Nazis, it's fair to say, are not particularly well-liked. So one might wonder what it would take to create action figures of German soldiers from the time period when the Nazis held sway over Germany?
Marketing action figures of German Soldiers from the time period of the 1930's to the 1940's would seem to be -- unlikely. At least as part of a standard, mass-market action figure line.
Unless, of course, they're part of the INDIANA JONES action figure line!
With the advent of the fourth movie, and the first one in nineteen years, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, Hasbro has taken upon itself the job of creating an Indiana Jones action figure line that is not just specifically devoted to the newest movie, but to the entire Indiana Jones saga. And in two of those movies, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, Indy went up against -- Nazis.
Technically, in the time period in which those movies take place -- the mid to late 1930's -- America was not yet at war with Germany. That does not mean, however, that America had any sort of warm-fuzzy feelings towards Hitler's regime, and the feeling was pretty much mutual. Germany was still regarded by America as a very dangerous threat to the planet, certainly one of the bad guys on the global scene. So it was no great surprise that the movies' hero would find himself up against Der Fuhrer's soldiers.
And, if Hasbro is going to be faithful to the Indiana Jones concept, that's going to mean having to turn out some German Soldiers -- which is precisely what they have done, one on a single card, and two in a deluxe two-pack.
These German Soldiers specifically represent the original movie, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. In this movie, which takes place in 1936, Indy meets with two Army intelligence agents who reveal that the Nazis, in their quest for occult power, are searching for Abner Ravenwood, Jones' former mentor. Ravenwood is the foremost expert on the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis, rediscovered by the Nazis and believed to be where the Pharaoh Shishaq brought the Ark of the Covenant, a chest the Israelites built to contain the fragments of the Ten Commandments. Jones surmises that the Nazis seek Ravenwood because he possesses the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, a key artifact essential in pinpointing the Ark's resting place within the city.
Jones flies to Nepal, only to find that Ravenwood has died, and the headpiece is in the possession of Ravenwood's daughter Marion, Indy's embittered former lover. The tavern is stormed by Nazis. Jones and Marion narrowly escape with the headpiece, and the two travel to Cairo and meet up with Sallah, a skilled Egyptian digger who knows where the Nazis, now being assisted by Indy's longtime rival archaeologist Rene Belloq, who has a replica of the headpiece, are digging for the Ark.
Infiltrating the dig, Indy sneaks into the map room, which contains a scale model of the city of Tanis. According to legend, the headpiece would reveal the exact location of the Well of Souls, the chamber containing the Ark, by focusing daylight onto the city mock-up at a certain time of day. Although Sallah is nearly exposed and captured in the attempt, Indy successfully acquires the location. He and Sallah gather a small crew and begin to dig at the correct location. After several hours, they break through the roof of the buried Well of Souls. Jones is lowered to the floor of the temple and finds it infested with multitudes of poisonous Egyptian asps, of which he is deathly afraid. After he and Sallah hoist the Ark out of the temple, Belloq and the Nazis appear and take possession of the Ark. Marion is tossed into the Well with Jones, and they are sealed in. The duo manage to escape, emerging aboveground in time to find a Luftwaffe flying wing being prepared to transport the Ark to Berlin. After a brief fight, the plane is destroyed. The Ark is put on a truck to Cairo, where it will be shipped to Berlin. Stealing a horse, Jones pursues the convoy escorting the truck, seizes control of the vehicle and, after an extended pursuit, escapes with the Ark. That evening, Jones and Marion leave Sallah to escort the Ark to England onboard a tramp steamer.
