That filecard is funnier than anything I could ever hope to write in this opening section, so we’ll leave it at that.
I don’t want to rag on Funskool too much, because I think they generally hit it out of the park. Some of their card art isn’t great and some of their filecards leave a little bit to be desired (even if they are unintentionally funny), but I love Funskool in a completely sincere way– there’s nothing ironic about it.
So, let’s celebrate the glory of this Funskool GI Joe Tunnel Rat, whose card is date-stamped 1998.
Tunnel Rats and Late Fees
Tunnel Rat is one of the more popular GI Joe characters, despite his character never getting much development either in the classic Marvel Comics or in his sole animated appearance *during the vintage line,” 1987’s GI Joe: The Movie.
Tunnel Rat has always been one of my favorite GI Joe characters and figures, so I’m happy to go with the grain on this one. But, you’ll notice he didn’t make my list of ‘The 5 Best GI Joe Characters.’ That’s because, as stated earlier, his character never got much of a chance to shine in older GI Joe media. Think about Stalker, Scarlett, Hawk, Storm Shadow, Doc, and Roadblock– and then think about Tunnel Rat. As far as character depth goes, there’s not much comparison.
That’s not to say he isn’t great, because he is. Tunnel Rat is indisputably cool. In both the old comics and movie, he’s a wisecracking, sarcastic badass from Brooklyn. The figure itself is excellent, with a unique, gritty look that still fits into the “military realism” camp while still having enough quirks to be memorable. Everyone loves his huge backpack and strange scoped machine gun.
In short, despite his lack of character depth, there’s nothing to dislike about Tunnel Rat. All you really know about him is that he’s a badass, and you can project whatever other details you want onto the character. That’s why he’s so popular.
And that’s why I loved Tunnel Rat as a kid, too. His 1990 Sonic Fighters figure was one of my most-used GI Joe toys as a kid, and he was a part of almost every mission I played out. He was a plucky hero alongside Flint, Heavy Duty, and Storm Shadow. None of my friends had the figure, either, so it felt like Tunnel Rat was sort of “my own.”
When I finally gained internet access, I learned basically every other GI Joe fan loved him, too. This puzzled me for a bit, but it didn’t bother me. Even if my highly-regarded Sonic Fighters version wasn’t universally beloved, the character himself was. At that time, I also learned the figure was loosely based on Larry Hama, which made me like him even more.
And those early days of GI Joe internet fandom lead into the next part of our story, as well. By 2001 or so, my original Sonic Fighters Tunnel Rat was badly beat up from play wear. Sometime around then, sites like SmallJoes and YoJoe began offering Funskool figures from India for somewhere around $3-4 apiece.
I didn’t have much disposable income at the time, as I was still in high school and working scarce hours doing data entry and janitorial work. I was also saving for a car and a guitar amp. I did, however, manage to purchase four Funskool figures online– Toxo-Viper, Hydro-Viper, Eel, and Tunnel Rat.
I was hoping the Funskool Tunnel Rat could replace my beleaguered Sonic Fighters version. When I finally got the toy and the mail and opened it up, his right arm separated at the elbow rivet immediately.
The arm would stay together for display, but not if I actually wanted to play with or pose the figure. For me, GI Joe isn’t about display, so it kind of ruined the toy for me. I eventually used the toy to make a “cold weather Tunnel Rat” kitbash using a similarly beat up Big Ben figure. His backpack has since been donated to a loose, incomplete Funskool Night Viper I bought a few years ago, too.
I didn’t think much about my broken Tunnel Rat until I started collecting Funskool figures again a few years ago.
I still have most of my original Funskool Tunnel Rat’s pieces somewhere. I even took a photo of that kitbash (buried somewhere on my Instagram that I can’t find. If one of my readers wants to try to dig up the photo, there may be a reward involved) to mourn the loss of what is now a Very Expensive Figure.
UPDATE: A-Man found my photo of the kitbash. Here it is:
But, I rebought a carded Funskool Tunnel Rat for this review. I once paid $4. This time, I paid over $40, which is somehow a good price for it these days. Things are bonkers now, to say the least.
So, that’s the story of why I love Tunnel Rat and why I paid a substantial late fee to reacquire the Funskool version.
Let’s look at the figure, shall we?
Funskool GI Joe Tunnel Rat (1998) Review
I’ve looked at a few different Funskool figures on this blog before, but this is the first one that has any real nostalgia value for me. It’s also tied to a sour memory (that broken elbow), so I’m dealing with a flood of conflicting emotions right out of the gate.
But I’ll do my best to stay objective here. Or, you know, as objective as someone who unabashedly loves 90s neon can be. If you’re reading this, you already know if my tastes align with yours or not.
According to the cardback, this Funskool GI Joe Tunnel Rat was produced in 1998, but the leg bears a 1990 date stamp, much like the Sonic Fighters Tunnel Rat he’s meant to emulate.
The card itself is printed on the same usual flimsy Funskool cardstock, but the card art looks nice and sharp, and I like the design on the back of the packaging, too. It’s not so nice that I didn’t open it, though. I can’t imagine any packaging ever being that nice.
