REVIEW: G.I. JOE V.A.M.P. Mk II with STEEL BRIGADE DELTA
Certainly within as massive a concept as G.I. Joe, some things tend to become more iconic, and better known, than others. Whether this happens by intent or just through whatever happenstance drives pop culture, one can only speculate. Within G.I. Joe, certain characters, such as Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Duke, Destro, etc., are simply better known than other characters, as enjoyable as those other characters may be..
This is also true of the vehicles within the line. Most people moderately familiar with the G.I. Joe concept will readily know about the MOBAT, the SkyStriker, the HISS, etc. They might be less familiar, however, with the Hammerhead, the Parasite, and so forth.
Certainly one of the most iconic vehicles within the world of G.I. Joe is the VAMP. Introduced in 1982, it was the equivalent of a Jeep for G.I. Joe. However, "Jeep" is a trademarked name, despite its somewhat casual use in military circles, and as such likely couldn't be used for G.I. Joe.
VAMP, as a bit of a stretch, stands for "Vehicle Assault: Multi Purpose". Dubious abbreviation aside, the VAMP was a definite hit with G.I. Joe fans and kids the second it was released. It was a very impressive, very modern-looking, four-wheeled military vehicle. And what kid, if he's playing with soldiers, doesn't want vehicles for them? And in 1982, the choices were pretty limited. There was the RAM Motorcycle, which was cool, and there was the MOBAT, the team's tank -- and what military unit doesn't need a tank? But the VAMP was four-wheeled, not two-wheeled, it came with its own driver, Clutch, and it was of a size that allowed it to be within a much more affordable price-point than the MOBAT.
Hasbro knew a good thing when they saw it, and the VAMP would appear, in various forms, many multiple times over the years. It would return twice in 1984, as the VAMP Mark II, and as the Cobra Stinger. The main differences were the colors, the weapons mounted in the back, and the fact that both vehicles had roofs and doors, something the original VAMP didn't. Nevertheless, the basic VAMP body was still used for both vehicles. There was even a Canadian version of the VAMP II, molded in a slightly different color of tan, and with Canadian stickers instead of American ones.
For an interesting turnaround, the Stinger version of the VAMP was recolored in 1988, and reassigned to the G.I. Joe team through the Tiger Force program as the Tiger Sting. This time around, it was yellow with black stripes.
Even the demise of the G.I. Joe line in 1994 couldn't keep the VAMP down for long. It turned up in the G.I. Joe based Street Fighter line, and almost as soon as G.I. Joe returned to the shelves, the VAMP was back in action, albeit sometimes under a different name. One of the cooler editions came during the 2000-2002 era, when the VAMP was tricked out with some new attachments and given the name Desert Striker. This time around, Flint was the driver, having recolored his old Eco-Warriors uniform in a much more agreeable shade of tan.
During the 25th Anniversary of G.I. Joe, of course the VAMP appeared yet again, and was once again ultimately remade into the Cobra Stinger, as well. Both vehicles, although still utilizing the basic original VAMP body, had more interesting built-in features than ever. There was even a Convention Exclusive edition of the VAMP in 2007.
Now, with the G.I. Joe line, post-movie, there's yet another VAMP. But to paraphrase an old TV car commercial -- this is not your father's VAMP. It's not even the 25th Anniversary VAMP. It's an all-new VAMP, bigger and badder than any VAMP that ever rolled into a toy store and into somebody's G.I. Joe collection -- and not just because it's a four-seater rather than a two-seater.
There was a second prominent vehicle in the G.I. Joe line, that came along in 1990. Dubbed the "Hammer", it was intended as a G.I. Joe take on the Hummer -- although structurally was not close enough to warrant needing to be licensed like the Steel Crusher. It was brought out just as the real-life military Hummer was garnering attention in the news. It was absolutely massive compared to the original VAMP, almost comically so. It's had a few different versions over the years, including a Convention version, and is generally well-regarded, although not usually as well as the VAMP.
The new VAMP -- well, it falls pretty much between the two. It's certainly far larger than the original VAMP, but it's not as big as the Hammer. It also isn't as exaggerated as some aspects of the Hammer seem to be. It's a little more straightforward-looking than the Hammer. It has enough of a resemblance to the original VAMP to be seen as a plausible extension of it, although it definitely has its own "identity", which makes it look more rugged, and distinctly more realistic than the Hammer. I think if you crossed the original VAMP with a real world Hummer, not a Hammer, the result might well be the new VAMP, and maybe that's what was intended.
