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GI Joe Box Set

GI Joe 25th Aniversary
by yo go re

It's been 25 years since Hasbro saw an opening in the market, and decided to revamp their 12" military figures. The line had sputtered to quiet end in the '70s, as army figures fell out of favor in the wake of Vietnam and oil prices (and, consequently, the cost of producing plastic) rose. But the success of the small-scale Star Wars toys from then-competitor Kenner showed Hasbro that there was a real market for action figures, even if they were only about a third the size. Reasoning that one of the factors in Kenner's success was the complex backstory each of the characters had, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics to fill in the history of these new characters, and GI Joe: A Real American Hero was born.

For twenty-five years, the heroic GI Joe team has battled the evil Cobra forces with guns, guts and glory - and loyal fans like you have stood beside them every missile- firing step of the way. Your remarkable dedication to these courageous heroes and menacing villains has made GI Joe the unsurpassed icon of action and adventure that it is today. GI Joe has risen to the challends for a quarter of a century, and will continue the fearless fight for years to come. Yo Joe!

To celebrate their silver anniversary, Hasbro has created a special line of 3¾" figures that re-create the original characters, but offer 100% new sculpts. The 25th Anniversary Collection (TFAC) debuted with two boxed sets, featuring five classic Joe or Cobra figures. The Joe set features Duke, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, Roadblock and Gung-Ho.

Duke was fluent in French, German and English when he enlisted in 1967. Graduated top of his class at airborne school, Fort Benning. Opted for US Army Special Language School. Specialized in Han Chinese and South East Asian dialects. Went Special Forces in 1969. Worked with tribesmen in the boonies of South Vietnam. Ran four different Special Forces schools. Turned down a commission in 1971. Commands by winning respect. Current assignment: Acting First Sergeant, GI Joe team.

Duke was the face of GI Joe, more or less, since he was fairly prominent in most episodes of the cartoon - he was the team's leader, after all. Technically the Joes were under the command of Hawk, but nobody even heard of him until the second season. Duke was the man. In a show full of ninjas, biker punks and circus freaks with laser guns, Duke managed to stand out and become popular while wearing fairly regular military fatigues. That takes a pretty impressive character.

The figure's sculpt is very nice. He's wearing a tan shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and green pants tucked into his brown boots. That's the same as his first figure, but it looks much, much better. Look at the individual laces on the front of his boots, or the soft webbing pattern up the sides. Basically all the details from the original figure are here, just bumped up to a new level. Take, for instance, the gun holstered on his right leg or the bandolier around his chest - back in the day, those were just sculpted elements - today they're separate pieces.

In addition to those elements, Duke has a helmet (green), a machine gun with a grenade launcher underneath (black), and a tiny tiny pair of binoculars (also black). All of those are updates of accessories Duke had when he was first released, though the machinegun used to be green. And a different style. The only thing missing is a tan backpack. Duke was the first mail-away figure in the line, available through catalogs a year before he was available in stores, and the earliest samples came with a small US flag sticker. Matching that, TFAC Duke has a small flag painted on his sleeve. Hot damn!

Her father and brothers were all martial arts instructors. She began her training at age 9 and was awarded her first black belt at age 15. Graduated: Advanced Infantry Training and Ranger School. Special Ed: Covert Ops School; Marine Sniper School; Special Air Service School; Marine Tae Kwon Do Symposium. Qualified expert: M-14; M-16; M-1911A1; M-79; M-3A1; M-700 (Remington Sniper Rifle); Mac-10; XK-1 Power Crossbow; Throwing Stars; Garotte; Ka-Bar.

Wow, what a boring filecard. Scarlett has always been one of the most popular characters in the various GI Joe continuities, so including her with this set was an absolute no-brainer. If they hadn't, Hasbro probably would have been under seige by irate fanboys. You've got to have the resident female ass-kicker, you know?

This is, easily, the best-looking Scarlett figure ever released. She was one of the original 16 figures in the Real American Hero line, but that figure looked... ape-like. She returned (as "Agent" Scarlett) in the revamped two-packs a few years ago, but in those her head was too small and her other features were too large. Finally, though, they seem to have gotten it right. She's wearing her classic uniform, though the blue is now of a grayish tinge rather than a navy.

