Review by Fred Meyer & Chris Chung
Pics by: Fred Meyer
Combat Engineer – Code Name: Tollbooth
I feel like opening this review by saying: “Here’s to all the unsung heroes of the G.I. Joe Team. For every Snake Eyes and Duke, there’s an Armadillo, Ghost Rider, Skidmark, and Tollbooth! For all you do, this Yo Joe Cola’s for you!” It’s true—the motor pool crew of the Joe team gets a lot less recognition than the single-carded figures! Since the third generation of the ARAH era began, fans have been inundated with versions of Snake Eyes and Duke for every occasion from Temple Training to Fall Leaf Raking. (Okay, maybe not the last one.) However, the crew of the motor pool often goes unappreciated and is overlooked when it comes time for an update in this no-ring construction era. Thanks to the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club, however, another member of that group of unsung heroes is given new life. Ladies and Joe Fans, I give you—Tollbooth!
Today I’m joined by my esteemed colleague, a true professor of Joe-ology, Chris “Werecat” Chung of Joesightings.com! Chris’ comments will appear in bold while my own will be in plain old standard font. (Chris won the coin toss!)
Constructing an update of a classic figure has got to be a tricky proposition. The designer would most likely be stuck in a perpetual battle between form and function. The figure would need to resemble the core components of the original and yet still have enough articulation to render it a truly functional action figure. In the first category—Tollbooth actually succeeds. This figure truly resembles the original in almost every way. The color scheme used is just about spot-on from the original save for a difference in hue in the green used for the shirt. The pants are a direct match for the original both in terms of color and detail—right down to the holster on the left leg. Whereas the original vest was sculpted on the FSS upgrade is given a TAC vest that fulfills the same role although the thickness of the pouches do interfere with the arm articulation. (More on this later.) Even the black gloves resemble the original in almost every way. So in terms of pure form this figure is a pretty decent upgrade. We’ll cover function further down so I’ll pass the keyboard over to Chris for his comments.
If we are going by nostalgia and the “Does this resemble the original figure?” criteria, then yes, this figure does carry over the feel and general spirit of Tollbooth successfully. And in some ways he’s an improvement: namely a removable sidearm, and I prefer the web gear to the casual vest the ARAH version came with. And there are safety cones. Lovely, lovely cones!
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. The real reason that most subscribers bought this figure was for the excellent head sculpt created by the talented crew of Boss Fight Studios. This skilled group of former Hasbro employees are like the A-Team of the Joe fandom. They’re toy designers AND they’re Joe fans—which means they’re applying a more critical eye to their work than someone who was merely brought in to fulfill a contract. As such, I’ve got to say that they did a truly bang-up job on Tollbooth! He’s got a strong jaw and a very resolute expression that breathes a lot of character into this design. It’s interesting to note that the head is actually smaller than the original 1984 release and that it also has a much more intelligent expression. Also, Tollbooth’s construction cap is no longer sculpted at a “jaunty angle” but rather is set about as properly as can be. In some ways these small changes make the figure appear to be much more calculating than the original which always reminded me of Rocky Balboa for some reason. I like the sculpt quite a lot and would hope to see more original head sculpts in future FSS rather than simple head reuses like we saw with the tragic Skullbuster. What are your thoughts, Chris?
I’ll be honest Fred; the head is what initially sold me on the figure and prompted me to buy FSS 2.0 even though there were only four figures I wanted. The sculpting is top notch and the character and persona of the figure carries through in the sculpting. Adding Boss Fight to the mix was one of the smartest decisions the Club has ever made because it gives a new perspective on the design of the figures by a professional third party firm that has more clout and leverage than the average club member has with the Club’s in-house designers, and it also opens up exciting possibilities in terms of new parts we would never normally have access to. And more to the point, Boss Fight’s work is excellent! (Now if only Boss Fight did more than just web gear or heads. But more on that below…)
However, if I had to cite a token gripe, I must confess I was a little disappointed when I saw his helmet wasn’t removable; especially when we saw the Boss Fight design sketches that showed what he would look like without the hardhat. A removable helmet would have gone above and beyond what we got, and would have been appreciated by fans. But regardless, the sculpting is still excellent.
