Back in 1983, every boy in my class wanted the Skystriker. It was the holy grail of the day. More than the Headquarters or the MOBAT, the Skystriker was the one toy everyone wanted. One of the few benefits to having a birthday 10 days before Christmas was that I always got at least one major present for the holiday season a week and half before everyone else. In 1983, that present was the Skystriker. I was the first in my class to have it and boy did it not disappoint! The jet was everything a just turned 10 year old could want: swing wings, retractable landing gear, missiles, bombs, big engines, removable seats and working parachutes. Coupled with all this was the pilot: Ace. Part fighter pilot, part astronaut, Ace had the look that we all imagined was the cutting edge of American military technology. With him behind the stick, Cobra Commander and Destro simply didn't stand a chance. Their puny FANGS were no match for the Skystiker's might.
Ace is the the Joe fighter pilot. Really, there isn't any argument regarding that. Sure, there are other pilots in the line, but Ace is the definitive character when it comes to piloting Joe's premier aircraft. The only real question regarding the character is which version to use. The 1992 mold is, in my opinion, the best pure fighter pilot figure released in the line. It is a perfect mold that matches the images of what a fighter jock should look like. However, it is Ace's original incarnation which is most associated with the character. To this day, when I use Ace, it is the original mold. The later mold figures, though superior, are nameless pilots who simply support Ace in his role as the leader of the Joe air wing.
The mold itself is solid, even if the coloring is unspectacular. Aside from the unique head piece that allows for the bubble helmet, Ace's body mold features tons of hidden details. There is a combat knife, breathing tubes and a pistol molded onto the figure's chest. The mold features puffy ridges on the arms and legs. They suggest insulation and protection that any high G-force fighter pilot would need. Alas, many of the details of the Ace mold are left unpainted. The figure features three basic colors: not counting the head. It's likely that Hasbro went soft on the paint applications on this figure as it was included with a high price point vehicle. The extra design money was better spent on details like the intricate stickers or working parachutes on the Skystriker itself. As a kid, things like this weren't that important. As an adult, it helps to show the mindset of the designers of the time. They had the money to create a great figure as an accompaniment to a great toy. They just didn't have quite enough design budget to finish painting the figure.
I opened my Skystriker on my birthday night. It was too hard to go to sleep with that great new toy sitting underneath my bed. That night, I took a flashlight to my room and after I was sent to bed, I got out the flashlight and played with my new Skystriker and Ace under the bed frame. In the darkness, I imagined Ace a spaceman landing on the moon or other far off planet. His bubble helmet and futuristic design simply took my mind in that direction. I stayed up far too late that night, but it was not enough to dull my excitement. The next day, I took Ace to school with me to show off on the playground. That morning, we had Mass prior to school starting. After church, I went to take my new Ace out of my backpack when I discovered a horror of horrors: Ace's helmet was missing! A quick check showed a hole in the compartment in my pack where I had stored the figure. Obviously, the helmet had fallen out. I searched my classroom in vain but the helmet was nowhere to be found. At recess, I searched the playground in earnest, but had no luck. I went home, crestfallen at my bad luck. I still had one glimmer of hope, though. The next morning, before school, I went into the church. I went to the pew where I had been sitting (we were seated by grade and had assigned seats so it was easy to remember where I'd been) and looked underneath it. Tucked between a few dust bunnies was my Ace's helmet! This was a tremendous relief for me. I secured the helmet into a plastic bag in my backpack (after checking to ensure no holes) and kept it safe the rest of the day. Later in the week, I brought the entire plane in for show and tell. While the females of the class were less than enthused with my new pride and joy, the boys met it with great interest. At lunch, they all took turns looking it over in anticipation of finding their own under the Christmas tree just a few days later....
With a vivid memory like this, you can be sure that Ace was one of my most used Joes. In time, I broke his crotch, his left thumb and wore out all his joints. But, I still had the helmet. Somewhere around 1986, I bought another Ace of a school friend who was outgrowing his Joes. This was a nicer conditioned figure, with helmet, that took the place of my worn original. (The original Ace figure was then taken apart and his head was used for one of my own characters that I created back then. Of course, this character was also a pilot, but had more ground combat experience than Ace.) By that time, though, my Skystriker had seen better days. A few crashes and emergency ejections had left the canopy destroyed and the body broken and battered. The plane simply wasn't an important part of my collection anymore. But, Ace was. Without a fighter for him to pilot, Ace found his way to the co-pilot chair of the Tomahawk helicopter. This was short lived, though, as I wasn't thrilled with the way Ace's colors meshed with the new chopper. Still, I found another use for the figure.
