And that would be when that set is based on the original G.I. JOE #26, which gave us, in flashback, our first clues as to the origin of Snake- Eyes, in a story that would be expanded upon and fleshed out over the years, finally being delineated in full only recently in the very impressive and respectful mini-series SNAKE-EYES: DECLASSIFIED.
One has to accept one thing right away - when the G.I. Joe Team came along in the early 1980's, Vietnam was still pretty fresh in our memory, and it was not at all implausible that some members of the team had served there. Today, even claiming that some of them might have served in Desert Storm is a bit of a stretch, assuming a normal passage of time and aging as such. So it's time for a moderate helping of comic-book time travel and the ever-popular "willing suspension of disbelief" as we look into the history of two of the most popular characters within G.I. Joe, and one of their best friends, Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Stalker.
It was first revealed in G.I.Joe #26 that Stalker had served in the same LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol) unit as Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. Not that any of them were known by those names at that time. Within the comic book, Stalker told the story to Scarlett and Hawk, all of whom were investigating the mystery of the strange Cobra ninja who had recently escaped from confinement, and who had a tattoo on his arm identical to one worn by Snake-Eyes, as well.
Stalker told of how he, Snake-Eyes, and a third man named "Tommy" barely escaped from a landing zone in Vietnam, thought safe until the three soldiers tried to approach the helicopter, and the Viet Cong opened fire, wounding Snake-Eyes. Tommy seemed to dodge bullets in an effort to rescue his friend.
Hawk picked up the story, telling of how Snake-Eyes was sent home, expecting to meet his family, including his twin sister, whom he had carried a picture of throughout his tour of duty. Tragically, the family had been killed in a traffic accident on the way to the airport.
The second part of the story picks up the ninja master known as the Soft Master, conversing with Snake-Eyes, and revealing the history beyond that time, when Snake-Eyes traveled to Japan to go into the "family business" with his longtime friend Tommy. This was, of course, the ninja clan which trained both Tommy and Snake-Eyes. The Soft Master's flashbacks revealed the training Snake-Eyes received, as well as the wedge that was driven between the friendship between him and Tommy, finalized by the murder, apparently by Tommy, of the head of the ninja clan, the Hard Master.
This initial chapter would continue to be revisited over the years of G.I. Joe, involving other prominent characters in an ever expanding web of connections, but for this first chapter, the most significant revelation, really, was that Tommy's "unpronounceable" last name in the story, which we would later learn to be "Arashikage", translated as "Storm Shadow" (whether this is true I don't know, but I tend to think that with writer Larry Hama behind it, it probably is), and that the mysterious Cobra ninja was apparently the former team-mate of Stalker and Snake-Eyes back in Vietnam. This certainly went a long way to increase the popularity of the characters.
So for this issue to be the focus of a comic-based, traditional-style three-pack that features Stalker, Snake-Eyes, and Storm Shadow FROM their days in Vietnam, before the G.I.Joe Team, before Cobra, is pretty darned cool.
Clearly, somebody at Hasbro still cares about proper presentation. The characters, except in a few references on the file cards, are not referred to by their code-names. The package front lists Stalker by his real name of "Lonzo R. Wilkinson", Storm Shadow by his nickname "Tommy Arashikage", and Snake-Eyes, whose real name has never been revealed, as "Classified".
The file cards on the back even look different from what we've come to expect. Rather than the straightforward grey file card with a color picture and a Joe or Cobra logo, these file cards are sort of the color of old newspapers, with black and white pictures. Any references to Snake-Eyes' real name - one on Wilkinson's card and several on Snake- Eyes, have been blacked out "by hand" and a large red "Classified" stamped over his name at the top. The mystique of the file cards is only broken by the fact that they do contain some contemporary information and the characters' modern code-names. However, some of this might have been necessary for trademark preservation.
Let's review the figures individually, shall we?
LONZO R. WILKINSON (STALKER)
This figure manages to look cool just because there's nothing all that distinctive in its appearance. This is pre-G.I. Joe, remember. The flamboyant look of some of the characters, the decidedly non-military color choices, just isn't going to happen here.
