Wednesday, November 10, 2004

1993 Cyber Viper - Mega Marines

Five years ago today, I posted two little write ups of the Decimator and Battle Rangers Flint onto some obscure webspace and called it, for lack of a better name, Mike's G.I. Joe Page. Since then, the site has grown in size, scope and purpose and has become the part of collection of which I am the most proud. Lately, though, collecting Joe has become troublesome for me. I have found that I no longer get the joy out the collecting experience that I once did. My writings have become darker and more negative and my general outlook on the collecting world has become very different from what it was just five short years ago. That isn't to say that my anger and frustrations are misplaced. This hobby suffers from incredible behind the scenes politics that often result in decisions and products that are simply ridiculous. As such, collectors have been subjected to a lot of crap in recent years and most of it has not been offset by the good we have also seen. This has lead me to a greater focus on my vintage collection in the hopes that I will find more solace there. Enough with this, though. The true purpose of this profile is to showcase one of the brightest figures ever offered in the history of the Joe line: the 1993 Cyber Viper.

The Cyber Viper is a perfect choice for my 5th anniversary figure due to his bright, neon colors and relative obscurity. The fact that he is a decent sculpt also allows me another chance to pontificate on a theme that I simply can not drive home enough. Beyond that, the figure is actually rather hard to find, especially if you want him complete. That all makes him a perfect fit for the theme of this site and really makes me wonder why I haven't examined this figure prior to now.

If you look at the Cyber Viper, you see that it actually has potential. The figure is well detailed and shows the thoughtful design that was so often wasted in 1993 and 1994. As such, this figure is an excellent candidate for re-release. However, my feeling is that the notion of the Cyber Viper should be avoided. When I look at this mold, I really see this figure as a great update to the classic Tele-Viper figure. The Cyber Viper's look is reminiscent of the Tele-Viper and, with the V1 Tele-Viper's color scheme, would look like an updated version of the classic Cobra trooper. In my opinion, this is how Hasbro should approach their ARAH Joe repaint sets. Rather than focus solely on earlier molds who were done right the first time, they should spend some time mining the wealth of molds from the end of the line that were poorly colored the first time around. In the cases where they have done this: Mirage, Swamp Viper, Barricade, the results have often been great figures that would otherwise have remained on the lines' scrap heap. I would much rather purchase figures in this vein than getting the same molds over and over again. I'm not terribly optimistic that 2005 will bring us more examples of this, but hold out hope that Hasbro will at least attempt to resurrect some molds who are in desperate need of a non-neon repaint.

The Cyber Vipers, according to their filecards, are pet projects of Dr. Mindbender. They are a mix of robotic and human parts designed to take advantage of the strengths of both sides. The notion of cyborgs is rather useless to me, but I could see highly technical troops being a key component of Dr. Mindbender's laboratory. It is in the this vein that the Cyber Viper finds the most use in my collection. They are highly trained technical troops who work on a variety of high end projects. Some may work in bio-engineering while others spend their time focused on robotics. They are a diverse bunch who are the highest ranking science officers within the Cobra hierarchy. Their bright uniforms are symbols that they are non-combatants who spend little time in military training. Those Cyber Vipers who are capable of combat, though, are the ones who do appear in the field from time to time in order to oversee some technical battlefield component. Even then, though, they are usually tucked away where they are not seen until something has gone horribly wrong.

Due to their bright colors, the Cyber Vipers aren't that useful in a collection. If you have managed to build a laboratory for Dr. Mindbender or Venomous Maximus, then you might be able to find a niche role for the figure. Other than that, though, the Cyber Viper joins other neon creations from 1993 and 1994 at the bottom of the Joe collecting barrel. It is doubtful that he will ever be able to climb out without a repaint of some sort. I though, do like the bright colors. They are visually striking and provide some breaks in the dull palette that has infected the modern ARAH Joe releases. I use them mainly as support troops for Cobra operations. They man the computer banks that keep the high tech operations of Cobra running. I use them as a more highly specialized Techno-Viper. They aren't the field mechanics. Instead, they are a more technically savvy branch of Cobra operations. Of course, this also means that they are less disposed to combat operations and I rarely use a Cyber Viper in any combat situation.

Truth be told, Cyber Vipers are kind of hard to find. They were part of the Mega Marines series that didn't see the same type of production run that the regular release figures did. As such, they are probably much rarer than other run-of-the-mill 1993 figures. That does not mean, though, that they are expensive. Even mint, complete with filecard specimens will rarely break the $12 price point. The horrid color scheme and odd specialty will forever relegate this figure to the bottom of the Joe hierarchy. He has little use in most collections and is rarely thought of as anything other than a complete oddity. As such, you don't see the figures offered for sale or trade all that often. When you do, there are rarely many collectors who compete for the figure. The Cyber Viper is just another forgotten 1993 neon army builder who, were he differently colored, could be a great figure. But, nothing will really save the original from his fate. While a neat part of a collection, the Cyber Viper is destined to an eternity of obscurity.

1993 Cyber Viper, Mega Marines, Detonator

1993 Cyber Viper, Mega Marines, Detonator, Flak Viper

1993 Cyber Viper, Mega Marines, Corrosao, Estrela, Forca Eco, Eco Warriors, Brazil, 1994 Viper

1993 Cyber Viper, Mega Marines, Corrosao, Estrela, Forca Eco, Eco Warriors, Brazil, 1994 Viper


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

1995 Paratrooper Guile (Street Fighter: The Movie)

Many years ago, I profiled a lone Star Wars figure. At that time, I vowed to never showcase another Star Wars figure again. Since then, every figure I have profiled has been, at least in some way, affiliated with G.I. Joe. Technically, the subject of this profile is not a G.I. Joe figure. However, his body is taken directly from a Joe mold and he was released at a time when Hasbro was trying to squeeze every penny they could from every Joe mold they had since the end was near. In late 1994, Hasbro released an obscure line of figures that were to tie into the awful Street Fighter movie. Unlike the Street Fighter 2 figures that are part of the Joe line, these movie figures were completely separate from Joe, even though they shared many molds in common. Many of these figures are the martial arts type figures that have little use in my collection. However, there are a few hidden gems in the Street Fighter line. One is the Paratrooper Guile.

There were at least 7 versions of Guile that were released in the Street Fighter line that shared the same head. Most of the bodies was taken from a previously released Joe figure and was intended to give kids the opportunity to use the Guile character in just about any imaginable environment. The Paratrooper Guile figure used the body from the 1992 Ace figure. The Arctic Assault Guile used the body from the 1988 Blizzard figure. The Rock Trooper Guile used the body from the 1991 Dusty figure. The Night Fighter Guile used the body from the 1991 Snake Eyes figure. The Navy SEAL Guile used the body from the 1992 Wet Suit figure. The other 2 Guiles used slightly different construction that is similar to the later Ninja Force figures in the sense that the figure's articulation is limited. (Fused waist) It is the 5 figures who use the classic Joe bodies, though, who hold collector attention. Each is usefully colored and includes newly colored accessories from the vintage Joe line. Some (like the black helmet with the Night Fighter Guile or the green Snow Serpent guns with Rock Trooper Guile) are great repaints that can be easily integrated into any Joe collection. Others (the baby-blue Deep Six diving bell that comes with Arctic Assault Guile) make no sense and have little use.

