Plague Troopers Vs. Steel Brigade
name: Plague Troopers Vs. Steel Brigade
Price: MSRP $24.99
Availability: October, 2006 - Toys "R" Us/Direct To Consumer Exclusive
Wow, a 3 3/4" G.I. Joe item to review? I almost don't know what to say...it seems like it's been so long since we've had something out on store shelves! In fact, looking back upon my reviews for the year (not counting Con Exclusive stuff) it would appear this is the first actual DTC item since... January?!? Is that right? Wow.
So, considering it took nine months to come out, I think the Plague Troopers Vs. Steel Brigade set has some pretty lofty standards to meet. I mean, if we're only going to get a few items per year, they'd better be good ones, right? Well, from a conceptual standpoint, I'm certainly a big fan of this set. From an execution standpoint...well...it doesn't quite meet it's potential.
From a design standpoint, I really like what Hasbro is trying to do here. I sometimes get sick and tired of Joe collectors griping about not getting a new version of every existing character that's already been released, when they tend to forget what makes Joe so cool to begin with... NEW characters...NEW concepts. Don't forget what you really loved about this line when you were a kid...what did you like more in 1986? The new Roadblock, or great new characters like Wet Suit, Leatherneck, Beachhead, or Serpentor? Without Hasbro branching out to new things we would have never had the Iron Grenadiers, Serpentor, or even the Drug Elimination Force. Redoing old figures and characters ad infinitum can lead to a stale toyline, in my opinion, and I'm happy to see that Hasbro is trying new things. Sure, the new Viper Pit set looks pretty fun, but come on...Viper molds in dark blue and red? Didn't we see that like 20 years ago? I'll take the NEW ideas, thanks very much...you guys stock up on those Vipers all you want (I've already got a bunch from '86 I'm perfectly happy with).
We'll cover the Plague Troopers first.
Those folks who attended the Convention heard Dwight Stall talk a little bit about the Plague and what they were originally meant to represent. COBRA Commander finally decided to fight some fire with fire, so his plan was to create a team of thirteen COBRA agents, who were the "best of the best" in their fields. The best Eel, the best Viper, the best Frag-Viper, etc... he would design this team as the "anti-G.I. Joe" and I think this is an awesome idea. It's also a great tribute to the first series of G.I. Joe figures from 1982, which were comprised of 13 members. It's unfortunate that this concept didn't make it into writing on the packaging anywhere, but I'm happy to know a little bit about it.
Two of the Plague Troopers use the same basic body mold with similar helmets, so I'll cover them together:
On the left is Grim Skull, and on the right is Gallows, who are ex Sand-Viper and SAW-Viper respectively. Each one is the "best of the best" of their particular specialty, and was hand-picked by COBRA Commander to be Plague Troopers, and each one is very similar in appearence. They both use the same body mold and the same basic colors, only with different pad colors, and different trimming throughout the rest of the body here and there.
Grim Skull has yellow shoulder-pads, a yellow segment on his faceplate, and the leg wraps are also yellow. While this color is a tad bright, it makes a certain amount of sense considering he is an ex Sand-Viper and you could say that yellow blends with a desert environment, or at least dictates what team he was a member of. The rest of his colors are different shades of gray and black, and look pretty neat as a dark and imposing COBRA specialist. From an appearence standpoint, Grim Skull works pretty nicely.
From a playability standpoint, I find myself quite disappointed, I'm afraid to say. Many collectors absolutely swear by this version of Snake Eyes when it came out back in the Joe Vs. COBRA line, but I am definitely not one of them. Hasbro really took things to a new level with this mold, absolutely cramming it full of sculpting details. Mesh patterns, web-belts, pouches and other intricate items really bring a level of detail to this figure, but unfortunately they almost totally negate any valuable poseability and movement. This sculpting keeps the arms out at the figures' sides which makes him look flat out goofy even while just standing there. However, it also prevents you from posing him in a really realistic battle stance or even holding a weapon. While I love the added articulation in the wrists and ankles, it makes the limbs feel a little weak, and it makes the figure interact with his weapons in a very unfriendly manor. His shoulders aren't poseable enough, the limbs aren't "fluid" enough, and no matter how you try to pose this figure, he just looks like a gangly Frankenstein monster.
