Monday, March 3, 2014

Snow Day 2014

We have had an awful lot of snow days this school year at the official headquarters of LBAM HQ. No, we haven't used any of that time to blog about toys. Nor did we use much of the summer to do that either. The LBAM's writing time is rather restricted these days largely for book-contract-signing related reasons. Things look likely to remain that way till 2016 or so when said book is supposed to become a reality in stores. If, uh, bookstores are a thing by 2016 and it isn't all just Amazon drones firing books through our open windows.

Regardless, here are some photos from the most recent snow day.
JON SNOW IS LOST! AGAIN! 
Lost beyond the Wall again. Guess I'll just indecisively wander in circles and hope I trip over someone competent, in a complete contradiction of my characterization in the novels. 

MEANWHILE! 
Snow Job: Whoa. Good job, Snakes. Uh...weren't there more of those guys last time we did this? 

Snake-Eyes: **



Snow Job: Uhh..right. They're probably packed away somewhere, I guess. Somethin' about making room on shelves.  I dunno. Look, why don't we just deal with this in an, uh, field-expedient way, huh Snakes? Me and Mr. X-Games back there got some slopes to tame. And frankly, between you and me I feel like he can barely stand on that stupid board, so I can't wait to see him eat it on the bunny slope.


Doc: Field expedient way? I...I can't be hearing this. So many broken conventions. Christ, I swear if I have to spend one more week in this frozen hell I'm gonna start taking cyclobenzaprine again just to get through the days.

Shipwreck: Just hurry up and gimme one o'their masks, would ya? Our primary arctic vehicle over here's for 'ten men' but it's only got room in the heated cab for two. God only knows what Frostbite and White-Out are up to in there. This is such a chickenshit outfit...
 SUDDENLY! 

Jon Sow: Nobody told me there'd be hallucinations.


FIN


Thursday, August 8, 2013

ULTIMATE WAVE ZOMG!



We nerds have been nerding pretty hard about the Ultimate Wave from Retaliation, or Wave 3.5 (which is, to my surprise, exactly what it says on the case, Series 03.5) for a while now. And frankly all that nerding has not been without reason. This wave looked awesome. I mean, 12 figures, none of them previously released, several of them featuring a good deal of new tooling?

And now that this wave is landing in a few stores, but most prominently at BBTS, where your friendly neighborhood LBAM acquired them, the question is whether it would live up to the hype. There have been a few panicked moments of pearl-clutching as people realized that the "Ultimate Snake-Eyes" was given a head from the Retaliation SE, that some paint apps on the Combat Ninja had been lost, and so forth. Would Hasbro deliver the goods?

Let me reassure you, they have. Before I even get into the individual reviews, I think it is worth saying this right off the bat.

This is, on the whole, the best wave of Modern Era Figures Hasbro has released

The fact that I can say that without fearing hyperbole of a wave that includes a Duke, a Snake-Eyes, a Storm Shadow, and a Cobra Commander (of all things, ANOTHER GODDAMN COBRA COMMANDER) is really something.



There isn't a dud in this wave; there isn't even a figure in this wave that I won't instantly find a way to work into my display. I'm going to start things off with the figure I thought I would never, ever want; another classic style Cobra Commander.


Ultimate Cobra Commander 

I know I may be harping on this, but there was no way, no chance, I could've ever wanted another Cobra Commander. Not in his classic look, anyway, the slim, waist hugging button up jacket, helmet/hood, hair dryer gun, etc. 

And yet, here we are. 
Say what you will about Cobra as an organization, the Commander must keep himself in spectacular shape. I'd never want to wear a suit that tight. 




I could be wrong, because I'm hardly an expert, but I think this CC is almost all new tooling, right? Definitely a new torso, new gloved forearms to allow for the extra wrist articulation (!), new legs, a new tool of his classic weapon (!!). The helmeted head may be a reuse, but the hooded is definitely new.



I have always, always been more of a fan of the battle-helmet, probably because that's the version I had as a kid. There's no denying that the hooded like is equally as iconic, and this might be the first time I actually prefer it.

God help me, I might have myself talked into buying a second version of this CC so I can each head displayed. What the hell is wrong with me

Those are quality crazy eyes. 


