REVIEW: 2012 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CONVENTION: OKTOBER GUARD "Dnepr" MOTORCYCLE
The 2012 Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention featured a boxed set of figures for 3-3/4" collectors that starred a highly popular team within the world of G.I. Joe, that almost certainly would not have had much chance to be brought into the modern figure format had it not been for this Convention Set.
I am referring to the OKTOBER GUARD, the Soviet counterpart to the G.I. Joe team! (Of course, most of them will argue that the G.I. Joe team is the American counterpart to them, and an inferior one at that.)
The Oktober Guard has had a rather rough and rocky road when it comes to action figures. When the G.I. Joe team first made its appearance in 3-3/4" figure form in 1982, it was determined that some sort of enemy force was needed. The original 12" G.I. Joe had never really had one, not counting a rather lame group of cavemen called the Intruders during the Adventure Team days. And no one was terribly inclined to bring in any of the oddities from the short-lived Super Joe era.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was supposed to be reasonably realistic, at least moreso than that. Nevertheless, nobody really wanted to face the political consequences of creating an enemy force based on a real-world adversary of the United States. The Cold War was still very much in effect, and producing action figures of Soviet soldiers for a kids' toy line was almost certainly asking for trouble.
Thus, the entirely fictional -- not to mention not aligned with any real-world nation -- enemy known as COBRA was developed, and G.I. Joe became an overnight sensation that endures to this day.
The comic book, produced by Marvel Comics at the time and scripted by Larry Hama, was not under the same constraints as the toy line. Larry refused to "write down" to the level of a "toy book", and with a considerable storehouse of knowledge and reference material about all things military, was able to bring a significant level of realism into the title.
This included, in the sixth and seventh issues of the comic book, the appearance of a team of Soviet military specialists, known as the Oktober Guard. Although hardly friendly with the G.I. Joe team, they regarded Cobra as their enemy as well. There was a brief and tenuous team-up between the two groups, dissolved as soon as mutually exclusive interests got in the way.
Needless to say, there was no shortage of fans that wanted to see Oktober Guard action figures. They weren't really bad guys. They'd teamed up, at least briefly, with the Joe Team, and had no more love for Cobra than the Real American Heroes did. But it just wasn't going to happen.
The Guard continued to make sporadic appearances in the comic books, mostly in Yearbooks and the Special Missions title, and even turned up, in a relatively intact transition, in the animated series, which was something of a shocker since the cartoon was directed at a younger audience than the comic book was. Still, there was Brekhov, Horror Show, and even Daina, although for some inexplicable reason she'd dyed her hair black and was wearing a pink fur coat. The things people will do when they think they're going to be a media superstar...
The Guard continued to appear, fans continued to want figures, and it just continued to not happen. Finally, in 1991, with "glasnost" and "perestroika" making less of an evil empire out of the Soviet Union, Hasbro decided that it was time to introduce the Oktober Guard into the action figure line.
The first figure was named Red Star, bearing a substantial resemblance to Colonel Brekhov. In 1992, a new character, named Big Bear was added. Both characters appeared in several episodes of the second animated series. But right after that, he Soviet Union collapsed in the real world, and it was generally thought that that was also the end of the Oktober Guard.
Fortunately, this proved not to be the case. By now, the team had established itself well enough within the G.I. Joe universe that it could carry on, real-world politics be hanged. A three-pack was produced as part of the Toys "R" Us exclusive line in 1998, and finally, in 2004, as part of the comic-based three-packs, figures of the original Oktober Guard were produced for the sets based on issues #6 and #7, with the remaining, later members of the Guard turning up sometime later in a set based on issue #101.
Red Star made his way into the modern G.I. Joe figure line, in a comic-based two-pack with Duke. But since that time, the modern toy line has headed in a direction, including movie-based toys, that just hasn't seemed to allow for the presence of the Guard.
Fortunately, the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club came to the rescue, and featured modern-style figures of the original Oktober Guard -- Colonel Brekhov, Daina, Horror Show, Stormavik, and Schrage, along with their new top commanding officer, General Iron Bear, in a superb Convention Set, pitting them against the forces of Destro's Iron Grenadiers.
But there is one thing that the Oktober Guard has never had. Official vehicles. G.I. Joe has had plenty of vehicles. Heck, they've got the single largest vehicle playset ever designed for any action figure line anytime, anywhere, the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Flagg! Cobra has certainly had vehicles. The Iron Grenadiers have had vehicles. The Dreadnoks have had vehicles. Even the Red Shadows got a vehicle when they were featured in the 2010 Convention Set. The only other groups never to have had vehicles are the HeadHunters and the Lunartix, which basically puts the Oktober Guard on the same level, vehicle-wise, as a bunch of drug pushers and some freaky aliens -- and they probably have their spaceship double-parked at Roswell or Area 51 or Warehouse 13 or something.
