Friday, July 29, 2005

2005 Cobra Commander (Imperial Processional)

Over the years, some of my best profiles were in regards to Cobra Commander. I always felt the character had more depth than most anyone in the Joe universe and was among the most interesting. Now, though, I have eliminated that character from my Joe world. He was replaced with a character that I liked, but didn't really have a use for. The introduction of this figure, though, has changed that. While this isn't the best Cobra Commander figure, or even the best use of this Cobra Commander mold, it is a figure that has stuck with me and become an integral part of my collection.

Really, this figure isn't that good. He's a straight repaint of a pegwarming figure that just appeared about 1 year ago. On top of that, he's a tired mold in a color that's not exactly true to the character. Yet, I like this figure. That comes as a shock as my opinion of him after seeing the first online pictures was one of disdain. However, once I had the figure in my hand, I found myself liking him. Maybe it's the cape or the copper color, but something about his figure caught my eye. It could be just that I had such low expectations of the figure. But, I have found a new use for the Cobra Commander character in my Joe world now that this figure is part of my collection.

If you look at him, this figure suffers from some issues. First, he has the flat back from the 1991 Cobra Commander. However, the inclusion of the cloth cape helps soften that as it hides the flawed mold. The main issue, though, is the black forearms. They are molded black and don't mesh well with the figure's upper arms. This is the most glaring flaw of all as it does detract from the figure. His accessories work for what they are, though. His throne is a neat addition to a collection, even if it isn't very regal and the figure doesn't fit all that well into it. The other figures in the set have the same issues. The Baroness isn't that interesting as she's been done so many times. The Processional Troopers are a neat amalgamation of molds, but the colors make them less useful than they could be. Plus, they come with no accessories except for a flag. So, if you buy one set, you have some figures with flags. If you buy two, that's still all you have. As such, this isn't a set that is very rewarding with multiple purchases. 2, maybe 3 sets are about all anyone would ever need due to the specific nature of the figure designs.

The main reason I'm profiling this figure is because of what's currently happening in my Joe world. Every now and then, I get on a major plot roll due to the most minor thing. In this case, an early morning realization that the Processional troopers looked really good with a sniper rifle coupled with my contempt for the Crimson Guard lead me to the latest plot developments in my Joe world.   As you may or may not know, my Joe world revolves around a Cobra that is very different. The original Cobra Commander was killed in combat a while back. A new Commander was promoted from within. This character was previously named Rector and had been the second highest ranking Cobra in the organization. He was elected to power unanimously and has begun to develop his power base. During Rector's rise to power, he relied heavily upon the Crimson Guard. This politically powerful group on Cobra Island gave Rector his backing and allowed him to climb the ranks. However, near the end of the original Commander's life, the CG's had begun to grow complacent. They had become lazy, corpulent synchophants who spent their days plotting and backstabbing other politicos inside Cobra Island. To a CG, their seat at a state dinner was important than the training of the Cobra security forces. As such, the rank and file Cobras have grown to despise the CG's and their power base was beginning to erode.

In the meantime, the major Cobra player in my world, Ramen (portrayed by the Brazilian Flying Scorpion figure) had been winning major victories in South America. He and his utterly loyal commanders had won a respect from the core Cobra constituency and were highly regarded by almost all Cobras outside the CG ranks. With this popularity, Ramen was able to remain insulated from the changes in the Cobra hierarchy when Rector ascended to power. This was, naturally, of great distress to Rector as there was now another Cobra leader who actually had control of more Cobra forces than Rector did. What was Rector do to....?

This lead me to my most recent plot point. During a routine parade stop in his parade uniform (which is this figure), Rector narrowly avoided an assassination attempt by a low ranking Crimsonguardsman. This immediately brought down the house of cards and a huge plot called the Crimson Guard Rebellion was uncovered by Rector's secret police. (The Processional Troopers) Within hours, dozens of top ranking CG's were rounded up. In a matter of days, most were publicly executed by firing squad. During this, Cobra Island was under lockdown as the secret police searched for the ringleaders of the Rebellion: Tomax and Xamot. As Tomax and Xamot had once been Rector's most powerful political allies, this was shocking news.

As Tomax was about to escape the Island in the Baroness's plane, a cabal of assassins from Rector's inner circle found him. After killing his entourage of half a dozen of the most prominent CG's, the ninjas took Tomax and the Baroness prisoner. Two days later, Tomax was beheaded in a public square. The Baroness (long disassociated from Destro) awaits her fate. Xamot, though was not found. In his zeal to find the missing CG Commander, Rector revoked all Xamot's diplomatic immunity and placed a $1,000,000 bounty on Xamot's head. All of this has been in vain, though, as Xamot remains at large....

