Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2005 Comic Pack Firefly

Given the benefit of time and perspective, it becomes clear that the original comic packs were a great idea: just horribly executed. While the character choices were rather strong, there are few comic pack figures who really stand apart on their own. Most are inferior to their original versions. Even the characters only available in the comic packs are largely lacking in some respect. But, there are some gems. Most of them are well known to collectors and have, thusly, enjoyed some aftermarket appreciation. But, others are largely unheralded and relegated to trash heap of collectordom. There are myriad reasons for this, but many of these figures deserve a second look. Perhaps the most glaring example is the 2005 Comic Pack Firefly.

Firefly is one of the stalwarts of any vintage collection. During the heyday of the Joe renaissance, complete Fireflies easily hit the $40-$50 range. Hasbro was quick to realize Firefly's popularity and found ways to get repaints of the character rotated into their modern releases. The first was in 1998. This arctic version was a new take on the character and brought another dimension to the Firefly mold. The 2000 version was reminiscent of the original, but still different enough that it had some use. The 2002 version was less useful as it was kind of crimson but not quite. In 2003, the mold found use as Wreckage as well as in 2 convention releases. These both offered different takes on the Firefly character. But, collectors were getting tired of the mold. In 2004, Hasbro brought the mold out again. This time, though, they released a figure that was probably the best version of Firefly up to that time. The Urban Strike Firefly featured classic Cobra colors, his original accessories and a complex paint mask that featured a full 7 different colors. It is an amazing figure and was the last Firefly collectors needed. But, Hasbro wasn't done. In early 2005, they took the same paint masks from the Urban Firefly, replaced the blue with red and released the Crimson Firefly. It's not a bad figure, but was overkill that diluted the definitive, earlier release. But, Hasbro was not done. In mid 2005, they released this final version of Firefly as part of Comic Pack #49. This figure featured a new head mold, his original accessories and colors that hearkened back to the original: only more complex and modern. The result is the best version of Firefly ever released.

If you had asked me how to improve the Firefly mold back in 2004, I would not have suggested a new head. However, this one little detail rejuvenated the entire Firefly mold and made it matter. It's not so much the fact that the head is new. Instead, it is that this new head is substantially better than the vintage version. Most of the comic pack figures featured new heads. But, almost all of them were either downgrades or equals to the vintage heads they replaced. Not so with Firefly. This new head brought a dimension of anger to the character. He was no longer just small eyes behind a grey cammo'ed mask. Now, his head had some character. The slightly furrowed brow and more pronounced chin give Firefly a more distinct and stronger look. Gone is wide eyed youngster from 1984. Instead, you see eyes that are more grizzled and show the hardship and destruction that a character like Firefly would have wrought in his lifetime.

The colors on this figure are basically the same as the vintage version. However, they have been modernized to an extent that leaves the original figure more dated than I would have thought. The cammo patterns are tighter and the base grey is slightly lighter than on the vintage figure. The result is a figure that is brighter overall and photographs better than the original. This figure also features more painted details than the original. However, it should be noted that the Urban and Crimson figures have more paint applications and do have more details painted than this version does. Regardless, this Firefly still features additional paint applications that were sorely lacking on the original figure. The silver grenades and black straps and holsters give the figure more depth and make him more visually appealing than the original. Overall, the coloring is just an upgrade in total. When you look at this figure, you know it is Firefly and you recall the vintage release. This one is just superior. It's too bad than can not be said of more of the comic pack figures.

This Firefly is now my de facto mold for the character. While I still have some vintage versions around, they have been surpassed by this release. The better coloring and less brittle plastic has made my vintage figures less necessary. That isn't to say that this version has surpassed the vintage in terms of significance. But, when I need to use a Firefly figure, this is the version that is more often chosen. The inclusion of all the original accessories in black help keep this figure on a more even keel with the 1984 version and also reinforce how important the right accessories are to most of the vintage Joe molds. Comic pack figures that would have been OK, like Flint, Tunnel Rat, Zap and Short Fuse, were made less useful by Hasbro's failure to also include remakes of their vintage accessories. Without them, these figures lose the characterization that made them so vibrant. So, that is another of this Firefly's strengths.

