Tuesday, January 26, 2021

1983 Hawk

When the Joe line debuted in 1982, the marketing was lead by Grunt.  His iconic pose dominated the Joe adjacent merchandise and he was the face of the brand.  Slowly, that changed.  But, it did not change to the leader of the G.I. Joe team.  As, rather than release him on a single card, Hasbro stuck the team's commanding officer as a pack in figure with one of the lesser vehicles of the 1982 run.  Hawk was paired with the MMS and really had nothing on the box other than his filecard to denote that he was the team's leader.  If you didn't read the comic at the time, the only real way to discern this info was by reading Hawk's rank.  But, as a colonel, Hawk was the team's highest ranking officer.  Despite his lowly form of release, Hawk commanded the team.  It seems somewhat disrespectful to hide Hawk in this way.  But, even the figure wasn't much as it was all recycled parts from the main carded line.  Despite all the strikes against him, though, I found Hawk as the leader of my fledgling team after Christmas in 1982.  

Of course, though, that changed rather quickly.  The reason for this was the acquisition of Battle Gear #1 in early 1983.  Now that I had plenty of weapons for the four figures in my collection, I needed to outfit them all.  I figured Grunt's M-16 would be the best fit for Hawk.  And, in my first attempt to slide it into his hand, I snapped the first thumb of my life.  Hawk's right hand was now useless.  And, with that, the figure was somewhat useless, too.  What good was a team leader who couldn't even hold a weapon?  So, Hawk fell away and I focused on Clutch, Snake Eyes and Breaker.  But, then, Return of the Jedi figures came out and G.I. Joe fell to the wayside.  When I found Airborne and swivel arm battle grip in the late summer of 1983, it was the swivel arm that drove me to Joe as my toy of choice.  So, all the old straight arm figures fell to the bottom of a box as new, swivel arm figures dominated my play.

In 1984, though, I started reading the Joe comic.  I subscribed to it the day I brought home my first issue from the local drug store.  By the fall, I was going to a local comic shop and finding back issues when they had them in stock.  From these stories, I grew to like the Hawk character even more.  He was the heroic leader that the team of my figures lacked.  But, the broken thumb, straight arm figure I owned simply would not do.  So, I went without a Hawk.  At some point in 1985, I found a pair of swivel arms from an original 13 figure.  It might have been Short Fuze, but I can't recall.  But, I put them onto my old Hawk body so I would have the figure.  This didn't do it for me, though.  The bland paint job of the 1982 figures simply could not match the better paint and more visually stimulating figures from the subsequent years.  So, this figure fell away, too.  I painted up a figure that I meant to be Hawk that used a Duke chest.  But, the easily chipped Testor's paint was frustrating and that figure didn't last, either.

Finally, in 1986, Hasbro released a Hawk that was true to the character.  It also celebrated Hawk's promotion to general.  For most collectors, the 1986 Hawk is the true representation of the character.  Sure, Hawk now had brown hair.  But, it was a small price to pay to get a figure that looked like the commander of an elite unit.  With this figure in tow, I had no need for the original Hawk figure and he was taken apart and his parts sacrificed to other figures.  It was only in the late 1990's that I went through my pieces and reassembled my early figure.  Hawk was back.  But, he was irrelevant.  The 1986 figure was forever Hawk and the original figure was reduced to nothing more than historical footnote in my collection.

The calling card of this Hawk is the silver trim.  In retrospect, the color could be meant to denote rank or importance.  But, it was more likely just a way to differentiate the figure using minimal paint masks.  Despite the silver details, Hawk's chest knife if not painted.  If it were, it would too closely match is straps.  So, this was the right aesthetic choice.  The silver paint, of course, wears with notorious ease.  Coupled with Hawk's painted hands and you have a figure that's really pretty brittle.  And, even as a kid, figures with heavily chipped paint were overlooked.  I'd make accommodations for paint wear on top figures like Flint.  But, an old figure like Hawk simply could not overcome any wear to remain relevant.  

