GRUNT v.14 (2015)

Joe-Grunt v14 fullG. I. JOE: 50th ANNIVERSARY 

After taking a break to gush about my awesome new JAWS toy in my last post I’m back with another “Crimson Strike” review.  Crimson Strike is the name of the 2015 San Diego Comic Con exclusive G.I. Joe box set.  It contained 2 vehicles (Scythe and Chimera), 2 Cobra figures (AVAC and Alley Viper), and 2 Joe figures (Steeler and Grunt).  I thought Steeler was a pretty great figure so today let’s examine how his Joe teammate measures up.Joe-Grunt v14 art

Like his pack-mate, Steeler, Grunt was one of the original 13 G.I. Joes released in 1982.  My brother Doug owned the original green uniformed Grunt and the tan repaint from 1983. I didn’t own my first Grunt until 20 years later when an updated version was released during the 2003 Spy Troops line.

Grunt never made a big impression on me.  The 1982 Joe figures all shared parts and almost all of them were white guys in green uniforms.  It made for a cohesive but somewhat generic looking team and Grunt was the most generic of the bunch.  Steeler had his binocular visors, Breaker had his beard, Flash has his red padded uniform, but Grunt didn’t have any distinguishing characteristics or accessories..  Even Zap, who was almost the exact same figure as Grunt, had his signature bazooka and in the comics he had a moustache. Grunt had a helmet, a backpack, and a rifle.Thats about as basic as you get.  Even his name essentially means generic soldier.  Grunt was used on a lot of early G.I. Joe merchandise like bed sheets and birthday hats because of his generic soldier look.  Doug even had a Grunt halloween costume but Grunt’s name was not mentioned on the packaging.Joe-Grunt v14 costume

In 2007 Hasbro ushered in the modern-era with the 25th anniversary series; a toy line which featured classic Joe characters in their most iconic uniforms.  Their original intent was to release the 25 most popular characters but when the line was a success plans were made to carry on beyond that.  The expanded line-up got me pretty excited about the prospect of owning updated versions of the original 13.  One by one Hasbro released them and I was able to collect them with minimal effort because my go-to comic shop, Strange Adventures, stocked them all.  However, they were unable to stock 2008 Grunt because he was only available in a Toys R Us exclusive 3-pack.  I was never able to find the 3-pack at my local TRU and I wasn’t willing to pay big bucks for it on the secondary market because I already had a Hawk and a Duke (the other 2 guys in the pack) and the Grunt was underwhelming because it featured a re-used Flash head instead of a unique head sculpt. I held out hope that we’d eventually get a better version.

Joe-Grunt v14 back

Another version was released in 2009 but it was also included in a Toys R Us 3-pack and I couldn’t find that one either.  I didn’t put any effort into seeking it out on ebay either because the set was part of the Rise of Cobra movie line.  I was a little sour about the movie figures at the time and I didn’t want a Grunt in the ROC aesthetic. I held out hope for a better one.

I finally got a modern-era Grunt in 2013 by way of the G.I. Joe Collector Club’s figure subscription service.  I was pretty happy with Grunt version 13; I rated it 8 out of 10 when I reviewed it 2 years ago.  It featured Grunt in his 1983 tan uniform.  I was happy to finally have a vintage accurate Grunt to complete my modern-era original 13 line-up but I was a little bummed that I didn’t have him in ’82 green.  Also disappointing was that he still didn’t get a unique head sculpt; the Club reused  the 2009 Zap head.

It took a while but I finally have a modern-era Grunt in a green uniform courtesy of this year’s SDCC box set.  Grunt was included in the set to serve as the Chimera’s gunner.  I’ll get my criticism out of the way first.  This is the 4th modern-era Grunt figure and each one of them has had a different head.

version 14 & version 13

version 14 & version 13

What if I want to display all my Grunts next to one another?  They’d all look like completely different dudes.  And like the SDCC Steeler, Grunt’s hair seems to have gone from brown to red. (His hair has changed multiple times over the years, both in colour and style) These kind of inconsistencies really annoy me.

On the plus side, I think this is the best recycled head placed on Grunt yet.  It originally belonged to Airborne version 5 from 2008.  Airborne is Native American so the skin was darker and the hair was black in ’08.  With the new pale skin tone and red hair you can barely tell that the two figures share the same head sculpt.

Grunt’s body is made up of the Cobra Shock Trooper’s arms and torso and some Duke legs.  The removable webgear originally came with the 2013 Night Viper.  All the pieces work well together to create a really nice update of Grunt.

Grunt & Airborne

Grunt & Airborne

As was the case with Steeler, the uniform is basic enough to honour the character’s roots but there are enough new elements to make it feel fresh and modern.  The more I look at this figure the more I like it.  He and Steeler make for a great looking pair.  I really hope we see similar updates of other original 13 characters in the near future.  I’d love to have a Short-Fuze of this quality.

Joe-Grunt v14 night vision

 

For accessories Grunt comes with a display base, a pistol that can holstered on his chest, a rifle and a helmet.  It’s a pretty basic arsenal which perfectly suits Grunt. However, the helmet has a night vision attachment which can be flipped down over Grunt’s eyes.  It’s a cool little addition which finally gives the character a unique accessory to call his own.

