You’ve got to love Mainframe. A former Army Airborne who used the GI Bill to go to MIT to get an education in the growing field of computers. Finding that lifestyle too mundane, he re-enlists as a Marine and returns to active duty. The “older soldier”, Mainframe wears the countenance of a seasoned soldier and yet comes across as more than just a “field grunt”. While his uniform might be that of a tech, his demeanor reflects a much harder soldier. The basis of Mainframe’s uniform is a gray shirt and pants worn with black boots, gloves, and helmet. His belt, holster, sheath, and “parts bandoleer” are also all painted black. At first glance, I’m reminded of those nameless techs you see running around the villain’s headquarters in a James Bond flick. It’s a uniform that just screams “80’s techie” in an electronically modulated voice akin to that found in “War Games”. Yet this overtly simplistic uniform features a wonderful amount of practical detail that elevates this design from “generic trooper” to “featured character”. One glance at his helmet shows Mainframe’s current service branch as the Marine Corps logo is featured prominently in silver on his headgear. Not about to be caught unaware in the field, he’s got a combat knife molded in a sheath on his right thigh as well as a holstered pistol on his left side. (He’s certainly not a “lefty” with that positioning.) His bandoleer is covered with a myriad of what appear to be small electronic components, presumably allowing him to connect his “portable computer” to any computerized equipment he might encounter. (No kids, we’re not talking about a laptop here.) His belt also features several small pouches for additional small components. In other words, this is something that I might expect a military computer tech with combat experience to wear back in the 80’s. (Yes, I do realize that GIJoe is not strict military!) It’s a believable uniform for someone who might initially be written off as a mere “fixer of computers”.
Mainframe’s head sculpt really works for the character in my opinion. The helmeted visage conveys a sense of experience with being overly-aged and fits well with the back story given in the file card. There is a weight to the features that suggests that Mainframe has “seen a few years” without coming across as overly-wrinkled and ready for retirement. The accented cheek bones have lost some of the roundness of youth and the slight dimpling of his cheeks also convey a more seasoned aspect, as do the slight bags under the eyes. Yet there is senses of emotional maturity in this sculpt that doesn’t come across as “grim and determined”. The head is topped with a black helmet that is oddly reminiscent of the helmets worn by modern day Delta Force troopers, offering protection without the weight or bulk of a full on combat helmet. Again, the design is solid and fully reflects the character so aptly described in the file card.
When it comes to gear, Mainframe is a bit unique. Like Breaker before him, the Joe team’s premiere “Computer Specialist” was released without any type of firearm accessory. Instead, Blaine L. Parker comes complete with backpack, rubber hose, radio handset, and a portable computer. This is not the paperback-thin laptops of today; this is a computer that I remember from my youth. The father of a good friend of mine (Spaxter, I’m talking to you!) owned one of the early Compaq portable computers, complete with amber monitor and 5 ¼” floppy drive. While not as streamlined as that piece of early hardware, Mainframe’s computer takes me back to the days when all computer operations were executed from a command prompt without the aid of a GUI. (Graphical User Interface – IE Windows, Mac OS, etc) In fact, if you take a closer look at the right-hand floppy drive, you’ll the lever is flipped which indicates that there is a disk already in the drive. Completely obsolete in today’s world, this is a dated accessory that is wonderful for the sheer nostalgia that it evokes. It’s also interesting to note that Mainframe’s backpack might possibly be intended as a back-up drive or power source as there is a large cooling fan molded in the lower left-hand corner. So, while he’s not sporting the most current of gear, Mainframe was very adequately equipped given his operational specialty of 1986!
I have a confession to make. Mainframe is one of my favorite “old school” Joes. Growing up, my father was a “senior research engineer” for Caterpillar Tractor Company which meant that he worked on large mainframe computers in languages like COBOL and FORTRAN generating computer models of tractor parts for simulated stress testing. Back then, I had virtually no idea what this meant nor did I see how useful computers would be in our changing world. Mainframe gave me a tangible connection to that concept—and in many ways gave me a figure that helped me understand a bit more about what my father actually did. It was this figure, and more importantly, his featured role in Marvel Comics GIJoe issue #58 that gave me a real sense of just how important computers could be in our society and just how devastating a weapon they could be if used improperly. I was thrilled when Devil’s Due brought Mainframe back to active duty in Volume 2 of the Real American Hero comic series, even if I did think his new “de-aged” appearance and his “VR wetsuit” were a bit over the top. Mainframe received one of the best character deaths in any issue of GIJoe to date—an ending befitting a man who seemed determined to serve his country.
Do I recommend Mainframe as an addition to any GIJoe collection? Absolutely! While his gear might appear a bit dated, the character itself is too interesting to be ignored. Depending on how a collector acknowledges the comic book continuity I see Mainframe being used in one of two different ways. The first is as the inspiration for the current Joe tech team of Dial-tone, Red Spot, Hi-Tech, Hard Drive, and Hacker. Mainframe was the seasoned guru who showed these guys the tricks that he had up his sleeve after years of experience. His passing affected them greatly and served to steel their resolve to make the world safer for everyone in the only way that they know how. The second is as the head of technical operations for the Joes. Mainframe would seldom see combat anymore in this role but instead is guy back at base who keeps things running. He’s also an innovator in designing the operating system that is used by vehicles like the ROCC and the RHINO. Either way, I view Mainframe as an essential supporting character and would encourage anyone who doesn’t own him to snag him! (C’mon, get one before that hideous Comic Pack Zarana gets to him!)