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By Thomas Wheeler

Arguably the second best-known four-wheeled assault vehicle in the G.I. Joe line-up, after the VAMP, of course, is the A.W.E. STRIKER. First introduced in 1985, this lighter-weight vehicle, but not at all implausible in design (in fact if memory serves, something very similar was used early on in Operation Desert Storm), came with a driver figure named Crankcase.

The A.W.E. Striker has since seen quite a few variations on its theme in the years since its original introduction. The earliest variant was probably not its most dignified. It was recolored in a fairly intense blue, with yellow trim, and turned out as part of the Eco-Warriors series, under the name "Eco-Striker". Subsequently, the A.W.E. Striker was released in black, and in a grey and black camouflage pattern, during the later years of the Real American Hero line, in one instance sold in an exclusive two-pack with the Whirlwind Battle Gun, and three figures -- Pathfinder, Big Brawler, and Chief Torpedo.

The A.W.E. Striker is probably best described as a well-armed military dune buggy. It certainly has the basic appearance of such a vehicle. It has a fairly low to the ground body, rather angular in appearance, with an open framework around the seats. The vehicle is designed to seat two, while two additional figures can stand on the running boards on the sides of the vehicle. The running boards are designed to look like grated metal. The engine is in the back of the vehicle, underneath a protective cover.

Atop the vehicle is a large cannon, non-firing, since this vehicle is from the days before G.I. Joe integrated anything spring loaded into its line. The design of the AWE-Striker is such to suggest that this large cannon is controlled from the passenger seat, via a small camera that is used to aim the cannon. This camera is adjustable, and a cable runs from the back of it to the cannon mount on the roof. Obviously, none of this is actually functional, but it's really a clever design in and of itself, and pretty well answers the question, "Okay, so they've got a big cannon on the roof -- How are they supposed to fire the thing?"

The vehicle overall is actually a very clever and surprisingly complex design for such a seemingly simple item. Each of the four wheels has its own limited "suspension", the better to allow it to handle rough terrain. The two front wheels actually turn in unison, to the left and to the right. The engine cover in the back is removable, as is the engine itself. There's a fuel port on the engine cover. All 1985 vehicles -- even the Cobra ones -- had this feature. It was designed to allow all vehicles from that year to be able to make use of the fuel trailer that came with 1985's major release, the largest G.I. Joe item ever produced, the U.S.S. Flagg Aircraft Carrier!

One amusing thing about the AWE-Striker is how little has really changed about it over the years. The copyright statement on the underside of the vehicle still bears a 1985 date, and reads, "Hasbro Bradley". This was the name the company briefly used when they acquired the Milton Bradley game company.

Hasbro has been re-releasing quite a generous number of G.I. Joe vehicles for the current line, most of them derived directly from their ancestors. Unlike the figures themselves, the vehicles have not, for the most part, seen substantial redesign. In a few cases some of the markings are different, but that's about it. Otherwise, the vehicles are much as they were when they were first released. It's a superb opportunity for those who missed those vehicles the first time around, or whose vehicles might not have, for whatever reason, weathered the years all that well, to pick up agreeable replacements.

But the AWE-Striker is a different matter -- for this reason. This is actually its second release within the 25th-style line. The AWE-Striker first appeared earlier this year as part of a threesome of Target exclusives that preceded the general release of any vehicles -- probably to see how viable the idea of adding vehicles was to the G.I. Joe line in the first place. It certainly succeeded, as that AWE-Striker, accompanied by a Cobra HISS and a recolored SHARC renamed the Night Specter, pretty well shot out of Targets nationwide in short order.

But here we have the dilemma. While the SHARC/Night Specter was a substantial recoloration from its original counterpart, and the HISS Tank was a moderate recoloration, done in dark blue instead of the original black, the AWE-Striker from the Target series was done in its original color, a nicely military olive green.

In the general release G.I. Joe vehicles, both the HISS and the SHARC have been turned out in their original color schemes. But offering the AWE-Striker in its original color scheme a second time didn't make a lot of sense. What to do?

Hasbro came up with a superb solution -- they produced the AWE-Striker in a very impressive desert tan! That wasn't the only color alteration, either. The original green AWE-Striker (and its 25th Anniversary counterpart) was very green. Almost the entire vehicle was green, right down to the framework around the seats, and the cannon. The new version is a little more extensive with its color usage. While the main body of the vehicle is tan, the framework, cannon, engine cover, and headlight framework are all a very dark grey. It's a nice color variance that somehow lends a greater air of authenticity to the vehicle. There was something almost too -- toy-like -- about the all-green AWE-Striker (not to put it down, it's a perfectly fine vehicle).