The reason I like the Paratrooper Guile figure is mainly because I like the Ace mold from which he is created. I also like the bright orange color scheme. While orange has long been the bane of collectors (despite Hasbro's best efforts to use it) it does work in certain situations. Among those situations would be a rescue pilot. These troops would wear the bright orange as not only a symbol of their purpose, but also as a means to assist them in their duties. This is the role I have assigned to the Paratrooper Guile in my Joe collection. He is a rescue pilot who is also capable of serving in combat. He is certainly not a large part of my collection but remains a figure who can bring something different to the table in specific situations. The Joe line is so vast that figures like this comprise a large part of it. However, this allows the modern collector to find any niche and fill it with a larger sample of figures than most other toy lines allow.

Aside from the mold that was taken from the original Joe line, the Paratrooper Guile's accessories were as well. He included the helmet and mask that originally came with Ace. However, due to the design of Guile's head, the helmet will not fit onto his head properly. This makes the figure less useful. But, as Ace heads of that mold are easily found, a simple headswap makes either a new uniform for Ace or a covered Guile head that doesn't look ridiculous. On top of that, this figure also included a silver version of Big Ben's rifle. At the time, this was a cool accessory as the Big Ben rifle was still somewhat unique. Now, though, that gun has been used so many times in the re-releases that is seems overdone with this figure. The part of Guile that made him the paratrooper, though, is the parachute pack. The black pack with solid white parachute are of the same design as was available via mail order and with the Sky Patrol figures. All of the Street Fighter Movie Guiles included new takes on classic Joe accessories. Some of them are worth tracking down for just the included pieces as they are a new way to expand a Joe collection into something a little more unique.

As the Joe line ended its original retail run, Hasbro scrambled to utilize whatever molds it could in order to cut costs of other, lesser toylines. As such, G.I. Joe molds were used things like the Street Fighter and Mortal Combat movie lines. (In fact, the Mortal Combat movie line of figures contains many of the parts that were intended for use in the ill-fated Ninja Commandoes line of Joes: the only way for collectors to really acquire them.) Hasbro also sold off a few molds to the now-defunct Olmec toy company who produced them in a set of figures called the Bronze Bombers. Other, more obscure toy lines also re-used Joe parts. Many were licensed tie ins and the parts were recycled in order to cut the costs for toy properties whose shelf life was known to be limited. The Joe line was so large, though, that the wealth of molds offered Hasbro a chance to move into different things with reduced risk at a time when toys in general were looking for an identity in the marketplace. The nice thing about this is that it gives today's Joe collector a wider arena in which to find pieces that are not only Joe compatible, but actual re-uses of original G.I. Joe molds. When the current run of Joe products ends its production life, it will be interesting to see where Joe molds continue to make appearances.

For a time, it appeared that Hasbro did not have access to the Guile figure molds. In the chaos surrounding the end of the Joe line, they may have been misplaced, mislabeled, or just packed separately from the rest of the G.I. Joe stuff. However, since 1997, most of the Guile figure molds have been reused. (The NF Guile Snake Eyes mold will appear at the end of this year in the Desert Strike Force set.) The one who is missing is the Arctic Assault Guile who utilized the Blizzard mold. However, if Hasbro has tracked down all the other molds, it would stand to reason that Blizzard may be back in the fold as well. As the 2005 G.I. Joe Convention is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an arctic themed Convention set seems like a good bet. If this comes to pass, perhaps the Blizzard mold will finally return. I can imagine that a good many collectors would like that.

Paratrooper Guiles (as well as the rest of the Street Fighter Movie figures) can be tough to track down. The movie was a flop and kids didn't really take to toys based on the video game. As such, these figures didn't see high production numbers. In fact, many of them ended up in the clearance bins of KB Toy Stores around the country. As late as 1997, you could still find an occasional beat up figure in the stores. What this means, though, is that Paratrooper Guiles are most often found in one of two conditions. They are either loose, incomplete and exhibit some paint wear as they were cheaply bought on clearance by a parent and given to a child who used the figure, or, they are MOC: usually salvaged by a toy dealer from the clearance bins in hopes that these figures would one day be popular. The end result is that while these figures are tough to find, they still routinely sell for under $20 for a MOC figure. Since these figures are not, technically, G.I. Joe figures, they are under most collector's radar and have remained in relative obscurity since their original release. They are, though, a great way to grow a collection and add something much more unique than many of the common Joe figures. You just have to take the time to find them.

1995 Paratrooper Guile, Street Fight, 2003 Viper

1995 Paratrooper Guile, Street Fight, 2003 Alley Viper

1995 Paratrooper Guile, Street Fight, 2004 Urban Nullifier, Flak Viper

Monday, September 20, 2004

2004 Urban Assault Scrap Iron

In the early days of this site, I profiled the only American release of Scrap Iron. I've never been satisfied with that profile and thought many times of showcasing the Funskool version so I could better examine the figure. However, Hasbro managed to spare me that when they announced a new version of Scrap Iron in the Cobra Urban Assault Team. While the figure is very similar to his original version, it still offers me another opportunity to re-evaluate the Scrap Iron character.

On the surface, this version of Scrap Iron isn't too much different from the original. His base color is black rather than Cobra blue, but his details are painted the same way and didn't stray too far from the original design of the figure. The most notable difference in color, though, is the helmet. Rather than be all black, this version draws from the original Joe cartoon and uses a grey helmet. This is enough of a difference to make the figure worth owning, but I would have liked to have seen a little more creativity in the overall figure's design as that would have made him more distinguishable from the original. However, there are some areas where this figure is definitely different. This version of Scrap Iron uses the legs from the Cobra Infantry Trooper and the arms from Thunder. It also appears that the Scrap Iron head is a totally new sculpt. It was obviously based upon the original, but there are slight differences which suggest that this is a completely new piece created for this set. The inclusion of these parts is interesting. Scrap Iron has enjoyed a long release life in India. However, anyone who has owned a version of the Funskool Scrap Iron that was made in 2002-2003 can tell you that the figure quality is not the best. As such, my guess is that the mold that was re-acquired from Funskool was no longer up to Hasbro quality standards and these other pieces had to be utilized to produce the figure in a way that would pass muster.

This version of Scrap Iron also suffers from terrible accessory choices. While many of the 6 figure packs have included horrid accessories, the Urban Set includes many accessories that make sense. Stormshadow, Firefly, Alley Viper and Night Creeper all have accessories that are at least partly their original gear. The Nullifier/Flak Viper does not have his original gear but does have a couple of guns that at least look decent with the figure. Scrap Iron, though, was the odd man out. He includes a hodge-podge of weapons that are unrelated to his specialty. Worst of all, his pack is bright green: matching nothing else in the entire set. It seems to me that Hasbro simply had a large stock over left-over accessories from various figures and included them with Scrap Iron to cut costs. Fortunately, the original Scrap Iron's accessories are rather easy to find. Or, you can just drop $4 and buy a Funskool Scrap Iron from your favorite online dealer and outfit your Urban Scrap Iron with proper accessories that way.

Unfortunately, this version of Scrap Iron removed one of the most distinguishing features of the Scrap Iron mold: those little spikes molded onto his leg. Many collectors have wondered about the purpose of those spikes as they came with no explanation. I have always used them as either bomb making tools or poison darts that he uses in close quarter combat. However, the mystery of those leg spikes has finally been revealed. Recently, a schematic of the Scrap Iron has appeared. However, the figure is not Scrap Iron. The drawing by Ron Rudat (of Dusty fame) is dated 3/24/83 and shows a design that uses the Scrap Iron body. However, the figure is a Joe. He is named Alpine Trooper and has a head that appears to be a hybrid between Alpine and Cross-Country. The figure has a rope over his right shoulder, though it is unclear as to whether this would have been part of the mold or a removable accessory. The spikes on Scrap Iron's legs are clearly mountain climbing equipment and fit perfectly within the theme of the figure had he been released in this format. For whatever reason, though, Hasbro chose not to pursue this design. It is unclear how far into the process this Alpine Trooper progressed into the production process. However, as Scrap Iron used his initial design, it stands to reason that he went further into the process than other unfinished concepts.