I love the impulse of the backpacks included with CC and SS in this wave. Love. And the CC Fang-pack is a lot more successful than the CLAW pack (more on that later). It does look like the kind of crazy thing CC would strap into while making an escape. I'm not entirely sure in what direction those missiles are meant to fire, as I have no idea how they'd deploy without smashing into the rotors. BUT! Since when did Joe vehicles care about logical missile placement? Never, that's when. I will note that this thing is kind of a huge pain in the ass to get on or off of a figure because it features both arm straps and a backpack peg (that I have failed to take a picture of). Because the peg starts to press into the back as you maneuver the figure or out of the straps it can be pretty tricky. And annoying. The straps are the sort of detail that strikes me as a way to add some verisimilitude to the thing and are both totally unnecessary AND reduce the 'playability' of the toy, which seems a shame to me. 
LBAM Rating: 10/10. There's no way they can get me to buy another Cobra Commander after this one. I can't imagine how. Unless...yeah, this'd do it. C'mon GIJCC (I won't pretend Hasbro would do it). A 2 pack of "on the road in disguise" Destro and CC! Make it happen! Otherwise I think all my conceivable Cobra Commander needs are met. 

Ultimate Storm Shadow 


Pretty much just tempted to copy this old review, just with more exclamation points. The bottom line? The bare armts and more classic-styled headsculpt give it the edge over the Renegades Storm Shadow for me. It's perfect. I should note that off the card, his baldric was upside down. Easy to fix.







Now, the CLAW backpack. Once again I admire the spirit of the thing, but the execution is sort of hateful. The action feature, wherein one depresses the trigger on the bottom in order to cause the figure clasped within to spin around, is utterly baffling. I cannot, however, detract points from Storm Shadow simply because this was included with him, considering he comes with the same array of weapons as Renegades Storm Shadow (albeit with fewer paint apps).

LBAM Rating: I already said it was perfect. I rated the figure I said this is superior to A billion/10. So this is what, A billion and a half/10? 



  Ultimate Firefly 
I feel like the "Ultimate" label isn't quite as applicable here. You'll note I ditched the plain grey head and replaced it with the movie-accurate Ray Stevenson head sculpt from the earlier Firefly figure. The result is probably the most screen-accurate Firefly you're going to get. That's great, as far as it goes, but my feeling is that the 3-pack Firefly released early in the year is probably the best 'classic' Firefly yet made.


The sculpting on the jacket here is nice, though maybe it needs some better painted detail or something to make it really pop. I'd say if there was one figure from this wave I could take or leave, it'd be this Firefly.


And yet it's still really a very solid figure, with a great-looking jacket. I don't have a lot to say about this guy. I don't mind the HISS drone and I can't believe it took me this long to realize you can stick that stupid gun into the stupid missile slot instead of the stupid missile. Somehow this triple vortex of stupid results in something LESS stupid than any of the individual elements on their own. It's a mystery. 

LBAM Rating: 8/10. Not my Ultimate Firefly, but it might be your Ultimate Firefly. 


Data-Viper 

This is just flat-out the goddamn coolest looking new Cobra troop type in a long time. 
I guess you're allowed not to like this figure if you're boring and hate things that are awesome. 

What are those things attached to his hands, anyway? Servers? Some sort of interface attachment? 
 Now, I'm not going to lie; the Data Viper is not without its flaws. First and foremost, holy prancing Christ the attachments at the end of his arms will NEVER stay connected. Nor will the red wires. The few seconds I snapped the pictures are probably the only time in the three days I've owned the figure where those parts have stayed on for more than fifteen consecutive seconds. But when the resulting look is this goddamn cool, I'm willing to overlook that.

This is also why we have super glue.


I love that, despite being a tech-focused troop with a command and control support function, the guy comes loaded for bear with shoulder mounted mini missiles and an armed drone. I don't see these guys engaging in prolonged firefights, but I do see them giving a good account of themselves in close quarters. Er, those ARE meant to be miniature missile racks, right?

 I like the suggestion on the headsculpt underneath the helmet of leads for camera feed plugins, to create the 360 degree view Data Vipers are said to have, according to their designer, anyway. If only these figures had file cards in order to give that kind of info to kids and collectors who aren't hunting down scraps of into on the internet.


Absolutely love the armor piece, though in truth, once it's on the Data Viper he can't do a great deal more than squat in place. Again, in the case of this particular figure, I'm happy to sacrifice posability for look, and the look works. O do wish there was some kind of flight stand for the drone, but that seems like something I could find from a third party, and with so much tooling invested in this character (granted, the body has been released before as Airborne in a Retaliation 3-pack, but the rest of it is just for this fella, and doesn't feel terribly re-usable) it'd be pretty weak sauce to complain about an extraneous accessory that wasn't included. 

