Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Toy Review – G.I. Joe – Zartan By Sideshow Collectibles

It’s been a long time since I’ve bought any Sideshow figures.
I used to be a regular customer on the Sideshow website. I would say that once a month I would get online and reserve a figure, whether it was Star Wars, Buffy, or Sideshow’s proprietary zombie offerings – The Dead. When I first started buying from Sideshow Collectibles their 1/6th scale figures averaged fifty bucks apiece.
Eventually they stopped producing Buffy and seem to have moved to different formats for The Dead. Star Wars has gotten prohibitively expensive and I think it’s GI Joe’s fault.

            I was beyond excited when Sideshow announced they had the license to produce GI Joe toys. I have a big weakness for 1/6th scale figures and always have. My very first pursuits on eBay were for the GI Joe Hall of Heroes 1/6th scale figures. These were Target exclusives and honestly weren’t even very good, but I had to have them. Once I had them I did a bit of customizing to make some of the more ridiculous features less so. I also created some figures myself for characters they didn’t produce – Firefly, Lady Jaye (Scarlett would have been too hard), Baroness, and Zartan. The Firefly was so good I still have him displayed (and am kicking myself for passing on Sideshow’s version, which now costs upwards of $300). The Zartan was okay, but this one… Well, obviously this one is better.
Back to my point – I was very excited about Sideshow producing Joes. I was significantly less excited when they announced the first figure – Snake-Eyes – was priced at $119.99. This was a huge jump from even the most expensive Star Wars figures, which were topping out at around $69.99 at the time. I resigned myself to skipping the GI Joes from Sideshow, reasoning that I was still collecting the smaller figures and didn’t need to start up a new scale anyway. And honestly their Snake-Eyes didn’t blow me away. The next figure offered was Storm Shadow and I outright did not like that one, so I thought I’d be okay with not buying this line.
But then Sideshow put up a teaser for a Cobra Commander figure and it looked amazing. So I preordered the Commander and once I got him he really was amazing. I decided that if they did Destro I’d buy him, too. But that would be it. And then Sideshow put up Duke and he looked awesome, so I got him. He really was a great figure, but standing there on the shelf he just looked kind of bland. I ended up selling him on eBay and even made a little profit. Unfortunately, a side-effect of my reaction to Duke was that I cancelled the preorder on Firefly. I really thought that was the end of me buying these Joes.
Until the preview for Zartan came out. Firefly is my favorite GI Joe character, but Zartan is a very close second.
First Glance: I hadn’t fully noted the smirk on Zartan’s face in the online photos. Just seeing the box for this figure is exciting. It makes me wish I were rich so I could buy more 1/6th scale figures. It’s killing me that the Avengers are all coming out and I can’t have them. Well, not all of them. I’m getting a couple.
Sculpt: Sideshow has stepped up their game an amazing amount since the last figure I got from them. They are obviously paying close attention to what Hot Toys does.
I haven’t reviewed one of these types of figures in a while, so I’ll tell you right now that I don’t go taking all of the clothes and armor and stuff off to see what the articulation looks like. Heck, I usually don’t even pose them too much because it can bunch up the clothing or pull things out of place. So if you want a detailed rundown of what kind of joints are where and which body type Sideshow used, you’re going to have to check out their site.
I will say that Zartan has some very different sculpting from any other Sideshow figure I own. Rather than having the bare, double-jointed arms that other figures sport, he has sculpted arms with standard (yet deep) elbow pivots. This is an outstanding improvement. The arms look great and still have as much functionality as you really need. This is the thing that I think Sideshow picked up from Hot Toys. Both of the Hot Toys releases I own have sculpted arms (granted, they are a rubber skin over an armature) and look so much better for it. The ends of Zartan’s forearms have holes to accommodate the pegs on his various sets of hands and the gauntlets on his forearms cover the connection point.
Zartan comes with a shit ton of those interchangeable hands. He has 8 right hands and 4 left hands. I’m actually okay with the disparity since there’s so much more he would be doing with his right hand anyway. This is a better plan than if he just came with an even number of each for no good reason. The basic design of the hands is the same throughout. Each hand wears a glove with a bit of padding and some very nice detail as far as seams and creases. The hands switch out very easily but stay firmly in place. They are made of a flexible material that can grip the various included accessories well.
Whatever articulation there is at the shoulders compensates for the simple elbows, as Zartan can convincingly draw his bow.
