The Marvel Comics series of GIJoe: A Real American Hero has a history of unique characters that never received “figure treatment” from the folks in Pawtucket in the ARAH days. This motley cast ranges from Inuit mercenary, to a diabolical scientist with an appropriate name, to a disfigured courier, and even a surgically altered army of societal infiltrators bent on imposing the will of Cobra Commander on American society—through legal channels. With the launch of the comic pack series, first in the Valor vs. Venom era and now into the 25 th Anniversary line, Hasbro has found a venue to release some of these “lost characters” to delight of fans everywhere. Now that Larry Hama is providing new comic storylines to accompany these packs, the deal just got even sweeter. Justin may have more to add to this— but then again, he might just take the easy route and say “ditto”!
In all seriousness, one of things that Larry Hama did well was to take somewhat cast off concepts and really give them some life and depth. Taking the Crimson Guard concept and turning it to the surgically altered army that it is was a brilliant strategy and something that makes the character a whole lot more interesting. From Wade Collins to Professor Appel, Larry really deepens how much you know and care about the villains, which is a reason why I think so many Joefans care about Destro and Zartan as much as they care about Snake Eyes and Duke…sometimes more. Even the villains are someone you know about and can empathize with. It’s nice that some of these Larry Hama concepts are really getting some “street cred” with the Comic Packs.
Cobra Elite Trooper:
The Crimson Guards were always a mixed bag for me as a child. Even as a young Joe fan, their ornate red uniform always seemed much more ceremonial than field ready and so my lone Guardsman (or “CG”) never really saw much use other than standing around the Cobra Command base that I had built on guard duty. I realize that his status as a “Elite Trooper” should have made him the equivalent of a Navy SEAL, or an Army Ranger, or even a Delta Operator but in my mind the CG’s took on more of the role of the Secret Service and the CIA than they did the tasks of a combat trooper. This perception was also enhanced by their portrayal in the Marvel Comics series where the Crimson Guardsmen were revealed as societal infiltrators—trained and tasked to undermine the very fabric of American society in order to remake our nation according to the ideals of Cobra Commander. However, that is just one fan’s take on the CG’s and their role in the world of GIJoe.
As with the single-carded version released in 2008 wave 1, this figure is a near perfect update to the original Crimson Guard design. The ornate uniform, with the decorative shoulder boards, gold braid, and shoulder insignia is one that fans of the classic line will immediately recognize. There have been a few small changes—such as the inclusion of a revolver holster rather than the diminutive molded shotgun on the left leg, but nothing so terribly drastic that it fundamentally changes the nature of the figure. Where this figure shines—especially over the single-carded release—is in the inclusion of a removable helmet and sculpted “Fred series” head underneath. The single-carded figure suffered from a sculpted helmet that was, in my opinion, just slightly too narrow. This caused the muzzle of the mask to appear even more elongated than it already was conveying an almost simian appearance. The removable helmet --which stylistically the same-- is slightly wider and the result is a more aesthetically pleasing helm for the Elite Trooper. However, as nice as the improved helmet is, it’s what’s underneath that really counts.
One of the most chilling aspects of the original CG’s in the Marvel series was their willingness to give up not only their freedom but their very identity in the service of Cobra Commander. These young volunteers were surgically altered to an “ideal look” that was sure to engender trust in others helping to further their infiltration of society as “pillars of the community”. Blonde, blue-eyed, and handsome they were the stuff of recruiting posters—good fathers, successful businessmen, and loving husbands. This benevolent façade has finally been given a proper rendering in plastic form as the Fred CG’s are represented in this comic pack. The sculpted face works well in capturing the classic “Fred” look—with the strong jaw line and almost noble features. The only issue I have with the head sculpt is the thick application of the “dirty blonde” hue used for the hair. I’m not an expert on the manufacture and painting of plastics but it would seem that any hues in the yellow spectrum require a thicker application than other colors as Hasbro continually has had issues with applying yellow-ish tones. (Remember Hard Drive and his suspenders? The paint that was applied with a trowel?) However, aside from that I’m all over this use of the classic Fred head on the CG’s. In fact I prefer this comic pack version to the single-carded figure for a variety of reasons. I’ve even debated trading off my single-carded figures for the equivalent number of the removable helmet figures but I have the feeling that I’m not alone in this. So Justin, any thoughts on why a figure named “Fred” would be an improvement over any other figures in your collection?
