Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lobisomem - Brazilian Cobra Werewolf

It is amazing how much of a difference a little bit of paint makes.  Take the common Grand Slam figure, paint over his red pads with silver paint and you have a highly desired figure from the line's first years.  Replace the red logo on the Cobra Trooper with a silver one, and instead of a $15 figure, you have a $70 figure.  One dot of paint missing from the nose of a Tele Viper renders the figure almost useless.  The point is that a little paint often makes the greatest difference for a figure.  In the case of Estrela's release of the incredibly popular V2, 1985 Snake Eyes mold in Brazil, it was their decision to leave one paint application off that is the difference between this being a $300+ figure that is highly desired and among the most famous international figures and it being a $100 figure that is left to the hardcore collectors, many of whom don't even realize the figure's affiliation change.  In Brazil, this figure was released as a Cobra.  The difference is a small Cobra logo.  Had Estrela included s small, silver or red Cobra logo on the figure's chest, arm or, even, leg, this would be a highly desired figure.  But, that omission has left this release as a forgotten gem that exists in the South American exclusive figure lines.

Lobisomem translates to Werewolf.  Lobisomem is the Cobra Black Commando whose specialty is night missions.  A Cobra Werewolf who works at night.  How can this figure not be a collector favorite?!?  The answer, though, is simple.  The only real distinguishing characteristic of this figure from the American Snake Eyes is the made in stamp on the figure's mold.  Lobisomem was made by Estrela in Brazil.  Other than that, the figures are almost identical.  So, to collectors, this figure is just Snake Eyes.  Sure, it's the most famous and popular mold for Snake Eyes.  But, you can get the American figure just about anywhere and most collectors already have one, if not more.

But, the character of Lobisomem has a lot of potential.  It's always great to find some international exclusive characters because there, frankly, aren't that many of them.  So, when you find a new villain who has hints of interest, you take note.  Below, you can read a rough translation of Lobisomem's filecard to see his character:

To devote himself to the martial arts, Werewolf isolated himself in the mountains, with Oriental Masters.
His identity has never been revealed, and who knows if he's still living.  Accompanied by a fierce Wolf who is always ready to attack whoever approaches with claws and teeth.
Primarily a commando!
 Werewolf leave his hiding place when summoned by Cobra for a special night mission.  And when that happens, you can hear the wolves whimpering in fear.
You can see that the character has his roots in Snake Eyes, but has been converted to an enemy affiliation.  If Lobisomem had a Cobra logo, he's likely be highly regarded.  You'd have seen multiple reinterpretations of the character in the comic, the modern figure line (as a convention exclusive) and other Joe media.  But, most people assume this Brazilian release is just Snake Eyes.  And, thus, they ignore it.

I have to admit, though, that I'm squarely in the "ignore" camp as well.  As a collectible, I enjoy this figure.  He looks great with the other Brazilian figures from his era.  I find it cool to have a near complete 1985 run of figures that were released in other countries.  But, unlike many of the other Brazilian exclusive characters, I just don't have a home for Lobisomem.  The figure is V2 Snake Eyes.  And, my preferred look for Snake Eyes has always been his V2 incarnation.  So, seeing an exact duplicate of that figure is just Snake Eyes to me.  Were Lobisomem differently colored or used a few other molds, my take would be different.  But, in photos, the figure is indistinguishable from Snake Eyes.  Figures like Armadilha are different enough from the American figure that you can tell it's someone new.  That is not true with Lobisomem and that greatly hinders his value to a collection.

There are two main differences between the Brazilian and American figures.  The harder to see difference is that the grey highlights on the Estrela made figure are slightly brighter.  You can see a comparison pic below.  The difference is so slight, though, if you only had the Brazilian figure in your hands, it would be tough to tell that is was not the Hasbro version.  However, there is another difference.  The Hasbro Snake Eyes has a made in Hong Kong stamp on the figure's backside.  This was removed for the Estrela figure and was left with no mark at all.  Again, you can see the comparison in the photos below.  You should note, though, that both figures feature a Hasbro 1985 stamp on the inside of the leg.

The most telling feature of Lobisomem are his accessories.  The Brazilian wolf is a slightly different shade of grey and is very noticeable when placed next to an American Timber.  The figure's Uzi is also different.  The think barrel version of the Uzi that was introduced with the 1985 Snake Eyes is not present.  Instead, you get a thin barrelled Uzi that was the original use of the mold.  The Brazilian Uzi, though, is the dark black color of the American, thick barrelled gun and is not the charcoal color of that mold's Hasbro produced releases.  It's a subtle difference and not one that most would care about.  But, in a quest for a complete figure, it's something to watch out for.  The figure's sword and backpack are made of Brazilian plastic.  You can't really see a difference, but you can feel the change in materials if you have an Estrela and Hasbro version in your hand.

