Review by Fred Meyer & Chris Chung
Pics by Fred Meyer
Oktober Guard Anti-Armor Specialist – Code Name: Big Bear
G.I. Joe Figure Subscription Service 2.0
There are a lot of ways to divide up the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero era of characters and stories. There’s Marvel vs. Devil’s Due vs. IDW Publishing or the broader Hama/Non-Hama categories. There’s also Sunbow vs. DiC for the classic 80’s/90’s series with Renegades and Resolute falling in there somewhere. For me, I tended to be a “Sunbow guy”—meaning that the characters and vehicles used during the classic Sunbow series were the Joes that I most related to. Around the time that Sunbow ended my interest in G.I. Joe was being replaced by, well, things like high school, girls, etc. As such, there is a whole roster of characters that I recognize as part of the brand but simply don’t have the familiarity with and a great example of that is Big Bear. Initially released in 1992, he hit stores the year after I graduated high school and his only animated appearances were in the DiC series. In addition, Big Bear never made a single appearance in any of the Marvel Comics issues. Now, in 2014 Big Bear is back as part of the final shipment of the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club Figure Subscription Service with an all new head sculpt by Boss Fight Studios. Have the years been kind to the Russian Anti-Armor Specialist? Read on to find out two Joe fans’ opinions!
To close out the Figure Subscription Service 2.0 I’m joined by Chris Chung of JoeSightings.com. Chris’ comments will be rendered in BOLD while my own are presented in plain text.
Big Bear is another example of “lost tooling finding a new home. From the neck down, this figure uses the body and coat of the cancelled Pursuit of Cobra Arctic Threat Duke . Slated for release in the follow-up series to the Rise of Cobra line, this figure originally bore the likeness of actor Channing Tatum and has proven to be widely available on Ebay save for one caveat. Of all of the Arctic Threat Duke figures available, only a scant few were ever sold with the coat overlay for the torso. This body also was scheduled to have been released as a Pursuit of Cobra Alpine figure that was to be included with the cancelled Mountain Wolf mech. Apparently, the third time is the charm as the entire piece finally sees release as Big Bear.
The third time might be the charm, but it was a questionable move. (See below.)
In the 92 version, Big Bear was portrayed as a soldier in a utilitarian green uniform. The Arctic Threat Duke however took things in a decidedly more “cold weather” direction and as a result Big Bear is ready to hit the tundra. The figure’s arms and legs are sculpted to recreate insulated clothing with all of the associated bulk and padding. Molded in what appears to be a “hunter green”, the additional pads and shoulder pauldrons are painted brown in keeping with Big Bear’s original color scheme. It’s interesting to note that this figure not only has the standard ball-jointed elbows but also ball-jointed knees which offer up a wider range of motion. Sadly, this is hampered slightly by the defining characteristic of the figure—the rubber coat overlay. As was mentioned earlier, most of the Arctic Threat Dukes that were available on Ebay were missing the additional coat piece; this was slated to have been included with the cancelled Alpine as well. As such, the coat has become a sought-after piece in the collecting community and, may have become a bit idealized as a result. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a beautifully sculpted torso covering that is loaded with details such as a sculpted canteen under one arm and a storage pouch under the other. However, it’s a case of form definitely trumping function as the coat sculpt actually interferes with the range of motion on both of the figure’s arms, preventing them from hanging naturally at the figure’s sides. (I’m reminded of that bit with Randy, the younger brother in “A Christmas Story” where his mother bundles him up so much that his arms refuse to go down.) The coat covering is also quite long and hinders the range of motion of the figure’s hips. In other words, Big Bear looks great standing with his arms out to his sides but can’t really sit or even crouch. For many collectors this probably won’t be an issue as the figure will be placed on his included stand and left, well, standing—and yet it is worth pointing out for anyone who planned on using Big Bear in diorama-style photography. Chris, what do you think—am I being a bit too picky on the whole “form vs. function” aspect?
Fred, let me ask you something: When has Hasbro or the Club ever been overly concerned with form versus function?
The main problem with Big Bear, is, he was a misguided attempt to get us a new body that most fans wanted, but it was the wrong time and the wrong characters to do this with. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when cancelled parts come back. But it has to be done in a sensible way, not just willy-nilly to throw it out. This could have been used for a FSS Frostbite or Subzero. But for anti-armor trooper who needs to be able to scramble? No way.
Big Bear looks nothing like his original counterpart except the colors. His uniform is completely wrong, and he was never designed as an extreme cold weather trooper. Cool weather? Yes, but not in the vein of Snow Job or even Arctic Duke. The original figure could still stand next to his comrades and fit in. Not so with this version, which has a bulky polar parka and whose aesthetics would make him look preposterous standing next to; or deployed with, anyone wearing short sleeves or warm-climate clothing. So not only do we have a guy who stands out like a sore thumb because he’s the only guy in polar digs, he also has the most limiting articulation of the team.
There are several bodies that could have worked for Big Bear, yet the Club once again chose probably the worst the one that wouldn’t work. (And rather ironic when they take such a radical departure with Big Bear, but claimed FSS Grunt, Quarrel, or Cover Girl could not be updated because they had to look like their predecessors…) That says a lot, and is another reason why we really need more new blood in the Club’s decision making process, or they need to start using regular members’ ideas, because I personally know several Club members who are both clever and skilled, who could select better parts, pick better shades of color, and make better design choices than the uninspired, inbred, and possible ego-driven choices that the Club has made in their jealous ploy to keep things self-contained.