Wilkinson looks very much like a straightforward soldier. The figure is wearing his well-known beret, of course, but apart from that, the uniform has been done in basic green, with light olive shoulder strap, belt, and boot details, with black boots and a silver pin and grenade. The headsculpt appears to be the same really excellent one that has turned up in other comic-based sets. The shirt is mostly Duke's, although you'd hardly know it given the color, and this was an excellent choice.
I suspect most fans are really going to like this figure. Some might argue that it looks too basic, but for who it's supposed to be, and the time period it's supposed to represent, it's perfect.
And I am pleased to report that I saw no evidence of any mold creases in the head, or any evidence of hand-painted details, except perhaps for the wristwatch, which on mine, at least, was done neatly. This is one very impressive figure. His file card reads as follows:
LONZO R. WILKINSON
File Name: Wilkinson, Lonzo R.
Primary Military Specialty: Infantry
Secondary Military Specialty: Medic/Interpreter
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan
Sgt. Stalker knows more about Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow than most people. He fought beside them when they served together as part of a long-range recon patrol, back when he was named "Lonzo", Storm Shadow was called "Tommy", and Snake-Eyes was known as **********. Sgt. Stalker carried his suppressed M16 with a sure and steady grip, taking point as they scouted out hostile territory. One day he found out how deep loyalty between friends can run. They encountered an enemy soldier in advance of his platoon, and before they could be evacuated, weapons fire exploded around them, wounding Snake-Eyes so seriously that Stalker thought he was dead. The evac chopper was being fired upon, so Stalker ordered Storm Shadow to leave Snake-Eyes behind. But Storm Shadow disobeyed orders and ran through a hail of bullets to rescue his friend.
"I always thought that the friends you made in battle were your friends forever. I guess I was wrong."
There's a number of interesting attributes about this figure that show that somebody at Hasbro still cares, or at least did when these figures were made. Let's start with the hat. This obviously had to sculpted from scratch, and it looks great. The camouflage pattern printed on it is neatly done and quite intricate. And someone went to quite a bit of trouble to make sure that the photo of Snake-Eyes' sister, which he carried with him throughout his tour of duty, was clearly visible in the brim of the cap. A very nice touch there.
Then there's the weird-but-effective touch. At this point in time in
the comic series, no one had gotten a good look at Snake-Eyes' face.
In the "present day", it was known that his face was heavily
scarred, the result of some accident which had also cost him his voice.
That's why he was always masked. But back in Vietnam, this hadn't happened
yet. So the comic book (Larry Hama did the art breakdowns on this issue,
it should be
Translating that to an action figure would not be an easy thing to
do, but Hasbro pulled it off magnificently. The figure's head (it's
actually the same headsculpt as the Hawk figure from a previous assortment,
The rest of the figure is superbly well done, using different parts than the Stalker figure, and all very well painted, including a rather intricate ammo belt. I wasn't sure whose previous body section this was, until someone identified it for me as being from the 1992 Gung-Ho, but it looks perfect here. Again, the only hand-painted detail I see in evidence is the wristwatch, and there's only a very slight mold crease on the back of the head. And some of the painted detail is really excellent. Please take note of the belt buckle and shirt button. Really, all three figures have some very small areas that are expertly (and properly spray) painted. Nice to see some attention to detail.
Snake-Eyes' file card reads as follows:
Covert Mission Specialist
File Name: *****************
Primary Military Specialty: Infantry
Secondary Military Specialty: Hand-to-Hand Combat Instructor
Snake-Eyes owes his life to Storm Shadow, which makes it even more of a tragedy that they are now bitter enemies. Back when he was a regular soldier in the military, Snake-Eyes served with Storm Shadow and Sgt. Stalker, long before the G.I. Joe team and the Cobra organization came into their lives. While conducting long-range recon, Snake-Eyes carried two things with him at all times: his M60 machine gun and a battered picture of his twin sister. He never spoke much, remaining silent even when Storm Shadow offered him a place in the "family business". On one patrol, Snake-Eyes was seriously wounded in an attack, and Storm Shadow risked his own life to run back through heavy weapons fire to save him. Now, every time Snake-Eyes faces his enemy in combat, he cannot forget that this is the same person who once was his friend.