I do have to say, though, that Grim Skull's head sculpt is pretty fantastic. The elaborate design of the layered helmet and armored mask really gives him a threatening appereance. I really love the twin slitted eyes, the nasty looking mouthpiece and the way the added splash of color gives him some real character. The row of spikes along the top of the helmet is a nice touch, too, and ultimately this head sculpt REALLY makes the figure. I like the idea of a somewhat standardized helmet for the Plague Troopers, and it adds a ton even to a figure that is REALLY hampered by the poor body sculpt choice.
The accessories here aren't too bad. He comes with the missile launcher that Scrap Iron came with back in DTC Wave 1, but it had a splash more color, which is pretty neat. Not a huge fan of this oversized BFG, and I'm not sure how it relates to his Sand-Viper specialty (the yellow color and rocket launcher would seem to indicate that he perhaps should have been a former HEAT Viper...) but it's an all right weapon overall. He also comes with the small submachine gun that Shipwreck came with back in the JvC days. Not a bad accessory compliment for a figure that ends up being terrific from a character standpoint, but not a ton of fun from the actual toy standpoint, which is unfortunate.
The same is going to have to be said for Gallows as well, the former SAW Viper. It's going to be tough to go on and on about this figure, because most of what I said about Grim Skull applies here as well. One aspect that really makes this figure stand out more is the deep, dark red of the shoulder pads, facemask, and leg wraps. I really, really like this color and it makes this figure look even more sinister than it could have with other colors.
Unfortunately the body style retains the same problems as Grim Skull with quirky articulation, over sculpted details and an overall gimpy appearence. It is quite unfortunate, because I really, REALLY love the characterization given to these guys, and I like the Plague concept so much I just might have to bust out the customizing tools again after all of this time.
You'll notice that the head sculpt here is remarkably similar to Grim Skull, but has some minor differences. Instead of the row of spikes on the top of the helmet, it has a more smooth, red ridge. The red plate of armor is on his right side instead of his left, but beyond these small changes the head sculpt is pretty close to the same. I like this similarity, and I honestly wouldn't complain if Hasbro used a base of this head sculpt for other Plague characters. There are little intricate details here and there throughout the helmet that just looks fantastic.
I also really dig the accessories that Gallows comes with as well. It's your basic hand-held chaingun, but with it's enlarged sculpt and two-toned color, it packs a lot more punch than the previous ones we've seen, and it matches Gallows' former specialty of SAW-Viper. I'm a little confused as to how the ammo gets fed to the weapon without any kind of drum, ammo cannister or gunbelt, but COBRA has always been on the cutting edge technology-wise, so I don't know why they couldn't have designed some sort of integrated ammo drum within the weapon itself. The sculpt of the gun is great, and there is an included rubber strap that helps Gallow hold the beastly weapon. It kind of hooks to the peg a little funny, but once you get it working, it makes some sense, since the gun is so large.
Gallows also comes with a serated knife very similar to the one the DTC Spirit came with.
Ultimately, these two Plague Troopers are very sinister looking, but unfortunately not a whole lot of fun to play with or pose. They've got SO much potential that ends up falling somewhat short. However, they also end up being one of the few lowpoints of this 6-Pack, and it pretty much gets better from here.
Next we'll cover the Plague Trooper leader himself, Guillotine:
Throughout the history of new sculpt figures, I had a bunch of running favorites, which usually corrosponded with whichever figure was the newest. As you may have guessed by my reviews, I'm big on the "new factor". I like new ideas, I like new concepts, and as such, I tend to like new figures as they come out, because they usually offer something new to the table. Not always, but usually. That's part of the reason why I sometimes grow tired of constant rehashes of existing characters, especially if they're designed to so closely resemble the originals...give me something new...something I haven't seen before.