To give you an idea of the size difference, the original VAMP is about 8-1/4" long, slightly over 4" wide, and 3-1/2" tall at the roof. The new VAMP is 10-1/4" long, almost 5-1/2" wide, and 4-1/2" tall at the roof. Just for additional comparison sake, the Hammer is 12-1/2" long, 6" wide, but just slightly over 4" tall at the roof. Watch your head getting in, folks.
The new VAMP certainly proved popular enough as part of the post-movie line of G.I. Joe products, commonly known among fans as "Pursuit of Cobra". Now, with a new assortment of G.I. Joe products emerging, commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Real American Hero -- technically celebrated in 2012 -- the new VAMP has been re-released in a new color scheme -- as the VAMP MK-II.
I am sure that the powers-that-be at Hasbro are well aware of the irony. The same was done with the original VAMP. The main difference between the original VAMP and the original VAMP Mk II was the color scheme. The original was green, the Mark II was tan. This time around, the new VAMP was a sort of gray-tan. The new VAMP MK-II is distinctly green. Apart from this, however, the two most recent VAMPs are virtually identical, although interestingly, the VAMP has a 2010 copyright date on its base, whereas the VAMP MK-II has a 2011 copyright date. I honestly can't discern any other major differences between the two vehicles.
If I may continue the comparison between the original VAMP from the 80's, and now, it's two modern descendants. The original VAMP is a two-seater vehicle. The new VAMPs have four seats. The original VAMP has a double-barreled gun in the back, which as was shown in the comic book was capable of being remote-controlled. The new VAMPs have two massive weapons, a gatling gun and a laser cannon (the latter of which fires a spring-loaded laser missile), which can be swapped between a weapons mount in the back, and two mounts in the framework of the roof of the new VAMPs. In fairness, the original VAMP went through enough iterations to have a wide variety of weapons in the back, including a couple of types of missile launchers, but it was always ONE weapon mount.
The new VAMPs have some other interesting features. There's a smaller gun mount on the passenger side of the vehicle, which the passenger can readily use. There's a huge claw on a working winch at the front of the vehicle. The claw actually opens and closes. What I haven't quite figured out yet is a proper way to stow the claw so it doesn't drag the ground. The claw CAN be made to take hold of the front grill, at least. The winch works on a little dial in the hood.
In the back, there's a removable shovel and hammer. There's also a rack in the very back of the vehicle with a couple of gas cans. Now, it just wouldn't be a VAMP if it didn't have that. Virtually every version of the VAMP over the years has had a little rack in the back with a couple of gas cans. And so, the new VAMPs have two gas cans in a rack in the back.
The original VAMP had neither doors nor much of a roof. Instead, there was a sort of protective "roll cage" over the driver and passenger area. Similarly, although the new VAMPs look somewhat more reinforced than the original in this regard, they don't really have doors or much of a roof. Instead, there's a framework around the driver and passenger area, of varying thickness. It's really an interesting design that as much as anything else helps to give the new VAMPs a greater resemblance to their ancestor.
There are two platforms, to which the wheels attach, that also give the VAMPs a certain amount of individual suspension.
Then there are the labels. Now, I generally enjoy a well-labeled G.I. Joe vehicle, and I like being able to place them nice and neatly. But when I opened the instruction and label packet and noticed that the labels were numbered into the HIGH 80'S -- I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.
First of all, if you're reading this and you have an unopened, unassembled VAMP MK-II in front of you, or you're thinking of getting one, allow me to offer the following sage advice -- DO NOT assemble any aspect of the vehicle before putting the labels on. One quick study of the label sheet told me that I would be a whole lot better off leaving the wheels and everything else off the vehicle until I had the labels in place. There's enough near-impossible places to try to install labels without working around tires and weapons fixtures in the process.
Secondly, I recommend the following tools -- an X-Acto knife to gently place the label on for those hard to reach areas -- and trust me, there's plenty of those!
I think the last time I saw a G.I. Joe vehicle with this many labels, it was either the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier, or the Defiant Shuttle Launch Complex. And those are both a whole lot bigger than the VAMP MK-II. The labels are numbered up to 87, and that doesn't even count two distinct groups -- a little batch of bullet holes, and a large supply of alpha-numeric characters to give your VAMP MK-II its own personal registration number. All together, there's probably closer to 150 labels for this vehicle. Most of them pretty tiny.
