This week of Toy Closet finds chugs along and our next stop is 2003. Ah, 2003. It was the heyday of my trips to the KB Toy Liquidators at the local Outlet Mall. GI Joe was featuring SpyTroops, those Ninja Turtles were still representing, and <sniff> Palisades <sniff> was still alive and churning out those awesome muppets, none of which I ever bought. You also had McFarlane Toys trying to let adults know that it was ok to buy action figures, so long as they were basically just statues. Personally, I was always skeptical, but some companies jumped on board this philosophy and Dusty Trail Toys was one of them. Kicking off their short time in the sun, the company produced “Dusty Trail, Action Series 1” which was a collection of six action figures statues based on an odd mix of generic historical characters ranging from WWII Soldiers to Pirates all represented in about a 6-inch scale. I actually owned three of these, but the Gunfighter and the Pirate were broken somehow, leaving me with just Corporal Smith, whom I never got around to opening… until now. Let’s do it!!!
Just look at the packaging! The sealed clamshell case with printed insert has got McFarlane wannabe written all over it. It also hasn’t aged well as the clamshell has gained a nice hearty yellow tint that makes it look as if it spent the last decade fermenting in a bucket of piss. The back of the insert has shots of the other statues in the line and a little blurb about Corporal Smith. I think they would have been better off just calling him “WWII American Pathfinder,” rather than drumming up some hokey character name like Smith, but I won’t hold that against him. Speaking of holding, the sickly color of the package is making me nervous, so I’m going to hold this thing far away from my face when I cut into it. I’ve opened plenty of toys a lot older than this one, but I’m seriously afraid I’m going to let loose some kind of dangerous bacteriological plague.
With the package opened, there were thankfully no spores, but I did get that same overpowering plastic smell that comes with opening any McFarlane clamshell for the first time. Will the similarities never end? The package promises “some assembly required” but all you have to do is plug the huge peg on Smith’s left boot into the base and put his Thompson submachine gun in his hands. Getting Smith pegged into the stand was a trial in itself. I’m not sure if the peg expanded over time, but it seemed way too big for the hole. Giggity.
Ok, there’s actually a lot I like about this piece, so let me get the one glaring problem I have with it out of the way: His pose. Smith is designed so he’s stepping off the base and I absolutely hate that. What’s the point of having the base at all if he’s going to be hanging off of it like that? Is it supposed to be some metaphor about the toy being so action packed that he’s jumping right off his own base? Probably not. The other problem is that judging from the pictures, the foot that’s extending off the base is supposed to be hovering and in reality it just rests on the display surface, which means Smith is almost more horizontal than vertical. I realize that I’d probably hunch down pretty low if I had a bunch of krauts (hey, I’m allowed to say that, I’m German!) shooting at me, but I think he’s leaning forward way too much for the pose to look natural.
With the negativity out of the way, I have to say this statue represents some very impressive sculpting, and I’m not even going to qualify that by pointing out that it’s a 10 years old piece made by a small upstart toy company. They myriad of gear strapped all over Smith is recreated in stunning clarity and detail. He’s got a backpack, a canteen, a “U.S.” embossed holster for his .45 automatic. He’s got his web belt, entrenching tool, combat knife, and at least a half dozen other pouches, which I cannot identify but in no way do I doubt their authenticity. Included amongst all that detail are the various wrinkles in his fatigues and the meticulous recreation of the netting and camouflage on his helmet. Even the head sculpt is phenomenal. Smith’s expression is a visceral, war-weary battle cry frozen in time. Magnificent!
Incredibly enough, the paintwork manages to live up to the sculpting. The camo pattern on Smith’s fatigues looks great, the brown for the leather of his knife sheath and pistol holster looks totally authentic, and the tiniest of details are painted right down to some of the stitching and buttons and clasps. The shoulder patches are also crisp and even though the print is tiny, you can still easily read, “Airborne.” If you hold the figure up and peek in just under his left armpit, you can read the gold painted lettering on his smoke grenade. It’s almost totally hidden on the statue, and yet these guys took the time and care to paint it. Cool.
Corporal Smith’s base doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the statue’s perfection. It’s designed to be part grass and part sandbags. The grass pattern is sculpted and painted, but the sculpt is rather soft. The Thompson submachine gun, on the other hand, is a gorgeous little piece that outshines most other 6-inch scale weapons I’ve seen. The sculpting is detailed right down to the receiver action and the wood stock and grips are all carefully painted. It practically looks like a Hot Toys weapon shrunken down.
Sadly, the Dusty Trails line was quickly swept off to the clearance and closeouts stores, which is where I picked up mine. In terms of quality of paint and sculpt, Corporal Smith deserved better than that. This is a piece that could go toe to toe with some of the best offerings in its class, but I can’t deny it was a strange assortment of statues and I’m guessing that the marketing just wasn’t there. Maybe had they decided to do a wave of WWII based statues, then a wave of Gunfighters, then Pirates, there would have been a little more of a feeling of cohesion for collectors to get their arms around. Either way, we’ll never know and Dusty Trail Toys has since gone down that dusty trail and into the sunset. As for Corporal Smith, well I have an entire bookcase in my library devoted to WWII history and I do believe he’s going to live out his days on one of those shelves.