Review & pics by: Fred Meyer

Plague Troopers vs. Steel Brigade

  Review & pics by Fred Meyer
  Additional "incentive photos" and headshots courtesy of Luke Ellison
  FHM article copyright FHM Magazine


Steel Brigade:

Steel Brigade group shot

I’ll be blunt here—I have NEVER been a fan of the RAH Steel Brigade figures. The original figure (and all subsequent variants) has never held any appeal to me. The combination of the insanely large head with the elongated giraffe neck and the odd color scheme just made this figure one of those “yeah right” additions to my collection. The concept of a metal helmet-clad soldier in a blue turtleneck with a green vest was just a bit too bizarre for me to reconcile as a young fan. It didn’t help that every time I laid eyes on the mail-away insert I was reminded of Alexander Dumas’ “Man in the Iron Mask”. No, this was a “silly figure” and I would have none of it. I would never own a Steel Brigade figure as they were just too ill-conceived for my tastes! It is with this last statement that I must order a healthy portion of “crow”. Hasbro has taken the basic design schematic for the Steel Brigade and reworked them into something that is not only believable but also useful in my collection.

Steel Brigade with and without gear

As with the original RAH era products, Hasbro once again seems to be looking at developing military technologies as a source of inspiration for their products—in this case the “Objective Force Warrior”. Envisioned as the next generation of field gear for our fighting men and women, the OFW project brings cutting edge technology into the hands of soldiers, full integrating the latest armor and weapons technologies into a field-practical combat kit. This latest incarnation of the Steel Brigade borrows heavily from that design concept—even utilizing a similar combat harness and helmet. The overall design conveys a sense of military realism that has been inconsistent at best since the relaunch of 2000.

Steel Brigade armor front

Steel Brigade armor back

The Steel Brigade armor is broken down into two components: the “combat harness” and the battle helmet. (These are my designations, not Hasbro’s.) The combat harness is a small plastic work of art—capturing the best elements of both the “Land Warrior” and “Objective Force Warrior” designs. The basis of this body armor is a heavily reinforced armored vest. Over the top of this are a series of utility and ammunition pouches, as well what appear to be water storage units on the back. An armored pauldron protects the wearer’s left shoulder and a utility belt that would make a certain pointy-eared crime fighter jealous runs along the bottom, conforming the vest to the soldier’s body. The vest adds a significant amount of bulk to the figure’s torso which both works for and against the figure. The added girth conveys a much greater presence in the figure than without—adding a bit of intimidation factor to the Steel Brigade members. (Note: Rook and Checkpoint are equipped with the armor. Red Zone is the only member to not come with the vest.) The down side of utilizing the vest is that it does restrict the movement of the figure’s arms—making it impossible for either figure to rest their arms completely at their sides. This is not much of an issue, however, as the armored vests are removable. If a collector feels that the vest is too restrictive in some situations, it can be easily removed and replaced. It is a noticeable improvement over the original “v-neck sweater vest” look of the RAH era Steel Brigade.

Steel Brigade helmet

The second component of the armor is the combat helmet. Oddly enough, the “Objective Force Warrior” helmet is remarkably similar to the original Steel Brigade helmet design—without any its proportion issues. The new helmets are removable and yet don’t cross the line into “Space Balls” territory; many fans felt that the removable helmet Crimson Guards didn’t just cross this line—they pole-vaulted over it. The helmet is reminiscent of the helmet that was included with the Anti-Venom Task Force but it significantly more detailed. The best analogy for this piece of protective headgear would be a combat-based BMX bike helmet; the overall design and shape are quite similar but the SB model features different accoutrements not found on the it’s sportier cousin. The helmet appears to integrate a rudimentary air filter into the base, as well as what appear to be a small CCD camera and a utility light flanking the visor. The molding also includes what appear to be two latches, one on either side, to assist in the removal of the face plate. The helmets sit perfectly on the heads of the included Steel Brigade members and fit snugly. The end result is a much more realistic and menacing Steel Brigade—something that I NEVER thought I’d hear myself say. While the look is at odds with the Master Collector Steel Brigade figures released at the 2005 Collector’s Convention, it is remarkably similar to the original RAH figures which makes it a worthy successor in my book.

For more information on the Objective Force Warrior project, visit the following website:



Checkpoint frontCheckpoint back

I’ll be blatantly honest here—there’s not much to say about either Checkpoint or Rook that wasn’t already covered in the DTC Wave 2 Salvo review here at JBL. The figures utilize the same body mold. The colors used this time around are a perfect homage to the original Steel Brigade, right down to the olive-colored knee pads and black boots. It’s a very basic uniform consisting of a wide-neck t-shirt, tan pants, with black boots and belt. As such it works extraordinarily well for the body of a generic trooper—albeit a rather large one. Still, the body for all of its quirks is a solid choice and I cannot fault Hasbro for its use at all. Oddly enough, the small armbands that are sculpted onto the bottom of the shirt sleeves remain unpainted, indicating to me that the same paint master that was applied to Salvo was used here. The only exception to this is that the molded metal buckle with adorns the right shoulder of the mold is unpainted. Normally, this would bother me except that I don’t see myself displaying either Checkpoint or Rook without their OFW armor rig any time soon. Checkpoint’s head sculpt is quite similar to his team mate Rook’s—both have short brown hair and a rounded face. Checkpoint is sporting a mane of short wavy hair and has an expression that is uncannily familiar to me. I’m not certain who, if anyone in particular, he is supposed to resemble but it’s been bothering me ever since I opened up this set. Born and raised in Springboro, OH Checkpoint conveys a friendly persona; the set of his eyes and jaw convey no malice whatsoever and he reminds of nothing so much as a friendly police officer. This is fitting considering his MOS as an MP.