The Firefly mold history was well chronicled above. In addition to those uses, Firefly also saw time in India and was released by Funskool. In India, the mold was altered so the figure's backside read "Made in India". This was erased (poorly!) by Hasbro starting in 1998. This comic pack figure, though, was likely the result of a slightly refurbished mold. The remnants of Funskool are gone on this figure and many of the mold details that were starting to fade away in earlier Firefly releases have been sharpened up and are once again crisp and clean. As such, the figure seems "newer" than even the awesome 2004 release. A simple mold cleanup and a new head were all this Firefly needed to have some new life breathed into him.

With this new take on the mold, I have brought a new take on the Firefly character. While he is still a saboteur, I now see Firefly as an information broker as well. Firefly has great infiltration and forensic skills and he puts those to use in gathering information on his enemies and his employers. The result is the ability to sell information to competing factions or to protect himself from some of his more ruthless clients. My new Firefly is younger, not associated with Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow and has a background more steeped in law enforcement and intelligence than straight military. Firefly is now the first person brought in when a murder is committed on Cobra Island. He knows all the players on the island, is familiar with their politics and alliances and knows who has the will and motives to kill. That isn't to say that he won't protect the guilty if it serves his own ends. But, it also gives Firefly more power than a simple saboteur would otherwise have.

The sad reality is that this figure was a remarkable pegwarmer and is criminally cheap on the secondary market today. At first, the comic pack including this Firefly was well received. It came on the heels of the hard to find Oktober Guard packs and collectors were ready to buy. The packs were slow to trickle out. So, for a while, this pack actually commanded a premium on the aftermarket. But, after a few months, that ended. Slowly, these packs backed up at retail. And, with the end of the retail line imminent, many stores clearanced these packs at steeply discounted prices. On top of that, many discount retailers also received shipments of this comic pack assortment and sold them for 1/2 the original retail price. The result was a surplus of these packs in the marketplace. As such, you can still buy a MOC version of this set for around the original retail price. If you are only after Firefly, you can get them for around $3. At this price, this figure is a no-brainer and it is a shame that a figure of this quality is relegated to such a cheap fate. But, that is the reality of the modern toy market. But, it gives new collectors a chance to add the best version of a major character for a fraction of the cost of the original figure. That's a good thing.

2005 comic Pack Firefly, 2008 Convention Exclusive headhunter Driver, 1983 Hiss Tank, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

2005 comic Pack Firefly, 2008 Convention Exclusive headhunter Driver, 1983 Hiss Tank, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Headhunter Guard

2005 comic Pack Firefly, Snake Eyes






























2005 comic Pack Firefly, 1990 Undertow


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Action Force Stalker - European Exclusive

Some time around 1984, the Palitoy toy company extended it's line of Action Force toys to incorporate a new style of action figure that was taking the US by storm. Gone were the 5 points of articulation figures that were compatible with vintage Star Wars toys and in came some recently used molds from the G.I. Joe line. These first figures were recolored to match the Action Force color pallette and given distinctive Action Force names. However, the G.I. Joe juggernaut was too strong and slowly but surely the Action Force line simply became the European brand of G.I. Joe. Among those early Joe figure mold repaints, though, are a slew of highly desirable unique figures. Most collectors would love to have Quarrel, Red Laser, Hunter or Blades as part of their collections. Also part of the Action Force line, though, was a figure that has caused great confusion among the collecting world in the years since its release. The figure is the Action Force Stalker who is actually a repaint of Snake Eyes. Confused? You're not alone. But, the result is an interesting figure who was once the best Snake Eyes mold available and is also the subject of this profile.

Basically, Stalker is nothing more than a V1 Snake Eyes figure with some dark grey highlights. Today, this is hardly anything worth writing about as we have plenty of V1 inspired Snake Eyes figures who are nicely detailed with many different paint colors. However, in the '90's, the only way to get a Snake Eyes figure that was anything other than solid black was this European exclusive. Even as Hasbro started putting out variations of the V1 Snake Eyes figure in 1997, this Action Force Stalker retained its allure. Collectors were not yet burned out on Snake Eyes and were always quick to welcome another version of the character's mold into their collections.