TOMMY ARASHIKAGE (STORM SHADOW)
If one figure in the three-pack comes up a little short, and it's just a little, it would be Storm Shadow. Fortunately, one of the ways in which he comes up short is easily dispensed with - the equipment vest. It's removable. And, really, there's even a precedent for doing so. In the comic book, Storm Shadow removes his vest when he heads out into the enemy fire to rescue Snake-Eyes. So my advice, right off, is remove the vest, store it with your other G.I.Joe accessories, and leave it off the figure. Otherwise, on the whole, the figure looks way too bulky.
For the most part, the body used here is the 1984 Roadblock, which thankfully was the scrawniest version of that powerhouse individual, otherwise Storm Shadow would've come off looking way too big compared to his team-mates. There's still a few faults with the figure, minor for the most part but still indicative of some of the problems that have creeped into G.I. Joe over the past few years.
The boots are hand-painted, and I think the hands are, too. Now sloppiness aside, which wasn't that much of a problem in this instance, there's a second problem with doing hand-painting. Such a thick coat of paint is generally used, that it tends to obscure sculpted detail. This is certainly the case with the boots, and it nearly is with the hands. Fortunately these appear to be the only instances of it on the figure.
Then there's the head. Don't get me wrong - it's an excellent sculpt, although there's a bit of an irony in that while it's the right size for a G.I.Joe headsculpt, it makes Stalker's, whose otherwise excellent headsculpt is actually a little smaller than it should be, this having been a problem with these comic sets off an on from the start, look a little tiny by comparison. Snake-Eyes' is compensated for with the hat. Also, Stormy's is one of those heads that one assumes was molded in flesh-colored plastic - and then painted flesh-colored anyway. Fortunately it wasn't hand-painted, but this is still so utterly pointless that the absurdity of it alone really bugs me. I don't believe the head was molded in the black plastic of the hair.
Fortunately, all of the remaining details were painted very neatly, and very intricately in some instances. Storm Shadow's headband has a very complex camouflage pattern in it. Honestly, my complaints about this figure are relatively minimal compared to, overall, a very cool result, but given how impressive the entire set is, overall, I suppose the minor problems seem a little more glaring as such.
I should mention Storm Shadow's accessories. He comes with a very impressive set of archery equipment, which indeed he did use in his tour of duty in Vietnam. Storm Shadow's file card reads as follows:
File Name: Arashikage, Thomas S.
Primary Military Specialty: Ninja
Secondary Military Specialty: Sabotage
Birthplace: Fresno, California
Before evil corrupted him and changed his fate forever, Storm Shadow shared a close friendship with Sgt, Stalker and Snake-Eyes, serving with them in the same military unit. Back then, he was known to everyone as "Tommy" and always carried his bow and steel-tipped arrows as well as his M16 rifle. During one long-range patrol, the three friends spotted an enemy fighter and, knowing the rest of the fighter's platoon couldn't be too far behind, they radioed for evacuation. Just as the helicopter arrived, weapons fire tore through the air, seriously wounding Snake- Eyes. Ignoring orders to leave his friend behind, Storm Shadow ran through the crossfire to rescue him, dodging bullets with uncanny ease and saving Snake-Eyes from certain death.
"I was not going to leave him behind. We would come out together, or not at all."
One thing none of the file cards mention that's clearly portrayed in the story is that the "enemy soldier" who was walking a little too far ahead of his platoon for his own good, was cut down utterly silently by one of Storm Shadow's arrows.
So, do I recommend this set? Heck, yes! It may be a little difficult to work in three figures who effectively amount to a flashback in with the rest of a standard G.I. Joe collection, but any longtime, knowledgeable G.I. Joe fan who has followed the history of the characters is going to want this set. This is the first time we start learning about Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow's shared history, one they shared, to a point, with Stalker. This set is an absolute must-have for any established G.I. Joe fan, and to Hasbro's credit, it is amazingly well made in light of what many fans have come to expect from them in recent times.
The G.I.JOE COMIC SET ISSUE #26 has my highest recommendation! YO JOE!