Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Antorcha - Argentine Exclusive Blowtorch

It is no secret that my favorite subline of foreign G.I. Joe figures is the Plastirama line from Argentina.  My interest is heavily driven by the fact that it's a strong combination of exclusive repaints and slightly derivative remakes of classic 1983 through 1987 molds.  It was also readily available and very cheap to acquire in the early 2000's after a warehouse find in Argentina brought massive amounts of overstock to the U.S.  There are some quality issues among the figures, both in terms of construction and paint application.  But, those can be forgiven for the great diversity the line adds to any Joe collection.  I am also a big fan of the Blowtorch figure released in 1984.  In the US, the mold never saw any repaints and I was left with one version of the character.  But, in Argentina, Blowtorch was ubiquitous.  While there are two more famous repaints we'll talk about later, the main character of Blowtorch also got a full release.  Plastirama released him as Antorcha and he's a solid variant for any Blowtorch aficionado.

Just before school let out for the summer in 1984, my dad took a friend of mine and I to the local Children's Palace.  I don't recall which figure I bought that day (though, it was likely Scrap Iron), but my friend bought a Blowtorch.  We had fun the rest of that day with our new toys.  And, Blowtorch, while cool enough, didn't really leave a great impression on me.  It was not until the following Monday at school when he said he had been using the figure as a diver in his pool that the awesomeness of Blowtorch's mask sunk in.  Sometime that summer, my youngest brother acquired a Blowtorch.  For a few weeks, he was great.  But, my brother broke his mask and lost his flamethrower.  Without these, the figure suffered.  As 1985 began, one of the Joe products I was most looking forward to was the 1985 Battle Gear pack.  I assumed it would include Ripcord's mask and parachute, Mutt's muzzle and, of course, Blowtorch's gas mask.

When the set appeared, though, the gear I most wanted was all absent.  That disappointment lasted for a long time and soured me on the battle gear in general.  But, the real loss was that Blowtorch didn't get a new mask.  So, while I read great stories using Blowtorch in the comic and really wanted him to be a part of my collection, I couldn't get excited for him since the one in our house was damaged.  (I went so far as to use electrical tape to tape the mask to his head to try to get some use from him.)  So, Blowtorch went largely unused and was a gap in my collection that I wanted to fill.

If you fast forward to the late 1990's when I was building my adult Joe collection, though, I rectified this loss.  In short order I had more than half a dozen mint and complete Blowtorch figures.  Every time I saw one, I bought him.  It was an attempt to make up for not using him as a kid.  But, even with all these new samples around, Blowtorch didn't get much use.  I had so many other new figures that I never really utilized the figure as much as I wanted.

Then, I found the Plastirama figures.  Seeing my childhood favorites in slightly altered colors was interesting as it made these old figures new again.  I set about acquiring all of the Plastirama figures that were readily available and picked up most of the line in fairly short order.  Among these was the Antorcha figure.  The deeper yellow and red colors combined with the sunburned skin tone really made the figure pop to me.  It brought the Blowtorch character back into my collection in a new way that was fresher than a 20 year old retread.  Now, that's my enjoyment of the figure.  He's a different way to display and showcase Blowtorch.  Anyone who sees him knows that he is Blowtorch, but also notices that he's a bit different.

Plastirama used the Blowtorch mold three times.  In the regular carded line, the exclusive TNT figure is the most famous usage.  The Backstop figure included with the Persuader was the second.  The final was, basically, just a slightly redone American Blowtorch named Antorcha.  All three figures used the full Blowtorch mold with the exception of the waist piece.  Instead of Blowtorch's waist, the figures all use the waist from Doc.  Visually, it's not really important, except that Doc's waist is a bit smaller than Blowtorch's.  So, the figure appears a bit out of a balance as you have a bulky chest flowing into a skinny waist that then expands into puffier legs than were designed for the waist.  As such, you have to be careful as quick, harsh movements can snap Antorcha's crotch instantly.  You see large quantities of Antorcha figures from childhood Argentina collections with broken crotch pieces.

Antorcha's accessories are different from the American Blowtorch's.  Well, at least partly.  The backpack and airmask are the same and are in the same, yellow color as the US figure.  Antorcha's helmet, though, is not the traditional Blowtorch helmet.  Instead, it is a yellow repaint of the helmet released with Doc in the US.  Rather than the traditional blowtorch, Antorcha includes a black version of the acetylene torch that was included with the 1985 Torch figure.  The black torch is also available with many other Plastirama figures who have common accessory variants.  I have not seen any Antorcha figures with a different weapon than the torch.  But, considering the randomness of Plastirama accessory distribution, it's possible that a carded figure may exist with a different weapon.  But, as the preponderance of Antorchas include the torch, it should be considered the figure's default weapon.