What to do with Stalker? This is a difficult question for the American collector since Snake Eyes is so ingrained in any USA-centric Joe mythos. It's hard to view this figure as a new character since Snake Eyes' design is so unique to him. It doesn't make any sense to have this figure be another version of the American Stalker character since that Stalker also has such an iconic look. Most collectors simply used this as yet another Snake Eyes figure. But, with so many better versions of Snake Eyes out there these days, even that leaves this figure as the odd man out. However, looking at this figure's Action Force roots show some potential. In the Action Force mythos, Stalker was an Icelandic madman who seems like an amped up amalgamation of Clutch. In the Action Force comics, Stalker was drawn without the mask at times and that look gives credence to an entirely new character. Unfortunately, the use of the Snake Eyes mold does not live up to it. But, it does open the door for this figure someday becoming something more in the modern Joe world.

Personally, I think that much could be done with the Action Force characters. A convention set featuring many molds painted up in Action Force green, SAS black and Red Shadows red would be among the most popular sets Master Collector could attempt. The Action Force villain line is full of great characters that would expand upon the existing Cobra hierarchy. They have their own army builders in Red Shadows that would easily be made from existing molds and new heads. On the Action Force side, a character like Stalker could be brought to life with a new interpretation and could be made relevant to all collectors with a new mold. The rest of the Action Force characters could undergo the same process. On top of that, some standard Joes who were big players in the Action Force comic (Flint comes to mind...) could be redone in Action Force green: which would actually be a welcome repaint for even the most overused molds. At this point, there isn't much left for Master Collector to do in terms of a high profile convention set. However, Action Force would probably be the one theme that would energize collectordom en masse.

Stalker was included with the Action Force Panther jeep. It was a black and yellow repaint of the American VAMP. The figure included the same accessories as the V1 Snake Eyes figure. Savvy collectors also know, though, that Stalker was available as a bagged premium figure at one of the early G.I. Joe conventions in the '90's. It seems that Hasbro got ahold of a large quantity of Palitoy overstock. So, they bagged up spare Quarrels, Blades and Stalkers, gave them accessories that were in production at the time, and bagged them as exclusives for convention attendees. These are the same figures as the vintage Action Force models but have become slightly more collectible in recent years since they do feature the convention exclusive moniker.

This brings up an interesting point about most of the Action Force exclusive toys. When Hasbro acquired Palitoy, they also acquired all of the old overstock that Palitoy had on hand. This included tons of Action Force figures still sealed on their original bubbles. Some of these were used for things like the convention premium figures. But, a lot of the overstock was slowly sold off to European (usually UK based) toy dealers in the late '90's. These days, you see collectors paying through the nose for figures like Gaucho and Jammer. Yet, just a few short years ago, these figures were available in multitudes from UK toy dealers. Yes, that stock has dried up. But, many collectors mistakenly think that the Action Force exclusives were only available with their vehicles. That isn't the case as many American collectors were able to acquire carded Action Force figures at the turn of the century from these overstock dealers. As such, many of these Action Force figures are more common than newer collectors are sometimes lead to believe.

Simply put, the V1 Snake Eyes mold was one of the most popular in the entire world. Aside from being used in the US, the mold was repainted in unique color schemes in Argentina, Brazil, Europe, Mexico and India. Snake Eyes parts were used to create Cobras in both Argentina and Brazil. And, Snake Eyes was the original figure included with the Funskool exclusive Street Hawk toy. After the mold was returned to Hasbro in 1997, it has been used a number of times to create newly updated and detailed versions of Snake Eyes. At this point,the mold is exhausted and there are really only a few things that could be done to it to make it relevant to collectors once again. If we never see this figure mold again, it will probably be too soon.

This figure was once one of the more desirable European Action Force exclusives. However, as Hasbro began to release more and more figures based on the V1 Snake Eyes mold, the need for this figure was diminshed. At one time, this was the only way to get a V1 Snake Eyes that wasn't all black. These days, collectors have almost a dozen different versions of Snake Eyes that are based on the V1 mold and most of them feature more intricate paint masks than Stalker displays. As such, Stalker is no longer the featured collectible he was once. While some Action Force figures have gotten ridiculously expensive in recent years, Stalker has remained affordable and can often be purchased for about the same price you'd pay for a Snake Eyes figure. That's pretty cheap considering that Stalker is probably rarer than the American figure. Personally, I like having figures like this in my collection. But, for many collectors, the enjoyment they would get out of this mold will vary. It is no longer a figure that is required in order to have a slightly better Snake Eyes and that really makes him a figure that cash strapped collectors can probably skip.

Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, Palitoy, Fumaca, Estrela, Brazil, Ripcord, Spirit, Olhos de Fenix, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, TTBP


Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982 Scarlett, 2008 Convention Headhunter BAT, Battle Android Trooper

Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1984 Firefly, 2005 Night Watch Trooper

Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982 VAmP, Spirit, Recondo, Brazil, estrela, Leopardo, Olhos De Phenix

























Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982 VAmP, 1983 Steeler, Cobra Trooper, Short Fuse

Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, Palitoy, Funksool Flint

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

1985 SMS - Sears Exclusive

It is hard to remember now, but there was a time when Sears was the go to retailer for toys. They were world's largest retailer and used that clout to secure holiday exclusives that they could sell both in their stores and from their catalogs. Hasbro, wisely, worked with Sears from the beginning on their Joe line and produced a cardboard base that was exclusive to Sears in 1982. This "Missile Headquarters" wasn't much of a toy, though. In 1984, Sears was able to secure some of the 1985 Joe toys early for release during the '84 holiday shopping season. In 1985, though, Sears took on a whole new element when they produced exclusive repaints of existing Joe toys. There were two sets that year: the C.A.T. (a repainted MOBAT) and the S.M.S (a repainted HISS and MMS) that shared a common, Crimson theme. Most collectors know these items as expensive aftermarket acquisitions made as adults. I, though, was a lucky kid who found the SMS under our tree on Christmas morning in 1985. As such, this item was a special part of my childhood collection and remains one of my few nostalgic pieces that I own today.

During the holidays in '85, my parents frequently took us to the mall. It's likely this was due to the fact that it was a cheap way to keep us occupied during the cold winter. They would simply drop us into the toy aisle of various stores and let us browse while they shopped for whatever it was they needed that day. (Odd that writing that statement in 2008 makes me think my parents were irresponsible. But, in 1985, such a thing was not only commonplace, but it was both accepted and safe.) As such, my brothers and I spent hours scanning over the toy aisles, looking at all the awesome new toys we wanted for Christmas. To this day, I know that I visited other aisles while I was browsing. But, my only detailed memories are of the G.I. Joe toys that lined the shelves. The items that always absorbed the most of my attention were things I did not own. That year, it was the Moray and, of course, the USS Flagg. But, also on the shelves were two toys that were somewhat odd: the CAT and SMS. These items were not available in any other store and featured box backs that were drawings rather than the full color photos that were the standard of the reverses of Joe vehicle packaging of the day.

Of these two, the SMS was the more intriguing item to me. I had always hated the MOBAT and had no interest in it with new colors of red and black. The SMS, though, looked kind of fun. It was a red Hiss Tank and a red and black version of the MMS. The MMS had been one of two vehicles I had received for Christmas in 1982. At the time, I had not appreciated it as it was towed behind my VAMP (the other vehicle I got that year) but could not hold a figure. So, though I had three vehicles and only four figures as I entered 1983, I did not have enough room on my vehicles to hold all four members of my Joe team. So, this had soured the 9 year old me on the MMS. Now, at 12 years old, though, the usefulness of a mobile missile launcher was much more apparent to me. I saw the tank as an elite HISS tank that was more powerful and faster than the standard, black version. But, more importantly, I saw the SMS as a way for Cobra to level the playing field against the Joes.

The SMS started as simply a mobile missile system that Cobra would cart around. They would, occasionally, shoot down Skystrikers or Dragonflies. But, that was about it. As 1986 progressed, though, Cobra took to missiles to a different level. They became a secret weapon that could be unleashed against Joe bases from short ranges: but outside the scope of the standard Joe base security. They were fast and hard to shoot down with the limited weaponry that was attached to the Joe HQ. By the end of 1986, these missiles were now Cobra's most powerful weapon. They were used with great affect against many Joe bases and had even managed to kill a few Joes. At this point, the Joes got desperate. They needed to find a way to shut down the missiles without have to surround their bases with tons and tons of stationary defenses. (This occurred anyways, though, as things like the SLAM and the LAW became standard installations around my Joe base.) By accident, Mainframe discovered that the missiles had deactivation codes. If the Joes could find the right numerical code, it would shut down the missiles in mid flight. But, due to the proximity from which Cobra could launch the missiles and the short time it took for them to reach their target, this wasn't a great solution as it was improbable that the right numerical code would be broadcast before the missile struck.

