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DVD Battles set 1 - "The MASS Device"

GI Joe Generation 3
by yo go re

We've previously referred to the first few GI Joe Generation 3 "DVD Battles" sets as "over-ordered and underwhelming." But we've also never reveiwed them, and since the brand is kind of in a bad place right now, it was either this or give up on Joe Friday entirely.

Snake-Eyes has dueled - and defeated - the most fearsome ninjas alive, so his courage is without question. Yet one of his bravest acts is when he exposes himself to a deadly radioactive cloud so that the team can escape from attacking Cobra forces. Snake-Eyes is trapped in the Arctic cave with the poisonous gas until accidentally freed by Cobra. He struggles through a blizzard, trying to return to headquarters with the rare crystals urgently needed for the M.A.S.S. Device machine. During that grim march, he finds a wolf caught in a trap and sets it free; the grateful animal becomes the ninja's loyal companion and brave comrade from that moment on.

Of course there's a Snake-Eyes in this set. To paraphrase Wolverine, we appreciate their faith in Snake-Eyes, but he can't be in all the boxes. The events described on the filecard took place in the second and third episodes of the first GI Joe miniseries. Afterwards, he fought a polar bear and met a blind hermit who cured his radiation poisoning with 11 special herbs and spices.

We'd later get a "cartoon purple" Snake-Eyes in a different set, so that colorscheme wasn't available for this version. But neither did they paint him the navy blue he actually was in these episodes - he's more of a Williamsburg blue, heavy on the grey. The cartoon showed his radiation as a sparkly red cloud around him, and since that wouldn't work on a toy, this figure is molded from translucent orange plastic, then painted solid colors. It's really only evident on the feet, elbows and face, which isn't really enough.

The figure uses the same mold as TFAC box set Snake-Eyes, with a new left hand - it's bent, to help him hold the included canister of radioactive red crystals (also molded in trans-orange, then painted silver at one end). He wears black web gear and has a brown knife sheath on his right leg, but no weapons to go in either of them. His only armament is a brown XMLR-3A laser rifle. He does come with a repainted VvV Timber, to suit the story.

Cobra Troopers are the basic infantry forces under the command of Cobra Commander. Made up of mercenaries, thugs and assorted criminals, Cobra Troopers are sent in to stop the GI Joe team from getting the rare elements needed to complete their M.A.S.S. Device machine. They're trained to battle in any location - in the chilling Arctic, the silent sea depths or the crater of an erupting volcano. Their key advantage isn't just their training; it's also their sheer nastiness. Everyone of them is bad to the bone - they have no code of honor and will use sabotage as easily as their weapons if it means they win and the other guy loses.

"Under the command of Cobra Commander"? This is why you should read things out loud to yourself before publishing them. We never do it, and we have so many errors that there's a link at the bottom of every page where you can report them. Learn from our blatant mistakes teachable moments!

This figure is the same mold as the box set Cobra Trooper, just painted to look more like the animation model: that means a darker blue uniform, bare hands, and white accents on his pockets and web gear. Honestly, it looks better than the standard Trooper, because the colors have a stronger contrast. Also, the Cobra logo on the chest is much bigger.

In addition to a knife for his leg and a Cobra laser rifle, the Cobra Trooper comes with a wheeled cart and three clear boxes each filled with a different element: radioactive red crystals from the Sea of Ice; heavy water from the bottom of the Mariana Trench; and metallic meteor dust from the heart of a volcano. Each of them get a unique sculpt, and the boxes fit into notches in the cart. It would be four years before we'd see this again.

A rich, spoiled aristocrat, the Baroness understands how to use power to get what she wants. Even as she helps Cobra Commander build his M.A.S.S. Device machine and take over the world, she's looking for a way to turn this to her advantage. She's not afraid to take risks, going deep underwater among huge, carnivorous tubeworms to get the rare heavy water before the GI Joe team can reach it. The Baroness is not beyond making a deal with the enemy when necessary: if teaming up with the GI Joe team will keep her alive, she'll do it - then double cross them, of course.

The last time we reviewed a Baroness, we were none too kind to her, because it was an unimaginative rehash. This Baroness, by contrast, is unlike anything ever offered before or since! As hinted at in the filecard, she's taken from the episode "The Worms of Death," when she left the safety of her submarine to fight the Joes directly.