I’m pretty happy with the Crimson Strike set overall but it’s hard to recommend given the price.  I think the Joes and the Chimera are more interesting than the Cobra soldiers and the Scythe so if you if you come across someone  who has broken up the set and is selling the items loose I’d suggest you grab the Joes.  8 out of 10.Joe-Grunt v14 tank

JAWS (2015)

Jaws sideReAction

I had planned to consecutively review all 6 components on the San Diego Comic Con G.I. Joe box set that I got in earlier this week but I’m going to have to stop after 3 (thus far I’ve reviewed AVAC, The Chimera, and Steeler). I’ll get around the second half of the set later but I need to talk about some of the other toys I got in this week. My latest shipment from BigBadToyStore included the brand new Combiner Wars Devastator figure which is an absolute beast of a figure and I was super stoked to get it. But as cool as Devastator is he was overshadowed by a much smaller and simpler toy that arrived in the same shipment. I’m talking about JAWS.Jaws boxed

Sharks terrify and fascinate me and the movie Jaws has a lot to do with it. I first saw it when I was very young and I’ve seen it dozens of times since. It’s probably one of the movies I’ve watched most in my life; up there with Indiana Jones, Star Wars and The Crow. I’ve also seen each of the three Jaws sequels a bunch of times too. None are as good as the original but even the worst Jaws movie is better than any other shark movie ever made. I have multiple shark films in my collection (Deep Blue Sea, Sharktopus, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, etc.) and they’re all completely ridiculous whereas the first Jaws is one of the best movies ever made.  I never get tired of watching it.

Fisher Price Adventure People

Fisher Price Adventure People

When I was a kid I didn’t really care that there weren’t official Jaws action figures. I liked all the human characters well enough but they were just regular looking guys. The shark is what mattered to me and I had a Fisher Price shark that served as an adequate stand in for Jaws. The shark came with my Adventure People patrol boat. The whole set was pretty great but the shark definitely saw more play time than the dorky diver figures. I used that plastic shark with G.I. Joes,  He-Men, Battle Beasts, and anywhere else I could fit him in. He and my Adventure People octopus were very versatile that way. They were essentially the character actors of my figure drawer who managed to steal scenes in every play time scenario.

I had Jaws in mind every time I played with that old shark but the actual toy was nowhere near as menacing as the movie shark. The Adventure People shark had a very docile look about it with a closed mouth and a bored look on his face. I really had to stretch my imagination every time it ferociously attacked someone.  But no more!Jaws front

Funko, the company behind those lovable POP! figures, has produced an actual licensed Jaws toy and it is amazing.  Jaws is part of Funko’s line of  80s-style retro action figures called ReAction figures.  As with their POP! figurines I intended to only buy one or two of them at first but then I fell in love with ReAction figures and now I have a bunch of them.  The line covers a ton of properties and the figures come out faster than I can keep up with them.   The 3 human figures in the Jaws wave are what I’ve come to expect from the line, simple but recognizable 3 3/4″ figures with 5-points of articulation.  They have an obvious retro vibe to them.  As for the shark itself, whom I will continue to refer to as “Jaws”, the figure isn’t as obvious a throwback.  It looks like it could be included in any modern toy line.  It’s probably one of the best looking shark toys I’ve ever seen.

Jaws eating

The packaging, on the other hand, is extremely old-school.  Honestly, the packing of ReAction figures is half  the appeal of them. Most modern toy packaging sucks but Funko has nailed that classic 80s look that was commonplace when action figures were in their heyday.  These Jaws figures are actually the first ReAction figures I’ve opened.  If you look at my past ReAction reviews (Wolfman, Invisible Man, Rocketeer) you’ll see I kept them all sealed on their cards because I liked the cardbacks so much.  The Jaws cards were beautiful too but I simply couldn’t resist opening this Jaws figure and because I opened him I had to open Quint, Hooper, and Brody too.

closed mouth

closed mouth

The sculpt on Jaws is very nice.  The body is sleek with very few sculpted details but the face is rife with cuts and scars.  There’s no articulation on the body which is fine but thankfully he has an articulated jaw so you can open and close his mouth.  It opens quite wide so you can stuff Quint right in there if you want to recreate the final scenes of the movie (sorry, spoiler-alert).  Jaws has two rows of teeth on both the top and bottom of his mouth which is a pretty cool little detail.Jaws belly

The paint work is pretty much exactly what you’d expect:  Grey skin, white belly, red mouth, and lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye.

This figure is nearly perfect.  The only thing that bothers me is how front heavy he is.  When out of the box he falls forward onto his chin and theres nothing you can do about it.  It looks kind of silly displayed that way with his tail up in the air.  I grabbed a loose transformer piece I had laying around to prop him up for these pictures.  A weighted tail would’ve been an easy fix.  Oh well, still amazeballs.  10 out of 10.

"We're gonna need a much bigger boat."

“We’re gonna need a much bigger boat.”

 

Jaws aquaman

STEELER v.7 (2015)

Joe-Steeler v7 fullG. I. JOE: 50th ANNIVERSARY

In my last post I reviewed the G.I. Joe Chimera, which is really just a Cobra HISS tank painted green.  It was included in the 2015 San Diego Comic Con exclusive G.I. Joe box set titled “Crimson Strike”.  The premise of the set is that the Joes and Cobras have acquired each others vehicles and repurposed them to fit their own needs.  A captured Joe Skystriker became the Cobra Scythe and to fly the new aircraft the Cobra pilot, AVAC, was also included in the set;  makes sense.  Just as sensible is the inclusion of the Joe team’s premier tank driver, Steeler, to man the Chimera.

Steeler was one of the original 13 Joes released in 1982.  The OG13 hold a special place in the hearts of most Joe collectors; especially old guys like myself who’ve been collecting since the beginning.  Of the original roster I owned Snake Eyes, Stalker, and Short-Fuze.  My brother Doug owned all the rest.  By ’83 things evened out and we began collecting each subsequent wave 50/50 but Doug really cleaned up that first year.  One of the 10 originals Doug owned was Steeler who came packaged with the original G.I. Joe tank, the Mobat.Joe-Steeler v7 back

I really liked Steeler from day one.  Not only did he have a sweet ride but he also had an awesome binocular headset attached to his helmet. A number of the ’82 Joes had clear visors on their helmets but Steeler’s solid black headset was totally unique.  When I was little I assumed that all real-life tank drivers wore similar binoculars on their helmets but as I think about it now I don’t think thats actually the case.

