The Oktober Guard was first introduced in the Marvel G.I. Joe comic in G.I.Joe #6, in a two-part story that pit both them and the Joes against, of course, Cobra. The Oktober Guard were, simply stated, the Soviet equivalent of the G.I. Joe Team.
I'm not sure why I found the group so fascinating all at once. I suppose, back then, in 1982, it had something to do with the real-world fact that the United States and the Soviet Union were the two great super-powers in the world, and from an American perspective, anyway, the Soviets were the bad guys. They were also something of a mystery. Their culture was diametrically different than ours, they spoke an entirely different language - even their alphabet was different. And yet, they didn't look all that different from us.
Within the world of G.I. Joe, the existence of the Oktober Guard made sense. If the United States is going to have a special forces team to combat the global, stress that word "global", threat of Cobra, then logically, so is the USSR. It also made sense to me that the team would be smaller. An oppressive and somewhat paranoid government such as the Soviet Union is not about to build a large team of highly specialized and, need it be added, individualistic soldiers. They're going to want to keep the team fairly small and manageable. Impressive, certainly, but controllable.
The original Oktober Guard team that appeared in G.I.Joe #6 featured commanding officer COLONEL BREKHOV, the massive HORROR-SHOW, Czechoslovakian member DAINA, East German SCHRAGE, and STORMAVIK. In this first story, Schrage and Stormavik were pretty much cyphers. However, over the years, when the team would appear, we'd get to know these characters a little bit better.
The animated series, much to my delight, also introduced the Oktober Guard, albeit a slightly different one. Colonel Brekhov was still in charge and Horror-Show was still on hand, but Daina was drastically altered from her comic book appearance, as was Stormavik. Schrage got passed over for an incredibly annoying Chinese officer named Wong, who liked to pretend he was a cowboy. Both Stormavik and Wong were dropped from future animated appearances.
In the comic book, in the Oktober Guard's second appearance, in G.I. JOE YEARBOOK #2, the team gained a sixth member, the flamethrower specialist named DRAGONSKY. Of all of the Oktober Guards, he had the most unusual uniform. Most of the Guards' uniforms tended to be fairly straightforward military colors, and designs. Arguably the most distinctive of the lot was Horror-Show, with his massive padded green coat. But Dragonsky's protective uniform was actually done in magenta, with purple padding!
The Guard would continue to appear off and on over the next several years, actually turning up more in the Special Missions title than the main G.I. Joe title, but they were certainly an established part of the G.I. Joe world, and their arrival on the scene was always welcomed by most fans.
And yet there were never any figures of the Guard. Although requests poured in, from myself and others, Hasbro regarded the notion of doing Soviet characters, as either good guys or bad guys, as simply too politically controversial. It wasn't until 1991, when the Soviet Union basically started falling apart and things were a lot quieter politically between the USA and what was left of the USSR, that Hasbro finally decided that it was time to add the Oktober Guard to the figure line.
They would do two figures over the next two years - RED STAR and BIG BEAR. Although the names were derivative, the figures were still welcome. Red Star bore a strong resemblance to Colonel Brekhov, a point that was made by Red Star during his lone comic book appearance. Both Red Star and Big Bear managed to make it into several animated episodes, which by this time were being handled by DIC. Although most of the episodes produced by DIC were dreadful, those featuring Red Star and Big Bear were among the more tolerable, thank goodness. And certainly the figures of them were welcome!
But the original Oktober Guard team would go unmade as action figures until the comic-based sets started to emerge. Fans were sincerely hoping that as the sets, which were originally going in precise numerical order, got around to issues #6 and #7, that we would finally see figures of the original Oktober Guard.
We were not disappointed, and it's not an understatement to say that the figures were among the finest G.I. Joes that had been produced since the line's original demise in 1994. They even made new tooling for Horror- Show's jacket. This in a time when all Hasbro has seemed willing to do for traditional-style figures is the occasional new headsculpt.
But the story does not end there. There were other members that needed to be made. I've already cited Dragonsky. He wasn't in that original story. One of the three-packs was filled out with a very nice figure of Joe Team member STALKER, who played a prominent role in that first story.
