REVIEW: OFFICIAL G.I.JOE COLLECTORS' CLUB CONVENTION - 2010 VEHICLES & PLAYSET
Certainly, one of the most popular aspects of any given Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Convention is the boxed set of 3-3/4" exclusive action figures, and 2010 was no exception to this. Titled "Vacation in the Shadows", it finally brought Europe's early enemy force, the RED SHADOWS, into the modern day and more officially into the G.I. Joe line.
Of course, the boxed set isn't the only item offered at the Convention. There are additional figures, which I have reviewed separately, and there are also vehicles and playsets! This year, there were three such items, and this review shall take a look at all of them.
Z-FORCE MOTORCYCLE - Before the toy line became G.I. Joe in Europe, it was known as Action Force. The team was divided into special squads. There was SAS Force, which thanks to the Club's efforts has since become SAF, standing for Special Action Force, the new name of the entire team; Q-Force, which were aquatic specialists; Space Force, which is pretty self-explanatory, and Z-Force, properly pronounced "Zed-Force" if you want to use the correct European pronunciation of the last letter of the alphabet. They were the basic infantry/army/artillery specialists for Action Force.
In the original Action Force line, they did indeed have a Motorcycle, which was a very slight recoloring of the original RAM Motorcycle -- it was a slightly different shade of green and obviously had different markings. One of the most notable things about the original Z-Force Motorcycle was that it came with a figure named Quarrel, who was not only one of the early entries of actual G.I. Joe figures into the Action Force line, but she was also a recoloration of Scarlett, given blonde hair and a green and black uniform. She obviously remains an extremely popular character to this day.
The new Z-Force Motorcycle does not come with a Quarrel figure, nor is it a recoloration of the original RAM. However, it's still a very impressive vehicle.
The new Z-Force Motorcycle is in fact a recoloration of the G.I. Joe Silver Mirage! This is a motorcycle that was first introduced into the G.I. Joe line in 1985, and was later re-released during the 1997-98 line. It's likely the second best-known motorcycle in the entire G.I. Joe line after the RAM.
The one thing I especially remember about the original Silver Mirage when I got it was just how extensive the assembly was. These days, G.I. Joe vehicles tend to come mostly assembled. You might need to snap on a few parts here and there, and do most of the labels -- something which this very picky occasional graphic artist has no problem doing on his own, and actually prefers to do -- but generally speaking, the vehicles come pretty much assembled.
Other than being a motorcycle, the Z-Force Motorcycle is quite a different specimen than the original RAM. The RAM always struck me a a rugged, somewhat compact, and slightly futuristic vehicle. The Z-Force Motorcycle is moderately larger, a little sleeker, maybe a little more sporty-looking, but additionally, it looks a lot more like a traditional motorcycle than the RAM -- not to put down the RAM, it's cool, too.
From front to back, the Z-Force Motorcycle measures about 5-3/4" in length, and is 3-1/4" high at the windscreen. It's mostly green, and it's a very "Action Force" green, for lack of a better term. When the Action Force products were first being produced, the basic green color of a number of the vehicles -- and some of the figure uniforms -- was slightly different than the more straightforward, distinctly military olive green that was being used for the G.I. Joe line in the United States. While I'm not going to hold a bunch of paint sample chips up to any of these, I think it would be fair to say that the Z-Force vehicles, including this new Motorcycle, tended to maintain a fair military green, but it was a slightly brighter and somewhat more intense shade of green than was used for any of the American product. Really, anyone with reasonable familiarity with the original Action Force toys would readily recognize and appreciate this color.
The Z-Force Motorcycle has black, somewhat rubbery tires, a black seat and other trim, and a transparent yellow windscreen. This part needed to be inserted on my Motorcycle, and honestly, it was a little bit of a pain. I'd have to consult the instructions to the original Silver Mirage to be certain, but I would suspect that the original assembly directions involved something other than trying to slide it into a tab while trying to get it past the handlebars in the process.
The handlebars on the Z-Force Motorcycle do turn, and turn the front wheel of the bike. The Motorcycle has a working kickstand, which seems a little redundant until you realize that the sidecar is detachable. Both the motorcycle and the sidecar also have transparent yellow headlights.
The sidecar allows for a passenger, who also takes on the role of gunner. There's a large and lethal-looking machine gun mounted in the front of the sidecar. As for overall weaponry, the sidecar has two medium-sized missiles, and the motorcycle itself has two very small missiles mounted to the back. None of these actually launch.