In the aftermath, Rector demanded that all remaining Crimson Guardsmen swear new allegiance to him. They were then sent back down to re-enter Cobra basic training as new recruits. They were completely at the mercy of the drill sergeants they had once commanded. These acts brought Rector a new sense of power as the base Cobra constituency felt that he was no longer a stooge of the CG's. This re-energerization will help Rector retain his power, even though during the hullabaloo, Ramen quietly launched Operation: Dark Cloud....

The history of this figure mold is varied. First released in 1991, the body still retains the remnants of the sonic backpack that adorned that figure. The back was fixed in 1993, but was lost again when the figure was repainted in 2000. In 2003, the mold was used for the Convention Cobra Commander in the Operation: Anaconda set. It was then given this new, more detailed head in 2004 when the figure was released in the 1st comic pack with the Baroness and a Cobra Trooper. It now appears in this set, though with a new, regal cape. That doesn't much help the fact that the mold is a bit stale. It has pretty much been used as much as it can be used and thee isn't much of a future for it. As such, I would prefer to see this mold retired. In fact, I think that the character of Cobra Commander could be retired from the ARAH-style re-paints for several years and collectors would not complain. He has just been done too many times and there aren't that many other molds out there of the character in ARAH-style that would do him justice.

The long term reality is that this figure will be very easy to find. That isn't to say that he necessarily deserves his fate. Hasbro produced less than 20,000 Processional sets for Toys R Us. Historically, this in a minuscule number. Were this figure produced in this quantity in the '80's, he be worth triple digits today. However, the fact is that there aren't many Joe collectors out there. As such, anyone who wants this figure will be able to acquire one at retail for an ample period of time. After that, there will have been enough collectors who army built this set with extra Cobra Commanders that the figure will always be very available on the second hand market. So, this figure really doesn't have much potential to ever rise in price much above the current retail cost. If you want this figure, the Processional set is available nationwide right now. You can also order it from Amazon.com now. Personally, I was very surprised to find that I actually liked this set. While it isn't the heavy army builder that the Infantry, Crimson Guard or even the Urban set was, it is the type of thing that lends itself to most collections. Even with the flaws, I recommend picking up one of these sets.

2005 Imperial Processional Cobra Commander, Processional Trooper, Crimson Guard, TRU Exclusive

2005 Imperial Processional Cobra Commander, Processional Trooper, Crimson Guard, TRU Exclusive

2005 Imperial Processional Cobra Commander, Processional Trooper, Crimson Guard, TRU Exclusive

Thursday, July 21, 2005

2002 Dial Tone - Gift Set Exclusive

In early 1986, one of my younger brother's classmates brought a bag of new G.I. Joe figures to school. He had found them at the local Target. For most of my friends and I, 1985 had been a long Joe year. While the figures were top notch, we had known about most of them since the fall of 1984 when many appeared in the cartoon. Those that we didn't know about that early were discovered in early December of 1984 when the Dreadnoks were released with card art that depicted all of the upcoming '85 figures on the back. As such, by the time '86 rolled around, I was starving for some new Joe figures. The 1986 offerings did not disappoint. I was immediately enthralled by the new colors on many of the figures. They weren't neon or anything like that, but they were refreshing in the sense that they offered some colors that had not been seen in the two prior years. The one figure in that bag of goodies that most intrigued me that cold February day was Dial Tone.

Dial Tone became one of my favorite figure molds from the instant I first saw him. There was something about his look that just captured my attention. His mold was full of the type of detail that you would expect from a communications trooper. He was covered in silver highlights that just made him seem more technical. His colors were somewhat bright, but not the point of making the figure useless. But, it was his accessories that really stood out. His gun was just a compact cross between a rifle and a pistol, but it remains one of my favorite weapons ever released. His pack had nice detail that made it look like a powerful field radio. It was the mouthpiece, though, that was the truly unique element to the figure, thought. While it was not the compact microphone we had seen in 1985 on Heavy Metal, it allowed Dial Tone to be the communications expert he was intended without forcing the accessory onto the mold. As such, the figure retailed value even when the pack was missing.

It remains my opinion that this is the best version of Dial Tone ever released. This figure retains the color that personified the original figure, but does it in a more realistic way. This figure looks like the combat field communications trooper that Dial Tone was always meant to be. He has the dark colors that collectors like, but wasn't bogged down in the too realistic colors that trapped many of his contemporary in blandness. This version isn't perfect, of course, as many of the details on Dial Tone's lower body were left unpainted. This is almost made up for by the fact that many of the details on his upper body, though, are actually painted on this version where they had been left all black on the original. The fact that this mold appears so late in the line, though, is the amazing part. This version is lacking in accessories that are apropos to the character, but his weapon complement is the best of the figures with which he was included. The silver Leatherneck rifle and large pack can fit with the figure. The web gear works on this version, but hides too much of the mold's color for my tastes. As such, I remove the web gear and give it to the more bland '00 Dial Tone figures to give them more life.

