Thursday, May 28, 2020

Black Major Viper Pilot

Factory Custom figures generate a lot of passion in the Joe world.  Collectors, in general, fall into three camps.  The first is the anti-everything guys.  They just hate the notion of factory customs and don't want any to exist.  These collectors usually either see themselves as "defenders of Hasbro" (like Hasbro cares!) or they are "serious collectors" who believe that toy collecting is a pursuit on par with feeding the hungry in terms of its value to society.  This group is extremely small, but overly vocal.  And, they have created echo chambers in large segments of fandom to reinforce their unpopular opinion.  

The second faction is larger.  They are collectors who are OK with factory customs that are of figures Hasbro never released.  But, are not OK with figures that reproduce Hasbro designs.  These guys are fine with a Crimson Cobra Trooper.  But, go apoplectic over a Cobra Blue trooper that is an homage to the 1983 release.  The final and, fortunately, largest group are collectors who are fine with the customs and are happy to have them available.  The customs fill in gaps that Hasbro never addressed while also offering them the ability to army build or simply acquire figures that they would otherwise never have a chance to own.  For this profile, I'm going to review a figure that tends to really piss off two thirds of these groups: the Black Major Viper Pilot.

There are multiple production runs of the Black Major Viper Pilot.  The sample I'm reviewing is from the first production run from around 2009, 2010 or so.  This is notable because the figure features a mold that is slightly smaller than the production Hasbro figure.  And, as such, the peg holes in his feet will not accommodate any figure stand pegs.  More importantly, the figure can not wear a backpack.  This seems innocuous until you realize that this also means that he will not work with the Cobra CLAW or even the classic glider.  This leaves this Viper Pilot as a ground trooper.  (Though, he can work in the FANG.)  But, that's not a terrible fate.

Like everyone else, I use the silver logo Viper Pilots as squad leaders for the Cobra Troopers.  Unlike most collectors, though, I'm not a big fan of the Cobra Officer mold.  So, I actually have more Viper Pilot derivatives than I do Cobra Officer figures.  So, for me, Viper Pilots are more important since they really represent the leadership of the Cobra army's backbone.  They serve as the field commanders for the more common red logo-ed Cobra Troopers.  Even in cases where other types of troopers are in the fold, the Viper Pilots retain command.  He looks really good leading a pack of 1986 Vipers.  But, due to the fragility of the original figure, I rarely take him out for use.  This Black Major version, though, has found himself a nice stand in when I want to use a slightly different classic Cobra trooper without risking damage to a vintage Joe that's hard to find.

The Viper Pilot included no accessories.  But, through the years, you will often find Black Major Viper Pilots offered with either the black AK-47 or the classic Dragunov sniper rifle.  It's nice to get a weapon with the figure just because my main use for him is as a leader for the red logo'ed Cobra Troopers.  You can assign the weapon to him or not. But, due to Black Major, these weapons are now both relatively easy to find and cheap on the secondary market.  They are not close to the vintage weapons and are easy to spot.  So, no worries on that front.  But, you can now get access to high quality weapons for the Viper Pilot that were once overly desirable and expensive.

Some people hate figures like this.  I love it as this figure is easy to distinguish from the original but still lets me use a Viper Pilot without worrying about dropping my original when I want to get a photo of him in action.  It's a placeholder that lets me use the figure.  Many will scoff at this as a valid reason for wanting a figure like this.  Mostly, though, those collectors are only worried about the value of their collections.  While they'll claim that customs like this Viper Pilot drive down prices, most of the evidence proves the opposite is more likely true.  Collectors who are willing to drop major money on a Viper Pilot aren't going to spend less since this figure is available.  Instead, more collectors have access to the Viper Pilot and can expand their collections.  This is a good thing.  

The intent of these figures is not to deceive.  It is to expand.  You'll note that no one really gets up in arms about this figure because none of the big collectors were able to buy up hundreds of loose Viper Pilots in order to corner the market.  They only got mad at Starduster because there's a few guys who have dozens and hundreds of that figure stashed away to pay for their retirement or some other bullshit.  I find that anyone who says they're looking out for you in the community is actually looking out for themselves while keeping you a potential future customer for their overly marked up goods.

We are now in an era where mint Hasbro Viper Pilots are $150 to $175 figures.  In this market, that's actually kind of light as gem Viper Pilots are actually harder to find than Stardusters.  But, it's still a super pricey figure and one that, due to its fragility, doesn't lend itself to anything other than careful display.  Black Major Viper Pilots, though, have also become harder to find.  Despite there being two separate production runs of the design, you don't find them all that often anymore.  You'll see some being offered at astronomical prices.  But, they don't sell.  This is, probably, around a $30-$50 figure and you might be able to find him cheaper...especially if you're doing a bulk buy.  At 20% the cost of an original, this is a good way to get a cool update to the classic Cobra Trooper in your collection.  But, it's still a price that I find high for a factory custom figure.  But, the Viper Pilot holds a mystique over the collecting world.  And, you tend to pay for mystique...even if the figure does't otherwise warrant the price.