One thing I distinctly remember about the original Silver Mirage -- those two tiny missiles didn't always stay put that well, and they're small enough to be easily lost. The ones on the Z-Force Motorcycle seem to be staying in place well enough, but I still might recommend securing them a little bit better with maybe some Glue Stick or something that would hold them in place without damaging the vehicle.
The sidecar is a nice piece of work, about four inches long and with a single wheel of its own. It certainly allows the Z-Force Motorcycle to roll along any smooth surface of its own accord very nicely.
Some might wonder about the hole in the fuel tank of the motorcycle. Since this vehicle originally came out in 1985, it was equipped with a fuel port that could be used with the fueling equipment that came with the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier, another 1985 release. Every G.I. Joe, and even every Cobra, vehicle from 1985 has this feature.
The Z-Force Motorcycle doesn't have any labels, and there's really not a lot of space for them anyway. The red, stylized "Z" block letter that denotes Z-Force has been very effectively imprinted on the sides of the front of the bike, and on the front of the sidecar. That's really all it needs.
Now, let's consider this year's playset:
RED SHADOWS SECRET BASE - The playset offered at this year's Convention is one of two items that technically did not originate within the G.I. Joe line. Now, this has been a source of a bit of controversy among a few fans. They are of the opinion that any items brought into the G.I. Joe collection by the Club, if they are not newly created, should be based upon actual G.I. Joe items.
I can understand their point of view, but I respectfully disagree with it. There's no shortage of 3-3/4" action figure lines under the Hasbro umbrella. And if an item from one of those other lines can plausibly be made to work within the G.I. Joe universe, then I say -- go for it.
This mysterious secret base belonging to the newly-returned Red Shadows does indeed put in an appearance within the comic book that accompanies this year's Convention Set. And, if you're of the opinion that this bunker happens to resemble a certain Imperial bunker that appeared on a certain Endor moon in a certain movie called "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi", well -- give yourself an Ewok.
Granted, it's fairly obvious as such. Even if it weren't for the 1997 Lucasfilm copyright date sculpted into the thing. But granted also, it's a BUNKER. It represents the entrance to some sort of bad-guy stronghold, just like the one in the Star Wars movie. Except in this case, it's Red Shadows and not Imperial troopers. How much do you really need to do with a bunker? Next to G.I. Joe, Hasbro's best known 3-3/4" action figure line is certainly Star Wars.
The Secret Base has an overall trapezoidal shape, that once assembled, measures 12" at the base in the back, 9-1/2" at the front, about 4-3/4" deep, and at the top, measures 10" wide at the back, 8-1/2" across the front, and is about 3-1/2" deep. The completed assembly is just shy of 6" in height. So overall, it's a pretty good size.
Unlike the Z-Force Motorcycle, the Red Shadows Secret Base does need to be fully assembled. Instructions are included, but even with those in hand, it's NOT easy. Given the diagonal-fitting nature of most of the walls, placement can be tricky, the parts don't always want to stay put long enough for the next part to be put in place, and there were more than a few times when I sort of wished I had a third hand -- or a fourth.
Even once you've got the basic base assembled, there's still the matter of the double set of sliding doors. Remember the scene in "Jedi" when Han Solo thought he'd found a way to open the doors to the Imperial base, and only ended up causing a second set of doors to close? Well, both sets of doors are still present and accounted for. They have their own sliding tracks, and the doors do fit. The plastic that the base is molded from is just flexible enough to allow for the doors to be snapped into the tracks quite easily. Getting them to stay put while you snap in the rest of the doors -- that's the tricky part. I highly recommend that once you get this Secret Base assembled, you set it up as a nice display piece or in a diorama somewhere, and leave it as intact as possible. You're not likely to want to assemble it twice.
I'm probably being a little unfair. It IS a cool item, and it looks great once it's assembled. It doesn't resemble its Star Wars counterpart all that closely, except in basic structure, since it has an entirely different color scheme. It's molded mostly in a very dark green, and given long stripes of brown camouflage. Some of the sculpted detail has been painted green, and there's a circular section in the outer door that has been painted with the Red Shadows emblem.
Additional equipment for the Red Shadows Secret Base includes a large gun, complete with mount, and several large oil drums, which adds to the effect of this being a nice diorama piece.
There isn't a lot to the interior of the Secret Base. It's best viewed from the outside. But again, this serves to make it an effective diorama piece as much as anything. If you want the Secret Base to be used as a toy and have an interior, well, that's what an imagination is for.
Finally, we come to the other vehicle offered at the Convention --
RED SHADOWS STAFF CAR - Hoo, boy, you want popular? This item sold out even before the Convention was over. I had a heck of a time getting one for myself, as I wasn't able to attend the Convention this year.