Additionally, the seats for the vehicle, which are molded as part of the underside of the AWE-Striker, have been molded in a slightly darker tan, which again, just adds a little more to the authentic look of this superb version of the AWE-Striker.

It's also worth noting that this is not the first time a popular G.I. Joe vehicle has done a green-to-tan shift over two different versions. Whether intentional or not, this is a nice little nod to the first two versions of the VAMP. The original, released in 1982, was green. The VAMP Mk. II, released in 1984 and essentially identical to the first, except for the addition of a roof, doors, and a missile rack, was colored mostly in tan.

And, this is also the first time the AWE-Striker has appeared in this color scheme -- almost. At least it is within the G.I. Joe line. And I should explain that comment.

The AWE-Striker, under a different name, put in one appearance outside of the world of G.I. Joe. In the mid 1990's, the AWE-Striker was enlisted into the short-lived line of toys based on the original STARGATE movie. Dubbed the "All-Terrain Cruiser", it was a decent complement to Col. O'Neill's crew, since they pretty much wound up on a desert planet. This was a somewhat unusual version of the vehicle, as it needed a new single- seat set-up to accommodate the larger size of the Stargate figures, and it was molded in a paler tan than this new AWE-Striker, and the framework around the driver's area was done in a rather oddball turquoise. It also traded in the non-firing cannon for a small spring- loaded missile launcher.

So technically speaking, this new AWE-Striker is the second tan version of the vehicle, but it's the first to be officially part of the G.I. Joe line, and I would also have to say that the overall color scheme (and admittedly the seating arrangements) are both a vast improvement over the STARGATE version.

The AWE-Striker has a few of its more prominent labels applied -- very nicely, I might add -- but the vehicle does come with a surprisingly extensive label sheet for the buyer to work with, as well. Now, while I don't like to recommend not completing a vehicle, there are a couple of the labels that, in my past experience, just don't adhere as well as they should, and they're the ones that say "Watch Your Head" and need to be put on the rollbar above the driver's and passenger's side. They just don't hold the narrow curve of the rollbar that well. However, this is entirely you're discretion. I'm pleased to have such a nice supply of well-made labels.

About the only criticism I can levy against this item is the packaging. While Hasbro has come up with a good standard size of box, which is on the whole a very impressively done window box that showcases the vehicle and its driver against a nicely-illustrated battlefield backdrop, and the box size is idea for accommodating either one medium sized vehicle, such as the VAMP, or the HISS, or the Firebat -- or two smaller vehicles, such as the RAM Motorcycle, Serpentor's Air Chariot, and such, there is a mild problem with the AWE-Striker. Technically, two small problems. The very long radio antennae perched on either side.

In order to fit in the box, these have to be bent down somewhat. And they tend to stay curved and bent when you extract the vehicle. I am not aware of any reports of these antennae actually breaking, and they're molded from a moderately flexible plastic, so they should be able to take the bend, but it's still a somewhat unfortunate situation. Granted, it doesn't look too bad if you pivot the antennae around to be curved towards the back once you have it out of its box. Sort of looks like the vehicle is racing off to the battlefield.

And, comparing this AWE-Striker to its similarly-packaged green cousin from some months ago, it looks like it's entirely possible that the antennae might regain some of their original straight shape. The antennae on my green AWE-Striker are nowhere near as curved as on the tan one. I'll have to keep an eye on this.

Otherwise, the vehicle is truly superb, and far more than most of the vehicles in this current line, is a highly distinctive and unique addition to anyone's G.I. Joe Motor Pool.

Now, let's consider the driver. It's LEATHERNECK, who hasn't really had any particular association with the AWE-Striker before, but I suspect Hasbro didn't want to re-release Crankcase again.

If the AWE-Striker is the second best known four-wheeled vehicle within the ranks of G.I. Joe, then Leatherneck is arguably the G.I. Joe team's second most popular Marine, after Gung-Ho. Introduced in 1986, Leatherneck came across as being even more rough and tough than Gung-Ho, he was somewhat more authentically dressed as a Marine (as opposed to Gung-Ho's open-vest-look-at-my-big-Marine-Corps-chest-tattoo look), and was just about as ill-tempered as his frequent feuding opponent, the Navy SEAL known as Wet-Suit.

This Leatherneck figure is a very decent 25th-style likeness of the original figure, although I would suspect that most of the body pieces, except for the head, probably come from other figures. Whether this is true, and who they come from, I couldn't really say. The headsculpt is a decent likeness, and I also admire the fact that they got the insignia on Leatherneck's sleeve done correctly, relative to the original. I appreciate that sort of attention to detail.