Less elements on Scarlett's costume are direct carry-overs than on Duke's. She still has pockets on her boots, but now just on the outsides. She has a knife in a sheath molded to her leg, but the other leg is unadorned. The two throwing stars are on the back of her left glove, but there's no pistol molded on the inside of the right. The grenade on her shoulder is a fully-sculpted piece, not simply a painted bump, and the red pad on her shoulder is thicker, but simplified. Unlike the original Scarlett, this one has the long, flowing ponytail always seen in the cartoon and comics (and on her filecard).

Scarlett's weapon of choice is her crossbow, which this figure includes. It's a nice update of the original, though somewhat strange in that the string and arms are a separate, removable piece. She has a black pistol, though nowhere to stow it. And although she has a sculpted belt, she's also got a second, removable belt with a holstered pistol and a quiver full of crossbow bolts sculpted on it. Also unlike the original figure, this one has peg holes in her feet.

Back in the '80s, the GI Joe comic and cartoon were two different worlds - events in one had no bearing on the other, but it was usually limited to just events. People died regularly in the books, and Cobra was more threatening and less stupid. Personalities, however, were generally the same. One of the biggest divergences, however, involved Scarlett: on the early episodes of the cartoon, it seemed she and Duke were in a relationship; in the comic, she was moist for Snake-Eyes. Since the filecards (and even later episodes of the cartoon) followed the comics' lead, that's the real version.

Snake-Eyes is proficient in 12 different unarmed fighting systems (Karate, Kung-Fu, Jujitsu) and is highly skilled in the use of edged weapons. Has received extensive training in mountaineering, underwater demolitions, jungle, desert and arcitc survival, and some form of holistic medicine. Qualified expert: all NATO and Warsaw Pact small arms.

When he debuted with the rest of the Joes in 1982, Snake-Eyes wasn't the ninja we know and love today. No, back then he was just a hardcore commando. He wore all black, but it was just normal pants, a cableknit sweater and a ski mask. He barely appeared in the early cartoons, because you can only do so much with a character who only wears one color and never speaks. His popularity rests solely on the Marvel comics, and the work of Larry Hama.

The Snake-Eyes in this set is the commando version, allowing you to stage your own "Year One" battles. The detailing on his clothes is very nice - again, it takes the classic elements and updates them. His boots are just as detailed as Duke's, but they're not the same sculpt. The knife on his right thigh is removable, and there's some device sculpted on his left thigh. He has small pockets on his biceps, just like the original figure, but the web gear is removable, rather than sculpted onto his torso. It even features a holster for the included pistol. His head is sculpted with the appropriate goggles, rather than the visor the character would later wear.

In addition to the pistol and knife, Snake-Eyes is packing an uzi and carrying a remarkably detailed satchel. Not only is the bag sculpted with texture, it's designed to have green ties holding it closed, and it's even labeled as explosives. Its strap is perfectly sized to fit over Snake-Eyes' shoulder, even accounting for the gear he's got on his harness.

Roadblock wanted to be a gourmet chef. He was working as a bouncer to earn money to attend the Escoffier School in France when an army recruiter convinced him that the army could train him to be a chef. Roadblock joined but found army menus and preparation techniques too appalling. Transferred to the infantry. Qualified expert: M-2 Brown/50 cal.; Heavy Machine Gun; all Warsaw Pact Heavy MGs; M-16; M1911A1 Auto Pistol.

The key to popularity is recognizability, a category in which Roadblock excelled. A huge black guy who always spoke in rhyme? That's hard to miss. In fact, it helped make Roadblock one of the most prominent members of the GI Joe team, as evidenced by his inclusion in this set. It's not even like he was just the token black guy - the Joes have always been ethnically diverse. Hell, Stalker was one of the original 16!

This would-be chef is wearing black boots, orange pants and a camo shirt. While the 1984 version had black web gear sculpted onto his torso, this time the harness is removeable. It's also got a much-improved sculpt, and even a few paint apps. The grenade on his chest is no longer the same color as the piece it's strapped to. Though the original had a holstered gun sculpted on his leg, this figure is the only one in the set that doesn't come with a pistol - probably because he has so much else.