In my collection, Dial Tone has almost always been an army builder. I have used his figures as various nameless officers and security personnel for years. When I was a kid, I had 2 Dial Tones. They quickly became a security patrol who was in charge of prisoners: Cobra and Joe. That role has followed the figure into the current day. Now, my dozens of Dial Tone figures are various forms of security captains who are responsible for the large Cobra prisons that the Joes oversee. Every now and then, though, I do use the figure in his intended capacity. I give Dial Tone his original accessories and use him as a field communications officer as he was intended. These times are rare, though, as I don't get the use out of the figure in that capacity that I do when he is used as the security troopers. Since I like the mold so much, I use it in the way that affords me the most usage.

Dial Tone has always been a Hasbro produced figure. He was not sent off to India or Brazil. The mold was originally used in 1986-1987 on both the original and the Mission to Brazil figure and was then repainted in 1990 as part of the Sonic Fighters line. In 1994 or so, Dial Tone was released in Chinese packaging. It is unknown if these were a new production of the original colors or just overstock. After that, Dial Tone's life gets a little interesting. In 1998, Dial Tone was supposed to be included with the cancelled TRU exclusive G.I. Joe Headquarters. This never came to be, but a few Dial Tone's in desert "chocolate chip" cammo were produced and have made their way into the collecting market. These figures are actually probably rarer than the fabled Pimp Daddy Destro from 1997. But, since the lack of catch name, are pretty much under the collecting radar. The figure is interesting, but rather busy and something that I wouldn't really want to see released at retail. After that, the figure was repainted in 2000 and this version appeared in 2002 and then again in 2003. In 2001, the body was used for the Night Rhino Dusty figure and Dial Tone also appeared in the 2003 Tiger Force set. At this point, I think collectors are sick of Dial Tone and don't ever want to see him again. I can't really argue that point as I've gotten my fill of the mold. I do think, though, that at some point in 2006 (if the Joe line is able to survive that long) Dial Tone could make another appearance as long as he was part of a set that offered him in colors we have yet to see. That could work for me, as long as he was something different from the 4 released and one unreleased version.

The BJ's gift set has never really enamored collectors. Initial reports lead many to believe that it would be quite scarce, maybe even rare. However, within a few short months, the set was clearanced for less than 1/2 it's original retail price. In fact, you can still find many dealers today who would gladly part with their overstock sets for barely over cost, just to get rid of them. The set was bulky in the box and was difficult to ship. Unfortunately, for many collectors, this was an unavoidable problem. The set was simply not available to retail outlets in many parts of the country. This started the set off on the wrong foot with many collectors. The bad figures didn't help it from there. Of the 8 figures, Roadblock and Firefly are just terrible. Snake Eyes is OK, but nothing interestingly different enough from his other releases to make him worth getting. Undertow and the Fast Blast Viper are good army builders, but their red color makes them less useful in multiples. Stormshadow is a good figure and was the best red ninja available until 2004. Now, though, he is the third best choice for an army building ninja since better alternatives have been available at retail.

The two remaining figures: Wet Suit and Dial Tone are actually very good figures. However, they, and the rest of the figures in the set, suffer from the absolute worst complement of accessories ever offered in a Joe set. The accessories don't match the figures at all and were the original cheap alternative for Hasbro. The divers don't even have flippers! This is enough to sink the set and has kept all 8 of the figures very affordable. Dial Tone, though, is among the cheapest. Mint and complete, he will rarely run you over $4. This figure was also re-released in 2003 as the AWE Striker driver. This retail dud was heavily clearanced in 2004 and only further cemented this figure's reputation as a loser.

It is a perception that is not deserved, though. This version of Dial Tone is one of the best Joe figures released since 1997. He has realistic, yet not overused, colors, decent accessories (even if they are not perfect) and is true to the roots of the character. He suffers from his plight mainly due to the fact that collectors are simply not interested in Joe repaints. Plus, this version came out too quickly on the heels of the 2000 version. Finally, he was part of a set that many collectors army built anyways just because there was no other ARAH style product on the shelves. This lead to an oversupply of the figure and has doomed him to a life of obscurity, even though he is of very high quality. The good part of this, though, is that you can now get him rather easily for pretty much nothing. It's hard to find a figure about whom that is true, especially when he is of Dial Tone's quality. I doubt this will ever be a figure that is popular among collectors, but Dial Tone is one that is worth a second look.

