REVIEW: G.I. JOE EDWIN "LIFELINE" STEEN
One of the major factors that I genuinely like about the 30th Anniversary G.I. Joe action figure line, is its willingness to bring some of the more unusual, and yes, decidedly colorful figures from the original Real American Hero line into the modern figure format.
I realize that there are fans and collectors who would prefer to see the line stick to darker, more realistically military colors, and as of this writing, I have little doubt that the line shall do so once again, once it starts releasing toys based on the second live-action movie.
However, I've always been find of some of the more colorful characters. I've long maintained that, unlike the original 12" G.I. Joe, which was very specifically dedicated to the real-world military, or at least as close as it was possible for the toys to get, the 3-3/4" concept has always been more character-based. Yes, the adventures were more or less military in nature. The G.I. Joe team would probably be best described as a huge unit of distinct specialists from all aspects of the United States Armed Forces (and a few international representatives), committed to putting a stop to the plans of the international terrorist organization known as Cobra.
And somewhere along the way, the uniform code book pretty much went out the window and never really came back, with a few exceptions like Hit & Run, or the desert-camouflaged 1993 Duke figure. One almost wonders if members of the G.I. Joe team took a look at some of the increasingly colorful uniforms that various Cobra troopers were wearing, and wondered why they were still bothering with standard camouflage.
The colorful tendencies of G.I. Joes from about midway through the run of the original line to its end certainly received its share of criticism from some of the more hard-line fans, which might explain why the color schemes have been rather dramatically scaled back ever since. Now, that doesn't mean there haven't been some interesting individuals along the way. Certainly there have.
And yet, in all honesty, I missed the more extensive color palette, and some of the wilder uniform designs. Fortunately, it would seem that somebody at Hasbro did, as well, and has made an effort to squeeze at least a few of them into the 30th Anniversary line while there was still a good chance to do so.
Although perhaps not one of the wilder uniform DESIGNS, but certainly possessing a distinctive uniform color scheme, belonged to a new G.I. Joe character who was first introduced in 1986. A rescue trooper with some medical training, he went by the name of LIFELINE.
Previously, the G.I. Joe team had one medic, who went by the name of Doc. He introduced in the second year of the line, in 1983, wore a tan uniform with some white and orange trim, but it was still a fairly conventional color. However, one can well imagine that as the G.I. Joe team grew -- and so did Cobra -- that the assorted injuries, especially those happening right on the battlefield, were probably a bit much for one man to handle. It's not hard to picture that Doc's efforts were increasingly confined to the base infirmary, and he'd have more than enough to do there without going out onto the battlefield.
That became the job of Lifeline, whose red uniform with white trim certainly made him stand out in a crowd, especially a crowd that hadn't yet really developed the widely ranging color palette that it would know in later years. Now, admittedly, red and white don't make for the best camouflage in the world, unless you're invading the North Pole and planning to take over Santa's Workshop.
But concealment wasn't Lifeline's mission. Rescue and assistance was, and doubtless the uniform was intended to readily say, "I'm a non-combatant. I'm here to administer help to wounded men. Please don't shoot me." Now, admittedly, Cobra never signed up with the Geneva Convention or any other rules of war, but one might hope that even their troops would have the decency not to open fire on a non-combatant, although that's probably debatable. Still, one does what one can.
The white trim on Lifeline's uniform included the word "RESCUE", stenciled down the left pants leg. Interestingly enough, there were two versions of him. There was the standard version, which used one stencil font, and there was another Lifeline figure around the same time, which was available through a mail-order offer held by Kellogg's Rice Krispies (you could get Lifeline or a My Little Pony), that had a different stencil font. I've never been entirely sure how that happened, especially given the expense of creating paint masks, stencils, and imprints.
Lifeline would turn up a couple more times in the original line. Two years after his debut, he was brought back as part of Tiger Force. Technically, it was the same figure as the 1986 version, the same molds, but given the distinctive and specific color schemes of this particular team, Lifeline traded in his red uniform with white trim for a yellow shirt with black tiger stripes, green trousers, and brown boots and other trim.
Lifeline returned again, as an entirely new figure, in 1994, the last year of the original line. This figure returned significantly to the original color scheme, with generous amounts of red and white in the color scheme, as well as some pale gray.
Lifeline's history gets a little muddled after that point. There was a Lifeline figure in the 2000-2002 run, that also used the molds of the 1994 Lifeline, but it had a new head, as did many of the figures during this particular run, and for that matter, the figure even had a new real name. Many collectors tend to regard this character as a different individual. It happened. There's more than one G.I. Joe named Airborne, as far as that goes.