In terms of gear, anything would be an improvement on the kit of the original Tollbooth who was packaged with only a sledgehammer. In all fairness, this is more than was included with MOST vehicle drivers in the 80’s but it gave the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club a lot of room to maneuver and, for the most part, the gear selection is good. The sledgehammer from the Night Ops Humvee is back and this time it’s accompanied by the mattock that was included with the Resolute version of Roadblock, the construction cones of the 30th anniversary Techno-Viper, and the barbed wire roll of the 30th Cobra Trooper. (There’s also an automatic pistol in there in case he wants to hit someone who is more than a handle-length away.) It’s a decent set of accessories for the most part although I’ve never found the barbed wire to be terribly useful. The mattock FINALLY has a home that makes sense even if the “back pack peg” is a bit small for the figure’s back. (On mine in any case it rolls around quite loosely.) I’ve got some paint slop on the mattock but I’ve had paint slop on every figure in the FSS thus far so I shouldn’t be too surprised by that. All-in-all, it’s a decent set of accessories that fits well with the figure. Have you got anything to add, Chris?
Normally I’m a glutton for tons and tons of gear, but this time I think the Club was correct in minimizing his gear to field accessories rather than lots of guns. These appropriate items really enhanced the look and feel of an “engineering” figure by keeping him properly situated in his specialty field without loading him down with unnecessary weapons that would be counterproductive to his function. Because let’s face it, with no disrespect to Tollbooth, he is a rear echelon character who (beyond an emergency situation), would likely not be in the Forward Edge of Battle. He’s also not a SpecWar soldier per se, so I don’t want him to look like one. So his gear works great. I especially love the safety cones. For something so miniscule and pointless, they are awesome even if they are just for Dio stories!
Okay, so far my comments have been pretty positive about this figure. I’ve liked the appearance of the figure, LOVED the head sculpt, and found the accessories to be pretty serviceable. So, what’s left other than a glowing endorsement, right? Well, there’s a few things that I need to address. Since the 25th anniversary line, G.I. Joe hasn’t really been a 3.75” line but rather a 4” series of action figures. In some cases, Joes have even towered well over 4” with examples being the Retaliation Roadblock figures. Most figures are averaging right at 4” anymore—so why is Tollbooth barely as tall as his 1984 version? Seriously—it’s a real downer to realize that one of my most-anticipated figures in this entire subscription line-up is going to be the “Tunnel Rat” of my generation 3 Joes. Even worse—he’s SHORTER than Nicky Lee! The parts combination used barely brings him in line with my original version which means that he’ll most definitely fit in my vintage Bridge Layer. It also means that he looks like a child when compared to most of the recent figures released by the Collector’s Club including those in FSS 1. Sigh… My other issue with the figure is found in the hands. They weren’t the strongest hands when they were originally used in the 25th anniversary line and the same holds true here. With no wrist articulation and weak grips, it’s hard to get any decent poses out of the character’s signature sledge hammer. Combined with the bulkiness of the tactical vest it’s really challenging to get a decent two-handed grip. I was really looking forward to this figure but find his function to be a real downer. What are your thoughts, Chris?
Frater Meyer, Tollbooth was the one single figure I was most looking forward to in the FSS 2.0 set. But he is an utter failure in design, and an embarrassment for the Club. The parts selected and the final result of this selection destroys the figure for me.
Let’s look at all that’s wrong: Tollbooth has no neck. His chin is basically touching his collar bone. If you want to fix this, you’ll need to buy some Teflon plumber’s tape and fashion it in the head to make it sit higher on the neck. Furthermore, his torso is short and squat. Then we get into the legs; which while the uppers are serviceable, the lowers are not. Like with Renegades Scarlett, the lower legs from the knees down are much too short compared to the upper legs and this, plus the squat torso, makes him look dwarfish or even childish. Why in the world longer, more proportionate legs weren’t chosen is beyond me. But the most damning part of this figure is the awful Shipwreck arms/hands. Are you freakin’ kidding me?! We are almost a decade past that devolved garbage, yet this the best the Club can do for this character?! Really?! The Shipwreck arms have an additional flaw of not properly fitting into the torso, so they ride too close to the forward edge of the torso opening which forces the arms to rub against the sides of the torso and pushes the arms out at an angle when you try to raise them. Obviously these were not articulation tested in pre-production.
