Field Report Friday: Shadow Tracker
I love seeing new characters in the Joe line. When I was growing up, I was always more excited to see new names listed on the back of the card than I was name of guys that I already had. For the most part, I liked my originals, so the newer version didn’t appeal to me (I mean, I loved Flint, but nothing ever topped the Tiger Force version that was my first exposure to the figure), but a brand new character to explore, that was awesome. Unfortunately, being so nostalgia-based, the Joe line hasn’t been doing a lot of that lately. However, when they do, they really knock it out of the park. Case in point: Pursuit of Cobra Shadow Tracker. While I do secretly wish they’d just named him Skullbuster instead since the DDP design for his head looked a lot like what Shadow Tracker gave us, I’m still glad the Joe designers finally got around to adding some new blood to the fight during Pursuit of Cobra.
As befitting a brand new character, Shadow Tracker uses all new parts and they really help make Shadow Tracker shine. Working from the bottom up, Shadow Tracker has a nice pair of padded pants with a hole in the thigh for his ballistic knife or bola to attach to. Honestly, this is the only problem I have with Shadow Tracker’s new parts. I’d vastly prefer a regular knife sheath as opposed to a hole in the side of the leg that looks awkward if there’s not something in it. It’s not an issue for Shadow Tracker, but it does really limit the mold’s potential reuse. The Marauders Red Dog reused these legs but didn’t have the knife as an accessory, so he looked kind of odd with a large hole in his leg. Underneath his impressive vest (more on that in a moment), he’s wearing a gray sleeveless shirt. The shirt reveals that Shadow Tracker is clearly someone who is quite strong and athletic. His torso is somewhat lanky, but at the same time, it’s a very muscular lankiness. I’m glad Shadow Tracker has his impressive vest because that does bulk him up a little bit. I think without the vest he’d look a little unimpressive, but with it, he looks like someone that can definitely throw down. It’s got a lot of great pockets and detailing, including a knife sheath on his back and it looks really sharp. His arms are bare with long gloves and bracers over them. The bracers are nicely detailed and he’s even sporting a Cobra sigil tattoo on his left arm. However, the best part of the arms is the new wrist articulation and pre-posed hand to hold his arrow. His wrists have an amazing range of motion and allow him to get into a realistic archery pose. Lines like DC Universe took a really long time to finally realize that people want to be able to display archers in a pose that shows off their abilities with the bow. Hasbro, however, did it right away here. The added articulation is wonderful and I’m really glad Hasbro went to the extra effort to give us a Shadow Tracker that can realistically draw his bow. Finally, we come to Shadow Tracker’s head. While underneath, he’s just a skull, his translucent green mask makes it look really wicked and natural. I remember at 2009 Joe Con the designers said that the reason for the green mask was that he lost his face in an accident involving nano-mites and they now make up his face but you could still see the damage that was done. I like their backstory, however, I’m okay with that not making it into the filecard. I prefer just thinking of it as a wicked-looking skull mask and leaving his true identity a bit of a mystery. Over the top of that mask, he’s got an impressive mane of dreadlocks. Hasbro’s team did a great job of sculpting these so that they are nicely detailed yet look natural. The dreadlocks do unfortunately block off his backpack hole, but I honestly kind of like the look of his quiver sitting low so I don’t mind it all that much.
Of course, if the end of the Joe original line taught us anything, it’s that even the best figure can look horrible if his paint job doesn’t fit. While Shadow Tracker has some bright colors, I still think they work well. His legs have a detailed black and green jungle camouflage scheme. I think it would blend in quite well in the actual jungle so kudos to Hasbro for coming up with a slight variation on the jungle camo theme while still making it look realistic. The majority of Shadow Tracker’s vest is black, but he does get some bright green on his shoulders and down around his arms. I don’t really think it’s that big of an issue. It meshes really well with his translucent green mask and his impressive dreadlocks really help keep it hidden. I think if he lacked the dreadlocks, the bright green would hurt him a bit, but the way he’s designed, I think it’s perfect. The bright green also shows up on his bracers. I’m not quite sure why that would be in real life, but it looks pretty sharp. I kind of see it as some sort of infrared marking. Working in concert with Jungle Vipers, being too stealthy can be dangerous, so Shadow Tracker put special infrared markers on his gear so that he doesn’t get caught in the crossfire.
