Ah, GI Joe. Yes I am often labeled a "hater" by so many Joe fans because rather than except any old BS explanation I tend to call Hasbro to task, especially when what they say runs totally opposite to what we end up seeing. I say this now because guess what, there are some prime examples of this behavior within this review. Sorry Hasbro fans, despite a ton of PR to the contrary, there is a bunch of stuff going on in the Joe line.
Of course I am not talking about the delay in the movie or the associated movie line (beyond what has been released). rumors the movie is much worse than the first effort, PR to try to counter it and rumors of reshoots, recalls of the toyline, ect, ect. This has been discussed and discussed and while some are screaming "crisis" all I can say is all of this makes expectations go from "OH" to "Huh?" in my mind. I can't comment on the movie, but I have to say the toyline has left me cold for the most part, losing articulation doesn't make me a happy camper (go ask the Avengers line that never hardly sees me except when I am looking for Black Widow).
Still I'm labeled a hater because I notice something, or because not everything is gold or whatever reason those who toss labels like that do want to do, ect. And I generally just chuckle about it and go on. But you (the reader) need to know that yet again I have noticed something odd and I'm sure the hater-haters are going to be out in force. Some feel a compulsion to counter any bad statement (because let's face it, with all that has gone on, there is a lot to be negative about, I mean things just don't look great or even good at all right now). Then of course there is this article I referenced once before about how Hasbro choices are hurting them financially. What is very telling is the response in the Q&A section linked to the article. That despite all signs to the contrary Hasbro employees believe they are going in the right directional and things are just fine. Sure.
Of course what happens here is you tend to have people stick up for Hasbro when I, a fan myself, point these things out. Again it's the classic "Oh no, they know what they are doing/can do no wrong" kind of responses. Funny thing is that I never see this as strongly as I do in the GI Joe fandom (although I am seeing a shift of late). What that tells me is that Hasbro has a fiercely loyal fan base that they have been discounting. Sure, they claim to be making this stuff for kids, but the marketing strategy is clearly aimed at adults. Like in the article above though if the direction seems weird they just say "Oh, this is for kids, not you" yet every ounce of marketing they do is for the adult fan. Yeah, I can't quite figure this out either but I mention it because it becomes a huge deal later.
So as a result the pickings for GI Joe are going to be slim, and that is a shame when you think about it. Despite my "hater" status I really love GI Joe, I mean where else can Ninjas mix it up with Zombies and Bikers all while having the backdrop of realistic (kind of) military. It's a fun area of collecting and storytelling when you really think about it and is hard to translate into any media because there are SOO many aspects that some feel well about and others hate with a passion.
The really weird thing I have seen with GI Joe is a lack of identity, it seems every year we get a new series that starts the clock over with the same ten or so characters again and again with a sprinkle of some new or at least some long classic (and often ignored) elements. The thing is (and I include myself in this) we Joe fans gleefully march on and snag up the Cobra Commander's, Snake Eyes, Duke's (OK maybe not him) and the rest, why do we do it? I don't know and I am just as guilty as everyone else. More so than any line it seems GI Joe reuses characters over and over. Star Wars tends to catch this criticism but when you compare the releases it shows drastically.
With the Retaliation line we saw this again, but this time it wasn't an improvement like 30th or even POC lines. While some are pointing out some good points to the figures there is a big elephant in the room, the articulation has changed and been downgraded on many figures. The vehicle drivers suffer the worst of course, but many of the Wave 1 figures have some sort of reduced articulation (but wave 2 and up appear to be ok, however we won't see those until 2013 now so there you go).
Then, out of the blue comes a bunch of repaints for Dollar General. Color me surprised but a DG exclusive is unusual on many levels however many of the releases are more appealing than the Retaliation first wave, weird right.
One of the big things here is when Hasbro was prompted about why they didn't simply repaint old figures bodies for drivers (since most appear to be based on established characters0 the claim was it cost less to make new molds than repaint them. So after that Hasbro responds with a wave of repaints that are significantly lower in price than the Retaliation line. No, that is not my entire point in anything, but rather the first thing I open the door with.
So let's talk about the figures themselves and I will get to those other points in a bit, in other words pay attention and get your hatorade on ;-)
The backbone of the Cobra forces is the trooper of course and once again we get yet another trooper. This time he is painted in all black rather than simply just in blue. There are some who are calling this an homage to "Night Watch." I unfortunately feel this is rather simplistic thinking on many fans part. He's dressed in black so he must be Night Watch trooper. Thing is the Night Watch troopers were not originally in black but grayish-blue. Oh well.
Still it's a cool figure and looks much better in black than it did in blue. Of course all the articulation is there (Surprise) and the helmet is removable. Honestly when I look at the Retaliation trooper and then look at this I can't help but feel this is many times better. Also it looks a bit more accurate to the few stills we have seen of the movie of the Cobra Troopers which begs the question "What's up with those bright Retaliation troopers?"
He's a simple yet very effective repaint and the silver Cobra logo just rocks on this figure. My gripe would have to be the lack of pistol and knife for the sheaves. I'm sure some will say that is a cost cutting measure (more later0 but I just feel having a holster without a gun is kind of a weak move. In fact I would rather have the pistol and knife than the rifle if I had to make a choice in the matter. Still I think I could scrounge up some extras so nothing major.
