Wednesday, October 31, 2001

2001 Fast Blast Viper

Back in early 1997, I had just finished college and was living with my parents in order to save some money before I moved to Arizona. During that time, I was mainly into Star Wars figures and spent my toy-finding time searching for them. However, one day while in my local comic store, the clerk (who knew I was a long time Joe fan) told me they had just gotten some G.I. Joe figures in and asked if I might be interested in any of them. At that time, my Joe collection was limited to what I had left over from childhood and what I had acquired at retail in the recent years. As such, there were many figures from the early '90's who I was not familiar with. As I searched through the three dozen or so figures they had, I found three Cobra figures that I did not have in my collection: the Range Viper, 1989 Alley Viper, and the Annihilator. All three of these guys were, in my opinion, very cool figures who needed a great purpose in my collection. Over the course of subsequent weeks, I devised a new direction for my Joe world where Cobra created Urban Death Squads: bands of highly trained troops who were capable of destroying a small town in a matter of minutes and then disappearing without a trace. The purpose was twofold: to strike fear into the hearts of Americans and also to create ghost towns that Cobra could then buy up (using their Bermuda based reinsurance operations as the financier) and then rebuild into surveillance and recruiting centers. Naturally, the three aforementioned Cobras comprised the bulk of these forces.

By 1998, though, I had started acquiring many new Cobra trooper figures. As such, the roles of the Urban Death Squads were expanding. They were now attacking larger urban centers and needed new types of troops to deal with new situations. Among these were the original H.E.A.T. Viper figures. They were specialists who were able to crack fortified positions such as police headquarters or military outposts. However, I found their bright yellow color scheme a bit too over-the-top and did not like how it meshed with the figures who populated the unit. In the summer of 2001, though, my problem was finally solved. The H.E.A.T. Viper was finally replaced by a figure that utilized the majority of his mold and accessories, but was done in a much more useful color scheme: the Fast Blast Viper.

First off, let's face it, the name Fast Blast Viper just sucks. There's no getting around it and no amount of justification will ever make it work. I know there are a number of collectors out there who simply call them Blast Vipers and that works. Personally, I just refer to them as H.E.A.T. Vipers. They have had the original colors updated and made more useful for urban environments. That way, they are not a new unit in Cobra, just one whose uniforms have been modernized. To me, this makes the figure more useful and gives him greater roots to Cobra's long history.

The best part about this figure is the coloring. The FBV is a nice blend of dark black, subtle smoke grey and a bluish hued grey that create a nice, dark figure whose details are not lost in the opacity. I think that is one of the reasons why I like this figure so much. His color scheme is very different in that it is vibrant and alive. So many figures in the '00-'01 A Real American Hero Collection were very bland and dead to the eye. The FBV does not fall into this category, though, as the colors don't have the muted tones that are so common on his contemporaries.

His accessories, while nice, don't quite live up the the H.E.A.T. Viper's legacy. He lacks the peg on both his head and on the shoulder tab that were the plug-ins for the H.E.A.T. Viper's weapons. As such, you are left with a large missile launcher that has an attached hose with no place to plug it in. I have made up for this by simply attaching it the backpack, but it is not an ideal solution. Still, it works and still allows for a wide variety of uses for the figure. One thing of note, though, is that this figure includes 6 missiles that attach to his legs. At first glance, these would appear to be the type of thing that will be easily lost over time. However, as a little bonus to collectors, both versions of the 2002 Wave 1 Neo Viper include these 6 missiles. That little Easter Egg will ensure that there are plenty of these accessories to go around as we become farther and farther removed from this figure's release date.

