REVIEW: G.I. JOE 2009 OFFICIAL COLLECTORS' CONVENTION "CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM" BOXED SET
As always, the annual Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention, held in 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri, yields an impressive exclusive set of 3-3/4" G.I. Joe action figures for attendees (and even non-attendees) to enjoy.
This year offered something a little different. It was the first-ever set of 25th-style figures. Prior to this, all sets have been made in the traditional, Real American Hero style. The set, much like many of the initial 25th Anniversary figures themselves, was a remake of the very first boxed Convention Set, which dates back to 2002, the Cobra CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM!
The G.I. Joe Collectors' Club started to offer very nicely boxed sets of fifteen figures each year at their Conventions. Over the ensuing years, we've seen Cobras, Dreadnoks, Iron Grenadiers, Headhunters, and entirely new enemies come along, such as Major Bludd's Skull Squad, the Black Dragons, and other enemy forces known as The Coil. Wholly new trooper divisions have been created, such as the Headhunter B.A.T.s, the Swamp-Vipers, the Iron Anvils (more than a few of these improving on previously released figure designs that were cool designs, but their original incarnations had neon color schemes), and we've seen the development of two entirely new Dreadnoks, as well as their just-as-bizarre allies, the Dreadheads!
These sets have added immensely to the G.I. Joe universe. But it all started with the original Crimson Strike Team.
In 2002, the Club offered this set, which featured recolored versions of the Baroness, Tomax and Xamot, and no less than a dozen Cobra Vipers! It was a sure-fire hit from a number of perspectives. You had one of the most popular characters in the series -- The Baroness -- in an all-new color scheme. You had Tomax and Xamot, the popular Crimson Guard Commanders, finally given uniforms that were actually mostly crimson, rather than their original Cobra Blue, and you had twelve-count-em-twelve Cobra Vipers -- an instant army in a box for fans who liked to "army-build"!
All fifteen figures, not just Tomax and Xamot, were outfitted in Crimson uniforms. The general premise was that Tomax and Xamot, in conjunction with the Baroness and some specially recruited Vipers, had in mind to take the Crimson Guard to the next level, and possibly even usurp Cobra Commander. Unlike the years to follow, there wasn't as much story exposition behind the set. These days, we're used to full backstories, and even comic books, to let us know what's going on. But in 2002, the idea of a huge set of 3-3/4" figures was something of a risk -- almost as much of a risk as the Real American Hero himself had been, twenty years prior, in 1982. The Convention Set was just as much of a hit, too.
So now, in 2009, the Convention Set comes around again, much as the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe line brought back favorite characters in the new figure format. A comparison to the original is inevitable. I'm not going to declare one figure format superior to the other.
Let's start with the box. Okay -- WOW! I'm always impressed by good artwork, and brother, does the cover of this box have it. Right in the center are Tomax and Xamot, with the Baroness standing somewhat ahead of them, looking as always, both seductive and dangerous. Tomax seems to be looking at the Baroness with a slight grin. To one side of this triad is a phalanx of crimson-uniformed Vipers, all very much at attention and ready for battle. On the other side is a Viper standing next to a crimson helicopter, which was an additional item available at the Convention and which I hope to review at a later time.
The backdrop to all of this appears to be some sort of large ceremonial arena. There is a tower-like structure in the background, mostly painted red, with the Cobra emblem and the Crimson Guard emblem on it, in black. Besides the tower is a high wall that one presumes encompasses the entire area. The wall is red, with ref flags flying high across the top. The impression of considerable size and distance is clearly evident.
Overall, it's a very impressive illustration by the artist Larry Selman. Now, let's consider the contents of the box:
THE BARONESS - Anastasia DeCobray is noted for being one of very few characters in the entire G.I. Joe figure line who didn't actually get started in the concept as a figure. She was introduced in the first issue of the comic book, arguably to give Cobra Commander someone to discuss his plans with. So the Baroness was created, not only as a sounding board for Cobra Commander, but also, I suspect, to offer another female character in a concept that was distinctly deficient in that area.