I suppose I forgot to take a photo of the satellite dish and antenna that attach to the back of his armor. You can sort of see them; they're a great kind of detail, testament to the amount of thought and care being put into these figures. 

LBAM Rating: 9.6/10

Crimson Guard


I want so badly, so very, very badly, to love this figure unreservedly.

But I just can't quite do it.

I love the idea of the Crimson Guard, and I particularly love the way this version tries to meld the CG's formality with a battle-ready look. It's the kind of thing only Cobra can really pull off; battlefield chic. I mean, a sabre with a flack jacket? I love it.


I also love these rank and unit patch stickers, although they don't necessarily do a bang up job of staying on, but I applaud the attempt.



The new headsculpt is also great. I didn't see a whole lot wrong with the old one, but this does seem like an improvement. 

What is it about that I can't love? 

The 25th Anniversary CG torso is the wrong part choice, that's what. It's the wrong choice because it makes it damned near impossible for the vest fit well, if at all. In fact, out of the package, my CG's vest didn't fit AT ALL. It wasn't buttoned closed, and it couldn't be. I had to boil the vest, twice, and pull it quickly around the figure to button it in place. Now, that's an easy enough fix, I suppose, but a better torso fit or a wider vest makes this a moot point. And there is the argument that we shouldn't necessarily have to "fix" a toy, that it should come together off the peg. I suppose it's possible, since I've only got one of them, that on other samples the vest will fit better, but it definitely affects how I'll rate the figure now.

LBAM Rating: 8.4/10 I was so ready to give it a 10, but I can't stand having a figure with its vest flopping open that cannot be closed without resorting to measures like boiling. 

Cobra Combat Ninja


Let's get this out of the way; "Combat Ninja" is a dumb ass, stupid, no good, terrible name. Not only because in the film these are simply Cobra Troopers, but also because "Combat" seems like a silly modifier for ninja, implying a range of other possible types. Conscientious Objector Ninja? Clerical Ninja? Water Purification Ninja? Medical Ninja? Pilot Ninja? Yeah, it's dumb. So is this joke. Let's just move on.

So, this figure is basically the Shock Trooper tooling with new heads and a damn snazzy new deco. Hasbro has gotten great mileage out of that tooling, and it's an example of just how useful a good torso, legs, arms, and vest will go, especially when mixed with other solid parts or good paint work. And I really dig the paint on this guy. I heard some complaints about this figure once production samples got out, folks claiming there were fewer paint apps than had been "promised." Two comments on that. First, what's shown in pre-production is not "promised." Hand painted prototypes are always going to look better. Second, this is a great figure with a cool paint job, loads of accessories, an extra head, so I don't want to hear any bitching about Hasbro cheaping out on it. Well, I mean, you CAN bitch about it, but then you're simply marking yourself as precisely the sort of person whose opinion can be safely discounted.



At any rate, the standard new head for the helmet is not terribly exciting with the helmet off. Helmet on it's fine, and pretty fairly screen accurate.




Now THIS alternate head is just awesome. I love it. I just wish I had some blue ninja bodies to put it on  to recreate the new ninja faction from Larry Hama's continuing ARAH comics from IDW. It doesn't seem quite right on this figure. Dissonant, to my eye. I'll find something to do with it, though. 

LBAM Rating: 9/10 I like this figure quite a bit, and I am going to resist the urge to buy a dozen of him. I'll try to stop at two or three, because I recently forced myself to reshuffle displays and wound up putting away loads of troop builders, everything from 25th Troopers and CGs to PoC Alley Vipers and Shock Troopers. Going to try not to repeat that mistake. 

Roadblock 


Whatever you thought of Retaliation or of the casting of Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock (my opinion is that he makes a fine default action star, with a measure of charisma if not a great deal of personality) this is an absolutely stellar action figure.
Some of the detail of the tattoo gets a little muddy at this scale, but holy hell, they recreated some pretty complex ink in 3.75" scale. What more could you want?

To a large extent this figure is made up of the same tooling as the Battle Kata Roadblock, but I feel the new head, weapons, and extra paint push this one well past it.


 

Also that stupid and utterly pointless white knife sheath on the vest is gone. Praise Thor.
I like the battle kata weapon accessories, honestly, even though they wound up getting no screen time or explanation in the film. I am also unsure what to do with the gun parts for this figure. Happily, they did away with the gigantic holsters they clicked into on the first release. I guess the only choice remaining is to ignore them and treat the handles as melee weapons. Frankly, the idea of 'handles' that plug in to either guns or knives seems pretty damned silly.