The final piece of note on this figure's physical appearance is dually a criticism and praise. For an unknown reason, the original H.E.A.T. Viper's head was not reused on this figure. Instead, it was replaced with a black Undertow head. This sleek head is far more visually appealing than the oddly designed H.E.A.T. Viper's. However, this head is only covered by a thin mask. As such, you would think that the gear carried by an artillery trooper would pose a danger that would not be covered by so skimpy a head covering. It is a small point, but one that was cause of some initial criticism of the figure. I've just assumed the mask to be fire-proof and able to provide the type of protection these characters would need. (On that note, it is unknown if the FBV was amalgamated due to the loss of the original H.E.A.T. Viper's head [the mold was released in Brazil in the early '90's] or just a design update. The H.E.A.T. Viper's head has long been an oddity, so it may have been deliberately excluded in an effort to create a more visually appealing figure.)

In my collection, this figure has some different uses. First and foremost, he is the hand held artillery specialist who still supports the Urban Death Squads. Beyond simple fortification destruction, the FBV also takes on anti-aircraft responsibilities. I have him as the primary attacker of the low flying G.I. Joe gunships like the Dragonfly, Tomahawk or Night Attack Chopper. In addition to the field duties, I also use the FBV as Cobra's primary gunner. When I was younger, I always wished Cobra had a gunner figure. Someone who could operate the turrets of the H.I.S.S. Tank or the A.S.P. As I had a number of the figure, I used the Hooded Cobra Commander in this capacity. Eventually, though, I just wanted something more. The FBV fills this role well as he looks good in most Cobra weaponry and his true specialty is closely related enough for people to accept him in this role. For this reason, I like the figure on a couple of different levels and am able to better utilize him in more situations.

Fast Blast Vipers are still not that expensive to acquire. However, they are a little harder to find that the ubiquitous Laser Viper. This is mainly due to the fact that the FBV pack was pulled after its shipping allotment and was not carried forward to future figure waves like the Laser Viper was. As such, if you did not get this guy during his short window of availability, he is harder to find than many other of the A Real American Hero Collection figures. However, by 2001, the collecting community was already aware of the quick disappearing act as so many collectors had missed out on the Firefly/Undertow pack from 2000 and were watching it reach nearly $75 for a MOC specimen. As such, once news about the Wave IV case assortment leaked out, many dealers and collectors went out and bought up droves of FBV's in an attempt to take advantage of potential later shortages. However, these haven't really materialized as many Wave III cases with the FBV ended up at clearance and warehouse outlets. I know that the Meijer store in my area had an ample supply of FBV's at $4.99/pack through Christmas of 2001. As such, this figure has not become the highly sought after second hand market item that many had planned for and is still available for around $12-$15/pack from many online dealers. As such, if you missed out on this guy, you can still acquire him without too much time, trouble or expense. I have found this figure well worth his original retail price. Even at aftermarket pricing, I would get one of them now as he is worth it just to have. Army building, though, is a different story. I have 2 loose FBV's and have found that enough. I still have 3 carded figures that I haven't opened as I have not had a need for the figures, yet. When I do, I'll open them. However, as the FBV is the type of figure that lends himself to smaller numbers, I don't know when that will be. Still, he is a quality figure and one that is important to my Cobra army. Given a choice between this figure or the original H.E.A.T. Viper, I'd take the FBV every time. I think that many collectors out there will agree with me.

While I'm well set on V1 Fast Blast Vipers, I do not have a 2002 FBV that was available in the BJ's exclusive set. While I don't want one for the ridiculous amounts I've seen them sell for, I would be open to trades. If you have one and want to work out a deal, email me.