Where Hawk did come back into play was in 1987.  By then, I was mostly done with G.I. Joe.  Sports and other pursuits were starting to overtake toys.  That summer, though, I had an idea to do a last hurrah.  I put together a "Bunker Cracking Team" that was all original 13 members and figures along with tons and tons of gear.  I loaded it all into an APC and this team was going to be my go to team for anything.  The APC had sandbags, grappling hooks, gas can, machine guns, radios, ammo boxes, barricades, grenades...anything that was remotely related to Joe was loaded into it.  I scoured the toy boxes of a few friends, salvaging their old, forgotten parts for my new team.  I got the APC loaded with all the figures and gear and....never used it.  The idea of the team with Hawk at the helm was lost in the haze of the summer and it was probably only taken outside once or twice.  It was a grand idea.  But, one that was doomed due to timing.  With that team's descent into the bottom of our toy room, so went Hawk's last real usage.

Even today, this Hawk isn't really a figure I appreciate.  He was my last of the original 13 figures to acquire.  And, that was only after I decided that I wanted a complete run of my childhood sweet spot years.  So, I bought a Hawk and actually forgot I owned him until I went to put the entire team together in a drawer for display.  But, I'm glad I have the figure.  The sleek silver is a neat look...even if not really essential.  I need Hawk, though, because the early team is incomplete without him.  Posing an '86 Hawk among other original 13 figures makes him stand out too much.  You need the original, bland uniform figure standing at the forefront to really get the effect of what it was like to play with Joe in 1982 and 1983.  That nostalgic value drives all my desire for Hawk.

Hawk had just two accessories: his helmet and visor.  With Hawk, the visor makes sense due to the MMS and the exhaust from the missiles.  His thumb breaking with the AP weapons was a sad event for me.  But, that gear offered kids of the era a chance to outfit Hawk with an Uzi, M-16 or M-60.  With one of these, he was a good companion to Grunt.  But, it would take until 1986 for Hawk to finally have gear befitting his position.  You'll note that in the photos below that Hawk and my other figures wear their visors upside down.  This is a leftover from childhood.  I liked the helmet being able to go up higher on the helmets when they were not in use.  The reverse position on the helmet allowed them to do so.  This configuration bothers a lot of people.  But, it's something that I carry over from playing with the figures as a kid and the figures look correct to me when displayed this way.  I don't want to lose that connection to my youth.  So, the visors will always stay wrong on my figures.

Hawk actually had an international release.  In India, Funskool released an MMS.  Early versions of this vehicle included a Hawk done in the light blue Indian plastic.  This figure is among the rarest in the world.  The plastic has not held up well and the few figures you can find are usually heavily discolored.  Despite the MMS appearing in various other countries, this Hawk did not travel with it outside of India.  The later Hawk versions got many foreign releases.  So, the character was well represented abroad.  This original figure, though, didn't see the international exposure that so many of the other original 13 figures received.  

Like all 1983 swivel arm versions of the original 13 Joes, Hawk is expensive.  Not as expensive as you'd think in the current market, though.  While dealers will get $75 and even $100 for a mint and complete version, he's about a $45 figure on the open market.  And, there's usually plenty of options available...some even including the MMS.  As Zap, Scarlett, Stalker and Snake Eyes have all gotten substantially more expensive in recent years, Hawk has held out.  That might just be that he hasn't taken off yet.  Or, it could be that the figure is kind of bland and there are far better Hawks out there to represent the character.  For me, the 1983 Hawk's value is as a member of the original 13.  So, I actually spent a good amount of time and money to get a good one a few years ago.  I don't really regret that decision, though, as it's unlikely that I'd ever pursue this figure again if completing the original characters were not a goal.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

1988 Repeater - Around The Web

Repeater is a solid figure.  As a machine gunner, he's not Rock and Roll or Roadblock.  But, his figure is nice, his gear is fun and his colors are worthwhile.  He's a guy who fits well into various background photos due to his quality, but also his lack of character.  When I brought my site back online in 2015, I actually forgot to post my original Repeater profile.  It wasn't until early this year that I realized it was missing.  Now, it's back.  And, I have a chance to showcase some of my favorite Repeater photos as well as some of his top content from around the web.

1988 Repater, Mean Dog, Sgt. Slaughter, Hardball, 1990 Sonic Fighters Viper, Tiger Force Dusty

1988 Repater, Mean Dog, Sgt. Slaughter, Hardball, 1990 Sonic Fighters Viper

1988 Repater, Mean Dog, Sgt. Slaughter

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Funskool Cutter

Throughout the vintage Joe run, Hasbro strived to keep existing characters refreshed and available.  This gave the line a continuity that helped bridge the gaps between different generations of kids.  It was possible for the youngest child to get the oldest's collection and then augment it with classic characters like Snake Eyes or Stalker who had new designs on the shelves.  In most of the cases of new takes on existing characters in the vintage line, Hasbro strayed far from the original design of the character.  (You could argue the 1985 Snake Eyes is a complete reimagination of the figure released in 1982.)  In some cases, though, Hasbro used their new take to simply update an existing character to a more modern take on their classic look.  There are few examples of this better than the 1992 Cutter.

