REVIEW: 2012 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CONVENTION SET: THE OKTOBER GUARD - OPERATION BEAR TRAP
The Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention Set for the 2012 convention features a showdown between two of the most popular teams to exist within the G.I. Joe Universe -- the Oktober Guard, and the Iron Grenadiers. The set is officially known as "Operation Bear Trap", and the box art clearly focuses on the Oktober Guard, with their name emblazoned at the top of the illustration, which consists of an immense Oktober Guard emblem, consisting of a red star with a Soviet hammer-and-sickle within it, the star itself within a thick red circle with Soviet wording within the circle.
The Oktober Guard, generally regarded as the Soviet version of the G.I. Joe team (although most of the Oktober Guard team members would say that the G.I. Joe team is the American version of them) have had a rather rough and rocky road within the world of G.I. Joe -- and it took pretty much forever for any figures of them to be made.
When G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero came on the scene in 1982, it was decided by the powers that be that G.I. Joe needed some sort of adversary to fight. Otherwise, the team members would just spend all their time on the practice range or marching around the parade grounds. What fun is that? Some sort of enemy force was needed, something more plausible than the cavemen known as the "Intruders" from the 12" line, or the strange characters from the short-lived "Super Joe" line.
However, regardless of how relatively realistic this new 3-3/4" G.I. Joe was intended to be, Hasbro was understandably reluctant to give him a real-world adversary. The Cold War was still in full swing, and putting out a group of Soviet soldiers was asking for political trouble that Hasbro didn't need, especially with what was essentially a brand-new action figure line, even if the name had some history to it. Making an enemy force consisting of members of any other adversarial nation was asking for potentially even more trouble.
And so, the entirely fictional forces of Cobra were created. Cobra was safe, from a political standpoint. They were allied with no nation, and they were an evil terrorist force -- when you could still get away with using that word on a toy package -- that basically threatened everybody. They wanted to take over the world. Their dark blue uniforms and the distinctive Cobra emblem emblazoned on them were reflective of no known real-world military or para-military force.
So where did the Oktober Guard come from? When Marvel Comics started publishing a comic book in conjunction with the action figure line, they turned to Larry Hama, who definitely had expertise in the military world, to script it. Larry set certain standards for the title, chief among them was that it would take place in as real-world a setting as the toys allowed for, and that he was not going to "write down" and make a kiddie book out of it. He succeeded monumentally well.
In the sixth and seventh issues of the title, readers were introduced to the Oktober Guard, the Soviet team of specialists. The comic book was not under the same constraints or scrutiny as the action figures, and so here, a team of Soviet soldiers could be introduced. Although adversarial towards the Joe Team, they regarded Cobra as their enemy as well, and Cobra Commander clearly didn't think any more highly of the Guard than he did the G.I. Joes. A brief alliance between the Oktober Guard and the G.I. Joe team resulted, although it was dissolved fairly quickly when respective interests got in the way.
Thus began the saga of the Oktober Guard. They would not appear often. Their next appearance was in the second G.I. Joe Yearbook, and they turned up from time to time in the Special Missions title. But whenever they did appear, the fan community seemed glad to see them. The fan community also wished there could be figures of them, but it was apparently considered still too politically sensitive to try it.
The Oktober Guard even started to turn up in the animated series. In an episode titled "The Invaders", which purported an alien invasion (in fact a Cobra trick), a somewhat modified version of the Oktober Guard (although Colonel Brekhov and Horror Show were largely unchanged) appeared, and the team made two subsequent appearances during the run of the original series.
By the early 1990's, with "perestroika" and "glasnost" taking hold in the Soviet Union, and the Cold War finally thawing out a bit, it was decided that it was finally time to bring the Oktober Guard into the figure line. 1991 saw the introduction of a new character named Red Star. Derivative, but not inappropriate. He also turned up in the second animated series, as did his fellow Oktober Guard member, Big Bear, who was introduced in 1992. Neither of these individuals had been part of the original Oktober Guard team in the comic books, but it was still cool to see some Oktober Guard presence in the toy line at long last.
There were plans for more figures, but then, the real world intruded once again, as the Soviet Union collapsed. The USSR was no more. It was assumed to be the end for the Oktober Guard. The G.I. Joe line itself came to its initial end in 1994.
