Friday, June 15, 2012

REVIEW: GI Joe: Retaliation Zartan

Produced by Hasbro | Released May 2012

ZARTAN carries out his sinister missions for COBRA COMMANDER. As the master of disguise ZARTAN can impersonate anyone, but if you look closely into his eyes, you may see a tell-tale reddish glow that reveals his true identity.

GI Joe: Retaliation Zartan
The GI Joe: Retaliation Zartan is probably one of the most typical figures of the new line: sporting a look that's neither based on a pre-existing version of the character (although he's pretty close to the Renegades rendition) or that looks like his movie counterpart, features reduced articulation and is packed with plastic-looking weaponry, he's a sign of GI Joe's future. Does his arrival then herald the end of the line?

The GI Joe: Retaliation packaging will come as quite a shock to regular collectors. The screaming presence of the movie's stars, the lack of character-themed art, the simplified back texts (which are no longer cut and collect file cards) and the weird Chinese restaurant font really don't set a great tone.

Unless you're an eight year-old kid, in which case it's AWESOME. And I'm being serious. This isn't me bashing kids for liking brightly colored, exciting packaging. I'm simply stating that Hasbro is aiming at a younger demographic with the toy packaging. If you have a problem with that then you may as well stop reading now, as nothing I say will change your opinion on this figure. But if you can get your head around Hasbro's plans and understand just who they're targeting (or better yet, remember how awesome it was when you used to buy toys as a kid) then read on...

Sculpt and Design
This is a pretty unusual take on Zartan. There are elements from the earlier releases and you could draw parallels between this and the GI Joe: Renegades take on the character but it's not exactly a straight representation of that incarnation, either. He's a more high-tech kind of Zartan, with a more fluid, futuristic look. Personally I really like this new approach but I think purists may have a little bit of a harder time coming to terms with it.

I don't have the figure at hand but this Zartan appears to reuse some of the parts from the single carded Snake Eyes. I can't swear to that but if it's not the same parts then the designers have done a great job keeping the same futuristic aesthetic. Zartan - as the leader of the Dreadnoks - is of course, a biker. But rather than continue with the 80s hairy biker look, Hasbro's designers have given him a more modern twist, with his costume looking more akin to a one-piece protective leather suit than the earlier 80s rocker motif. It could be argued that the basic body is a little on the skinny/wiry side and some may feel he's simply too skinny but personally I really dig this new direction.

The figure also sports a removable hood/vest, one of the character's trademarks (although watching A Real American Hero it's difficult at times to figure out if it's a hood or his hair...) and it's a very well-produced, cool-looking piece. The harness has a number of nice details, including a sheathed knife (sadly it's a single, molded piece) and back-piece storage (more on that later.) It's easy enough to remove, which is a good point, given his ''disguise gimmick'' relies on switching heads (again, we'll come back to that...) Interestingly, his ''default'' head doesn't sport his usual eye make-up/marks, which is a shame. But if you're a modder and you're looking for a Doctor Who's Davros head sculpt, then look no further.

And whilst we're on the subject of heads, Zartan's interchangeable heads feature a ''glowing eye'' feature. Essentially there's a colored, clear piece of plastic that's placed within the hollowed head. An exposed strip across the top allows light to enter, thus making the eyes ''glow.'' It's a fun, silly little gimmick which thankfully doesn't do too much to destroy the figure's looks and the slot in his hood really isn't that noticeable.

When Hasbro announced that they'd be cutting back on the articulation of some of the movie figures, fans were understandably upset and although some figures have actually seen an increased level of articulation (such as those found in the Ninja Showdown set), Zartan isn't one of them.

How bad is the rig? Zartan has lost the usual double-jointed knee and his shins and feet are solid pieces with no articulation whatsoever. Whilst it's not a welcome addition (or rather, subtraction) it's hardly the earth-shattering ruination of the toy line some expected. Yes, I'd like to have more articulation. But is this figure worthless? No.

Without sounding as if I'm simply saying we should accept whatever Hasbro gives us, keep in mind that this figure still has an articulation set-up way in advance of most toys on the shelves - some of which are even produced at a larger scale. As GI Joe fans we've been spoilt by the regular set-up, so when something like Zartan comes along it's difficult to adjust, as we simply expect him to be more poseable than he is. But in all honesty the lower-leg articulation restriction isn't that big a deal and had we not seen the greater level of poseability other GI Joe figures have been produced with, it wouldn't even be an issue.