When the first animated mini-series came along, the Baroness made the transition to animation. By this time, some other individual Cobra-related characters had come along, but it was still a pretty small crowd, mostly including Cobra Commander, the Baroness, Destro, and Major Bludd.
At this point in time, the Baroness had pretty much the same facial likeness she does now -- long black hair and large glasses -- but she commonly wore a blue jumpsuit with yellow-gold trim. The original animated mini-series even gave her dark glasses. That must've been fun in some of the shadowy corners and laboratories of Cobra's headquarters.
Finally, in 1984, Hasbro decided to produce a Baroness figure. They found a way to allow the Baroness to keep her long black hair without seriously affecting head articulation -- they made it out of rubbery plastic and glued it to the head. But they also came up with an entirely new uniform, a mostly black one, that looked like somewhat armored leather.
The original Crimson Baroness from 2002 was a recoloration of the original. The Baroness had a crimson red uniform, and traded the red Cobra emblem on her chest for a silver one. But there was more detail to the uniform than that. There were also silver Cobra emblems on both sleeves, the buckles on her chest harness were painted silver, there was silver line trim on her torso and boots that had not been present in 1984, and her gloves, boots, and belt were black. Really, the figure was an extremely impressive edition of this popular character. About the only thing that was lacking was the figure didn't have that little stripe of lipstick that the original had.
The new Crimson Baroness is a good remake of the original. Of course, it uses the established 25th-style molds for the Baroness figure. In some respects, though, the figure is more detailed than the original, especially with regard to paint detail. The collar is lined in silver, as are a couple of top buttons on her upper torso with a line of silver trim. Now, granted, there's sculpted lines here that allow for this, which do not exist on the original Baroness figure.
The silver lines on the mid-torso and boots are present and accounted for. The Cobra emblem is distinctly smaller than the original, but it's what there's room for, really. I'm honestly impressed they can print it that small and still have it look intelligible.
The gloves are not as ornate as the original, but they still look good. The boots appear to have spiked high heels, and these have been detailed in silver. The original Baroness has a silver gun holster on her right leg. On the new Baroness, this holster is on the right side of the belt, and is black. The very small gun handle inside it is not removable, which is probably just as well. It would be way too easily lost.
The hair is more ornately sculpted than the original Baroness, and is just as flexible. Uses the same procedure of being molded from a flexible plastic, and glued to the solid head. The facesculpt is good, and well painted. This Baroness has eyebrows, which the original did not, and they remembered the lipstick this time. Oddly, the Baroness has a surprisingly pleasant expression on her face. She's almost smiling.
About the only downside to the figure is the glasses. They're painted gold, and you can't see her eyes. This is not the case with the original, where you can. Now, admittedly, the Club used the molds that existed, so this particular figure is not to blame. It's just a design decision that was made along the way when this Baroness figure was first crafted, but it's a strange one in my opinion, and honestly, I feel it does detract a bit from the look of the figure to not be able to see her eyes.
The Baroness comes with a nice assortment of accessories, including a battle stand. Her file card reads as follows:
CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM INTELLIGENCE OFFICER
File Name: "DeCobray", Anastasia
The Baroness has never made a move that has not been calculated to achieve one primary goal - her own self interest. The formation of the Crimson Strike Team exemplifies this behavior. In alliance with the Crimson Twins, she formed an elite squad of Cobra Vipers loyal only to its founders. Convinced that Cobra Commander will one day be defeated by G.I Joe once and for all through his own incompetence, she has been rapidly growing their secret army of carmine commandos, ready to replace him when that day comes. She sees no need to waste valuable resources challenging the main Cobra organization for dominance, or fighting G.I. Joe, when she can just step into the power vacuum while they are both battling for their lives. Then she only has to worry about continuing to share her wealth with the Crimson Twins.
The Baroness has utilized her almost siren-like hypnotic techniques to train the Vipers to obey only herself and, if it meets her needs, the Crimson Twins. She has likewise used these techniques, and the muscle of the Crimson Strike Team, to force countless hapless Argentinians to mine their own country's mineral resources for her personal gain. Since she is working so many innocent civilians until they drop, will the G.I. Joe team notice and come down upon their operation in a rescue attempt?