In spite of the horribly clichéd and terrible choice for the first name, the Crimson Guard is a concept and design that I have loved from day one. The Crimson Guard was the first figure I had a desire to army build as a kid, and I currently own about twenty-five vintage Crimson Guards in various conditions. Add that to the several 6-Packs, mailaways, and store exclusives, I’ve amassed quite a sizable Crimson army, and I’m still feeding for more! Fred is absolutely right, the Anniversary version of the Crimson Guard is a totally accurate and nearly perfect update to the vintage version.
Even though many folks badmouth the somewhat angular head sculpt, I love the updated, somewhat more dramatic look to the sculpting, and as an added bonus, the helmet fits seamlessly over Fred’s head sculpt without looking overly large or totally different from the regular release. Even though the helmet is slightly different from the standard head sculpt, it’s close enough to fit right in with the rest of the CG clan, which is a big time bonus. These figures with removable helmets don’t mean a whole lot unless they fit in with the rest of the army, and this Fred version of the Crimson Guard manages to do that.
The articulation changes seem to suit the Crimson Guard tooling pretty well, even though the double jointed knees end up a bit “clunky” due to those tall jackboots. I love the swivel wrists, and even with a pretty smooth dress uniform, the mid-torso joint doesn’t look too out of place. It really works. I love the semi-separated shoulder pad and braid as well. It’s all great stuff that I said about the previous Crimson Guard, but it still applies here…thankfully Hasbro left all deco intact from the single card, which is great.
One thing that Hasbro did change, for reasons I do not understand, is the gun that the Crimson Guard comes with…but we’re covering that in the next paragraph.
One quick note: the Fred CG’s feature a different rifle than the single-carded figures. To my untrained eyes, it appears to be a Springfield M1903 which is ironic considering the name of the rifle is that of the location of Cobra’s first city. Given the service life of the original M1903, I’m willing to bet that this accessory was used not only for the ‘inside joke’ but also because it will most likely see use in the forthcoming Indiana Jones line that Hasbro is launching in May 2008. We’ve already seen weapons from this line trickle into GIJoe (Stalker & Firefly’s SMGs) and no doubt the AK-47 included with Scarface will be used with the Soviet Troopers in the “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” series of the line as well. The rifle works well as a ceremonial piece but don’t expect Fred to be posed in any kind of interesting firing stances—the figure’s articulation just won’t allow for it.
And this is really too bad. The standard Crimson Guard rifle is such an awesome and iconic weapon, that I think it’s a big shame that we don’t get it included with this figure. I suppose this rifle has it’s place, but it’s place shouldn’t be in the hands of an Elite COBRA Trooper, especially when their original weapon is so cool, and wouldn’t have required any special tooling.
Scarred Cobra Officer:
I’ve always found it amusing that a character with such an unoriginal name as “Scarface” would become one of the more pivotal characters in the early issues of the Marvel series. Larry Hama took what was essentially a courier for a bio-weapon and made him into the focal point of several issues, drawing out both the hierarchies of GIJoe and Cobra to secure his “precious cargo”. While the VvV era Cobra Infantry Forces sets included an officer as an homage to the classic character (referred to as “Scarred Cobra Officer” no doubt for reasons of copyright), this is the first time that a figure in specifically intended to represent the character. If you already own a Cobra Air Trooper, then you’ve seen this entire body design before. Sometimes called the “cartoon officer” by fans, it is exactly the same as figure released both in the Cobra Legions battle pack as well as in the single-carded 2007 wave 4. What makes Scarface different from his predecessors are the changes to his head sculpt and to his included gear.
