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McCullen Clan History

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
by yo go re

At last, a history book you'll want to open!

In 1641, James McCullen IX was captured and punished by the French for selling arms to the enemies of King Louis XIII, even though he also sold weapons to the French.

The proud, arrogant McCullen scorned his captors for the hypocrisy of their politics and the narrow scope of their comprehension. For his punishment, his face was covered with a red-hot iron mask. Rather than a reminder of dishonor, this mask has become a treasured symbol of the power wielded by the Clan McCullen.

Now that GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is out, it's easy to look back and laugh at all the doom-and-gloom fanboys who swore up and down that the movie was going to be terrible, that it was going to ruin GI Joe forever, and that it was going to disrespect everything that had come before. This was disproved immediately, since Destro's "Man in the Iron Mask" backstory is straight from the comics.

James IX is a true friggin' giant. The "Generation 3" GI Joe toys already raised the scale from 3¾" to a pure four inches, but Niner (as we call him) dwarfs even that. The toy is 4½" tall, which means the real man would be 6'9" - huge even by modern standards, let alone the malnourished days of the 17th century, when 5'6" was average. He didn't really need to sell weapons: he could offer to just tear someone's enemies apart himself for a fee.

This is not the same outfit James wore in the film - there he just had on a simple leather jerkin, while this is a full set of armor. Of course, since the bio on the card describes things beyond the scope of the film, it stands to reason that this is something he wore at other times - both before and after he got masked. The armor is a brick red, and detailed with complex etched lines. He's got thick leather boots, strapped around the back, and he's even wearing a kilt.

The armor is asymmetrical, with different detailing on both shoulders. And while you may just think that's a general design choice, there's more to it than that. Look at the shapes: there are fins running back over the left shoulder, and a large flat bit covering the right shoulder and part of the chest and back. A small cape hangs off the back. By themselves, those features would probably mean nothing, but on a McCullen? It's a Caroline era version of Destro's Iron Grenadier suit! How awesome is that! They took the familiar designs and retro-ized them to create an origin for the look. Kudos, Hasbro!

The body underneath all that armor is the Iron Grenadier Destro, as well, which really makes you wonder why he's so darn tall. You can get the armor off his chest, if you work at it, but the kilt/hip armor is on there for good. Articulation is limited by the kilt, of course, but all the joints are there and they all work.

Back in early 2008, when the movie was still being cast, Irish stage actor David Murray was announced as playing Destro, but a few days later he was seemingly replaced by Christopher Eccleston. It's possible that really is what happened, but as it turns out, James IX is still played by Murray - was he originally going to play both parts, and they let him keep the 17th century cameo, or was he originally just cast as Niner, and the reports got confused?

Either way, the likeness is decent. He's got the long hair and the Van Dyke, and you can definitely see David Murray's face there. At least, you can when he doesn't have his mask on. Yes, this figure includes what is pretty much the only must-have accessory, the metal helmet that started it all. Damn you, Francs! This is all your doing! It slips over his head, and since the body is so large, it doesn't really look (too) mis-sized.

However, that's not the only accessory. The first Lord Destro is armed with a flintlock pistol and a rapier. The sword's basket is designed to fit over the right hand, but of coure you can put the gun in either. There's also a halberd designed to bear the Clan McCullen standard, with a removable piece to clip the flag in place.

So that's James the Ninth. Let's fast-forward four centuries and 15 generations.

Like his ancestor, James McCullen XXIV is a brilliant designer of military weapons using cutting-edge technology that advances the art of warfare. McCullen's egotistical arrogance comes from the knowledge that he has the intelligence, wealth and power to shape world events according to his personal design.

When his burned face is repaired with an injection of nanomites, the microscopic machines change his skin into a silver mask that eerily resembles the iron mask worn by his ancestor James McCullen IX.

Since Cobra Commander was just a background presence in the movie, James McCullen was the real villain. He drove the plot, he hired the goons, and he was the good guys' target. He got an action figure in the first series of toys, but it didn't really look anything like the character in the film. This figure fixes that.

Destro is wearing the suit seen in all the trailers, a dark blue pin-striped number with a lighter blue shirt beneath it. Rather than a medallion, he weas his red clan symbol as a tie pin, so it manages to not look completely ridiculous. The jacket and vest are a single, separate piece, so together they make the figure look somewhat bulky, but it sure beats having his chest joint run right through the suit. The figure stands 4⅛" tall, which is pretty sizeable... next to everything except his giant ancestor.

James McCullen, of course, has Christopher Eccleston's likeness - and as of this writing, not only is this the only place to get that on a GI Joe toy, it's also the only version that's even been announced! Hasbro doesn't have any more Destros on the release schedule right now, and the Series 1 version doesn't have a human head. Crazy! He appears like this for 95% of the movie, and it doesn't get made into anything but an exclusive? Maybe they'll do a repaint down the line, since this is a new body.

The figure gets a nice complement of accessories. That's good. The majority of the accessories are chromed. That's bad. I've made my feelings on vac-metallized toys clear in the past, and that hasn't changed. He has two large silver Neo-Viper rifles, a small submachine gun, a silver pistol, and a gray injector - the one The Doctor used on him. The gun fits inside the black MARS briefcase, a smaller version than the one Baroness had.

And of course, he has a second, chromed head. It's smoother than the movie version, but that's not a complaint. It still looks like Eccleston, and let's just pause a moment to give the filmmakers credit for finding a plausible way to duplicate the familiar look of the cartoons, where Destro's head looked less like a metal helmet and more like he had silver skin. The toy actually gets some intricate paint apps, with fleshtone, white and brown around the eyes: that's much better than vac-metallizing the eyes.

The packaging for this set is designed like a book: McCullen Clan Family History. A label on the back marks it as GI Joe evidence, but the exterior box is marked "approved" by the Cobra Office of Propaganda in Springfield, suggesting they stole it back. The "book" hinges open in the middle to show off the carded figures, each held in place in a slide-out tray by elastic bands.

The announcement of this exclusive said it would come with a timeline of the Clan McCullen's arms deals over the years, but at first inspection, it didn't seem like one was actually included. Ah, but wait! The package not only opens in the middle, the front and rear "covers" also open and show off the history. That's really neat, but it's too easy to overlook. Unless you're told it's there, you're going to miss it. All the flaps are magnetized, so they'll stay shut securely.

The SDCC Destro two-pack is really excellent. You get two versions of characters not available anywhere else, including one who's never been a toy before (and probably never will be again). The accessories work, the packaging is worthy of keeping around rather than throwing away, and overall, this is one of the best things available at this year's Comic-Con.

-- 08/14/09

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