Factory Customs tend to be available for a period of time, then they disappear into collections, or find themselves on eBay for ridiculous mark ups. One figure that lingered around, was the RLA Sky Patrol Steel Brigade, and is now very hard to find. I liked the figure, and when I figured it’d be time to round out the numbers, I was too late. C’est le vie.
The Steel Brigade is one of the instances of fans dictating how a character in G.I. Joe is viewed. Hasbro’s intention was for it to be a singular character, that represented the consumer idealized version of themselves. However in Europe, a lot of Steel Brigade version D’s were available, and the marketing material showed them as generic soldiers for the Joes, in fact there were mail-in offers where you would get 2(two) Steel Brigade figures. Since the European marketing material featured probably the highest quality professional G.I. Joe photography, and definitely the highest quality circa the early 2000s, this concept seeped it’s way into collector conscience. When factory customs expanded over time, it was going to be inevitable to see the Steel Brigade, the fact both major producers created figures in the same timeframe was a tad surprising, but overall they were different enough from each other to fill voids.
Red Laser’s Steel Brigade figures, were patterned pretty heavily off of figures from various G.I. Joe sub teams. The Night Force figure was Psyche-Out’s colouring and the Sky Patrol Steel Brigade was Static Line’s deco. Honestly I think that was the best way to tie the figures into the parental sub team, it unifies it, rather than the “I took a figure and painted it black, now it’s Night Force” style of yesteryear. For Sky Patrol, which is a sub team that isn’t cohesive at all, and a lot of the figures are actually incredibly bland. Static Line has the best colouring and fits the sky motif the best. So choosing that for the Steel Brigade was a pretty strong choice.
The figure is strongly coloured, it’s even more colourful than the first glimpse indicates. Since the Static Line colouring was being used, it was nice to see that both silver and grey wound up being used. The silver torso works quite well with the blue, and is different enough from the grey pants that it’s noticeable without clashing. The gloss black highlights help round out the figure, nicely.
While the figure is nice looking, the colours chosen, don’t really make a strong case for any single environment, which is a thing that could be troublesome, except for the fact that this figure is muted enough, that it works in most situations, which is kind of hard to believe based on the fact that it is a figure featuring a lot of bright blue.
The Steel Brigade came with the 2017 RLA accessory contingent, which was two iffy new sculpt weapons, a Recoil rifle, and the Airborne/Duke backpack (Same sculpt, but doesn’t have the cross that Airborne’s had). Are they good accessories? Well, the backpack and rifle are, even if the rifle needs some modifications. The knife and pistol were terrible, didn’t fit the hand grips, and were probably a wasted choice in the long run. I could think of numerous accessories that would’ve been better choices.
Steel Brigade is an idea, I’m never to certain on where I stand with them. I think the figure is pretty good, and they’ve worked as a secondary foil for COBRA, in my goofy little daydreams. So that’s usually what I view them as, since its useful to give COBRA (or whomever) a chance to be the victors, and also gives the opportunity for a different view on the good guys.
It’s not that I view the Joe team as infallible or anything like that, but it’s a lot easier to look at ideas of incompetency, or doing things without the proper moral foundation, when looking at a group like the Steel Brigade. They’re faceless, not really all that well developed as an idea (collectors like to army build), and I don’t really have any connection to them as a character, the way I do with Roadblock or Duke.
Red Laser’s Army, provided a different take on Factory Customs. The stuff produced by him, was different enough from The Black Major, that there wasn’t really any stepping on any toes, even if the two producers made Steel Brigade figures around the same time. However, RLA never really seemed to have things together enough. It’s a shame, because I would’ve liked to see more Steel Brigade figures released, perhaps only because I never really saw one factory custom version that ever really wowed me to the point of thinking “This could be the default Steel Brigade”
At the end of the day, probably more Steel Brigades than necessary were created, it’s an okay thing, but it’s also something we’re neither better or worse off for.