In an odd design choice by Hasbro, Steeler couldn’t actually sit inside the Mobat.  Instead, he stood in the roof hatch  like a drunk girl hanging out of a limo on prom night.  Not the safest way to roll into battle to be sure.  But after driving around like that for so many years I imagine the oft ridiculed glass canopy of the HISS tank will feel pretty damn safe to Mr. Pulaski.

1982 Steeler

1982 Steeler

I got my first Steeler figure in 2004 and sadly it was not a good one.  It had a small head and a huge barrel chest.  Those proportion issues are why many collectors completely ignore the new-sculpt years of the early 2000s.

My next Steeler (version 4) was released as part of the 25th anniversary series in 2008; the first modern-era interoperation of the character.  Unfortunately it was a pretty weak figure too.  The design was bland, he had dreaded “Duke arms”, his helmet didn’t fit right, and even his ride had been downgraded to the pitiful Armadillo which looks more like a go-kart than a tank.  The worst offence committed by that figure was that it didn’t have Steeler’s trademark helmet binoculars.

Steeler comparison

Steeler comparison

Another Steeler (version 5) was released later that same year; this time with a tan uniform.  I prefer the tan one because Hasbro fixed a few of the problems of the previous release.  Version 5 had new lower arms with full sleeves and gloves which was closer to the 1982 design and it solved the Duke Arms problem, he got his Mobat back so he was a proper tank driver again, and he had a visor on his helmet.  Unfortunately the visor was a standard “glass” model and not the classic binocular set.

The only part from the 2008 figure used for this latest version of Steeler (version 7) is the head.  I don’t really like this head sculpt all that much but I appreciate that Hasbro has used it consistently for the character throughout the modern-era.  I don’t like when a character’s physical appearance changes drastically from one version to the next.  That said, it is kind of annoying that Steeler’s hair colour has changed from brown to red.  Speaking of his red hair, my Steeler has a dab of orange paint on the tip of his nose which I didn’t even notice until I took these pictures but now I can’t unsee it.  Ho-hum.

Joe-Steeler v7 face

Steeler’s body is made up of Firefly and Roadblock parts.  They work well together and provide for a detailed yet simple basic military uniform.  It’s a nice update to the character without getting too far removed from the original design.  I quite enjoy some of the more fantastical elements of G.I. Joe but I like the OG13 to stick to their military roots.  His uniform is a nice crisp shade of green and the grey padding makes him more interesting to look at. This figure is taller than past versions due to the Roadblock legs but it works out well because I seem to recall that Steeler is supposed to be a big tough guy which is something that never came across in past versions.

 

Joe-Steeler v7 tank

For accessories Steeler has a rifle, a pistol that can be holstered on his hip, a padded vest with a detachable radio, and finally a helmet with some goddamn binoculars.  I’m so happy that Steeler has his proper headgear at long last but honestly they don’t look as cool as I was hoping.  I don’t recall the vintage figure’s binoculars looking so wide and the red paint on the visor makes Steeler look as though he should be leading the X-Men into battle rather than the Joes.

This figure isn’t perfect but its easily the best Steeler figure since the original.  Its the figure highlight of the SDCC set for me.  8 out of 10.Joe-Steeler v7 Xmen

 

CHIMERA (2015)

Joe-Chimera fullG. I JOE: 50th ANNIVERSARY

This past Monday my 2015 San Diego Comic Con exclusive “Crimson Strike” box set arrived in the mail.  The set consists of two G.I. Joe vehicles and four figures.  I reviewed one of the figures, AVAC, yesterday.  AVAC’s role in the set is to pilot the Cobra Scythe, a G.I. Joe Skystriker, repainted in a Cobra deco.  The concept behind the box set is that the Joes and Cobras have procured each others vehicles and repurposed them for their own arsenal.  To rival the Cobra Scythe the Joes have turned a captured HISS tank into the G.I. Joe Chimera.Joe-Chimera front

The repainted Skystriker looks pretty cool and the figures are all decent but given the secondary market price of this set I would have passed on it if not for the Chimera.  I’m a sucker for HISS tanks and I simply couldn’t resist getting one in a new colour.

The original Cobra H.I.S.S. (High Speed Sentry) was released in 1983.  It was one of the earliest Joe vehicles released and one of the first, if not THE first, Joe vehicle I ever owned.  I would’ve been five or six when I got it.  Most of the Joe vehicles released in the early years were based on real-world conveyances like tanks, jeeps, and helicopters but the HISS tank was pure science fiction. There was something fantastical about the angular design of the HISS that really appealed to me.  I still have my 1983 HISS and it is in fact the only vintage Joe item that I presently have on display.

The HISS has been remodelled a number of times over the years.  Some have been downright ugly while others have been respectable upgrades.  I’ve amassed a decent little troop of the modern-era design (brown, blue, purple, and red) but there’s just no beating the original.  I have the classic HISS tank in black (x2), red, white, mini, and now green.Joe-Chimera back

When I first saw pictures of this green HISS tank online (it was revealed at April’s Joe Con) I knew I had to have it. The idea of the Joes capturing one of Cobra’s iconic tanks and making it their own was very appealing to me, much more so than if Hasbro had just made this a green Cobra tank.  Seeing the Joe logo and the white star decals on this thing seems so wrong that I love it.  Construction wise, this toy is almost the exact same as my ’83 HISS but even after 30+ years the design holds up.  However the colour and the decals aren’t the only thing thats changed.  Hasbro has added a brand new double rail gun to the back.  The new guns look much more devastating than the double cannons usually found on HISS tanks.  I like that the rail guns show how the Joes took the time to customize their captured tank rather than to just paint it.

As with all classic style HISS tanks, the Chimera has a cockpit that holds one driver and it has a glass canopy.  It can also hold a gunner in the back and it has foot pegs on the very back to accommodate two passengers.  You could also hide stowaways  in the belly of the tank beneath the gunner station as I often did when I was a kid.  The treads don’t really work but there are wheels on the bottom of the tank so it glides along the floor with ease.Joe-Chimera Motorcade

This tank looks great displayed with my other HISS tanks but it also looks great displayed with my classic military Joe vehicles.  The tank’s shade of green matches up nicely with that of the Vamp and the Skyhawk.  It also matches up with the uniforms of the original 13 Joes which is appropriate since the box set includes new versions of Steeler and Grunt to man the Chimera.