As with many figures in the FSS 2.0, Big Bear is the recipient of brand new head sculpt by the talented folks at Boss Fight Studio and it’s a doozy! Clad in his fur-insulated Russian ushanka military hat complete with the Red Star, Big Bear is a fantastic update to the original 90’s version. The sculpting detail on both the hat and Big Bear’s thick red bear is fantastic—with lots of texture to simulate fur, both animal and human. It’s an iconic look of a Cold War era Soviet soldier and the folks at Boss Fight did an excellent job at bringing the design forward into the Generation 3 sculpting. In many ways I look at this head and I’m reminded of Marko Ramius as portrayed by Sean Connery in 1989’s The Hunt for Red October. (Trust me, this isn’t a bad thing.) The range of motion of the head is a bit limited by the hooded collar of the jacket overlay but otherwise it’s a fantastic piece of work. So tell me, Chris—do you also see a bit of Sean Connery in this?
Hmm, honestly, I didn’t really look at his face that hard, so I don’t know if there is a likeness or not.
As for the head in general, I have to admit I’m a little torn. Newly sculpted heads are always better than rehashes, so that’s a rule that should be set in stone as long as the quality is there. However, I’m a little disappointed that this head doesn’t work better than what is does. Granted I’m not as disappointed as I was in Tollbooth’s head, as Boss Fight did a good job on this one, but his beard is a bit too long (the original had a very clean-cut beard), and the hat sits pretty high on his head. The vertical-upward isn’t bad, but the vertical-downward is. As a consequence, the beard hits the sides of his parka, so he cannot turn his head left or right without his beard getting in the way. That is unacceptable in this day and age. There is no reason why figures done 30 years ago would have better, more realistic movement than figures made today.
Furthermore, for the money we’re paying for this, I want to see a harmonious melding of form and function, so in this regard, I think the ball was dropped on this one. However, to be fair, I could be persuaded to think that it is more apt to say the head would have worked fine if it wasn’t set upon such a poorly chosen body.
In terms of the figure’s kit, Big Bear comes loaded for, well, bear. Included with the figure are the following items:
In terms of accessories, it’s a kit that mostly makes sense. The two rifles are either of Soviet manufacture or are copies of Soviet weapons—even if the Bizon is missing the cylindrical magazine. The only thing that leaves me scratching my head a bit is the inclusion of the FGM-148 Javelin missile system which is an American military weapon. Maybe Big Bear stumbled across one on the black market or perhaps he acquired gear as part of a joint operation with the US. Either way I’d have preferred if he came with something from the Warsaw Pact armory rather than the US military’s. Folks will say that I’m being picky but this is a chance to give this character some real Russian flair with the weapon of his primary specialization. Of course, that would most likely either have required new tooling or a reuse of the Cobra Bazooka Trooper’s weapon and I think the Club was going for something that had more of a presence.
I agree that the Javelin was a poor choice, but this is more of a problem with Hasbro than the Club. In the early days of G.I. Joe, most Cobra weapons were Soviet because Cobra was a reflection of the “Evil Empire”. Thus with the Cobra Trooper, Officer, and Snow Serpent, we got a good array of Russian rifles and anti-tank weapons. Now that G.I. Joe is more military-fantasy based, while we do get some real-world weapons, we’re not getting as many Russian weapons compared to other countries, so that does limit what you can do with an all-Russian team having authentic Russian weapons. In the case of his anti-tank weapon, even the simple RPG-7 would have been a better choice if they didn’t want to overlap the German Panzerfaust-3 that Horror Show came with. That way Big Bear wouldn’t have had such an “American” looking system. But honesty, if you have a vintage Big Bear dual missile launcher, that works just as well.
So is Big Bear a worthy addition to the ranks of the no-ring Oktober Guard? For the most part I’d have to say “yes” but with a few caveats. He’s a great-looking cold weather figure whose sculpting and design are really quite well done. Granted he’s comprised almost entirely of existing parts but the new head sculpt by Boss Fight Studio goes a long way toward making this combination of parts truly Big Bear’s. He does have some real limitations on poseability as a result of the coat overlay used on his torso, however, which really hinders his uses in any kind of dynamic posing or even positions like sitting or crouching. So, if you’re looking for a good display figure to add to your Russian ranks, Big Bear is the guy for you. If you’re looking for a figure to use in some more dynamic displays, you might want to either look elsewhere or see if the guys at UrbanRevToys can whip up a nice green winter coat for him.
The Bottom Line: A good-looking update with some terrific detailing. His articulation is a bit limited by the coat but he’s got a terrific head sculpt. Better for display than any kind of play.
So, what are your closing thoughts on Big Bear, Chris?
I don’t like this version of Big Bear because it was poorly designed and not accurate to what came before. He could have successfully been any ‘Joe cold weather trooper, but he doesn’t look the part of Big Bear. Furthermore, I can think of a hundred better ways to upgrade this character than to turn him into a “snow trooper in green”. If correcting him was only a matter of removing his coat, that would have been one thing. But his arms and legs are equally padded for cold weather, and they don’t mix well with other parts.
Coupled with his arms having difficulty reaching a 90 degree angle; too much padding on the chest to properly aim a rifle two handed; and a coat that limits his upper body, I think this figure was a wash and a wasted opportunity.
Like Dragonsky, we’ll likely never see this character done again, so it annoys me we have to settle for this. The only saving grace is a newly tooled head, so that is the singular reason I’m keeping him because I can customize a better body. However, for casual collectors, unless you like the character or unless you want to complete your Oktober Guard set, he isn’t worth it. Not at the price the Club charges, and not for the play-value that doesn’t really play.