Review by Fred Meyer & Chris Chung
Cobra Desert Assault Trooper - Code Name: Desert Scorpion
G.I. Joe Collector's Club Figure Subscription Service 2.0
"By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars."
I'm a Midwestern by birth and, aside from a period of seven years in Boston, I've lived my entire life in flat plains surrounded by fields of corn, soybeans, and wheat. As such, the desert holds a certain mystique-enhanced by repeated viewings of Lawrence of Arabia during my youth. The concept of an environment that was thought to be lifeless and yet that fostered an incredible diversity of life and culture always fascinated me. As such, desert G.I. Joe adventures were always grand stories of survival in which both Joe and Cobra proved their resourcefulness in a setting in which their very surroundings were a deadly foe. Flash forward years later, and the G.I. Joe Collector's Club resurrects a cancelled Rise of Cobra figure for inclusion in the second FSS. How is this warrior of the shifting sands? Is he as exciting in person and he was during the announcement of the FSS 2.0 roster? Read on and find out TWO Joe fan's opinions!
This is one of those all-too-frequent confession moments: I've never owned a Desert Scorpion. The original hails from the DiC era of G.I. Joe-from 1991 in which my own thoughts had turned away from Joe and toward graduating high school and figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. As such, I built any sort of attachment to the original figure with this serrated face mask, sand snorkel, and his kepi blanc fabric neck protector. However I have to say that this figure design, original intended as the pilot for a Rise of Cobra toy line mecha, does a decent job at recreating the original design in a pretty functional manner. The use of the 25th Anniversary Zartan torso, HISS Driver lower legs, and Croc Master arms come together to form a pretty decent recreation of the original design without requiring significant new tooling. It is a bit odd to see the Zartan "skull buckle" on the figure's waist as the included web harness rides up and doesn't really cover it all that well. However, it does a bit of attitude to the design so I'll let it stand. Also, it's interesting that the Croc Master arms (a figure that I had shot pics for back in 2008 but ultimately never reviewed) are pretty much intact-right down to the sculpted scars on the right arm. Apparently our good Desert Scorpion has seen some action in his day. One nice touch is that the Club designed to darken the skin tone from the near-albino hue of the cancelled RoC figure. It's a wise design choice and one that goes a long way toward conveying familiarity with a sun-centric environment. If I have any complaints about the body parts choice it is that the HISS Driver boots have a sculpted ankle guard that limits the ankle articulation such that the figure often tends to lean backward when standing upright. However, that's it-and I honestly really like the parts choices used. What have you to add on the subject, Professor Chung?
Before I begin, I can't say I'm thrilled a general no-name Troop Builder is included in the FSS over individuals like Crystal Ball, Raptor, Dr. Knox, Dr. Biggles-Jones, Shadow Strike, Ghost Bear, or Munitia, but whatever. The fact he was a cancelled figure the Club resurrected does add merit to his inclusion. In the future however, unless they were comic or cartoon-only Cobra troops that could only be released in a format like the FSS, I hope the Army Builders are left out. After all, these guys could have been in a desert-themed JoeCon set instead.
Moving on, Desert Scorpion is decent. He has passable ties to his ARAH cousin in terms of color and design, but it is not perfect. The classic Desert Scorpion wore a tactical leotard (a common sci-fi garment within Cobra) over tight-fitting legwear. The Club version does not. Instead of tweaking the figure's color to be more accurate, instead they fell back almost 100% and used the Hasbro deco that was on the cancelled version that was supposed have to come with the aborted Minotaur Mech. Thus this modern Desert Scorpion replaces the leo for simple low-waist pants instead. Seems practical, right? After all, weren't unisex leotards a bygone staple of the 80's? Maybe. But the problem is, it makes him look a little too "normal" and "civvie" and less a specialized desert warrior in a stylized uniform. On one hand I see why this change was made. However, even though I can see the logic, it's somewhat disingenuous. Why? Because modern aesthetics aside, it was a deliberate deviation that takes away an aspect of the original character and to a degree, upgrades and modernizes it to the sensibilities of modern standards---which is fine if this was across the board, but it is not. And this is key, because with prior offerings like FSS Falcon Glider Grunt or Cover Girl---who many complained were too simple, too 80's, or too boring, the Club insisted they looked "that way" to preserve their original aesthetics as with what was the norm with the Club's continuing 25 thAnniversary style. This is the type of double standard I dislike. Either update all the characters so they look modern, or not. But don't cherry pick to the detriment to the entire series by making some figures unable to match with each other in the guise that you're still being level with the fandom. If you have to make throwbacks, make them look the same so they all can fit together. If not, keep the defining characteristics and iconic sentiments, but update them so they don't look like they are trapped in a time warp.
(For full disclosure, I am in the camp that wants no more 80's throwbacks. Instead, I prefer to have all figures modernized to reflect 2014, not 198X.)
The original Desert Scorpion also had knee high brown boot, but the Club made their version's all black but with brown shoes, making him look awkward with the wholly different upper and lower legs. Again, a little too civvie, and the shoes are impractically low for a desert trooper. Given the H.I.S.S. Driver lower legs and common 2008 25th Snake Eyes/Grunt/Hawk/etc. upper legs are radically different, this glaring inconsistency could have been easily avoided by painting the lower legs brown so they looked like the knee-high padded boots on the original, but for whatever reason, they were not. Perhaps there was a shortage of brown paint in Shenzhen the week these were painted?