If you are a Blowtorch fan, there's a lot to track down.  But, a lot of it is the same.  After his American release, Blowtorch  showed up in various other countries whose Joes were produced by Hasbro.  He then went to Brazil.  The Brazilian figure is, basically, the same color as the American figure.  There's some slight difference (especially in regards to the green color of his flamethrower) but he's pretty much the same.  Auriken then produced a Blowtorch figure that's also very similar to the American figure.  From there, the mold went to Argentina.  Plastirama finally brought some diversity to the mold with the release of both TNT and Backstop.  However, both figures still use a lot of yellow.  Then, you have Antorcha, who's also, basically, the American figure.  So, there's 6 uses of the mold: but 4 are basically the same and the other two are just slightly different.  I'd have loved a Night Force Blowtorch, an Action Force green Blowtorch, a Sky Patrol Blowtorch (though TNT kind of fills that role), a wacky Funskool Blowtorch and even a desert themed Blowtorch.  In short, I'd have taken just about any repaint of the mold we could have gotten.  But, there's a lot out there for the character and mold.  So, I can't complain too much.

In the early 2000's, carded Antorchas could be had for under $10.  But, Antorcha was in an assortment that wasn't as common as some others.  Slowly, Antorchas started to dry up.  Over time, carded figures started to climb upwards of $25 each.  Now, pricing is up and down.  You'll see some sell for $60 and some sell for $30.  But, the days of getting one for $10 are long gone.  Loose, mint and complete versions are fairly rare to come by as most of the stock was carded and stayed that way.  For the price, buy an American Blowtorch and some other figures.  He's better in every way.  But, as another foreign version of a classic character, Antorcha is worth owning.  I'm just not sure he's worth the current pricing.  But, he does bring something different to the Blowtorch character and nicely diversifies a collection.

Antorcha, Blowtorch, Argentina, Plastirama, Quick Kick, Sigilo, 1987, Falcon, 1989, Snake Eyes, 1988 Duke, Tiger Force, 1993, Ace, 1994, Lifeline

Antorcha, Blowtorch, Argentina, Plastirama, Quick Kick, Sigilo, 1987, Falcon

Antorcha, Blowtorch, 1984, Plastirama, Argentina, Doc, Medico, Hawk, 1982, 1983, 1985 Transportable Tactical Battle Platform

Friday, February 17, 2017

Funskool Beach Head - Around the Web

I got my first Funskool Beach Head 15 years ago.  The lime green was an excellent way to bring some color to the character and remains a visual treat.  The figure is very common now and most collectors have ample opportunity to acquire one.  He remains one of my favorite foreign figures.  Here is the best of him around the web.

Funskool Beach Head profile

Funskool Beach Head at JoeADay.com

Beach Head at Action Figure Adventures

OreoBuilder's Funskool Beach Head inspired customs

Funskool Beach Head at JoeCustoms.com

Funskool Beach Head at JoeDios.com

Funskool Beach Head, Airtight, Crimson Guard Immortal, India, 1989 Dogfight

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bootleg Viper Officer

There are two different outfits currently making bootleg G.I. Joe figures: the Black Major and Red Laser.  I have looked at many of the Black Major's offerings a couple of different times through the years.  Red Laser is newer to the game, though, and I have not acquired any of his figures until recently.  Black Major currently makes Steel Brigades and Cobra Troopers.  Red Laser currently makes BATs and Cobra Vipers.  Normally, Vipers wouldn't excite me.  But, Red Laser added a bit of a twist: a removable helmet.  This little feature brings something new to the mold and has captured my attention for this week's profile.

In the vintage line, Hasbro released the Viper mold three times: the original, the Super Sonic Fighters Version and the Python Patrol Viper.  Between 1997 and 2006, though, they released (most of) the mold an additional 12 times.  (1 in 1997, 2 in 1998, 4 in 2002, 3 in 2003 and 2 in 2006.)  Despite all these incarnations, though, Hasbro really didn't explore the possibilities of the design.  If the Viper was Cobra's basic grunt, it would make sense to have uniforms for them that fit all of the environments where Cobra tended to operate.  Despite this obvious use, Hasbro failed to deliver on any Vipers that were remotely specific beyond the grey 1998 Cobra Officer and the green 2002 Viper.  The rest were just color mashes.  Some were well done.  Some were not.  But, as with the Cobra Trooper mold, Hasbro left so much potential on the table that even 15 versions of the figure were not enough.

Enter the Red Laser.  In the latter half of 2016, Red Laser began producing Viper figures.  They were designed to solve the missing legs that had plagued Vipers since 1997.  They brought back the original Viper rifle (which hadn't been seen in 30 years) and backpack.  But, the real selling feature was the removable helmet.  Rather than have a fully sculpted Viper head, the figure features a head based on the 2004 Crimson Guard figure.  Over the appendage fits a perfect rendition of the 1986 Viper's helmet.  It is tight fitting and accurate and, when on, is barely noticeable as anything other than the sculpted head we've seen 15 times before.  The series also introduced Vipers of different hair colors and races.  Hasbro has given us multi race Crimson Guards and Cobra Troopers.  But, they missed the boat on the Vipers in the 2006 Viper Pit set.  Now, though, you can add some diversity to the Viper ranks, even when the helmets are on.

