Wednesday, March 29, 2006

2000 Law & Order

Back in early 2000, Hasbro let it be known that they were bringing Joes back to regular retail outlets. They leaked the potential names of 10 figures who would comprise the first wave. The list contained the usual suspects of high profile characters as well as a few second tier entries who really filled out the assortment nicely. Among these was Law: one of my all time favorite figures. As such, I had high hopes for the new version and, when the first pictures were finally shown, was not disappointed in the slightest. The new version of Law was an improvement over his original incarnation yet still included all of the great accessories that marked the original figure. Once the figures hit retail, I quickly army built Laws faster than even the Firefly/Undertow packs. To this day I hold this figure in high regard as it remains the best version of the great Law mold.

Law remains the perfect Joe cop. He is an excellent policeman rather than Mutt's pseudo military look. He looks like a real MP and has the gear to back it up. As such, he has long found use as an army builder in my collection rather than a character. Even as a kid, I ended up with 3 Laws and I used them as my Joe police squad. Early on, they were mostly used to arrest Cobras. But, as I got a bit older, they also began to play the role of internal military investigative police. They would go after rogue soldiers who either were going to endanger the Joes or after Joes themselves who had violated military rules. From there, their role expanded into the police force who served under my security officer figures who were always portrayed by Dialtone. This has been, perhaps, about the only aspect of my Joe collection where I have developed characters as deeply as those I have developed for my Cobra hierarchy. For some reason, the aspect of dutiful lawmen chasing down criminals has lead to a large part of my Joe world. For the most part, I don't view these policemen as anything more than guys doing a job. They don't really think about the motives of those whom they pursue, but they react to any violations of the law. As such, they are very prone to mistakes and often overreact to the most benign situation. Basically, they are very good at creating conflict where there is none. As such, they can be either a disruptive or a beneficial force depending upon how they react to a situation. This creates heightened tension for the Joes when these guys are involved as the Joes can never be sure if the police will make the situation worse or if they will help. It's just an added little part of my Joeverse that makes things a little more interesting.

As a figure, Law is very solid. He features a bulky, unzipped vest that could be taken to be ballistic or just stylish. He has a nice, big badge and a tear gas grenade molded onto his chest. His upper body is topped off by the shoulder mounted pistol holster. He also features handcuffs molded onto the back of his pants as well as a loop on his belt where he would hang his nightstick. Where the figures really shines, though, is the accessories. Law includes a basic helmet and silver Uzi that nicely complement the mold. He also has a nightstick that is better designed that Mutt's and that is actually useful with the figure as he can hold it. Finally, Law is topped off by his dog Order and a leash. Personally, I only use the dog as a very specific accessory for a scene where a dog might be used. (Such as a checkpoint or at a prison intake.) I don't use it as an everyday accessory with the figure, but it is nice to have available.   The Law mold saw several uses and each of them was very good in its own way. The original '87 figure features a nice use of color. It looks like the type of policeman who would be used as basic security. They would be very visible and would be the type of presence needed for your basic police duties. The '90 Super Sonic Fighter is more militaristic and makes for a perfect field police officer. I also use this version as a higher ranking police officer as this is probably the most difficult version of Law to find. This 2000 version is simply the best overall version ever made with the muted blue and white that really make the figure stand out as police. And, finally, the Funskool version from India also features a nice, dull brown color scheme that blends well with the 2000 figure. Plus, the Indian version features a cool mustache that brings some diversity to the Law ranks.

One of the things that has happened in the more than 5 years since this figure was released is that I have found a new appreciation for the ARAHC figures from 2000-2001. While the new sculpts figures have been nice, I consider them a line unto themselves. When you compare the ARAH style releases we have seen at retail since 2002 with those from the ARAHC, though, you realize how lazy Hasbro got with their later releases. While these early figures stagnated as the line progressed, they at least continued to include the original accessories from the mold's first release as well as complex, if uninspired, paint applications. Since then, ARAH-style Joes have suffered from horrid accessories and less and less detailed paint masks. In 2000, many collectors found reasons to complain about the ARAHC figures. Little did we know how good we had it then.

