REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION GHOST HAWK II with DUKE
As of this writing, the sequel to the live-action G.I. Joe movie, known as G.I. JOE: RETALIATION. Originally intended for a summer 2012 release, the movie has been backed up to spring of 2013. The stated reasons vary depending on whom you ask, and I'm really not going to get into them here.
One aspect of the delay created an interesting situation. Since it was intended for the action figure line based on the movie to arrive in the stores in advance of the movie itself -- a common practice for any movie-based toy line -- the action figures for Retaliation were already well underway by the time the announcement of the delay was made. By that time, the toys were already in the warehouses and distribution centers of the various retailers, if not in the back rooms of the stores themselves.
The decision was made to release the toys regardless. Now, certainly we can look forward to more movie-based toys as the new release date of the movie draws closer. But, in the meantime, I suppose it could be said that we have a rather substantial preview line to enjoy, and based on my own personal observations of dwindling supplies at various retailers, the Retaliation line of G.I. Joe products has been well-received.
Certainly I've been impressed enough with it, which brings us around to this review. There are two pretty good-sized vehicles available in this initial offering of Retaliation toys -- the COBRA H.I.S.S. TANK, and the GHOST HAWK II, a new flying craft for the G.I. Joe team. This review will take a look at the GHOST HAWK II, and it's pilot, DUKE.
The Ghost Hawk (I'm not sure I can bring myself to type that "II" all the time) has, at least partially in name, as its origin, an earlier vehicle from the original Real American Hero line, known as the SKY HAWK. Let's consider some of the connected history leading up to the Ghost Hawk II.
The Sky Hawk was originally released in 1984. Officially designated a "VTOL Copter", it was essentially a relatively small, one-man flying craft, that did not come with a figure of its own, and was arguably intended as a counterpart to combat the Cobra FANG Copter which had been released the year before.
The Sky Hawk is one of those vehicles whose design isn't entirely implausible, even if you've never really seen anything like it, and unless you have a couple of degrees or at least a considerable background in aeronautical engineering, you're not really sure if something like this would work in the real world. I mean, it probably wouldn't, or someone would've come up with it other than as a toy, but you're just not entirely sure.
The front half of the Sky Hawk definitely looked like a helicopter. It had an angled, wedge-shaped cockpit, with a raising canopy that was a windowless framework. I think one was supposed to assume there were windows in there, a belief certainly backed up by the vehicle's appearances in the comic book and the animated series, but it was still just a tad disturbing on the toy.
The Sky Hawk also had landing skids just like a helicopter, but it was beyond that point where the resemblance ended. The Sky Hawk traded out any sort of propeller for a pair of rotating jet engines, mounted high on the back half of the vehicle. These engines allowed for the VTOL capability of the Sky Hawk, as well as far greater speed than a helicopter could usually manage. Maneuverability was controlled by two large panels on the sides towards the rear of the vehicle, which acted as rudders or ailerons, and a spoiler-like tail high in the back.
It was a cool vehicle, debuting in the comic book as a sort of "secret weapon" that Duke used to chase Cobra Commander, after he was freed from captivity by Storm Shadow. The Sky Hawk also saw rather extensive use in the animated series.
The original Sky Hawk saw a number of appearances in the original Real American Hero toy line. It was recolored for inclusion in a Sears exclusive two-vehicle pack, along with a recolored FANG copter. The two vehicles were combined to make the Dreadnok Air Assault Set. Don't get me started on the prospects of letting that pack of brain-dead bikers have access to flying machines.
This version of the Sky Hawk was colored in dark blue and burgundy, a decidedly far cry from its original military olive green, and it had a number of light green parts on it that, much like Dreadnoks' leader Zartan himself, changed color and darkened when exposed to direct sunlight.
The other notable incarnation of the Sky Hawk during the original run of the line was as one of the vehicles in Sky Patrol, where it was called the -- Sky Hawk. All of the vehicles in Sky Patrol had names that began with "Sky". The HAVOC became the Sky Havoc, for example. But since the Sky Hawk already began with that word, it simply retained its original name.