The 1984 Cutter is not a bad figure.  I got him in December of 1984 and he quickly became an important part of my collection.  Even when the head construction changed in 1985, Cutter remained valuable because he was such a perfect fit for the Whale.  But, the reality is that Cutter did start to get a bit dated as the line progressed.  His look was perfect.  But, it was also bulky and he didn't really fit the notion of a combat commander.  The 1992 mold, though, solved this.  The DEF version was, at its essence, the same as the 1984 figure, just with a sleeker and more updated design.  Looking at the two figures, it's obvious they are same character.  And, that drives a lot of the 1992 Cutter's value.  He's a perfect update to the original Cutter figure.  But, he still works perfectly in the Whale.  But, he also works with an entirely new generation of figures without losing anything from the original.

In the early 2000's, though, it was actually kind of hard to find mint and complete figures from 1991 - 1994.  They were especially tough if you wanted to army build them in any numbers.  Funskool, though, offered a chance for collectors to get all the DEF Cutters they wanted for cheap.  Starting in 2001, dealers imported Cutters and sold them for around $4 each.  Collectors were quickly able to get a high quality rendition of the Cutter figure with ease.  For many, their first exposure to the mold was the Funskool release.  And, you'd see Funskool Cutters manning vehicles in photos and dios of the time.  The ubiquity of Funskool figures was somewhat taken for granted and collectors grew to feel the figures would always be available.  While I did buy a couple of extra Cutter figures, I never actually bought the army I sought.  

I have always loved the 1992 Cutter's accessories.  His weapon is the perfect combination of size and detail.  It's not too big.  And, it makes sense as the weapon that the commander of a ship would use since it would not be unwieldy in tight spaces aboard a Whale or Shark 9000.  The flashlight is an inspired choice of gear.  It's large and bulky and is a far cry from the Tunnel Rat or Outback flashlights from 5 years earlier.  The Funskool figures have the added value of being cast in black plastic instead of the white plastic of the American figure.  While the white works with the figure, it's really nice to get the weapon in black.  And, the Funskool release is the only option for an alternate color of this excellent weapon.  

There are three versions of the Cutter mold.  For sheer vintage homage appeal, the 1992 is the best.  The 1993 repaint that was released with the Shark 9000 is also very good and brings something different to the Cutter mold.  The white pants aren't great.  But, they work with the Shark.  And, the green is a great way to bring more environments into play for Cutter.  This Funskool version isn't too great a departure from the 1992 version.  But, the lighter blues and oranges are a near perfect match for the 1990 Topside figure.  And, in that vein, the two make for a great team.  So, each version has some value.  Hasbro had the chance to get this mold back from India in 2003.  It's not likely that they did so.  But, had they, the 2004 Moray and convention sets would have each been perfect venues for a new repaint.  That didn't happen.  And, the mold still has potential.  But, each of the three versions is good and that's more than many molds who debuted in the 1990's can say. 

Light blue Funskool plastic has always been a problem.  Figures that used it in the '80's and early '90's are notoriously prone to discoloration.  It's not uncommon to find gem mint examples of early and rare Funskool figures who have either entire body discoloration or singular pieces of the mold that have badly discolored while the rest of the figure is fine.  Most collectors assumed that proper storage for the figures released in the 2000's would solve this issue.   But, it seems that much of the plastic discoloring is a function of bad plastic and proper storage will only slow the decay, not prevent it.  As such, you see perfectly preserved Cutter figures that are starting to discolor.  But, these figures are now 20 years old.  The fact that Funskool light blue plastic figures may have a shelf life is disheartening.  But, all you can do is what you know is right and hope for the best.  Just know that even meticulously cared for figures will discolor through no fault of your own.