Lifeline pretty much disappeared after that, as did most of the G.I. Joe characters whose most iconic color schemes just didn't fit the generally more subdued palette of the so-called "newsculpt" line from 2002-2006, and subsequently the 25th Anniversary format, which has carried through the first live-action movie, and now into the 30th Anniversary line.
Lifeline did manage to reappear, in a recoloration of his 1994 incarnation, as part of one of the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention sets, which had a distinctly international theme that particular year. This version of Lifeline was colored to resemble a Medic figure from the original Action Force line, as Lifeline and Flint joined some international G.I. Joe allies to combat the resurgence of the old Action Force adversaries, the Red Shadows.
Lifeline saw some time in the comic book, including one notable story alongside his teammates against the Soviet Oktober Guard, later teaming with the Guard against river pirates, but as with a lot of characters from this particular era, Lifeline really got his chance to shine in the second season of the original animated series.
Debuting in 1986, along with the new G.I. Joe figures for that year, Hasbro of course wanted to promote their new characters as much as possible. So the familiar faces from the first season, although still very much on the scene, were nevertheless somewhat eclipsed by new faces such as Wet-Suit, Leatherneck, Beach-Head, Low-Light, Mainframe, Dial-Tone, and -- Lifeline.
Lifeline's personality in the animated series was one of the more strongly defined, and it was that of an extreme pacifist, something that wasn't really mentioned on the character's file card. One has to assume that the show's writers wanted to add a new and dynamic personality to the G.I. Joe team, someone who was perhaps not as gung-ho (not THAT Gung-Ho) about battle as most of the G.I. Joes tended to be, and the Team's new Rescue Trooper was the logical contender for that.
When we first encounter Lifeline, during the five-part mini-series "Arise, Serpentor, Arise", which kicked off the second season and introduced us to all the new faces, Lifeline is more or less sulking in the aircraft hangar, categorically refusing to help Lift-Ticket add armaments to the new Tomahawk helicopter, which Lifeline views as a rescue chopper, and as such, something that should not be armed.
Lifeline's pacifistic views were so strong that he would categorically refuse to touch a weapon under any circumstances. Again, this was clearly more severe than the figure, whose package illustration showed him holding a gun, and indeed, the original figure had a couple of weapons molded to his body.
In one instance, when Lifeline was trapped in a pit, with the walls literally closing in on him, another Joe Team member extended his rifle to boost him out, and Lifeline refused to touch it. This is how extreme his views were. Although he was a loyal member of the G.I. Joe team, he would assist the enemy after their defeat. He once tossed a couple of life preservers to Cobra Vipers who'd gone for an involuntary swim after a battle.
The reasons someone so pacifistic would join the military were never entirely made clear to the best of my knowledge. However, the source of his beliefs was made known in one episode, in which Lifeline encountered his parents. His father was a minister of a church with extreme pacifist beliefs, and Lifeline had become estranged from them for joining the military, despite joining as a rescue specialist and not having anything to do with weapons.
A number of the 1986 G.I. Joes received what could be called spotlight episodes, which focused closely on them. Lifeline was no exception to this, as he was strongly featured in a slightly peculiar episode in which he saved the life of a wealthy young woman who then proceeded to shower him with lavishly expensive gifts, much to his growing frustration and the increased amusement of a number of his teammates -- at least right up to the point where Cobra decided to take advantage of one of the young woman's "deliveries" to the Joe Team's base, with a truckload of Battle Android Troopers. To give you some idea of how peculiar this episode was, the young woman remarked, "I didn't order those...!"
However at odds Lifeline's beliefs may have put him with his fellow G.I. Joes, they were glad he was around when they needed rescue and medical assistance, and it certainly enabled Lifeline to be one of the most prominent individuals in the 1986 series.
So, how's the new figure? Really superbly well done. I have noticed, with a number of the figures in this assortment, such as Sci-Fi, the Cobra Techno-Viper, and such, that Hasbro is clearly determined to come as close as possible to the original figure's likeness, in the modern format. With Lifeline, they have succeeded admirably.
One of the more common criticisms about the early 25th Anniversary figures is that it seemed that certain body parts were reused to excess. It's one thing to reuse parts when and where appropriate, and it's common knowledge that creating new molds is pretty much the most expensive part of toy-making. But it's another matter, at least in the minds of collectors, to use whatever most convenient parts are available for a given character, and figure that if you've gotten close enough to the original without creating any new parts, then it's good enough. Sometimes that works. Sometimes that doesn't.
It's obvious to me, looking at these newest entries, including Lifeline, that Hasbro wants to make sure that these newest G.I. Joe figures that are based on characters and likenesses from the original line, that "close enough" isn't good enough anymore. As much as the modern figure format allows, and taking advantage of modern toy production techniques, Hasbro seems quite determined to match the new figures to the designs of the originals, with all respect towards the originals as possible.