"Only the special ones are chosen!"
I'll get around to that Argentinian reference in a few paragraphs. I see that it still hasn't been decided whether or not "DeCobray" is her real name. This has gone back and forth for years. Major Bludd first used it when he took the Baroness overseas for reconstructive surgery. It certainly SOUNDS made up, and yet, in later stories, a few of which were flashbacks to the Baroness' younger years, the "DeCobray" name still held forth. Did Major Bludd make up the name, or was he reluctant for a few moments to give away the Baroness' real name? For myself, I've always believed that it was her real name, but she wants people to think it's an alias, since given her alliance, it certainly sounds like one.
TOMAX & XAMOT - Write out the name 'TOMAX" and hold it up to a mirror. You get "XAMOT". Those are the only names that have ever been known for this pair of mysterious twins.
First introduced in 1985, and in the animated mini-series "Pyramid of Darkness", Tomax and Xamot are identical twins, although they strive to be mirror images of each other. Their costumes are opposites, they comb their hair in the opposite direction. The only significant difference between the two is that Xamot has a scar on his face that Tomax lacks.
This is unusual, given that the twins share an unusual bond. Whatever pain one feels, so does the other one. Punch one and they both feel it. The extent of this bond is unknown. It is possible that it does not extend to the breaking of skin. Hence, whatever happened to Xamot to give him the scar on his face might have been FELT by Tomax, but the effects of it were not duplicated on him.
They also have an incredibly annoying tendency to finish each other's sentences.
Tomax and Xamot are businessmen, financial moguls, first and foremost. And -- they're not especially scrupulous ones. They operate a corporation called Extensive Enterprises, whose business dealings are wide, varied, and the vast majority of them are likely underhanded. They've underwritten a lot of Cobra's efforts for years, dismissing complaints against this by stating that Cobra is "simply a client, nothing more."
This isn't entirely accurate, as Tomax and Xamot, when they're not in their fancy executive office in their well-tailored business suits, are wearing custom Cobra uniforms and overseeing the Crimson Guards, Cobra's elite troopers, who are as capable of battling in the boardroom as on the battlefield. Who better to command them than a couple of corporate creeps?
Among various "business ventures" the Twins have financed for Cobra, they helped launch CTV, Cobra's all-encompassing Cable TV network; Cold Slither, Cobra's brainwashing rock band; and a scheme to replace all the world's currency with Cobra coinage. The frightening thing is that the most legitimate business deal on record for these two maniacs is probably Dreadnok Torch's "Uncle Winken's Hard Grape Soda"...!
The first Tomax and Xamot figures were offered in 1985. Not part of the standard single figure packs, the Crimson Twins came packaged together, on a special box with mirrored panels -- as if two of them weren't enough! They were prominently featured in the animated series, as they expanded the ranks of individual characters within the Cobra hierarchy, and their "doublespeak" made them well-suited for animation, although they were hardly absent from the comic books. They remained a strong presence in the world of G.I. Joe, even if they didn't turn up a second time in the toy line for some years.
Very similar versions of Tomax and Xamot were released in the 2000-2002 two-packs -- it seemed appropriate enough -- and a couple of years later, business-suited versions of them turned up in the Toys "R" Us six-packs, along with Crimson Guards and a Crimson version of Firefly. Interestingly, if you wanted both of the twins, you had to buy two sets -- one with Tomax, one with Xamot.
Of course, if you're going to do a "Crimson Strike Team" as a Convention Set, you'd better include the Crimson Twins. The one odd thing about the original 1985 figures was -- they weren't dressed in crimson! Their uniforms were mostly Cobra blue, although each wore a red sash. Okay, it was a cool design, but it didn't entirely fit the division for which the Twins were supposed to be responsible.
The 2002 Convention Set gave us the Crimson Twins -- dressed in crimson! The uniforms were distinctly red, with silver Cobra emblems, black sashes, and silver and black (and a little gold) trim on the gloves, boots, and shoulder pieces. Their skin had been darkened somewhat, and their hair lightened. But that's probably from all those Mediterranean vacations their ill-gotten gains provided for them.