In a story that took place in G.I. JOE SPECIAL MISSIONS #26, most of the original Oktober Guard was killed off. I don't ever recall being that mad at a G.I. Joe comic as I was then. During a battle against the Iron Grenadiers in the South American banana republic known as Sierra Gordo, four of the team members - Colonel Brekhov, Horror-Show (my personal favorite, darn it), Stormavik, and Schrage, were killed. Daina and Dragonsky were spared by virtue of having split with the team on a different part of the mission, and ended up being captured along with several Joes. Once the story concluded, one assumed this was the end of the Guard.
But it wasn't! In G.I. JOE #101, the Joes teamed up with the new Oktober Guard - right back to Sierra Gordo, for that matter, which didn't make anybody happy. Surviving members Daina and Dragonsky were joined by newcomers LT. GORKY, detached from the Black Sea Regiment of the Soviet Naval Infantry, and SGT. MISHA, a member of the Spetsnaz Special Forces. Lt. Gorky spent a fair amount of time flirting with Lady Jaye during the mission, much to the consternation of both Flint and Daina, and Sgt. Misha spent most of his time trying to be a good member of the Soviet military, spouting the occasional racist remark, also chiding Gorky for his behavior, and generally being a pain in the buttski.
These new members of the Guard would not see as much page time as the original team. In the Marvel comic, the Oktober Guard would only appear once more after this adventure - in a story that introduced Red Star and teamed the Guard with the Joe Team's Star Brigade unit. Oddly, in this story, Gorky and Misha seemed as near-anonymous as Schrage and Stormavik had in their first appearance. Maybe it was the spacesuits.
In the Devil's Due comic, Gorky and Daina would appear one more time. Gorky, unfortunately, would be killed, and Daina would join the G.I.Joe Team. The fate of Dragonsky and Misha remains unknown.
However, once the original Oktober Guard appeared as action figures - and gee whiz, it only took 22 years - the question on many fans' minds was - would we get the rest of the team? There were three remaining characters, just enough for a three-pack, and G.I.Joe #101 was certainly the logical issue for a figure set to be based upon. Finally, it happened! And finally, after 15-20 years since their original introduction, I now have all the characters from the Oktober Guard. Let's consider them individually, shall we?
As I said earlier, this character was actually introduced in G.I. JOE YEARBOOK #2, well before Misha or Gorky. However, he, along with Daina, were the sole survivors (man, that still bugs me) of the original Oktober Guard, and since Dragonsky did not appear in the original Oktober Guard story in issues #6 and #7, this was the logical set for him to appear in.
Dragonsky is easily the most unusual-looking member of the Oktober Guard. Horror-Show would be a close second, but at least his uniform uses fairly military colors. Dragonsky's most categorically doesn't. If anyone on the Oktober Guard team is a reflection of the sort of less-than-military individualism that the Joe Team certainly became known for, it would have to be Dragonsky. I doubt very much that there are, or were, any members of the Soviet military running around in magenta-and-purple uniforms.
This is actually the second Dragonsky figure. The first was a Convention exclusive in 2005. That Dragonsky was, in keeping with other figures in that set, outfitted mostly in a grey "urban rain" uniform, but he still had purple armor padding. It's pretty much the color he's most associated with.
And there was a Dragonsky figure planned for the original line. He would've been part of the Eco-Warriors, but the figure never happened. It's not too much of a stretch to see his color scheme fitting in rather well with that crowd. In a way, I'm just as glad that figure never happened, since I suspect it would not have been as "comic-accurate" as this one we finally have now.
The new Dragonsky figure is completely different from his Convention counterpart. What's interesting is just how many parts from different figures have been cobbled together to make this figure. Dragonsky has a new head sculpt, of course, and it's an excellent one. The upper body is that of the SAW-Viper, he lower torso and upper legs come from - of all figures - Ice Cream Soldier, and the boots are from the DEF Mutt figure, which were also used on the Star Brigade figure Space Shot.
