Steel Brigade (30th Anniversary)
Every now and then, the folks at Hasbro make a brilliant decision. The last wave of Pursuit of Cobra had some really great army builders, but the whole wave was really hard to find. To rectify this, the army builders from the last wave of the Pursuit of Cobra line were carried over into the first wave of the 30th Anniversary line with some minor changes to entice that those who found them the first time around into picking them up again. I’ve talked about a few of the 30th Anniversary army builders before, but now it’s time for my favorite, the Steel Brigade Trooper. I realize that greenshirts and the Steel Brigade are a bit controversial in some circles of the Joe community, but as long as the Steel Brigade looks as good as the 30th Anniversary version does, I say bring it on. The Joes need some unnamed soldiers. In my opinion, it’s nice that the Joe line can reflect the way the real military is structured, and I’m glad to finally have a Steel Brigade Trooper in my collection.
The first version of the 30th Anniversary Steel Brigade is a complete re-release of the Pursuit of Cobra version. This is the version I have in my collection and I’m okay with that, though I was quite tempted to pick up the later shipment variant that uses Desert Battle Snake Eyes II arms and legs instead of Shock Trooper ones, but I just didn’t feel it was a compelling enough difference for me to have a pair of Steel Brigade in my collection. Space is already at kind of a premium in terms of what I can have on display, so I’m cool with having only one Steel Brigade trooper. This version of Steel Brigade shares his arms and legs with the Pursuit of Cobra Shock Trooper yet surprisingly he uses the Desert Battle Snake Eyes II torso. If he wasn’t wearing the Shock Trooper vest, it would probably look a little off, but as it is, you can’t really tell he’s wearing a commando sweater at a quick glance so the non-sweater arms look fine. The lighter colors really help me appreciate the work the design team put it when they made the Shock Trooper since the details are easier to see. The arms and legs are appropriately wrinkled and the pockets look useful and don’t weigh the design down. To complete the look, the Steel Brigade shares its vest with the Cobra Shock Trooper, but to add a little flair and reference the fact that the original Steel Brigade figures used a Duke torso, it also has the 25th Anniversary Duke’s bandolier riding over the vest. It does look a little clunky, but it doesn’t really get in the way of anything either, unlike Rise of Cobra Monkeywrench’s vest and bandolier combo, so I’ll forgive it. Moving up, to obscure the neck a little, the Steel Brigade is also has a removable collar. These were used quite successfully in the Resolute set and I like them here as well. Finally, for the head, we once again see the Pursuit of Cobra Beachhead balaclava. I’ve got no problem seeing this balaclava under the mask here. It helps keep the Steel Brigade as nameless and faceless troopers. My only real complaint with the Rise of Cobra PIT Commandos is that if you army built them and didn’t customize them somehow, it was going to look the Joes took a page from the Galactic Republic and decided to build a clone army. However, a bunch of dudes all wearing the same balaclava is very military and means you can army build without the awkward fact that everyone has the exact same face.
The paint team really went to town on the Steel Brigade and I appreciate it. This could have been a rather boring figure, but with some incredible paint apps, they really make him stand out. The Steel Brigade’s colors have always been blue, green and khaki and the 30th Anniversary version is no different. However, they’re very well used here and really bring the figure together. His pants are your typical military khaki with some olive drab and black detailing on his kneepads. The lighter colors allow you to see the three pockets he has on each leg far more clearly than the original Shock Trooper color scheme did. There is a little paint slop at the top of his left boot where the khaki comes down on to the boot, but it’s not egregious. His shirt is a very light blue with some blue patches on the underarms. I really don’t know why they did that and in terms of painting, and it’s also unfortunately the one weak point in the paint work. The painting of the blue arm patches is rather sloppy and does kind of detract from the overall look. I find myself wishing they just would have stuck with the light blue for everything. The elbow pads are also painted with the same olive green and black color scheme that his kneepads have. I like the unifying colors on the padding, however, it does reveal that they weren’t designed to be symmetrical. The pads are shaped like pentagons, but for some reason, they aren’t symmetrical pentagons. I realize you’d need to alter the dimensions of the shape a little to fit the natural shape of that joint, but these just look kind of funky. I’m glad the kneepads have a little more regular shape because I can hide the distractingly misshapen left elbow pad pretty easily. I couldn’t do that with a kneepad. There’s also a lightly-applied dark wash on just his arms. I’m not quite sure why they used a wash here. It doesn’t really do much to bring out the details and since it’s just on the arms and not on his legs or vest, it looks a little off. The vest and balaclava share the same olive drab color. I like that decision since it helps unify the look a bit more. The vest, however, gets a lot of additional paint detailing. Again, the original use on the Shock Trooper wound up having a lot of details buried in the black, but here, we get an olive drab base, while all the pouches and straps (and believe me there are a lot of them) get painted black. It really spices up the look and lets you see for the first time just how much detail was sculpted into that vest.