So, how do the new 2009 Crimson Twins stack up to their predecessors? Well, their hair is back to the original dark brown, rather than the more sandy brown of the 2002 set. Personally, I consider that a plus. The headsculpts are clearly direct opposites of each other, as they should be. However, the scar on Xamot's face has been SCULPTED on, not just painted on. That's fairly impressive.
The body molds are identical. The original figures had opposite body molds, but the new figures can get away with them being identical, because most of the individualized features can be separately molded and attached. This includes the sash and shoulder piece for both figures, for starters. I initially thought that it was the same piece, just placed reversibly on each figure, but it isn't. Both pieces are different. They're true opposites and are not interchangeable.
Tomax has a gun holster on his upper right leg, and a knife sheath on his left. Xamot has a knife sheath on his right upper leg, and a gun holster on his left. The knife sheaths are identical. The pistol holsters are opposites.
The facesculpts are excellent. The faces are somewhat leaner-looking than the originals, but that's been somewhat common for many of the 25th-style figures. The overall detailing is very good, and frankly, they both have expressions that make them look like a couple of serious wiseacres.
The overall paint detailing is very good, and virtually identical in basic form to the 2002 Convention versions, although lacking the moderate bits of gold trim. The 2009 versions do have painted codpieces, something that the 2002 versions could have done, but didn't.
One thing I did notice -- the belt buckles are entirely different, and on the 2009 versions, they look like two letter "E"s, one reversed. This looks very much like a logo for Extensive Enterprises, the corporation run by Tomax and Xamot. I can't believe it isn't intentional, and I have to say, it's nice to see an acknowledgment of it on the figures.
Their file card reads as follows:
CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM COMMANDERS
File Name: Classified
The Crimson Twins are always on the development front line when it comes to financial growth and acquisition opportunities. They have chosen South America as their target, since it has the world's most prolific gold and untapped uranium discoveries. Argentina is an incredible resource for mineral exploration and exploitation. When other mining and resource companies are paying top-dollar to get a piece of the country, the Twins plan to use their Crimson Strike Team to take over the existing operations by sheer brute force and utter domination. Such a venture requires an increased amount of equipment, machinery, and human resources. However, giving the local miners the choice of servitude over extermination is a major return on investment capital. Plus, with such an auspicious outlook, they can exploit the country's transparent legal and financial systems, as well as escape any export tax laws.
Working with the Baroness, they give the appearance of regarding her as an equal, but ultimately are merely using her access to her family's fortunes to line their own coffers. With her money-laundering connections in the United Kingdom, plus a fleet of some of the fastest globe-crossing cargo jets in the world which allow her to avoid the ever-watchful eyes of MI6, the Crimson Twins have the perfect way to transfer the minerals into currency and fund their joint ventures. But, if their plans are discovered, and they find themselves too deeply entrench to escape, will their greed prove to be their undoing?
"We are the predators..." "...and the world is our prey!"
Again we have the references to South America, and Argentina, and even the United Kingdom. Trust me, all will be explained.
COBRA VIPER - The Cobra Vipers were first introduced into the toy line in 1986, presented as a new incarnation of basic Cobra Infantry, arguably usurping the original Cobra Troopers, or at least certainly being more advanced, as well as snappier dressers. I've always considered them a personal favorite. With their "Cobra blue" uniforms, padded vests, and large, silver-visored helmets, they have always struck me as the perfect Cobra infantry for the "modern army" line. They LOOK modern.
Over the years, the Cobra Viper has become the most frequently made and remade Cobra Trooper of all, in any of the formats. The only one that was a complete failure in my opinion was the entirely new design introduced in 1994, which not only didn't look especially Viper-ish, but the purple and orange color scheme certainly didn't help matters. Fortunately these guys got retconned into the Iron Grenadiers as the Iron Anvils in the 2005 Convention Set.