But you just can't keep a good Commie down. The G.I. Joe line returned in 1997, in the form of three-packs available through Toys "R" Us, and in 1998, one of those three-packs consisted of Oktober Guard figures. By this time, it was generally regarded that the Oktober Guard had become such an integral part of the G.I. Joe mythos, that real-world politics were more or less irrelevant. The set included a recolored Red Star standing in for Colonel Brekhov -- to no one's surprise whatsoever; a recolored Big Bear trying to do his impression of Lt. Gorky; and a new figure, ostensibly a take on the female member of the team, Daina, now named Lt. Volga.
It was a welcome set. And yet, in the minds of a great many G.I. Joe fans, there was still something missing. Figures of the original Oktober Guard.
In 2004, when Hasbro started producing three-packs of traditional-style G.I. Joe figures based on the original Marvel comics, and seemed to be doing so in numerical order, at least initially, there was the profound hope that when the sets for issues 6 and 7 rolled around, that they would feature the Oktober Guard. After all, the set for issue #2 had featured a figure of Kwinn, a popular if short-lived character who had never been given a figure before. Was the Guard too much to hope for.
It was not. The sets for issues #6-7 did indeed feature, finally, official figures of all five original members of the Oktober Guard -- Colonel Brekhov, Daina, Horror Show, Schrage, and Stormavik, joined by a superb figure of Stalker to round out the three-packs. A subsequent set, a couple of years later, based on issue #101, presented the fans with the remaining members of the Guard -- Dragonsky, Lt. Gorky, and Sgt. Misha, just as that chapter of G.I. Joe was coming to a close.
In 2007, for the 25th Anniversary of G.I. Joe, an entirely new 4" scale figure design was developed, a design which remains in place to this day. Fans have argued its merits and faults ever since. I personally consider myself a fan first, foremost, and always of the original 3-3/4" Real American Hero, but I do have a fair number of the modern-style figures in my collection, and I generally find them to be excellent figures. And they are now the basis for Convention Sets.
The Oktober Guard, up until now, has not fared terribly well in the current figure format. There was a figure of Red Star offered in a comic two-pack with a figure of Duke. The set is notable for featuring a superb original comic book written by Larry Hama, that brought back Daina and Horror Show as well. But until this Convention Set, that was the extent of the Oktober Guard's appearance in the modern action figure format, and that just didn't sit too well with a lot of the longtime fans.
And so, we have OPERATION BEAR TRAP. The basic story, according to the accompanying comic book, involves an attempt by the Iron Grenadiers, circa 1989 (just to keep things timely) to capture the commanding general of the Oktober Guard, a previously unseen and unknown individual by the name of General Iron Bear. The fifteen figure set features six Oktober Guard figures, which we'll review first.
GENERAL IRON BEAR - As this Convention Set is this character's first appearance, there's really no way to compare the character to any previous incarnations, or, aside from his file card and appearance in the comic book, get a good handle on his personality. I think it's fare to say that you don't get to be the commanding general of the Soviet Union's most elite team of military specialists without being a dedicated, committed, and experienced soldier yourself -- and probably having a few people at the Kremlin who owe you some favors...
The headsculpt for Iron Bear is a little youthful looking in my opinion for someone who has achieved such a lofty rank. However, attach the very nicely made and detailed military hat, and the overall image is definitely that of a commanding officer.
As I am not as expert in discerning "parts used" on the modern-style G.I. Joe figures as I might be from the original line, I'm really not entirely sure whose parts were used entirely for these figures. I do recognize the torso section for Iron Bear as being one that I've seen before on a handful of arctic-dedicated troopers, but in this instance, since General Iron Bear's uniform is a medium tan in color, the result looks more like a heavy coat than anything specifically arctic. Let us remember that there's no shortage of chilly climates in the regions of the former Soviet Union.
General Iron Bear is also wearing black gloves, armored knee pads, and several weapons strapped to his legs. The impression given, especially combined with the officers' hat, is of a commanding officer that is going to let you know that he is the commanding officer, but is prepared to enter the field of battle if necessary.