The V2 Snake Eyes mold has always been a personal favorite.  From being the first kid in my class to own one after I found an unopened case of Joes on the local TRU floor in early 1985 to getting this Lobisomem, the mold has help a high place in my collection.  As a kid, I broke two or three Snake Eyes figures.  I got a second one at retail in 1986, but also bought a couple from classmates who were abandoning Joe as they aged out of toys.  I constantly wore out the figure.  Despite that, though, I have few real memories of playing with Snake Eyes.  He was always there.  But, I can't recall any specific adventures for him.  He was always the figure picked whenever friends would come over to play, though.  But, for a figure as popular as he was to me, the mold doesn't appear all that much in my photos.  I think the the base black makes it tough to capture how excellent the mold really is.  But, also, Hasbro released so many Snake Eyes figures in 1997 and later that there was always a new one available whose appearance in a photo was more timely.  So, the figure remains relatively unrepresented.

Not counting Lobisomem, though, I have three 1985 Snake Eyes figures.  He's so cool that I have a few to, eventually, round out my collecting display.  He can't just appear once.  So, there's one for the Mauler, one for the HQ and another for general display purposes.  As time goes on, there could be more.  It will be interesting, though, to also have this Lobisomem out and mingling with Cobras.  He and Stormshadow can fight side by side.  It's not a great use for this figure.  But, it's a way to get another showing of the mold and makes for an interesting story.  At the end of the day, though, this mold is Snake Eyes and I'm actually kind of happy that Hasbro didn't have it in the '90's and '00's as they would have released it to the point or irrelevance.  With just these two versions and the one, basic, look for this mold, his individuality and legacy were unaltered and spared.

A few years ago, Lobisomem figures were relatively available and could he had for under $50. Being the V2 Snake Eyes mold, he always enjoyed a bit of popularity.  But, most of Lobisomem's notoriety stemmed from him being responsible for Hasbro not being able to re-release the V2 Snake Eyes mold during the repaint era in the 2000's.  Now, though, mint and complete with filecard Lobisomems will easily fetch $100 to $125.  Like most Brazilian figures, Lobisomem is experiencing an upsurge in collector demand and that is driving prices higher and higher.  I'm not sure if this is sustainable as we've seen once highly priced European exclusives drop in price and have seen similar behavior on once super expensive Funskool figures, too.  Of course, the Plastirama exclusives have steadily risen for a decade and a half now.  But, they may not be the best model to follow as the prices from the early 2000's were, likely, artificially low due to the warehouse fine and the temporary supply outpacing demand.

Long term, I could see this figure becoming cheaper.  But, I could also see him staying the same price.  The difference between this figure and some of the later, brighter Brazilian figures is that Lobisomem is made of a classic mold and is the only other release of that mold anywhere in the world.  Of course, the figure is also, basically, identical to the American figure.  So, you have both an antagonizing and mitigating factor on his desirability in the same characteristic.  Personally, if you have the money, Lobisomem is a cool figure to own.  Sure, he's Snake Eyes.  And, using him as anything else will be hard.  But, knowing that this was a Cobra character and the Brazilian kid who originally owned him only knew him as a Cobra is fun part of the collecting experience.  But, if you are looking to economize, or only have a small budget for Joes, this is a figure you can also easily skip.  There are many other Brazilian exclusives that bring more to the table than this figure.  And, many of those are still cheaper than Lobisomem to boot.  As a collectible, this figure is nicely done.  But, other than appreciating the nuance of the different release countries, Lobisomem doesn't offer much that can't be found elsewhere for less money.

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela, Chinese Major Bludd, Funskool Street Hawk, India, Vibora, Python Patrol Officer, 2002 Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela, 2006 Flaming Moth Shipwreck

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Diorama - Eel In Training

We had a bit of early winter rain.  Overnight, it turned cold and the ground water froze.  We then got a light dusting of snow.  I liked the idea of Arctic training for the Eels and thought of having them break through the ice.  Rather than attacking the Joes, I turned the table and had the Joe surprise the trainees.  I was hoping to get some better photos of Airborne.  But, none of those turned out.  The plan was to use the pics for a Duke profile, too.  But, I only ended up getting his back.  Still, this was a fun set to set up and take as the weather wasn't too bad, but the setting made it look like it was.