This version of the Sky Hawk, like the other Sky Patrol vehicles, had a chrome silver body, with black and tan details.
Somewhat surprisingly, this was the last appearance of the original Sky Hawk during the original run of the line, and it didn't return, at least in a retail sense, during any of the successive incarnations of G.I. Joe prior to the 25th Anniversary line. It did put in one further appearance, with a very cool molded-in camouflage pattern, as one of the vehicles offered at one of the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Conventions. The camouflage pattern was based somewhat on the "urban rain" camouflage pattern worn by several of the G.I. Joes offered at that Convention, including Gung-Ho, the Steel Brigade Commander, the Steel Brigade Commandos, and Oktober Guard member Dragonsky.
With the introduction of the 25th Anniversary product line, a significant number of original vehicles were brought back to celebrate the occasion. Interestingly, though, a number of classic vehicles were actually entirely reworked, generally in larger, more detailed formats, although retaining all of the basic characteristics of their original counterparts. One of these was the Sky Hawk.
The 25th Anniversary version of the vehicle featured larger landing skids, larger rudder/ailerons, which were better secured to the sides of the vehicle, and this time, there were even transparent windows in the canopy! It was an impressive upgrade across the board.
A couple of years later, the vehicle was reworked once again. The color scheme was altered, the canopy was made opaque, and the rear of the vehicle was substantially redesigned. It was along about here that the name "GHOST HAWK" came along, although it was technically partially an abbreviation -- GHOST H.A.W.K. Presumably, the name "Sky Hawk" was no longer available for copyrighted purposes or some such. I'll admit, "Ghost Hawk" had a nice ring to it.
For those who might have missed the original Ghost Hawk, this explains why the new vehicle is called the GHOST HAWK II, although the abbreviation aspect seems to have been dropped.
So, how's the vehicle? Really very impressive, I have to say. The other question would tend to be -- how much does it resemble any of its predecessors. Somewhat oddly in my opinion, the answer to that question is -- not much at all, really.
About the only things the GHOST HAWK II has in common with its predecessors, if they can even be called that apart from a certain evolution of names, is that it has some seriously big engines relative to its size, and those engines can rotate, giving it a VTOL capability. Apart from that, and the fact that it's a flying vehicle, there's really not a lot of common ground here.
The previous Ghost Hawk, and the Sky Hawks before it, clearly had a reasonably close resemblance to a helicopter, especially the front half of the vehicle and the landing skids. The Ghost Hawk II takes a lot more of its design cues from an airplane.
One thing that impresses me right off is just how big this vehicle is once you get it assembled. It's far larger than not only any previous Sky Hawks or Ghost Hawks, but it's a good bit larger than you'd think would come out of the box it's packaged in. The last time I was this surprised by the final size of a G.I. Joe vehicle was the Cobra Black Dragon VTOL. It seems Hasbro has a knack for packing plenty of aircraft into a relatively small box. Admittedly, it helps when the wings are a separate attachment, but still.
Consider the fact that the box the Ghost Hawk II comes in measures roughly 12" x 8" x 3-1/2". Now consider that the finished vehicle measures 17" long, with a wingspan of nearly 18", and just the main body is 4" high. That's some seriously effective package design.
The Ghost Hawk II is not a small aircraft by any measure within the world of G.I. Joe. Set it next to longtime favorites like the Conquest X-30 and the Cobra Rattler, and it's easily in that size range. And those are not regarded as small planes.
The Ghost Hawk II is mostly olive green, although the lower sides and underside of the vehicle is a pale blue-gray. There's something about the shape of the front of the plane, and maybe it's the high positioning of the wings, which actually spread out from the top of the plane rather than the sides or underneath, that reminds me a fair bit of a seaplane. A really big, militarized seaplane, maybe, but a seaplane nonetheless.