Since apart from the headsculpt and the hat, there are no uniquely-produced parts for General Iron Bear, what helps him look Soviet is the painted ornamentation on the uniform. His hat has a red band around it, the shoulders of his coat have gold bars, his belt buckle has a red star on it, and he also has two red armbands with a Soviet-like emblem painted in yellow. The end result is a very Soviet-looking military officer.
General Iron Bear's file card reads as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD COMMANDER
IRON BEAR is the Oktober Guard General and their best kept secret. He is an experienced war veteran with detailed knowledge of military strategies, battles, locations, vehicles, armaments, and noteworthy soldiers. He is a very wise and confident leader, yet humble around his soldiers. It is rumored that he has amassed a sizable collection of war memorabilia, but no one knows where it is kept. Although he commands his elite team behind the scenes, there are occasions when he must leave their secret headquarters to protect and serve the interests of Mother Russia.
Iron Bear has spent years avoiding attempts on his life from traitorous double agents within the Soviet army. Now he must contend with Destro and his deadly Iron Grenadiers. However, he has learned to stay one step ahead of the enemy and always keep on the move. It may be a never-ending task, but he proudly directs his elite special missions team to strike at them until the very last man is standing.
"Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice."
COLONEL BREKHOV - Until now, at least, believed to be the commander of the Oktober Guard. I think at this point, "Field Commander" would be a more appropriate title. Brekhov has been with the team since the start, and is probably best described as a long-experienced soldier. "Old warhorse" might be a less complimentary term.
The figure is interesting. It features an entirely new headsculpt. The Brekhov headsculpt from the traditional-style figure from the 2004 comics set was excellent, but may have tried just a little too hard to mimic the Herb Trimpe illustration. This new Brekhov looks very distinctly Russian, and arguably a fair bit more realistic. I have no idea if it was based on anybody, but I'd swear I've seen this face before -- probably in an old James Bond movie. In any case, it's superb, and Brekhov's rather odd "comb-over" hairline is just as it should be. He also comes with an officer's hat that fits very nicely.
The one thing I find unusual about the figure -- and I really have no idea what uniform parts may have been used -- is that whichever parts were used, they give Brekhov a necktie. Somehow, he never really struck me as the necktie type. Maybe he feels the need to spiffy himself up a bit when he knows he's going to be in the presence of Iron Bear.
Overall, Brekhov looks entirely Soviet. His uniform is light tan, with an upturned collar to the coat, somewhat flared-at-the-hip trousers, high black boots, and black gloves. His coat has red shoulder bars. He is wearing a dark green holster harness across his chest, and has a second harness that fits around his arms that has a grenade on one side, and what look to be ammo clip pouches on the other. These almost look a little haphazard, as if Brekhov was about to report to Iron Bear is something close to a dress uniform, but then the Iron Grenadiers had to show up and spoil that party, so Brekhov quickly armed himself for battle.
Colonel Brekhov's file card reads as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD OFFICER
COLONEL BREKHOV is a tough, cigar-chomping veteran with a no-nonsense, no-apologies style. He is the distinguished battlefield officer of the Oktober Guard team. He genuinely cares about the welfare of his country and its people, and he feels that the best way to serve them us to be the best soldier possible.
Colonel Brekhov is what some would call an old war-horse because the military is all he knows. He is a superb strategist and is fearless in battle. His tactical mind is not above setting aside political differences to overcome any threat posed against his team, because in the Russian approach to combat, there are no rules. He often uses the Dnepr (motorcycle) to spearhead assaults against enemy forces.
"The G.I. Joe team? Merely the inferior American counterpart to the Oktober Guard!"
DAINA - The lone female member of the Oktober Guard, this modern-style figure of her will doubtless be especially welcome among fans, since it features the character in her best-known uniform.
When Daina first appeared with the rest of the Guard in those early issues of G.I. Joe, she was wearing a green camouflage shirt, tan pants, and a typical Russian fur hat. And this was the basis for the 2004 comic set figure. Nothing against that figure whatsoever. It's a perfectly legitimate incarnation of Daina, and I'm sincerely glad to have her.
However, subsequent appearances of Daina had her wearing a gold camouflage jumpsuit and a leather pilot's helmet. This wasn't surprising, really, since she was a trained helicopter pilot. But arguably, this version of Daina, especially with that helmet, is likely the better-known, as opposed to the "fur hat" version, and certainly turned up more often in the comics.