There are currently three flavors of Viper available from Red Laser: desert, Eel and these Officers.  (I'm sure, though, that in just a couple of months there will be more and within a year or two there will be many more!)  The Officer is interesting to me due to the tie to the Stinger.  Cobra established grey as a base color in 1984.  So, it's been part of them since the early days.  And, the grey color is a nice contrast to the black Hiss Tanks and Stinger jeeps that comprise the bulk of my Cobra vehicles. These figures are a nice combination of grey and red with just enough black thrown in.  They are a brighter grey than the 1998 Toys R Us Cobra Officer, but not as light as the Stinger Driver or any of the bootlegs Bats, CG's or Cobra Troopers who were derived from him.  The color is a nice match for the 2005 Comic Pack Firefly.

The big difference from the 1998 Cobra Office is the red painted highlights.  The red pops more against the grey than does the gold from 1998.  But, the biggest red addition is the Cobra logo.  I don't really miss Cobra logos on the '98 figures.  But, having it on this figure is a real asset since it contrasts so well with the grey.  You could use these figures as the armies lead by the 1998 Officer.  Or, have one of these guys lead your squads of Officers.  Either way, they work well.

The figures are nicely accessorized.  You get a high quality rendition of the classic 1986 Viper rifle.  It is cast in a light grey color: darker than the original accessory.  It's a nice match for this figure without treading on the vintage gun.  Also included is a reproduction of the classic Viper backpack.  It's glossier than the vintage pack.  But, is otherwise tough to tell apart.  The coup de gras, though, is the removable helmet.  Hasbro never produced a Viper with anything other than the standard 1986 head.  Now, though, that has changed.  The helmet is very tight fitting on the figure's head and has to be pushed to get all the way on.  But, once on, the helmet covers the head almost exactly like that of the original figure.  Usually, removable helmets are far bulkier than sculpted heads.  (Think the 2005 Crimson Guards versus the originals.)  But, that is not the case with this Viper.  Part of that is the original head was better scaled.  But, it's also the strong design of this head/helmet combo.  You can see in the photos below how well the helmets fit.  I can not state how strong the design is on this element of the figure.

The real question on these figures is the quality.  The early Cobra Troopers were of excellent quality.  But, then there was quite a drop off in later Cobra Trooper batches, the Crimson Guards and the early BATs.  However, much of this has been corrected.  These figures don't quite have the full heft of a vintage Joe.  But, they are close.  The hard plastic is a concern.  You'll notice the crotch piece of these figures has been better engineered than the 2006 Viper Pit crotch to help avoid breakage.  The thumbs are another story.  You'll see the guns in the photos below are held somewhat awkwardly.  This is because, while the figs will hold the weapons and the thumbs don't break, the hard plastic makes it so the stocks pop out from behind the forearms.  There's just too much pressure and the weapon slides.  (Which is preferable to broken thumbs!)  Collector Cyko9 has recommended shaving down the gun handles a bit, though, to solve this issue and worry less about breakage.  These figures will stand on their own, though they do have to hunch forwards just a bit.

The paint masks are very sharp and crisp.  You'll notice it, especially, on the two tone eyes of the unmasked figure.  But, the factory quality is top notch.  The sculpting is clear and clean and is a solid match for the Hasbro edition of the figure.  The caucasian skin tone is the darker, sunburned look we often saw in the 2000's.  It works well enough.  The African American skin tone is dark and sharply contrasts with the lighter uniformed figures.  My packs snap into place on the backs and aren't as smooth as vintage figures.  I haven't tried the gear on vintage Joes to check for compatibility.  But, they fit tightly on the Red Laser releases.

Currently, these figures are available for around $12.  You can buy them up in lots, or as individual figures: to match your collecting style.  I'm sure the helmets cost quite a bit to develop and engineer.  But, they are worth it.  The colors for these Officer figures are right up my alley, even if the Viper itself isn't as big a draw.  If you are a Viper fan, these figs are worth checking out.  If you are an ARAH style Joe junkie, they are definitely worth checking out since we collectors of it have been left behind by both Hasbro and the club.  Fortunately, modern technology has made figures like this possible.  The fact that there's a couple of outfits making them just means there is more and more to collect.  And, that's exciting.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

1984 Spirit Around the Web

Spirit is one of the more iconic looks in the vintage Joe line.  He's a solid figure and character who gives the line some visual distinction.  The American figure is prone to breakage and discoloration.  But, he's still well worth picking up.  Here's the best of him around the web.

