Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SDCC 2015 Exclusive GI Joe Crimson Strike boxed set review

It's that time of year again! San Diego Comic Con is upon us, and we can all revel in the glorious images of exclusive toys force fed to us through social media, fan sites, and....Blogs. This blog, anyway...Because I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the 2015 GI Joe Crimson Strike boxed sets, and now you can be force fed my images and meaningless words about it.

The set comes in a large box with a nice cardboard slipcase. Of note is the use of the "GI Joe:50" logo, used on the limited line of products available last year for the 50th anniversary of the brand (1964-2014). When new product was shown at the GI Joe convention this past April, representatives from Hasbro compared the line of upcoming GI Joe toys to what had been released for the 50th in terms of size and styling, although it seems a little strange they would continue to use the logo a year after the anniversary.

After removing the slipcase, we have what might be the nicest piece of GI Joe art I've seen in the last few years, depicting a beautifully rendered battle scene that showcases the figures and vehicles in the set, and stretches across the entire face of the box. It gives the buyer the feeling that a lot of effort was put in to this exclusive, which shows in the toys as well.

I know several sites were already doing reviews of this set, but most of them tend to start with the figures. For that reason, I went straight for the biggest part of the set, the Cobra Scythe. Obviously a repaint of the 2011-12 Skystriker, it was met with some eye-rolling when it was initially announced. Some complained about the size of it, or the need for another reuse of the mold (between retail, exclusives and the GI Joe collectors club, this is the fifth use of the Skystriker mold in as many years, with a sixth also coming). Some just felt the idea of a Cobra Skystriker was a bit lazy, since customizers had been doing similar for over a decade already. Also, the Skystriker is pretty iconic to the GI Joe team, so most attempts by fans to really sell it as a Cobra vehicle tend to fall a little short. 

I have a soft spot for the Skystriker myself, for several reasons. Between collecting and restoring vintage examples, making customs, and buying up modern versions, I probably have, or have had, close to 70 of them. I've all but memorized the decal placement from using replacement sticker sheets. Also, it was my first big vehicle as a child, and still have my original to this day. I was ready to give this version a shot.

Right out of the box, the silver and red color scheme is very striking. 

The deco effectively depicts a classic "moray" inspired Cobra logo over the cockpit, with additional elements spread over the top center of the plane. It looks much better in person that in photographs, and immediately put me in a better frame of mind for putting the vehicle together.

While I have some issues with some of the decal placement and design, overall the sheet had a similar feel for customization as previous modern Skystrikers, with duplicate logos for different pilots, a really cool new fin logo, and some unique new elements for a "Crimson Air Corps", fitting well with the overall Crimson Guard feel. There were still several options for a more classic look, with the vintage Cobra Air Corp logo in silver and a few others.

 One thing you may notice in the finished Scythe pics is that the wings look a little bland, as though they should have some silver detail, a stripe or something. Well, there is a series of wing decals that are meant to stretch across the back of both sets of wings. They show what looks to be rear facing arrowheads, or spearheads. I don't know if this is a reference to some real life military aircraft, but they apparently cover the back of each wing, and settle awkwardly on areas with deep mold detail, and would overlap the sections normally adorned with "NO STEP" stickers (those are still present, as well). I opted not to use these. I don't like stickers that lay over detailed areas, and I don't like overlapping stickers, both of which the placement instructions seemed to purposely indicate for putting those on the plane.

Most of the rest of the stickers went on without an issue. There are a few areas where I moved things around a bit, but that was more for my own benefit. I did opt to not use several decals on the nose that would have disrupted the snake mouth deco, because they would have hidden part of the jaw, or the fangs, and would have taken away from the look of the plane.

I have to say, I am extremely impressed with the Scythe. For "just a repaint" it brings a lot of new elements to the plane, with a unique deco, some very cool decal designs, and (moving right along) a surprisingly cool pilot, in the form of what looks like a Crimson Guard affiliated AVAC.

