G.I. Joe Vs. COBRA - Spy Troops
Series In Review
Where the original G.I. Joe Vs. COBRA line started with a whimper and ended on a pretty high note, I feel pretty confident in saying Spy Troops was completely the opposite. Starting with the utterly fantastic Wave 5 (a wave I still say was probably the best wave, soup to nuts of any new sculpt wave) things just kind of went downhill from there, finally sputtering out in a cough of horrible proportions, strange figure designs, and a general lack of direction. The essence of the Spy Troops gimmick was pretty smart, I thought, using snap on armor as a disguise...it was a pretty functional gimmick, yet if you didn't like it, you didn't have to use it, and it took nothing away from the enjoyment of the figure (unlike Sound Attack, which ruined many a great weapon in the last run of new sculpts). Proportions seemed to be mostly under control, we were getting a wealth of great new weapons, and it seemed like the general opinion of the new sculpts was softening some. Word soon came of an actual animated feature that would be shown on Cartoon Network and available on DVD, and yeah, overall, things looked like they were in a turnaround for the better.
Wave by Wave Breakdown
So far removed from the tragedy that was G.I. Joe Vs. COBRA, Wave 5 brought us a terrific assortment of not only cool figures, but great characters as well. The entire lineup was new figures, no repaints to be seen, and back then we weren't knowledgable on the whole "theme" concept from year to year. Spy Troops started out with a bang, giving us a great new sniper in Crosshair...a pretty neat new rendition of Recondo (though he would be better served later on down the line with his more familiar hat and moustache), CLAWS Commander, and possibly best of all, a great new character in Barrel Roll. Barrel Roll single-handedly reshaped the way I viewed my G.I. Joe universe and added some very cool componants to the Joe/COBRA conflict...not to mention the fact that he was a pretty darn cool figure, too. Pretty decent proportions, a cool figure design, added articulation, and some great accessories all added up to make a very cool figure. The rest of Wave 5 all had a lot of the same positive points as well...enough of them so that the minor negatives of some weird arm positioning (CLAWS Commander) and minor proportion/size issues (Tunnel Rat) were a lot less noticable. All in all, a great start to the new theme.
But as Hasbro has been known to do, they can't seem to maintain any sort of consistency throughout consecutive waves. It's almost as if they have an allocated budget, and if they blow it on one terrific wave, you can be assured that the next wave will suffer for it, which is almost what it looked like here. There were some positives with Wave 6, especially Barrel Roll's infamous brother, Blackout, a figure which had some odd problems originally (cross eyes and funky arms) but still manages to be a mostly successful COBRA villain. Roadblock, Sand Viper, and Depth Charge all turned out pretty darn well, too, but these cool figures were overshadowed by tons of repaints, and not just repaints, but repaints of pretty cruddy molds. Mindbender, Flint, and Beachhead were pretty forgettible parts of GvC Wave 3, but they all made resurgances here, and none for the better. Dart, Shipwreck, Overkill, and Ripper all got repaints in this wave as well, even though the original figures had only come out a wave or two ago each. Overkill for some, and you ended up with a pretty sharp downturn when compared to Wave 5.
And then we got...the "proportion age"... A lot of fans had been complaining about figure proportions right along with the new sculpt figures, but the stuff we got in Wave 7 only served to prove their point, and then drive it home with a hammer and nail. I would imagine that conceptually, much of Wave 7 probably looked "can't miss" on paper. The overall designs of figures like Widescope, Night Creeper, and Red Spot were probably quite impactful and impressive. But whoever sculpted the figures needed about 8 more years of study on the human anatomy as these figures ended up with some of the most freaky-long legs I've ever seen. I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to proportion issues on figures...I don't need exact human measurements. But these guys looked just plain alien, and it pretty seriously impacted fans' opinions of them as a whole. Instead of potentially cool figures with some wicked design elements, we got some very nicely designed monkey-people, which is a problem Hasbro would be saddled with for some time after this point. Granted, Hasbro didn't go all wrong with this wave, but it only goes to demonstrate how different so many of the figures in this one toyline were. Heck, there were figures in this one WAVE that looked like they were from completely different toylines. Great stuff like Destro and Grunt lined up next to Widescope and Big Brawler? They did not look like they belonged together at all, which is a shame.
One of the notorious "army builder" waves, this was Hasbro's way of getting some more cash out of us, but at the same time trying to give us what we wanted, and they were more or less successful here. We got more Vipers, more Alley-Vipers, more Sand Vipers and more Neo-Vipers (with o-rings, no less!) and this wave proved to respond to a large number of collector concerns. There were no new figures included and the repaints within this assortment had themes going for them like Tiger Force and Night Force, but it was still essentially a repaint wave without much new. Figures like Crosshair, Nunchuk, Neo-Viper, and Neo-Viper Commander were vast improvements over their previous versions, and there was some cool stuff here, but it wouldn't last real long until we got back to the same funky proportion new sculpt stuff we'd been getting.
As I already said, where GvC started with a whimper, but went out with a bang, Spy Troops started strong and ended on a somewhat weak note...and if not weak, at the very least inconsistent, which had become a trademark for Hasbro at this point. On the one hand you had the nearly perfect new sculpt COBRA Commander in battle helmet in this wave, which was the epitome of what was great about these new sculpt figures, but within the same assortment there was an absolutely abhorant Gung Ho with short, stubby arms, thin, lanky legs, and a practically circular torso, which only just barely resembled human form. Pit-Viper was great...Heavy Water was awesome...even Zarana and Agent Faces were pretty cool. Actually, now that I think about it, Wave 8 wasn't all that bad...Gung Ho just leaves me with a sour note. Certainly Wave 8 was a few steps above Wave 7 in the sculpting department, and there wasn't even a whole lot of repaints to litter the wave. I guess I should retract my whimper statement some, as this last wave of Spy Troops was pretty strong, but the effects of Wave 7 would still be felt for a little while to come.
The Spy Troops vehicles were more of the same stuff from G.I. Joe Vs. COBRA, although they showed at least a few signs of life. You had the same tonka toy crud with the Battle Blitz and Splitfire, but the Alpha class toys really started turning it up a few notches with cool stuff like the Desert Coyote and Treadfire. The COBRA Ringneck made the Bravo assortment more palatable as well and for large scale toys, the Crimson Command Chopper did some great things...although not nearly as great as the Patriot Grizzly. The absolute epicenter of coolness for the new sculpt Joes to this point was this massive battle tank that crammed tons of play features and value add into a very nicely designed and impactful tank that managed to look cool as well as be very functional. Rapid fire tank shells, a swift turning turret, and some great opening hatches all provided a lot of fun play for this tank, and it managed to click on pretty much all cylinders. Another thing started with the Spy Troops line would be the Toys "R" Us exclusive 6-Packs, and again, like the Real American Hero Collection, things looked pretty bright! Python Patrol and Tiger Force both used a great assortment of fun molds and cool colors to really bring collectors back to the classic days. Lots of research and design work was being put into these at this point, and it really showed in the amazing level of quality and thought. Alas, this attention to detail would not last, but it was a fun ride, however short it might have been.
Spy Troops had some issues, but by and large it was a pretty fun run and a relatively successful venture for Hasbro, in my opinion. For every bad thing I say about the new sculpt line, I have enjoyed it pretty consistently since it's inception, and the Spy Troops line seemed to be moving along at a great pace. How was I to know that Valor Vs. Venom would only improve on what Spy Troops was doing, but that it still wouldn't be enough to sustain G.I. Joe on retail shelves...
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