This was the other item that was not based on a previous G.I. Joe-specific vehicle, but on this one, I didn't hear a lot of people griping about it. The only thing they were griping about was not being able to get one.
The Staff Car also played a very prominent role in the comic book that accompanied the Convention Set, but I'm reluctant to give away too many story details to those of you who haven't had the chance to read the tale yet for yourselves -- and it is a very cool story even if you can't get hold of any of the related toys -- so I really can't say too much.
The Red Shadows Staff Car comes to us from the world of Indiana Jones, another Hasbro toy line, sadly short-lived in its most recent incarnation, but also definitely another 3-3/4" scale line, which means that almost any items can transition over.
The Red Shadows Staff Car is, perhaps not surprisingly, based on the German Staff Car from the Indiana Jones line. Now, the point has been made that this doesn't make for a very effective battlefield vehicle. I would counter that remark with two points. #1 - Who's to say it has to be? It is what it is -- a Staff Car. As of the time of the story in the comic, the Red Shadows are still keeping a low profile. You want them to have tanks and planes and jeeps, wait until their deal with Cobra is more solidified and they can start painting surplus Cobra weaponry bright red and slapping that skull-and-crossbones logo on it. Go hunt down some of the original Action Force Enemy vehicles. You want a weird weapon for the Red Shadows? Try to find a Roboskull... Never mind Cobra, one look at that thing and you'll think the Red Shadows have a contract with Skeletor.
The Red Shadows Staff Car is perfect for its intended purpose -- chauffeuring the Black Major around the back roads of the European countryside -- pretty much like the last time some dictatorial type wanted to go tooling around the back roads of the European countryside.
Point #2 - Who's to say what sort of modifications the Red Shadows have made to this thing? Sure, it looks like something right out of the 1930's, but the way it plowed through the forest in a dedicated pursuit, I'd say there's probably something pretty modern and pretty mean under the hood, and it wouldn't surprise me if the whole body of the thing had been reinforced somehow. In other words, I wouldn't underestimate it.
I can readily understand the popularity of this vehicle from several vantage points. For one thing, it's an enemy vehicle for an enemy that hasn't been heard from in decades. An enemy that, thanks to the Convention Set, has returned in force. Secondly, it's a decent-sized vehicle, measuring nearly 10" long, 4" wide, and 4-1/2" high. Third, it certainly represents the Red Shadows abundantly well, with a predominantly bright red body, but a black hood with a HUGE Red Shadows emblem on it. You're not going to mistake this thing for Cobra, the Iron Grenadiers, or anyone else. Fourth, and I think possibly the most significant, the vehicle manages to be both offbeat and plausible. You really WOULDN'T expect to see something like this on a modern-day battlefield, and yet it looks, in basic form, VERY similar to the types of vehicles that were used by the upper elite during a certain notable real-world conflict of decades past that was focused in Europe. It's a little "toy-ified", but it still looks extremely cool.
It features seating for four -- likely the Black Major, a driver, and two well-armed troops. There's a standing area in the back, that has an interesting feature of a stand that swivels back and forth when you operate the tow hook. It's designed for Indy figures, and the foot pegs on G.I. Joe figures are a little big for it to work quite as well, but it's still cool. It has a windshield in the front, and a handlebar in the back in case whoever's sitting back there wants to stand up and wave to the crowds, or more likely shoot at somebody. There is the effect of a folded "fabric" roof in the back, but it doesn't actually work. Still looks cool, though. The vehicle has license plates, front and back, that read "45-IRNBLD" -- a tribute no doubt to the original leader of the Red Shadows, Baron Ironblood.
The vehicle is almost entirely red, with some black and a small amount of silver trim. Rolls well, too, and seems very sturdily made. Detail is exceptionally impressive, even on the underside of the vehicle. As I said before, I can readily understand its popularity and why it sold out so quickly.
So, what's my final word? Well, none of these items are going to be easily found. But they ARE worth it, especially if you own any significant aspects of the 2010 Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention merchandise. The Z-Force Motorcycle is extremely cool, the Red Shadows Secret Base is a very nice and effective item that makes for an impressive diorama-type stronghold for these returned enemies, and the Red Shadows Staff Car is one of the coolest vehicles to come out of any G.I. Joe Convention ever.
The Z-FORCE MOTORCYCLE, RED SHADOWS SECRET BASE, and RED SHADOWS STAFF CAR all definitely have my highest recommendation!