Spirit Profile

Spirit Dio 1

Spirit at the Cobra Temple

Spirit at HalftheBattle

Spirit Dio 2

Spirit Dio 3

Spirit Dio 4

1984 Spirit Iron Knife, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, 2004 VAMP, TRU Exclusive, Chinese Flint, Tiger Force Falcon

1984 Spirit Iron Knife, 1983 Scarlett, Flash, Mexico, Mexican, Auriken

Thursday, February 9, 2017

1994 Joseph Colton Mail Away Insert

The 1990's really brought about the rise of the collector.  For the first time, toy companies really understood that there were people who collected their brands and that they were a demographic worth catering to.  They had money to spend and could offset their smaller numbers with the increased dollars they were willing to spend on high quality or nostalgic items.  Hasbro jumped on the boat with the 12" Joe figures.  And, with 1994 being the 30th anniversary of the original G.I. Joe, they decided to do a series of homages to the brand's roots.  In late 1993, Hasbro began including a mail away promo with 3 3/4" G.I. Joe figures encouraging kids and collectors to send away for their very own Joseph Colton figure.

1994 Joseph Colton Mail Away Promo, G.I. Joe, 1993, Paperwork
Joseph Colton Mail Away Promo Cover

For 3 3/4 collectors, this anniversary meant a small figure of Joseph Colton and reproductions of the Marine, Soldier, Diver, Pilot and Astronaut from the early days of the brand.  While the "Action Series" of figures would be sold at retail in individual boxes and a commemorative boxed set, Joseph Colton was only available as a mail away.  At the time, the internet was in its infancy and communication among collectors was heavily influenced by rumors and falsehoods.  Most of these were driven by people trying to speculate in specific toys and drive up demand for something they either already owned or could easily acquire.  And, Joseph Colton was heavily influenced by that.  Adult collectors began hoarding up carded Joes so they could send off for the "sure to be valuable" Joesph Colton figures.  But, Hasbro actually made more of the 3 3/4" figures than collectors could absorb.  And, despite some high early pricing, the figures crashed in value and remain relatively easy to find to this day.

The insert shows a sample of both the 12" figure and the 3 3/4" figure.  The 12" figure is posed on a bookshelf in an obvious showcase of Hasbro's intentions behind it.  They created and marketed the figure for adult collectors of the day.  In looking at the 3 3/4" figure, there are some differences between the figure shown and the actual figure that was sent to collectors.  There are very subtle color differences in the green and brown colors.  The main change, though, is the rifle shown.  Colton is holding an M-16 inspired rifle.  It is a far cry from the 1992 Gung Ho machine gun that was actually sent with the figure.  The weapon shown in the insert was never, to my knowledge, released in any G.I. Joe line.  The sample appears production level, but it might have been a mock up and the Gung Ho weapon was released to cut costs.

1994 Joseph Colton Mail Away Promo, G.I. Joe, 1993, Paperwork
Joseph Colton Mail Away Promo Interior Pages
The Colton mail away featured one major change from prior mail aways.  Rather than requiring flag points, it required mailed UPC codes from packaged figures.  The reasoning was that many people had bags and bags of flag points and there would be no need for them to buy up the massive unsold store stock of G.I. Joe figures if the promotion required mail aways.  And, if someone bought a figure and cut out the upc, they could not return the figure to the store.  It was an interesting way to devalue flag points and spur collectors to buy up unsold merchandise.

1994 Joseph Colton Mail Away Promo, G.I. Joe, 1993, Paperwork
Joseph Colton Mail Away Promo Back Page
The legacy of this decision, though, is still seen more than 20 years later.  It is very common to find '90's era G.I. Joe figures that are MOC, but with missing upc symbols.  12" collectors and casual dealers who had no interest in retail G.I. Joe figures but had great interest in acquiring more than a few Coltons bought up retail figures, removed the upcs and then dropped the Joes into a box.  In the ensuing decades, as garages, attics and storage sheds have been cleaned out, these figures were put into the marketplace.  Most sell for loose figure pricing and remain one of the most effective ways to buy mint and complete with filecard Joes from the line's final years.

As mail in promos go, this one is fairly banal.  The Colton artwork on the front page isn't spectacular.  And, unlike most other mail away offers, this one only had a form to order the Joseph Colton figures and no other offers were present.  Just being two pages doesn't leave much room for pizzazz.  But, by 1993, the Joe line was in death throes and there wasn't much that was going to revive it.  Colton is a solid demarcation of the end of mail away premiums.  In 1996, Hasbro would start teaming up with food brands for mail aways for their new Star Wars line.  After that, mail aways were mainly retro ways to appease some collector nostalgia for bygone days.  So, this offer is one of the final legacies of the '80's Joe line.