I do like the fact that you can spell out your own alpha-numeric registration number for the VAMP MK-II. This technique was first, and last, used on the Arctic HISS tank a while back. You get two each of every number from 0 to 9, two each of every letter from A to Z, as well as four dashes, and four slash marks. The number recommended by the instruction sheet is "V46-7", but really you can do anything you want to, with space allocated on the vehicle for about five characters.
Interestingly, there are a few differences in the labels between the VAMP and the VAMP MK-II. A few have been recolored slightly, for no apparent needful reason. One small group of labels has been overhauled somewhat. On the VAMP, both of the gas cans had labels with the numeral "1" on them. This wasn't quite accurate relative to the original VAMP, whose gas cans were numbered "1" and "2". The labels for the VAMP MK-II have corrected this minor glitch, and so its gas cans can be correctly numbered "1" and "2"
As for assembly -- the days when a G.I. Joe vehicle had to be fully assembled are pretty much in the past. Nevertheless, I don't mind at all putting some of it together -- or even doing all the labels -- especially since I'm really picky about that sort of thing. You are required to snap the wheels on -- including the spare in the back -- the steering wheel, some grenades on the side, the shovel and hammer in the back, the gas cans, and the weapons mount. None of these are especially difficult, although the post for the gatling gun is a little tricky, and the ammo box mounted to it looks a little strange even when you get it right.
Of course, the VAMP MK-II needs a driver. The original VAMP, and the modern VAMP, both came with a character named Clutch, certainly a well-known character in the concept. And the original VAMP Mark II came with a recolored Clutch. That is not, however, the case with the new VAMP MK-II, who comes with a driver named "Steel Brigade Delta" -- and there's a story in and of itself.
The Steel Brigade was a concept that originated within the original Real American Hero line. It was a mail-away figure, that came with a customized file card. You gave the character its own code-name, filled in a number of specialties and capabilities and the like, and sent in the order form along with required Flag Points and payment. You received the figure along with a full-sheet print-out file card with the name you gave the character, and his various specialties listed appropriately.
The Steel Brigade figure wore a very distinctive, and non-removable, helmet, and the concept proved popular enough so that there were four different versions of the Steel Brigade figure over the years (although three were quite similar to one another), and there was even a Cobra counterpart called "Create-A-Cobra".
The name "Steel Brigade" continued to see use within the world of G.I. Joe even after the mail-order offer ran its course. After Hasbro acquired the Tonka property, they issued several die-cast Tonka vehicles in military colors under the G.I. Joe banner, and the vehicles were designated to the Steel Brigade. Also, an independent Steel Brigade fan club was created from this concept and operated for many years. In 2005, the Steel Brigade was an important part of the G.I. Joe Convention Set concept. The main boxed set featured the return of Destro's Iron Grenadiers, but, deciding to match Iron vs. Steel, the Collectors' Club made the "outside the box" figure offerings related to the Steel Brigade, including an all-new Steel Brigade Commander character, and two all-new Steel Brigade Commandos, who were dressed in a fancy "urban rain" camouflage uniform, which was also shared by G.I. Joe team member Gung-Ho, and Oktober Guard member Dragonsky, who were also available at the Convention.
The so-called "newsculpt" line of the time also offered a special set of figures, which featured three members of the Steel Brigade, given individual names for the first time, against three members of Cobra's mysterious new team, the Plague. And a Steel Brigade figure has recently been offered in the modern figure format as part of the individually-carded G.I. Joe figure line.
So, who is this Steel Brigade Delta? Presumably, they're Steel Brigade's vehicle drivers. However, the figure does come with a file card, which is actually a little more extensive than the file cards have been for the past couple of years. So let's have a read:
Code Name: STEEL BRIGADE DELTA
Steel Brigade troopers are the backbone of the G.I. Joe fighting force. The "grunts" of the team, they are chosen for their exceptional dedication and skills. They work hard to hone their skills so that they can move up the ranks into specialized positions. They meet every challenge with determination and enthusiasm, and eagerly go on missions where they can watch and learn from their superiors. The Steel Brigade Delta team members are mobile battle experts specializing in vehicular combat.
Now, that's an interesting file card in my opinion. I've always sort of seen the Steel Brigade as a specialist unit within G.I. Joe, that perhaps took on missions that for one reason or another -- anything from excessive nastiness to a greater need for covert secrecy -- the main G.I. Joe team couldn't handle. This would seem to be borne out in the 2005 definitions of the Steel Brigade Commander and the Commandos. I certainly didn't see them as "grunts" working their way up to more individualized membership.
