G.I. Joe vehicles evolved design wise as the line progressed, but at the same time this evolution wasn’t always for the better, since as the designs became more complicated, the smaller details tended to be disregarded. 1988’s Mean Dog still has solid detailing, but was the last of a dying breed. For some reason the 1987 and 1988 vehicle design team really seemed to be into the modular vehicle concept. There’s a bunch that break into 3 separate pieces, some with more success than others. The Mean Dog in a way, is the G.I. Joe answer to the MAGGOT, as both share pretty similar design ideas. They both split into the same three parts, front vehicle, command station and large gun. I’d say the MAGGOT has a much more successful Command Station and cannon, while the Mean Dog’s front vehicle is far superior. As a whole unit, they’re both pretty much a wash, and it’s up to personal preference. I personally like the Mean Dog better, if only because it’s “split into three” gimmick, isn’t necessary to be used, for it to be fun to play around with.
The Mean Dog is capable of holding numerous figures comfortably. It has two seats in the front vehicle’s cockpit, two different gun turrets and a seat in the command section. I like this, because I’ve never been a huge fan of figure’s standing on running boards, though at the same time I like being able to have a whole wack of figures interacting with the vehicle. The Mean Dog also has a lot of sculpted on details, however at the same time, the details skimp out in places, which you wouldn’t see if this had been released in an earlier year, like 1986. There’s hatches, but none are removable. There’s a running board at the back with a tow hook, but it also has no texturing on it. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it shows where G.I. Joe as a line was scaling back.
The best thing I can say about the Mean Dog, is the vehicle is actually well armed, it’s got two rocket pods, a big machine gun that’s removable (and looks terrible set up separately) and there’s a gun station on the front vehicle, too. The front vehicle’s gun is pretty cool, and also makes it usable for a scout car. When connected together, the Mean Dog has a pretty neat look, and the “head” of the vehicle is capable of moving left and right, which adds a dynamic to it. To me this vehicle looks like it would be intimidating on the field, but has enough weak points, the Joes are smarter to use it as a security vehicle, for checkpoints and defensive operations.
The biggest complaint I have about the vehicle, is how drab the vehicle is. The brown is a real sickly brown, it’s not rich, it’s closer to cheap generic store brand Chocolate Ice Cream, than it is mud. The gun and rocket pods being a very dark olive is nice, but the contrast isn’t very dynamic, so the whole thing looks awash in a sea of blah. The white rockets are really eye catching though, and probably do a lot more than one would think, for the overall appearance of the vehicle.
The dullness of the brown colouring is kind of disappointing, because if it had been slightly richer, the Mean Dog would be a great match for the VAMP, which would help tie the Mean Dog into the earlier segment of the G.I. Joe line.
I think the Mean Dog, is like a lot of vehicles from the mid 1980s where there’s an under reported European variant, that has a much richer colour than the domestic release. There’s a deep green HAVOC (with red instead of Orange pieces) and the similarly coloured Outpost Defender that was released in Europe has a much a deeper brown. While it would be cool to own, it’s also the Mean Dog, where it’s neither cool enough nor iconic enough, to justify the time, effort, and space it would cost, while already owning the domestic release, though if I was given the choice between the two, the European version would likely win out.
The multi-part vehicles were definitely a design trope of the late 80s, but they also helped the line still have some big vehicles, but they were done up in away that they didn’t seem too big. The Mean Dog is bigger than a MOBAT or SnowCat, but doesn’t really dwarf the figures, it’s intended to interact with, the way a Rolling Thunder does, this is important, because it makes ideas of “Man vs. Machine” conflicts a little more palatable.
The included Driver of the Mean Dog, is Wild Card. Wild Card is a hilarious figure, that looks more like a tramp than that of a member of America’s Elite Daring Anti-Terrorist Strike Force Delta, Code Named: G.I. Joe. The dude has on a pair of red jeans and a green ripped denim vest. He’s not really much of a figure, but a friend of mine once referred to him as “Homeless Footloose”, so that’s what I call him (Take care, wherever you are Delta!), and that’s also about the extent of use the figure gets. However, for some reason, despite it being 1988 and not 1985, Wild Card received numerous accessories. A giant helmet and a machete with backpack scabbard. It’s an oddity, but shows that Hasbro really thought highly of the Mean Dog.
Overall, the Mean Dog is one of the last great G.I. Joe vehicles. It might not be as solidly designed, as the VAMP or whatnot, and definitely has a gimmick at play, it’s still an excellent toy. 1988 has some warts, but the quality of the figures and vehicles, from a purely action figure perspective is higher than a lot of the glory days of the G.I. Joe line, it just didn’t have any strong media behind it, to leave it better remembered.