Obviously I would have loved an Arnold Vosloo head on this guy, but I think Sideshow did a great job with what we got. In all honesty this face kind of reminds me of the wrestler Raven. Obviously it’s leaner and it might just be because Raven wore facepaint like this. Whatever the case, this face looks awesome. It has so much character and the smirk is just excellent. The lining and texture of the skin is fantastic.
Finally (I guess – there’s so much to this guy I hope I don’t leave anything out), Zartan comes with two sets of feet. One regular flat-footed set and a set with the toes bent, presumably so he can be posed kneeling. I really appreciate that Sideshow went the extra mile here, but it was kind of unnecessary. I never would have thought, “Gee, I wish his feet looked like the toes were bent.” But both sets of feet do look awesome. They plug into the ankles the same way the hands plug into the forearms. They are easily interchangeable but fit snugly. The sculpt on them is great, with armor plating to match the boot tops that are separate pieces that simply sit on top of the feet. It’s an ingenious system and the boot tops are loose enough that you can pose them to cover the gap between them and the feet for the most part.
Design: I believe that Zartan is the closest and best interpretation of a classic GI Joe character that Sideshow has produced. He is slightly updated and still has that “real world” touch of the rest of the line; but he is undoubtedly Zartan. As much as the rest of the Sideshow Joes and COBRAs almost seem a little too generic, Zartan retains his look and personality. Well, personalities.
Zartan’s boot tops are very reminiscent of the original figure, but with more detail. The armored plates are scratched and discolored with wear and look fantastic. The boot tops fit the figure well and pretty much stay where you position them.
The trousers are a slightly heavy (for this scale) burgundy material. They fit loosely and approximate the look of the old figure. The pads on the thighs resemble a leathery stitched material that would be more practical than the armor plates of the old figure. Granted, they do not have a color change feature, but going along with the more realistic approach they actually look very good. They have some very nice wear coloration and are stitched securely onto the trousers.
Zartan’s belt and holster are beautiful examples of Sideshow’s craftsmanship. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say Sideshow has Hot Toys beat in the tiny (fake) leather goods department. While both of the Hot Toys figures I own have (fake) leather accessories that feel a bit flimsy and in one case have actually fallen apart (that review of Resident Evil’s Alice is still coming one of these days); Zartan’s gear all feels very sturdy. 
The belt features several functional ammo pouches with magnetic clasps. They each hold a clip for his rifle and I wasn’t worries about loosening the stitching or pulling the pouches out of place when I was placing the clips inside. The holster is equally sturdy and also sports a magnetic clasp. Zartan’s pistol fits inside perfectly. The only thing I didn’t like was the tie at the bottom of the holster. It’s sturdy and works well enough, but the waxed string is a little tough to handle and chances are you’re going to have to re-tie it. I did mine.
The regular belt is probably the best belt I’ve seen at this scale. I own real belts that aren’t as nice. The stitching adds so much texture to it and the Dreadnok logo belt buckle is great. I wish I had one.
The Master of Disguise has two layered shirts. The bottom one is a sleeveless black shirt of a thin material that is basically there to cover up the joints on the figure and break up the burgundy. It looks good and serves its function just fine. The top shirt is the same color of burgundy as the pants but in a material that is more like a miniature version of a sweatshirt. It looks great and is cut to compliment the chest armor. Also, Zartan’s trademark hood is attached to it. This makes a lot more sense than the original floating, unaffiliated hood that looked more like Taz’s entrance apparel. This hood is lined with black fabric and has an extremely tiny wire sewn into the front so that it can drape properly over Zartan’s face. It’s brilliant and I love it.
While I would have liked it very much if the chest armor had a clear window with some sort of color changing feature or at least the appearance of such; what’s here is more practical and does look very good. It is made of two separate pieces held together by functional buckles and straps. The pieces feature sculpted-in damage and wear that looks great. The paint also helps the illusion of years of field use. The front panel does suggest the shapes of the original figure. The back panel has two sort of hooks at the top that just sort of look like cool details, but are actually functional – Zartan’s backpack hangs from them. We’ll get to that in a minute. Each shoulder features armor plating that is attached to the chest piece. There are three separate pieces that make up the recognizable plate design of the original figure. They move independently of each other and do not interfere with the figure’s posability at all.