Amazingly, the woman who wears a full-body catsuit has found a way to show even less skin than usual. She's built on the TFAC Scarlett body, with new hands (for simpler gloves) and feet (for flippers). Her red wetsuit has white stripes on the arms, and a cowl that only leaves her eyes exposed, so that's a new sculpt, too.

She has clear goggles, an air tank and harness, a new sci-fi type pistol (not to be confused with a Sci-Fi-type pistol), and a... box? Vacuum? Something. It's a container that she used to suck up the heavy water. So maybe it's a portable Shop-Vac. It's green and silver and comes straight from the cartoon.

Sgt. Stalker is a soldier through-and-through: tough, realistic, and willing to do whatever it takes to complete the mission. His no-nonsense attitude is what made him so convincing when the team fooled Cobra with fake transmissions about how they were surrendering to the head snake. The GI Joe team knew Cobra would intercept the transmissions and that they'd never imagine someone like Sgt. Stalker - a hard-edged, get-real soldier - would be making up the whole story. Sgt. Stalker is an experienced pilot and jet backpack operator; if he's not on the ground going one-on-one with a Cobra Trooper, he's in the air and taking aim at the enemy.

Cobra wouldn't believe that an honorable, stand-up soldier like Stalker would pretend to surrender? Probably because pretending to surrender is literally a war crime. It's known as perfidy, and is a breach of the laws of war. An argument could be made that Cobra - a "ruthless terrorist organization" - doesn't count as a sovereign state, and so is not subject to the Geneva Convention; but with distinctive signs, insignias, symbols and uniforms, and organized regimental forces, Cobra acts like a regular armed force, not like terrorists, and almost assuredly considers itself a sovereign state. Stalker joined the army to get out of his gang life, but he's going to end up in jail anyway.

(Also a war crime? Wearing an enemy's uniform to a fight. It's okay for sabotage or espionage purposes, but if you engage in combat while wearing it, you're boned.)

Surprisingly, this is the only Generation 3 Stalker I got (discounting the Resolute version, because we're talking RAH here), so let's hear it for this DVD Battles set! The mold is the same as the solo-carded TFAC figure, but his camouflage is yellow with big green splotches - it's meant to look like the cartoon (large splotches are easier to draw consistently), but it's too pale to really stand in properly.

He comes with the same web gear and rifle as Snake-Eyes, just in different colors, plus a tannish-gray jetpack with silver tubes. He was specifically wearing a jetpack like this while making his fake broadcast to Cobra (while posing in front of GI Joe toys, amusingly enough), so it makes sense to include it here.

Each of the DVD Battles sets came with a different piece of the M.A.S.S. Device - buy all five like a sucker, and you could build the full machine. The bit included with this set is the control console and three element containers. Even as a standalone piece, it's pretty cool-looking: the body is grey, with silver paint apps on the control panels, light blue for the monitors, and metallic blue accents. The three containers are just empty jars - if you want full ones, you have to buy some single-carded figures you probably don't want.

Naturally, the set also includes a DVD. For our younger readers, a DVD is like a Blu-ray disc that doesn't hold as much info, and for our younger younger readers, a Blu-ray disc is like a streaming movie that still works when your internet goes out, or a digital download you don't lose forever when your computer crashes. Though it's called "The MASS Device" here, the miniseries was originally titled A Real American Hero when it first aired in 1983 - there was no need for catchy subtitles when they weren't sure whether it would get picked up for more episodes. The colors on this transfer seem too light - like, there's nothing black. The darkest anything gets is dark grey. Not sure whether that's the way it originally was, and it's just been cleaned up for subsequent releases, or if this is a bad transfer. It does make Stalker's uniform color look closer to accurate, though.

Overall, this set is mediocre at best. Snake-Eyes is a weird representation that doesn't quite work and Stalker is unnecessary if you got the normal one, but the Cobra Trooper is pretty snazzy and Baroness is unique. Fortunately, as one of the first releases, it was super easy to get this on a deep discount, so picking it up secondhand should be affordable too.

-- 11/27/15

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