The Chimera oozes retro appeal so its a shame it won’t be available at retail.  However a variation of this set with a reddish-orange HISS will be available at TOYS R US for a much more reasonable price very soon. 9 out of 10.Joe-Chimera Hiss army

 

A.V.A.C. v.3 (2015)

Joe-Avac v3 fullG. I. JOE: 50th ANNIVERSARY

Way back on March 31 (almost 4 months ago) I ordered my 2015 Joe Con exclusive box set.  The Con took place the weekend of April 10-12 and the sets were supposed to be mailed out soon afterwards.  My set has still not shipped.  On the other hand, I pre-ordered the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) exclusive box set on July 7, the Convention was held the weekend of July 9-12, and my set arrived on July 20.  Thats the way things should work.  So a tip of my hat to ebay seller skdauntless for the prompt shipping and a wag of my finger at the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club for the complete opposite of that.

SDCC exclusive G.I. Joe figures have been around since the dawn of the modern-era.  It started with Destro in his animal print  “pimp daddy” uniform in 2007, then Cobra Commander in a 3-piece suit in 2008, then Destro’s ancestor James McCullen IX in 2009, then Sgt. Slaugther in 2010.  The first three didn’t feel essential to me but I had to have Slaughter.  That was the first SDCC exclusive I got and I never looked back.  I picked up Zarana (both versions) in 2011 and Jinx in 2012.  In 2011 Hasbro upped the SDCC ante from just single carded figures to exclusive Transformer/G.I. Joe crossover vehicle box sets as well.  The first was Starscream as a Skystriker with Cobra Commander, then came Shockwave as a HISS tank with Destro and a B.A.T. in 2012, and lastly Jetfire as a Skystriker with Hound as a Vamp, Baroness, Snake Eyes, Ravage, and Bludgeon in 2013.   All those crossover exclusives were awesome but I was glad to see them go; that s**t was  getting expensive. I passed on the 2014 SDCC offering which was a simple repaint of the Flint, Vamp, Eel, and Raft 50th anniversary set, “Danger at the Docks”.

Outer box

Outer box

For the sake of my bank account I was really hoping the 2015 SDCC set would be something I could pass on as well.  As it turned out Hasbro released two SDCC exclusive vehicle sets this year.  The theme this year was that Cobra had captured and repainted some iconic Joe vehicles and G.I. Joe had captured and repainted some iconic Cobra vehicles. I managed to pass on the “Desert Duel” set (so far) but I could not resist the “Crimson Strike” set.  The main reason for that was the inclusion of a green, G.I. Joe deco’ed, HISS tank.  I’ll talk about that more in my next post.  For now I’m going to focus on one of the four figures included from the set, A.V.A.C. (Air Viper Advanced Class).

Inner box

Inner box

Before I get to him though I just want to quickly comment of the excellent packaging these guys came in.  First, I was quite surprised at just how large the box was.  I had no idea what I was getting into when I walked 10 minutes down to the Post Office to pick it up yesterday.  I must’ve looked quite pathetic lugging the massive box back home because some guy even pulled over to see if I needed a lift.    The box had a protective slip case that looked weathered and shot up which was pretty cool on its own but inside was another box with a really cool painted mural of the contents.  This was pure 80s throw-back awesomeness.  Anyway, on to the figure…

The first AVAC figure was released in 1986.  He was packaged with the Cobra headquarters play set, the Terrordrome. He was later available as a mail-away.  My brother Doug owned the original.  We never owned the Terrordrome and I don’t recall Doug ordering him through the mail so I’m not sure where he came from.

1986 AVAC

1986 AVAC

 

The second version was released 22 years later in 2008.  That first modern-era AVAC was built using re-used HISS Driver  and Zartan parts with a new head.  I thought it was a pretty decent update despite the fact he was Frankenstein’ed from the neck down.Joe-Avac v3 head

This new SDCC version of AVAC reuses the head, arms, and legs of the 2008 figure but uses a Crimson Guard body for the torso.  It makes for a unique look.  The Crimson Guard jacket has more of a dress uniform vibe so it makes this guy look like he could be a senior-ranking AVAC commander  What really makes this figure stand out is the paint job.  The helmet is still metallic silver but it has a red/orange visor this time.  It also has a red winged crest on the forehead and a black paint app on the breather.  The uniform is black with mostly silver highlights and red piping around the panel on his jacket.  I think it looks pretty cool.  There are a few subtle paint apps on the back but at a glance he looks to be solid black from behind.Joe-Avac v3 back

My only major issue with AVAC is that the 2007/2008 parts used to make him are getting pretty dated.  He looks scrawny and his articulation is wonky in places.  This figure really would have benefited from some newer parts.

For accessories AVAC version 3 comes with a display base, a knife that can be sheathed on his boot, and 2 machine guns which are both pretty cool looking (one even has red paint apps).

Overall, I like this figure.  If he were available at retail for around $12 he’d be a must buy.  At Convention price though I cannot recommend him unless you are absolutely compelled to acquire one of the pieces from the Crimson Strike set like I was.  7 out of 10.