Lifeline's uniform is not as fancy or high-tech in appearance as either Sci-Fi or the Techno-Viper. But it is distinctive. The original Lifeline is wearing a mostly red helmet, with a white brim, red straps, two white stripes over the top, and a pair of squared-off silver goggles on the front. He is also wearing dark green sunglasses, and a little bit of black hair can be seen on the back of his head.
Lifeline is dressed in a red jumpsuit, with a collar. He has two silver straps around his shoulders, that meet in a silver square in the back -- purpose not entirely known. He has three white pouches down one side of the front of his shirt, and a small, and notably empty, white holster on the other side.
There is a distinctive emblem on his shirt, a white square with a red circle in the center. The circle has a red outline around it, and two white lines intersecting it vertically. I believe this is intended as some sort of medical symbol, perhaps some sort of replacement for a red cross, which perhaps could not have been used on the figure for some reason. (It's worth noting that while Doc had a medical cross emblem on his uniform, it was orange.)
Lifeline is wearing a white belt, with a small holster on the right side holding a small silver device that is clearly not a gun, and a pistol holster on the left side. Lifeline has a large white pouch on his upper right leg, and the word RESCUE stenciled down the front of his left leg. He is wearing rather thick-looking white boots, with a silver knife secured to his left boot.
So, how effective is the new Lifeline in duplicating this? Not bad at all, really.
One thing to note right off the bat is the fact that Lifeline's helmet is removable, something that the original wasn't. The little bit of hair that showed in the back of the original figure's head indicated that his hair was black, and this was carried over to a number of unhelmeted appearances in the animated series. It's also been carried over to the new figure, who has relatively short-cropped black hair. He's still wearing green sunglasses, and these aren't removable, but his helmet is an excellent modern take on the original, with the sole exception that it can't be strapped under the chin.
The red uniform is exactly the same color as the original. I mention this because in the case of the other two notable "remakes" in this assortment, Sci-Fi and the Techno-Viper, there were mild color changes. Sci-Fi's green is just about the same, but the silver trim is a good bit darker. In the case of the Techno-Viper, his purple uniform is quite significantly more subdued than the original. It's still very definitely purple, but it's a much more muted purple. Lifeline's red and white is the same as the original figure.
The new Lifeline lacks the silver shoulder straps and the silver panel in the back. Not a major loss. Instead, he has small white trim stripes on the front and back of his shirt. The emblem is present as it was before, although the circle lacks the red outline around it, and is imprinted in orange this time.
Arguably, one of the biggest things to try to overcome on the modern-style G.I. Joe figures is the mid-torso articulation point. I've believed for some time that this was an unwise design aspect, and one gets the impression that these days, some people at Hasbro tend to agree, because they frequently do their best to conceal it under harnesses, vests, body armor, or whatever else.
Lifeline doesn't really have any of these attributes to his uniform, however. So what is to be done? Simple, really. The three white pouches on one side of his shirt, and the small empty white holster on the other side, are made entirely as part of the upper torso, and do an adequate enough job of concealing at least the better part of the mid-torso articulation point, on the front of the figure, anyway. This may sound a little inadequate, but it works better than it sounds.
The small white armband and pouch on the original Lifeline figure's left arm has been replaced by a large pouch. Here we see one area where a previous body part has been used. The upper arms on Lifeline are the same as were used for the Cobra Trooper and Cobra Viper. Honestly, the legs are the same as the Cobra Trooper, as well, with different attachments. However, unlike the far more distinctive Sci-Fi and Techno-Viper, Lifeline can get away with this a lot more readily.
Lifeline's belt is white, but the buckle was not painted silver. Nothing a sufficiently talented collector can't correct if so inclined.
Now we come to the trousers, and although Lifeline can get away with using the same legs as the Cobra Trooper and look good doing it, the usage as such is not entirely problem free. Lifeline has a large white pouch and an analog of the little medical device separately molded and attached to his upper right leg, since these are things that the Cobra Trooper does not have, and the apparent ammo pouches attached to the upper right leg of the Cobra Trooper has been swapped out for a small white holster and pistol, which is more in keeping with Lifeline.
But then there's the matter of the "RESCUE" word stenciled down the front of the left leg. The Cobra Troopers have armored knee pads. So, as such, does the new Lifeline. From a practicality standpoint, this makes sense. If Lifeline has to administer medical aid to a fallen teammate on the battlefield, he's going to have to kneel down to do so. That's going to get hard on the knees after a while. Knee pads make sense.
Unfortunately, they also obscure part of that "RESCUE" word. Now, Hasbro did the best they could with the molds they chose to use. Most of the word is there, and interestingly enough, in yet another new font. But the "U" is cut off by the knee pad, and the "E" is barely there at all, even when you bend the knee. The word is also painted over the holster's leg straps, which themselves have been painted a darker red than the uniform (as have the knee pads), and it looks a little -- weird. It works, mostly, but it's a little weird.