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite

2001 Fast Blast Viper, HEAT Viper, Funskool Night Viper, 1992 Parasite


Thursday, October 25, 2001

Action Force Blades - European Exclusive

Back in 1986, I went to my local comic shop on my weekly visit. Of course, I always bought the new G.I. Joe comic when it came out, but every now and then, I would pick up some other books for some variety. On one particular day when I went into the store I noticed a very large magazine with Zartan on the cover. The banner across the top of the magazine was done in the style of G.I. Joe, but read Action Force. This magazine was an issue of the UK issued Action Force comic book. Of course, I bought it. I wasn't so interested in the reprints of the American comics; it was the new, UK exclusive and centric stories that really piqued my curiosity. Their take on the Joe team was very different from what was portrayed in the American comic and cartoon. (I remember one story where Lady Jaye was holding a bomb and Crankcase was setting up a blast shield so only she would be killed. The story was so different from anything we got in America that I was hooked.) What I did not know, though, was that Action Force had originally been a Star Wars articulated line of military figures that were released in Europe. From those figures, they branched out to include repainted American Joes in certain vehicles. After that, they released American Joe figures on the generic Action Force card. Finally, Joe figures were released on cards very similar to those from the States. Of this process, it is the repainted figures that came with vehicles that concerns me today. I have chosen the pilot of the Action Force Fang repaint, Blades, to be profiled.

When you first saw that I was profiling a figure named Blades, I'm sure at least someone out there thought it was a late issue Ninja Force member. That couldn't be further from the truth. Blades is a straight repaint of the American Tripwire figure. Rather than be a mine detector, though, this figure is an SAS pilot (though the figure did come with recolored Tripwire accessories). He came with a black and yellow Cobra F.A.N.G. repaint. (I should also note, though, that Blades was available as a convention exclusive at one of the annual G.I. Joe conventions that was held here in the states. Because of that, there are bagged samples available that come with later issue weapons.) As you can see from the photo below, he has a yellow SAS logo on his chest. This logo is EXTREMELY fragile. I'm not talking normal logo fragile, this thing will scratch just as easily as the Viper Pilot's logo will. As you can see, even an otherwise pristine figure like mine will often exhibit some slight paint wear on the logo. At any rate, though, the logo is an incredible feature and just a small part of what makes this figure so cool.

I was never really big on the Action Force repaints. Red Laser, a repaint of the classic Cobra Commander, Hunter, a repainted Cobra Officer, Quarrel, a repainted Scarlett, and Blades are the few that held any real interest for me. I liked them because the color schemes were radically different from the American releases of the molds, but were still nice enough that they would fit into my normal figure usage. Unfortunately, I didn't actively pursue these guys for a long time. Even after I decided that foreign Joes were going to be the next area of my collection, I went after the European Tiger Force exclusives before I really looked for these early guys. The older early '80's molds just didn't excite me and I saw more uses for the oddly colored later releases than I did for these early guys. A couple of months ago, though, and opportunity to acquire a Blades figure arose. I knew that he was a neat figure, but only after I got him did I realize how superior a repaint this version of the Tripwire mold really was.

I've always used the Tripwire mold as a common, generic trooper figure. The original drove my APC for many years. Since then, he and the Listen and Fun variation have become the computer operators in my headquarters. They just look the part. I have yet to acquire the '01 Tripwire, but I see him occupying much the same role. The poor Tiger Force Tripwire sees very little time in my collection. This figure's black and grey uniform, though, really looks nice. It has the subtlety of color that makes it aesthetically pleasing while still maintaining its functionality. This guy is a perfect addition to any night ops force. While the bright yellow logo is there, it is not too much to take away from the figure's playability. That is what I most like about Blades. He is fun to play with and use. The color scheme nicely fits with other figures, as can be seen below, and allows this guy to be used by even the most discriminating collector.

There is one big reason why I wanted to profile this figure. With the addition of a European exclusive figure, this group of 20 profiles now features unique Joes from four different continents. Asia, South America, North America and now, Europe are all represented in what has been my most international group of profiles yet. I enjoy foreign Joes. Many collectors out there share my sentiments. Many others, though, do not. Either way, it really doesn't matter. Everyone has a different end to their Joe collection. What matters most is if you enjoy it. Having figures like Blades that I can turn into whomever I want is what makes Joe fun for me. I think that's the most important part of collecting. Everyone has different ideas about Joe and has a different aspect of it that they latch onto. While it may be frustrating at times, it is important to remember that in the end, we are all fans of the same toy line.