Overall this is a no-brainer, a cool version of the basic troop to add to the armies at a reasonable price, grab it.
But what about the Cobra Leader himself:
Way back when Comic Packs were still around (never did quite figure out why they quit making those, they seemed to sell well everywhere I went) the Tripwire/Cobra Commander pack contained a really cool looking mold for Cobra Commander. This time the mold was painted black and some parts were swapped out (Almost every review site has listed the parts and I don't feel like going back over them) and came up with a pretty rocking version of CC. Up front I'm going to say the arms/forearm joint is my major knock (see the pic above that illustrates how the two kind of don't complement each other).
Cobra Commander comes with a sword and a gun, and that's all he needs when you think about it. Unlike Cobra Trooper he doesn't have holsters that are weaponless (thank goodness). He could use a few more paint apps, like on the chest and such, but really he looks fine without them too. He really matches up with the Resolute box set version of CC in my opinion as a great hooded version of CC in that outfit. The other thing I wish they had done was brought over the cape the Comic pack version had (and recolored it blue). I have been thinking that cape from the Crimson procession might work, but I have forgotten where it ended up in my collection so I haven't tried it yet. Truth be told I like this ten times more than I do the Retaliation version. Not only is the articulation where I like it but the look overall is much more esthetically pleasing to me.
Not a tough call, and even though I have a whole big bunch of CC's at this point, this one works as a new addition. The arms could be better but beyond that he fits well even in spite of the fact the extra paints would make him look even nicer. I admit he temps me to break out some paints and try to add some detail to that chest, maybe some day.
So the next one I am kicking myself over:
So when I reviewed the 30th anniversary Storm Shadow last year I said "it will be hard to justify another Storm Shadow after this." I said that I probably wouldn't buy another and I honestly meant it. When I first saw pictures of this figure I wasn't too impressed to be honest. In fact, I barely noticed him. Then I was out looking for CC and the Trooper and I saw this Storm Shadow, ARRRRGH, so here I am just barely 6 months past my no more Stormy pledge (with the exception of being forced into one like a multi-pack) and here I have another Storm Shadow.
It helps that this figure and 30th share the same body mold I admit, I was never a huge fan of The Ninja Force version but somehow this one grew on me in about 10 seconds of seeing him. I admit fully I like 30th much, much better. But I like this one too. I seriously fought the urge but I justified it by the fact Retaliation got moved to next year (which freed up a ton of my budget for the year too).
Unlike the Ninja Force version the "snowflake" pattern is not present and to be honest that works greatly for me. It's odd that Storm Shadow is in mostly black and yet works great. Some have pointed out this should be listed as a Joe, personally I think Storm Shadow's allegiance is screwed up enough as it is and should be left alone. Let's quit convoluting the issue further.
Although he comes with a sword and the compound bow from Shadow Tracker I tend to think he looks better with 30th Storm Shadow's gear (and as a result the Compound bow is going to my Ultimate Hawkeye ).
The one thing is about changing that gear is the peg hole in the back isn't very accommodating to the peg (insert your own "That's what she said" joke here). It does make me wonder as Hasbro is known to alter the figs slightly with remolds. Still it will stay in but it takes some work (This one is a "That's what he said" joke for you, just to be even).
I admit he is hard to justify after 30th Stormy, but still something compelled me to grab it. Not nostalgia or anything but just a cool repaint. See I told you us Joe fans gleefully grab up the same characters over and over.
I can't say he is a must have, and to be honest his gear is a bit of a letdown (But to be fair the NF Stormy only came with an oversized Kama and Sword too, so I guess by that argument he works as well). Still he kind of looks cool and I suppose that is what matters most. If you missed 30th (or are just a Storm Shadow fan in general) would recommend him.
Now for a figure that is going to open up a huge can of worms, yeah I know.
So I do have to admit the first wave of Retaliation figures kind of left me cold. Cobra Trooper was too bright, Cobra commander's and Rock-blocks articulation was scaled back, Zartan looked like he was wearing a uni-tard, I was never a fan of Joe troopers or Duke really. So that leaves me with something interesting in the first wave: Red Ninja. I admit some of the figs I was most looking forward to were in later waves (Better Rock-block, Willis as Colton, Blind Master, ect). But this Red Ninja used 30th Stormy as a base which worked great for me.
When all this craziness after Battleship bombed started happening I heard a bunch of panic on the interwebs and figured Red Ninja would be impossible to track down. To my surprise I ended up finding him and I grant you I do want more but I can wait (As I am sure he will be re-released in 2013) and I am not willing to pay the scalpers for him (doing that just feeds the machine that keeps scalping going if you ask me).
So we all know the drill, Hasbro said they scaled back the articulation to "Maximize profits" more on that later. But with this figure they didn't have to as it's mostly a repaint (with newish lower legs and forearms and hands). They also added rocker ankles to which I say "YAY!" While GI Joe has lost that "innovator of articulation" status (which now goes to Marvel Universe who first initiated the rocker ankles), it is nice to see new articulation points.
