The 15-figure “Nocturnal Fire” set features a dual theme– the six Joes in the set are based on the late 90’s sub-team Night Force, while the Cobra figures’ share a much looser “Demolitions Specialists” theme. In a set with this many figures, it seems more likely than not that some will turn out better than others, and that is definitely the case here– there are figures here that are downright incredible, while others are kind of dull, and others still would have been great if not for some poor design choices.
I’ll start with the Joes, who all sport their stealth team decos, with plenty of blacks, greys, navy blues and dark greens. The Joe team here consists of Charbroil, Spearhead and Max, Muskrat, Repeater, Psyche Out and Hit and Run. Five of the six figures do a great job of matching their original Real American Hero counterparts. Psyche Out and Repeater are the two big winners, of the Joe team and probably the box set overall. Both make very smart use of existing parts (Pursuit of Cobra Duke for Psyche Out and Retaliation Roadblock for Repeater) along with new heads and some great gear which replicates the original characters nicely.
I always liked Spearhead and Max as a kid– why would a soldier have a pet bobcat? I would always ask– so it’s nice to see him again, included here. He, along with Charbroil, are relegated to share previously used heads, but their helmets and accessories mask those identities fairly well. Spearhead gets a neat upgrade, with night vision goggles on his helmet, although the design on his vest is more questionable– he features a bullet belt slung over his shoulder, which appears to simply be glued on a loop around him– I have serious reservations the piece could easily become unglued and take away from the figure’s look. Max the bobcat is an all-new sculpt, and he looks really cool. He’s cast in brown in a soft, PVC style plastic, making him quite durable, although slightly top heavy and unstable on his feet.
Charbroil, I like a lot, too– the flame thrower makes great use of the Retaliation Trooper body, with replicas of his classic helmet and flame thrower, and there is a wonderful semi-metallic finish to his blue armor that looks fantastic. Muskrat makes his debut in the modern era with a solid take on the swamp fighter. I like his Navy Seal-esque gear, which compliments his machete and floppy hat to make for a realistic take on the classic character.
Hit and Run is the last Joe, and I’m still scratching my head over his inclusion. Never part of the vintage Night Force, the light infantry Joe gets a new design pattern and color scheme. On the one hand, he’s a step up over the previous Hit and Run, from the Assault on Cobra Island 7-pack, but it seems odd to include a new figure here, rather than a vintage Night Force member still in need of an upgrade (Crazy Legs comes to mind). Still, Hit and Run isn’t a bad figure, with a cool new portrait that reminds me a lot of a Sgt. Savage/ Sgt. Rock type, and some neat accessories including his oversized climbing bag.
The Cobra side is much more varied– as in past years the bad guys compose the majority of the set, with a mix of two army building solider figures, and three villainous character figures. We return to South America for two of the Cobras in this set, as Cobra Mortal and Cobra Letal make their modern debut. I love the early Argentina figures, so was quite excited to hear Mortal would be included… until I discovered the Club designed him in his rarely seen white suit instead of the classic silver and red deco. He’s not bad, and the brilliance of the white paint and plastic makes him stand out nicely, but he doesn’t exactly feel complete to me. It may also be his head, which has a silver metallic finish, but really feels like it should have been vac metallized instead.
Cobra Letal is another South American throwback, cleverly re-imagined as a squad leader of the Frag Vipers with which he shares a sculpt. The Joe Club tends to sneak a few unreleased/ upcoming molds into each Joe Con set, and Letal/ Frag Viper gets the honors this year– most of the figure is made up of the upcoming “Ultimate” Snake Eyes, and the sculpt, design and ample articulation on display have me more stoked for that figure than ever. For the Frag Vipers… I’m not sure it works. The skin tight look of this costume will work perfectly for a ninja like Snake Eyes, but for these soldiers it seems odd. The original figures featured more typically baggy uniforms (and no dart guns on their forearms), and while it’s neat to see this new body on display in advance I can think of a number of part combinations which would have served the Frag Viper design much better.
The last character for the Cobras is Crimson Asp, a female saboteur who shares a fashion sense with Resolute Baroness and a more than passing resemblance to Molotov Cocktease from Venture Bros. I like the Asp design, whose dark and light green remind me of Madam Hydra, and her combination of munitions and a flame thrower make her a match for any number of Joes to fight. I was afraid of the new head sculpt based on early images, but she looks way, way better in person, with much more defined features and less soapy plastic than I had feared. She may not be a rock star, but this one-eyed Cobra is a welcome new addition to the ranks.
Rounding out the set are the two troopers– the previously mentioned Frag Vipers and the SAW Viper. Each soldier is packed three time in the set, each with matching gear for a uniform look. Like I said, the Frag Viper has some issues. On top of the questionable use of the Snake Eyes base body, his unique grenade-launching gear– well translated from the classic version of the toy– is cast in bad plastic. It’s too soft to clip in place on his arm, yet too firm for the tube to be malleable. The result is a frustrating back and forth, cramming the figure’s hand and forearm into the claw of the device, while attempting to keep both end of the tube connected to his backpack and arm.
At least the head sculpt, apparently taken from the vintage figure, looks very sharp and well sculpted. He’s not a bad figure, really, and I’m happy to have a modern era Frag Viper in my lineup now… but the design choices that plague this figure really drag him down.
The SAW Viper is virtually the opposite of the Frag figure– he’s fantastic! I can say the SAW Viper is probably the most surprising figure of the set– I never would have though of this base, and while his design doesn’t go near trying to replicate his original figure’s look, the updates are smart and still ring very true to the character. The Cobra heavy arms troopers logically share parts with the heavy arms Iron Grenadiers, cast in a black, purple and pink color scheme that harkens back to the 90’s SAW figure. His helmet is removable, revealing the balaklava masked head seen recently on Retaliation Airborne, and it works brilliantly here.
SAW Viper includes a particularly boss machine gun with removable magazine, a backpack which fits in nicely with his overall design, and two knives with sheaths on his vest. This guy is big, bulky and very tough looking, and I love everything about him!
Some of the best modern GI Joes are the ones that bring a classic character into the modern world, while still retaining what made that character special in the first place. The Nocturnal Fire set’s best points are the figures that embrace that mindset– rather than slavishly trying to replicate each vintage figure part-for-part, this set has more than a few clever adaptations that enhance the overall figure greatly, while still staying true to what made him so cool as a kid.
It should also be mentioned that this set is perfect in regards to character selection, and the Joe Club clearly took notes after last year’s Oktober Guard fiasco. Night Force is cool, but pretty much a non-essential sub-team. Yes, some of these characters have yet to see modern updates in their classic colors, but their Night Force variants are really their own thing entirely, meant to be displayed as a team. It can be argued that the SAW and Frag Vipers are a little mainstream for inclusion, but the liberal adaptation for this SAW figure means we could easily see another adaptation from Hasbro in the future, and the Frag Viper isn’t too great anyway, honestly. But I love that the Club has made a set that truly feels worthy of being a Convention exclusive– most of these figures are quite cool, they work great as a team and they’re a fun addition to the overall GI Joe collection. However, had I not picked up this set… it wouldn’t really impact me as a completist, because it’s so fringe to the overall Joe universe. It’s smart on the Club’s part, and I really hope they can be equally thoughtful when it comes to future Convention themes.
Yes, this set is a mixed bag, and the design flaws on some of the figures are particularly glaring, which may be a dealbreaker for some, when it comes to an extremely limited, high end set like this. But when this set shines– particularly on fantastic figures like Repeater, Psyche Out and the imaginative SAW Viper update– it shines bright enough to make you forget this is Night Force in the first place.