Wednesday, August 21, 2019

G.I. Joe featuring Ninja Force and Transformers box set (2017)

While I often mention Fun Publications as the group that used to run the official Transformers Collectors' Club (as well as BotCon) until Hasbro decided to go in a different direction at the end of 2016, Fun Publications had also been running the official G.I. Joe club and convention for several years at time they picked up the Transformers license in 2005. In fact, it was their success with G.I. Joe that led Hasbro to offer Fun Publications the Transformers license in the first place, and Fun Publications continued to hold the G.I. Joe license even after the Transformers club and convention closed up shop, with the Joe license ending only this past year, and final "going out of business" sales ending only this past week. Running clubs for both franchises offered Fun Publications the opportunity to do a few "crossover" exclusives, of which this box set is arguably the most ambitious (although, ironically, it didn't actually ship until after the Transformers club had ended just the month before).

The entire set is an homage to G.I. Joe comic issue #139, near the beginning of a storyline that reintroduced the Transformers to comic books just prior to the launch of Marvel's Transformers: Generation Two series, and the box set cover (above) demonstrates this by creating, in essence, a role-reversal of the cover to that issue of G.I. Joe (seen to the right). If the signatures on the images are to be believed, they even got the original artist (Chris Batista) to do the box set art. They admittedly did fudge a bit on the title, since Snake Eyes (whose name featured prominently on the original comic book issue) isn't part of the box set, but since "Ninja Force" was an important part of the comic during this run, it's a perfectly appropriate substitution.

Since this is a crossover set with G.I. Joe, naturally there are G.I Joe figures included, all three of which are for characters featured heavily in this story, and indeed this is the first official figure ever for Dr. Biggles-Jones, who had been introduced into the comic only a few issues before the Transformers crossover-story began, and left once the crossover was over, so this really is an ideal place for a figure of her to be introduced. As with Fun Publications' Transformers exclusives, all of their G.I. Joe exclusives are essentially remolds or redecos of existing G.I. Joe figures (most often, the only all-new part is a new head, again just as in Fun Publications' Transformers exclusives, although I don't believe that any of these figures even do that), but the standardized construction of humanoid action figures allows for a considerably greater variety of mixing-and-matching of parts to create distinctive combinations. That said, my lack of familiarity with Joe figures means I'd be hard-pressed to say exactly what parts come from what other figures without the help of sites like yojoe.com. I refer readers to the link if they're interested in this information.

It is with the actual Transformers in this set that we begin to depart somewhat from the straight homages to G.I. Joe issue #139. This was perhaps necessary because Megatron was the only Transformer character actually featured in issue #139, although none of the other Transformers characters featured in this set showed up elsewhere in the storyline, either. That said, Megatron, seen here and in the next photo as the figure on the right, reuses a Legends-class figure from 2013, recast in clear green plastic to resemble Megatron's first toy from the Generation Two era. The reason for the clear plastic is to help convey the idea that this isn't actually Megatron himself, but rather a hologram that Cobra Commander used to rebuild Megatron (as depicted in G.I. Joe #139), thus also putting this figure roughly in-scale with the G.I. Joe figures.

Ratbat, the Transformer seen in these images as the figure on the left, doesn't show up in the G.I. Joe comic story at all (and, indeed, was deactivated several years earlier in Marvel's Transformers #50 and never seen thereafter), but text information with the box set suggests he was present spying on everyone for Megatron (with no explanation given for his functional status). If nothing else, the toy is the only time to-date that the Masterpiece Ratbat mold (previously available only to those willing to import the full Masterpiece Soundblaster set from Japan) has been made available in the United States, so it's a worthwhile toy on its own merits.

The other Transformers additions to this box set are perhaps even more bizarre, as they also did not show up in the G.I. Joe comic story being homaged, and don't even transform. I suspect that they were only included as a way to re-use some accessories from previous G.I. Joe/Transformers crossovers made for San Diego Comic-Con. Blackcat, seen on the left, reuses a Ravage figurine, while Toaster, seen on the right, is actually supposed to be a toaster, despite being an obvious re-use of a Blaster tape deck. Indeed, the three little accessories to Toaster are supposed to be slices of bread to stick in Toaster, despite themselves clearly having markings that identify them with Autobot cassettes Ramhorm, Rewind (or maybe Eject), and Steeljaw. Both characters are ultra-obscure references to non-US Transformers stories. Like Ratbat, the inclusion of these guys is explained as having them spy on everyone else in the story, except these folks were doing so for the Autobots! Personally, I'd have been perfectly happy to have these guys left out entirely (and perhaps have paid less for the rest of the set as a result), but they're here. All in all, it's still a very cool set, despite such oddities.

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