The next morning, a Nazi U-boat commanded by Belloq and Nazi officer Dietrich stops the ship. Marion and the Ark are removed, while Jones covertly boards the U-boat. He follows Belloq and the Ark to an isolated island, where they plan to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to the Führer. Threatening to destroy the Ark with a rocket launcher, Jones demands that the Nazis free Marion. Belloq calls his bluff, claiming that Indy, as an archaeologist, wants to see it opened as badly as Belloq; Jones is forced to surrender. Marion and Indy are tied up while Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark. Spirits emerge from within; Indy, aware of the supernatural danger of looking at the opened Ark, warns Marion to close her eyes. Belloq and the Nazis, who do not look away, are violently killed by the Ark's supernatural powers, and the Ark closes itself once more with a crack of thunder.
There is currently a figure of Rene Belloq, in his full ceremonial outfit, available. But technically, he wasn't a Nazi. He was just a lowlife dirtbag. Nor has a figure yet been made of the main Nazi in the movie, the maniacal Nazi interrogator, Toht. So that leaves the German Soldiers. Fortunately, between the single-carded figure and the two-pack, you can build quite an army for yourself, if you don't mind the fact that most of the figures look pretty much alike. But hey, they're soldiers. They're sort of supposed to.
There's another reason that I think Hasbro was able to get away with producing German Soldiers. Apart from the fact that nowhere on the package is the word "Nazi" used, the Germans, like any military force, had a wide range of uniforms available to its soldiers depending on what sort of environment they were being sent to. The archaeological dig that uncovered the Ark of the Covenant was in the desert. The Germans dressed for the environment, which meant that they dressed fairly lightly. You're not going to be walking around in your full dress uniform in a place like that. So what we really have here, uniform-wise, is a sort of proto-Afrika Korps contingent of German soldiers (since the Afrika Korps didn't technically exist in the 1930's), and as such, their uniforms are plain and basic enough so that anyone nitpicky enough to raise a ruckus about it is not likely to see these figures on the shelves and automatically think that the toy line is pushing Nazis.
Let's consider the individual German Soldier first. The figure has a good headsculpt, with a determined expression on his face, if one not bearing a lot of authority. This is a soldier, not an officer. Not someone who is likely to go up against Indiana Jones one-on-one. He's there as a loyal German soldier to do his job and not ask questions. The figure has brown hair and brown eyebrows, blue eyes, and is wearing a tan cap.
The uniform is a very pale tan in color, even paler than the Russian Soldier being marketed in the Indiana Jones line for the Crystal Skull segment. It's a sort of sand-colored tan -- certainly not inappropriate -- and consists of a long-sleeved tunic-like shirt, tan trousers, and black boots. There are two slightly darker tan straps going from the belt over the shoulders, meeting in the back and becoming one strap. The figure has a tan belt with assorted equipment molded to it, most of which has been painted brown.
The paint detailing on the German Soldier figure is highly intricate and generally very neatly done. Shirt buttons are painted, belt buckles, strap buckles, even equipment pouch clasps and shirt sleeve cuffs. This is a level of detail that is not all that common, and it's certainly appreciated.
The figure has an excellent degree of articulation. He is poseable at the head, arms, elbows (with swivel), wrists, waist, legs, knees (with swivel), and boot tops. About the worst thing I can say about the figure is that he doesn't have poseable ankles, and he doesn't have the greatest sense of balance in the world. He DOES stand, don't worry, but he sort of has to be positioned just so.
The figure's accessories include a small but effective-looking machine gun, as well as an additional item that all individual Indiana Jones figures are presently being sold with. Each figure comes with a little cardboard box, painted to look like a wooden crate. This cardboard box includes a little plastic artifact, and a sticker. You can use six of the stickers to mail order a Crystal Skeleton with Throne.
Now, let's consider the two-pack of German Soldiers. Although I am generally not one for commenting on packaging, there is something worth commenting about on this one. Although the individually-carded Indiana Jones figures all have the same backdrop, a map section designed to look like the style of the time, the deluxe sets have a photographic background derived from whichever movie the figures are taken from. In the case of the German soldiers, the shot shows a rather considerable crowd scene around the archaeological dig in the desert. Nice shot, too!