The wings are fairly thick, and are designed to carry a large array of bombs and missiles on them, including a pair of spring-loaded missile launchers, one on each wing, that launch these odd little double-missiles that come with the plane. Nearing the tips of the Ghost Hawk II, we encounter the engines. Each wing has two massive engines, stacked, on a rotational joint with the remaining wing tip pointing out beyond the jets, and rotating with them. Functionally, this is about as close as the Ghost Hawk II gets to its presumed ancestors.
The body narrows and tapers upwards considerably after the wings, ending in a double-winged tail whose wings jut out and upwards in a "V" shape.
The cockpit is a single-seater, underneath a canopy with very dark transparent windows. The Ghost Hawk lacks any sort of landing wheels, instead having a couple of small skids that are very nearly flush with the bottom of the aircraft. Bottom line, this vehicle takes off and lands vertically -- period. It's not going to come to any sort of rolling stop, and anything other than a vertical take off and landing isn't going to be pleasant for it.
There is a hatchway on the underside of the plane, with a harness on a length of string, designed to allow the pilot (one would hope that the Ghost Hawk has some automatic functions) or a passenger to be lowered a certain distance.
Weaponwise, along with the spring-loaded missile launcher, the Ghost Hawk II comes equipped with a series of six identical missiles that can be placed on the underside of the wings, two somewhat larger missiles that can be mounted to the tops of the wings, and two large bombs that can be mounted to the underside next to the missiles.
Interestingly, all of this firepower, including the firing double-missiles, has been molded in a bright reddish-orange, roughly the same near-neon color as the average traffic cone. I'm not entirely sure why this particular color was chosen, and I think most collectors believed the days of neon weaponry in G.I. Joe were a thing of the past. It definitely adds a certain -- toyetic look to the vehicle. It doesn't really bother me all that much, as I was never as vehemently opposed to a certain amount of bright colors in the G.I. Joe line, and I could understand the reasoning behind it -- wanting to make the toys more attractive to kids -- but I can also imagine some of my fellow collectors buying this vehicle and breaking out some spray paint before mounting the missiles. Their choice.
For me, the weirdest weapon on the Ghost Hawk II is not the missiles, but this strange, almost antenna-like something or other, actually molded in dark silver, that mounts to the right side of the vehicle, and points way out in front. How far? Far enough. If one adds the extra inches to the total length, you get a grand total of 20", not just 17". At this scale, that's considerable. The instructions don't say exactly what this thing is supposed to do. It doesn't look like any sort of conventional gun barrel. Frankly, if it were much longer, it would make the Ghost Hawk II look like it was ready for a jousting tournament. Still, whatever it is, I doubt I'd want to be on the wrong end of it.
As with most G.I. Joe vehicles, the Ghost Hawk II comes with a series of labels. The "emblem", as such, is the logo of the Arashikage ninja clan, the stacked broken and unbroken lines from the I Ching. Rather odd to see this on the side of a military plane, but such is the movie concept.
Some of the labels are rather odd, in my opinion. One set seems to comprise the back windows of the canopy, but they're not the best fit in the world. Another group adds some black detail to the front of the plane, and then you have your choice of additional logos or symbols to put over those. I just decided to leave them off entirely. A few of the labels, especially the ones on the tail fins, have to be applied over sculpted details on the vehicle, including small raised "rivets". I really don't like having to place labels over raised sculpted details, because on my experience, going all the way back to the earliest vehicles, this sort of thing keeps the labels from adhering properly, especially over time.
Most of the labels work well, though, and look good, although there is one in-joke on a couple of the labels. The registration number for the Ghost Hawk II is apparently "02862", as evidenced by stenciled lettering on a pair of labels that go on the rear of the aircraft, accompanied by larger stenciled lettering which reads "G.I. JOE".
"02862" happens to be the Zip Code for Pawtucket, Rhode Island, specifically, the headquarters of Hasbro. This is hardly the first time this sort of thing has come up. Take a look at the file cards for G.I. Joe characters over the years, and pay close attention to the somewhat disproportionate number of them that list Rhode Island as their birthplace, relative to the other 49-and-all-of-them-larger United States. It's a harmless joke, really, but it does seem to turn up rather often.