Cobra Trooper, Viper Pilot, 1982, 1983, Black Major, Factory Custom, Palitoy, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Stinger, 1984, Cobra Commander

Cobra Trooper, Viper Pilot, 1982, 1983, Black Major, Factory Custom, Palitoy, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Stinger, 1984, Cobra Commander

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

2005 Cobra Imperial Guard - Around The Web

The 2005 Cobra Imperial Processional set was an odd duck.  In the general sense, it was OK.  The idea behind the set was strong.  But, the colors were weird and the accessories weren't great.  The set was quickly relegated to clearance and collectors were able to acquire these figures for about $1.00 per figure for a good long time.  Today, the set hasn't taken off.  But, it's still a lot more expensive than it was during those clearance days.  Here's the best of the Imperial Guard from around the web.

Imperial Guard Profile

Saturday, May 23, 2020

20th Anniversary Key Moments - 1985 Snow Cat

In early 2003, I decided to look at the first vehicle on the site.  At the time, I was running low on figures to talk about.  And, as I had managed to get a few pictures out in the snow, I thought something like the Snow Cat made for a great way to show off some of the weather inspired photos I had managed to get. The Snow Cat was also a favorite vehicle from my childhood that survived relatively unscathed.  So, I did a little write up on it and vehicles were now part of the items I reviewed on the site.

But, the notion of vehicles was short-lived.  In the early years, I only looked a few.  And, in pretty much every case, I was not satisfied with the work I had done and felt the profiles were lacking.  As all my collection was boxed up in late 2003 and didn't get opened until 2005, vehicles fell the wayside and there were very few of them for a long time.

As a kid, vehicles were fun.  But, while Hasbro and many kids felt that vehicles were the driver of the line, I felt that they were a nice supplement to the figures.  While I'd play with vehicles inside, it was rare to take more than one outside.  And, even when I did, it was the figures who got the use and the vehicle became more of a piece of the landscape than a driver of the action.  I recall taking a box of vehicles to my grandparents' house and not playing with any of them since it was more fun to hide figures in their various gardens.  So, while vehicles were important, they were also secondary to the characters and actions of the figures.

In recent years, though, I've grown to appreciate vehicles more.  For a very long time, they were dirt cheap.  In many cases, you'd pay more for shipping a vehicle than you would for the toy itself.  (There were exceptions, of course.)  So, that made some of the vehicles I'd long neglected more attractive.  And, as I've added them, I've had more occasion to write about them on the site.  In the past few years, I've profiled more vehicles than ever before.  And, I've been more satisfied with the results, too.

Now, though, my vehicles are boxed up, again.  And, once again, I have no real indication of how long they will simply be cardboard prisoners in my garage.  I have a few that I want to review.  And, at some point in the next two years I'll get to the long awaited BUGG profile.  But, for now, I'll try to find some time to look at whatever's at the top of a box that I can get out for a quick photo shoot.  The Joe line is so diverse in vehicle offerings in terms of purpose and size that they are a line unto themselves.  

1985, Snow Cat, Alpine, Frostbite, Funskool, Iceberg, 1989 Scoop, 2003, Tiger Force, Dial Tone

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Tocha - Brazilian Blowtorch

The 1984 Blowtorch is one of my favorite molds.  I have tracked down any and all international variants I can find.  There's something about both his specialty and gear that just capture my attention.  So, when I had a chance to pick up a Brazilian release of the character, I jumped at it: despite the fact that the figure is nearly identical to his American release.  Each new Blowtorch variant I own takes me back to a spring day in 1984 when my friend bought one at the local Children's Palace.  For the life of me, I can't remember which figure I bought that day.  But, my friend got Blowtorch and, from then on, I wished I had gotten one.  So, to this day, I try to fill that void with obscure releases like the Brazilian Tocha figure.

The biggest difference of the Tocha figure versus the Blowtorch figure is the skin tone on the head.  Tocha has a slightly darker complexion than Blowtorch.  His skin is more sun burned looking.  It's common on many Brazilian figures.  But, it helps to differentiate the South American figure from the American release.  Aside from that, the figures are very similar.  There are subtle differences in the red/orange paint the color of his leg pistol.  But, that's about it.  Basically, Tocha is Blowtorch and vice versa.  Owning one or the other really brings nothing new to the character other than subtlety that is often overlooked in photos of a popular character.  

The notion of Blowtorch's specialty is somewhat interesting.  By the time of Blowtorch's release, the United States military hadn't used flamethrowers in more than half a decade.  Blowtorch's specialty was obsolete before the Joe line was even an idea.  But, Blowtorch wasn't about being up on current military hardware.  Instead, Blowtorch was a throwback to the grandfathers who were veterans of World War II and Korea and even the fathers who served in Vietnam.  They had seen flamethrowers.  So, seeing a toy on the shelf would be a nostalgic trip for them to introduce their sons to military toys.  Blowtorch wasn't alone in this.  Zap's specialty was with a weapon that was almost 20 years out of service when he came to be.  But, both of these figures triggered memories for those who would most likely buy the toys and get their sons hooked.