What's amazing is how well all of these parts work together. All too often when you start "frankensteining" to this degree, even with the basic common construction of traditional-style G.I.Joe figures, there's going to be some parts that just don't fit well. I would've certainly expected this at the very least with using different lower legs with the upper legs. But either some mold adjustments were made, or we just really caught a break here, because the Dragonsky figure is remarkable, and possibly the coolest figure in the set (not that they're not all very cool).
The molds used reflect the comic likeness of Dragonsky, of someone wearing an oddly-colored but heavily passed uniform, superbly well. Dragonsky is, as I said earlier, the team's flamethrower specialist, as well as main vehicle driver and mechanic. So he's going to need all that padding.
He comes with flamethrower tanks and a rifle-like flamethrower. Some collectors have loudly complained about the fact that Dragonsky doesn't come with his helmet, and arguably he should have one. But in my book, this is an incredibly minor point. Be glad you've got Dragonsky after all these years! Given the rather chaotic recent history of the G.I. Joe product, there was probably a better than average chance of this figure not even happening!
Dragonsky's file card reads as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD Solider
File Name: Dragonsky, Andrei (this is an alteration from his Convention card, which named him Andrei Friezov)
Primary Military Specialty: Vehicle Driver
Secondary Military Specialty; Incendiary Weapons
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
DRAGONSKY can operate just about any form of wheeled transportation with impressive skill and just enough reckless abandon to scare the enemy into a hasty retreat. He's an expert with a flamethrower and prefers it above any other weapon. He can aim a fiery blast with amazing precision and never seems to be bothered by the intense heat. A former member of the Soviet army, Dragonsky joined the OKTOBER GUARD as the team's mechanic, welder and incendiary weapons specialist. He has combined all of these skills to build custom-designed fire-blasting attachments for the team's vehicles. Cobra forces have been unpleasantly surprised to find themselves blasted by a wall of flames where just moments ago there was only an innocent-looking transport vehicle.
"Whenever the enemy tries to make the situation hot for me, I make it ten times hotter for them."
It's worth mentioning here that the file cards for these three new Oktober Guard figures do follow the color format of the original five, in that they're dark olive green with white type - highly unusual, but cool.
Technically, this is the second Lt. Gorky figure. The first Lt. Gorky was actually offered as part of the Oktober Guard 3-pack in 1998. However, that Lt. Gorky was only a recolored (and not very well) Big Bear figure, who bore no real resemblance to the actual Lt. Gorky from the comics. That set also included Red Star renamed as Col. Brekhov, which worked a little better, and a character originally intended to be Daina, who was renamed Lt. Volga after the Daina name was discovered to be unavailable at that time for some strange reason.
The Lt. Gorky figure in this new three-pack looks a lot more like his comics counterpart, but there's still some minor problems. First off is the uniform color. Now, upon studying the actual comic book, Gorky's uniform color could be in some dispute. Many people will tell you it should be black. However, it isn't as dark as Gorky's beret, which is clearly intended to be black. On the other hand, the figure's uniform is a medium grey in color. It can be argued that Gorky's uniform should be grey, but perhaps a darker grey than what we actually got. Hasbro might have been trying to find some sort of compromise between the comics Gorky, and the Gorky that they produced in 1998, which was wearing a very pale grey uniform.
The other problem is the choice of body parts. The figure uses the body of one of the 30th Anniversary 3-3/4" Joes, for the most part - the Action Marine. While not a problem in and of itself - it's a good match for Gorky's uniform if you throw in the bandolier he's wearing - the body mold is a little on the bulky side compared with the rest of the Oktober Guard, and there's no indication in the comics that Gorky is an especially large individual. The figure actually stands taller than either Dragonsky or Horror-Show, both of whom are regarded as fairly large individuals, especially Horror-Show. Granted, that figure comes up a little short to begin with. This, too, is a minor point, and we should be thankful to have the figure, but it is noticeable.
In the comics, Gorky was presented as a fairly cheerful fellow, having no problems teaming up with the G.I. Joe Team and actually flirting with Lady Jaye a fair bit, much to the supreme annoyance of Flint as well as his own team-mates, who would've preferred he kept his mind on the mission. I always sort of liked Gorky, as he seemed to be one of the more congenial members of what was often a rather acerbic team of soldiers.