This brings forth the question of: what other Joe figures were originally designed with other purposes in mind? In my Tele-Viper profile, I discuss my feelings that that particular figure mold was either rushed or unfinished in its design. The Overlord figure design was originally intended to be a version of Cobra Commander. The appearance of this Alpine Trooper drawing indicates that changes to a figure could occur relatively late in the production process and that Hasbro was interested in using parts they spend money to create. Thus, there could be any number of other Joe figures in the line who were originally designed as either another character or for another specialty. Hopefully, as collectors continue to track down original Hasbro material like the Alpine Trooper drawing, more instances of this type of late change to a figure will surface. They are a fascinating look into the creative process for these early figures and show that there are still many untold stories of the Joe line.

Scrap Iron's place in my Joe world is a bit out of sorts. My main Cobra focus continues to be on younger, newer characters (who are often represented by Brazilian exclusive figures) rather than the established Cobra hierarchy. As such, I don't use Scrap Iron all that often anymore. However, that plays perfectly into the creepy persona I have created for him. On the original Scrap Iron's filecard, it makes reference to the fact that he wants to "blow up the world". I have taken this little tidbit and used it as a central point in Scrap Iron's personality. I see Scrap Iron as an older war horse who has seen more than his share of combat-borne misery. (The scar on his cheek hints at a life of great turmoil.) As such, he has become a jaded individual who now borders on insanity. He is, at his heart, truly evil: a man who would destroy all of civilization if for no other reason that doing so would cause so many others to suffer. Beneath his sunken cheeks, he has a glint in his eye. It shows the blackness in his soul that causes even the heathens in Cobra's employ to slink away in fear whenever Scrap Iron is around. As such, Scrap Iron is carefully tucked away in Cobra's weapons development laboratories where he oversees the creation of Cobra's newest mechanical monstrosities. On rare occasion, he does venture forth into the world. Often times, he accompanies Major Bludd on clandestine missions inside the continental United States. These missions are highly secret and usually result in the demise of whomever they come into contact with. These sojourns, though, are always brief as even Cobra's top commanders fear that, left to his own devices for too long, Scrap Iron would be capable of becoming a rouge and could cause some sort of calamity that would affect even the evil minds of Cobra. So, Scrap Iron is most often secured away in his lab, away from anything of true destructive power, where he can solemnly contemplate his dark thoughts without having access to the means that could make them a reality.

The Scrap Iron mold was left alone for a long time before it finally got some use. After the figure's original run in 1984 and 1985, it sat dormant for the better part of a decade before it was dusted off by Funskool and put into production in India. This figure was released in various intervals for many years. After Funskool stopped producing Joe figures, the character appeared in this Urban Strike set and again in a comic pack in 2005. The mold took an interesting turn in 2007 when it was used as the base for the Convention Zap figure. This version was colored differently enough that the Zap would not be confused with Scrap Iron and was a rare example of how to do a repaint into another character the right way. At this point, there isn't much to do with the Scrap Iron character or mold. Scrap Iron collectors have their fill and probably don't need any other, new versions. But, this is a character who has some potential and I could certainly stomach another Scrap Iron figure somewhere down the line.

The Urban Strike Teams seems to have been generally well accepted by collectors. The inclusion of the now overused Firefly, Alley Viper and Storm Shadow has kept it from being a great set. But, the other figures and overall color choices have made it a strong item with certain figures that will remain popular after it's retail sales period. Unfortunately, Scrap Iron is probably not among them. While a good figure, those who army built this set will have their fill of the Scrap Iron figure and trade away the extras. This will prevent this figure from remaining popular as he will be readily available for years to come. That is a bit unfortunate as the figure is well done and deserves a fate better than that of figures like the '01 Major Bludd who were also good repaints who became the bane of army-builders' collections. My guess is that any collector who wishes to acquire a Scrap Iron at some point in the future will be easily able to do so. And, they will be able to do it without spending a large amount of money. That isn't a bad thing as Scrap Iron is a cool character and a villain who deserves to be a part of every Joe collection.

2004 Urban Assault Scrap Iron, Cobra Trooper, 1995 Paratrooper Guile

2004 Urban Assault Scrap Iron, Cobra Trooper, 1995 Night Fighter Guile, Alpinista, Brazil, estrela, Hit and Run

2004 Urban Assault Scrap Iron, Cobra Trooper, 1995 Night Fighter Guile, Alpinista, Brazil, estrela, Hit and Run

Friday, August 27, 2004

2004 Barricade (Anti-Venom)

For years, I have felt that Hasbro's approach to repaints has been misplaced. They have largely focused on releasing figure molds that have been repainted a number of times and represent major characters. In some cases, this approach has worked. Most of the time, though, collectors are left with a figure that is inferior to the original paint job, yet not something different enough to overlook the poor color schemes. There have been a few times, though, where Hasbro has really gotten it right. In select cases, Hasbro has pulled out an obscure mold from the '90's who was poorly painted the first time around and given the mold a new lease on life through a superior repaint. In my opinion, most of the figures released prior to 1991 were properly colored and are difficult to improve upon. (There are, of course, exceptions.) It is the high quality molds from 1992, 1993 and 1994 that were poorly painted the first time around that are in so desperate need of a quality repaint. While Hasbro has, for the most part, ignored this tactic, they do pull a specific example out every once in a while. The most recent example is the Anti-Venom Barricade.

The Barricade mold has appeared on this site only once before, but as the character Gears. That figure was profiled for its rarity, not the quality of the mold. This figure is showcased for the simple reason that is a repaint done right. While Barricade mold has always been very detailed, it took this figure to finally offer collectors a version with a paint application that brought that detail to life. The metallic olive paint on Barricade's body armour showcases that particular feature in a way that breathes realism into this figure mold and accentuates, for the first time, the level of detail that was given to this character. The cammoed tan base color allows this figure to be used in both desert and urban settings and offers the versatility in color that I look for in a Joe figure.

I've long used Barricade as more a specialist on the Joe team. I've never looked at the Joe team as being totally comprised of the best of the best of the best at everything. In a setting like that, egos would be massive, toes would be stepped on and the team as a unit would have inherent dissension that would undermine its effectiveness. As such, I've viewed the Joe team as a different hybrid. There are a few "superstars" on the team: guys who are capable of amazing feats who are highly gifted and even more highly trained. However, the bulk of the team is guys like Barricade. They are people who are the best at one particular task. Taken out of their specific element, they are entirely average. As such, the team has the environmental or situational specialists who are along to perform a specific task or series of tasks on a particular mission. After they are done, the other Joes know they can be counted on to do their best when the circumstances call for improvisation. But, the other Joes also know that these specialists are not ideally suited for changes in a mission and can not be expected to perform on the same levels as other specialists might. This creates a more realistic symbyism for me as it makes the Joes more human and keeps the team more in line with what you find in the real world.