2008 AVAC, 2015 AVAC, 2008 Crimson Guard

2008 AVAC, 2015 AVAC, 2008 Crimson Guard

FIRST AID (2015)

TF-First Aid fullTRANSFORMERS: COMBINER WARS

When I was a kid the only complete Combiners I owned were Devastator and Defensor.  I loved Devastator but because he was the first Combiner ever released he wasn’t exactly structurally sound.  He was made up of six equally-sized smaller robots; 4 for the limbs and 2 for the torso.  The split torso was the real problem.  Devastator crumbled every time he threw a punch. Hasbro improved on the Combiner design the following year when they opted to make a single larger robot form the torso with 4 smaller robots as the limbs.  That’s how Defensor, made up of the five Protectobots, was built. I loved all five of the Protectobots but my favourite was far and away First Aid.TF-First Aid carded

I’m not sure why I liked First Aid so much.  Maybe an episode of the old cartoon focused on him and infused him with a winning personality.  I don’t recall him ever having a shining moment in Marvel’s Transformers comic.  Maybe it was because of the brief character description on his packaging:

“Hates seeing any machine in pain — even those who don’t know it, like a broken street lamp or an overheated car. Compassionate, cautious — will restrict an Autobot to repair bay for faulty directional signal.”

Sounds like a nice guy worthy of my affection. Honestly it was probably the design of the character that appealed to me the most.  I liked his head design…I always preferred bots with Optimus Prime-like faces.  I also liked his boxy design and his red and white colour scheme.  After I got First Aid in 86/87 he quickly became one of the stars of my Transformers universe.  He didn’t need the other Protectobots to save the day, he was quite capable all on his own.  I regret getting rid of all my childhood Transformers but First Aid is one of the ones I miss the most.  Not because it was a great toy, it wasn’t, but because I loved the character so much that my imagination allowed the toy to seem better than it was.

TF-First Aid pose

Like most of the toys who formed Combiner limbs, the 1986 First Aid was a clunky crappy toy.  His legs were stuck together because he had a hunk of plastic as a uni-foot, his stubby arms didn’t bend and he had a pea-sized head.  I always had fun playing with him, and his simplicity made him durable, but the toy left a lot to be desired.  I have waited years for Hasbro to release a new and improved First Aid.  It’s been 30 years since the original figure was released and about 10 years since I started buying Transformers as an adult collector.  Hasbro has released a ton of great updates of classic Transformer toys this past decade but for some strange reason they seemed intent on denying fans of new and improved Combiners.

Then in 2012 Hasbro released updated versions of the five Combaticons who merge to form Bruticus. That was cool and all but Bruticus was a toy that my brother Doug owned when we were kids so I don’t have as strong a connection to that character.  Bruticus was a hit with Collectors so I hoped that more Combiners would follow.  It took three long years but Hasbro is finally releasing the other Combiner teams.  They’ve even rebranded the line as “Combiner Wars”.  They started with Superion in wave 1 and Menasor in wave 2.  They were cool but, again, they were both toys Doug owned.

TF-First Aid vintage

1986 First Aid

But now wave 3 has finally arrived.  Giggity Giggity.  Wave 3 consists of the five Protectobots AND all six Constructicons.  At present I’ve managed to track down 3 of the Protectobots in the wild and all 6 Constructicons are on their way to me now by way of Canada Post.  The first Protectobot I found (not including Groove) was Hot Spot, the leader of the team who forms the torso, then came Blades the helicopter, and just last night I finally found First Aid.

Combiner Wars First Aid is a retool of the Stunticon Offroad figure from wave 2 but at a glance you can barely tell they’re the same base figure.  The retool was very extensive so don’t think that this is just a repainted Offroad.  Both their robot and vehicle modes are substantially different due to all of changes.  First Aid has new legs, a new chest, new forearms, new door panels, and most importantly a new head.  Also their paint schemes are so radically different that it further sets them apart.

TF-First Aid ambulance

Offroad didn’t impress me when I picked him up a while back but I actually think this is a fantastic First Aid figure.  That’s largely because I have zero nostalgic ties to Offroad but also because the construction of this figure seems perfectly suited to First Aid. It retains all of the design elements I liked about the original while improving on pretty much everything.  It’s bigger, has a normal sized head with a painted visor, has elbows, and finally he has two legs with knees.  Essentially this toy is everything the vintage toy was in my mind’s eye.  The only thing I like less about this new figure is that he came with an axe instead of a pistol.  The axe seems too brutal for First Aid and better suited to the Decepticon Offroad.  I suppose I could pretend that the axe is a medical instrument but thats a bit of a stretch.

First Aid’s ambulance mode is fine though I do miss the boxy Mystery Machine style van of the original.

I’m extremely happy to add First Aid to my modern Transformers collection and I already know that he’s a serious contender for my year-end “best of” list.  10 out of 10.

TF-First Aid Ratchet

The Autobot medical team

TF-First Aid compare

First Aid and Offroad. Separated at birth?

THE ROCKETEER (2015)

Rocket Leg fullFUNKO LEGACY COLLECTION

The Rocketeer was a comic book mini-series created by Dave Stevens in the 80s, a movie directed by Joe Johnston in the 90s, and a comic book again in the late 2000s.  There’s not a lot of Rocketeer material out there but I grew very attached to the character anyway.  He had such a great costume that I always wanted a toy of him when I was a kid but sadly none existed.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I finally found a Rocketeer figure; though it was more like a dog toy than an action figure.  The hollow rubber toy with the red jacket was pretty underwhelming but I couldn’t pass it up because I thought it might be the only Rocketeer toy to ever get made.  For years I displayed that clunker proudly on my shelf.

I was floored a few years later when I saw the Rocketeer doll made by Medicom.  12″ inch dolls of that quality are common place now but a few years back that thing blew my mind.  I admired it every Wednesday on my weekly visits to Strange Adventures but I could never pull the trigger on the $200+ price tag.  Thankfully my girlfriend at the time came through and got it for me as a Christmas gift.  I was so pleased with it that I was certain I would never need another Rocketeer figure again because the quality of the Medicom figure would never be beat.Rocket leg boxed

Several years have passed and I was right about no one making a Rocketeer figure superior to the Medicom product but I was wrong about never needing another Rocketeer.  Damn you Funko.