As I look back through my large inventory of new sculpt COBRA troopers, I continue to come across figures that I wonder about. Figures that I originally thought were so cool now have a less dubious distinction of being COBRA Troops that don't fit in real well with my COBRA army, which is primarilly composed of classic sculpt figures. Many of the long-legged, scrawny torso COBRA troops simply look goofy next to some of the classic sculpt counterparts (even if I do enjoy the figures still). Well, one figure that has managed to maintain some level of compatibility to me is the COBRA Coils. He's got some decent proportions, a very cool sculpt, and an interesting specialty. Thankfully, at least one Plague Trooper in this six-pack uses this mold, which is a very nice departure from the overkill Snake Eyes mold we got for the other two Plagues.
Guillotine is far and way the best Plague Trooper of this set, and he makes for a great, GREAT leader.
His head sculpt is very mean looking and I'm glad to see another potential COBRA "face" out there. As a former Eel, Guillotine captured COBRA Commander's attention so much that he was hand picked to lead this team, and I think this character works quite well in that regard. I love the stern gaze on his face, and the sleek and stylized mold works amazingly well as potential land gear for a water based COBRA expert. There really isn't much about the mold that is "Eel-like", but I'm very happy they went with this look over anything based on the inhuman looking "Electric Eel" mold from Valor Vs. Venom.
Guillotine's shoulders are broad, but not overly so, his arms are very well sculpted and work perfectly as bare arms, though I'm not really certain how those forearm pads stay where they are. The little details like the zipper sculpting, the shoulder straps, the ridged padding and the leather-looking surface of the uniform itself are all great touches.
I've always loved the right hand formation of this figure as well, because it works excellently as a "trigger finger". Unfortunately his left hand is absolutely horrible and serves no purpose whatsoever. Honestly I have absolutely NO idea what possible use Hasbro could be thinking of when they sculpted his hand that way. He has no swivel wrists, so it doesn't work as a weapon-support hand either. I would prefer pretty much anything else...another trigger finger, a clenched fist, a standard "C Grip"...ANYTHING. Like this, it's just completely useless. That unfortunately takes quite a bit away from the figure, and really impacts how useful he can be.
Really, though, that should be considered a minor gripe, I suppose, especially when the rest of the figure is as good as he is.
From head sculpt to torso sculpt, all the way down to the laces on his boots, Guillotine looks terrific, even with those strange phantom arm guards and totally goofy left hand. His accessories are kind of a mixed bag, however.
First of all, his helmet is absolutely fantastic, don't get me wrong there. It's very Eel-based and has two terrific air hoses that wrap on down over his shoulders, down his back, and plug into his backpack. It works to sheer perfection. I really love it. The backpack itself is sculpted very nicely, and has a neat little sheath to keep his absolutely brutal sword in. Speaking of his sword, it appears to have a handle sculpted out of a skull and spine, which is just too disturbing to even think about, yet seems to fit Guillotine's personality perfectly. This sword is just horrific, and I think it gives the character a sinister, almost serial-killer vibe, which isn't something any COBRA agents are necessarily known for.
However, his primary weapon leaves something to be desired. It's an oversized, overcomplicated, unrealistic hand cannon and it just doesn't work for me. It doesn't look like an underwater weapon, it doesn't look like a realistic machine gun...it's just some strange amalgamation. I don't necessarily mind unrealistic weapons when they have a great design scheme, but this weapon doesn't really have either realism or an interesting sculpt. It just leaves me cold.
From head to toe, Guillotine is a very, very fun figure, and will be an interesting character to dive into. I can see him being extremely violent and extremely unstable, and the idea of this twisted individual leading a team of highly trained COBRA Commandos could provide some endless storylines.
His accessories are great for the most part (though I'm not a fan of his primary gun) and especially compared to the other Plague Troopers, he just oozes character and fun. Good job on the leader, I just wish his support troops were a bit more functional.
We will continue this review with the Steel Brigade troops on Page 2. Continue on below to see more Plague Troops pictures.
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