Besides, it's easy to ignore those silly handgun parts when Roadblock comes with two awesome new machine gun molds, an M240B (I think) and a brand new Ma Deuce, replacing the one we've seen over and over again since the very first 25th Anniversary 5-pack. And boy is it spectacular. While it's a little tricky to get it into the figure's hands, it is doable. Given the fact that it disassembles, there's a good chance of bits falling off as you get it situated, but it'll get there. 


LBAM Rating: 10/10. There are only minor nitpicks to be had with this figure. If you don't like it as "Roadblock," buy it anyway and give it a new moniker. Just get it. 

Ultimate Snake-Eyes 


If you're an admirer of the old '85 Snake-Eyes v2, this is probably your "Ultimate" version. It isn't mine. Mine is the PoC Snake-Eyes from 2011, v54. I'm much more invested in the "Commando" look with the mask and sweater rather than the bodysuit and visor. I think I even like the v3 Snake-Eyes look, with the crossed knuckle knives on his chest, than I do this particular Snakes. Now, this is not to take away from this figure. It does what it sets out to do.

I did toss a spare Snake-Eye v2 style head (the one that came with v54) on this guy, as I felt the Retaliation head clashed with it.





I do like this version of Timber. Not sure how damn many Timbers I have at this point. 

LBAM Rating: 7.8/10 It's a fine enough Snake-Eyes, it just ain't the Snake-Eyes I've been waiting for. I'd love an updated version of the v3 Snake-Eyes, or a modern era version of SE in Vietnam. Those would probably get higher ratings from me. I've never claimed objectivity.

Flint 

Loyal readers (have I got any of those) will know that Flint is by far the LBAM's favorite Joe. The Flint I love is the Flint from Larry Hama's comics; brash, willful, absolutely dedicated to accomplishing his goals, whether academic or military. I have a sketch of flint, drawn by Mr. Hama himself, pinned to the wall above my writing desk, where I work every night on a novel series I'm trying to sell. Many nights I don't want to keep working. It's an uphill climb with a lot of time invested in something that might never pay off. When I feel like quitting, I look at that sketch of Flint. Flint doesn't quit; neither will I. 


That being said, I'm a little conflicted with this figure. I think it's a damned well made action figure, with great paint and a solid headsculpt. It's just that the character in the movie isn't my Flint. There are some traits there, sure, given his impetuous nature and a tinge of the arrogance. But they weren't out to faithfully recreate Hama's Flint, and that's ok. The movie universe represents a separate continuity. Inspired by the comics, sure, with some characterizations closer than others, but different. I am 100% ok with that, and recognize it as necessary. I could see Retaliation Flint growing into the Flint I know in a future movie if that's what the writers wanted to do.

And, by the way, you folks out there complaining that it can't be Flint because he doesn't have a beret? You're only proving that your grasp of what makes a character is terribly, terribly shallow.


I love the detail on this armor; scrapes? Some kind of paintjob? Don't know; it's awesome.

Flint comes with a wide array of weapons, just like Duke, the CG and the Combat Ninja. The grenade launcher above is actually reasonably screen accurate to the movie's final confrontation with Cobra. I really wish this figure had a holster where he could put a damned sidearm, though.
I can't quite decide; is this actually meant to be a sculpt of DJ Cotrona's face? It seems considerably narrower than his actual face, but the chin and the cheekbones seem pretty close. I guess I can talk myself into it. 

LBAM Rating: 8.8/10 as an action figure. A bit less as Flint. Suggestion for a new codename, file name, specialty and filecard info for this guy so I can ease him into my "Joeverse" (man that is just nerdy as all hell, I need to go lift some weights or something) with a clean conscience? Tell ya what; if I get one I deem good enough, I'll buy the first figure from W 3.5 on shelves that I see and mail it to you, free. 

Duke

Lord knows I have enough Tatum Duke figures in my collection that for one to make an impression, it has to be pretty damned good. This figure is, let's be honest, pretty fantastic. It comes with a huge pile of weaponry I didn't bother to photograph, because chances are I'm going to replace it all with Marauder stuff as soon as that sweet, sweet Kickstarter bounty starts to flow. 