Steel Brigade is a nameless grunt, so it makes sense that he’d have gear to reflect the wide variety of functions he could fulfill on the battlefield. That means he’s got a gear load just as big as most of the Pursuit of Cobra guys. Since it’s an early 30th Anniversary version, his gear also gets some additional paint apps that aren’t found on the other versions. Starting off at the top, we get a great removable Steel Brigade style helmet. When I saw this piece back with the Rise of Cobra PIT Commando, I was excited. Even if Hasbro didn’t ever make an actual Steel Brigade figure, the concept that the PIT Commando was part of that group made me smile. It was a great reference that old Joe nerds like me can appreciate, yet a kid that picked up it would have seen and just gone “That’s a cool helmet.” The helmet gets painted with silver on the facemask and black for the visor over an olive drab base. It looks very sharp and really screams Steel Brigade. For a standard field mission, the Steel Brigade has two options for his primary weapon, an assault rifle with a bayonet that I believe first came with 25th Airborne and a more modern looking one with a forward grip that we’ve seen a few times in the modern line. Both look great in his hands and since he has the Shock Trooper arms with the added wrist articulation, he can hold them in a natural two-handed grip. As much as I like the modern rifle, the Airborne rifle looks great and is a nice nod to the original Steel Brigade figure’s gear, since they came with Airborne’s rifle back in the day. For heavier assault duties, he also has two different options. If he’s more of a protégé of Rock ‘N’ Roll or Roadblock and is working in an anti-infantry capacity, he has the same heavy machine gun and tripod that the second 25th Anniversary Roadblock had. It’s a great heavy weapon though it would have been nice if they’d included an ammo belt or an ammo box so the gun actually looks loaded. However, if he’s working more with Zap or Bazooka and is in the anti-armor field, he has 25th Zap’s rocket launcher and backpack to hold additional rockets. To round out the look, the Steel Brigade also has the generic backpack with an entrenching tool strapped on. These are all great choices because they’re good molds, but they’re generic enough that you can see just about anyone equipped with them. It also gives army builders a great way to make them look a little more different on the shelves. Just by swapping his kit around, you can get a lot of good variations on the Steel Brigade trooper.
I’ve always liked the concept of the Steel Brigade, both as a part of the Joe mythos and as a marketing tool. Had there been a Steel Brigade promotion going on when I was a kid, I would have loved making my own Joe specialist. I’m sure the filecard would have been that awesome mix of childhood coolness and flat out stupidity that my kid brain could come up with. I mean, I loved Muskrat with his neck-breaking rocket launcher. I’m sure the specialties I paired up would have made no sense whatsoever, but I would have thought they were so cool I didn’t care. I enjoy the idea of the Joes having a few nameless specialists with them, guys that are good enough to be on the Joe team but haven’t distinguished themselves enough to warrant full team status. I see every Joe starting there and working their way up to the status of Flint, Duke, Scarlett or Roadblock. Heck, with a little judicious head-swapping, you can make that happen yourself. I know that generic Joes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this figure is great. It’s based on great parts but a different paint scheme makes the base parts even better than their initial use and really help draw them away from their Cobra roots.