Tuesday, August 14, 2018

1991 Sludge Viper - Around the Web

The Sludge Viper lacks spectacular colors.  Even someone like me, who can forgive bright hues can find this figure less than stellar just because of the soft pastels.  But, the mold is actually quite good and definitely on par with Hasbro's best work.  Surprisingly, there's a lot out there on this obscure Cobra.  Here's the best of the Sludge Viper from around the web.

1991 Sludge Viper Profile

Sludge Viper by ScarrViper 1

Sludge Viper on Instagram

Sludge Viper Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Sludge Viper at 3DJoes.com

Sludge Viper by Nekoman

Sludge Viper by ScarrViper 2

Swamp Base Dio

1991 Eco Warriors Sludge Viper, Bulletproof, 1992, DEF, Shockwave, Monster Blaster APC, Mega Marines

Thursday, August 9, 2018

1986 Mainframe - Around the Web

In 1986, computers were novel and big.  But, it shows how forward thinking that Joe was when they included Mainframe as a computer specialist.  The figure is solid.  The grey body was a rarity at the time and the silver and black highlights make for a pretty solid figure.  For me, Mainframe was always an older guy who had great wisdom that was of benefit to the Joe team.  There's a decent amount of material on the figure/character out there.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Mainframe Profile

Mainframe Video Review

Mainframe at JoeBattleLines.com

Mainframe at 3DJoes.com

Mainframe at JoeADay.com

Mainframe & Zarana by GI_JoeisThere

Mainframe by Otto the Otter

Mainframe by Flatline

1986 Mainframe, 1985 Flint, Mauler, Bazooka, Snake Eyes

1986 Mainframe, 1985 Flint, Mauler, Bazooka, Snake Eyes

1986 Mainframe, 1985 Flint, Mauler, Bazooka, Snake Eyes, TTBP, Dial Tone, Sci Fi

1986 Mainframe, 1985 Flint, Mauler, Bazooka, Snake Eyes, TTBP, Dial Tone, Sci Fi, Beach Head, HAL

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

1993 Frostbite

I really became a Joe collector in the summer of 1995.  I had touched on toy aisles through the years.  I had bought a few Joes at retail between 1992 and 1994.  But, in 1995, it was apparent the Joe line was done.  (I didn't follow any toy news magazines so my only indications were dwindling retail stock.)  As such, I decided I should buy as many Joe figures as I could find at retail before they were gone, again.  So, armed with a summer internship that paid 50% more than I had ever made in my life, I spent the summer sweeping through stores wherever I could in an attempt to snatch up the last bastions of retail G.I. Joe.  As the stock was still fairly plentiful when I started, I was choosy and bought the figures I felt were the coolest first.  As I acquired those, I went down the rungs and picked up any figure with black weapons and finally anyone I could find who wasn't Armor Tech or Ninja Force.  However, as I usually searched for toys on my lunch hour, my time was limited and that usually meant stops only at Toys R Us or Target.  One weekend, though, I was near the mall and decided to check out KB Toys.  They still had a small section of Joes left.  But, their stock featured several figures I had not seen before.  Among them was the 1993 Frostbite figure.

One of the nostalgic bents for this figure is I have still have the stack of cardbacks from all the figures I found at retail in the mid 1990's.  I kept them all and saved them first in the box of a Razor Blade and later in the discarded box from the Cobra Parasite.  They remain bundled together even today, more than 20 years after their purchase.  In pulling out Frostbite's card, I see the $3.49 price tag for the figure.  KB Toys was always more expensive than either Toys R Us or Target when it came to Joe figures.  But, the $3.49 price was closer to the $2.79 price tags from the other stores than I thought.  Still, I recall balking at paying the higher prices, even back then.  But, since I had never seen Frostbite before (nor the Backblast or Keel Haul who I also purchased that day) I bit the bullet in the chance I'd never see the figure again.  And, sure enough, this remained the only 1993 Frostbite figure I would ever see at retail.  So, his purchase was fortuitous.

Upon opening the figure, I found a signature accessory: the figure's mask.  When I was a kid, I was always a fan of removable helmets or masks.  Frostbite's mask was unlike anything I had seen before on a Joe.  The faceless expression left the figure as a perfect arctic army builder.  And, since he included a white version of my favorite MP-5 inspired rifle from that era, this Frostbite became an army of troopers capable of defeating Snow Serpents.  When I found the Blockbuster a while later, this Frostbite joined the crew of Windchill and various Snow Storm repaints and they became a wrecking crew capable of mowing through any well equipped army of 1994 Vipers and 1993 Crimson Guard Commanders who comprised the entirety of my Cobra forces at the time.

As a mold, though, this Frostbite is more than just the mask.  He is not overly detailed with tons of extra items that make him cluttered.  The figure has a well textured winter coat complete with a fur collar, some web gear and three grenades strung across it.  He's interesting enough without being too far gone.  Sure, the aqua blue webbing and orange grenades are somewhat gaudy and don't make much sense in a snowy environment.  But, it was 1993 and a figure that was mostly properly colored with just some splashes of brightness was OK.  Besides, the colors broke up what had, traditionally, been similarly colored figures.  The figure's head is a bit large, but that was how Hasbro was sculpting Joes at the time.  It allows for greater detail on the face and beard.