 So, am I going to use this as "Duke?" Maybe if I keep a movie display (like I'd do with Flint above, perhaps), but otherwise no. Given how much Tater's stock seems to have risen in the film world since Rise of Cobra maybe he was basically terrible in it because of terrible direction? I enjoyed RoC but I'm not going to sit here and claim that it was a good movie or that it featured a lot of quality performing.

Now, give this Duke the spare head, or some other spare masked head, and you have yourself a spectacular Joe trooper. 
LBAM Rating: 9/10. Got to give credit for the massive amount of gear, including a Joe version of the drone, even if I shan't be using most of it. 

 Budo 

The existence of a modern era Budo figure is improbable enough that I don't even truly know how to process its existence. 
The fact that it's essentially a figure representing a Samurai plucked straight out of feudal Japan is, well...it sure is something. I mean he doesn't fit in with the rest of the modern Joes, and that's not really a bad thing, necessarily.





 When a figure looks this awesome, no matter how impractical it might be in a modern military setting, you either love it or you're an asshole. It's just that simple.

Suitably stoic. This is the face of a man who could've slaughtered a bunch of deserving bandits alongside Kambei Shimada. 

Top knot. I approve.

LBAM Rating: 10/10 No it isn't impractical, but if you're complaining about that I bet you are just a hit at parties.

Kwinn


 I never thought this day would come. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. I mean sure, there was an O-ring Kwinn in his parka, but it sure seemed like the odds were stacked against a Kwinn using modern construction ever seeing release. There were teases, appearances in cases, hopeful discussion about how, with so much tooling invested into the pre-production samples that got out, surely he'd see the light of day. And here he is.

And he's perfect.




 It's Kwinn right off the page of the early Marvel comics, where he was a certified badass, and a great Larry  Hama character. A worthy Joe opponent with a strong personal code who went out like a champ.


I love, LOVE that they went so far as to sculpt a couple of traditional Inuit/Yupik tools/weapons. The moon-bladed knife is a tool called an Ulu and is essentially a utility knife. The long handled weapon appears to be a kind of Inuit axe. Though I can't find an example that looks precisely like this one, it seems close to several of them.

LBAM Rating: KWINN/10.

This is a fantastic wave. Hasbro and the Joe team absolutely crushed it with this one. I'm sure I'll see loads and loads of complaints about bullshit in regards to them. Apparently it's not enough to just enjoy the Joe mythoi and the toys anymore. When I go onto the forums, which is increasingly rarely, most of what I see is simply miserable. Friend of the LBAM Compulsive Collector had a pretty great write up this week. I agree with pretty much every word.

I will add, though, that when I see somebody complain about, say, the scale of a weapon; "OH, the renoberation of that optics module IS WRONG! IN TRUE 1:1 8th scale it would be half a micron to the LEFT of the gas operated hoobijoob bolt. THIS IS ACTUALLY 1:19.20/.00087 scale ;

Or about the the choices in vehicle design

"Why does this made up jet in a comic not have the right stick and instrument panel arrangement for the F-14B/X 2 Type Z Mark III which is what it OUGHT to be based on";

Or complaints like that, I sort of laugh and wonder if toys are supposed to be FUN or not, ya know? But in those cases, those guys, you know what, at least they're into something and knowledgeable. But there's a much darker undercurrent out there in Joe collecting, and toy collecting in general these days. Maybe it's just the work of the Total Internet Fuckwad Theory, but I can't help wondering whether toy collecting is, nowadays, filling a scary, dark hole in the lives of some of these people. And since toys can't do that, a fundamental dissatisfaction with the lives some of my "fellow collectors" are leading spills out as ridiculous, semi-literate venom on forums where they have anonymity and can pretend to be the person they wish they were. I suppose it's possible I'm just babbling forth some dumb hack psychology, and that's entirely possible. Maybe there are just a lot of assholes in G.I. Joe collecting. But I'll tell you what; collecting in and of itself is still fun. But back in 2007, when I really started to get into G.I. Joe collecting, finding out there was a community of like minded fellows was fun. I looked forward to logging on, participated in discussion threads, had congenial arguments about character choice or figure parts. I don't look forward to that anymore, believe me - which is probably a primary reason why I rarely update the blog anymore. Maybe I'll look at changing that, but I am doing an awful lot of other writing that's more rewarding and important to me than banging out a few thousand words about little plastic men, so no promises.

Anyway, there's a rant at the end of reviews about the best single wave of figures Hasbro has released since they began this madness six years ago. It's ironic, however, that as Hasbro is at the absolute top of its game, the fans are at the nadir of theirs.