However, it's entirely possible that somewhere along the way, the Steel Brigade title was repurposed, and now, this is what they are. Either that, or the modern G.I. Joe line takes place in an entirely different continuity or universe or some such, but I'm not going to start speculating on that sort of mess. We'll take the card at face value as such.
I should mention that I like the new card design. They're just about as big as the originals. They have a logo on the upper left, a color band across the top, the character name and specialty written in white on a black band below this, some personal data, and then the character information, which is, as I said, more extensive than it's been since the movie line. Then in the lower right is an excellent illustration, a "head shot" of the character.
So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. Admittedly, he does have a somewhat "generic" look to him, which seems in keeping with the current definition of the Steel Brigade. One would also hope that he's someone who keeps up with his Physical Training on a regular basis, because he's certainly lugging enough equipment around on his person. One might surmise that a Steel Brigade soldier is rather pleased to have the "Delta" designation assigned to him, with its concurrent specialty as a vehicle driver, because it means he gets to sit down once in a while.
The Steel Brigade Delta's uniform is mostly military green, leaning a little towards the gray. He has two cream-colored pouches on his shoulders, and pale gray gloves, knee pads, and boots. The sculpted detail on the figure is excellent, and very military in appearance.
He is wearing a very bulky vest, which conceals the oft-maligned mid-torso articulation point without severely restricting its articulation. The vest is mostly the same military green as the rest of the uniform, but there is a wide band of dark gray across the front, consisting of assorted pouches), and a second band of light gray pouches across his back.
In addition to this, the vest also has two ammo clips danging from one side in the front, and two more in the back. He has what looks like a couple of narrow grenades strapped to the right side of the vest, a pair of binoculars attached to the front of the vest near the left shoulder, a knife in a sheath near the right shoulder, and a second knife in a sheath on his back. Both knives are removable.
You know, if this guy was ever captured by Cobra, by the time they search and disarm him, the Joe Team would've rescued him. And they wouldn't dare just shoot him. Hit some of the stuff he's carrying and he might explode.
Topping off the figure is his helmet, which isn't nearly as ornate as the original Steel Brigade helmet, but manages to be a moderately close cousin, perhaps intended as a more realistic interpretation of the original. For that matter, when the Collectors' Club came up with its Steel Brigade Commander and Commandos, it used the helmet of the Cobra Blackstar figure, which itself wasn't too far removed from the Steel Brigade design in some respects. One can look at the Steel Brigade Delta helmet and see a few nods to both designs, really, wrapped up in what I sincerely believe is intended as a more real-world counterpart. The helmet is mostly military green, with a darn gray visor, and assorted sculpted details that manage to give the helmet a somewhat futuristic look to it, without being entirely implausible, and without stepping on the toes of other helmeted soldiers, such as the Spartans of Halo or the Clones of Star Wars. Really, it's a very impressive design.
The helmet is removable, but don't expect that to give you any clues as to the identity of the Steel Brigade Delta soldier. Under the helmet, he's wearing a high-tech-looking gray mask with goggles that covers his entire head, and looks like it was designed by Snake-Eyes.
Overall, the figure is very neatly painted, and certainly well-articulated. The Steel Brigade Delta soldier is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles.
Any complaints? Just one. The right elbow joint on mine looks a little raggedy, like it wasn't molded quite right. It doesn't seem to be inserted all the way, either. It's not in danger of falling out, and the arm works perfectly well, but it does look just a little odd. I realize I'm nit-picking here, but quality control problems irritate me, especially when I think they can be avoided. I'm not sure what happened here, and it's not THAT big a deal, but I didn't want to leave it entirely unaddressed.
So, what's my final word here? The new VAMP MK-II is an incredibly cool vehicle, that will be a superb addition to any G.I. Joe collection. Furthermore, if you have the first modern VAMP and are thinking about passing this one up -- don't. If you're old enough to remember the original line, then you probably bought the original VAMP as well as the original VAMP Mark II. There's no reason not to repeat that tradition. And this vehicle deserves to be part of any good G.I. Joe collection. The labels will drive you nuts, but once you get them done, you'll be -- first of all, relieved -- and secondly, very impressed with your completed VAMP MK-II. Hasbro has taken the original concept, beefed it up, given it some more seating and weaponry, and created an all-new vehicle for the G.I. Joe team that is a very worthy addition to the entire collection.
And the Steel Brigade Delta figure is extremely impressive. He is a well-detailed, well-made, and certainly well-equipped figure, that any collector of the modern G.I. Joe line will certainly enjoy.
The G.I. JOE VAMP MK-II with STEEL BRIGADE DELTA driver definitely has my highest recommendation!