For gear, Frostbite featured a white weapon tree.  I can accept white weapons for an arctic themed figure.  Plus, the tree used for Frostbite included the 1988 Muskrat Shotgun, the Tracker submachine gun and a machete.  (It also included the 1991 Grunt's weapon.  But, I've never liked that gun and left it on the tree.)  He has the requisite missile launcher and missiles, too.  The mask was what made the figure stand out.  But, getting some weapons whose color matched the figure and his specialty was also useful.  While many of the 1993/1994 weapon tree colors didn't make much sense, all of the arctic figures included white weapon trees which complemented the figures very nicely.

While 1993 can be classified as a year full of repaints, the reality is that most of the newly molded figures to be released that year never saw another repaint.  Frostbite is among them.  This was the only appearance of this mold in the vintage line.  We know that Frostbite was going to return in the first wave of the Battle Corps Rangers line in 1995.  But, that figure would have been an all new mold that featured a removable hat.  (You can see him on the box art of the Battle Station and Sea Wolf.)  So, it's unlikely that Hasbro had any further plans for this mold.  In 1997, though, this Frostbite mold made a surprise appearance in the Toys R Us exclusive 3 packs, though named Blizzard.  (He was a last minute replacement when Hasbro couldn't find the 1988 Blizzard mold.)  This figure features far better paint but worse accessories.  So, a combo of the 1993 and 1997 releases will get you the best version of the figure.  The mold never appeared again, despite Hasbro releasing a couple of arctic vehicles and figure sets.  But, at least the lone repaint was decent.

Frostbite follows the pattern of most Battle Corps Joe affiliated characters.  Dealers will sell the figure for around $10.  And, the figure sells at that point.  On the open market, though, Frostbite will fetch close to $8.  So, you don't have a huge disparity between dealer and market pricing.  Carded Frostbite's can be had for around $20.  And, you can easily find the figure in lots where you'll pay only a couple of bucks for each figure if you don't mind picking up some other brightly colored '90's Joes in the deal.  On some levels, I feel those prices are high for a late release, unpopular Joe figure.  But, at the same time, collector ranks are now comprised heavily of adults who grew up in the 1990's and for whom figures like this Frostbite are their childhood favorites.  So, that plays a big part.

For me, had I now found this figure at retail when I did, it's likely he would have slipped through the cracks.  As a post retail collector, I've always lived in places where arctic figures don't have tremendous use.  (Finding a way to photograph this figure when it's 110 degrees outside certainly doesn't help!)  So, I would have missed a quiet gem had I not stopped into that KB Toys that summer 23 years ago.  Looking back at this figure helps me remember why I started and why I still collect Joe figures.  A lot has happened in the ensuing decades from this figure's release that makes this hobby difficult.  But, looking back to a simpler time helps to put that into perspective.  This Frostbite represents a time when I collected for the sheer joy of the hobby.  It's important for me to recall that every now and then.

1993 Frostbite, Battle Rangers, 1994 Snow Storm, 1986 Iceberg

1993 Frostbite, Headhunter Stormtrooper, DEF, Battle Corps

Thursday, August 2, 2018

1992 Headhunter - Around the Web

The Headhunter is simply a great figure.  He's got a spectacular mold, solid colors and exceptional gear.  Back in the late 1990's, he was also nearly impossible to find as a loose figure.  Slowly, though, that changed and pretty much everyone can enjoy this figure today.  So much so that they're pretty popular and expensive.  But, they remain a favorite of mine.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1992 Headhunter Profile

Headhunters at the Dragon Fortress

Headhunters at IceBreaker's HQ

Headhunters in Marvel Comics

1992 Headhunter at 3DJoes.com

Headhunters at JoeADay.com

Headhunter Dio

1992 Headhunters, DEF, Cloudburst

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2005 Heavy Assault Squad Snake Eyes

The 2000's brought us a great many failures within the Joe line.  The line flopped at retail several times.  Individual products could pegwarm at unprecedented levels.  And, Hasbro's commitment to making quality products was often called into question.  But, there were good times, too.  There are several figures from that era who stand apart.  Most were nice updates of more obscure character molds.  A shining example is the 2005 Heavy Assault Squad Snake Eyes figure.  All told, this is, probably, the best paint job of this 1991 Snake Eyes repaint.  While it's far from perfect, the HAS Snake Eyes figure features decent colors and a useful purpose.  

The HAS Snake Eyes is something different for the character.  While he retains the signature black color, it's not prevalent all over the figure's body.  The pants, most noticeably, are grey and blue.  (The blue is a bit too close to Cobra blue, though.)  The cammo pattern is a bit distracting.  It's the same set of paint masks as were used on the 2004 Desert Patrol Snake Eyes: just done in different colors.  The figure's upper half is the exact same as the Desert Patrol figure.  So, this Snake Eyes felt overly familiar upon its release.  Thirteen years later, those similarities remain, but they are less fresh in the collective mind of the Joe community.  