Now for the really bad news. Blades are very tough to find; especially so if you want a mint SAS logo. Those that can be found usually fetch $40.00+ for a mint specimen. Those that are still MOC can go upwards of $70.00 in a hurry. For that reason, most people aren't too keen on adding this guy to their collection. Sure, he is visually awesome. But who wants to spend that kind of money on a figure that only sits there and is never used or appreciated? Still, if you the opportunity to add this guy to your collection, I think you should take advantage of it. The European Action Force repaints are almost all well done and fit in nicely with American figures. I know that I enjoy having this guy, even if his only use is sitting in my headquarters. His look is enough for me to appreciate him. I think that given the chance, you will as well.

Blades is really cool. In fact, all of the Action Force repaints are. If you have a Red Laser, Quarrel, Red Jackal, Jammer, Gaucho, Hunter, Dolphin, Moondancer, Tiger Force Hit and Run, Tiger Force Sneek Peek, Tiger Force Tunnel Rat, Tiger Force Blizzard, Black and Red Spirit, or Stalker (repainted Snake Eyes) with which you wish to part, let me know.

Action Force Blades, Tripwire, European Exclusive, Listen and Fun Tripwire, Tiger Force Psyche Out, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, G.I. Joe HQ, 1994 Joseph Colton, 1985 Keel Haul, 2000 Tomahawk, Law

Action Force Blades, Tripwire, European Exclusive, Listen and Fun Tripwire, Tiger Force Psyche Out, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, G.I. Joe HQ, 1994 Joseph Colton, 1985 Keel Haul, 2000 Tomahawk, Law

Action Force Blades, Tripwire, European Exclusive, Listen and Fun Tripwire, Tiger Force Psyche Out, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, G.I. Joe HQ, 1994 Joseph Colton, 1985 Keel Haul, 2000 Tomahawk, Law

Action Force Blades, Tripwire, European Exclusive, Listen and Fun Tripwire, Tiger Force Psyche Out, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, G.I. Joe HQ, 1994 Joseph Colton, 1985 Keel Haul, 2000 Tomahawk, Law

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

1994 Action Astronaut - 30th Anniversary Set Exclusive

Back in my profile of Carcass I told of how this site's humble beginnings were heavily based on the promotion of Star Brigade figures. I've said many, many times how I really like astronaut figures. All of the regular Joes who were released as astronauts, though, were kept modern in design. They were more science fiction in appearance, though they all had their basis in some form or reality. For a unit like Joe, this was perfect. They were an ultra modern fighting force that would have utilized the latest technology. However, 1994 Hasbro decided to pay an homage back to G.I. Joe's 12 inch tall roots. They released four commemorative boxed individual figure sets of a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, and Pilot. All of these 3 3/4 inch figures were based on classic era military designs. As a special bonus, Hasbro also released a 5 figure boxed set. This contained the same 4 figures, though the sailor and pilot were recolored, as well as an exclusive figure that was not available by himself. The Action Astronaut was that extra figure and is a guy that I think deserves some notoriety.

As a figure and compared to the other 1994 Star Brigade figures, the Action Astronaut is very bland. He has no expression on his face, and the mold lacks any great detail. Of the 5 30th Anniversary figures, I would say that he is most mundane. However, he is supposed to be that way. The early astronauts did not have the modern trappings of his contemporary figures. Also, he is not a combat astronaut, he is a scientist, explorer, and adventurer. When viewed in his historical context, this figure is very well done. The simple helmet with face shield and the small control box on his chest are all the extra molding and accessories he has. They make the figure seem like an astronaut from the space program's early days. In this capacity, he succeeds marvelously.