The Anti-Venom set is a mixed bag. To me, it succeeds on a few levels, takes some daring chances but still fails spectacularly in one of the most important elements. First off, the character selection of this set is well done. It is a given that all Joe sets of this nature are going to require the presence of some major characters. Whether collectors like it or not, this is how it is going to be. As such, this set features the mainstays of Duke and Roadblock. The Roadblock is the high quality 1992 version. This figure hasn't been seen in the US in over a decade. However, the fact that he was a widely available Funskool release coupled with Roadblock's presence in the Night Force set makes this figure less likable. He is, though, a solid color scheme and a useful figure. The same can not be said for Duke. Duke is the highly dated V1 mold from 1984. (There are some modifications to the construction, but they are minor.) He is just goofy and his lack of accessories make this figure absolutely useless. Hasbro just used part of the 1993 Duke in a Comic Pack. Why the lousy '84 mold was chosen over that one is beyond me.

The next two characters are Lifeline and Mutt. Both of these figures are what I would consider secondary characters. They have a fan following, but are not in the first tier of popularity. As such, they are great inclusions as they do increase interest in the set. The Lifeline figure is actually the Stretcher mold. In what I think is a first for a US figure, though, the black complexion of Stretcher was changed to a Caucasian Lifeline. This is a rather daring maneuver on Hasbro's part and I think it worked. The Lifeline figure is not easily confused with Stretcher and Hasbro added some new looks to Lifeline's persona. As this figure includes all of Stretcher's original gear, it makes it a top notch figure. The Mutt is less so, though. Mutt is mostly the 1984 version with some new parts. That mold still looks good and is a welcome sight since the V2 Mutt mold was just used in the Convention set. Mutt's colors are solid and he does include Junkyard. Where he fails, though, are in his accessories. But, more on that later.

The final two figures are what makes this set so interesting. Charbroil and Barricade are two obscure characters who have almost no fan following at all. The fact that Hasbro dusted them off for this set is really a treat after we have been subject to rehash after rehash of the same tired Joe molds for nearly 3 years. Charbroil is visually interesting but not spectacular. However, his mold is difficult to really energize. He does include most of his original accessories and this is a great way to put an older, forgotten character back in front of collectors. Barricade is the star of the bunch, though. He is painted in a way that accentuates his mold without being overbearing. He does not have the contrasting colors that you see on other figures in this set and includes his original gun. He is a perfect update to an underutilized original mold.

Where this set fails as a whole, though, is the same area in which the other 6 packs have failed: the accessories. This set starts strongly enough with Roadblock including the original Browning .50 cal (even if it is now overused) and backpack. Lifeline has all the accessories that were included with the mold's original release. Charbroil has most of his original accessories and Barricade has his original gun. Duke and Mutt, though, were simply given overstock weapons of which we have seen too many. They lack the special accessories that are integral parts of their character. Mutt is defined by his mask. Lacking that, the character seems half finished. The biggest sacrilege of all though is the helmets. All the figures save Lifeline include a hollowed out Steel Brigade helmet. In and of itself, this is OK as the accessory is new. However, putting 5 Joes into the same, nondescript helmet run counter to the very notion of what Joe is about. G.I. Joe is not about anonymous army guys fighting bad guys. Instead, it is about the characters and the personalities who comprise that team. Putting these helmets on these figures strips them of their individuality and firmly carves out the very thing that made Joe so popular for over 2 decades. On top of that, these helmets were included in lieu of 3 distinct helmets: Charbroil, Barricade and Mutt that defined the characters who wore them. As such, this entire set fails as it takes these characters out of their element and makes them closer to the generic military lines that clog the clearance aisle of every discount store in America.

No version of Barricade is expensive. While the red version from 1993 can be tougher to track down, you can still buy one for under $8. This version of Barricade will be no different. Toys R Us ordered somewhere around 20,000 of these sets and, as there are no army builders in it, they will be hard pressed to sell them all without the Christmas holiday. Collectors who want this set can easily find it (You can get them from Amazon.com, too.) and will get their fill at this point. As such, I don't foresee there ever being a collector demand for this set that will push the figure prices to much over the original retail cost. That isn't to say, though, that this figure isn't one that collectors could enjoy. He is one of the best Joe affiliated figures to be released in a 6 pack in a long time and is a great update to an obscure character. That alone makes him worth adding to your collection.

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Urban Assault Firefly

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, TRU Exclusive, Lifeline, 1991 Rampart, 2001 Laser Viper

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Urban Assault Firefly

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Night Force Flint, Funskool Ripper

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, TRU Exclusive, 2002 Night Rhino, Stalker Desert Strike, 2005 Night Watch Trooper, Officer, 1988 Repeater

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Corrosao (Brazilian Exclusive Cobra Eco-Warriors Dee-Jay)

The history of this site is riddled with foreign exclusive Joe figures. Foreign Joes are one of the areas where collectors can continue to grow their collections even after the American line has run its course for them. While many countries have produced exclusive versions of G.I. Joe figures, those from Brazil tend to be the most unique. Indian figures are, for the most part, just recolors of American characters. The same is true of those figures from Europe. (Except for the Action Force repaints.) Argentina produced a few exclusive characters, but the line there was very small. In Brazil, though, the Estrela toy company produced unique repaints of American figures but also churned out many characters who were exclusive to that country. Among them is a hidden gem of my collection: Corrosao.

Who is Corrosao? If you read my profile of Letal, you would know that Corrosao is the same character in my Joeverse. I just can't have two South American bio-terrorists in my collection. As such, it makes more sense for Letal and Corrosao to be one person. The Letal suit is for when he is either in the field or working directly with dangerous chemicals while this suit is more suited for his lab work or after hours business dealings with the Cobra hierarchy. This gives the character more versatility in my collection and gives me uses for both the Corrosao and Letal figures. Corrosao is not a major player in my collection, but he fills the role of a lesser character who helps to flesh out my Joeverse. One of the strengths of the Joe line is the diversity in character. You can find a figure to fit just about any niche, no matter how obscure or specialized. The minor characters give the story depth and prevent the major players from becoming overexposed. While marketing data suggests that kids enjoy major characters, I don think that Hasbro should continue to explore other, lesser players in the Joe world. That will allow for a more diverse line that will maintain the attention of toy buyers for a much longer time. (The same holds true of army builders. All army builders and no characters makes for a dull line!)

Like the other Brazilian exclusive figure the Cobra Black Vulture, Corrosao uses a Caucasian version of the Dee-Jay head. Dee-Jay was released in the U.S. as black but was twice used as a Caucasian villain's head in Brazil. Unlike the Vulture figure, though, Corrosao utilizes the rest of the Dee-Jay and is not amalgamated from other figure parts. Were Dee-Jay a more popular figure, I think this would pose a problem. However, Dee-Jay may be the single least sought after in the entire American Joe line. His obscurity allows me to use his mold on Corrosao without having to worry about both Corrosao and Dee-Jay appearing in the same scene. (Such is not the case with other Brazilian exclusives like Urzor.)

The Dee-Jay mold was released in the U.S. in 1989. Shortly thereafter, it was sent down to Brazil. Here, it was used as part of exclusive amalgamations. However, in 1993, Hasbro re-released Dee-Jay as the 4th member of the Arctic Commandos mail away set. This new Dee-Jay was produced in bright, neon colors that would have made him easy to find in the ice and snow. However, the Dee-Jay figure was bagged separately from the other three members of that set. The reason was that the Dee-Jay figure was actually produced in Brazil for use by Hasbro. Rather than re-acquire the mold, Hasbro contracted Estrela to manufacture the new Dee-Jay figures. They were then bagged and sent to Hasbro who packaged them with the other figures to make the set. As such, you may notice a few similarities between Corrosao and the arctic Dee-Jay. The reason is that they were produced by the same people. (Whether Estrela got to choose the color scheme for the arctic Dee Jay, though, remains a mystery.)

