Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mestre Rapina - Brazilian Exclusive Voltar

There were roughly 130 unique figures that were released by Estrela in Brazil as part of its Commandos Em Acao line. Some of them were unique amalgamations that combined existing parts to create a new figure or character. Others were simple repaints that brought a different faction or specialty to an existing character. Most, though, were slight repaints of figures that were also released in the US. Most of these featured very subtle color or paint changes that were enough to distinguish the figure from its American counterpart but not make it overtly noticeable. For the most part, this lead to figures who didn't really offer anything much different than what was already available in the US. On occasion, though, Estrela made a slight change that made their version of a figure superior to the American figure. It was not common, but when it happened, American collectors are treated to figures that give new life to some figures that were left to languish in American obscurity. One such case is the Mestre Rapina figure - the Brazilian Voltar.

Technically, Voltar died in the comic when he was trapped in the Cobra freighter. Metaphorically, Voltar was DOA as soon as he was released. The fuchsia base color on the original figure was its first death knell. The biggest problem, though, was that Voltar was redundant the minute they released him. 1988 saw the introduction of the Iron Grenadiers as Destro's new entity. Along with the base troops and a large contingent of vehicles, Hasbro also released a new Destro figure. With Destro as the leader of this new faction, Voltar was relegated to second class status immediately. There was little need for him when you could have a new Destro (whose uniform actually matched those of his troops) leading the Iron Grenadiers into battle. Voltar would probably have worked better as a 1989 release as he would have been a Cobra character to stand out in the sea of '89 army builders and he would have escaped Destro's long, military shadow.

The nice thing about Voltar's obscurity is that he provides modern collectors with a character that they can more easily mold to fit their own Joe worlds. Unlike so many major Cobra characters, Voltar isn't saddled with tons of backstory. Instead, he is a blank slate who has a filecard and a handful of meaningless comic appearances as his only characterization. Like the Overlord figure, Voltar has taken on a second life among collectors. While you don't often see him as a major player, many collectors do attempt to do something with the character. These efforts, though, are usually thwarted by Voltar's terrible color scheme. It's difficult to characterize a new, tough military commander who wears colors close to pink. Fortunately, Mestre Rapina has less of problem in that area than the American Voltar. He is a much deeper color that, while still not militaristic, is closer to something that would command respect. In the final picture of this profile, you can see a comparison of the Mestre Rapina and the American Voltar. You can see how the Brazilian figure is a more subdued purple color that isn't as brazen as the American fuchsia.

Mestre Rapina basically means "Master Robber" or "Master Thief" in Portuguese. If Hasbro called a figure "Master Thief" as a code name, collectors would probably never get tired of ridiculing it. However, when you call a figure Mestre Rapina, it adds a whole new level of mystique to the character. You don't worry as much about how the name translates as the sound of it is exotic and foreign. It adds a level of depth to a figure and character that otherwise would lack anything distinguishing about it. The character, though, is still called Voltar. I do not have a translation of Mestre Rapina's filecard, though, so I'm not sure if they changed his characterization (I would suspect they did, though.) or kept elements of the American filecard. In Brazil, though, The Iron Grenadiers were released as Forca Destro. Members of this included American figures like the '88 Destro and the '88 Iron Grenadier figure. However, Forca Destro also included a V1 Dr. Mindbender, an Astro Viper and Overlord. These additions seemed to take the place of Voltar in Brazil. By the time Mestre Rapina was actually released, the Forca Destro subset had run its course and Mestre Rapina was left as a simple Cobra release.

Mestre Rapina was released around 1993 in Brazil. As he was one of the later releases, it is likely that the Voltar mold is still down there. While many of the molds that are stuck in Brazil are not huge losses to modern collectors, that is not the case with Voltar. Voltar features an interesting mold, a solid characterization and one poorly colored American production release. As such, I think that many collectors would welcome a chance for new, better colored Voltar figure. But, since Voltar did not appear in the 2005 Iron Grenadier themed Convention set, it is probable that we will not see him in ARAH form again.   Mestre Rapina included an interesting complement of accessories. First off, he included a black version of the V1 Countdown's gun. This weapon was also included with the Brazilian Flying Scorpion and is different enough that it works with this figure. The other weapon included with Mestre Rapina is the V1 Alley Viper gun. This is the version with the thin front handle. This is significant, though, as the V1 Alley Viper mold has been MIA since it was intended for use in 1997. The Alley Viper was never released in Brazil, but Mestre Rapina, Albatroz, Letal and maybe a few other Brazilian figures included this weapon. So, was the V1 Alley Viper mold sent to Brazil but never put into production? Or, were just the accessories sent down there? The final accessory for Mestre Rapina is the disk launcher that originally came with the V3 Destro figure. It includes orange disks. Of course, this accessory made it back to the U.S. and was used in 1997. But, the Alley Viper gun that collectors have been clamouring for since the same year has yet to reappear.

In my collection, Mestre Rapina has allowed me to re-examine Voltar. I had no use for the American figure beyond having one for completion's sake. Mestre Rapina, though, offers me a chance to integrate the character into my Joe world. Historically, I have used Destro only has a political player within Cobra. He is not the military commander that he was in the comics. Instead, he takes a role as more of a mentor to the younger Cobras who are trying to swim through the political morass that is the current Cobra administration. Destro does have some military allies, though. Adding Mestre Rapina to the mix has been a good way to slowly give Destro more of a say in military matters within Cobra. While this won't lead to a coup, Destro could ultimately prove the swing vote in any struggle between the current Cobra Commander and the Flying Scorpion character who heads Cobra's South American operations.

Like most of the later Brazilian releases that were slight repaints, Mestre Rapina is not too hard to find. He can be acquired carded or loose from American and Brazilian sellers for well under $15. At this price, he is a bargain. Brazilian figures are always going to be harder to find than their American counterparts and, as the collecting community matures, more collectors will finish up their American collections and start looking to easily acquired foreign figures as the next logical step. Just a few years ago, a figure like Letal could be purchased mint, complete with a filecard for around $15. Now, he sells for nearly 6 times that. While I don't think Mestre Rapina will ever see that kind of increased interest, I do think that it is always wise for collectors to take advantage of foreign figure availability when it appears. Many Brazilian figures that were once common among dealers have started to dry up and have gotten more expensive. As collectors discover that figures like Mestre Rapina are actually upgrades over their American counterparts, I think we'll see some of the more desirable figures slowly disappear. As Mestre Rapina features an improved paint job and better accessories than the American Voltar figure, I think he is a highly worthwhile addition to any collection.

Mestre Rapina, Brazil, Estrela, Voltar, 1988, Iron Grenadier, 2005 Convention Exclusive Destro, Hiss Tank, Track Viper

Mestre Rapina, Brazil, Estrela, Voltar, 1988, Iron Grenadier, Raio Verde, HEAT Viper

Mestre Rapina, Brazil, Estrela, Voltar, 1988, Iron Grenadier

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