The figure is cool but is lacking in the accessory department with only two swords. It might have been nice to add a sheath of some kind as well, but I guess Hasbro had other plans.
More than one person has pointed out this figure looks great as a Hand Ninja and I have to agree.
This probably will make the figure even MORE desirable, but as a result I am wanting a few to add to the Marvel Universe Collection.
Red has had a few stabs by Hasbro over the years and this is by far the best effort to date. The last one was based on the 25th Storm Shadow mold and while pretty good wasn't something I wanted to break my neck to acquire (And as such I never bought the Red Ninja pack from TRU). The price is a bit of a shock (being about $2-$3 dollars more than even the 30th anniversary Joes which included much more in the way of accessories which begs the question why no Sheath for the swords).
Now I have been saying get ready for controversy for a while, so here goes:
The big thing about this figure is when you compare him to the much cheaper Dollar General Storm Shadow something is amiss. We have been told that paint was apps scaled back to "Maximize profits" and yet the cheaper figs appears to have more paint apps. This is especially apparent with the hands and while arguments about gloves could explain it just sticks out like a sore thumb to me. What is driving up the costs?
What is especially disturbing is in relation to the vehicle drivers which are articulated like 1970's Star Wars figures but we are told it is more expensive to repaint an old mold than to make one of these molds. However if the prices of the crappy Batman figures can be believed (and I admit there can be an argument for gouging there when you look at Bane for instance), the price appears to be virtually the same when compared to the DG Joes (keeping in mind that the drivers probably won't have accessories as is the pattern with many, but not all, vehicle drivers). So again what is driving up the costs here?
Well it's not the battle stands, the DG Joes came with those but the Retaliation figs are not included with them at all. Again these were cut out as a cost saving measure, so you kind of look around and see that you are not getting the maximum for your dollar in Retaliation. We had a similar situation with Rise of Cobra in which the cost jumped a good $2 dollars at most retail stores and we never really got an explanation why (Some claimed actor likenesses and while it was easy to joke the figs looked nothing like the actors, the truth is that was fan speculation only, Hasbro never really gave an explanation but did eventually admit that the figures were priced too high). This time there are fewer character likenesses to actors as most of the main characters are masked, so that can't be it.
So again what is driving up costs on these figures? What is the common thread between Rise of Cobra line and the Retaliation line?
That spring loaded crap. This is just speculation (and probably sounds ludicrous to some) but noticed that when the priced dropped from ROC to POC the spring loaded junk went away. Sure some say POC didn't sell, but the only fig I saw that didn't sell was Artic Destro (keeping in mind he was a carry over into virtually every single wave from the time he was introduced in Wave 2).
So is this it, is this why the price has jumped. If you think about it Hasbro has for years sighted the metal screws and t-hooks as a huge cost increase to GI Joe (it was their justification for the horrid GI Joe vs. Cobra T-crotch figures in 2002). Springs are made of metal. Is that a stretch, probably, but when you put all the cards on the table it's hard not to notice something is amiss. Hasbro said it was cheaper to make new static molds and then turns around and releases a repaint wave sighting paint apps being lessened to reduce costs. We get Retaliation with reduced paint apps and articulation and they end up being MORE which I think will hurt this line ultimately (I do believe the good sales we are seeing is more of a panic to the moving of the movie right now).
But either way, the inclusion of the spring loaded mess launchers does beg the question: WHY? They never helped Rise of Cobra (that anyone can tell), and while the argument that these are added for the kiddies is a pretty popular one it begs another question: Has there ever been a toyline that spring loaded launchers actually helped? I can't think of one. In fact my memory is that in 1992 the spring loaded launchers ended up hurting GI Joe. Some sight Clone Wars, but didn't we just get told that line has poor sales (After being told for years it sells great) and is getting scaled back as well-HMMMM.
Of course there is the "maximize profits" remark, note it doesn't say anywhere that they were cutting costs or passing savings on to the customer, right.
But one of the most telling tales is the 3-packs which are $20 dollars, mostly repaints and have more accessories, how can 3 figures cost nearly the same as two and be profitable? The world may never know
But in the end it doesn't matter, the high prices on these figures caused me to scale back my purchases and some figures I was on the fence about got put into the "don't get" category (Wave 1 Rock-block topping that list). Hey, I'm not made of money and while some call me cheap I also have this powerful need to eat and don't feel like taking money from my family's dinner budget to pay for my toy addiction (which is why I still don't have an SDCC Zarana, curse you Hasbro). Even though the line has been pushed back I still am holding back because I know some better versions of Rock and some better characters are out there.
So with that you who desire to can start the apologizing and lame explanations for Hasbro, I'm sure there are plenty ;-) (and some typo of mine will probably some up in that two ;-) ).
(yes, the "two" is intended to be ironic there).
However, the Red Ninja is a cool figure, I am sure he is going to be high up on my end of the year list (Just a note there are barely ten figures on that list right now, sad year eh).
Red Ninjas are by no means a must have for the Cobra forces but if you want Ninja canon fodder for your Joe ninjas this is the best yet.