The new Daina figure is based on this version. The figure is wearing a dark tan jumpsuit with green camouflage. The camouflage pattern is a little different from what was usually seen in the comics, and is probably a bit more "spotty", for lack of a better term, than the comic illustrations, but at the same time, this manages to make it that much more distinctive, since I don't think it's a type of camouflage pattern we've really seen before.
The Daina figure has an all-new headsculpt, and it's superb. It looks very much like the character, and the short-cropped blonde hair is perfect. The leather-like pilot's helmet, with a red star imprinted on the front, is a separately molded piece and an excellent fit.
The jumpsuit is short-sleeved, and Daina is also wearing black gloves, black shoes, and separately molded harness and belt, molded in dark green. I believe this Daina figure to be one of the real highlights of his set! Her file card reads as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD SNIPER
DAINA is an expert marksman in the Oktober Guard and its only female member. Known for her chronically bad temper, Daina is also the most tactically intelligent member next to Colonel Brekhov, and often takes the role of second in command. Her rough edge is tempered be her coolness in the field, when patience and silence are essential to achieving a hit on her target and completing the mission.
As the only woman in the group, Daina feels compelled to do twice as much to prove that she deserves a place on the Oktober Guard team. She is multi-talented and can pilot any vehicle in the Soviet arsenal. She is also exceptionally skilled with all Warsaw Pact weapons, but her favorite is the SVD, or Snaiperskaya Vintovka Dragunova (Dragunov sniper rifle).
"You want charm, go somewhere else. I'm here to fight, and to win."
Horror Show - Well, really what can you say. The most visually identifiable member of the Oktober Guard, and a lot of people's personal favorite, including mine. Horror Show is an immense bear of a man, known for a prodigious appetite, and for wearing a heavily padded green coat which only adds to his already considerable bulk.
And as Oktober Guard fans learned over the years before Hasbro released official figures in 2004 -- he was basically impossible to effectively customize from existing parts, simply because nothing existed that mimicked that coat well enough.
This led to an interesting development when the 2004 figure came out. Although every other member of the Oktober Guard -- Brekhov, Daina, Stormavik, Schrage, and later, Dragonsky, Gorky, and Misha, could be plausibly put together from existing body parts -- with new headsculpts, of course -- there was simply no way to do Horror Show with JUST a new headsculpt. From what I understand, it was a struggle to push it through, but ultimately, the 2004 Horror Show figure did include not only a new head, but an entirely new torso and arms, essentially unheard of for the time, and he was ultimately a dead-on match for the character in the comics.
However, some fans have criticized the figure over the years for being too short. There were some scale problems at the time, possibly a result of trying to maintain both the original-style figures in the special sets, and the so-called "newsculpt" figures everywhere else.
Is the original Horror Show figure somewhat on the short side? Technically, yes. But I have always countered that with -- let's be glad we got this accurate a version of Horror Show AT ALL! Heck, let's be glad we got the Oktober Guard! I can live with a slightly short Horror Show figure if that means he can stand alongside the rest of my G.I. Joe action figure collection. No problem!
Nevertheless, there was a certain hope and expectation among the fans that the modern-style Horror Show would not suffer from his predecessor's -- shortcomings. I had a pretty good idea that he wouldn't. The height of modern-style figures is much more diverse than the original line, and there have been some super-sized characters before. I had a pretty good idea of whose legs were likely to be used for Horror Show, and I was right -- the same set of legs used for other big characters like Roadblock and Road Pig.
Of course, the figure has a new headsculpt, and it's really superb. This Horror Show looks even meaner than his predecessor, and not just because of the size. And, notably, he has a red star sculpted into the front of his helmet, something the original lacked (I'd be more inclined to gripe about that over the figure's height, but I'm not griping).
But, as with the original Horror Show, the question remained -- where's that coat going to come from? As with the original line, there were no parts that were a precise match, and I didn't expect that the Club would be able to have that many new parts created. New headsculpts is one thing. An entire new upper body? That's another matter.