Accessory wise, this figure is terrible.  The HAS set was useful in that it dropped a ton of accessories into one set and gave collectors a quick way to gets lots of extra weapons.  But, this was also bad since most of the weapons included with the set were awful.  Snake Eyes was given a Snow Job rifle and a Major Bludd rocket launcher.  The gear was not matched to the characters in the set so you're left with a good Snake Eyes figure with no real weapons that help define his character.

The hallmark of the 1982, 1985 and 1989 Snake Eyes figures was signature gear that complemented and enhanced the figure.  While the 1991 figure featured a poorly colored gun and sword, the gear was still unique to the character.  This HAS Snake Eyes lost that personalized touch that was so evident with the weapons from his prior releases.  So, you're left to the aftermarket to outfit the figure.  Fortunately, easily found 1989 Snake Eyes weapons are a good figure for this figure.  And, if you can find them, you can get a golden version of the 1991 sword and gun from the Night Fighter Guile figure.  The figure even works with an Iron Grenadiers Uzi.  It's not great that you have to go to the aftermarket to get some worthwhile gear for a full factory release.  But, this was pretty much Hasbro's standard in 2004 and 2005 and collectors came to expect it.  (The one big upside is that Hasbro's laziness with weapons helped to spawn Marauder's Gun Runners who did brisk business during this time releasing nice weapons that were far better fits for the retail G.I. Joe figures than anything Hasbro came up with.)

For me, this Snake Eyes is an encapsulation of the early 2000's era of G.I. Joe.  He was a product made for collectors, marketed to collectors and sold to collectors.  Yet, he didn't feel like a collector geared figure.  In the end, this Snake Eyes feels somewhat cluttered.  It's a fun take on Snake Eyes and it's nice to get the character in a different mold.  But, the lack of gear and somewhat offset color scheme take away from what could have been a solid release.  Hasbro made the HAS set as cheaply as possible.  I would have rather that they dropped one figure and released 5 better figures instead of 6 figures that were all flawed.  But, that didn't happen and it left collectors very frustrated.  One of the reasons that the ARAH style exclusive sets started to fail was for that reason.  Every set had so much unrealized potential and all had one flaw that simply made no sense.  

As a mold, this figure got no use and then got a ton of use.  The first Snake Eyes to utilize the mold was released in 1991.  This figure was not carried into 1992, though, and was rather obscure for many of the early years of online Joe collecting.  The 1995 Night Fighter Guile that utilized the body was even moreso.  The figure didn't reappear in any form until 2004.  The entire body first appeared in the fall when the Desert Patrol set featured a full 1991 Snake Eyes, but painted in better colors.  Then, the head appeared on the amazing Winter Operations Snake Eyes.  (This figure is one of the top ARAH style Joes Hasbro created in the 2000's for sure!)  While this HAS figure isn't bad, the tan pants are a different look for Snake Eyes and keep this figure from being the definitive release of the mold.  In the summer of 2005, this HAS Snake Eyes appeared.  The mold was then retired.  While it might have been cool to finally get a definitive repaint of the mold in a DTC or convention release, that was not to be.  But, the mold has all good releases and there's enough untapped potential for an enterprising collector to kitbash together better figures without much effort.

The HAS set had a production run of around 16,000 pieces.  It's release window, though, did not help it at all.  The set appeared after the infamous 2005 G.I. Joe Convention.  You know, the one where Hasbro pulled the set from their display after collector backlash and claimed it was an early sample not ready for public consumption.  Mind you, the EXACT set appeared at retail just a couple of weeks later.  By the time the set was released, Hasbro had succeeded in killing off any remaining interest in the Joe property.  The sets stagnated both at retail and online.  Most collectors decided to wait the set out and see if they could get it on clearance.  And, many did.  Amazon.com blew their remaining stock out for a fraction of the original price.  The set actually sold off faster than some of the Cobra army building sets that were also clearanced.  But, that's more likely a function of Amazon having greater inventory of the Cobras (Hasbro made 20,000 of the Cobra sets during this time compared to only 16,000 of the Joe sets.) than the HAS being more popular than the Crimson Shadow Guard or the Imperial Processional.  

You don't see nearly as many loose Toys R Us six pack figures as you used to.  And, as such, you will see dealers offering this figure for around $25 and actually selling a few to impatient collectors.  If you're willing to wait, you can often get the figure for around $6, though.  And, if you want a loose set and find a lot with in there, you can get the Snake Eyes even cheaper.  Boxed HAS sets will sell in the $50 range...making $25 for just the Snake Eyes a somewhat foolish purchase.  It's a far cry from the days of $6 sets online.  But, more than a decade separates us from this figure's release and the massive overstock bought at clearance prices has now been either dispersed or lost in some former collector's basement.  

2005, Snake Eyes, Heavy Assault Squad, TRU Exclusive, 1988, Shockwave, 1992 Gung Ho

2005, Snake Eyes, Heavy Assault Squad, TRU Exclusive, 1988, Shockwave, 1992 Gung Ho

2005, Snake Eyes, Heavy Assault Squad, TRU Exclusive, 1988, Shockwave, 1992 Gung Ho, Roadblock, Crimson Shadow Guard, General Hawk, Comic Pack