Zartan’s gloves are each comprised of two pieces – the hands described back in the Sculpt section and the actual gauntlet portion on the forearm. The gauntlets are simple and leather-looking with some seams detailed on them. They fit snugly and can easily be positioned to cover the wrist joints in almost any pose.
Accessories: Hoo, boy. This is gonna take a minute.
Zartan comes with:
Mask – This is exactly like the old mask. It’s a generic, bearded dude. The awesome thing is that it is an extremely thin piece of latex-like material that is molded to fit over Zartan’s actual face perfectly. It comes sitting on a piece of plastic to hold its shape.
Backpack – It looks exactly like the old figure’s, only with more detail and paint. There are d-rings attached to straps attached to the backpack that allow it to hang from the hooks on Zartan’s chest piece. The only problem is that it does just hang. It isn’t secured by anything but gravity, so I was constantly knocking it off during photography. I think if they had sculpted a notch onto the bottom that could hook under the lower lip of the back armor it might have been better. Other than that the backpack is great. It consists of three pieces. There is a lid that opens, but the front portion also folds down; so the functionality is the same as the original. You can fit the included mask inside as well as a couple of other small items.
Pistol – Almost exactly like the original figure’s. I love that Sideshow always does this. Each of their releases at the very least includes a larger version of that character’s signature weapon. The sculpt and paint are fantastic and it fits perfectly into Zartan’s hand or his holster.
Rifle and Accessories – I’m sure a gun aficionado could tell me what model of sniper rifle this is. It has several moving parts as well as interchangeable clips that fit snugly into place. There are two different scopes that slide into place using the same sort of system as actual firearms. I don’t know what either is for but they both look cool. The larger one even has an attached but removable lens cover. Zartan can’t hold this rifle totally perfectly, but well enough. It’s the restraints of making an action figure that keep the posing from being perfect, not any flaws with the sculpt or design of the figure. There is also an adjustable strap that fits in what I find to be a weird way but that is probably realistic and accurate. I’m sure all you snipers out there can fill me in.
Bow and Arrows – Zartan’s compound bow is fucking magnificent. Every little part moves and it essentially functions as a real-life counterpart would. It’s ridiculous. The string is a bit loose, but if you hold it in place it works fine. The arrows are made of a single piece of molded plastic. They are scaled correctly so that Zartan can actually draw the bow and hold an arrow properly. There is a clip attached to the bow to hold the arrows, but it is a real hassle getting the arrows into it. The little slots they fit in are just a bit too small for them to pop right in and the arrows themselves are so thin that you feel like you are going to snap them in half trying to jam them in. The plastic of the arrows isn’t as brittle as it seems and I was eventually able to get them all in place. But the shafts ended up looking bent from the way that they fit. It was truly nerve-wracking getting those things in there and then they looked funny. With a lot of careful positioning I was able to get them to look acceptable, but this whole process was a real pain in the ass. I think the only solution here would have been to make the shafts out of metal. It could have been sturdy and thin enough to eliminate these problems.
Knife and Sheath – It’s a mean-ass looking knife. The sculpt is great – definitely something you’d see in the Bud K catalog – and it fits perfectly into the sheath. I’m not sure exactly where the sheath is supposed to attach to the figure, but you can jam it in there somewhere.
Mines – Zartan comes with two mines. They look cool and can be stored in the next item.
Bag – Pretty much just a messenger bag. It looks fine and fits with the figure. You can stick a few things inside.
Duke Head – This was only available with the Sideshow Exclusive version. It’s Duke, but with a Zartan sneer. It’s an awesome extra. Both heads are easily interchangeable.
Packaging: The Sideshow multi-fold window box. I love this packaging, as it fully displays the figure and the multitude of accessories. In addition to some nice pics of the figure and some old-school graphics, there is also a file card on the back.
Overall: Zartan is easily my favorite of the GI Joe figures that Sideshow has produced so far. He feels very much like somebody hat could be in the real world, yet looks almost exactly like the old figure. I love the accessories and how they all tie in not only with the character but with the related lore.
4 out of 5
It’s hard for me to give this guy anything but a prefect rating as much as I love him, but the arrows and backpack are definitely issues. Not quality problems, at least, but things that should have been done better on a figure this costly.
Check out BigBadToyStore and Sideshow Collectibles if you want one; and you should. I recommend Big Bad, as they’re cheaper and Sideshow has devalued the points of their Rewards Programs so much as to render them near-worthless.
Take a look at my Photobucket gallery for a TON more pictures.

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