International Action Force (1993)
1993 was the penultimate year for G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. It was also the second-to-last time we would hear anything from Hasbro Direct, the mail-order division in charge of offering back stock for select figures and vehicles, sometimes even promoting exclusive items. 1993 offered a bevy of them, including a couple of figure 4-packs: the Arctic Commandos (one of which, the Snow Serpent, was reviewed on this very site) and the International Action Force, offered in the inserts titled “Menace in the Wilderness”. The four-pack consisted of repainted versions of Big Bear, Big Ben, Budo, and the 1992 version of Spirit, each with only one weapon and a black figure stand.
The filecard included makes reference to the formation of the Joe team’s members from around the world to infiltrate Cobra’s Montana wilderness hideout and “stop them cold” (from the insert) in their plot of disrupting communications worldwide. Interestingly, the filecard makes a bit of a gaffe in the background of Budo; here, it states he was sent by Japan as its representative to the Joes, ignoring the fact that he’s been on the team since 1988–and is a native of Sacramento, California. But that isn’t the only little difference present in the depictions of the set. The page in the Menace in the Wilderness insert was pretty much the definition of “final product may vary”. In the promotional pic, Big Bear retains his red beard and dark gray hat and has a silver Dodger rifle, while Big Ben has the 1986 Low-Light’s sniper rifle. But hey, that’s the cool thing about these kinds of publicity shots–they give you an idea of the planning behind the figures.
The Big Bear figure in this set is a repaint of the 1992 figure (wow, a year old and already going into reuse!), only in black with light brown straps. Like his previous figure, the belt buckle and star on the hat are painted red. Where it greatly differs from the original is that his beard, eyes, and eyebrows are now black as opposed to red, and the hat is a lighter gray. Hair color aside, this would make for a pretty neat night ops version of the Oktober Guard anti-armor specialist–yet strangely, he doesn’t come with any weaponry of that kind! Instead, he comes with a black version of Dodger’s rifle (which also was available with the Create-A-Cobra and Arctic Commandos Sub-Zero from this time). Luckily, his original figure’s rifle and backpack was reused to death during the “newsculpt era”, so it should be easy to give him his specific accessories. The same could be said of the Big Ben in this pack. Here, Ben has a maroon jacket with dull orange cuffs, a dark orange undershirt, dull orange pants, a dull orange hat with grey fur, and off-white boots, gloves, and straps. The bullet belts are painted gold and white, and his head is pretty much the same, facial and hair paint applications-wise, as the 1991 version. (It’s a perfect match!) When I look at this version, I think it akin to the actual colors of British SAS uniforms, though I could be wrong. It’s actually a pretty nice color scheme, a stark contrast to the neon madness the rest of the 1993 line was under. Instead of his regular gear, Big Ben has the 1987 Tunnel Rat’s machine gun (same color).
The Budo figure in this set is the greatest departure from his original version. The only thing it has in common with the original is the head. Instead of the muted colors of the 1988 version, we have a bright turquoise chest, black waist and legs (with turquoise armor and kneepads), neon orange belt, and silver arms with neon orange highlights. The helmet is also recolored, molded in neon orange but painted turquoise on top (the crest is unchanged). It’s kind of funny having a neon samurai as part of a commando unit, but hey, the 90’s were my era. Helmet aside, he comes with only one accessory, his sheathed sword (same color as the original)–which puzzles me greatly. Not as much as the Spirit figure in the set. This Spirit reuses the 1992 Air Commandos version, but with tan pants, black boots and gloves, a maroon vest with white highlights, a white armband, a blue and white headband, and a gold belt and grenade ring. Mike T’s Forgotten Figures blog praises this sensible color scheme for a year like 1993, and I agree, it’s an interesting palette. Spirit only comes with the 1988 Hit N’ Run’s knife (in the exact same color), and while it looks like he’s severely under-armed, the comics have taught us otherwise.
Overall, this is a fun set to have, and now comes a confession of mine–I never owned this set back when it first came out, since I was a toddler in the early 90’s. I actually acquired this set via a mail-in offer from Lee’s Toy Review Magazine in 2006. Apparently, the magazine got a huge supply of back stock of this set (along with some Steel Brigade figures and the 1993 Battle Corps Cutter and Championship Edition Chun-Li), and offered them from time to time as a subscription renewal incentive (look at their page for details, they offered some pretty crazy back stock). I ordered, and while I never got the Steel Brigade figure, it took almost an entire year for that thing to ship (must have been some heavy ordering traffic). It was pretty pricey though–apparently the IAT is the third-hardest to obtain 1993 mail-away, behind the gold head Steel Brigade and the Create-A-Cobra. Yet still, when I finally got this set delivered, it was worth the wait to have a little piece of G.I. Joe mail-away history. (Though I do wish Lee’s kept the original price of $15.95….)