The only other minor problem is that Zartan's hood virtually inhibits any head movement. You can just about get a bit of forward/backward tilt but beyond that, his head and torso may as well be a solid piece. Truth be told, I found that more of an annoyance than any lack of ankle movement but at least the torso joint can be used to give him some upper body movement.

The actual joints are solid enough, although I did find my Zartan's hips becoming progressively looser as I played with him. That may simply be an issue with my figure, though.

Zartan's paintwork is surprisingly subdued, given the shouty shouty shout shout nature of the packaging. Whilst not quite at the realism levels of the Pursuit of Cobra line, it's certainly more lifelike than the coloring used by the 25th Anniversary or even Resolute ranges.

The actual app is nicely done, with some simple color detailing on the body sculpt and some nicely applied facial detail, although sadly my Zartan's nose tip has been scuffed, as you can probably see in the photos. That aside though, all is fine.

Extras and Equipment
Zartan comes with a pretty decent array of weapons and accessories.

The run-down in full: four heads (Zartan Head, Snake Eyes Disguise Head, Storm Shadow Disguise Head and an unidentified male), removable hood/vest, crossbow, bolt quiver, pistol, sword sheaths and twin swords.

As you can see from the above image, it's a pretty good line-up of gear. And as you've probably also noticed, the weapons are cast from a pretty nasty blue plastic. I'm not sure if it's some kind of weird tactic Hasbro is employing to counter the claims of the range being violent by making the weapons look so toy-like or whether there's something about bright blue weapons that appeals to kids but whatever the reasons, he's lumbered with some rather unrealistic gear.

It's a shame, as the actual execution of most of it is pretty good. The quiver fits neatly into his back - and can also be connected to the crossbow for alternate storage, the swords fit snuggly into the sheath, which in-turn slots nicely into the back port and there's even a slot on the harness rear to accommodate the crossbow when not in use. It's just such a shame the weapons themselves are not only cast from a soft blue plastic but also that the disparity between the firearm butts and sword hilts can make it difficult for him to hold the latter if he's previously been posed with the crossbow or pistol.

Still it's nothing that can't be remedied with a quick trip to the spares box. And even if you do elect to keep his gear, it's still possible to use it as intended - heating up the hands in warm water and squeezing them should do the trick.

Like all Retaliation figures, Zartan does not come with a stand.

Final Thoughts
The GI Joe: Retaliation Zartan represents a very different take on the line. And whether you like him will depend entirely on what your thoughts are on these changes.

On the one hand, we've the articulation changes, weak weaponry, generic movie packaging and lack of a stand. But on the other, there's something refreshingly vibrant about this toy. I like that it makes me feel as if I'm an eight year-old buying my first Joe and being excited about it. I could see kids absolutely loving how this figure looks and feels, as it's a remarkably tactile plaything that feels as if you could spend hours playing with it without it breaking or losing any of the accessories. And if that appeals to you - even as an adult - it really doesn't matter that his ankles don't bend. He can sit in vehicles. He can stand. He can do awesome Ninja kicks and jumps. And that's all that matters.

Even as a collectible, he's not without merit. The basic figure's look is great and although his weapons may be look like something from the Nerf range, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the figure and he looks no more out of place on the shelf than any other GI Joe. If his gear bothers you that much, replace it or paint it. Just don't pass on this toy because it looks ''childish'' or the reduced articulation is putting you off, because if you do so then you're missing out on a great figure.

A very, very pleasant surprise.

Final Score: B+

Image Gallery


  1. My only real gripe with him is the Snake Eyes head and the weapon colours, but as always the latter is easily fixable. I would much rather have had another generic Joe head (Duke, Flint, whomever) rather than a Snake Eyes head that's a double of one I already have a spare of thanks to the PoC version. Heck, throw in a RoC Zartan head and that would've made more sense.

    (I know that asking for a Pryce-as-President head is an overreach, however, although at least they knew about that particular storyline well in advance so there's no timeline excuses like there are with the other characters)

    If they'd figured out a way to make the visor light up that's one thing, but since that's not happening it just seems like a way to toss in another "disguise" while saving on costs.

    1. Yeah, it's a shame the heads just don't work as well as they should. And the light pipe thing works - sort of - but it's not as effective as it should be.

  2. I like the look of this figure. And I'm beginning to think that reduced articulation will only be on movie lines, since they usually warm the pegs and end up in discount stores.

    1. Whilst I don't have any problems with this figure's reduced articulation I'm hoping we'll see the Snake Eyes set-up as the norm rather than this.


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