2002 Dial Tone, BJ's Exclusive Gift Set, Night Force Flint, Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Comic Pack, TRU Exclusive 2003 Viper, Alpinista, Brazil, Estrela, Hit and Run, Tripwire, 2001

2002 Dial Tone, BJ's Exclusive Gift Set, Night Force Flint, Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Comic Pack, TRU Exclusive 2003 Viper, Alpinista, Brazil, Estrela, Hit and Run, Tripwire, 2001

2002 Dial Tone, BJ's Exclusive Gift Set, Night Force Flint, Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Comic Pack, TRU Exclusive 2003 Viper, Alpinista, Brazil, Estrela, Hit and Run, Tripwire, 2001

Friday, July 15, 2005

1993 Leatherneck

I've long felt that the later years of the original Joe line held a few quiet gems. Many of them are poorly colored, yet of high quality molds. A very few are actually well done figures who can stand against counterparts from every year. The third subset is the figures who have good molds, and mediocre colors. They aren't so far gone as to be useless, but not done well enough to be considered a great figure. These figures have really fallen by the wayside as they are liked enough to get any press nor hated enough to get any criticism. The 1993 Leatherneck is one such figure.

For most collectors, this figure simply can't be Leatherneck. The 1986 Leatherneck figure is simply too iconic for them to ever consider another mold as the character. However, while this mold is substantially different from the classic '86 figure, it does share some characteristics with the original mold and could, with a little tweaking, be a perfect update to the first figure. This version's design is not bad and does have some similarities with the original. The poor coloring, though, pretty much ensures that this 1993 version will never hold a high place among collectors.

If you look at this figure's mold, it is actually quite detailed. The vest full of ammunition and grenades coupled with the distinctive hat and trademark mustache are a nice combination of details that show a great deal of thought went into this figure's design. It is the colors, though, that are the issue. From the waist up, Leatherneck is somewhat acceptable. The blue highlights can be explained away as it being 1993 and he had to have something that was an atrocious color. The brown vest with the yellow inlays is not overbearing and would work...were it not for the pants. The bright yellow pants on this figure are simply overpowering and make the entire figure simply too bright to effectively use. The yellow is simply too strong and drowns the rest of the figure in a bright, all-too-happy way. This alone sinks the figure.

I've always used this version of Leatherneck as the desert version. While his colors are bright, he can work better in a desert setting than pretty much any other. But, even here, his use is limited. The bright colors simply don't mesh well with other desert figures and he really sticks out among them. I have found some use for this Leatherneck in bases or on vehicles, but even that is limited. The one redeeming factor about this figure is his accessories. Leatherneck was one of the few 1993 figures to actually include black accessories. His tree also featured lesser seen weapons such as the '91 Low Light's rifle (which is actually slightly different that Low Light's. It is based on the same mold, but the two are substantially different when compared.) the 1991 Mercer's grenade launcher and 1990 Airwave's rifle. For many of these weapons, this was the only time they were released in black. In the days before Hasbro packed so many accessories with their sets, a figure like Leatherneck was a welcome addition to a collection as you could outfit two or three other figures who had included neon weapons with something a little more realistic.

This version of Leatherneck was only released by Hasbro. It is difficult to say for sure where his mold is, though. Many of his contemporaries were sent down to Brazil. However, as this figure was never released, there, it is simply not possible to pin down the mold's whereabouts. One point of note, though. In 2003, Master Collector released a Falcon figure in their convention exclusive set. This figure did not feature the original Falcon legs. The reason is that those legs are also used on this version of Leatherneck. (What a difference some proper coloring makes!) In the '90's, Hasbro reused many figure parts as a way to cut costs on their new molds. Those existing parts were matched up with the new parts, though, and removed from their original molds. That is why the original Falcon legs were missing from the Falcon mold. Had someone tracked down the '93 Leatherneck mold, the complete V1 Falcon could have been reunited.

The nice thing about this figure is that he's readily available. Most of the 1993 Battle Corps series figures were heavily clearanced and discounted. I found my Leatherneck at the Oxford, Ohio Big Lots for $2 in late 1995. He wasn't leftover, Hasbro was still dumping overstock to anyone who would buy it at that time. As such, many dealers and speculators were able to pick up large lots of Battle Corps figures for cheap and simply hold onto them. Now, it's almost as easy to find a Leatherneck MOC as it is to find a loose, complete version. All things considered, you should be able to find even a MOC 1993 Leatherneck for well under $10. At that price, he's a good pick up. The figure is decent, while not great. His accessories do help him (a rarity among the '93's) and he is a figure that can add some depth to any collection. I do use this figure as part of my default Desert units and have found him to be one of those figures in a collection who is nice for diversity, even if, by himself, he isn't that spectacular.

1993 Leatherneck, 1991 Desert Scorpion, Duke

1993 Leatherneck, 1991 Desert Scorpion, Duke

1993 Leatherneck, 1991 Desert Scorpion, Duke, 2004 Desert Patrol Stalker, TRU Exclusive