Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Remembering 'The Rise of Cobra'

Apparently, you're not a 'real' Joe fan if you don't
vomit at the sight of this.

Last year was when I discovered G.I. Joe, or at least when I started actually buying into it, in the wake of the above movie, which despite a critical hammering I still insist was fantastic; not clever or cutting-edge, no, but fast, funny, exciting, and proud enough of its source material that it doesn't feel obliged to make snide jokes at the expense of past incarnations of the mythology, a la the exciting but cynical Transformers movies.  Sadly, the majority of the longtime Joe fanbase didn't share my opinion and still doesn't.  I have actually tried to listen to the rants that come from their message boards, like The Terrordrome and, but the comments posted were confusing, to say the least; most fans wanted a film that was both slavishly faithful to the '80s ARAH continuity (which involved such Shakespearean flourishes as Cobra Commander being either a used-car salesman or a prehistoric snake/human hybrid, and the Joes' primary drill instructor being Sgt. Slaughter - yeah, that one, the wrestler) and presented with the kind of gritty, real-world tone as Black Hawk Down or a Chris Nolan Batman flick.  How exactly can one have it both ways?

And of course, this attitude spilled through to the accompanying toy line.  "There's too much black plastic!"  "The reactive armour outfits are too similar!"  "The Vipers don't look like real Cobra army-builders!"  "Baroness' face sculpt is horrible!"  Never before or since have I seen so much petty vitriol focused against a toy line.  And Baroness has never had a good face sculpt, fools.  Deal with it.

Which makes it all the more surprising that the Pursuit of Cobra line of 2010 - which shares the same pseudo-realistic style and more than a fair share of tooling with RoC - has gone down so well.  Okay, fanboys, so you hated the reactive armour on all the movie figures, but you don't bat an eyelid when it's on Jungle Assault Duke?  You pissed all over RoC Cobra Commander, but when Hasbro re-release him with a red shirt, a vac-metal mask and fancy packaging, suddenly he's a hit?  Pfah.  Fact is, RoC was awesome, and now it's almost in danger of falling into the same black hole of memories that swallowed up Sigma Six.  So, because I hate the idea of so much good work being wasted, here's my personal shortlist of the highlights of the RoC toyline.


"You like this gun?  I made this gun.  You couldn't.
That's why I get the hot chicks.  That and my shiny head."

Not an entirely unqualified success - his basic weapon loadout in uninspiring, and the shiny head actually came from the McCullen Clan SDCC set - but even so, this Destro's a joy.  Doing away with the retro design, because nobody in their right mind looks like this anymore, Hasbro essentially took a formal WW2 Nazi uniform, stripped away the Jew-upsetting details, and painted it in more Cobra-like colours.  That, in itself, would be cool enough for a Cobra Officer or maybe even the Commander, but luckily, they also kept in mind that this is Destro, so he's got the raised collar with red lining in deference to the original, and even a little tie-pin to replace the old Flava Flav medallion.  And although Destro never looks like this in the film, the trace of a formal shirt and tie visible under his jacket, hinting at his businessman credentials, makes this figure believably the same character.

Snake Eyes (City Strike)
Snake Eyes will cut you if you mention the word 'Resolute'.

Yes, I know, this design is actually from the Resolute animation, which fans adore (even though the storyline was mince, the 'adult' pretensions don't hold up to scrutiny and most of the characters have had serious liberties taken with them...), but shut up.  There's another version of this guy available as part of a Resolute box set - this one was released in RoC packaging, so it's a RoC figure.  And it's better than the other version, with cooler guns, a neater paint job (no pointlessly green goggles here), and a katana that's actually a katana, not a tanto.  A tanto is smaller.  A tanto is a girl's sword.  Snake Eyes is a PROPER MAN'S MAN so he needs a MANLY SWORD.  Like that one.  Okay?

Agent Helix
"Yes, my guns are nice.  Hey, why are you laughing?"

Created as a bonus character for the largely terrible RoC videogame (and partly born at the hands of Brian Reed, who I mentioned in my Ms. Marvel post), Agent Helix doesn't have much of a personality so far; her origin is a mystery, she's only appeared in about two comic issues so far, and her characterisation changed between said issues substantially.  But as any man will attest, you don't need a girl to have a great personality if she's got the looks, and Helix sure as hell delivers there.  The white/black goth hair falling alluringly over one eye, the armoured corset, the bumblebee-yellow top, the odd metallic skirting...there haven't been many female Joes over the years, so a new addition is always welcome, and Helix scores big for both having an immediately recognisable design and terrific posability to boot.  Granted, her arms are too short to hold certain types of rifles, and her hands have an odd sort of grip on them, but she's fine with SMGs, pistols and martial-arts weaponry.  Plus, y'know, she's fit, or as fit as a pocket-size bit of plastic can get.