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord, Ace, Wild Bill

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

Thursday, August 18, 2016

1991 Red Star - Around the Web

Red Star was the first Russian figure to be released in the line.  While he seems based on Col. Brekhov, he was a new character.  In a Freudian slip, his first file card showed him with a Cobra logo.  Oops.  Here's the best of him on the web.

1991 Red Star Profile

Red Star at CounterX.net

Red Star at JoePedia

Red Star at HalftheBattle.com

Oktober Guard at IcebreakersHQ

Oktober Guard Diorama at KingToys

1991 Red Star, Oktober Guard, Black Major, Cammo Cobra Trooper, Bootleg, Custom

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

1992 T'Jbang - Ninja Force

In 1992, I was long out of Joe toys.  I had bought a single Night Viper in 1990.  But, had not been to a toy aisle in quite a while.  My high school years were wrapping up and toys were mostly out of my mind.  Comics, though, were not.  While I had drastically curtailed the number of comic books I bought every month from my late 1980's heyday, I still picked up a few titles.  Of course, G.I. Joe was one of them.  In some ways, it was out of habit and loyalty that I kept with the comic.  But, it was also a way to keep informed on the toys of the day without resorting to actually going to a store or buying any actual items.  Plus, the stories and characters were something I could relate to since I had such a history with the property.

In these pages, I was introduced to a menagerie of new characters.  Some looked like they would spectacular toys.  Others, were somewhat lame.  But, they were new and exciting and, when I started buying Joe toys again, gave me both a familiarity with the characters and also pre-determined favorites that I wanted to track down.  In late 1991, Larry Hama introduced the comic readers to the Ninja Force.  This team of Ninjas to support Snake Eyes and Stormshadow was designed to sell new toys, but also raise the prominence of G.I. Joe's superstars.  The designs in the comic were promising and some of them looked like they could be great toys.  But, when it finally came time to track down these figures several years later, I found that the figures were long on "action" but not in line with my expectations of design.

When I think of Ninja Force, I think of Slice and Dice.  I think of them because I thought the comic book design of Slice was awesome and was almost enough to get me to go out and look for the figure.  The G.I. Joe members of Ninja Force are, to me, mostly  interchangeable parts that lack any real depth.  T'Jbang is a perfect example of that.  If you asked me to name a group of Ninja Force figures, there's a good chance I'd get them wrong.  T'Jbang and Dojo, to me, are so close in look that they simply cancel each other out.  Nunchuk is a bit better due to his different coloring.  But I knew nothing of the T'Jbang character prior to this profile and really only chose him as he's the last member of Ninja Force that still calls my collection home these days.  (How he survived when the others were sold remains a mystery.)  But, in my zeal to find obscure Joe figures, I figured I'd look into the T'Jbang character and see if I had missed a hidden gem.

One look at the figure in the photos below, though, is enough to tell you I did not.  The bright yellow and blue combination is not a flattering color scheme for any action figure.  But, even taking that away, the figure is simply not that good.  The 1992 sculpting had improved since the early days of the line.  But, good design on a poor concept still doesn't really work.  The figure has bare shoulders and arms (which seem to be a ninja thing, according to Hasbro) which look somewhat odd.  He has large, bulky boots which belie the stealthy implications of his profession.  The most off putting aspect of the figure is the luchador type head gear.  It does not hold up at all.  In short, you have a big, blocky figure who looks like he escaped from a Mexican wrestling rign rather than an expertly trained ninja.

The real failure of T'Jbang is the character.  You have a mystic swordsman who is, by choice, mute.  Yet, despite his devotion to his art and craft, he still found time to become a fully qualified Battle Copter pilot.  It screams of the trend to make all characters all things.  The result is an utterly forgettable character who really offers nothing you can't get from better figures.  If I wanted a mute swordsman, I'd get a Snake Eyes figure.  They were colored better, featured standard articulation and were available at the time of this figure's release.  If I want a pilot, I'd just use the ones included with the Battle Copters as they are pretty strong figures in their own right.  There's just no reason to have the figure in any of his intended specialties and what fun is a character who doesn't speak when that is the calling card of the most iconic character in the entire line?