So, how did this turn out? Better than I thought it would. I honestly have no idea which body parts were used here, and they do lack the distinctive square padding of Horror Show's traditional coat. However, they make up for that, somewhat, by being festooned with a great deal of assorted pouches and other equipment. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm prepared to give it an 8.75, which is honestly a bit higher than I expected to see. The end result I'd be prepared to rank at 9.25, especially given the headsculpt and the use of precisely the set of legs I expected to see, and which are the most appropriate, and the finished product is an extremely impressive -- and properly-sized -- modern-style Horror Show. His file card reads as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD HEAVY WEAPONS
HORROR SHOW is a big fellow and well known fighter from the republic of Georgia. He has plenty of strength and combat skills, but knows he's better off leaving the intelligence analysis to the other members of the Oktober Guard team. Just point him in the direction of whomever or whatever you want knocked down or taken out, and Horror Show will get it done with either brute force or lots of explosives. He enjoys being in combat, and is happiest when all that stands between him and making it to the next moment is his ability to be the best fighter in the world.
Horror Show grew up in a well-known theater family, and though he acted with them when he was a boy, he never wanted to live or work in a world of illusion. After joining the military, he felt much more at home. Weapons training made him a versatile infantry soldier and a natural choice to be the Oktober Guard heavy weapons specialist, with a penchant for blowing things up with RPG's (Rocket Propelled Grenades).
"I fight until I am the only one left standing. That is what I do."
And yes, Horror Show's trademark RPG launcher is among his accessories.
SCHRAGE - One of two members of the Oktober Guard that was never really fleshed out all that much, at least not to the degree of the others, little was known about Schrage except that he hailed from East Germany. Even so, you're not going to do an Oktober Guard set without him.
Interestingly enough, the figure appears to use the same headsculpt as the original Schrage figure, just modified so that the head will fit the new neck structure. What the heck, there was nothing wrong with the original headsculpt, so why not? Although I find it interesting to consider that it took to modify the mold so that it snapped onto a neck post rather than having the neck attached to the head and inserted into the upper body.
The Schrage figure is an excellent and accurate rendition of the character, and the modern version remembered something that the original forgot -- Schrage customarily wears gloves. This time around, they're present and accounted for. He also has a nice equipment harness and pouch.
The uniform is a dark tan in color, with black gloves and rather high boots. Now, in the comics, Schrage's first appearance did put him in a tan uniform. Many of his later appearances gave him a light green uniform, which would've been nice to see here. After all, Daina got an update. However, I'm not complaining. It might just not have been workable for some reason, or perhaps it was tried, and it was something that didn't translate well into a three-dimensional figure. I have no criticisms with this Schrage figure. Let's face it, if it hadn't been for this Convention Set, I doubt any of these characters would have entered the modern line.
Schrage's file card reds as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD INFANTRYMAN
SCHRAGE is an exchange soldier from the NVA or Nationale Volksarmee (National People's Army). He is a true infantryman that is more comfortable on the battlefield than anywhere else. He's a man of actions rather than words. His Oktober Guard teammates know him for his monosyllabic comments and protracted silences, but more so for his reliability, determination, and courage.
Fancy speeches mean little when you're chin-deep in a firefight and outnumbered by the enemy three to one. That's exactly when Schrage appears at your side to fight until the very last round of ammo is gone. He's got a natural feel for battle tactics and can be relied on to figure a fast, clean way to get the job done.
"Words are nothing. How you fight, that's everything."
STORMAVIK - The other member of the Oktober Guard that was never all that developed. A few things were known about him. He was the team's medic. He was part of the Soviet Navy, as indicated by the white-and-blue-striped undershirt he wore. And the rest of his uniform had some rather heavy, ribbed padding on it on the arms and legs. This was something that, like Schrage's gloves, was forgotten on the original figure, but again, much as with Horror Show, no one was really complaining, since it was just that cool to finally, after a twenty-two year wait, to finally have official figures of the original Oktober Guard.
The modern Stormavik figure remembered the padding, especially on the arms, but it's also evident, if not painted, on the legs as well. The blue-and-white striped undershirt is present and accounted for, as is a generous supply of equipment on a separately molded harness.