If you've read my profile of the 1993 Payload figure, you can see a glimpse of Ace's use. By late 1986 and early 1987, I was getting a bit old for Joe. This lead to changing play patters and an expanded view of what Joe was. Rather than just a bunch of unique characters, I created various army building type roles. This allowed Joe to better deal with a Cobra that was more an individual nation than the terrorist organization it was originally designed as. I created a few figures who were the basic grunts of the Joe army. One day, I had Cobra electrify the surface of a deep body of water. The Joes had to break the surface in order to stop the Cobra plot. I had the typical diver figures of the day, but their gear would not withstand the energy field that covered the water. Enter Ace. Ace's suit became an all-purpose "Special Missions" suit that allowed the wearer to breath for several hours under very deep water. It had the flexibility of a wetsuit, but the strength of a high pressure diving suit like Deep Six. I armed the figure with Torpedo's backpack and Sci-Fi's gun and my new unit of ultra elite Joe commandos was born. With this new duty, the Ace figure was given new life and was a vital part of my collection until I packed my Joes away in early 1988.
If you fast forward a few years, Ace was one of the first figures I reacquired in the mid-'90's. I found a nicely conditioned Ace figure in a $1 bin at Trader's World outside Dayton, Ohio in 1995. The seller promptly lectured me about how no figure that wasn't mint and complete with their filecard would ever be "worth" anything. Frankly, I didn't care. I bought the figure because Ace was an important part of my collection. When I started buying Joes in earnest in 1998, I slowly amassed about 6 Ace figures. But, by 2001, Ace was attracting decent sales prices and trade offers, so I liquidated about half of those. To this day, though, I have three complete Ace figures in my collection. While his role has been replaced by the Payload figures, I still have a soft spot for the original Ace that started it all.
Today, this Ace doesn't get much use in my collection. While his white and red coloring melded perfectly with the Skystriker, it is harder to find other jets that go with him as well. Plus, I don't have much use for large jets in my collection any more. They take up a lot of storage real estate and don't offer much in terms of displayability. Sure, the plane looks nice, but you can display a couple dozen figures and 2 small vehicles in the Skystriker's footprint. However, Ace marks an important turning point for me as a collector. In 1982, I bought a few Joes. In 1983, though, they were displaced by the just released Return of the Jedi figures. I went into Star Wars full bore. After the movie hype died down, though, I found myself drawn back to Joes. Airborne was the figure that brought me back and I vividly remember adding the Dragonfly to my collection in October of 1983. (Saved up lawn mowing money for that!) But, it was the Skystriker that cemented Joe as my toyline of choice. Ace offered a bit of diversity in his use. He could be a pilot, a diver or an astronaut. As such, I didn't need Star Wars figure when I wanted to play in space. Joe now allowed for that. Going into 1984, I exclusively collected Joe and Joe was the toyline that dominated my room for the next few years. The reason I collect today is the experience and joy I felt as a child when I first acquired a toy like the Skystriker. That pure, unadulterated joy is a feeling that is hard to replicate in adulthood. Looking back at childhood playthings that brought that feeling, though, is a great way to keep grounded: especially as life grows more and more hectic with marriage, mortgages, kids, car payments, utility bills, office politics, and the other trappings of adulthood. I wouldn't go back to 1983 for anything in the world. But, I do enjoy having the memories of that time as it allows me to relax and put some of the modern problems into perspective. Frankly, that alone is enough to keep me collecting for the rest of my life.
The Ace mold was only used in the US. Originally released from 1983 to at least 1985 at retail with the Skystriker, Ace was available as a mail away for years. To this day it is quite common to find bagged Ace figures with red backed filecards. Even as the Skystriker mold was exported around the world, Ace stayed behind. Hasbro dusted off the mold in 1998 and produced a high quality, darker repaint. But, the mold has been MIA since then. That's not a bad thing as the Ace mold is a bit skinny, is easy to find in its original form and isn't a figure that really needs another repaint. So, I'm not disappointed that Hasbro has steered clear of it with the few recent aircraft releases we've seen.
On the surface, Ace figures should be hard to find. He was released in 1983 with a higher price point vehicle. But, this is not the case. Besides the fact that the Skystriker was one of the more popular Joe toys in its day, Ace was also released as a mail away for many years. In fact, Ace was very much like the Hooded Cobra Commander in that he was pretty much continuously available from 1983 through at least 1993. As such, Ace figures aren't that hard to find today. Still, like many of his 1983 brethren, Ace is prone to discoloration and finding pristine white samples can take a bit of time. (You will notice that the Ace figure in my photos features spotty discoloration. My nice version is packed away and this was the version I had most handy.) Still, Ace isn't a figure that will set you back too much money. As a classic, Ace is a must have for any collection. But, if you only want one pilot for your entire Joe fleet, then I'd still go with one of the later Ace versions.