Lifeline has his white boots, but again, using the Cobra Trooper molds, they're more military-looking than the original Lifeline's, which lacked any sort of laces. These boots have laces. Lifeline's knife holster has switched legs, and is now on the right leg, but again, this is to accommodate the placement of the knife sheath on the right boot. This is easily the least of the matters that arose from using this particular set of legs. Not a big deal at all.
I really don't want to sound overly critical. Using a slightly modified version of the Cobra Trooper legs for Lifeline works, and works well. The only real negative point I have here is the "RESCUE" word being cut off by the knee pads. That's really it. The only other very slight criticism I would have is that the hips of the legs extend a bit further away from the lower torso than I might like, but that's as minor a point as the knife sheath being on the other leg. It's not a big deal, really.
On the whole, this figure is an excellent modern incarnation of the classic Lifeline, and like his assortment colleagues, Sci-Fi and the Techno-Viper, not someone I really expected to see in the modern line, and I'm sincerely glad he's here.
One of the things that Hasbro has tried to make sure of with the 30th Anniversary G.I. Joe line is that its figures come well-equipped with plenty of accessories. Lifeline is certainly no exception to this. He comes with a ton of stuff.
The original Lifeline came with a small white case marked "RESCUE", bearing the same circular symbol as his shirt. The new Lifeline has a similar case, except this one actually opens (if you can wedge your fingernail into the sides enough to pry the thing open). The interior of the case is mostly red, and some (non-removable) medical equipment is shown.
Lifeline also comes with a large black rifle, rather incongruously for the character as he is best known, but it's an impressive right. He also has two small white devices that I believe are defibrillator pads, a small gun-like device that I believe is intended to be an injection device, a transparent oxygen mask attached to a small oxygen tank, and a clear "bag" of some sort of medical fluid (if the blue printing on it is the least bit legible, it's way past my ability to read it without a microscope), with a transparent medical tube with a clasp that can be connected to a figure's arm.
On top of this, Lifeline also comes with a very modern-looking plastic stretcher, officially called a "trauma board". I've seen these things in use before, generally when someone has to be carried off a football field or out of a wrestling ring. It is a LOT more up to date compared to the more "traditional" type of stretcher that Doc originally came with, and is very impressively made. There is also a white strap to strap the patient down.
In other words, Lifeline comes with just about everything you'd need to have him treat a wounded soldier on the battlefield, and stabilize him enough to get him out of there for further treatment. Now, it's arguable to what degree these modern figures are for kids or adults, and I'm not sure how many kids would be inclined to have Lifeline administer this sort of care and treatment when they could be kicking Cobras all over the sandbox, but the flip side of that coin is -- all this equipment would sure work well in a diorama.
Lifeline also comes with a black display base with the G.I. Joe logo embossed on it, and his name on the front.
Let's consider the file card. But before we do that, let's consider the character illustration. I will say this about the illustrations used for the package artwork for the current batch of 30th Anniversary figures -- and I don't mean the ones that use the animation artwork and are based on the Renegades series. I'm talking about the non-animated figures. It's some of the finest individual character art I've ever seen -- for G.I. Joe or virtually any other toy line. The precision, the realism, and the attention to detail is absolutely outstanding. I'm sincerely pleased that full images of these, not just head and torso shots, are being presented on the back of the package cards. This is artwork that deserves to be on display as much as possible. And Lifeline's painting is certainly no exception. Interestingly, he's not wearing his helmet in the illustration, but is carrying it.
His file card -- and I do like this design, even if the cards aren't quite as informative as they used to be -- reads as follows:
EDWIN "LIFELINE" STEEN
Name: Edwin C. Steen
Edwin "Lifeline" Steen was a paramedic with the Seattle Fire Department for five years before enlisting in the Army as a corpsman. When something heavy comes down on the G.I. Joe team, and they're in no condition to walk out on their own, Lifeline is the one who goes in and extricates them. As a combat medic, he walks into a battle zone to give immediate medical treatment to those in need.
So, what's my final word here? As I said early in this review, I'm sincerely pleased that Hasbro is making room in their 30th Anniversary collection for some of the more unusual and colorful G.I. Joes. I've always seen Lifeline as one of the more distinctive G.I. Joes, and I'm truly delighted that he's been brought into the modern line, something I certainly would not have expected, to hopefully attract a whole new group of modern fans, as well as give some of us long-time fans a reason to enjoy the new line, even as we maintain the original.
The G.I. JOE figure of EDWIN "LIFELINE" STEEN definitely has my highest recommendation!