AVAC is a kitbash of 25th era parts that should not work (and kind of doesn't) but looks really good. The somewhat dated 25th CG torso looks too skinny no matter how you dress it up, but mashed together with the other AVAC parts, the look works for me. The black and silver look fantastic, and the additional paint on the leg armor, while a little awkward due to the shape of the armor, brings me right back to a vintage Wild Weasel with the writing on his legs. The small logo on the helmet looks like a bat to me, so I will just assume it is a Firebat reference. 

So, where I said it "kind of doesn't" work? The legs don't bend well at the waist. He goes in the cockpit, but he doesn't look comfortable.

For me, the Scythe with the AVAC is really the star of the set here. I really like the plane, love the look of the pilot, and the new ideas they both bring to Cobra in the form of a previously-not-really-established Crimson Air Corps, and CG affiliated AVAC. I can suspend my natural tendency to affiliate the plane with the Joe team for this release since the piece is so well done, overall.

The second vehicle in the set, keeping the theme of swapped team ordnance, is a GI Joe version of the equally iconic Cobra HISS tank called the Chimera. Shot in a lighter (think vintage VAMP) color of military green, and sporting a nice new set of rail guns and more GI Joe oriented decals, it doesn't quite pull off selling the HISS as a Joe vehicle. The file cards refer to the Chimera as a "prototype", where I think it would have been better to make some reference to the original HISS tank to try and cement it within the continuity a bit better. 

I will say, with the matched driver and gunner, both of whom are veteran Joes, the whole setup looks nice.

So, where the AVAC uses all 25th era parts, both Joes, Steeler and Grunt, use more modern era parts from the POC-Retaliation era. Normally this is a great thing, because the parts from that era tend to have better articulation and work well when mixed. But some unusual choices hinder that a little here.

Starting with Grunt, we see a mixture of Resolute Duke legs with some POC Shock Trooper (and many others) arms and (I think) torso. I don't love those Resolute legs, I think there are better choices, but it works well enough here. The accessories are the figure's downfall. I have never liked the night vision helmet, the web gear gaps and doesn't fit well, and there are so many better guns than that one. But a modern looking Grunt with some issues is better than no Grunt at all, so I'll give it a pass. 

Moving on to Steeler, the resident Joe tank driver. His parts mixture, mainly from some of the better Retaliation figures, mesh for a nicer overall look than Grunt. However, the build uses some extremely long legs, specifically from wave 1 Retaliation Rockblock. Maligned for their step backwards in articulation, they are also a bit too long for the rest of the figure. Steeler's file card has a mention of physical combat, so maybe they were looking to make a figure with a more physically imposing stance? What they made was a tank driver that you need a shoehorn to fit in his tank. His accessories add to this, so while he looks great standing in front of the tank, you'll need with either jam him in tight or remove some gear to get him in the cockpit. I got it in, but it was a pretty tight fit.

As mentioned, all together, the figures and tank look great. The small issues with parts or vehicle affiliation aside, they make a nice addition to the set and complement the Scythe well. 

The final figure in the set is an Alley Viper Officer. He revisits the AVO concept last seen during POC as a driver for the Cobra Fury tank, and is a straight repaint of the Retaliation Alley Viper. I am a huge Alley Viper fan, but I did not like the Retaliation Alley Viper build. The darker colors make it look a little better here, but the choice of colors is odd-black with fluorescent orange camo and a silver helmet. Not that we haven't seem some odd choices in colors for an Urban Ops Cobra before, but these really stand out. Regardless, even if he wasn't my favorite piece in the set, I had a lot of fun taking pics of him.  

While this might not be Hasbro's best offering over the last few years of SDCC boxed sets (the Jetfire set is still my favorite), and falls short in a few (admittedly nitpicky) places, I think it is a strong set overall. The Scythe with AVAC remains my favorite part, the well coordinated colors of the Joes make them stand well as a unit, and the Alley Viper Officer is an Alley Viper Officer, so even if I don't like it a lot, I am still going to like it because it is an Alley Viper Officer. The set is well worth picking up for the jet alone, and adds quite a few new elements to the brand and story line. Most importantly, it continues the tradition of a killer GI Joe boxed set that we can look forward to every year.