Zombie Initiative T’jbang
Every now and then in large figure sets, there’s one figure that gets included that just doesn’t make any sense. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad figure, but it’s still a bit of a head scratcher when you think about it in the grand scheme of things. As much as I love T’jbang from the Zombie Initiative con set, his inclusion in the set initially confused me no end. The concept of a Ninja Force guy, even as part of the Zombie Hunter team, was just a little strange. However, T’jbang is such a good figure that I’m okay with it. I can understand the Zombie Hunter team wanting a bladed-weapons expert on the team and while I still sometimes look at T’jbang and shake my head a little, it’s partly in confusion but also partly in amazement that T’jbang got such a great modern figure.
I’ll admit, I figured for sure that T’jbang would be the weak spot of the Zombie Initiative set. I really didn’t have any attachment to him and I wasn’t really sold on a Ninja Force character getting the modern figure treatment. However, the GIJCC really proved me wrong here. It’s amazing how well they were able to mimic his original look with modern parts and that made me realize that while the original figure’s construction wasn’t great because it was hampered by his action feature, the overall design of the figure was actually pretty solid. T’jbang gets his legs from a combination of two great sources. The upper legs come from the first Retaliation Snake Eyes figure while his lower legs come from the Retaliation Red Ninja. Pairing the slightly military pants with the shin guards and ninja-styled boots really does a great job at recreating the original T’jbang figure’s very distinctive legs. His upper body comes from a pair of Storm Shadow figures. The chest comes from the Rise of Cobra Arctic Assault Storm Shadow that was modeled after the final battle sequence in that film while the arms come from Retaliation Ultimate Storm Shadow. These parts work very well together and to help complete his look, he also gets a couple of added on pieces. Over his chest, he wears an armored vest just like the original figure. This piece originally came with one of the action attack Pursuit of Cobra figures. I can’t remember which one off the top of my head, but I know it’s something Pursuit of Cobra and I don’t have it in my collection, which leaves a very narrow window of what it could be from. The armor really does a great job of tying his look back to his original figure. Over his arms, he’s wearing the armored gauntlets that came with the Rise of Cobra Arctic Assault Storm Shadow. Unfortunately, I’m not quite as keen on these pieces. They limit his elbow articulation and they make it hard for him to hold some of his accessories. I’m glad they’re removable because it means that I can take them off, but at the same time, I wish they could have used someone else’s arms to achieve the same look. The Rise of Cobra Arctic Assault Storm Shadow would have been a good stand it, but they went this route instead. Don’t get me wrong, these gauntlets really do look good on T’jbang and they look a lot like the gauntlets he had back in the day, I just wish they didn’t restrict his movement so much. Getting him to hold his crossbow in his hands is a dicey enough proposition without also adding in the fact that it’s difficult to get him to hold anything at times with the gauntlets in place. Finally, we have to talk about his new head sculpt. Once again, the boys over at Boss Fight really did a bang up job here. T’jbang looks absolutely amazing. I think part of why I never really liked the original figure is that his face was so stoic that he looked kind of bland. While T’jbang still has his trademark stoicism, he still has some character in his face. His mouth is held sternly, but there’s also a bit of a confident smirk there as well. That fits his character very well. He’s a ninja who took an oath of silence and meditates quietly most of the time, but he’s also someone who is very confident in his skills. I’m glad his face finally reflects his character. The rest of his face is covered with a very cool mask and I love this thing more and more each time I look at it. The mask itself is very well detailed. They even went as far as sculpting in bunched cloth at the back of the mask near the knot that ties it on to his head. They made this head sculpt look incredible and while I still question the inclusion of a ninja into the Zombie Hunter team, it’s such a good figure that I can find a way to justify him working alongside Outback and the Steel Brigade Commander.