Any complaints about the Ghost Hawk II? One mild criticism. The wings don't seem to want to stay put quite as well as I'd like. I don't know if it's a weight differential, or if it's just something with the one plane that I bought, but if I pick the Ghost Hawk II up by the wings, the rest of the vehicle has a tendency to stay where it was. It's not that big of a deal, and the wing assembly just snaps right back in, but for those of you who might experience the same thing, find it far more annoying, and not have to worry about maybe having to store the plane and the wings separately due to space considerations, I might recommend carefully gluing them in place.
Now, let's consider the pilot figure, who is designated as Conrad "Duke" Hauser, certainly a major player in the G.I. Joe line, and in the first movie.
Duke was first introduced into the world of G.I. Joe as a mail-order figure towards the end of 1983. He entered the standard retail line of individual figures in 1984. Billed as the team's "First Sergeant", he was a way of giving the G.I. Joe team an action-oriented battlefield commander without immediately remaking the character of Hawk, who had been introduced during the line's first year, and who technically outranked Duke, although Duke arguably won the popularity contest, especially when he was made "team leader" in the animated series, which didn't get around to introducing Hawk until the character was remade in 1986, along with being promoted to general.
Duke has since become one of the mainstays of the team, and was considered indispensable enough so that the dialogue was redone for the 1987 movie, in which Duke was supposed to be killed, in order that he would survive. Admittedly, the very badly received death of Optimus Prime in the previous year's Transformers animated movie was a likely factor as well.
Certainly, Duke's popularity has endured. In 1988, the original figure was recolored, and Duke became the leader of the new Tiger Force team. An entirely new Duke figure was made in 1991, and sure enough, that gave Duke all the leverage he needed to become one of the major players in the second animated series from DIC at the time. Duke also signed up for Star Brigade, as well as Star Brigade's Armor-Tech division, and in 1993, also turned up in a very military-looking desert camouflage uniform, just to show longtime fans that the G.I. Joe team hadn't completely lost its military edge.
In fact, a 12" figure of Duke, sold as a Target exclusive, was the first 12" G.I. Joe figure in a great many years, and its staggering popularity ushered in the way for the return of the original-sized G.I. Joes. How popular was this figure? The Target closest to me at the time had to keep them locked in a safe in the manager's office.
Duke, of course, has turned up in every version of G.I. Joe since that time. He rode the Silver Mirage motorcycle into the 1997-98 line. He was present in the 2000-2002 series. He showed up in the newsculpt series from 2002-2006, even as he maintained a presence in the traditional-format figures that were made during that time, based on the comic books and various special teams. Duke was one of the lead characters of Sigma 6, and of course has appeared in the 25th Anniversary and modern-style figures since that time. He was also the subject of a number of 12" figures, including a talking one that could actually move its mouth.
As to Duke's presence in the live-action movies, his story is a bit different there. He is played by actor Channing Tatum. He's definitely one of the major characters in "The Rise of Cobra". He is the primary protagonist and is part of General Hawk's team. Contrary to his original back-story, he is a newcomer to the G.I. Joe team; all Joe rookies are already established, well-trained soldiers. Also in the 2009 film, Duke identifies himself as a Captain, while conspicuously wearing the rank of Major (Army) or Lt. Commander (Navy), although all versions of his action figure have him graded at Major/O-4. There is no reference in the film to him ever performing duties as a First Sergeant. He was also engaged to marry Ana Lewis, (who would end up becoming the Baroness), but left her at the altar because of guilt due to the apparent death of Ana's brother, Rex.
In the movie, weapons master James McCullen has created a nanotech-based weapon capable of destroying a city. His company sells four warheads to NATO, and NATO troops led by American soldiers Duke and Ripcord are tasked with delivering the warheads. Their convoy is ambushed by the Baroness, whom Duke recognizes to be his ex-fiancee Ana Lewis.
Duke and Ripcord are rescued by members of the G.I. Joe team. They take the warheads to The Pit, G.I. Joe's command center in Egypt, and upon arriving rendezvous with the head of the G.I. Joe team, General Hawk. Hawk takes command of the warheads and excuses Duke and Ripcord, only to be convinced to let them join his group, after Duke reveals that he knows the Baroness.