As with Schrage, the headsculpt seems to be derived from the original Stormavik figure from the original line. I'm impressed the molds could be found after all this time. It works just as well here, although Stormavik's skin tone is a little paler than it was on the 2004 figure. And honestly, it's an improvement. The facial structure looks rather Russian. Frankly, I always thought it looked a little like Gorbachev. I wonder if there's a weird birthmark under the beret? A red star on the beret, and neatly painted red striping down the sides of the pants legs, completes the image. Stormavik's file card reads as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD PARATROOPER
STORMAVIK is a member of the elite VDV, or Vozdushno-Desantnye Vojska (Soviet Airborne Forces). He's a tough fighter and a loyal soldier. As alliances and borders shift in frequent and contradictory ways, he regards Colonel Brekhov as a solid and consistent battlefield officer. He follows the core values of the colonel: justice, honor, and dedication to his fellow soldiers.
Stormavik has a complete commitment to duty and his unflinching courage makes him a valuable member of the Oktober Guard team. He is totally fearless and lives up to his name, since he storms into a battle with no other thought than to win. He believes that if you don't push your limits, you won't know what your limits are.
"Fight with everything you are, everything you have. That is the way to victory!"
Never knew he was a paratrooper. Still, I appreciate the fact that the file cards gave each member of the Oktober Guard team a distinctive specialty.
Now, let's turn our attention to the other side of this set -- the IRON GRENADIERS.
In 1988, Destro, easily one of the breakout characters of the concept, a man who was a weapons developer and supplier, largely to Cobra, but a man whose personal sense of honor was coming into increasing conflict with the way Cobra operated, set off on his own, and formed his own army-for-hire, known as the Iron Grenadiers.
Frankly, they came into conflict with everybody -- G.I. Joe, Cobra, the Oktober Guard. Within the toy line, the Iron Grenadiers existed a scant three years. A new edition of Destro was produced, of course, along with a handful of new individuals and of course, a series of troopers, the best known of which were the Iron Grenadiers themselves. Their helmets had a certain World War II look to them, with an additional fin on the top, and their faces were covered by what appeared to be sophisticated gas masks. Their uniforms were largely black, with gold and red trim.
Over the three years of their initial existence, a number of vehicles, that could only have come from the mind of Destro, were introduced. Definitely not "friendly" vehicles, but at the same time entirely lacking the serpentine monikers that denoted Cobra vehicles, and instead of Cobra's well known emblem, a new logo, a stylized version of Destro's mask, in front of a dagger whose hilt spelled out the word "DESTRO", was developed, and saw use on both the vehicles, and some of the figures.
For such a relatively short-lived concept, the Iron Grenadiers proved hugely popular, and have turned up in every incarnation of G.I. Joe since that time. In 2005, the Iron Grenadiers were the focus of that year's G.I. Joe Convention Set, as new figures of Destro and Metal-Head were produced, along with a new character named General Mayhem. Six new Iron Grenadiers, using slightly reworked helmets and the bodies of the Night-Vipers, were included in the set, as were six of the Iron Anvils, Destro's new paratroopers, making much better use of a 1994 figure that was supposed to be an all-new version of the Cobra Viper, but which is largely disregarded by most fans due to a distinctly un-Viper-like sculpt and a bizarre color scheme. But recolored and assigned to Destro's forces, it worked.
And now, the Iron Grenadiers are back once again! There is no Destro this time, although one of his most prominent generals is included, as are three of his most specialized Iron Grenadier divisions. Let's have a look at them.
VOLTAR - In 1988, when the Iron Grenadiers were first introduced, the all-new character of Voltar was among them. This was the Iron Grenadiers' general, their battlefield commander, serving under Destro, who ran the whole show. The original Voltar figure was -- a bit peculiar. It featured a man with a black mustache and goatee, wearing a gold helmet with some sort of mechanized eyepiece over one eye, and a uniform whose color was, as my mother described it at the time, fuchsia. This was actually the first time I'd ever heard the word, despite an artistic background. "Light magenta" isn't entirely inappropriate. But in either case, it was a rather peculiar color for a military uniform. Voltar's rather oddball look and unusual color scheme didn't result in the best reception in the world for the character.
So the question might well be asked -- is it even possible to make this borderline goofy character look cool? Darn straight it is.
The new Voltar reportedly uses some body parts from the high-tech battle uniforms from the first movie-based line of toys. But you'd hardly know if, given how they've been recolored. Voltar's color scheme has been darkened significantly without losing its distinctiveness. It's just that this time around -- somehow or other -- it works. Voltar now looks like a heavily armed and armored soldier, a commander of troops and one bad dude. Go ahead, tease him about his choice of colors now...!
