Black Major (1983 Action Force)

The Black Major is another member of the Action Force enemy, the Red Shadows. I find these early Action Force figures endlessly fascinating, not only for their visual appeal, but also for the comic storyline that revolved around the Red Shadows and its transition into Cobra. It’s an interesting alternative to the US comic mythos.

In the Action Force story, Baron Ironblood became Cobra Commander. So what happened to the Black Major, his second in command? Did he become Destro? No, he stayed with the same name, reformed the Red Shadows and fought Cobra himself. That’s a neat switcheroo.

The figure is yet another Red Shadows villain done in the older five point articulation style that the line used until it switched to the Hasbro GI Joe molds. So yes, he doesn’t quite “work” alongside our beloved o-ring figures. I don’t care. I think the primarily black uniform look is quite striking, and has the same sort of menace as the other Red Shadows figures. Also, less articulation means a more natural look in terms of the sculpt. That’s the sacrifice of added articulation, even in wonderfully detailed, highly articulated modern lines like GI Joe and Star Wars. Technology has improved drastically in terms of the size of shoulder and hip ball joints, but there will always be a different kind of break in the sculpt versus the simple shoulder and hip cuts. I’m not saying that I’d like GI Joe to go to a less articulated design, but I can appreciate the simplicity of a less articulated action figure.

The Black Major came with a very familiar AK-47 and also a red codebook that could decrypt the symbols seen on Red Shadows vehicles. The Major did see a release in the standard o-ring format as part of the 2010 Collectors Club convention set. The figure was a nice enough interpretation, but nothing beats the original.

For all you could ever want to know about Action Force toys and comics, be sure to check out the amazing and exhaustive resource Blood for the Baron.


  • I hate to sound like i’m bashing the Action Force guys but there is something i just dont like about those figures and that is the laziness in the uk toy facotries. They dont fit in with the 0-ring figures because they are of a different design and who at that U.K toy factory thought moulds that were for WW2 German infantrymen could pass as modern [by 1983 standards] soldiers?

  • Several years ago, I spent many afternoons reading through all the comics over at Blood for the Baron. It’s truly an awesome site for Joe fans everywhere. The British’s take on early RAH characters is rawer and grittier than the stuff we’ve seen over here. Major Bludd, for instance, is depicted as an actual mercenary, a real badass, more in the vein of Frank Castle than the Bludd who serves as one of Cobra Commander’s many treacherous lackeys in the U.S. comics and cartoons.

    The Black Major is a great example of how the Action Force comic carried on before switching to Hasbro’s established menagerie. I know a lot of us included our Star Wars figures in play battles along with Joes, so the Black Major wouldn’t have looked out of place in our collections at all. He’s got a great military design and lots of storytelling potential, which is why Larry Hama has begun to feature the guy in his IDW continuation of the Marvel series. Check it out.

  • Nice pick for today, especially since Black Major and the Red Shadows have just started showing up in the IDW series that acts as a continuation of the original comic. Nice to learn a little more about his character’s history.

  • For 1983, that is a nice looking figure! Maybe it’s the all-black uniform or the 5-pt. articulation but he reminds me of the Imperial officer from that classic Star Wars era.

  • I love these older Red Shadows figures. Is there a good site to get them from or is ebay my best bet?

  • Thanks! I’ll shop around.

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  • Great character….

    I would’ve thought Skymate you’d know Bob Brechin at Palitoy helped design their range? It was a question of cost that led to the line having 5 point articulation and a few ‘deluxe’ repainted, repurposed Hasbro Joe figures in the mix, mainly with higher priced items like the vehicles or playsets…

    Bob told me they had prototyped articulated figures of their own, I expect they had elbow and knee articulation akin to the current crop of Character Options 3 3/4 inch Dr Who figures, but this was nixed again, on cost. Palitoy was all about cost by the early 1980s because their parent company, General Mills held the overall purse strings for budgets…I did think of posting some pics of prototypes of figure ideas Brechin emailed me once but….Anyhow, there is the fact Brechin himself told me NOT to do so…so thats that. But trust me, they aren’t prototypes of the actual figures as released, these were totally different ideas….

    Anyhow, heres my own custom filecard of the eponymous Black Major….one of my all time fave Enemy Leaders…


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