While this figure is interesting enough, I don't feel the need for Hasbro to ever release the Dee-Jay mold again. I think it is one of those that is best left on history's scrap-pile. However, I do think that Hasbro could look to some of the foreign figure concepts as a way to expand the ARAH-style Joe mythos. While I don't want Hasbro to re-release their renditions of foreign figures, I do think they could look at how some of the other Joe producing cultures have interpreted the line. I think that, done right, a Cobra Eco-Terrorism figure set could be very well done. Toxo-Vipers are cool figures that have long suffered from a color scheme that collectors tend to dislike. BATs are perfect for toxic waste duty. (And Cobra can then avoid unpleasantries like the Toxo-Zombies!) And, it would be fairly easy for Hasbro to create a new Cobra villain who would lead such a brigade. In my opinion, a set like this could draw upon the international legacy of the Joe line while still capturing the essence of the American story-line. It could also tie the new toys into some of the more glaring realities (like bio-terrorism) of the modern world. I think that this would be an interesting avenue for Hasbro to attempt with their ARAH-style Joe re-releases. Done right, I think collectors would respond favorably.

If you look at Corrosao's card art, you might think it seems familiar. While the artwork itself is unique, the pose on the card is not. It is a near match for the art on the American Toxo-Zombie figure. If you look at the other Brazilian Eco-Warrior's cards, you will notice the same phenomenon. In fact, Funskool continues to mimic Hasbro art poses to this day on their exclusive card art. Chances are, the Hasbro art templates that were used to create these eye-catching sketches were (and still are!) used by foreign toy companies as the poses could easily be adapted without the artist having to re-evaluate the space available to him on the canvas of the cardback. The poses worked in their intended space so foreign companies could use them to save design time. (You will note that Brazilian Eco-Warrior cardbacks are oversized, just like American Eco-Warriors figures.) This also kept a unified look of Joe releases the world over. Even if an American were not familiar with the "Commandos Em Acao" moniker, the design of the cards were such that they would remain familiar despite the language barriers.

Corrosaos can be difficult to find. A few years ago, a large toy dealer got ahold of a large amount of carded Brazilian Eco Warriors. The dealer sold these off for reasonable prices. The stock lasted for quite some time and many collectors had ample opportunity to acquire all 5 exclusive Force Eco figures. However, as is typical in the Joe community, the unique Cobra figure, Corrosao sold out first. As such, he became the hardest to track down of the 5 figures and remains the most highly sought after member of this subgroup today. That isn't to say, though, that Corrosaos are all that expensive. He can still be had MOC for under $35 and loose, complete figures (if you can find them!) can be had for under $20. While that may seem a bit pricey, it is cheaper than many other Brazilian exclusive Cobra figures. Even were I not an aficionado of odd, brightly colored figures, I would think this a good deal for a figure this unique. Like other foreign oddities, Corrosao works since he was released in Brazil. This exotic pedigree allows for some leeway in color choices and keeps this figure as one of the favorites in my collection.

Corrosao (Brazilian Exclusive Cobra Eco-Warriors Dee-Jay), 1991 Toxo Viper, Tigor, Forca Eco, Forca Fera, Recoil

Corrosao (Brazilian Exclusive Cobra Eco-Warriors Dee-Jay), 1991 Toxo Viper, Tigor, Forca Eco, Forca Fera, Recoil, funskool Trip Wire

Corrosao (Brazilian Exclusive Cobra Eco-Warriors Dee-Jay), Forca Eco, Estrela, 1993 Mega Marines Cyber Viper

Friday, July 30, 2004

2001 Desert Striker

In the history of the Joe line, there are a few items that just stand out above all the rest. They are not always the best toys, the most fun to play with, or even the hardest to find. Instead, they are items that, for a multitude of reasons, have captured collectors' attentions and have been able to hold them to modern times. Many of the vehicles are the classics from the line's earliest years, though there are a few from later times. Mostly, though, they are the type of thing that is either completely original, amazing in scope, or versatile enough that they were able to function in a variety of environments. Such was the case with the original VAMP mold.

I have always viewed the Desert Striker as more of a utility vehicle than a combat jeep. The ammo boxes loaded on the front and the large drums on the back give this jeep a look of a support vehicle rather than a fast attack jeep. In a large collection, something like this can be a nice little addition as you may have need for a jeep that isn't as combative. However, for most collectors, this made the piece boring and of little use. Having a utility vehicles is not something that most collectors hold high on their lists. The original VAMP, though, remains the definitive combat jeep that was released in the Joe line. It's sleek design, cool gun and brash driver have kept it a classic to this day. That legacy only made this rendition of the jeep that much more disappointing. The original VAMP was daring and original. This Desert Striker seems clunky and dated. I think that mostly stems from the modifications to the mold. The roll bar is different, the back gun is gone and the front hood, while a cool little feature, takes away from the detail of the original. One thing I do like about this Desert Striker, though, is the mounted passenger gun. I always wanted mounted guns on my Joe vehicles. Early on, few vehicles had them. So, I often either glued or otherwise attached mounted weapons to my favorite vehicles. It gave them a play feature that I wanted. Having that little aspect has made the Desert Striker worth keeping around in my collection.

Mostly, I use the Striker as the utility type vehicle that I outlined above. Much of my Joeverse revolves around renegade criminals rather than a militarily strong Cobra. As such, many scenarios I play out involve those types of people attacking small units of Joes. In cases where Cobra is involved, they usually target smaller, less defended Joe units as a way to ensure success. In both of these cases, the Desert Striker works well. I also use it as part of my police forces. The Striker includes several little spiked balls. I use these as tire-poppers to stop fleeing criminals. The Striker can then also act as a fast pursuit vehicle that is capable of catching high speed motorcycles. It has the versatility that I usually look for in a vehicle, even if those purposes are somewhat mundane rather than specialized.

The Desert Striker really failed, though, in its choice of driver. Originally, the Desert Striker was shown with a '92 Dusty figure repainted in desert colors. At the time, this mold was still sitting on retail pegs, so releasing it again seemed like overkill. However, I think just about every collector would have taken that figure over the one we actually received. The Striker included Flint. However, instead of utilizing his classic '85 mold or even his underrated '94 mold or trying to amalgamate a new version of the figure, Hasbro chose to repaint the awful Eco Warriors mold in desert colors. To make matters worse, they failed to include any accessories with the figure. Thus, collectors are left with one of the worst conceived figures in the history of the line. The poor choice of driver helped squash much of the little interest that was left in this item and helped ensure its place in obscurity.

Desert Strikers aren't too hard to find. They weren't bit sellers and they sat on many retail shelves for long periods of time. Collectors simply didn't take to the combination of the modified VAMP mold and the poor figure selection. As such, they remain cheap acquisitions for those collectors who either passed them by or weren't around when they were first offered. For the price, they are decent. But, Hasbro is about to release a repaint of this jeep, along with a Whirlwind and 3 figures as a Toys R Us exclusive. So, anyone who missed out on it will have another chance at it in a paint scheme that is more versatile than the Desert theme. After that, if they are going to resurrect the VAMP, I would hope that it would be either as a Cobra vehicle or the original mold. I think those would be well received despite the fact that this new VAMP will likely end up as a pegwarmer in most of the nation.