Checkpoint closeup

Checkpoint is the “security” detail of the Steel Brigade, according to his file card. As such, I’d expect that he’d come equipped with the appropriate gear to carry out his assigned task. Part of his kit includes a nightstick, which is handy for subduing any unauthorized personnel who get too close to a Steel Brigade operation. His other piece of gear, however, puzzles me greatly; Checkpoint comes equipped with the same anti-aircraft Javelin launcher that the DTC Salvo carried. I’m not entirely certain how a ground-to-air rocket launcher is considered a “security detail” weapon but I do like the remold of the weapon in olive green. So, while I do like the equipment I don’t think that the set is entirely appropriate for the MP. I could see him carrying a set of gear similar to the DTC Mutt figure or even another M16 rifle as was assigned to his team mate Rook. Still, Checkpoint is a welcome addition to my Joe collection and one who might even seen use in a future dio-story.

Checkpoint's gear

Comparison of Grunt, Checkpoint, and Salvo


Rook frontRook back

Much like Gallows and Grim Skull, Checkpoint and Rook share the same body mold. Unlike the similarly clad Plague Troopers, the two Steel Brigade members are dressed identically, with no visible differences in their uniforms. As such, there is little to say about Rook’s design that hasn’t already been covered in Checkpoint’s. Rook, however, does sport a completely unique head sculpt. While initially similar in appearance to his towering teammate, Rook’s head is both wider and more rounded. His hair is worn short and straight and his face bears a friendly expression that is reminiscent of his upbringing in La Crosse, WI. Rook’s specialty is that of an interrogation specialist which is seemingly at odds with his easy-going demeanor. However, this apparent dichotomy may actually work to his advantage; whereas most interrogators may take an aggressive tone, Rook is the ultimate “good cop”. Suspects are likely to underestimate his powers of persuasion until they’ve already compromised Rook’s objective. Rook’s face also conveys a keen intelligence that is fitting of a man who speaks over 14 languages, making him an asset to any team in which he serves.

Rook closeup

Rook comes equipped with a shotgun and the utterly fantastic M4 variant that first appeared with the Valor vs. Venom wave 4 Duke.

Red Zone:

Red Zone frontRed Zone back

If you remember my review of the Valor vs. Venom Wave 7 Gung Ho figure you’ll recall just how much I loved that figure’s design. A vast improvement over the “action attack” Wave 4 version, the mold incorporated the new rivet-less shoulder joints as well as the upgraded version of the famed “swivel arm battle grip”. The mold, which was extremely appropriate for my favorite GIJoe Marine, is once again used to great effect with Red Zone. Consisting of an olive drab sleeveless shirt over a blue t-shirt and tan pants, the figure design blends in well with the other members of the Steel Brigade. It’s the differences, however, that help to set Red Zone apart from his team mates and potentially indicate his status as the unit’s leader. The mold features an open-flap holster on the left leg that accommodates most of the smaller pistols released in the line. The uniform is covered with just the right amount of wrinkles and folds to suggest real cloth as opposed to sculpted plastic, adding to overall realism of the figure. The forearm wraps are now painted black and blend in seamlessly with the swivel-wrist gloves. I had zero complaints with this mold when used for Gung Ho and I have zero complaints here.

Red Zone closeup

Luke Ellison

Back in 2004, the magazine FHM announced a photo contest where entrants could submit pictures of themselves dressed as GIJoe characters in “everyday” situations. The winner of that contest would be given a rare opportunity—a trip to Hasbro HQ in Pawtucket, RI for a tour of the GIJoe design team’s offices. Even better, however, was the fact that the winner would also be immortalized in plastic with their face serving as the design basis for a GIJoe head sculpt! JBL staffer Luke Ellison was the lucky winner of the contest and wrote up his experiences in an article entitled “I am GIJoe!” However, it would be some time before Luke would see himself released in plastic form—and that day is today. Red Zone, urban assault specialist and rotary wing pilot, bears not only the visage but also the name and birthplace of Luke Ellison! I’ll be honest—I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Luke in person, but based on the pictures that he sent me Hasbro did a fantastic job of capturing his likeness! Red Zone’s expression is stoic—focusing on the task at hand. According to his file card, he’s the guy who can rip a whole through Cobra hordes to rescue his team mates and this expression lives up to that description. The head fits well with the chosen body and doesn’t suffer from any proportion issues that could have plagued a figure conceived in this fashion. This is a figure that any GIJoe would be proud to have been a part of I can only congratulate Luke again on this truly awesome opportunity! This is easily my favorite figure of the Steel Brigade and a tie with Guillotine for the “best in set”.

Red Zone's gear

Red Zone is the only member of the Steel Brigade who doesn’t come equipped with the OFW armor. His kit includes a .357 magnum, a 9mm pistol, and the same shotgun that was packaged with Rook. To help balance out the character’s colors a bit and help him blend in with his better-protected team mates, I added in an extra VvV 7 Gung-Ho vest. It blends in perfectly with his uniform (especially the black gloves) as well as the rest of the team while still giving his figure some distinction. It’s a minor fix and one that most collectors will be able to accomplish rather easily due to the abundance of the Gung-Ho figure.

Red Zone glory shot


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Copyright 2003