G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero vol. 1 #21 written by Larry Hama and published by Marvel Comics is an iconic issue for a plethora of reasons. For starters, it was the first major comic to publish an issue entirely (and effectively) without a single line of dialogue. Secondly, it introduced a mysterious connection between the Cobra ninja Storm Shadow and the G.I. Joe commando Snake Eyes that continues to this day. For more fans, those are the two biggest moments of the comic and everything else is just gravy. However, there is one detail from the comic that has left a long-lasting mark on the G.I. Joe universe—the introduction of three red ninjas who appear to be Storm Shadow’s apprentices. All three were defeated by Snake Eyes quite handily and that could have been the end for the Red Ninjas were it not for the creativity of the series writer. Time and time again the Red Ninjas have resurfaced and even allied themselves with other members of Cobra. Now, in time for the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the Red Ninjas see a return to plastic form. So, is it worth adding another incarnation of these martial arts warriors to an existing G.I. Joe collection? Read on, and find out one Joe fan’s opinion.
When producing the Red Ninja, Hasbro went back to the “Well of Success” and based the figure entirely on their wildly-popular G.I. Joe Renegades Storm Shadow figure. (Yes, I’ve not reviewed this figure yet—c’mon I took a multi-year hiatus and have a ton of catching up to do!) Personally, I think this was a brilliant move as it not only produces an update to the Red Ninja with virtually no new tooling but it also gives fans the most poseable version of the character yet released. From a design standpoint, the Red Ninja, like the Retaliation Storm Shadow, is a study in minimalism. Whereas Storm Shadow went for a more modern aesthetic, the ninja is much more traditional. Molded in a crimson hue, the figure’s sculpt suggests a martial arts warrior in a flowing cloth uniform. This is mostly due to the myriad of sculpted folds and wrinkles present on figure’s design and it works to add a sense of realism to the figure. The only real color found on the Red Ninja is in the form of black paint apps on the forearm and shin guards, the kneepads, sandals and under tunic. Again, the word of the day is “minimalism” and it works in spades here. The end result is a warrior who eschews elaborate costumes in favor of simple practicality and ease of movement. This makes perfect sense for a ninja! Even more impressive are the splayed fingers on the hands—which allow daggers and throwing stars to be held between the fingers! I’m failing to see anything but “win” here in terms of the figure design.
Normally I’d discuss the figure’s head sculpt but there isn’t honestly much to see. As befits a ninja, the figure’s face is appropriately covered—hiding any trace of his identity outside of skin color. Only the figure’s eyes are truly visible and the painted look is one of cold emotionless detachment. This is the gaze of someone who doesn’t care if you live or day, only that his mission is accomplished. Again, this is all reused from the Renegades Storm Shadow and I love how effective it is. This leads me to another topic—the effectiveness of the articulation. Whereas the 25th Anniversary Red Ninjas possessed the standard articulation from line, the Retaliation Red Ninjas surpass the standards! The figure has all of the range of motion that you’d expect from a modern G.I. Joe figure but also includes swivel and hinged wrists and the much-discussed rocker ankles that have been present in recent waves. While I don’t believe every figure in the line needs these additional POA, it makes sense to give them to martial artists who are frequently assuming poses that would cause the rest of us to head straight to the ER with a “torn something.”
As with many of the figures in wave 1, the Red Ninja’s gear is minimal. He comes equipped with a whopping two swords and a kid-friendly sky hook with “seven feet of string”. Seriously—7’ of string! You could tie up the cat with that! The action feature accessory consists of a spring launcher with a forked hook projectile that serves as a grappling hook. Fire the hook, secure purchase, and then have the ninja grab the launcher and slide down the line. While adult collectors are going to kvetch about this taking up precious package space, I have the feeling kids will love it. I’m reminded of the spring-loaded sky hook accessory from the Rise of Cobra line and how one afternoon I amused the son of a friend by sliding Accelerator Suit Duke back and forth between the chair and the coffee table. He ended up taking that particular figure and accessory home with him that day. So, while collectors definitely contribute to the sales, we’re not 100% the focus. If it takes the inclusion of a missile-firing grappling hook to cause excitement in the next generation of G.I. Joe fans, so be it!
Back to the swords, sadly there is no place to put them on the figure unless they are tucked in behind the plastic sash that circles the figure’s torso. I find myself wondering if Hasbro could have included as similar tiny backpack similar to what was included with Retaliation wave 1 Storm Shadow to hold the two blades. It’s a relatively small piece but worked wonders in giving the swords a place to be stored. The only real downside of the figure is that the sword pommels are a bit too small for the figure’s hands and, like many other releases in the Generation 3 era of Joes, fans are left with a character whose grip on his bladed weapons is tenuous at times.
Now, it’s time for the real question: should Joe fans buy this figure when they see him at retail. If it’s not apparent by now, my answer is “Yes!” I find that, while the 25th Anniversary Red Ninja’s head sculpt was more accurate to the comic appearances of the character, the Retaliation version is the superior figure. It’s more detailed, has a greater range of motion, and has a much darker and believable color scheme. Initially I wasn’t going to troop-build this figure and settled on acquiring 3 to represent the apprentices from the famed Silent Interlude. However, the trailers for the film and various diorama shots I’ve seen are forcing me to rethink that decision. Sure, this figure may not an accurate representation of what we’ll see on the big screen when G.I. Joe Retaliation hits theatres on March 29, 2013, but it is one heck of a good-looking ninja action figure. The more I sit down to play… uh… POSE him the more I find that I like the figure. I don’t know what Hasbro’s plans are for including these in case packs beyond wave 1 so I’d advise picking these up when you see them. They were here and gone last year when the film was pushed back—just like you’d expect from a ninja. Of course, this is just one Joe fan’s opinion.
End result: The best incarnation of a Red Ninja released yet even if he is a bit light on practical gear.