This version of Law is insanely easy to find. The first wave of the ARAHC figures wasn't nearly as rare as people thought it was. If that wasn't enough, Law and Dusty were then re-released in cases of Wave 2. Wave 2 was probably the most overproduced wave of Joes in the entire ARAHC series and was available at retail for more than a year. As such, many stores ended up clearancing out their final stock and many people were able to snag great deals on Dusty/Law 2 packs. Now, most dealers will still sell the figure for ~$5 just because it doesn't really pay for them to handle a figure for much less than that. Even at that price, though, this is a good figure of which to acquire multiples. Personally, I simply can't use this version of Law as anything other than an army builder. That's just what he is to me.

2000 Law and Order, ARAHC, Funskool Law, 1994 Countdown, 1983 G.I. Joe Headquarters, HQ

2000 Law and Order, ARAHC, Funskool Law, 1994 Countdown, 1983 G.I. Joe Headquarters, HQ, 2004 Comic Pack Grunt, Unproduced Caucasian Stalker

2000 Law and Order, ARAHC, Funskool Law, 1994 Countdown, 1983 G.I. Joe Headquarters, HQ, 2004 Comic Pack Grunt, Unproduced Caucasian Stalker, Funskool Mercer

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Unproduced Sky Patrol Low Light (Wal Mart Exclusive)

At the 2003 Toy Fair, Hasbro showcased a set of 6 figures that were slated to be Wal Mart exclusives. They were based on the Sky Patrol concept and each of the 3 Joes and 3 Cobras would have included a working parachute. The paint jobs that were showcased were enough to get collectors interested in the figures. But, as the year wore on, there was no additional information regarding the release date. As the year wore down, it was finally announced that due to safety concerns over the parachutes, the Sky Patrol figures had been cancelled. Instead, Wal Mart carried an exclusive series of Urban Cobras and Desert Joes. But, the saga of the Sky Patrol figs was not quite done. In late 2003/early 2004, a Storm Shadow appeared on Ebay. It was blue and red and unlike anything collectors had seen. Shortly thereafter, large quantities of the unproduced Sky Patrol figures appeared all over Ebay. It seemed that Hasbro had actually produced a small production run of the figures and they had become available to Asian Joe sellers. In the ensuing year, many collectors had occasion to add the figures to their collections for varying prices. Naturally, I finally decided it was time for me to do so as well. As Low Light was the only newly minted mold offered in the series, I felt he was most deserving of a closer look.

The Low Light figure has a historically solid mold and his reuse would have been a welcome addition to a line of ARAH re-releases that had become all too stale in terms of mold choice. Low Light also came as quite a surprise. The Low Light mold had been last seen in Brazil and it did not seem likely that he would appear in the modern line. As such, I speculated that the ultimate Wal Mart Low Light would simply be a rehash of the '91 Low Light that had just been used in 2001. When this figure actually appeared, it was was greeted with joy at the mold's existence, but dismay that it's use was relegated to relatively hard to find unreleased figure. That sentiment still exists today as collectors are still waiting for this mold to make its next appearance.

Low Light was originally released in the U.S. After that, he was sent to Brazil where the figure was released in colors similar to the American version. In 1989, Estrela actually produced the Slaughter's Marauders Low Light that was sold in the U.S. The repainted Low Light was also released in Brazil and is one of the few figures who saw multiple releases in South America. The mold, though, never resurfaced. A few of the Slaughter's Marauders molds did, eventually, show up in India. But many others did not and were presumed lost. When this figure appeared, it showed that Hasbro had re-acquired the Low Light mold. It was a welcome addition to a stable of ARAH-style molds that was becoming too predictable. An interesting aspect of this Wal Mart Low Light, though, is that he uses the exact same paint mask as the Slaughter's Marauders Low Light. This is significant as the SM paint mask was used in Brazil. However, subsequent to the Brazil release, an exclusive SM Low Light appeared in Europe. This showed that a Hasbro subsidiary had re-acquired the mold and the paint mask which is why it was available for this figure. It would also suggest that, with a little digging, Hasbro probably also has access to the V1 Spirit and V1 Mutt molds. Why the Low Light mold has not been used in the three years since this figure first appeared, though, remains a mystery.