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

Thursday, July 22, 2004

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn

Since 1982, Joe fans have been clamouring for a toy appearance of one of the original comic's most enduring characters. While the early days of the comic were marked with several individuals who were never immortalized in plastic, Kwinn was the one most-often asked for by collectors. Even after the original Joe line's demise, online fans have been pining for a release of the Eskimo in some fashion. When the Joe figures were reborn in the late '90's, Kwinn seemed like a natural selection for release. However, it is not until now that collectors' desire for a Kwinn figure has finally been realized.

Back in 1984, during the final days of the school year, a friend of mine brought his newest G.I. Joe comic book to school. It was #26 and was the first part of the origin of Snake Eyes. While I had read some Joe comics before, I had never been really compelled to follow the series full time. After reading #26, though, I was very interested to find out what happened next. During one of the following lazy summer days, I walked down to my local drug store for a candy bar. When I walked in, I happened to check out the comic book rack and found G.I. Joe #27, the continuation of the issue I had read a few weeks earlier. I quickly bought it and was hooked. That day, I cut out the subscription form in the back of the issue and sent it in to start my subscription to the comic. Two months later, I got my first issue in the mail. However, after reading #27, I wanted to go back and buy #26. However, the drug store was sold out. However, there was a comic book shop in my neighborhood. I went in there one day and found their selection of G.I. Joe back issues. Slowly, I filled in some gaps from the teen numbers. A character in this series, though, was very intriguing. The Eskimo Kwinn was a remarkable character to me and I wanted to find every issue in which he appeared. Alas, the comic shop's selection of Joe back issues was flimsy and I had many gaps. One day, though, I found an issue I had never seen before: G.I. Joe #2. I bought it, despite the whopping $3 price!!, and was surprised to find the very first appearance of Kwinn. In coming months, I would watch as G.I. Joe #2 rose steadily in price until it topped out around the $50 range. At that point, I was happy I had sucked up the $3 and bought it when I did. The introduction of Kwinn has become a classic story and still, to this day, reminds me of the magic I felt every time a new Joe comic appeared in my mailbox.

As a figure, this Kwinn works rather well. His body is made of the now-hated Big Ben body. However, as the colors and look match the drawings of Kwinn, it is hard to even place him as, basically, a Big Ben repaint. His head, though, is all new. The likeness and skin tone of Kwinn's head, is VERY well done. The designers did their homework on this look and pretty much nailed Kwinn's likeness. However, the head does have one major flaw. In an effort to "arctic" up the look of the figure, they added a collar to Kwinn's head. In photos, it looks like part of his torso, but is, actually, part of his head. This feature not only makes the head less useful for customizing purposes, but also detracts from the head's mobility. It is a minor point, but one that does take away from the figure, overall. Kwinn's accessories are also fairly well done. Again, the designers hit a home run with his weasel skull necklace. It is a great detail that was added and the figure would have been incomplete without it. Kwinn's guns, though, are less well done. Kwinn's filecard makes reference to his preference for a .30 caliber machine gun. Yet, the figure includes Roadblock's .50 caliber machine gun. In Hasbro's defense, there was not a weapon in the ARAH line that would adequately represent Kwinn's true weapon of choice so they went with another large machine gun in an effort to at least keep the theme true to the character. He also includes a black version of Dial Tone's gun that is better used for fodder. Finally, he includes a black version of Order that is supposed to be a sled dog. It is from a scene in the comic and is a nice little nod to Kwinn's origin.

These new comic 3-packs are a collector's dream come true. They contain classic characters who are designed to mimic their comic appearances. This has already given us new sculpts of Cobra Commander, Scarlett and the Baroness as well as new amalgamations of Snake Eyes. At the convention, Hasbro showed these packs up through issue number 9 and they contain many fan favorites, including the famed Oktober Guard. While this is all fine and good, I don't know if Hasbro's approach to these packs will allow for the concept to survive that long. While the first 2 packs are excellent, the are rampant with quality problems. Loose joints, sloppy and weak paint and general cheapness has already drawn some complaints on these figures. However, if you look at the next three packs that are to be released, I can foresee some problems. It is true that fans will gobble up the Cobra pack for the army building soldier and that they will go after this pack to get Kwinn, a new Snake Eyes and Scarlett. However, the next pack features three figures who are all done in '83 Joe style and look way too similar and bland to attract new people who are not already fans of the franchise. After that, packs 4 and 5 continue the same trend. These will not sell out on collector purchases alone and non-collectors are not going to be wowed by the figure line-ups in the next 3 sets. Collectors will get interested again when the Oktober Guard appears (the fact that those figures were newly sculpted tells me that if the comic packs are cancelled, those figs will show up in a TRU 6-pack so Hasbro can recoup the costs of the molds.) but the packs after that are similarly bland. Hasbro should have released the first 2 packs and then skipped around. Hitting issues like #11, #19, #21 or #25 would have allowed them to release more fan favorite characters without having every pack start to blend together. I can see their logic behind the sequential releases. But, Joe collectors are not Star Wars collectors. We are not as fanatical about having every character in every single outfit they ever appeared in. We are more character driven (due to a large number of characters) and I think would have preferred to have gotten a wider range of characters than those who appeared in the first nine issues of the series.

There is another problem with these. Every single time Hasbro has tried an alternate distribution method for figures, it has flopped. The Internet Bat Packs were a sales disappointment, the major retailers did not pick up the single carded figures (and rightly so!), the "Bonus" packs with the Crimson Sand Viper were widely clearanced. As such, the track record for new ideas like these is rather bleak. On top of that, Wal Mart has passed the first wave of these by and will not carry them. That has already lead one Hasbro exec to offer the telling remark that "collectors had better buy these up to keep the line going". The last time he uttered something like that, it was in reference to the BAT pack. That concept was cancelled almost as soon as he made the statement. So, if this concept is going to continue, collectors will have to step up and buy a few more of these packs than they may have otherwise wanted. I feel this is an unfair burden, especially when the figure and character choices have been stacked against the long term success of this concept. Personally, the comic figs are the most excited I've been over any Joe figures in a long time. However, the realist in my says that collectors will have to do a LOT more to ensure that these have a successful retail run.

That being said, the Kwinn figure is a great addition to any collection and should be widely available in the short term. In fact, I foresee him hanging around in a few places as he is scheduled to be shipped for a, relatively, long time. I think that collectors will desire this pack in the short term, but will have their fill after one or two packs. That doesn't spell a bright future for this figure's long term popularity. However, he is still the first Kwinn figure and is an excellent representation of the character. That will keep collectors interested for some time.

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, Snake Eyes

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, Cobra Trooper

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, Snake Eyes

Thursday, July 1, 2004

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead

One of the very first figures I ever profiled in this site was the 1984 Copperhead. To this day, I view that figure as a unique character. However, in 1989, Hasbro released the same figure as a member of Python Patrol. While the other Python Patrol members were all army builders, Copperhead retained his vague individuality. However, I, and most other collectors, simply can't use the PP Copperhead as an individual. Despite their large-scale operations in the swamp, Cobra never had a real swamp trooper. With a little creative license, the Python Patrol Copperhead fills that void, nicely.

In my collection, this figure is an army-built swamp trooper. They are a specialized unit of Cobras who patrol the shallow canals, ditches and marshes of Cobra Island. They are trained not only in infantry techniques, but also in security, swamp warfare, tracking and survival. They are given the responsibility of sniffing out any intruders who manage to get past the Island's coastal defenses and attempt to infiltrate the Island itself. As my vision of Cobra Island has it now housing several high end casinos, the PP Copperheads are also responsible for ensuring that no drunken tourist wanders too far off the casino lots and ends up as alligator food. As such, this specialized unit reports directly to Croc Master.

