getting brainwashed.
In later years during the original line, Clutch shaved off his scruffy black beard, put on a brightly-colored orange and yellow uniform, and signed up with Gung-Ho's Mega-Marines. The character would continue to appear off and on in the ensuing years, including once as a Convention Exclusive figure in a set called "Tanks for the Memories", which reunited a number of the earliest members of the G.I. Joe team.
Now, I honestly have no idea at this time if either Clutch or the Tread Ripper is going to be in the Retaliation movie. I'd be a little surprised if the Tread Ripper is, since it's at least significantly based on an established toy vehicle, albeit one that didn't see widespread release. Still, anything's possible there. As for Clutch being in the movie, I just don't know, so I suppose it's conceivable that this figure is based on his movie likeness, which I simply haven't seen yet.
So, how's the figure? Well -- hmm. What one can see of the face, does have some resemblance to the original Clutch. The facial structure is similar, and this Clutch does have a mustache and beard, that are similar in basic configuration to Clutch's classic facial hair. Nevertheless, it's the wrong color. This Clutch has tan hair and beard. This is one of the things that makes me think that maybe, just maybe, Clutch has some small role in the movie. But I don't know. Apart from this, it's a little tough to know what Clutch looks like, because the figure is wearing dark glasses and a cap, that covers his eyes and the top of his head. It's all neatly sculpted and fairly neatly painted however.
The uniform is a little on the drab side, and I don't mean olive drab. Still, one has to remember that the movie takes place in at least a slightly more real-world environment, and really, only the big stars get to dress fancy. I suspect it's fair to say that doesn't include Clutch.
The figure is outfitted with a tan-gray jumpsuit with the sleeves rolled up almost to the elbows, gray gloves, gray knee pads, and a gray harness around his torso with a wide variety of equipment pouched and accessories and the like on it. He also has several leg straps, one of which has a holster strapped to his upper right leg.
The sculpting is really very impressive. It is exceptionally well-detailed, and although the painted detail is minimal, and admittedly rather drab, this almost serves, in a way, to heighten the sculpted detail of the figure.
Then, of course, there is the articulation. By now, it's no secret that the vehicle drivers for the G.I. Joe Retaliation line have extremely limited articulation. The presumed reasons for this are all over the map and I won't get into them here. That this reduced articulation has not been well-received by the G.I. Joe fan community is an understatement.
Clutch, however, has an additional matter. His legs are somewhat pre-posed. His right knee and right ankle are molded in a slightly more bent fashion than his left. This is pointless to his function as the driver of the Tread Ripper, and it makes it very hard to get the figure to stand up of his own accord. At least the other vehicle driver figures that I have -- the Cobra Swamp-Viper from the Fangboat, Cobra Commander from the HISS, Duke from the Ghost Hawk II, and Snake-Eyes from the Ninja Commando 4x4, however limited their movement, their legs are straight and they stand well.
I won't say that I'm happy with the limited articulation -- head, arms, and legs -- of any of these figures. I'm not. In fairness, though, most of them are decently cool-looking figures, especially Cobra Commander and the Swamp-Viper. In Clutch, unfortunately, we have a figure that is rather dull in appearance, and even has trouble standing. That's not a good combination.
I will say that the sculpted detail on the Clutch figure is superb. However, I think if you asked most collectors whether that was enough to overcome the combination of reduced articulation and pointlessly pre-posed legs, most collectors would say "No". And I would not disagree with them. Bottom line here is, you buy the Tread Ripper for the vehicle -- which any G.I. Joe figure can ultimately sit in. You don't buy it for Clutch.
So, what's my final word? Okay, I knew pretty much what I would be getting when it came to the figure, and I was still willing to buy this item because I liked the looks of the vehicle. I do not regret doing so. The Tread Ripper tank, although it's not something I'd want to try to make practical use of on an actual battlefield, is an interesting and impressive vehicle, and a good addition to any G.I. Joe collection's motor pool. The only thing I'm at all inclined to question on it is the nature of a few of the labels, and perhaps that's something that was done to befit the movie. As for Clutch -- well, I'll keep him for the sake of the collection, and he's not a bad-looking figure, really, but I also hope he's not indicative of a trend.
Nevertheless, I believe that any G.I. Joe collector will be pleased with the vehicle, and at the very least, I'm pleased to see that the names of longtime G.I. Joes are still being used.
The TREAD RIPPER TANK with CLUTCH from the G.I. JOE: RETALIATION line definitely has my highest recommendation. Yo Joe!