I had never heard of Funko until a couple years ago.  According to Wikipedia they were founded in 1998 and started out making low-tech, nostalgia-themed toys like Bobble Heads.  The company was sold in 2005 and since then the owner has acquired a crazy amount of property licenses from comics, TV, movies, and music.

I took notice of them when they started releasing POP! vinyl figurines.  They were cute and fun and tempting to collect but I wrote them off as just another cutesy flash in the pan like Mighty Muggs.  But the line kept expanding and expanding and eventually I gave in.  I probably have about 20 POP! figures now; one of them is the Rocketeer.

Rocket Leg side

Last year Funko launched a new line of figures called ReAction.  The line began with Funko releasing a set of 80s-style action figures with 5 points of articulation based on the movie ALIEN.  Apparently the figures made it to the prototype stage when the movie first came out but they never got released.  Most likely because the film was R-rated and most kids weren’t allowed to see it.  Alien fans knew about the failed toy line though and always wanted it to see the light of day.  Funko delivered and I assume to great success because the ReAction line quickly expanded beyond ALIEN into properties like Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, and JAWS.  I now have 14 ReAction figures and I plan to buy more. One of the ReAction figures in my collection is the Rocketeer.

Lets take an inventory.  I now had a rubber bath toy Rocketeer, a super detailed 12″ collector’s piece Rocketeer, a cutesy vinyl Rocketeer, and a 3 3/4″ retro Rocketeer.  Surely that must have been enough Rocketeers, right?

Rocket leg back

Wrong.  Funko has now sold me their third variation of the Rocketeer.  This one is part of their brand new Legacy Collection; a highly-detailed line of 6″ figures.  A good portion of my toy collection is made up of 6″ figures (Masters of the Universe Classics, DC Direct, Marvel Legends, Star Wars Black, etc.) so I simply could not pass up a chance to own a compatible Rocketeer.  In truth, this is the figure I wished for when I was a kid.  As great as the Medicom doll is its not the kind of thing I ever really played with in my youth.  Had I owned it in the 1980s I probaly would’ve been too scared to touch it lest I break it so it would have sat on my shelf like a priceless heirloom as it does today.  But if I owned this Legacy Collection figure back then I’m certain I would’ve been running up and down the stairs and across the back yard with a soaring Rocketeer at the end of my outstreched arm.Rocket leg piggyback

The sculpt on this figure is great.  The pants and jacket are rife with folds and wrinkles, the boots have laces, and the jet pack is covered in vents, rivets and a wad of bubble gum.  The paint work is well done and movie accurate.  A wash of darker paint on the clothes gives them an extra level of realism.  I was super stoked that the ReAction Rocketeer had a removable helmet as it was the first to have that feature.  This figure doesn’t have a removable helmet but it  comes with 2 heads so you can display him either way.  I would’ve preferred a removable helmet but I’ll accept swappable heads if it allows for more realistic proportions ( though I had a hell of a time swapping them).

I do have a few complaints.  The head sculpt is alright but I wish it looked like actor Billy Campbell.  The paint work on the eyes makes him look either tired or crazy.  The backpack isn’t removable (at least I don’t think it is) which is also alright but a removable one would have been better.  And lastly the luger pistol he comes with doesn’t fit in his hand very well; it keeps falling out.Rocket leg head

None of these issues are deal breakers though so if you’re a Rocketeer fan you really should get this figure…even if you already have four Rocketeer figures.  9 out of 10.

Rocket Leg faceRocket leg fly

 

HARLEY QUINN (2015)

DC-Harley2 fullDC COMICS – SUPER VILLAINS

For my birthday in January 2014 Vanessa bought me my first Harley Quinn action figure.  It was based on the character’s appearance from the recently relaunched Suicide Squad comic. I liked the new costume design even though it was a pretty drastic change from Harley’s original court jester costume which I was a big fan of.

The costume change occurred in 2011 to coincide with DC’s line wide reboot known as the New 52.  Two years later Harley got her own solo comic book series and with it came another costume design but the 2013 make-over wasn’t as drastic as the 2011 one.  Most of the New 52 design elements were retained but they were tweaked to give her a roller-derby girl look.  This included the addition of knee pads, shoulder pads, elbow pads, and of course roller skates.  I really dug the new look but I don’t know if I would’ve loved it as much if Amanda Conner hadn’t drawn it; that woman can do no wrong.

I had every intention of buying the new series once the collected edition came out but based on my brother’s reviews (he’s been reading the monthly issues) I think it might be too silly for me.

art by Amanda Conner

art by Amanda Conner

 

I actually think some comics should be silly.  Too many books are dark and dreary these days and Harley’s a good candidate for silly.  But I’ve read quite a few silly books over the years (Deadpool, Bomb Queen, Superior Foes) and I just got burnt out on it.  I may still pick up the new Harley Quinn collections one of these days but for now I’ll remain a fan from afar.

Even though I’m not reading her current series I was still very excited when this figure was announced a few months back.  I immediately pre-ordered one from BigBadToyStore.  As far as I could tell it looked amazing and was influenced by Conner’s artwork.  I’ve been wishing for action figures based on her art for years.  It’s an absolute crime that DC hasn’t yet released an Amanda Conner Power Girl.DC-Harley2 hammer

 

 

There was no doubt in my mind that this new figure would be superior to the Suicide Squad Harley and I couldn’t wait to add her to my collection.  I was notified a month ago that BBTS had it in stock and ready to ship to me but I was frugal and patient.  I waited until a few more pre-orders came in before telling them to send it because I wanted to save some cash with the combined shipping.  Last week, once my Boondock Saints and Rocketeer figures were in stock,  I told BigBad to ship my package and earlier tonight it arrived.