Apart from that, though, The Cobra Vipers have turned up innumerable times. They joined Python Patrol in 1989. They joined the Sonic Fighters in 1990. They underwent tons of uniform color changes from 1987-2002. They even put in one final traditional-style appearance in the Viper Pit set, which was pretty much the last of the Toys "R" Us six-packs in late 2006. There was a newsculpt Viper that got a fair bit of usage, and of course, there was a 25th Anniversary Viper, as well.
Some people dislike so many revisions of the same basic figure. My take on this particular matter is -- look, it's the COBRA VIPER. It's one of Cobra's most basic troops. Of course they're going to use them wherever they can. Besides, it's a cool design. I don't mind seeing it turn up.
And the 2002 Crimson Strike Team Viper -- or should I say ViperS, since there were TWELVE in the set, was a very cool edition of the figure. Having significantly more paint detail than most of his contemporaries, the Crimson Strike Team Viper was molded in a crimson uniform -- obviously -- with a silver face plate, black goggles with silver lenses (I'm not sure the lenses had ever been painted separately), an indented area on the back of the helmet was painted silver (and I'm virtually sure it never had been painted before), silver trim on the vest, gold hand grenades (at least you know you're getting bombarded in style!), black gloves with silver wrist guards (very unusual to have two colors used here), and black boots. The Cobra emblem on the vest was a solid silver, as opposed to the outline logo that was being used a lot at the time. Even the clasps on the vest were painted, in gold.
So, how do the 2009 Crimson Strike Team Vipers stack up? Well, there are a lot of similarities. The lenses of the goggles are painted silver. The gloves are black and the arm guards are silver. The vest has silver padding and gold grenades. There are gold clasps on the vest. And the uniform is -- mostly crimson.
But there are two VERY distinct differences between the 2002 Crimson Strike Team Viper, and the 2009 Crimson Strike Team Viper. Both differences, I have to say, are improvements.
The 2009 Crimson Strike Team Vipers have BLACK vests. This was easy enough to accomplish, I suspect, since the vest on the 25th-style Viper is a separate piece. The entire basic body could still be molded in crimson, but unlike the original figure, the vest, being a separate piece, could be molded in a different color! And black works within the established color scheme for this unit.
The vest also has the advantage of concealing the mid-torso articulation, something which is my opinion is occasionally problematic from an appearance standpoint on these 25th-style figures.
Then there's the other modification. The faceplate of the helmet is not silver. It is CHROME! The head is molded in two parts, unlike the original. There's the faceplate, which is essentially the basic head (very basic, since it's essentially featureless), and then there's the helmet which fits over it.
I don't really know how the chrome process works, but I suspect it's nearly impossible to just chrome PART of something, which is why we never saw a chrome-faced Cobra Commander, or Viper, or any number of other helmet-with-faceplate figures in the original line. It had to be the WHOLE head -- like Destro -- or not at all.
But the way the Viper head is designed for the 25th-style line, with the separate helmet (which I might add is glued into place, so don't go trying to remove it), it then does become possible to chrome the head, i.e. the faceplate, and then place the non-chromed helmet over it. This is what has been done with all twelve Vipers in the 2009 Crimson Strike Team set, and the result is EXTREMELY impressive!
The Vipers all come with backpacks (with more gold accessories attached), assorted firepower, and battle stands. And here's a treat -- they ALL come with their own file card! In previous sets, there has been ONE file card to describe all of the common troops. One file card for six Iron Grenadiers, one file card for six Coil Troopers, etc. Not this time. You get TWELVE file cards for twelve Cobra Vipers! And that file card reads as follows:
CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM INFANTRY
File Name: Various
Cobra Vipers have always been the backbone of the Cobra legions. But taken from their ranks are troopers who have been recruited into the Crimson Strike Team - an elite group of shock troops and bodyguards loyal only to the secret cabal formed by the Baroness and the Crimson Twins. They are hand-selected not only for their superior skills and ruthless efficiency, but also for their overwhelming greed. Untraceable financial incentives and brainwashing from the Baroness ensure their unswerving loyalty - even to the point of following the orders of the treacherous trio in direct opposition of Cobra Commander himself. These Cobra Vipers are ready to lay down their lives for the Baroness and their Crimson Commanders, if not our of fanaticism then for the substantial mission bonuses!