McCullen is revealed to be using the same nanotechnology to build an army of soldiers with the aid of the Doctor, planning on using the warheads to cause panic and bring about a new world order. Later in the movie, Duke learns that the Doctor is Rex Lewis, Ana's brother believed to have been killed by a mistimed airstrike during a mission led by Duke
Rex had encountered Doctor Mindbender in the bunker and was seduced by the nanomite technology, taking too long to retrieve the data and getting caught in the bombing, which disfigured him. After freeing Duke, the Baroness is subdued, as the Doctor reveals he has implanted her with nanomites, which has put her under his control for the past four years.
Attempting to kill Duke, McCullen ends up being burned, so he and the Doctor flee to an escape vessel. Duke and the Baroness pursue him while the Joes fall back, when the Doctor activates the base's self destruct sequence. Duke will, of course, return in the sequel.
So, how's the figure? Well -- it's a perfectly decent figure, and it's certainly dressed like a pilot, but it's a little difficult to see it as distinctively Duke. The figure's head is a helmet, that completely obscures any facial detail. I'm not questioning that it's Duke. That's the name on the package. But the figure is, ultimately, just a little lacking in individual personality as such.
That's not to say it's a bad figure. It's very nicely designed. Duke is wearing a fairly high-tech but plausible-looking flight suit, olive green in color, with padding at the shoulders and elbows, and I don't really quite know what they're supposed to be at the upper legs and lower legs. It looks like ridged padding on the upper legs, and some sort of equipment pouches on the lower legs, which speaking as someone with admittedly no direct military experience, still strikes me as an odd place to put a couple of oversized pockets.
Duke has light brown gloves, boots, a belt with several pouches, and some other light brown trim on his uniform. His helmet is mostly silver, with some light brown trim and a black visor. It's an impressive looking helmet, even if it does obscure the identity of the wearer.
The paintwork on the figure, while somewhat limited, is very nicely done, and the sculpted detail, especially the uniform wrinkles, is superbly done.
Any complaints? Just one, and it's one that's being echoed by a great many G.I. Joe collectors. The figure only has five points of articulation -- head, arms, and legs. I won't get into the reasons as to why this has happened. All of the known vehicle drivers for the Retaliation line, including Duke, Cobra Commander (with the HISS Tank), Swamp Viper (with the Cobra Fangboat), Snake-Eyes (with the Ninja Commando 4x4), and a couple of motorcycle drivers, have this limited articulation. Fortunately, most of the characters have a more articulated version in the individually-packaged figure segment, although those figures do differ in design. In Duke's case, his individually packaged figure also has a visible face, that's a decent likeness of the actor.
Am I happy about this articulation situation? No -- and I pray it's not a trend. However, the figure has an good design, he's well-made, he stands well on his own, and he doesn't look bad standing in the company of other, more articulated figures from the Retaliation line. I'm not going to get overly negative here, and I'm not going to discard him just because he doesn't move as much. It's an unfortunate development, and again, one that I hope does not endure for long, but I'm not going to reject the figure because of it.
So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. While the Ghost Hawk II may not bear any significant resemblance to previous vehicles that have bore its name or something fairly close, of its own accord it is an extremely impressive aircraft, huge for the size of the box it comes in, and frankly for the price paid for it, and will make an impressive addition to any G.I. Joe Air Corps that a collector might currently possess.
And the Duke figure has a good basic design, even if it's a bit too anonymous. It's fairly intricate, well-detailed, well-made, and well painted. The limited articulation is unfortunate, but the overall look of the figure is nicely done.
I believe that any G.I. Joe collector will certainly be impressed with the Ghost Hawk II, and hopefully they'll give this Duke a reasonable chance, as well.
The G.I. JOE GHOST HAWK II with CONRAD "DUKE" HAUSER from G.I. JOE: RETALIATION definitely has my highest recommendation! Yo Joe!