The all-new headsculpt is extremely impressive. Voltar now has a full mustache and beard, and the helmet is removable, and honestly, he looks a bit better without it (although for his own sake he should wear it in battle). What's revealed underneath is a very determined looking individual that's just waiting for the opportunity to do something unpleasant with the troops under his command. There's no shortage of black and gold details to the uniform, and two of the more interesting uniform points are the ornate sword scabbard hanging from his belt in the back, and the little high-tech gadget attached to his left leg with a cable that runs down to his ankle. This, according to the convention comic is a remote control device for operating a prototype aerial vehicle.
In any case, this is the Voltar for those who have wanted a Voltar that can be taken seriously. Easily one of the most impressive figures in the entire set. His file card reads as follows:
IRON GRENADIER GENERAL
VOLTAR was an extremely successful mercenary commander. In fact, he was too successful for his continued presence to be tolerated by the provisional governments, revolutionary councils, and military dictatorships that employed him. He could pluck victory from seemingly imminent defeat in complete defiance of the odds, always just one step ahead of disaster, never looking back. Destro does not fear the challenge of any officer, especially one so capable of bringing him victory.
Voltar's battlefield strategies are nothing short of uncanny. His knowledge of geography, weather conditions, troop disposition, vehicles, weapons, armaments, and supply lines are all vast. Yet it is his ability to calculate their effects on each other, change strategies during battle and see the long term results of these interactions, that brings him victory again and again. Destro hopes that this superior tactical ability will be enough to defeat the Oktober Guard General they have almost no record of, let along experience engaging.
"Winners never look backwards."
Voltar is accompanied by eight various Iron Grenadier soldier forces -- four Iron Grenadier Elite Troopers, two Iron Grenadier Elite Guards, and two Iron Grenadier Elite Specialists. Let's consider them now.
All three trooper divisions are dressed somewhat similarly, in rather long coats. This may seem a bit impractical for battle, and I'll admit that it does have a detrimental effect on the leg articulation of these figures, but it looks very cool, and does strike me as the sort of thing Destro would come up with to class up the Iron Grenadiers' act.
All three trooper visions wear the same helmet, which is the well-known helmet of the Iron Grenadiers which I described above. The helmet of the Troopers is gray, with red trim, a red face mask, and black visor. The helmet of the Specialists is black, with gold trim, a red face mask, and black visor. The helmet of the Guards is black, with gold trim, a gold face mask, and a red visor.
All three divisions are wearing a shoulder strap that is very much in keeping with classic Iron Grenadier design. It has a shoulder piece that is mostly gold with two inset lines of ridged red. The remaining straps for the Guards and the Troopers is brown, the Specialists have a black strap. The Troopers, alone among the three divisions, have ornate sword scabbards hanging from belts on the back.
At this point, the uniform colors differ considerable. The Troopers are wearing a gray uniform, with red trim, brown gloves, and high brown boots. The coat is open somewhat below the waist, and has a red interior lining.
The Guards are wearing a mostly dark red uniform, with gray trim, brown boots and gloves, and a brown belt with a holster on the left. The Specialists are wearing a very dark gray uniform, with gold trim and a high collar that looks rather World War II in design, brown gloves and shoes, a second strap across the chest, and red braid over the right shoulder.
The Specialists are also distinctly taller than the other two trooper divisions. Again, I really don't know what bodies were used for these figures, but the Guards and Troopers are just slightly over 4" in height (if you count the helmet fin), and the Specialists are more like 4-1/2".
One other thing must be noted. The Guards and Specialists have a very distinctive emblem on their coats. This is not the "Destro" logo of old. It's the symbol that appears in the G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra movie, and is also used on their file cards. It's a very ornate coat of arms, with a shield, wings, all the things you'd expect to find from a fancy coat of arms from medieval times. An image of Destro's mask is in its center, and it is accompanied by skulls and assorted ancient weaponry. Not the friendliest coat of arms I've ever seen, but consider the source. And my distinct kudos to the designer of it. Very impressive job!
Here are the file cards for these various Iron Grenadier divisions.