The Crimson Strike Team's latest plot is so vast, and so cruel, that even some of their own Vipers would question whether they have gone too far - were they not so mesmerized by the Baroness. They receive constant conditioning via reinforcing propaganda broadcasts through telecommunications gear specifically tuned to their Crimson Commanders' secret frequencies. This renders them as unnerving combination of brainwashed drones with vicious pent-up frustration, perfect for maintaining the subservience of a large population. But are they too busy enslaving others to realize that it is themselves who are the slaves?
"The rivers of every country will run crimson!"
I rather like "treacherous trio". Okay, there's one last thing that needs to be looked at. And that's the COMIC BOOK that comes with this set, because it explains everything -- as well as some of the additional figures that were available at the Convention.
Any longtime G.I. Joe collector knows that while G.I. Joe may be a "Real American Hero" -- he's also a global phenomenon. And during the line's heyday in the 1980's, G.I. Joe figures were produced all over the world, sometimes by Hasbro, sometimes by local licensed companies, and not always under the name of G.I. Joe. In Europe, the line was known as Action Force. In Argentina, the line was called "Comandos Heroicos". Many of the figures used the same molds as the American figures, but were often given different colors and entirely different names.
A number of these characters have been given their 25th-style counterparts in the additional figures available at the Convention. While I don't have those figures to review, I DO have the comic book, which certainly includes appearances by them!
The story is called CRIMSON REIGN, and it starts with the Baroness and the Twins recruiting a presumably-killed Viper named Drake. He and others have been written "off the books" as far as Cobra proper is concerned, and they are enticed into direct service with the Baroness and the Twins with promised of considerable wealth and power.
Meanwhile, the Action Force member known as Blades -- a character developed for the European line from a recolored Tripwire -- discovers evidence of the Cobra operations in London, leading to Argentina. He decides to contact the Comandos Heroicos and see if they're interested in a joint operation.
He, along with G.I. Joe member Starduster, on hand initially in an advisory capacity (which you can figure will last about as long as it takes for Cobra to start blasting away), meet up with Comandos Heroicos team members Shimik, Topson, Redmack, and Manleh -- all legitimate figures from the original Argentinian line, all recolored from early G.I. Joe figures. There's even mention and brief participation from Glenda, one of the most popular South American figures, who was recolored from Scarlett, even though there was no Glenda figure at the Convention. The others WERE available.
Need it be said, predictable chaos ensues, with the Action Force members even using the rallying cry "Full Force!", which was what the animated series used overseas in place of "Yo Joe!" There's a little trivia for you. The Argentinian group yells "Go Comandos!"
I won't say any more, except that we also get a good look at a VERY fancy Crimson Command Copter that was one of the impressive toys also offered at the Convention. The story was prepared by David S. Lane, Greg Sepelak and S. Trent Troop, with artwork by Sheldon Goh, Josh Warner, Alejandro Sicat, and a whole bunch of colorists, and frankly, I'd put it up against any of the current G.I. Joe comic books around. It's a great tale that makes the best use I've seen yet of the truly global world of G.I. Joe. I'd recommend the comic book just on its own merits.
So, what's my final word here? Granted, the switch to 25th-style figures for the Convention Set received a HIGHLY mixed reaction among fans, and that's understandable. However, I believe the set achieved what it set out to do -- essentially duplicate the efforts of the 25th Anniversary line by remaking the first Convention Set in the newer figure format. And while I'm not going to compare formats here, I will say that there were some design aspects, especially the Viper helmets, that were improvements over the originals, not to malign the originals in any way.
Ultimately, it's still a very cool, and very limited edition set, that any ongoing collector of G.I. Joe should be interested in having as part of his collection. I don't really know what the availability of it will be when you read this review, but if you have a chance to acquire it, the 2009 G.I. JOE OFFICIAL COLLECTORS' CONVENTION SET - THE CRIMSON STRIKE TEAM - definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!