It's hardly fair. Granted the Oktober Guard is a relatively small team compared to most of the other major players. Still -- they're supposed to walk everywhere? I say -- NYET! And so did the Collectors' Club.
The Oktober Guard received two vehicles as part of the Convention offerings. One was a transport truck. Sadly, I do not have this particular vehicle -- yet, anyway. The other was a motorcycle, called the "Dnepr". That, I have, and it will be the focus of this review.
Motorcycles have been part of the military probably since not terribly long after somebody got the idea to attach a motor to something resembling a bicycle.
The first internal combustion, petroleum fueled motorcycle was the Petroleum Reitwagen. It was designed and built by the German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Bad Cannstatt, Germany in 1885. This vehicle was unlike either the safety bicycles or the boneshaker bicycles of the era in that it had zero degrees of steering axis angle and no fork offset, and thus did not use the principles of bicycle and motorcycle dynamics developed nearly 70 years earlier. Instead, it relied on two outrigger wheels to remain upright while turning.
Many authorities who exclude steam powered, electric or diesel two-wheelers from the definition of a motorcycle, credit the Daimler Reitwagen as the world's first motorcycle.
In 1894, Hildebrand & Wolfmüller became the first series production motorcycle, and the first to be called a motorcycle (German: Motorrad).
Motorcycles have indeed been used for military purposes since at least World War I, where they were used largely for courier purposes for transporting orders and important messages.
Certainly motorcycles have been an important part of the G.I. Joe line. One of the first vehicles in the G.I. Joe action figure line was the RAM (Rapid Attack Motorcycle), in 1982. A few years later, the Silver Mirage rolled out. Cobra took a while longer to get a motorcycle -- that wasn't affiliated with the Dreadnoks -- but would eventually receive the Venom Cycle during the 2002-2006 era of the line.
And now, the Oktober Guard has the Dnepr Motorcycle. One of the first questions I had, ably answered by a member of the Collectors' Club, was -- where did the name "Dnepr" come from? It's not the Russian word for "motorcycle".
It is, however, the brand name of a type of motorcycle produced in Kiev, in the Ukraine, that is pretty much regarded as the Russian equivalent of Harley-Davidson. The name has been in use since 1967. "Dnepr" is obviously the closest English-letter translation of their name, but if I try to type the Cyrillic version, the Web Site is going to have a font problem.
Motorcycles have been produced in Kiev since 1946 at the Kiev Motorcycle Plant (Kievski Mototsikletnyi Zavod (KMZ)). Initial production was of a 98 cc two-stroke model that was confiscated from the German firm Wanderer as reparations. The original design for KMZ heavy motorcycles, and their cousin the IMZ, is taken from the pre-World War II German BMW motorcycle R71, which the Soviet Union licensed in 1940. The plant and equipment needed to make the M-72 (the Soviet derivative of the BMW R71) was transferred from the Gorkiy Motorcycle Plant (Gorkovkiy Mototsikletnyi Zavod, GMZ located in the city of Gorkiy (Nizhny Novgorod) in 1949. The first batch of M-72 motorcycles was produced in 1952 with the supply of 500 engines from IMZ. In 1958 KMZ replaced the plunger framed M72-N with the swingarm framed K-750. In 1964, KMZ introduced a military model, the MV-750 with a differential two-wheel drive to the sidecar wheel.
In 1967, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, KMZ released their first OHV engine in the "Dnepr" K-650. Unlike the earlier sidevalve engines with their roller bearing crankshafts, this engine featured a sleeve bearing crankshaft as found in the World War II Zündapp KS750. The K-650 was superseded by model MT-9 650 cc, which was available in both solo and sidecar models (often referred to as the best "Cossack") as it was reliable and featured a new transmission with reverse gear and an automatic declutching mechanism incorporated into the riders foot pedal. The MT-10 was the first Soviet motorcycle to feature 12 volt electrics.
The Dnepr is famous for its off-road capability. Armed services models equipped with sidecars had two-wheel drive and as much as 15 cm (5.9 in) of ground clearance. The present engine is a 650 cc OHV boxer twin. Modern models are sold with engines ranging from the factory standard 650 to 750 and 1,000 cc.
Between 1973 and 1979 Dnepr was one of the makes marketed by Satra in the United Kingdom as Cossack motorcycles., and they have appeared in a number of movies, including Indiana Jones.
One has to give a lot of credit here to the Collectors' Club and their research. They not only found an actual Soviet motorcycle brand, but one that was used in the armed services. Really, it's precisely the sort of motorcycle the Oktober Guard would have.