There are some other inconsistencies, such as the lack of the Cobra tattoo on the arm, the Club version has grenades that are painted silver instead of orange, and the "bite mark" defect on his right arm left over from the re-use of Croc Master's parts. However, even with the aesthetic faults, he is still a decent figure that carries enough of the original to still make him viable and worthy for a collection.
When it comes to the head sculpt, the design works for me. From what my eyes can discern, this is the City Strike/Resolute Snake Eyes head repurposed with the cowl from the Night Creeper. (Chris is going to murder me for butchering the terminology on this.) For the most part it works although the cowl has been permanently affixed to the head rather than just slipped on in the case of the Night Creepers. This is only an issue because the cowl is placed off-center in every picture I've seen, practically clipping the outer edge of the left lens. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but I'm unable to straighten it for myself due to the fact that it's glued down. It's a bit frustrating as otherwise I really like the whole Arabesque feel of the design.
As a side note, one thing I did really appreciate, was the darker-than-usual skin tone the Club used. Far too often Hasbro uses much too pale skintones, making figures---especially the women, look pasty-faced or even embalmed. This darker skin really helped sell the character as someone who has been exposed to sun all the time, but it also adds an ethnic component to the Desert Scorpion. His file card mentions that many of these are recruits from Middle Eastern countries, and that they are already trained as terrorists to fight and survive in desert conditions. We all know Hasbro proper has to be P.C. in a global economy, but the Club does not, so it's very refreshing to see a more realistic take on desert warriors by Cobra recruiting from pools of Fundamentalist Islamic fighters.
In terms of gear, the equipment for the Desert Scorpion is okay. He comes equipped with the Vector SMG that was first seen with the 30 th Anniversary Dusty, an animal trainer pole, combat knife, and the robotic scorpion that was original released with the Valor vs. Venom Sand Vipers. I can see what the Club was going for as the original Desert Scorpion was packaged with a giant rubber non-robotic scorpion. It's a fun accessory even if the plastic used for the molding is a bit soft. The robotic scorpion's (or Scorponok, if you're a fan of Beast Wars) claws are removable and can be placed on the Desert Scorpions hands, although they don't stay on particularly well. Personally, I wish the GIJCC had gone with a kit more along the lines of the Rise of Cobra Desert Viper which included a mix of ranged and melee weapons. Personally, I love the notion of a group of desert fighters opening an engagement with ranged weapons and then closing to melee range with drawn swords and knives. The Desert Viper's kit would have accomplished this in spades. However, that is just me putting my own preferences over what is established with the character. The animal training pole is a bit of a mystery but at least with a robotic scorpion is can make some sense I guess. How about you, Chris? Anything to add?
One unfortunate drawback is the lack of the classic Desert Scorpion's most powerful weapon, his anti-tank missile launcher backpack. So like with FSS Top Side, we are actually getting less innovation with these new figures by the lack of their proper accessories. In the future, I hope Boss Fight can replicate the classic backpacks if future figures are intended to come with them.
(I do have a minor gripe that transcends the meta-fiction of the toy, but lends itself to real-world practicality infused into said toy. Like with my review with Skull Buster, more thought should have been placed on the weapons. This time, the colors. An ambush-predator soldier who only has short range weapons would likely not carry a chrome silver firearm and nicely reflective bright silver grenades. A matte tan or black would have been a better option for the Vector, and even the orange of the original's grenades would have been better than a color that can reflect sunlight for miles away. Yes, yes, I know this is just a toy, but for hardcore fans who really study and think through a character like this, the Club should do the same. Even the much griped about generic "Club gray" weapon coloring would have been better choice.)
At the end of the day, is the Desert Scorpion worth picking up? I'm going to say "yes he is." His gear is a bit light and I'm not a fan of the range-of-motion limitations placed by the HISS Driver lower boots but overall I do like the figure. However, there is one point that Chris touched upon earlier that I'd like to bring up. I really wish that this figure wasn't a generic trooper but rather a named figure. Why? Simple-the club could include him as a unique trooper in the FSS and then turn around and release the modified trooper version in a convention set. It would be a great way to spread out their production costs over multiple releases and it would give late 90's fans an opportunity to troop build these guys in a more cost effective fashion. Again, that has nothing to do with the figure itself but more with the Club's own marketing decisions. In terms of the Sand Scorpion, I'm going to say that he's worth acquiring-just as long as he's not too over-priced.
Closing thoughts, Dr. Chung?
All in all while not perfect, we can overlook many of the minor gripes of Desert Scorpion, especially when some fans might not care as much about clothing design and/or colors as compared to the originals. So with that said, I think he is a worthy addition to the line, and I would definitely recommend this as a purchase. (But for those who are Troop Builders, this may be a rough and expensive figure to amass, especially of those of you who build Cobra forces in numerations of 8 - 40! Hopefully the Club or Hasbro will re-release these in a Army Builder 5-pack or something down the line.)
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