DC-Harley2 side

I really like this Harley Quinn.  Both the sculpting and the painting are great.  The sneakers alone put the previous figure’s to shame.  Derby Harley’s shoes have sculpted laces and pompoms and multiple paint apps whereas the 2014 figure’s kicks had hardly any sculpted detail and zero paint apps.  The new Harley still has ribbed socks but ups the ante with painted stars and stripes.  The shorts are more attractive this time around and they also have additional star and diamond paint apps.  The stars and diamonds motif continues onto her elbow and shoulder pads.  Instead of a frilly collar this Harley has a choker with bells, like something a BDSM reindeer might wear.  It’s isn’t by a wide margin but I think this face sculpt is prettier too.  Trading in the black mask-like make up for a more subdued pink eyeshadow was a good call in my opinion.  The hair is similar on both figures except the new one’s pigtails are a fair bit longer.  At a glance I think the thing I most prefer about this new figure is that she’s wearing black and red like her original jester costume.  The red and blue of the Suicide Squad version isn’t as dynamic.  Also this Harley’s skin is pure white as opposed to the porcelain off-white of the other figure and the white on black contrast makes this one really pop out at ya.DC-Harley2 back

For accessories Harley comes with a pistol which can be holstered on her hip and her trademark mallet.  I’m happy to see a return to her cartoony red mallet.  The brown and grey sledge hammer that came with last figure wasn’t nearly as fun.  Also she comes with removable roller skates which plug into her sneakers.  The wheels actually spin so you can cruise her across your computer desk or kitchen floor if you’re so inclined.  I knew she had skates but I didn’t expect them to actually work or to be removable so that was a pleasant surprise.

This figure is pretty great but its not perfect.  I’m not a fan of the bell choker.  It makes it appear as though she has a really short neck.  Also the combination of the choker and the pig tails really hinder the head movement.  Lastly, this figure still doesn’t have any torso articulation which is something I griped about in my last HQ review.  She really should be able to turn at the waist.  Other than that though the articulation is good.DC-Harley2 face

 

 

I was really excited to receive this figure when I hit “send” last week and it pretty much lives up to my expectations.  Unfortunately that excitement was slightly diminished a couple of days ago thanks to an announcement at last weekend’s San Diego Comic Con.  DC Collectables revealed that they have a new Harley Quinn figure coming out next year based on Darwyn Cooke’s artwork.  Darwyn is one of the best and most unique artists in the business and his Harley looks incredible.  The design is almost identical to this figure so this figure suddenly felt kinda redundant just days before I got it.  Oh well, thats toy collecting for ya.  9 out of 10.

Darwyn Cooke's Harley (2016)

Darwyn Cooke’s Harley (2016)

...and a classic upcoming Harley figure

…and an upcoming classic Harley figure

DC-Harley2 compare

BLOWTORCH v.2 (2002)

Joe-Blowtorch v2 fullG. I. JOE VS COBRA

I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. It’s a relatively small city. Which is why I’m amazed that it’s able to sustain so many comic book stores. In downtown Halifax there’s Strange Adventures (where I go), Monster’s Comic Lounge, and until very recently Quantum Frontier. Just over the bridge in neighboring Dartmouth, which is still considered part of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), is another Strange Adventures and Giant Robot Comics. This past year, two more shops opened in Halifax suburbs, Ragnarok Comics in Bedford and Cape and Cowl Comics in my hometown of Lower Sackville. I’ve been meaning to check out both stores for months now but haven’t gotten around to it. Well last week I finally had a chance to visit both.Joe-Blowtorch v2 back

Mid-week I popped into Ragnarok.  It was a decent little shop but they didn’t have a whole lot of merchandise and it felt rather generic. The guy at the counter was nice enough and made some small talk so I would definitely go back. I bought a Bret “the Hitman” Hart Simpsons figure from him and went on my merry way. It’s in an area with very little foot traffic but I hope they succeed there as it’s the comic store that’s nearest to my apartment building and I like the idea of being able to walk there.

On the weekend I went out to Sackville for dinner at my parent’s place. They were hosting a small family get together because my cousin Greg was visiting from Ottawa (he’s the guy that got me into collecting comics and listening to heavy metal when I was eight). Since I was in Sackville on a sunny afternoon I figured it would be a good day to check out Cape and Cowl.Joe-Blowtorch v2 face

The shop owner is a friend of mine named Jay who used to work at Strange Adventures. He posts pictures of his shop on facebook all the time so I knew what to expect when I got there but I gotta say I was really impressed upon seeing it in person. The whole place was clean and organized and there was plenty of room to walk around. There were shelves full of toys and graphic novels but it didn’t feel cluttered at all like some of the other local shops do. There was an old school Nintendo and a new-school X-Box available to play which I’m sure are a hit with kids and gamers. The walls were painted vibrant colours and adorned in original art for sale. There was a large back room as well where Jay hosts birthday parties and runs a literacy program. It’s a fantastic looking store and I hope Sackville supports him as a young entrepreneur.

I did my part by buying a Darkseid POP! figure and a handful of loose G.I. Joes that were in a box on the front counter. It’s not often that you find Joe figures for three bucks a piece these days so I scooped up all the ones I didn’t already own.  As it turned out Jay had acquired the Joes from my old friend Paul, a guy I haven’t seen since high school, whom I ran into while browsing the store that day. All four of the Joes I picked up were from the new-sculpt years (2002-2007). I was an avid collector at the time but there was a lot of product available back then and none of it was available in my area so quite a few figures slipped past me. This Blowtorch figure is one of the ones I missed out on even though I thought it was a great update to the character.

2002 vs 2009

2002 vs 2009

The original Blowtorch wore a bright red and yellow padded outfit.  He returned to that look for the modern-era which I was glad to see because I’m a sucker for the classic looks but I do appreciate that the new-sculpt designs weren’t as beholden to what had come before.  The figures were aimed at kids back then so they looked more contemporary as opposed to now where the figures are geared towards nostalgic old guys like me.  This Blowtorch has a brown outfit with gold armour plating.  Perhaps it was ahead of its time because I think it has a steam punk vibe to it.  The proportions are good and the articulation is great.  This was a vast improvement over the first wave of new-sculpt figures which had traded in the classic O-ring construction for a dreaded T-crotch.