Funskool Cutter figures are not valuable to the average collector.  But, to dealers who can sit on them until someone desperate comes along, they can be.  Dealers will sell carded figures for $50.  Left to market pricing, though, it's a $25 carded figure.  Loose mint and complete versions of the figure are $7-$10 figures.  But, it might take you a year to find one.  New collectors are slowly getting it that most of the 2000's era Funskool figures are actually really common and exist in ample supply for both loose and carded figures.  That's creating the huge disparities between dealer and market pricing.  If you have more money than patience, you have overly expensive options.  But, if you like to maximize your collecting dollar, waiting out the market will usually give you a chance at figures like this for legitimate prices.

Funskool Cutter, Beach Head

Funskool Cutter, Beach Head, Chuckles

Funskool Cutter, Beach Head, Chuckles, Tunnel Rat

Saturday, January 16, 2021

2004 Night Force Beach Head - Around The Web

The Night Force set was pretty much ignored by collectors for years.  And, since this Beach Head figure got three different releases (in the TRU Night Force set, the TRU Moray and as a single card figure that was sold at discount stores) collectors of the mid 2000's were sick of him.  But, now, figures like this Beach Head have found a new interest.  Of course, he's now as old as a 1988 figure was when this Beach Head was released in 2004.  But, still, it's tough to see this figure now commanding a premium.  

It's not easy to find individual uses of this figure.  Most Beach Head photos are the 1986 or the Funskool version.  Both of which are nice.  And, both of which I prefer to this Night Force version.  But, after some digging, I found enough on him to showcase him from Around the Web.

2004 Night Force Beach Head Profile

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

1993 Star Brigade Rock and Roll

Everyone knows that Armor Tech figures exist.  You can't avoid that fact.  For many collectors, though, Armor Tech is one of those things that you'll keep for completeness' sake.  But, it's rare to actually go out and find them.  In my younger collecting days, I was mostly in that camp.  As I got older, and the holes in my collection smaller, though, I found myself searching for the missing members of Star Brigade who wore stupid armor and weren't really compatible with "real" Joe figures of my youth.  In owning the figures, I have yet to find any real value or usefulness to them.  They check a box for me and that's about it.  In the case of Rock and Roll, though, he at least has one point of interest that both got me to spend a bit of time searching for him and also, eventually, writing this profile of his 1993 figure.

Armor Tech Joes were easy to find in the mid 1990's as I hunted down the retail remains of the vintage Joe line.  Toys R Us stores would have pegs of them, priced higher than the dwindling supplies of Battle Corps figures.  You'd find them at toy liquidators: again mostly untouched by retail buyers.  They were the last vintage Joes I spotted at retail in the fall of 1997 when I saw them at the lone toy shop in a newly opened mall in Arizona.  After the retail stock dried up, Armor Tech figures actually got cheaper.  You could often get them for a couple of bucks per carded figure at flea markets.  And, Ebay auctions of the entire carded set of figures would sell for under $20...if they sold at all.  Even into the 2010's, Armor Tech was about the cheapest set of vintage Joe figures you could acquire.  And, the low prices and high availability lead many collectors to simply ignore them, figuring they could pick them up at any time.

As figures, Armor Tech are terrible.  They are large, bulky and lack standard Joe articulation.  They are like an entirely different line that uses some familiar faces and names.  But, the figures are difficult to integrate into a collection and don't even really fit with the aesthetic of the rest of the 1993 or 1994 Star Brigade figures.  The non-standard construction was what lead me to leaving these figures behind as Joe faded from retail.  Had I found them at a low enough clearance, I might have bought them just for some additional gear.  But, even that's a stretch.  And, I didn't care enough about the figures to really follow them and see if they ever reached discount pricing at stores near me.  Even when I was starved for new Joes and had money to burn, I couldn't bring myself to stoop so low as to buy an Armor Tech figure at retail.

In the age of completism, though, Armor Tech has more appeal to me.  It's a goofy and stupid concept that doesn't really fit with anything.  And, even as one of the few Star Brigade aficionados around, I can't really get behind the figures.  Yet, I still bought most of them in recent years.  They are cheap.  And, I really didn't want to be left paying $30 for these guys in a couple of years.  So, I bit the bullet, bought a bunch of figures and found that my impressions from 1995 were still spot on, even in 2021.  The figures still don't resonate with me and I don't have much use for them.  Even in a display, the figures take up too much space and offer too little enjoyment to occupy precious real estate.  