However, distinctly worth mentioning is the fact that this Leatherneck figure has a very particular color scheme. The original Leatherneck figure in 1985 was wearing a mostly green uniform, with a limited amount of tan, and some camouflage on the otherwise green outfit. There was, however, a second, and rather scarce, version of that original Leatherneck. In 1986, there was a Toys "R" Us exclusive five-pack of figures, which included a new character named Claymore, and extensively recolored versions of four 1986 G.I. Joes, including Mainframe, Dial-Tone, Wet-Suit -- and Leatherneck.

This exclusive Leatherneck had a mostly tan uniform, sans camouflage, with a brown vest rather than a tan one. It is this rare color scheme that has been duplicated on this 25th-style Leatherneck figure. It makes sense -- putting Leatherneck in his green uniform and selling him with a tan AWE-Striker wouldn't've looked that good. But this way -- it's a nice little modern nod to one of the more popular (and scarce) store exclusives from the original line. And he blends better with the vehicle.

I initially didn't think that Leatherneck came with any accessories (other than the AWE-Striker, which is hardly an "accessory"). This struck me as a little unusual, especially since there was a nicely detailed pistol holster on his upper right leg that was clearly designed to accommodate a separate and removable firearm. I eventually discovered a small bag taped underneath the backdrop insert inside the box that included a battle stand with Leatherneck's name on it, molded in black, and two separate weapons, molded in grey and very well-detailed. They include a rifle, and, indeed, a pistol for the holster.

Of course, Leatherneck comes with a file card, which reads as follows:

File Name: Metzger, Wendell A.
Primary Military Specialty: Infantry
Secondary Military Specialty: Drill Sergeant
Birthplace: Stromsburg, Nebraska

Leatherneck was the hardest gunny that ever slogged through the mud of Camp Lejeune. Before that, he was the toughest drill sergeant on Parris Island. Men that have gone through this training say they would rather crawl through broken glass than be on his bad side. He demands countless push-ups for mistakes and enjoys leading 30-mile hikes through the hot and humid Parris Island swamps. He insists he is a tough disciplinarian because he wants his soldiers to be prepared for the worst, and when you have dealt with Cobra forces as often as he has, you come to expect the worst.

"There's only one way to train: HARD! So drop and give me fifty!"

Pretty much how the character came across in both the animated series, where he arguably saw the most time, and in the comic book. I should try to find out if he's the only member of the Joe team to hail from Nebraska.

Now, here's where things get interesting -- the AWE-Striker has a file card, too! Where was THIS cool idea 26 years ago!? The protruding "tab" on the card is set to the right, as opposed to the left, as is the picture, but it's otherwise a straightforward VEHICLE file card. I've seen it on the outside of some of the other recent vehicle packages, as well (although these file cards were packed on the inside). The AWE- Striker's file card reads as follows"

TYPE: Ground Assault/Transport Vehicle
DESIGNATION: All Terrain Vehicle
WEAPONS: 70mm automatic anti-tank launcher

The G.I. Joe team has a fleet of A.W.E. Striker vehicles customized for different environments. These swift, sturdy ATV's never flinch in the face of a rough, hostile landscape. This particular version is designed to blend into the desert; it chews up the sand with ease on its way to chewing out Cobra forces. Four-wheel suspension and highly responsive steering provide excellent stability and handling over rocky and shifting ground. The 70mm cannon can be used for both anti-armor and anti-aircraft attack/defense.

Now, that's a heck of a file card. It relates the steering and suspension capabilities of the toy, mentions the weapon, and not only explains why this one is tan, for desert use, but acknowledges the previous AWE-Striker versions! I am suitably impressed.

So what's my final word here? I'm being admittedly very picky about which new G.I. Joe items I am bringing into my collection. I suspect a large part of this is due to the fact that I still have the vast majority of my original collection. But this A.W.E.-Striker impresses me. It's a cool new color scheme that has never been used before within G.I. Joe, and the fact that it is not ENTIRELY tan, but rather intersperses some dark grey in its overall design, gives it a little more of an authentic look than some of its predecessors. As for Leatherneck, at the very least the uniform colors are a nice nod to a well-regarded version of the classic character.

But certainly, the vehicle itself is a worthy recoloration and addition to any G.I. Joe collection. As such, the G.I. JOE 25th-Style A.W.E. STRIKER with Leatherneck definitely has my considerable recommendation!