You’ll also notice that Tunnel Rat’s specialty is listed as ‘BLASTER’ on the front of the card and top of the filecard, which can be interpreted in many hilarious ways. I guess he does have a big gun and works as a demolitions expert, so it’s not completely off-base. The filecard does list his specialty as “Bomb disposal expert,” which is pretty much the same thing as EOD (explosive ordnance disposal), so this is the Tunnel Rat we all know and love. Just with, you know, more of a penchant for war crimes.
That filecard. Yikes.
Here’s the figure:
The colors are evocative of his Sonic Fighters version, but he goes for a nice, deep red for the shirt instead of a maroon. And the pants are brown instead of tan. He’s also sporting some very stylish red shoes, which are perfect for the bowling alley next to his favorite bodega. I really do like that they picked the grenade on his chest out in green– it sets the grenade apart from the pistol and the shirt in a way that no other Tunnel Rat figure does.
Also, the Tunnel Rat mold doesn’t feature any web gear or backpack straps, so how he wears that backpack (especially the Hasbro versions’ giant backpacks) is beyond me. But, hey, he’s just joining the ranks of classic “magic backpack” Joes like Gung-Ho, Snow Job, Jinx, Spirit, Low-Light, Bazooka, Hawk v2, and many others. It just stands out a bit more when your backpack is ginormous.
Here’s the back of the figure:
On my copy, the paint is pretty sharp. There’s a little blemish on the right side of his shirt, and some of the bullets on his bandolier aren’t picked out as carefully as they would be on any Hasbro version, but he still looks nice and sharp for the most part.
The camouflage paint on his face is interesting. Version 1 of Tunnel Rat had intricate camo paint on his face and arms, which the Sonic Fighters version omitted. This is Funskool also giving the nod to this first version, even if it’s not fully successful– our boy Nicky clearly needs to spend some more time with YouTube makeup tutorials if he wants to recreate his v1 look.
Funskool Tunnel Rat comes with v1 Tunnel Rat’s bizarre-but-badass machine gun, done in black plastic. I doubt I could ever tell it apart from a Hasbro version of the gun. Instead of the original (or Sonic Fighter!) huge backpack, he gets a brown version of the Night Viper backpack. If Funskool couldn’t commit to either his v1 or v2 backpack, this was a good choice. It’s much more compact than either of those packs, and it has the suggestion of a flashlight sticking out of the top of the backpack. Tunnel Rat couldn’t hold his original flashlights anyway, so I don’t see this as much of a downgrade. Plus, this backpack looks excellent with the figure.
For some proof, here’s the figure All Geared Up:
It’s a striking package. The Funskool GI Joe Tunnel Rat is a total charmer. I love the red and brown combo, with the pops of silver and green. It’s not a “realistic military” look, but neither was the Sonic Fighters version, really. It’s visually interesting without being gaudy. I like gaudy figures, mind you, but I don’t associate Tunnel Rat with gaudiness. I also like that Funskool painted the watch on his wrist, even if it’s brown. That’s something Hasbro couldn’t be bothered to do some of the time (I’m looking at you, 94 Stalker, 97 Duke, and Slaughter’s Marauders Sarge).
Although it’s somewhat unfair, Funskool is known for skimping out on paint and quality in their GI Joe figures. With Tunnel Rat, I don’t think they skimped on anything. It’s a great, unique look for the character and the accessories are good. They’re not as plentiful as the accessories from any Hasbro version of Tunnel Rat, but they look nice and work perfectly for the character.
The only thing holding Funskool Tunnel Rat back, in my mind, is that he’s now expensive and somewhat hard to find. Fans looking for “military realism” who refuse to accept anything but the original version of Tunnel Rat (and are somehow fine with the Night Force version’s bright yellow and red bullets) won’t be impressed, however.
Verdict: It’s hard to fully recommend this figure because it’s outlandishly expensive and difficult to find these days, even if it was once cheap and plentiful. I’m both a Funskool fanboy and a Tunnel Rat fanboy, though, so this is something I had to have. If you can find this figure at a price that works for you, there’s no reason not to have it. But, if you only want your army dolls wearing various shades of green, black, olive drab, brown, tan, olive brown, and tan drab, then this is not the figure for you. There are much more easily attainable versions of Tunnel Rat out there, including the wonderful Sonic Fighters version, so I’m giving Funskool Tunnel Rat a mildly recommended.
Closing Thoughts on Funskool GI Joe Tunnel Rat (1998)
Tunnel Rat will always be one of my favorite GI Joe characters and figures, but something has always bugged me about him. What is he?
His filecard says he’s an EOD, but he’s also clearly meant to be an actual “tunnel rat.” That’s fine, as his secondary specialty is combat engineer, and tunnel rats in the Vietnam war were often (maybe always?) combat engineers. You may be able to find and disarm explosives in tunnels and underground spaces, as well, so that’s all fine and good.
But he’s also something of an infiltration specialist. And a demolitions expert. And a machine gunner. And, with that scope on his gun, possibly a sniper. Post-vintage releases of the character have come packaged with sniper rifles, after all. So is he just a huge badass that can basically do everything? Or is he trying to be too many things at once?
What’s your take on the character? Let me know in the comments!
I hope you’re all staying safe and healthy. I wish you and yours the best, and we’ll get through this eventually.