We begin with a simple removeable helmet, just like Duke has. He's got his big green machine gun, of course, and when we say "big," we mean it. This isn't some little assault rifle, this is a full .50 caliber Ma Duece. These things get mounted on tanks, and he's just walking around carrying one? Scary dude! In case anyone else needs to use the thing, the set also includes a tripod. To keep it firing, we get an ammo belt, which stretches between the gun and the backpack. The bullets are gray, but have copper jackets. Roadblock's hands are sculpted to be much more open than the other figures', to accommodate the big gun.

Born into a large back-swamp Cajun clan, Gung Ho moved to New Orleans and won a reputation as a bare-knuckle brawler and knife-fighter to be reckoned with. Joined the Marines at 18 and graduated top of class from boot camp at Parris Island. Attended: Airborne School, Recondo School and Marine Ordinance School. Qualified Expert: all NATO infantry small arms and most Warsaw Pact infantry weapons, XM-76 Grenade Launcher.

While the GI Joe team drew from all branches of the military, there weren't a whole lot of Marines on the duty roster - it was mostly Army. Only about six Jarheads, which meant that only the Coast Guard (one member) and the British SAS (two) had fewer representatives. Is it that the Marines couldn't make the cut, or that one Marine can do the work of 35 soldiers? Depends on which office your recruiter was sitting in.

Gung-Ho was another of those highly recognizable Joes: the bare-chested, tattooed guy in the vest. And that Cajun accent was unmistakable, too. The last Gung-Ho figure wasn't very good, but this one is great. His boots are a different style than the others', and the camo paint on his pants is crisp. He has a pistol holstered on one leg, and a bundle of grenades on the other. The vest is a separate, floating piece, and although he does still have the Marine insignia tattoo on his chest, it's about half the size it used to be, and very pale. Like, barely visible. Come on, he's a Marine: those guys are nearly psychotic when it comes to self-pride - he totally would have had that thing touched up the instant it started to fade.

Even Gung-Ho's accessories have gotten the anniversary upgrade. His grenade launcher actually pops open, and has a fold-up scope. Holy crap, that's a lot of detail for such a small figure! His backpack is nicely detailed, and the sculpted texture even continues onto the surface that will be against the figure's back - unheard of! The backpack does make him prone to falling over, but that was true of the old figures, too, so you can claim it's a feature, not a defect. Interestingly, not all the figures have the "back hole" that would allow them to swap backpacks, like they used to, and the peg is a different shape now. Quite unexpected!

The 25th Anniversary Collection sets come in angled boxes shaped like the classic logo. Press the exposed button and you'll hear a few seconds of the original cartoon theme song. The front of the box flips open to show off the figures inside, and the back is a huge collage of images from the line's history. The figures themselves are in a lidded plastic tray, so you don't have to worry about twist ties - just Hasbro's weird predilection for those hateful trays that have body parts sticking through to the back. In addition to all the accessories listed above, the set includes five black stands with the characters' names on the front, and individual filecards which feature new artwork purposely aping the originals (probably so Hasbro didn't have to find whoever did those old paintings and pay them again).

Surprisingly, the figures are a full 4" tall, not the expected 3¾". Less surprisingly, the articulation is excellent. All five figures feature balljointed heads, shoulders, elbows, chests, hips and ankles. No waists on any of them, but the torsos make up for it. Duke, Snake-Eyes and Gung-Ho have double knees, while Roadblock's are single and Scarlett's are balljoints. All the figures feature swivel wrists, though the precise placement of the joint varies from person to person. Roadblock's left knee ripped out, sadly, so I'll have to replace him if I get the chance.

The GI Joe TFAC figures are off to an absolutely awesome start. The plan was originally to release just 25 figures, but that was quickly scrapped in favor of an expanded line-up. Right now, the TFAC line is intended to last at least until 2008, and honestly, if the quality we see here is indicative of where the line is going, it will be a welcome addition to toy aisles and to your collection. Don't be fooled by online stores selling this set (and its Cobra counterpart) for $35 or more - the sets retail for $25, which is only $5 a figure... and these are completely worth it. Yo Joe!

-- 08/04/07

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