This juxtaposition of the Joe line being both a nostalgic throwback with roots in World War II and also a modern, technological military force is interesting.  You had both a bazooka trooper and a laser rifle wielding trooper in the first wave of figures.  Blowtorch's contemporaries, though, featured less of this.  The rest of the 1984 series is pretty traditional military fare in terms of specialties even if the actual appearance of the figures is out of the realm of realism.  It was not until 1986 that the line went with more technology and less of the romantic idea of a foot soldier that was mostly obsolete after the early 1970's.  

My fascination with Blowtorch is heavily tied to my memory of the original figure from 1984.  Aside from my friend's acquisition of him, my main memory of him is that my youngest brother was the one in our family who got one.  And, that meant that the figure was not long for the world.  Within short order, Blowtorch's mask was ripped and his flamethrower destroyed.  Without those two pieces, the figure lost value.  Fortunately, the flamethrower appeared in the 1985 Battle Gear pack.  The mask, though, did not.  Somewhere, I still have a Blowtorch helmet that's streaked with black residue from electrical tape where I tried to take the mask on to the helmet.  Obviously, it didn't work.  But, that lasting feeling of not being able to enjoy a nice, complete figure from childhood continues to color my feelings of this figure to this day.  And, I have half a dozen variants of Blowtorch in my collection for this reason.

Tocha includes most of the gear from the 1984 Blowtorch figure.  The mask and backpack are, basically, identical to the U.S. versions.  The flamethrower is a darker green than the U.S. version and matches the "Brazilian Green" that's seen on most of the Estrela figures from the same era.  (See Spirit, Recondo and Ripcord.)  The biggest difference is the helmet.  Tocha includes a yellow version of the 1982 helmet.  Personally, I prefer the Blowtorch helmet since it's designed to better hold the mask and gives the figure's head an appearance of more girth.  It's weird to see the classic helmet in a bright, vibrant yellow.  But, it works on Tocha and, with the mask affixed, isn't all that different in appearance from Blowtorch.  At some point, I need to put an 1982 visor on the helmet for a completely different look for Blowtorch.

Blowtorch saw release in a few different countries.  While the Hasbro release did show up in Europe, it was the same as the US figure.  The international variants start with this Brazilian release.  The mold then appeared in Mexico where Auriken also released an exclusive Blowtorch.  It is similar to the Brazilian release, but is noticeably different when compared side by side.  The final releases occurred in Argentina.  There, Plastirama released Antorcha: which was a similar release to the American Blowtorch.  There were then two significant repaints of the mold.  The first was TNT which is done in blue, silver and yellow.  The second was Backstop which featured green highlights and a silver mask.  The mold then disappeared.  I'd love for factory custom makers to take up this mold as it could be done in various Action Force themes as well as some homages to post 2001 Blowtorch colors.  It's doubtful that will happen.  But, this mold has a lot of potential left in it.

Pricing on Tochas varies greatly.  There isn't a huge supply and most of the figures still originate in Brazil where shipping prices add a great deal to the overall price.  With patience, you can find really nice versions in the U.S.  But, you'll easily pay $50-$80 for a nice, complete version.  If you're not an international Joe fan, there's no reason to really own this figure.  You get everything you need from the American Blowtorch at a fraction of the cost and with higher quality.  For me, though, I really enjoy the Blowtorch mold and feel it was heavily underutilized.  So, having a chance for a figure that has even slight differences is worth the extra price.  But, that's unlikely to be a popular sentiment.

Blowtorch, Tocha, Brazil, Estrela, Palitoy, VAMP, Panther, SAS, Shimik, Red Laser, Odin, Factory Custom

Blowtorch, Tocha, Brazil, Estrela, Palitoy, VAMP, Panther, SAS, Shimik, Red Laser, Odin, Factory Custom, Starduster, Black Major

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

2005 Stormavik (Oktober Guard) Around The Web

The 2005 Oktober Guard figures were under produced.  At the time, Hasbro admitted that they had over estimated demand for the first two waves of Comic Packs.  And, as those packs were still on clearance around the country, they reduced the production run of wave 3 to help stock clear out.  Sadly, that wave included the Oktober Guard figures.  Collectors of the day were very easily able to acquire the figures at retail...for about a month.  After that, the figs dried up and and the molds were never seen again.  The figures in the wave are not perfect.  But, they are the best Oktober Guard figures Hasbro released.  Stormavik has long been my favorite Oktober Guard character.  His figure was, like the others, good enough for a $3.33 figure in 2005.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

2005 Stormavik Profile

2005 Stormavik by dreadnokdread