At $37.00 (when sold alone from the Club store), this alleged high-end Collector figure is nothing more than a poorly designed pile of backwashed plastic left over from an infant line, yet it is passed off as a premium figure for all of us suckers. And suckers we are for buying this rubbish. What an insulting farce! Whoever designed this figure dropped the ball, and dropped it hard. Coupled with the dismal design of Skullbuster, I think it is not unreasonable for me to call a “No Confidence” vote on whoever is in charge of picking parts, because it’s entirely unacceptable that this amateurish junk wastes the otherwise brilliant head, and the wonderful real-world U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Corps Castle” shoulder patch. Once again I find myself asking who the heck is picking these parts, and does this person even look at the finished product?
Another aspect I was disappointed with was the poor paint application. His belt was not painted at all, his eyes were sloppily painted giving him a weird pseudo-anime vibe to them, and the paint on the lower legs and his pistol belt straps were very thin in some areas exposing the plastic underneath, or completely chipped off. Despite the disturbing eyes (not the fault of the face sculpt), the overall paint issue wouldn’t have been so bad if the figure had better parts. But when taken in the totality of the circumstances (and price), it was another blow to an already lowly-ranked figure.
Am I coming down too hard? Hell no! If this was some cheapy Walmart exclusive that was needed to enhance a movie line release and a million were made, that’s one thing. Then sure, I can excuse the lapse of quality because that hypothetical figure is aimed at the lowest common denominator at the lowest common price point—small children who don’t care. But these are supposed to be limited edition figures made by the official Club only for high-end, non-mainstream “elite” adult G.I. Joe collectors, and sold at that exclusive pricing. If the people running the Club can’t figure out how to make a realistically proportioned and aesthetically pleasing figure, it’s time to get rid of those who can’t and bring on some people who can, especially when I can find better designs on Joecustoms.com within seconds of searching that are infinitely superior to the garbage we paid for.
So there you have it. Tollbooth, driver of the Bridge Layer has been brought forward into generation 3 construction at a premium price from the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club. Was it worth the wait? I have to answer this question carefully so as not to mislead my fellow Joe fans. From a strictly appearance standpoint I’d say “mostly”. He’s too darned short but otherwise he really does resemble the original Tollbooth in almost every way. As a standalone figure he looks pretty great actually. It’s only when fans either place him with his peers or try to pose him that some of the design flaws really become apparent. When fans first saw the figure we were treated to a “digital prototype” which I believe was a bit of a mistake. (Yup, I blame myself for getting excited over an obviously photoshopped image that did much to conceal his flaws. I should have known better. Shame on me.) Yes, it gave people a chance to see Tollbooth before he went to the factory but it also hid some of the potential flaws in the design—such as his height and gimpy hands. Personally, I’d rather see a mismatched parts mock-up than a virtual figure. The Boss Fight head sculpt is pretty awesome but ultimately, I’m going to have to say that, aside from die-hard completionists, this figure gets a “pass” for the casual Joe fan at the prices he’s going for now. Why?, you may ask yourself. Simply put: while visually he’s spot-on he’s very much a throwback to the early days of 25th Anniversary construction with his static wrists and short height. With a few tweaks he could have been truly great (wrists, taller) but instead he ends up merely “okay.”
The Bottom Line: Visually stunning but flawed in comparison to other figures in the line. Too short and lacking truly functional hands. He’s a “pass” for most cost-conscious fans out there.
Chris, your closing remarks?
Freddie, this is a really tough call for me. Normally I’d say burn this at the stake. However, the new head sculpt is the one redeeming quality even if some of the eyes are wonky.
On one hand, Tollbooth is an exceptionally bad design that reeks of “meh manufacturing”, and he’s one of the shortest and squattest characters made in the modern line, so he does not match well when stood next to others; and he’s not someone that really works with a rough-and-tumble combat engineer archetype who on his file card is charging at us with a maul. On the other hand, he has a great new head sculpt that can be put on a different body, and probably anyone who knows how to customize or paint can probably salvage this figure and make something better than what the Club sold us.
So I say Caveat emptor . For me, Tollbooth looks like he’s either a victim of a high gravity world, or he’s questing to gain entry into Erebor. Either one is ridiculous and worthless, so on that measure I’d say pass on this turd and save your cash. But if all Tollbooth is going to do is sit in a vintage Bridge Layer for decoration/display, or if you are a fan of the character and you don’t mind the flaws—or think you can make a better custom, you may want to risk a purchase. Ultimately it’s up to each person’s sensibilities to decide…