As well-designed as this figure is, though, he does have some problems with his paint work. The colors work well, but the tampo applications are a bit hit or miss. I’ll start off with the positives. The blue and yellow are all applied very well. There’s not much visible slop, though the backs of his lower legs are a bit rough. The fleshtone is very natural and the paint work on his bandana/facemask is very well done. There, the tampo work is spot on and it really makes the figure. The detail work is great. However, the tampo work on his legs and knees aren’t nearly as good. The ninja stars on the shin armor are off center. It makes it look like he’s permanently standing slightly cockeyed. More unfortunately, I really haven’t found a way to stand him that minimizes the off kilter application. The paint work on his kneepads is also a little weak. The black dots aren’t off kilter, but they still don’t look quite right. His look is very eye catching and I’m glad that T’jbang is there to add some color to my somewhat drab modern Joe shelf, but at the same time, I’m a little anal retentive about things looking straight and his legs really do bother me. Considering con set figures break down to about $25 per figure, I do kind of expect their paint work to be better than your average mass market figure.
While I was slightly disappointed in the paint work on the figure, the GIJCC did a great job equipping him. His accessories do a great job of referencing his Ninja Force roots and that makes me smile. Back in the day, T’jbang came with a double hook sword that YoJoe called a battle axe. While the GIJCC didn’t recreate that rather impractical weapon, they did give him the pair of hooked swords that have been in the Joe brand’s mold library since Valor Vs. Venom. I really like seeing them here. They haven’t been reused to death (though we will be seeing them again already with FSS Slice) and they’re a great reference to his original Ninja Force gear. Each Ninja Force figure had one unique piece of ninja weaponry and his was the hooked swords molded together. The swords get some yellow paint on the grips and while I like that, I have noticed that just taking them out of his hands once to get photos of him holding his other accessories has caused some paint wear on them where his thumbs grip them. That’s a little disappointing. It’s not much of an issue since they’ll pretty much always be in his hands, but I’d rather have unpainted grips so I don’t have to deal with obvious paint wear. His backpack is designed to hold them on his back, though it can be repurposed to hold his other accessories. I appreciate the versatility of the piece that, while designed to hold the hooked swords, can also carry his kusarigama. That weapon is also a great nod to Ninja Force. Dojo’s unique weapon (well, at least until they brought it back ad nauseum with later Ninja Force figures) was a kusarigama. It’s a long handled sickle linked to a second handle by a string. It’s a great ninja weapon and I really love seeing it here. It looks nice when T’jbang is holding it, but it also looks fine being carried in his backpack. His final weapon is probably the most difficult for him to use. The Retaliation Zartan crossbow is a great piece. I nearly bought that figure a few times just because of the crossbow. However, the Retaliation Ultimate Storm Shadow hands really have trouble gripping it. This isn’t really surprising since they’re designed to grip the small ninja accessories he originally came with so well, but it’s still kind of annoying that it takes so much work for him to hold his crossbow. Again, just like most other zombie fiction, the Zombie Hunters need to have a guy carrying a crossbow. I’ve never really understood why crossbows have become such a zombie trope. Yes, they’re a quiet weapon, but considering zombie fiction usually requires a complete obliteration of the zombie’s brain to successfully kill it, a crossbow isn’t ideal for that. Yes, a crossbow would be good at wounding, but considering zombies shamble on anyway, a leg wound isn’t nearly as effective against a zombie as it would be a living human being. Sure, it would limit their movement, but they’d still be out there trying their hardest to get at you. Tangent on zombie tropes aside, though, this is a really great modern crossbow and I hope that if we see a Scarlett figure sometime in the future, she gets her hand on this baby. I think it’s my new favorite Joe crossbow.
While T’jbang being on the Zombie Hunter team is still a bit of a head scratcher, he’s still a really great figure. T’jbang looks great in modern form and if this is what the GIJCC can do with Ninja Force characters, as much as I may take heat for saying this, I say bring it on. It just proves that the original Ninja Force figures were well designed but were hampered by the action features being built into them. T’jbang is a great modern figure and I have to give the GIJCC credit for taking smeone who most fans (myself included) had written off as a lame 90s figure. He’s an incredibly successful and faithful update to one of the justifiably maligned 90s figures from the worst subteam out there. You wouldn’t think that a faithful update of someone from Ninja Force would be a wise move, but it works. Not saddling him with springloaded action features made him a great figure and I like having a few colorful ninjas on my shelves again. I wasn’t initially sold on him, but T’jbang really works well and I have to admit that I think he’s probably the best figure from the Zombie Hunter side of the set.