In my opinion, the PP Copperhead works better in his colors than most of the other Python Patrol figures since the combination of green, black, yellow and red actually work for a swamp trooper. He also comes with nice accessories (black versions of the pack and M-203 that originally came with the V1 Leatherneck) that work with him even though they were originally meant for a Joe. This isn't to say the figure isn't bright. However, he is the type of bright that actually works. You can see from the photos below that the figure works in a lush setting. That is one area where the Joe line failed as it progressed. After a while, figures were bright for the sake of brightness. There are instances where brightness is warranted. Fortunately, the new Joe releases seem to be more in line with may of the older Joe figures in that regard. However, we are starting to see some odd colors creep into the line. At this point, they are still forgivable. How they proceed will determine if that remains to be true.

The Copperhead mold hasn't lead the interesting life of some others, but it is well-traveled enough. The figure was first released in the US in 1984. That figure was then also available via mail order in 1989. (It stands to reason that Hasbro either used the mold to create some overstock figures for the mail away or already had them left over from 1984/1985 to create this mail away figure. Bagged Copperheads were actually available as late as 1999 from Hasbro Canada. So, Hasbro probably just produced a large quantity of them and left them in a warehouse for years as overstock.) Then, this figure was released in 1989. Around 1990, the Copperhead mold appeared in Brazil. There, he was released in colors similar to this Python Patrol figure as Pantano. (Just a note, there were actually 2 figures named Pantano released in Brazil. One is the PP Copperhead and the other is made from the 1993 Iceberg mold. They are not the same character, though they share the same name. As if this all isn't confusing enough!) That was the last time this mold was in production. That begs the question: where is the mold now? While it's impossible to determine, a quick look at Pantano's contemporary releases might give us some clues. The Brazilian Python Patrol featured Pantano, Tocaia (PP Crimson Guard), Gatilho (PP Airborne) and Relampago (PP Ripcord). None of these molds have appeared anywhere since their release in Brazil. Among Pantano's other contemporaries, though, are a number of figures who have also subsequently appeared in India. The Pantano cardback features 21 figures. Of these, 10 have since been released by Funskool. None of them, with the exception of the V1 Low-Light have appeared in the US without also appearing in India. So, it really is impossible to determine the whereabouts of this mold. Most likely, it is still locked away in some warehouse down in Brazil. Regardless of it's location, though, I don't think many collectors would be excited about a repainted Copperhead. New sculpt, maybe, but this old mold doesn't offer much that hasn't already been exploited by the various color schemes.

One other interesting note about this figure. The Brazilian exclusive figure Gatilho uses his exact color scheme. In the second photo, you can see how the two figures match up near perfectly. My guess is that this was by design. Estrela was looking for a unique way to color a mold they had available and found that the PP Copperhead scheme looked good on Airborne.

In the late '90's, Python Patrol Copperhead figures were kind of tough to track down. At the time, the entire Python Patrol set wasn't all that common. You could get them haphazardly, but even a focused effort rarely would yield large quantities of Python Patrol figures in a short time. Now, things have changed a bit. While figures like the Viper still tend to be less common than many collectors would like, guys like Copperhead are now fairly available for decent prices. Mint and complete, you can easily acquire a Copperhead for under $12 or so. That's really not too bad a price for a nifty repaint of an obscure character. As this figure can be used as an army builder as well, the price just gets more attractive. I know that I'm happy with a few PP Copperheads roaming the swamps and waterways of my collection.

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Muskrat

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Muskrat

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Mudbuster, Funskool Muskrate, 1993 Genreal Flagg, 1998 Ace, Night Force Flint, Unproduced Daina, Oktober Guard, Comic Pack, 2005, Mudbuster, Cerebro, Mace, Brazil, Estrela

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Croc Master

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Muskrat

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Python Officer, Trooper


Monday, June 21, 2004

1993 T'Gin-Zu

When I started this site many years ago, my main purpose was to give a little exposure to figures from the line's later years that collectors tended to pass by. As time has gone on, though, many of those once hidden gems at the end of the original line have become discovered and have started to become important parts of many people's collections. As the site has grown, it has become harder and harder to find seldom mentioned figures from any year. Every now and then, though, I do come across a interesting little footnote to Joe history. Often, these figures are nothing interesting save for their relative scarcity. Such is the case with the subject of this profile: the 1993 T'Gin-Zu.

T'Gin-Zu is one of the most obscure characters in the entire line. Released in 1993 as a vehicle driver, he is not a common sight in most collections. For years, I thought he was a Cobra. It wasn't until I added him to my collection that I realized T'Gin-Zu is a Joe. Not that it much matters. This Ninja-Force mold is hard to use as he lacks much of the articulation that makes Joe so familiar. Add to that the fact that his details are orange and blue and you can see why not too many collectors really care about the figure. About the only thing that keeps this figure from Crystal Ball or Big Boa status is the fact that he is actually very hard to track down. Aside from his scarcity, though, there is nothing notable about the figure. He is a terrible figure that came out in a year of bad figures. Hardly a mark of greatness.

If T'Gin-Zu's mold looks familiar, that's because it is. Originally used for the 1992 Storm Shadow, this mold has since been used far too many times for it to ever have any relevance again. After the original use, the figure was repainted as Storm Shadow in the Shadow Ninjas subset in 1994. The body, though, was also used in the Street Fighter subset for 2 version of Ken Masters. In 2000, the mold was modified to O-ring construction and used for a re-release Storm Shadow figure. Had it stopped there, this would have been enough. However, Hasbro, in their infinite wisdom, kept using the mold. It appeared again in 2002 as Storm Shadow in an 8-figure gift pack. It was then slated to appear in the ill-fated Wal-Mart exclusive Sky Patrol figures. In fact, samples of this figure have become ubiquitous on the second hand market. (This is due to the fact that Hasbro did not pulp the cancelled figures the way they normally do. Instead, they spray painted over them and tossed them in a dumpster. Enterprising garbage scavengers were then able to piece together good figures from the multitude of parts that managed to avoid the paint.) Finally, this figure is now set to appear again in 2004 as part of the Cobra Urban Assault set. This mold has been over-used to badly that any appearance of it is now met with serious derision. Hopefully, after the 2004 release, we will never see this mold used again. Anything less than a total retirement would be a slap in the face to collecting community.

The entire concept of the Ninja-Force could have been well-handled. By 1992, Joe was in a downturn and there wasn't much anyone could do to stop it. While many collectors blame gimmicks and bright colors as reasons for the original line's cancellation, the fact is that Joe had run its course. By '92, Joe had been available at retail for over a decade. After that long, kids were just ready for something new. Thus, to attempt to attract new customers, Hasbro turned to the ideas that many associate with the line's fall. (Interestingly enough, the same scenario is now playing out in India with the Funskool G.I. Joe Line. But, more on that in a future profile.) At any rate, the Ninja-Force was one of the gimmicks that was tried. The figure designs in the subset are actually acceptable. However, the changing articulation and added "ninja-action" features fell flat and ended up ruining what could have been a decent set of figures. Ninjas, though, remained a popular theme in the Joe line through '94. And, despite a bit of anti-ninja sentiment among adult collectors, they remain popular today. As such, if you collect Joes, you really have to accept ninjas.