Scarface (I refuse to keep typing “Scarred Cobra Officer” over and over—Al Pacino is just going to have to deal with it!) Hasbro took the basic 25A Cobra Trooper head and made two alterations to it for the release of this particular figure. First off, the design team in Pawtucket finally released that an army of bald troopers is only going to end up resembling a national convention of the Hair Club for Men. In other words, an additional paint application was added to the paint master for this head sculpt and Scarface now has a short main of brown hair topping his otherwise feature-less noggin! However the truly major change is found in the addition of a molded pair of scars that start below the figure’s cheekbones and travel all the way to his forehead. No mention has ever been made as to how the character received the disfiguring marks that gave him his moniker and, after reading the included comic pack, I doubt one ever will be forthcoming. A fairly simple repaint, this figure succeeds very well in capturing the essence of a character that played such an interesting role in the comics. While I don’t see fans troop-building this figure like they will the included “Fred”, I do see many fans giving Scarface a prominent place in their 25A displays. Justin may think I’m crazy for making this last statement but that’s just my take on this.
Nah, I don’t think so. Scarface has been an iconic and instrumental character in the Joe mythos ever since he first appeared. Even with a striking similarity to a standard COBRA Officer, fans continued to clamor for Scarface time and time again. Even the minor homage we got with the COBRA Infantry 6-Pack didn’t satisfy the Joe faithful and they were absolutely dying for a “real” version of Scarface. And now they’ve got it. Hasbro went the extra mile and actually sculpted scars onto his face to give us all the Scarface we truly wanted. He fits very nicely in with the rest of the COBRA hierarchy, so I see no problems with fans having an assortment of these figures in their collection.
There are several highlights of this figure, not the least of which is his weapon. Hasbro finally found a way to work in this AK-47 that they’ve been talking about for a while, so that gives it yet another great reason to army build these figures. Get AK-47’s for everyone!
A couple little things that I would have liked to see would have been a couple little trademarks to Scarface’s personality. Maybe a trench coat and briefcase or something to really show his identity as being more than just a scarred COBRA Officer. Still, I’m thrilled that Scarface is finally making a “real” appearance in figure form.
If I have one criticism of this particular figure and, in actuality the line itself, it’s found in the paint applications used in this particular set. As I stated with the Fred series CG, Hasbro has difficulty applying certain colors without slathering the figure in an abundance of paint. Scarface, in particular is a figure that suffers from such an over-use of color as close up pictures of the figure’s head make it all but impossible to take a clean image. This particular figure has brown, red, black, and white applications all over a flesh tone undercoat. Why Hasbro doesn’t simply mold the head flesh tone in the first place is beyond me. To make matters more puzzling, Scarface’s blue helmet is actually molded in yellow plastic and painted blue. Previous releases of Cobra Troopers and Officers have had blue molded helmets so I’m a bit puzzled as to why the helmet in this case has been painted. The first one I opened actually had quite a bit of yellow showing through the blue paint applications, which actually cheapened the overall look of the figure. Honestly, it’s something that I’d expect from smaller cheaper companies like Lanard (or even Mattel who seems incapable of producing and maintaining a decent boy’s action figure line in the past 10 years) but not something from a toy giant like Hasbro. It’s details like this that have kept me from truly embracing this line as many fans have and, while I do see continual improvements with every successive wave, it’s production “gaffs” like this that cause me to wonder just what decision lead to such a puzzling detail.
As with many of the comic packs in this wave, #32.5 comes with a brand-new comic by Larry Hama. Rather than attempt to dove-tail into a specific issue the way that #21.5 did, this particular issue depicts a “slice of life” view of the city of Springfield, as told from the perspective of a young boy named Adam. Fully aware of the true nature of Springfield, Adam’s cover is that of an employee of the video arcade in town (the one with the working laser cannon which makes a cool reappearance here). Instead, Adam is the lab assistance to Professor Appel as he tries to make sense of the work of “Dr. V”. Adam is also a patient of the kindly (if not overly sensitive) dentist Dr. Binder who is experimenting with new methods of deadening pain for his patients. The issue also features a cameo appearance by an arrogant scarred trooper who serves as the chauffeur for Cobra Commander. It’s an interesting story that offers an inside view of the world of Springfield as well as clues to why certain Cobra figures ended up with the assignments that they did in the Marvel series. Anything more to add to this, Justin?