Firefly (Toys 'R' Us Exclusive)
"Okay, bomb, gun, goggles, knife, backpack, man-bag...
Nope, I don't think I left anything at home today."

God, this guy was an arse to find.  Firefly was one of the first two TRU-exclusive figures (along with Barbecue) released during RoC, and of course was only ever stocked at American TRU stores, so finding one for myself A) required online shopping, now the scourge of my life, and B) required much browsing, since my usual port of call, BigBadToyStore, never had the exclusives available.  Long story short, I wound up paying through the nose for this guy...but it was worth it.  Combining another Resolute figure (the standard Cobra Trooper) with a past Firefly head, then topping it off with the webgear from 25th-anniversary Airborne, Hasbro took a bunch of unrelated parts and succeeded in creating a Firefly that was instantly recognisable, but more bulky and realistic than any of the 25th versions released since 2007.  Sure, he didn't have camo, but they hardly skimped on the paint apps.  And how could you complain with all that gear?  The comic pack Firefly demo-kit stuff, Lt. Falcon's awesome backpack and knife, plus Beachhead's gun and man-bag satchel...this guy's ready for anything the Joes can throw at him.  Perfect.

"Make jokes about my name, you get the sword in your neck.
Make jokes about my height, you get the claw in your crotch."

One of the latter creations in the line, I really didn't know what to expect from Kamakura.  He wasn't a particularly big name amongst the Joes, and his previous figures had been generic ninja rot of the flimsiest caliber.  Also, he was green and yellow, which is just silly no matter how you look at it.  Luckily, Hasbro seemed to agree with me, and essentially threw out all the previous Kamakura designs, keeping only the bare-bones concept - namely, he's a Joe ninja that isn't Snake Eyes.  What we wound up with was a mishmash of old Storm Shadow parts grafted onto a reactive armour torso and done in various shades of blue, with a nice digital camo pattern on the legs.  And a very nice figure it was, too; the SS parts obviously scream 'ninja' but don't necessarily look like they belong to a Cobra guy, and the armoured torso makes his look gel with the rest of the movie Joes.  Plus, Hasbro gave him the same accessories as the comic-pack 25th Storm Shadow, so he's loaded for bear with two snazzy swords, the tekagi claw, an opening backpack, a small Uzi and a...erm...a thing.  It's like two small scythes joined by a chain/rope.  No idea what it's called.  Point is, it's all cool.  Hell, I even like the fact he's a bit shorter than most other Joes, it gives him a bit more character.  If I bought a Robin figure, I'd expect it to be shorter than Batman, and since Kamakura is the Robin to Snake Eyes' Batman, it works.

James McCullen XXIV
"This is how I deal with fanboys asking Doctor Who questions."

For something listed as an 'exclusive', it's actually pretty easy to find the McCullen Clan SDCC pack on online retailers...something probably related to the $45 price-tag, which nets you a grand total of two figures.  That being said, I don't regret my purchasing the set in the slightest, and although the box is a masterpiece, and McCullen IX is an interesting toy, it's this guy that's the star of the show.  The first (and still, to date, only) Hasbro 3.75" figure to wear a 3-piece suit, and they actually pulled it off, with the jacket and waistcoat fused into one and a separate piece for the tie underneath.  Couple that with the perfectly even pinstripes, the shiny shoes, and a cracking likeness for Christopher "Scotland and Salford are basically the same, right?" Eccleston, and you've got a figure with no fail on it.  Even the guns are sweet; yes, those Viper Commando pulse-rifles are impossible to hold properly, but they're vac-metallized so they're awesome by default.  And yeah, I know, he only has single knee joints rather than the usual double, but really, who cares?  It's not like he's gonna be running anywhere, is he?  He's the mastermind, not the hired muscle!

"Parrots are really smart birds, y'know.  For instance,
I trained this one to peck the eyeballs out of my victims' skulls."