The Devil's Due G.I. Joe comic brought Gorky back some years later, unfortunately under less than pleasant circumstances. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the disbanding of the Oktober Guard, Gorky fell in with the Russian underground. He ended up killed in that story, which I always thought was highly unfortunate. He deserved better than that. Fortunately, this was not an impedance in making a figure of the character from happier times.
Gorky's file card reads as follows:
OKTOBER GUARD Commando
File Name: Gorky, Mikhail P.
Primary Military Specialty: Naval Commando
Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry
Birthplace: Archangelsk, Russia
LT. GORKY was recruited for the OKTOBER GUARD when reinforcements were needed to bolster the ranks of this formidable group, which is the Russian equivalent of the G.I.Joe Team. He comes to the Guard with extensive experience in land, sea, and air operations. Formerly a member of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, Lt. Gorky is a tough and versatile fighter who is utterly fearless in battle and capable of handling any situation thrown at him. The hard-nosed members of the original Oktober Guard reserved their acceptance of him until he had proved his mettle on a real operation. He more than earned his right to be part of the team during a treacherous mission in which the Guard teamed up with the G.I.Joe Team in a joint operation against Cobra.
"You have to be smart when you're fighting a group as devious and dangerous as Cobra. So it makes more sense for us to work with the G.I.Joe Team rather than against them. We need to join forces to defeat a common enemy."
Interesting that he's listed as a "Commando" rather than just a "Soldier" at the top of the file card.
At the risk of sounding like I'm bragging, I was asked by Hasbro to write the file cards for the 1998 Oktober Guard three-pack, and I knew I needed to come up with a full name for Lt. Gorky, as none had ever been created. I'm not sure where I came up with "Mikhail P. Gorky", except that "Mikhail" is the Russian version of "Michael", which I always thought was a good name. I don't believe I ever bothered to expand upon the middle initial. What's interesting is that it stuck. Devil's Due used it on Gorky's grave marker in the comic - in Russian, yet! -- and now it's been used for what is decidedly a more accurate version of the character. That's kind of cool.
One other thing about this file card is that it got Gorky's background right. The comic in which he first appeared made specific reference to Gorky being from the Black Sea Regiment of the Soviet Naval Infantry, apparently some seriously bad dudes on the battlefield.
Certainly one of the more distinctive-looking members of the Oktober Guard, Sgt. Misha represents the SPETSNAZ, a unit of Soviet Special Forces. When he and Gorky were introduced to the Joes, Roadblock made the comment, "Naval Infantry and Spetsnaz! The two toughest outfits in the Soviet armed forces. The Oktober Guard has gotten leaner and meaner!"
One thing the SPETZNAZ are particularly known for is a rather oddball uniform, which consists of a camouflage jumpsuit and a weird hat that looks like an oversized pith helmet. The early prototypes for Misha showed him wearing such a massive chapeau that it looked more like a sombrero. Thankfully this was trimmed down by the time the figure hit production to something far more reasonable.
I honestly wasn't entirely sure how Hasbro was going to manage this figure. The SPETSNAZ uniform is a rather baggy-looking piece of work, and I didn't believe that parts really existed for them. Well, Hasbro found a way. Although the torso of the uniform comes from Red Star, marking its third use in the Oktober Guard comics-based line (although not inappropriately so), most of the rest of the body parts used on the figure appear to come from arctic troopers, which give the appropriately baggy appearance thanks to their sculpted "padding".
It's worth noting that, based on an illustration from an Osprey Military Series book on Soviet Elite Troops, even the unusual camouflage the Misha figure has been given is very accurate for SPETSNAZ. Nice work, Hasbro!
Unfortunately, the parts don't fit together quite as well as the assorted parts that were used for Dragonsky, and it's a little hard to get Misha to stabilize at the waist and stand up straight, but there have certainly been worse scenarios than this in the line since Hasbro started cobbling together whatever was lying around in 2002.
And one certainly cannot argue that Misha is a distinctive figure. His entire uniform has been given this fascinating and certainly unique camouflage pattern, the likes of which I've never before seen on any previous G.I. Joe figure. It's appropriate to the character, and it looks very cool.