Honestly, this comic confuses me to no end. It almost seems as if it was meant to take place at a different point in time, simply because events do not add up. Dr. Venom is dead, but Scarface is still alive, even though they died during the same chain of events? The intro at the beginning of the comic also indicates that a specific Joe attack was about to take place, but those events happened in issue #50, and the events of this book definitely don’t add up to that either.
I have to give some props to JBL forum member toy-nutz, for his observation about Issue #32.5 here: http://joebattlelines.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=4220
That really makes it clear that this issue was probably meant to come much sooner, most likely around #14. Dr. Venom was perceived dead, but Scarface was alive…the Joes were about to attack Springfield (but at a different time). I think it adds up pretty well myself and would have worked a lot better than the #32.5. Heck the fact that Adam works at Dr. Venom’s fake arcade works a lot better with the issue being set much earlier in the timeline. If you look at the book in that chain of events, I end up liking it a lot more. Sure, there will be continuity inconsistencies with either choice, but one of them at least works on a few more levels. Still, I do wish a bit more attention was paid to the timeline here, so these guesses and hypothesis weren’t even necessary.
This is one of those comic packs that I knew I had to pick up. First off, for obvious reasons I’m a fan of the Fred series CG. Secondly, the small improvements made to the Crimson Guard’s helmet make it a superior version when compared to the single-carded figure. Lastly, the inclusion of both Scarface and the new comic story meant that there was enough new content here to justify the purchase. While I’m not entirely pleased with Hasbro’s over-use of paint applications, I’m happy enough with the included pieces to warrant a recommendation of this set to all fans of this line. I do see that Scarface will become a fixture on Ebay for those fans who are seeking to acquire multiple “Fred” figures and, as a result, his prices will not necessarily reflect the quality of the figure. I’ll pass the keyboard over to Justin for his final thoughts on this comic pack. (I’ll just have to hope that he doesn’t spill anything on it like last time!)
For army building fans, this pack will sell fairly well. From a distance, it’s essentially a pack with a Crimson Guardsman and a COBRA Officer, and with one $10 purchase a collector can start stocking up. But even from a more character-based perspective it’s still an appealing set with Scarface being seen pretty much for the first time, and a very nicely sculpted new head for “Fred”. The Crimson Guard comes with a fairly blah main weapon, but Scarface comes with an excellent one. The comic is okay, nothing revolutionary, but yet still fairly readable. All in all, this pack doesn’t knock me out, but it does its job well enough and it’s worth a purchase. Maybe even a few purchases for those folks dying to have several Freds in their Crimson Guard cadre.
In all honesty, from an army building perspective I love this pack, because I get a Fred “CG” and a COBRA Officer that fits fairly seamlessly into my display. But really there isn’t a whole lot of “new” here. A lot of the same tooling, same paint apps, not much new and exciting. But the spirit of this comic pack makes it more desirable than it might otherwise be. I do like this pack, though I’m not wild about when this issue supposedly takes place, and the fact that these two figures are ones we’ve seen already. Still, though, now that I have three “Fred” CG’s in my army, I can’t complain too much, and Scarface’s AK-47 is a nice one. I’d say out of all 4 Wave 3 comic packs this one probably comes in third, just above the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow pack, but I still like it, for it’s army building potential, and the fact that Scarface fills a necessary hole in my collection. Still, from more than 3 feet away, he just looks like another Comic styled COBRA Officer.
Still, this is a fairly high recommendation from me, regardless of reused tooling and a subpar weapon for the Crimson Guard…I just need to find a jacket and briefcase for Scarface. ;)