So, now we get to the real reason why I profiled this figure: his accessories.  At a glance, Rock and Roll just includes a random accessory tree cast in bright yellow plastic.  His tree, though, is one of my favorites with Tracker's rifle, Muskrat's shotgun and the big-ass blaster from the 1991 Grunt figure.  In bright yellow, though, who cares?  Except, Rock and Roll has a variant.  Later version of the figure include purple accessories.  Again, many of you say, "who cares?".  Purple weapons aren't all that more useful than yellow ones.  But, for an aficionado of 1990's weapons, the purple gear is a lot of fun for me.  9 figures included accessories of some shade of yellow in 1993: including two other members of Star Brigade.  (Countdown and the B.A.A.T.)  Four additional figures included yellow weapons in 1994.  No other figures included purple weapons in 1993.  (Three figures had gear in some shade of blue, but they were definitely blue with no purple tint.)  Only the 1994 Metal Head figure also includes purple gear.  So, it is a rather rare color for Joe accessories.  Seeing the MP-5 inspired weapon in purple just looks cool because it is unique, distinctive and not something you see every day. 

In general, neither the yellow or purple accessories seem all that difficult to find.  As the Armor Tech figures are unpopular, not even dealers who look to squeeze every penny they can from Joe variants really care about the weapon colors.  Even if you find a sale that advertises the color, you won't have to pay a premium for it unless you choose to do so.  The purple gear came with later editions of the Rock and Roll figure while the yellow gear was the initial release.  I like the purple because they are so distinctive and set this figure apart.  I also feel that they help mute the figure's appearance and that Rock and Roll is substantially better looking when holding the darker weapons.  Of course, collector mileage varies for things like this.  I like obscure little variants like these weapons.  And, the fact that weapon trees are nostalgic to me just adds to this figure's mystique.  Of course, after opening the variants, the figures went into bags and have only reappeared for the photos below.  So, the appeal of purple gear only goes so far.

The value in Armor Tech, though, is the heads.  This Rock and Roll head is insanely detailed and is, easily, the best facial sculpt of the character.  Having it locked beneath a tight fitting and opaque helmet doesn't allow it to improve the figure, overall, though.  Enterprising customizers have used Armor Tech heads with great success.  (It requires some modifications to work, though.)  Rock and Roll's is one of the more frequently used since it's a top notch character and using this obscure head makes any customs of the character more unique.  It's a shame that more wasn't done to salvage figures like Armor Tech and the parts that are worthwhile.  There is some value here, it's just hard to find.

The Armor Tech filecards were not good.  Rock and Roll's has potential before it completely goes off the rails.  The bio acknowledges that Rock and Roll was a founding member of the Joe team and mentions that he has continually upgraded his equipment.  (Technically, this is true since the 1989 version has upgraded gear over the 1982 original.)  But, it then talks about him jumping on live grenades and chasing B.A.A.T.s into the sun.  Both of these would result in Rock and Roll's death and he would do one of those events just once before he was nothing more than a memory.  To make it worse, the filecard mentions twice! that Rock and Roll likes to roast marshmallows on the end of his laser rifle.  Look, I get it.  These figures aren't meant to really reflect the reality of space.  But, the whole roasting marshmallow thing was dumb in the card's first quote and was too lame to justify a repeat of the joke at the end.  But, this filecard shows the evolution of Joe characterization and how it diminished as the brand's pioneers moved on and Hasbro began to cut corners to keep the line afloat.

Unsurprisingly, no one cares about this Rock and Roll.  Even today, you can buy carded versions for under $10.  Dealers will usually charge $20-$25.  But, these don't sell since there isn't much demand for the figure and there is enough supply.  Even the variant, purple weapons don't generate interest and will not sell for a premium unless you get really lucky as a seller.  Overall, though, the stock of carded Armor Tech figures is drying up.  20 years ago, you could have bought 40 of these guys in one week without even trying.  Now, they are fewer and farther between.  At some point, they will also dry up and be like the 1994 series.  But, as the figures are not desirable and are one of the more reviled concepts of the vintage Joe line, it's unlikely that their pricing will follow suit for the 1994 figures.  If you're a completist or just looking for something different, Armor Tech offers some diversity not often seen in the vintage line.  And, since it's also still cheap, it makes sense to take advantage of their availability before they go to the way of most of the rest of the once plentiful 90's carded Joe overstock.

1993 Armor Tech Rock and Roll, Star Brigade, Flak Viper

1993 Armor Tech Rock and Roll, Star Brigade, Flak Viper

1993 Star Brigade Rock and Roll, MOC, Armor Tech, Carded