Although I do find myself wondering if its off-road capability includes the stunt that Colonel Brekhov pulls in the comic book, which has him jumping a ravine in the thing -- with Horror Show in the sidecar. That probably wasn't in the manufacturer's specifications...!
So, how's the toy? Really cool, although what mystified me for a while was exactly where it had come from. While the Collectors' Club was able to see to the creation of a number of new headsculpts for the Oktober Guard figures, and they did a truly superb job with this, creating an entirely new vehicle, even a relatively small vehicle such as a motorcycle, just wouldn't likely be feasible.
This wasn't a recolored RAM. It wasn't a recolored Silver Mirage. It certainly wasn't the more recent Dreadnok Doom Cycle. Where did this bike come from? Well, I asked around, and then proceeded to kick myself a bit when informed that it was a recoloration of the G.I. Joe Snarler Cycle, a very nice if somewhat short-lived motorcycle released right around the time or just after the first live-action movie -- as evidenced by the 2009 copyright date under the sidecar. I have the Snarler, and I really should have known this.
The Snarler is an excellent choice for the Dnepr for two important reasons. For one thing, my own memory lapse notwithstanding, the Snarler isn't as well known as the RAM or the Silver Mirage. Secondly, upon seeing photos of actual Dnepr motorcycles when I was researching the real-world history of them, the Snarler actually looks a whole lot like a Dnepr, including the sidecar. I'm not saying Hasbro copied a Dnepr when they came up with the Snarler, but it's certainly close enough to pass muster as, shall we say, a very slightly modified version of a Dnepr, designed for the Oktober Guard, and heck, take a look at some of the modified vehicles the G.I. Joe team has gotten over the years.
If nothing else, I would suspect the suspension and perhaps the balance were reworked to allow Horror Show to sit in the sidecar without the whole thing just tipping over on its side...
The motorcycle side of the Dnepr is, I believe, the most motorcycle-looking of the G.I. Joe motorcycles. The RAM is a cool vehicle, but it's got this sort of futuristic tone to it. The Silver Mirage looks very motorcycle-ish, and is probably second after the Snarler/Dnepr as far as looking like a motorcycle is concerned. The Dreadnok Doom Cycle -- well, I wouldn't want to face off against it, but it's a bike that you really can't see anyone other than a Dreadnok driving.
The motorcycle is mostly black, with some silver trim, and some dark olive. The Oktober Guard has never been the most colorful bunch in the G.I. Joe universe, Dragonsky notwithstanding. Paintwork is nicely done, including two little red stars on either side of the gas tank. The motorcycle's wheels turn, of course, and the front wheel turns with the handlebars.
The Dnepr can be separated from the sidecar, and it has a small kick-stand underneath, so that it can remain upright on its own.
The sidecar is a fairly large piece, mostly the same dark olive as the trim on the motorcycle itself. The front has a large red star imprinted on it, with a Russian word which I believe spells "Oktober" below it. Painted trim is once again excellent on the side car, with a cushioned black seat within, a red taillight, some additional lights on the side, facing forward, and more.
Technically, the sidecar has more than one wheel! Although the most visible wheel is on the far side of the sidecar, and resembles the wheels and tires used on the motorcycle, there are two additional, much smaller wheels hidden on the underside of the sidecar. This effectively makes the complete Dnepr a five-wheeled vehicle. Maybe that's how Horror-Show is able to ride in the sidecar...
The sidecar also has a platform in the back, with two small footpegs. I suppose a third Oktober Guard member can stand back here, and it might be easier for that team member to bail off the bike if Brekhov decides to jump any more ravines.
The sidecar is definitely the armed portion of this vehicle, with a large, double-barreled machine gun placed on the side, and a spring-loaded missile launcher squarely in the center. Attention to functional detail is considerable here. There's a set of controls to one side of the sidecar "cockpit", which likely operate the machine gun, and the missile launcher has a scope sight and joystick, and it readily pivots on its base.
The missile launcher includes a large red missile, which can be fired by pressing down on the scope sight. Clever bit of design, there, hiding the activation button.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely pleased to see that the Oktober Guard finally has an official vehicle. Admittedly, the Dnepr is not all that large. Including the sidecar, it's about 5 inches long, three inches wide, and two and a half inches high. Still, that's a capable size for a motorcycle within the scale of the G.I. Joe line, and certainly, the Dnepr put in an impressive performance in the comic book included with the Convention Set.
This vehicle was only available to convention attendess that purchased the Oktober Guard box set. So, if you are able to track one down, it's definitely worth it. This is a very well-made motorcycle, that has been given a direct connection to some real-world Soviet motorcycle history, even manages to significantly look the part, and I'm sure your Oktober Guard figures will appreciate it.
The OKTOBER GUARD "DNEPR" MOTORCYCLE from the 2012 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS CONVENTION definitely has my highest recommendation!