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DVD Battles set 3 - "Arise, Serpentor, Arise!"

GI Joe Generation 3
by yo go re

Like Monkey Boy said, the first two GI Joe "DVD Battles" sets were that unlucky combination of over-ordered and underwhelming. They were extremely slow sellers, which meant that the later three sets, the ones with new characters that people actually wanted, never really made it to stores. Hasbro's good about re-releasing characters for those who missed them, but even they have their limits.

Dusty feels totally at home in the desert, but he also knows that it is an unforgiving environment to those who take it for granted. Simply making it through the day, subjected to extreme heat and lack of water, is almost impossible. Add a hundred pounds of weapons and battle gear that you have to carry, plus the devious unpredictability of Cobra, and you have a challenege only a GI Joe team specialist can handle. His expertise with the desert is why Dusty is sent to guard the tomb of the Egyptian general Xanoth Amon-Toth, after the GI Joe team learns Cobra plans to raid it for their own undoubtedly nefarious reasons.

Originally introduced in 1985, Dusty featured pretty prominently on the cartoon, so lacking him in the toyline was quite an oversight. The body has been re-used and recycled several times, but Dusty himself has not been repackaged. The figure has a fairly unique uniform, with baggy sleeves and a small "skirt" hanging below his belt. He's painted with desert camo, appropriately enough, and it's lighter than the original version. There's a patch on his chest that reads Tadur - the character's last name. Actually, his name (Ronald Tadur) is an homage to artist Ron Rudat, the guy who did most of the character illustrations used on the filecards.

Dusty's accessories include a FAMAS assault rifle with a detachable bipod, and a backpack with several large pockets and two sculpted canteens - both updates from the '85 Dusty. He's also got a second gun, the generic laser rifles carried by all the Joes in the A Real American Hero cartoon. His helmet is removable, as are the goggles on the forehead. The cloth havelock is real fabric, though it really should be a lighter brown. Right now it's the darkest thing on him. He's also got a harness wrapped around his shoulders - sometimes. Early shipments of this set lacked the piece, so you have a better than average chance of getting an incomplete box when you're finally forced to order this sight-unseen online.

These android troopers are the perfect Cobra infantry forces. The never question orders, complain about the chow, shirk duty, or surrender. The require no leave time, sick pay or benefits of any kind, and they are cheap and easy to replace. Hit them with multiple rounds of weapons fire and they'll keep advancing on their targets without missing a beat. But they can't evaluate changes in battlefield conditions or make independent decisions, so if the battle shifts and they don'treceive updated orders, they're liable to fire upon anything that moves, be it friend or foe. Still, they have their uses: send battalions of them to keep the GI Joe team busy, and that leaves Cobra operatives to take care of the real mission without any interference.

You know, at one point, I'd missed the BAT. His normal carded release came and went, and I hadn't seen him. Now I've got at least three five of the buggers. The BAT in this set is nearly identical to the Hall of Heroes and Cobra Island versions (other than the battle-damaged parts, of course). The major difference is the paint: there's no paint wash on the limbs or accessories, a move designed to make the BAT look more "animated." Additionally, the face is red, rather than silver - another nod to the cartoon.

Beyond the normal BAT accessories - pistol, backpack, blaster, claw, flamethrower and two hands - the android has also been provided with a black missile launcher and a big red projectile. It's not the greatest thing ever, but hey, you can always throw it in a box and ignore it forever. There is one distracting element here, and that's the paint on the accessories. While the BAT's "skin" is silver, the replacement weapons are just grey. So you have a silver arm that stops suddenly, then a grey weapon jammed on the end of it. Poor planning.

Inspired by a strange, recurring dream, Dr. Mindbender hatches a traitorous plan to replace Cobra Commander with a new leader. The mad doctor sends teams to tombs around the world to gather the DNA of the greatest warriors and leaders of all time. With this genetic material, Dr. Mindbender creates Serpentor, the new emperor of Cobra. He has the military genius and political acumen of Napolean, Julius Caesar, Vlad Tepes, Ivan the Terrible and other rulers who have shaped the course of history. World domination is the one and only thought in the mind of Serpentor, and he immediately launches a campaign to conquer the world.

There was a Serpentor released in 2007, but that was based more on his appearances in the Devil's Due comics than the classic look: in other words, advanced body armor, rather than chainmail and a giant snake hood. The one in this set, obviously, is the old version... more or less. They've tried to turn the modern Serpentor body into the classic one, and it's only partially a success. The armor is still rather advanced, but it has old-timey features, like the extra-snakey helmet and the tails outlining his chest. It works as an animated version, since the cartoon simplified his design, but it's not the 1986 update some fans were hoping for.

Serpentor has his green cape, and the "cobra hood" headpiece that rises off his shoulders. The character was originally going to be called simply "King Cobra" until a trademark search turned up a malt liquor with that same name. His helmet can be removed, revealing the rather plain bald head beneath. Since he was never shown without something covering his head on the cartoon, that can be taken as a nod to the comics - it took him a while to grow his black hair.

The figure's accessories include a small two-bladed weapon, re-used from the '07 single-carded version, as well as an update of the pet snake the original figure came with. Additionally, he has the "snake-spear" he used to kill Duke at the end of the movie - a first-time accessory! The major difference between this Serpentor and the TFAC version is mostly in the paint apps, but it's still a big change.

Our final "figure" in this set straddles the line between figure and accessory. The packaging identifies it as Montezuma's skeleton, but it's quite clearly not. Montezuma (actually, Moctezuma II) was the last ruler of the Aztecs before the Spanish arrived, and commanded the empire at its peak. In the cartoon, he was found seated on a throne, wearing traditional Mesoamerican garb. This figure looks nothing like that. He's wearing a European-style crown, layered armor beneath cloth rags, and hide boots tied up with cords. Honestly, it looks nothing like any of the bodies raided in the miniseries.

The nameless skeleton is a little below 4" tall, and has more articulation than you might think. His neck and waist are balljoints, and the arms swivel at the biceps. The skirt is a separate piece, but held snugly by the hip bones. The crown can be removed, but friction holds it on securely. The skeleton is posed to be laying prone, holding its sword against its chest. Still, as far as random bits of Joe history go, this is a great piece.

Each of the five DVD Battle Packs comes with a piece of the MASS Device - so in order to build it, you need to buy two crap sets, two rare sets, and one nigh-mythical set. In other words, neither you nor anyone you know will ever build the complete MASS. The piece in this set is the control turret, a central bit with two small, rotating guns on both sides. Bow before its awesome power.

The introduction of Serpentor was all Hasbro's idea. They came up with the figure, then told the writers to introduce him. Buzz Dixon pointed out that it was well-established that there was no one above Cobra Commander, so if Hasbro wanted a Cobra Emperor, he'd either have to be built from scratch, or Cobra would have to be the front for an even more secret organization. It turned out Hasbro liked both ideas, and ordered them put into motion simultaneously. The story of Serpentor's creation is covered in the five-part "Arise, Serpentor, Arise" miniseries, which is included in this set as a standalone DVD. The image quality is good, but that just means you can spot all the animation and continuity errors you never noticed as a kid.

This set is a nice one, but not at the prices you'll have to pay to get it. Dusty is good, Serpentor is good, the skeleton is good... really, it's just the BAT that disappoints. This would have been the perfect opportunity to release Dr. Mindbender without having to wait for the Defense of Cobra Island box set. Of course, since Hasbro couldn't get this one onto store shelves, all the "coulda beens" in the world don't matter. If you can get DVD Battle Pack 3 at or below retail price, then go for it. But if you have to pay a scalper, then save your money.

-- 10/23/09

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