The sculpting and colors are great, but what really captured my attention with Shadow Tracker (beyond the impressively intimidating head sculpt) were his weapons. Starting off with the recycled pieces first, Shadow Tracker shares his bow, arrow and quiver with Pursuit of Cobra Spirit. I really kind of enjoy the symmetry of the Joe team’s jungle tracker and the Cobra’s jungle tracker having the same bow. The arrow fits snuggly in his hand or the quiver and the bow looks effective and modern. However, where Shadow Tracker starts looking really cool is when you look at his melee weapons. Shadow Tracker relies heavily on stealth and he’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty. That’s a pretty wicked combination. Starting off simply, he carries an all black kukri…or at least that’s what I think it is. The blade style isn’t quite right for a machete, yet it’s bigger than I’m used to seeing for kurkis. Regardless, the blade looks impressive and heavy and I see this as his brutal blade. I can just see Shadow Tracker splitting someone’s skull open with that…in the non-creepiest way possible. His other knife is really wicked-looking. It’s got two notches on one side and serrations on the other. I see this more as a wetwork knife that he would use to sneak up behind someone and slit their throat in the dark. His last blade is something rather unique. I’ll admit, I would not have known what this was had I not been a fan of Deadliest Warrior. Shadow Tracker carries a knife referred to as a kpinga or mambele knife. It’s used both as a handheld knife or a throwing weapon. Now, I’ll admit, when I first heard this was meant to be thrown, I was pretty doubtful, but in the real world, that design is shockingly deadly as a thrown weapon. I can see this being used both in a similar, skull-splitting fashion as the large kukri or being tossed at an unsuspecting foe in the same way it can be in the real world. Shadow Tracker has one more blade, regular knife that fits in a sheath on his back. On his leg, he also carries what YoJoe refers to as a ballistic knife. It’s a weapon that can be used as a regular knife, but can also be shot at your opponent from short range as a rather nasty surprise. While I’m not familiar enough with ballistic knives to be 100% sure it’s based on a real world design, it’s something I can again see Shadow Tracker using quite effectively in the field. In addition to his collection of rather sadistic-looking knives, Shadow Tracker has a few more weapons. First off, he carries a bola. Like everything else he wields, bolas are a quiet weapon yet extremely dangerous in the proper hands. To increase his effective fighting range, Shadow Tracker also carries a spear. I’m not sure why I get an African tribal vibe from it, but between the mambele (which is a central and southern African weapon) I just get the feeling that before joining up with Cobra, Shadow Tracker did some pretty nasty things in the Congo. I like that his accessories have really helped me flesh out Shadow Tracker as a character. I’ll admit, my view on him is a bit darker than I’m sure Hasbro would have been allowed to go, but that’s fine. Shadow Tracker is a sinister guy and his twisted weapons really help sell that even more. The spear also has an odd feature. The hole up near the tip is the same size as the hole in his leg so you can put either the ballistic knife or the bola in there. I don’t quite know why the design team did this, but it’s there. His final weapon is something shockingly non-lethal…a net. The net is made of cloth and has a string with handles on each end running through it. This is a great little piece of design. If you pull the handles, the net actually closes in on itself. Nets are always hit or miss accessories in my mind, but they did a nice job of making it functional. I can see this being quite useful for Shadow Tracker if he actually needs to bring his quarry in alive…assuming he’s in the mood to do that. Reading the filecard, I pity Skydive. If Shadow Tracker’s on your tail, he’s going to get you and the best you can hope for is that he feels like turning you over to Cobra in one piece as opposed to just bringing them your head.
Shadow Tracker represents everything I love about the Joe line. While the filecard doesn’t give us much information, it gives us enough that I can expand on it with my own imagination. His gear, his look and his all too brief bio come together and reveal to us a very sinister character. I know some people use the phrase that a person isn’t someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley, but I think Shadow Tracker is someone you just don’t want to meet, period. This guy comes across as a stone-cold killer and it’s been a while since we’ve seen someone that just comes across as pure evil in the ranks of Cobra. Shadow Tracker is a solid new character and though parts of me would like to see him as Skullbuster, I’m glad he’s not. I would have felt a little too bound to the original concept of Skullbuster as the leader of the Range Vipers to invent a character as nasty as Shadow Tracker is right now. Also, I remember getting a little information about Shadow Tracker from the Joe team at the 2009 Joe Con. During the panel where they introduced him, they said he originally had a different name that got scuttled pretty early on in the process because it was deemed too scary. After a little bit of small talk, I did manage to get the original name from one of the Hasbro guys: Skull Hunter. Take this guy, name him “Skull Hunter” and you’ve got a really sinister combination…