So, that leaves me with no place for T'Jbang in my collection.  I've had a beat up figure for years.  He was so cheap that he wasn't worth selling off.  So, he just sort of hung around.  When I got the figure out, his chest was covered with some residue between the quilts of his shirt.  You can see it in the second photo below.  I decided to try something and got out a baby wipe.  I used it on the entire figure and it cleaned him up, nicely.  You can see the results in the first photo.  It's the same figure in both photos.  The baby wipe not only removed the residue, but also a lot of dust and dirt that was caked onto the rest of the figure.  So, that's something I'm going to do on more dirty figures going forward.  It really breathed new life into the figure and is a cheap and easy solution for cleaning toys.

The Ninja gimmick ran its course with Ninja Force.  The days of martial arts masters like Quick Kick or Budo were nice ways to augment the line without diluting Snake Eyes and Stormshadow.  Ninja Force removed that subtlety Ninjas were now their own team, apart from G.I. Joe.  It was overkill, but also a definite response to the early '90's popularity of certain reptilian, pizza eating, shell covered ninjas.  (The characters were introduced in the comic in 1991 and it's likely that the figures saw ample shipping in late 1991 as well.  Though, they are considered 1992 releases.)  Ninja Force was a continuation of the change in G.I. Joe's direction.  In 1991, the Joe line became a market followed when it introduced Eco Warriors.  It had spent the previous 9 years being the market innovator.  But, Joe's presence and influence on toys and children was diminishing.  And, the remainder of the line's life would be spent chasing the market rather than leading it.

T'Jbang figures are cheap.  Mint and complete figures sell in the $3-$4 range.  Carded figures, though, can be had for between $8 and $10 without much looking.  Collectors do not care for the Ninja Force figures at all.  The character returned in the 2015 G.I. Joe convention set.  Those figures sell in the $40 range.  But, that's more a function of the figure's rarity than any character resurgence.  For the price, it doesn't make sense to not have a T'Jbang figure, even if it's just for completion.  But, the figure is so poorly done and uninteresting that I find it hard to muster the desire to pick up a carded or higher quality version to cross off the list.  I've long avoided the Ninja Force figures and T'Jbang is a microcosm of why.  While I've been surprised by a few of the figures from the end of the line, this ninja is not among them.

1992 T'Jbang, Ninja Force, Nunchuk, Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes, 1994

1992 T'Jbang, Ninja Force, 1986 Zarana, Dreadnok

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cobra Flying Scorpion - 15 Year Anniversary

15 years ago today, I posted my profile of the Brazilian Flying Scorpion figure.  The Escorpiao Voador, as he is known in Brazil, became one of my most viewed profiles ever.  (It's still in the top 10 all time even on this version of the site.)  At the time, carded versions could be purchased for around $30 each.  Now, the figure is very popular and loose, mint and complete versions tend to sell for $150 or more.  The character has even appeared in the 2016 Convention set.

At the time, the Flying Scorpion was both my first Brazilian figure and one of the first foreign figures I added to my collection.  The distinct look and general quality of the figure, though, sent me through the looking glass of foreign Joe collecting and it's been one of my main areas of collector interest ever since.

I remember the day I got the figure very vividly.  I was so excited to have something so exotic in my collection.  I opened him immediately.  The figure quality was slightly lower than Hasbro figures and he has always felt slightly brittle to the touch.  That's why I haven't used the figure in nearly as many photos as I would have liked.  I'm afraid he'll break if he gets dropped.  And, at current pricing for a Flying Scorpion, that's not a risk I like to take.

But, in honor of the decade and a half that's passed since I first showcased this figure online, I took him out to take a few photos, just for old time's sake.  You'll see that I have Flying Scorpion paired with AVACs.  The silver and red work well together and I can see AVACs as the personal troopers of the Flying Scorpion.

I can't believe I've owned this figure for the majority of the time I consider myself a "collector".  A lot's happened in the Joe world in 15 years: a lot bad and some good.  But, the collecting world becoming a smaller place has made figures like this accessible and the information regarding them more available.  That's a good thing as collectors now have a lot more options with which to grow their collections.

Brazil, Estrela, Patrulha Do Ar, Escorpiao Voador, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Sky patrol, 2010 Convention Flint, Red Shadows, 1986 Dreadnok Stinger, Sears Exclusive, Alado, Plastirama, Argentina, 1989 Python Officer, Cobra Trooper, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

1986, Viper, AVAC, Firebat, Brazil, Estrela, Patrulha Do Ar, Escorpiao Voador, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Sky patrol