This figure has some other small significance to the Joe line. It seems, back in '94, Hasbro was going to release this figure along with a full sized Mercury rocket. The rocket would have been very tall, and very detailed. It was going to be a supplemental to the 30th Anniversary set. However, high costs of production kept the rocket from ever becoming reality. Instead, this figure was released, along with his space capsule, in a boxed set with other figures. No 30th Anniversary playsets ever made it to production. The story is a sad reminder of Joe's final days when Hasbro felt that large toys were retail death. It also shows that despite many modern collectors' gripes about the '94 line, there was still great inspiration behind it. It was corporate stupidity that never allowed many of the possibly great toys from being released. Again, though, it is another look at what might have been.

It seems this profile has run out of steam. It's happened to me before, though not for quite some time. At any rate, while this figure seems very cool upon initial appearances, I really don't have many uses for him. While he might work in the Defiant Space Shuttle or even the Crusader, there are so many other, better astronaut figures in the Joe line that I don't have any real need for this guy. He looks great and has an air of authenticity that fleshes out dioramas and displays. As a toy, though, the figure can't live up to his better molded contemporaries. There's no shame in that. This figure wasn't designed as a toy. He is one of the few figures released in the Joe line with that distinction.

In 2005, Hasbro brought this mold back in the comic packs as Flash. The figure features a new head, though it is similar to the original Action Astronaut's. But, the figure's body is pretty much the same as this original version. As such, if you're looking for a cheap and easy to find alternative, well, the Flash really isn't it as he was part of the series of comic packs that were short produced at retail. So, while neither of the figures that use this mold are expensive, they can take longer to find than most collectors are willing to spend for a mold of this type.

Back in '94, these guys were sold as "collectibles". They were marketed as a keepsake rather than a toy. Now, 7 years later, you can still easily purchase boxed sets of the 30th Anniversary team for right at, if not under, their original retail price. I'm sure many speculators and dealers got severely burned on this set, but that just shows how volatile the toy market is. Now, these sets are easily acquired. Of course, finding a loose one is fairly tough. It took me nearly 2 years to do that. It cost me considerably less than a boxed set, though even those can be had for under $30. With that in mind, people don't really want these guys. While the figures are good, they are not really in line with other Joe figures. As such, collector interest really isn't there. Some years from now, I still don't see these guys being highly sought after. While this guy and the repaints of the Sailor and Pilot are certainly among the least produced figures in the entire line, the figures are rather bland and uninspiring. What made Joe was the characters. Without these personalities, these figures are doomed to a lifetime of obscurity. Of course, that means that for people like me who find these guys eerily cool, they can, and will be able to, be had for cheap prices in desired quantities for some time to come. That's the way Joe figures should be.

I've now got all 7 versions of the 30th Anniversary figures. Surprisingly enough, I don't want any more. However, if you have a 1987 Payload that you want to trade, email me.

1994 Action Astronaut, 30th Anniversary Set, Lifeline, Blackstar

1994 Action Astronaut, 30th Anniversary Set, Lifeline, Blackstar

Thursday, October 4, 2001

2000 Wild Bill

Many times, I referred to the days when I first returned to Joe collecting. It was in '92 and '93 and I didn't buy too many new figures. Mostly, I stuck to character that I knew or figures that looked really cool and had good accessories. One of the figures I picked in late '94 or early '95 was the 1992 Wild Bill. He had a decent look, cool enough accessories, and a nice hat that I thought was really cool. I sided this guy with my 1994 Flint and my '87 Mercer. They were a mercenary team that helped Joe, but wasn't really on their side. Naturally, this lead to a great deal of use for this figure and made him one of my favorites for a short time.

Like most of the figures I acquired back in the mid 90's, Wild Bill is still a sentimental favorite of mine. I only purchased a few figures at retail back then and my collection was very small. I wanted to find most of the figures that were showcased on the package art, but by then, most Joe figures were gone from retail. The few you could find, I snatched up even if it meant paying for the figure in dimes and nickles. That scenario, though, afforded me a greater appreciation for the figures I could find. I was able to let my imagination run wild with my small contingent. I only had a few Cobras at retail so I had to use some other figures in more creative ways to really expand my horizons. Wild Bill was an integral part in this and saw use in a wide variety of areas. He started as a villain. He then became a secret agent that was on the Joe's side. After that, he became a maverick that really only looked out for himself. Keeping the character represented by the original figure allowed me to use this guy any way I wanted.