In my collection, Low Light remains true to his intended purpose. He is a sniper and a sniper only. He rarely goes along on infantry missions unless their job is to get Low Light to a target. I also see Low Light as an infiltration specialist who is capable of sneaking into enemy compounds to get the best shot at his target. However, as I thought more about Low Light, I took a deeper look at the type of character he would have to be. While his filecard suggests a great inner strength that originated in him conquering his childhood fears, I felt that the character would have had to grow beyond that to handle his role as a sniper.   When I look at Low Light's character, I see a man with great responsibility. As a sniper, Low Light has the duty of, basically, playing God to his targets. He holds their lives in his hands. How would a man deal such pressure? My take is that Low Light is a righteous man. At his core, if he believes someone to be truly evil, he can reconcile his taking of their life. Unfortunately, such evilness is rarely so black and white. While it is easy for Low Light to eliminate a murderer or rapist, it becomes more difficult when his target is an individual whose deeds Low Light is unsure of. It becomes incredibly difficult to kill a man who, while he may have done some bad things, could also be a husband and father to people whom he has not victimized. This puts Low Light in a great moral quandary. While he has a job to do and his killings could save many lives, he is still the man who must deal with the knowledge that he took another's life in a way that prevented his quarry from even knowing his life was about to end. While some may be able to simply shrug off this responsibility by not thinking about it or drowning it in inebriants, others would have to find a way to reconcile their duty. This is how I see Low Light dealing with it. And, as such, it then stands to reason that Low Light would simply not be able to kill indiscriminately. I see him taking shots that seriously wound his targets and saving his fatal shots for those whom Low Light feels are truly evil. It still makes him effective at his job, but allows him the moral leeway to live with his actions.

While Wal Mart Low Light's aren't too terribly tough to find, I would suggest simply buying a V1 Low Light if you are just after a good representation of the character. Tons of these unproduced Sky Patrol figures made their way into collector hands. While most of the attention was on the army builders, though, the Low Light held his own and was usually the most expensive Joe figure. It was tough to get him delivered for under $20. As of the writing of this profile, that is probably a lowball price. Until Hasbro re-uses the Low Light mold for a new version of the character, it is unlikely that the collecting community will see a large drop in interest in this version of the character. That isn't to say that a huge quantity of these could suddenly show up and kill all demand and aftermarket pricing for this figure. But, it isn't likely that this unreleased version will ever become a retail figure with this paint scheme. My take is that this isn't a bad thing. I remain of the opinion that the Joe line as a whole needs to have a few rare pieces. If everything is common and expensive, then nothing in the line is special. As such, I like to see some unreleased figures, rare variants, or obscure releases and hate straight reissues or "new" figures with paint schemes heavily based on an already existing figure. It gives collectors something to shoot for. As a kid, the items I enjoyed the most were the ones that other kids did not have. It was not an elitist thing. Instead, it was an appreciation of owning something a little different that wasn't the same thing everyone else had. That attitude continues to this day and I remain of the opinion that having rarities and items that are difficult to acquire is what makes this hobby enduring.

2003 Unproduced Wal Mart Sky Patrol Low Light, Midnight Chinese, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1989 Slaughters Marauders Mutt, Brazil, Estrela, 2005 Comic Pack Hawk, Dial Tone

2003 Unproduced Wal Mart Sky Patrol Low Light, Midnight Chinese, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1992 Air Devil

2003 Unproduced Wal Mart Sky Patrol Low Light, Midnight Chinese, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1989 Slaughters Marauders Low Light