The Joes were thus forced to set out and find a missile station before the missiles had been launched and the onboard computers destroyed. There were a few close calls, but the Joes always found the launchers after they had self destructed. Finally, though, a hasty mission using unnamed Joe recruits (These were the repaints from the Mission to Brazil set. I used them as unnamed army builders who specialties mimicked those of their mold counterparts.) managed to capture a launch station. Cobra valiantly tried to defend the station and destroy the base. But, the Joes held them off long enough for the Science Officer (aka, Mission to Brazil Mainframe) to download all the codes. With this, the Joes rendered the missile stations useless. Anytime a missile went up, the codes were broadcast and it came right down: unarmed and harmless. The side effect of this was that I managed to render my SMS toy useless, too. So, it got packed away and forgotten about for a few years. Around 1988, I pulled all the pieces out of a box of junk and put the entire SMS away. Here it sat for many years until I pulled it out and brought it back to my collection. Today, it remains one of the few vehicles that are part of my use collection.

The SMS you see pictured below is my original. By late 1985, I was able to keep most of my Joe toys in very good condition. Despite the amount of use it got, the SMS didn't get worn down like some of the other high profile vehicles in my collection at the time. As such, it has survived, relatively intact, to today. Really, the 2nd half of 1985 was my line of demarcation. Anything that I purchased during that summer or later survived in pretty good shape into my adult collection. The figures I purchased in the first half of the year, though, did not. I guess it was a maturation process, but that seems to be the point where my collection became something important to me and I kept my items in much better shape. That isn't to say that I didn't still use them roughly or leave stuff outside for days on end. But, on the whole, I was much more cautious with my toys as the year wore on. There are precious few items from 1986 and forward that I lost from my childhood collection. And, most of those items can be traced to specific instances where my younger brothers or their friends got into my Joes and lost accessories when I was not around.

As a kid, though, items like the SMS were among my favorites. The main reason was that not everyone had them. While that statement comes off a bit snobbish these days, the reality is that it was the distinct items that made my collection different from that of the kids down the street. The fact that I had items like the SMS, the Dreadnok exclusives and the Mission to Brazil set allowed me to have some items that were unique to my childhood experience. As such, I didn't have to stay within the confines of Snake Eyes and Flint. I had some options. Frankly, I think that's why Joe still stays with me today. Joe was something that set me apart from many other kids. We all had toys, but I only had Joes. (Well, up through the first part of 1983, I did have Star Wars, too. But, those were all but gone by 1984 and totally replaced by Joes.) If you wanted to play with some toys that not everyone had, you came to my house. It's odd to think something like the SMS was that kind of draw. But, when everyone had the same toys, even something that was a different color was enough to be a draw. To this day, the items that most interest me are the ones that set a collection apart. It's not the rarity or the value, it's the distinction that comes from having something that not everyone owns. It has lead to a greater appreciation of the line's nuances and is a large part of why I still collect today.

The MMS mold had quite a history. After the original green version was discontinued in 1983, the mold appeared in Europe as part of the Action Force line. There, it was released in a combo of black and grey. Hasbro then used the mold for this exclusive in 1985. Sometime around here, Hasbro also produced the M.S.V. exclusively for the Canadian market. This item featured an all black MMS. (In fact, the base, missile bracket and legs for the MSV are identical to those of the SMS. Only the missiles are a different color.) The MMS mold then seems to have died in India. Funskool produced an MMS for a very short time and it is one of the rarest Funskool vehicles today. This MMS was similar in color to the American version. But, there are rumours of Funskool also making oddly colored MMS's that may or may not have been part of their Joe line. As Funskool discontinued the MMS rather early in their history, it is not known if the mold still exists. It would make an excellent add on as part of a larger vehicle set (like the ASP in the Crimson Sabotage set) but would likely not work as well on it's own. At this point, though, collectors can get an MMS in enough colors to satisfy them. The prices might be higher than most collectors would like, but there are nice, alternate MMS options out there.