Misha's face is just as distinctive as the rest of him. Misha in the comic book was shown to be somewhat narrow-faced, with a rather pointy chin, and huge glasses (Overall excellent artwork, though, by M.D. Bright and Randy Emberlin). The figure captures this likeness superbly well. The hat, which is removable, is also very well done. My only complaint about the hat is that, when standing next to other Oktober Guard figures wearing headgear, especially Colonel Brekhov, it looks ridiculously large. Either that, or the others look ridiculously small. Either way, in a group setting, it doesn't quite work. But on its own, it's superb.
Personality-wise, Misha tended to come off as something of a jerk. He wasn't above making racist remarks, chided Gorky for flirting with Lady Jaye, and wasn't too crazy about having to team up with Roadblock until circumstances in battle required them to work together. He just wasn't a very nice person, and I've always sort of suspected that if there was a KGB spy on the team, it was probably Misha. To what degree his attitude was a reflection of the fact that he was a bit on the short side, and figured he had to act big, I don't really know. Still, he makes a very distinctive and cool figure, no argument there whatsoever. Misha's file card reads as follows:
SGT. MISHA ZUBENKOV
OKTOBER GUARD Soldier
File Name: Zubenkov, Misha L.
Primary Military Specialty: Artillery
Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry
Birthplace: Smolensk, Russia
SGT. MISHA is a tough and determined soldier who sees beyond borders and rivalries. He believes that combining forces with the G.I .Joe Team is the way to go if the two groups hope to defeat the Cobra organization. While his family expected him to follow in their footsteps and work in the family glass factory, Sgt. Misha had other ideas. He joined the Russian Army, then was recruited for the Oktober Guard after many of its original members met their demise during an ill-fated mission against Cobra. He's an expert with a variety of weapons from submachine guns to grenade launchers and laser-guided missile systems, and he advises the Oktober Guard on the most effective application of weapons in their confrontations with Cobra.
"Sometimes a persuasive discussion can help Cobra see the error of their ways. If that doesn't work, a well-aimed rocket launcher will definitely get them to change their minds."
Two quick points about that file card. I really sort of wish it hadn't
mentioned the demise of the others, but if it had to, it could've at
least gotten it right. It was the Iron Grenadiers that did the dirty
A few comments about the three figures in general: The head sculpts are nicely detailed, the body part selections appropriate for the most part - and they even did new parts for Horror-Show, which one would've thought was unthinkable, but you really couldn't've cobbled him together from existing pieces - and the only evidence of hand-painted details I see anywhere on these figures are Gorky's and Misha's hands, and they were done quite well, actually. Considering the amount of painted detail on these guys, especially Dragonsky and Misha, that's pretty incredible. Looking at details such as painted shirt buttons, Misha's camouflage, and such minor details as silver metallic straps on the back of Dragonsky's boot padding, clearly Hasbro wanted these done as well as possible. Heck, even the Stalker figure in set #7 is one of the best of the Joes.
It's also worth noting that the "pygmy head" problem that tended to affect some of the earlier comic sets - thankfully not the first Oktober Guard figures to any great degree - is also thankfully absent here.
Unfortunately there is one glitch, which is the other matter apart from hand-painted detailing that really needs to be dealt with. Mold creases in the heads. This happens when the plastic that is injected into the molds has not been fully liquefied, and the result is a piece that tends to show hairline but - especially at 3-3/4" size -- very noticeable cracks or lines across its surface. On a face, especially, it can be disastrous, and I have heard reports that the new Oktober Guard set is especially susceptible to this.
I got reasonably lucky. My Dragonsky isn't too badly off. Misha shows some sign of this, but I always sort of figured him for being a little craggy-faced anyway. Gorky - his face isn't too badly affected, but his beret is a mess. I'm thankful that his face wasn't affected as badly, but even so, it's unfortunate that such otherwise excellent figures had to suffer this, especially when one considers that the other set manufactured at this same time, Set #44, doesn't show any real sign of this problem.
Nevertheless, I most certainly give my strongest recommendation possible
to G.I.JOE COMIC SET #101. I'm truly delighted to have them, and finally,
the Oktober Guard is complete!