This leaves me with what to do with this figure in my collection. I don't use any ninja figures on a consistent basis. From time to time, I pull one out as a random assassin, but I have little regular use for them. To me, Joe is a military toy line first and foremost. As such, it is the military figures that I tend to use most often. Even back when Shadow Ninjas were readily available at retail, I passed them by knowing that they would get little use in my collection. Nothing has changed today, though I do enjoy having many of the later ninjas as they do have decently sculpted weapons and do look good on display. In that vein, T'Gin-Zu fits into my collection. Beyond that, though, his uses are severely limited.

T'Gin-Zu figures are actually quite hard to find. He was released as a vehicle driver during a time when vehicles saw very low production runs. Unlike many of the more traditional 1993 vehicle drivers, T'Gin-Zu figures were never available en masse as overstock. So, modern collectors are left with a tough figure to track down. If you can find them, though, they aren't too pricey. Mint, complete specimens should be had for under $15 and can be gotten much cheaper from time to time. However, as more collectors move towards being completists, I could see figures like T'Gin-Zu becoming more desirable. He will be a common gap in many collections and there could be some competition for any nice specimens that come available. I don't think he'll ever rival earlier drivers in terms of price or collector desirability, but I could see this figure being one that many people will be missing from their collections.

1993 T'Gin Zu

1993 T'Gin Zu, 1992 Dice, 2002 Slice

Friday, May 28, 2004

1983 Doc

In the early '90's, I was mostly out of Joe. I picked up the comics every couple of months. But, for the most part, I was not heavily involved. However, one comic cover grabbed my attention. It announced the death of several Joes. Naturally, I had to get this issue to see which characters were going to bite the big one. My feeling was that many of the newer, less developed characters were going to be killed off. How wrong I was! While I didn't mind the demise of Quick Kick, the deaths of Heavy Metal and Crankcase were not ones I wanted to see. Even those, though, made sense as neither of those characters was a major player. The deaths of two characters, though, made me somewhat angry. Both of these characters were ones I had grown up with and were people I considered integral to the Joe team: Breaker and Doc.

Doc was the Joe team's doctor. While later characters like Lifeline and Stretcher had medical specialties, there was never another M.D. added to the Joe team. (As an aside, I think that Stretcher might have originally been intended as a new version of Doc. In the design process, though, some things changed and Stretcher was changed to a unique character.) The lack of a doctor was a glaring hole in the team, but it did allow for Doc to be a part of many story lines. As such, Doc remained prominent in the comic for years after his figure had been discontinued.

One aspect of Doc that I have always felt was overlooked was his background. Doc is a Harvard educated M.D. who also trained at Johns Hopkins. He was one of the brightest and most talented medical professionals in the world. That would mean that he was probably capable of earning well over a million dollars per year in private practice. Why would someone who was successful leave behind the promise of riches to enlist in the military? Doc's calling must have been an incredibly noble nature for him to serve his country in this capacity when he was capable of such potential personal gain. This was one of the hallmarks of the early Joes. For every backwoods country boy or urban gang leader, the Joe team also had some highly educated and very successful people. (General Hawk was from an affluent family. For him to sacrifice his family legacy and put himself in harm's way shows character similar to Doc's.) With so many collectors focused on Cobras these days, it is easy to overlook the patriotic heroism of so many of the Joe characters: not just in their roles as Joes, but also in what they gave up to serve. In light of current events and with the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, that is something for people, especially those of my generation, to think about.

One of the things that has kept the Joe line so powerful an influence among so many people my age is the depth of the stories that were created for the line. Regardless of how you feel about his writing, it is impossible to deny that Larry Hama had a lot invested in the Joe characters. That commitment to the characters carried over to the comic and helped to create enduring characterizations that persist until today. Aside from that, the people at Hasbro really seemed to put a lot into the Joe line. The figures were carefully crafted and designed to showcase specialties in a figure's appearance. Even the cartoon gave figures characterizations that made them identifiable. That is why there is still such a strong fan base over 20 years after the line was introduced.

That being said, though, I think that this magic has been gone for some time. The current people who work on the Joe line and Joe media do not seem to have same level of emotional involvement with the line. The lack of passion shows through and has, in my opinion, somewhat tarnished the legacy of the original line. The Joe story line now is rather haphazard and lacks the defining themes that permeated each layer of the original line. As such, I do not think that today's Joe line is generating anywhere near the same level of interest among children that the original line did so many years ago. While some may say that the toy world has changed, I feel that is a bit of a cop-out. There are still toy lines out there (Power Rangers!) that have been popular for a long time and have ingrained themselves into a generation of children. It can still be done. However, it can not happen if the powers in charge of the line lack the vision to make it happen.

If you look at many of these early figures, a simple glance often gave you a window into their specialty and personality. One need only look at Doc to determine he is a medic. You knew that Gung-Ho was a badass by seeing his tattoo. Now, many of the figures are relatively non-descript. While a few have the characteristics of their ancestors, most of the figures showcase details for the sake of details and lack a real sense of purpose in their design. You knew that Recondo had a machete molded onto his legs because he was a jungle trooper who would need one to cut through brush. However, when I look at a Cobra Coils, I don't know that he's a motorcycle trooper. I can see it when I read his specialty, but his design does nothing to promote his purpose. (That isn't to say he's a bad figure. The figure itself is very cool.) I've been trying for a while to put my finger on what I think the new Joe line has been lacking. I think this sense of ownership of the concept is the problem. Those currently involved with the line did not have the experience of creating this idea from scratch and then watching it grow and mature. They took over a concept that had proven successful in the past. Rather than run with some new ideas to give the line something close to its old life, they simply tried to recreate the past. While I like homage figures and stuff like that, I think that more effort could be put towards the Joe line as a whole. The line needs someone with vision to step forward and take ownership of the entire concept, put it to paper, and follow through with the implementation of the plan. Without that, I fear that this new Joe line will simply become a footnote to a great part of action figure history.

The Doc mold was a world traveler. After his American release, Doc made his way down to Argentina. From there, he was also released in Brazil and Mexico. (As an interesting note, those Doc figures were released with Blowtorch's arms.) After that, though, the trail runs cold and Doc has not been seen, in any format since then. However, many of Doc's parts were also used for the V1 Duke and a number of other figures that were based on that mold. Also, around the time Doc was first appearing in South America, he was still being released by Hasbro as part of a special bagged figure set. It could be that these were simply overstock figures. However, the trail of parts seems to indicate that there must have been more than one Doc mold. I've long suspected that many figures, especially those made prior to 1986, had more than one mold. (In fact, you can see evidence of that in the recent Night Force Flint figure.) As such, it is possible that even with Doc's use in Brazil that Hasbro could put the mold together and re-release him. Unfortunately, that would probably require a lot of tracking down specific parts that are probably parceled with other figure molds. It could be done, but is something I would consider to be unlikely.

Doc figures are rather easy to find. Just about everyone had a Doc back in the day. As he was a non-combatant, many of the figures did not receive as much use as other, more militaristically inclined Joes. This means that many mint, complete Doc figures survived to this day. I will say, though, that both his stretcher and his gun are often found broken, even if the figure in in immaculate shape. This means, though, that Doc is still affordable to the few collectors who have not had their fill of the figure. That's good as it means that a figure I consider to be an important part of a collection is available to those who want him.

1983 Doc, Airborne, Gung Ho, Rock and Roll, Short Fuse, Destro, Major Bludd

1983 Doc, Wild Bill, Dragonfly, 1985 Flint


1983 Doc, Airborne, Gung Ho, Rock and Roll, Short Fuse, Destro, Major Bludd

1983 Doc, Airborne, Gung Ho, Tripwire, VAMP, Skyhawk