Out of the earliest wave of RoC figures, Shipwreck immediately stood out, and he's remained a favourite of mine ever since, largely by being the perfect - and I mean perfect - fusion of old and new.  Sure, he's got the familiar reactive armour top and blue digital camo pants, so he blends in with the movie-style Joes, but the scruffy beard and knit cap both help him stand apart, and keep the spirit of the old, daft, slacker-boy sailor Shipwreck alive.  As if a basic figure made of that much win isn't enough, he's also kitted out wonderfully, with a modified rifle/speargun combo, a Desert Eagle, a nasty knife and probably the best scuba gear yet made for a Joe figure (well, it's a damn sight cooler than 25th Torpedo's kit, anyway).  Oh yeah, and he's got a parrot.  You gotta admire a man with the balls to carry a bright green tropical bird into battle.  It's like he's daring enemy snipers to take their best shot, just so he can deflect their feeble bullets with his adamantium beard.

Snake Eyes (Paris Pursuit)
It's what all the girls'll be sporting on the catwalk this season.

Yeah, I know, I already did a Snake Eyes, but the benefits of being one of the line's most treasured names means the unbeatable mute gets first dibs on the best gimmicks and costume designs.  Plus, this one actually has a pretty interesting story to it; Snake Eyes does appear in this gear at several points in the film, but you'd be hard-pushed to notice - it's actually a simpler outfit, just a slim woollen top and basic cargo pants with a thin coat draped over it, and a simpler mask without those controversial sculpted lips.  Left unchanged, it'd make for a spectacularly dull figure, but luckily someone at Hasbro had a brainwave when they saw it, and simply by beefing up the coat into a full-blown Matrix deal, we've got one hell of a figure.  Quite why it never occurred to them to use this 'look' for Snake Eyes in the past is beyond me, because it seems such an obvious idea, perfect for cutting a dramatic figure through the moody, blood-drenched alleyways of...uh, Paris.  Love how the strap across the chest looks like it's part of the sword sheath, too.

"Whaddaya want, some kinda jokey one-liner?  How's about this:
'I've got two SMGs, I don't do jokes.'  Punk."

Okay, time for a concession to the majority here; your writer will agree that the first few Cobra army builders from the RoC line were...less than they could have been.  Maybe it was the elbows that didn't bend as far as you'd like, or the clunky, oversized guns, or even just the armoured vests being too thick - there was always something.  And then came the Elite-Viper, and all was right with the world.  Well, okay, the fanboys still whined, but those of us who were capable of looking at these things rationally saw the improved articulation, the more sensible body armour, and guns that could actually be held like guns.  And in a further fit of generosity, Hasbro complimented the sweet twin UMPs with a pulse pistol and (?), which fit neatly into a thigh-holster and backpack respectively.  If only his head, with its genuinely terrific sculpting, had a few paint apps to make the details stand out...although I suppose they were pure black in the film, so, meh.
Steel Crusher APV

Keep rollin' rollin' rollin' rollin' WHAT?!

If all you ever saw of The Rise of Cobra was a trailer or two, the one thing that's likely to have stuck in your head is the image of two guys in robot suits exchanging gunfire with this big black lump of carcinogenic soot and raw evil on wheels.  And that's just what I call it for being a Hummer.  Merely being a big, sharply-angled box with tinted windows isn't enough to call this a Cobra vehicle, though, so of course it's been tricked out with removable battering forks for the front bumper, concealed missiles in the side doors, and a rotating spring-loaded pulse cannon that emerges from the roof when the bulletproof shield is pulled down over the windscreen.  Overall, though, what I love most about this toy is its toughness; it's got a really pleasing solid feel to it, the kind of durability that demands you scoot it along the floor, knocking over other figures and putting dents in the skirting board.  And if any old-school types are questioning where a modified civillian vehicle like this fits in alongside HISS tanks and Trubble Bubbles, might I point out that the acronym after its name doesn't read 'APC', it's 'APV'.  Exactly what the difference between the two is, I'm not sure, but for now, I like to think of the Crusher as the Cobra VIP transport of choice, for all those fancy red-carpet do's the Baroness likes to attend.  Oh, the missiles?  Those're for when Brangelina's convoy of fancy BMWs hogs all the good parking spots.

Those, of course, represent merely a handful of highlights from a truly great line.  I'd love to waste even more time listing  more and more winners - knew I should've taken pics of the Crimson Neo-Viper and Sgt. Flash, dammit! - but hopefully I've made my point well enough already.  Most of these guys are still available, and now at discounted prices too.  If your toy tastes lean towards the military end of things, then these, my friend, are the motherlode.

Next time, erm...something.  Not sure yet.  Stay tuned.

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