DESTRO'S ELITE TROOPERS
IRON GRENADIERS are Destro's elite ground forces, the backbone of his personal army. Lured from the world's finest military institutions by the promise of wealth and power, Destro delivers both to those skilled enough and greedy enough to make the cut. Intensely trained in both economics and warfare, they are equally prepared to sell M.A.R.S. (Military Armaments Research Systems) weaponry to even the most reticent customer, or use those same arms to utterly conquer them.
Iron Grenadier troopers are capable of infiltrating anywhere virtually undetected. Each soldier is a highly trained commando with expertise in explosives, small arms, and hand-to-hand combat. No other mercenary group in the world wants them because of their history of turning on their superiors. Only Sergeant Major Duncan's strict discipline keeps them from challenging his authority.
"There is no better motivation than a one million dollar bonus to the man who captures the Oktober Guard General!"
DESTRO'S ELITE SPECIALISTS
Recruited from the ranks of the elite forces of Destro, these Iron Grenadier Specialists are chosen for their physical strength, endurance, tenacity, and appreciation of superior firepower. Each Iron Grenadier in this classification carries heavy weapons including the latest in high velocity machine guns as well as RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launchers. They are capable of infiltrating anywhere and can cause massive collateral damage if necessary to the mission.
Their goals are to spread panic and chaos, undermine authority, and encourage disagreements, creating a greater demand for the weapons that Destro sells. The Iron Grenadier is like an obnoxious salesman with guns. In fact, their pay is a commission on the armaments that are sold. Each Iron Grenadier gets special incentive points for starting riots, encouraging armed revolutions, and igniting brush wars. Between the rain of high caliber ammo and thunder of high explosive projectiles they bring to bear, most prospective clients quickly realize the mistake of not taking advantage of Destro's generous purchase plans.
"We are the purveyors of destruction!"
DESTRO'S ELITE GUARDS
These Iron Grenadier officers are handpicked to be Destro's personal bodyguards. They are always no further than a caber toss away from their leader at all times. In battle, their higher military acumen and desire to control others is used to command squads of Iron Grenadier troopers. They coordinate destruction to simulate any type of potential attack Destro wants his customers to fear - and then make them pay through the nose to defend against it.
Iron Grenadier officers spearhead incursions into new territory. They act as agents, provocateurs, saboteurs, or outright terrorists. Their goal is to impel an unsuspecting country toward chaos and turmoil, thereby creating new markets for M.A.R.S. (Military Armaments Research Systems) weaponry where none existed before. They maintain this tenacious behavior because their pay is a percentage of gross sales.
"Victory! Honor! Profits!"
A few additional notes. Along with the file cards, each figure comes with plenty of accessories and a display stand. The boxed set also includes a pin commemorating the Convention itself, and a second pin was also produced, featuring the logo of the Oktober Guard as shown on the box. There was also an excellent comic book chronicling the adventure described by the set itself.
There were, as always a few additional figures available outside of the boxed set. One was a two-pack that featured Darklon, another Iron Grenadier agent from the original series, and the aforementioned Sergeant Major, one of Destro's most valued personnel, who first appeared in the comic book even before the Iron Grenadiers were formed. The other set was a three-pack of Destro's Annihilator soldiers, another division from the original days. I have to say that the modern version, although it retained most elements including the rather unusual color scheme (orange and purple), looked to be an improvement. At this time, I do not have these additional figures. Should I ever be able to obtain them, I will certainly provide reviews of them at that time.
So, what's my final word? Every year, I wonder how the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club is going to top its previous year's effort. Every year, it seems to find a way. I am sure there are many longtime Oktober Guard fans who are enjoying the current figure format of G.I. Joe figures, who lamented the likelihood of ever seeing the team brought into the series. Well, now it has been, and very impressively. Similarly, a formerly rather oddball character like Voltar has been given a definite visual upgrade into the new format, and these new Iron Grenadier trooper divisions are extremely impressive.
Overall, it's an excellent set. Doubtless at this time it is not easily acquired, but if you have any opportunity to bring these fine figures into your G.I. Joe collection, you won't regret doing so for any of them, I assure you.
The 2012 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CONVENTION SET -- "OPERATION BEAR TRAP", featuring the OKTOBER GUARD and the IRON GRENADIERS, definitely has my highest, most enthusiastic recommendation!