I really like the head sculpt on this figure but it looks more like Duke than Blowtorch.  The vintage figure had parted brown hair whereas this guy has slicked back blonde locks.  I wish Hasbro was more consistent when it came to things like this but because its such a good head sculpt I’ll forgive them this time.Joe-Blowtorch v2 carded

Cape and Cowl didn’t have any of the weapons with the loose figures which I’m fine with but thankfully Blowtorch had his removable helmet at least.   The helmet has large red eyes and looks rather bug-like.  Based on the helmet alone I would think this would be a more appropriate update to the Joe team’s other flamethrower trooper, Charbroil.

This figure originally came packaged with the first new-sculpt Snow Serpent, a figure which I did acquire back then either from ebay or some other online retailer.  Had I known this figure was as cool as it is I would’ve made more of an effort to seek it out too.  8 out of 10.

Cape and Cowl Comics

Cape and Cowl Comics

SSSQUEEZE (2015)

MOTUC-Squeeze fullMASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS

The Masters of the Universe Classics toy line is slated to wrap up by the end of the year.  I’ll be sad to see it go because it provided me with so many great figures over the past seven years but at the same time it’ll be nice to have one less expense each month.  Also on the plus side is that the toy line came to a natural end.  It really sucks when  something you love, whether its a TV show, a movie series, a comic book, or a toy line, gets cancelled before it’s run its course.  A prime example would be the 2002 Masters of the Universe reboot.  Both the cartoon and toy line got cancelled abruptly so story lines went unresolved and figures of key characters never got made (including Sssqueeze).  When the MOTU Classics line first started in 2008 the goal was to produce updated versions of all the vintage figures.  I never thought they’d get there but by the end of 2015 all of the vintage MOTU characters will be accounted for along with the majority of the Princess of Power characters and a healthy dose of New Adventures characters too.  On top of that we also got Classics figures based on the old cartoon, the 2002 cartoon, the comics, concept art, and completely original characters.  I think Classics will go down in history as one of the best toy lines of all time.  It’s a shame so few kids know about it.MOTUC-Squeeze back

One of the reasons that this collector aimed line has survived as long as it has is due to the clever reuse of parts.  Many of the figures share torsos and limbs which reduces tooling costs.  This recycling of parts is likely the main reason why some of the most oddly shaped vintage toys were not tackled sooner; they cost too much to produce.  But in an effort to achieve their original goal of getting all the vintage toys remade by years end Mattel has pulled out all the stops for these final months.  Case in point, this past June they give us Multi-Bot, the six-legged two-headed android who is 100% brand new parts AND the Snake Man with the constrictor arms: Sssqueeze.

The first three Snake Men were added to the MOTU mythology in 1986, four years into the vintage toy line, as a new faction of   villains.  They were King Hiss, Rattlor, and Tongue Lasher.  Two more followed in 1987; Snake Face and Sssqueeze.   The only vintage Snake Man I owned as a kid was King Hiss but I would’ve loved to have all of them.  Tongue Lasher and Sssqueeze were especially desirable because of their cool play features.  Tongue Lasher had a long tongue that flicked in and out and Sssqueeze had long wiry snake arms.  The snake arms were slightly ridiculous looking but very unique even in a line as diverse as MOTU.

1987 Sssqueeze

1987 Sssqueeze

Tooling costs aside, I’d bet figuring out to to make those snake arms work on a Classics figure deterred Mattel from updating Sssqueeze sooner.  Almost none of the play features from the vintage toy line were carried over into the Classics figures.  Instead, features were approximated with additional parts.  For example: Instead of Mekaneck’s neck actually extending when you twisted his waist like it did on the vintage toy, an extra neck piece was added to the Classics figure to replicate the elongated neck, and instead of Mantenna’s eyes bugging out with the push of a button like they did on the vintage toy, swappable protruding eyes were included with the Classics version.   So you couldn’t help but wonder how Mattel would apply this method of approximation to Sssqueeze.  Would they package him with a second set of arms or arm extending pieces like they did with Extendar?

2002 animated Sssqueeze

2002 animated Sssqueeze

As it turns out Mattel decided to faithfully replicate the vintage play feature and give the Classics Sssqueeze fully posable wire arms.  The constrictor arms look great and are very posable.  The fact that Mattel was able to make the feature work so well while maintaining the collector-level sculpting makes me wish that they had tried a little harder to work some of the other play features into Classics figures.  Adding pieces to Mekaneck’s neck works okay and it looks good enough for display purposes but those old-school functional play features just made the vintage toys so much fun.

Sssqueeze features quite a few new parts and they all look fantastic.  The look is very true to the original figure.  His whole body is covered in scales and his armour has some cool little details too. The colours look very nice as well.  The almost florescent green skin really pops and I love how it looks against the multi-coloured armour.  Mattel could’ve cheaped out on painting the armour and I doubt anyone would have noticed but they didn’t.  The grey boots have silver highlights and the orange wrist bands have shimmery metallic highlights.MOTUC-Squeeze arms

The head sculpt is excellent but, just as with the original, Sssqueeze looks more like an alligator than a snake.  Thats fine with me though as it adds more diversity to the Snake Men. For accessories he came with a twisty purple snake staff just as the original did but I forgot to take any pictures of him with it.  I also forgot to include Snake Face in the group shot below.  I must’ve been half asleep when taking these pics.

Final Thoughts: I love this figure.  Not only does it look incredible but it’s super fun to play with and really what more could you ask of a toy?  10 out of 10.MOTUC-Squeeze crush

 

 

 

 

(UPDATE:  I wrote this on Wednesday but am just getting it posted on Sunday.  Over the weekend it was announced at the San Diego Comic Con that Masters of the Universe Classics will continue on into 2016.  They revealed some great looking figures so I guess my wallet will continue to suffer.)

Snake Men Group Hug!

Snake Men Group Hug!

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