The two German Soldiers that come in this two-pack are similar, but not identical to their individually-carded colleague, and the differences are worth noting. One of the two is dressed in a virtually identical uniform to the single-carded German. However, he has a different headsculpt. It's similar, but there are differences. The brow is not as prominent and the nose is not as pointy. It's also somehow a slightly older-looking face. The hair and eyebrows are painted a dark blonde, and the figure has blue eyes. Apart from this, the figure is identical to the single-carded one, including with regard to uniform colors and painted details.
The other German Soldier in the two-pack is a little more interesting. Technically, he has the same headsculpt as the single-carded German Soldier, and he's been given slightly darker brown hair. Also, the eyes are a sort of grey-green, not blue.
The figure uses the same body parts as the other two German Soldiers, but managed to be the most distinctive of the lot because the shirt has been colored in a very pale green! While I don't know how accurate this is -- although the photo on the back of the package, taken directly from the movie, does seem to show one tan-shirted and one green-shirted German Soldier (and in fairness, it's been a while since I've seen the movie), I doubt very much that Lucas would authorize a figure that is not accurate, and if nothing else, it does make for a nice little bit of variety.
These German Soldiers also come with small machine guns, identical to the one the single-carded German has, but they don't include the cardboard box or the offer for the mail-in figure. That's only found in single-packs.
Any complaints? Just one. The line seems to be having a little trouble painting eyes accurately. It's not impossible to find figures with well-painted eyes. Neither is it always easy. Now, I can understand that it is extremely difficult to accurately paint eyes on such small figures, especially when you're going all-out and painting the whites of the eyes, colored irises, black pupils, and a line above the eyes to represent eyelashes. That's as many as four painting steps on a mass- produced figure in a pretty small space. And I DO have to compliment the level of painted detail on the uniforms. But it can be a little disconcerting to see somewhat sloppy eyes on a fair percentage of these figures. I'd almost sooner see sloppy shirt buttons, but what I'd really like to see is consistent accuracy across the board.
There is something that I would also like to definitely compliment, as well. I have yet to purchase an Indiana Jones figure that has any significant mold crease anywhere on its body. This has been a really aggravating problem that I have encountered in a number of toy lines. I won't get into possible causes, but it can be very disheartening to want to buy an action figure, and he's got this ugly mold line indented right across his face or some such. I've seen it way too many times, it IS avoidable, and I am pleased that -- so far, anyway -- Indiana Jones as a toy line seems reasonably free of it.
Now, when it comes to Hasbro making 3-3/4" military figures, there's going to be one inevitable comparison. How do they stack up to G.I. Joe? And really, it's not a fair comparison. Structurally, these figures aren't really that close to any established version of the Real American Hero. If anything, they're more like Star Wars figures in their structural design. Now, if you're not too picky about format, there's no real reason you couldn't buy a mess of German Soldiers and send the G.I. Joe Team on a trip to the past to take on somebody other than Cobra for a change. At the very least, I can't imagine there won't be some people, G.I. Joe fans or otherwise, that won't be army-building these German Soldiers, much the same way Star Wars collectors will army-build Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers, or G.I. Joe fans will army-build Cobra Troopers and Vipers. These German Soldiers are practically MADE for this, and I'm sure Hasbro knows it. At the very least, the two-pack has proven somewhat elusive.
So what's my final word here? I'm impressed. This Indiana Jones action
figure line has a lot of potential, and so far, it's living up to it
very nicely. The figures are well-made, well-detailed, well-articulated,
and generally well-painted. There's four movies at the very least to
work from, and it is my sincere hope that the line continues and grows
well after "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is out of the theaters
and on most people's DVD shelf. And an Indiana Jones action figure line
just wouldn't be complete without German Soldiers, and here they are.
So, whether you buy the single-card, the two-pack, both, or as many
of them as you can afford, the INDIANA JONES GERMAN SOLDIERS action
figures definitely have my enthusiastic recommendation!