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Scarlett (Desert Ambush)

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
by Artemis

There's been a lot of pre-release criticism (i.e. "Ruined FOREVER!") of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra for its techy super-suits. But you know what? Starship Troopers. The book, not the movie - what's the ultimate evolution of military technology? The suit - the "vehicle" that makes a soldier faster, stronger, more aware, more precise and more efficient without having to be steered, piloted, controlled, or anything - just worn. Compared to all the ludicrous crap GI Joe has pulled over the years, dressing up a couple of guys like Iron Man is so sensible it's practically mundane.

The GI Joe team's intelligence specialist, Shana "Scarlett" O'Hara is also an accomplished warrior. Descending from her zipline, she defends an embattled desert convoy. Her reactive impact armor protects her from weapons fire as she battles with speed and skill.

"Desert Ambush" Scarlett isn't in such a super-suit, but I'm not buying any of the guys who are, so this is the only chance I'll get to use that intro - let's just pretend her "reactive impact armor" is close enough. Along with Snake-Eyes, Shana in her slinky black stealth armour was one of the first images pimped to the media from Rise of Cobra, so it's a bit odd that the appropriate action figure wasn't in the initial series of figures to hit shelves, turning up only in a later assortment, a few weeks after the first assault of merchandise. Maybe Hasbro wanted to reassure skittish traditionalist Joe fans by giving them the low-key camo utility suit Scarlett first.

Well, fair enough - it must be said that Scarlett's new wardrobe would set off alarm bells in the minds of any old-skool fans worried about their beloved franchise being redesigned beyond recognition. Stealth Scarlett is looking all 21st-century in smoky black contoured body armour, with plenty of ergonomically-incorporated impact panels and fitting straps, a far cry from her old look of tights and a tan leotard. As with the figures in more traditional uniforms, Hasbro hasn't cut corners in sculpt - every piece is highly detailed, and entirely original (even the feet - seriously, who the hell would've noticed if they'd just re-used the same feet?), and there are some Star Wars girls who'd be pretty jealous of how Shana manages to get away with versatile joints all over her body without losing her slender, trim looks. Bulking her out a bit is a separate holster, free floating around her waist - it's almost too big, as action figure holsters often are, but not quite. She's shipped with a handgun in the holster, which is a bit small - it also fits her crossbow, and has an external clip for the detachable crossbeam.

To keep things from being too monotone, the suit isn't pure black - the original has its armour a dark grey, which is rendered on the figure with a heavy drybrush on the appropriate panels: chest, stomach, back, arms, and thighs, plus glossy black on the gloves and boots, and a tiny yellow Joe hawk logo on the left shoulder. The drybrushed grey's obviously not as clean and precise as a dedicated paint app would have been, but it leaves the crevices black, which adds to the sense of detail and realism of the suit - all told, a good choice. One curiosity, which the drybrush highlights, is the horizontal seam running across the breast panels - there's no such thing in the photo of the real thing, so what gives? It's entirely possible, mind you, that there is such a seam on the costume, but the publicity department Photoshopped it out - they do that a lot. Keira Knightley gained a couple of cup sizes on the posters for Arthur, and Joe's own Cover Girl gets given a prosthetic navel every time she's photographed with her midriff bare.

Now, I've bought all of the Rise of Cobra women to go on sale here thus far, and so far they've all stumbled when it comes to the face. I'm pleased to say, then, that Hasbro finally got it right - Stealth Shana looks really good, with the passable resemblance to Rachel "Green-Skinned Space Babe" Nichols that the camo figure was trying for, but this time got right. Proving the devil is in the details, the sculpt is pretty much the same on both figures - probably derived from the same RealScanned computer model - but here the hair frames her face, softening the angles of her cheeks and forehead, the eyes are painted a little wider, making her look less squinty (since, appropriately for a soldier, she's not wearing eye shadow to achieve the same effect), and crucially she has lip colour, a very subtle pink, just a fraction redder than her skin tone. I've always said that sculpting for strict realism at this scale is risky - but here's proof that it can work, so long as you get everything right. The only disappointment is that her hair is a single plain colour - easy fodder for customizers to improve, though.

The small Joe figures have always had good articulation, with Rise of Cobra and this latest Scarlett no exception. Disappointment comes only with the usual neck joint - a balljoint (allegedly), but with a housing so tight it's essentially a swivel; given the hair sitting over her shoulders, this time that's not as frustrating as it is with the ponytailed Scarlett, who should have a free range of motion there. Elsewhere it's the usual story: swivel/pin shoulders and elbows, swivel wrists, swivel/pin sternum, swivel/peg hips, double pin knees, swivel/pin ankles. There's a sculpted horizontal seam in the armour just above the knees, and if Hasbro had made that a swivel it would've been perfect - still, she's a credible effort, and seriously puts the "action" in action figure.

Since the bio mentioned it it's no surprise that her major accessory is a zipline, which also incorporates the dreaded Stupid Giant Gun, a kind of twin-grip bazooka that fires a colossal bright yellow grappling hook. Okay, if that makes it into the movie, the whinging fanboys have a point. The rest of the line is better (i.e. not scaled to suit a figure four times this size), with the line passing through a descender harness, and ending in another grappling hook, this one sensible. The harness fits snugly around Shana's shoulders, and in spite of its (necessary for play) considerable size, looks rather sleek from the front, blending into her bodysuit well. Out the back sticks a pulley arrangement, with the line pre-installed in it - assuming the real grappling hook is meant to go up, the lines are fitted facing away from their destinations, so that they each curve around the pulley, creating enough friction that while you can easily slide the figure up and down the taut line, she'll hang in place on her own. Good design there.

Aside from all that, Scarlett's got her trusty crossbow - an entirely different sculpt from the one included with the camo figure (so which is the 15P solid alloy compound crossbow (yes, "compound," not "composite," I was getting those mixed up) that both figures' info cards list as her favourite?), this one a slim, high-tech black model with the bolt painted silver, and the crossbeam a separate piece that fits nice and tight on the front. It's all packaged in its own little section of the tray, so no worries about anything getting bent. Plus there's the handgun that ships in her holster, and a second identical handgun that's shipped packed in front of her hand in the tray, as if she's holding it, but not. Maybe they've finally learned their lesson about packing guns already in figures' hands. And of course there's the base, identical to camo Scarlett's, a Joe-branded black dog tag with the name on the front in silver. Stealth Scarlett's peg holes in her feet are very tight, to the point of being a bit tricky to get onto the base at first, but once they're on she'll hold practically any pose, even with only one of the two pegs used.

So there you have it, folks - the Rise of Cobra line, which has been promising from the start, finally gets the straight-A cover girl (not literally) it deserves. If you want her, buy her - there's no reason not to.

-- 07/31/09

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