When I first saw the picture of the 2000 repaint of the '92 Wild Bill mold, I was excited. It was very cool and something that I thought I would want. As per my M.O., though, I passed on the Locust for a long time after it came out. I finally got one for Christmas and was really amazed at how well done it was. There was a lot of collector sentiment against the Locust. The colors were bizarre and not everyone was as sold on the use of this Wild Bill mold as I was. This gave me rather low expectations for the Locust, but I was happily surprised. The chopper is actually very nice and fun to use. The fact that Wild Bill was a better colored version of my favorite mold of his was just an added bonus. I've been very happy with the inclusion of many later year Joe molds in the new line. Many were well done, just poorly colored. Now that they have a chance to do them over the right way, we are really seeing the potential many of these previously forgotten molds held.

Back in 1994 or 1995, I created another faction for Joes to fight. In other profiles I've alluded to how Cobra has moved to South America and started their operations down there. During the initial phases of this plan, Joe was out of the picture. Cobra's movements were so secret that the Joes had no clue what was going on. During this, I introduced a new contingent of mercenaries who were operating is former Cobra controlled areas. Cobra was quiet and didn't want to bring attention to themselves, so they called in the government for help ridding them of these mercenaries. Wild Bill and the 1994 Flint were two of the best, most important, and most mysterious mercenaries in this bunch. While the Joes pursued these guys, so did the remains of the Cobra forces. The three faction story where everyone is enemies made for some interesting times. However, there was a slight twist. The character portrayed by Wild Bill was secretly in cahoots with a high ranking military officer represented by General Flagg. By using Wild Bill, Flagg was able return under the command of his old acquaintance General Hawk. Basically, Flagg represented a splinter group I had created in my childhood. By using Wild Bill, I was able to tie together a number of old elements of my Joe world before I really launched into the whole South American invasion that has been my primary focus for the past 7 years.

The 2000 Wild Bill was only available with the Locust helicopter. Now, almost a year later, you can still occasionally find one of these buried on a store shelf. Target stores, though, clearanced them out at $3.24. With that kind of a deal, you can't afford to not add this guy to your collection. As time goes on, I think some of the original wave 2000 series Joes will really start to become tough to track down for affordable prices on the second hand market. I don't see Wild Bill in that category. The cheap Locusts were a boon for customizers everywhere. I've seen dozens of people who took a Locust and converted it to something much more exciting. You can be sure that all those extra Wild Bills will one day find their way into the hands of people who never bothered with the vehicles. Like all things available retail, though, I still think that if you're waiting to buy this guy, you should act now. You can never predict what product that is available at retail today will become the hard to find on the second market tomorrow. In fact, history has shown that the figures and vehicles that have been pegwarmers and clearance fodder of the past few years have become tough to find after they disappear from retail. Tough to find doesn't always equate to expensive, but that's not a chance I would want to take. At any rate, I've got my figure and really enjoy him. I think you will as well.

P.S. If you are a fan of the original Wild Bill mold, keep your eyes out for a planned Funskool release from India. There is an original mold Wild Bill figure planned for later this year. I don't know what it will look like, but when Funskool is involved, there's always great potential.

This is a nice figure, but not one of whom I build armies. Did you get all the Wave I army builders you wanted? Let me know.

2000 Wild Bill, ARAHC, Dragonfly, 1993 Ace, Funskool Night Viper

2000 Wild Bill, ARAHC, Dragonfly, 1993 Ace, Funskool Night Viper

2000 Wild Bill, ARAHC, Dragonfly, 1993 Ace, Funskool Night Viper