When you look back at the vintage Joe line, there were precious few exclusive items that were ever offered. You would think that the toy market of the time would have lent itself to many exclusives since just about every retailer sold toys and most of them sold them year round and would not have to discount any leftover Christmas stock. But, as modern collectors, we are probably fortunate that these exclusives were so uncommon. Today, the priciest pieces from the vintage line are exclusive figures like Night Force and vehicles like these Sears pieces. Imagine if the line was also littered with other exclusives that were only available at a regional retailer, through a catalog or by attendance at a specific event. The result would be many more items that would likely carry price tags that would trump even these Sears pieces. If you look at the exclusives that collectors deal with today, it is unfathomable how, if the toy market were to be the same with a large, new generation of collectors coming on in another decade, anyone would keep up. Fortunately, the modern toy market is heavily geared towards collectors so this won't be an issue. But, we are equally fortunate that the toy buyers of the mid '80's were not more aggressive in their pursuit of exclusive toys. Lest, the Joe line would be dramatically different today.

The SMS is fairly pricey. Being a retailer exclusive, it saw a severely truncated production run. On top of that, it's a fairly distinct toy and one that most collectors would like to have in their collections. The legs for the missile base and stand for the control panel are easily lost and the actual spinning missile bracket breaks frequently. To top it all off, the missile are fragile and the tips are easily broken. A nicely conditioned version, with the Hiss Tank will run you close to $100. You can get the missile launcher separately, but it is often substantially higher priced than the Hiss Tank. Even at those prices, you won't see too many of these at any given time. Personally, if not for my childhood piece, I would not likely own the SMS. As an adult acquired item, it would have some cachet, but little value beyond monetary. As this was an important piece in my childhood, though, I still hold the SMS in high regard and can not imagine my collection without it. For others, the mileage may vary on this piece. It is expensive. But, it also has an inherent exclusivity to it that might make a high dollar purchase worthwhile.

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal, 1984 Firefly, 2002 Crimson Fast Blast Viper

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

1985 Tollbooth

Along with Shipwreck, Law and Spirit, Tollbooth completes the G.I. Joe homage to the Village People. This bit of humour hasn't been lost on many current satirical shows that have taken hold of some of the more outlandish Joes. But, beneath the orange helmet, sallow face and skinny mold lies a figure that has an understated design that befits the character's specialty. Tollbooth is the perfect forgotten Joe who is a strong match for his vehicle and draws his value to a collection from his affiliation with a toy that plays an important role in any collection.

The Bridge Layer is a toy that appears to be somewhat boring when you first come across it. It's pretty basic. Though it's well detailed, it doesn't do a whole lot. Yet, it remains a toy that is incredibly useful and fun to have around. As a kid, I can't remember all the times that I needed a bridge to get my Joes across a swamp, over a ditch or just up the stairs. Enter the Bridge Layer. In my childhood room, the main chamber was at the end of a short hallway. The hallway had one small step that allowed the actual bedroom to be lower than the hall so it was tall enough to use. This was my primary place of indoor play as a child so I always needed some way to get the Joes up, over the step so they could engage the attacking Cobras from the hallway. The Bridge Layer served a dual purpose of both moving the Joe heavy equipment over the obstacle, but also as shelter. Stood on its sides, the bridge made for a strong shield behind which the Joes could avoid blasts from Hiss Tanks and Stuns.

I learned of Tollbooth before he was fully released. Some friends of mine had seen the Bridge Layer at Sears stores during Christmas of 1984. I had not seen the Bridge Layer, though I had found the Dreadnoks. As they told me of this new vehicle and its driver, I didn't believe them. When I finally found a 1985 catalog and saw the Bridge Layer, though, I had to have one. However, I could not find one for a good long time. I finally found one at a Sears store in Dayton, Ohio when visiting my grandparents near Easter. (I still remember the shelf configuration and seeing the Bridge Layer on an endcap.) As soon as I got the vehicle home, it quickly became my first vehicle of choice. With the bridge attached, the top of the vehicle was a perfect place for my new '85 Joes to ride. I set Flint, Snake Eyes, Footloose and Alpine as the main crew atop the tank with Bazooka as Tollbooth's co-pilot in the main vehicle. This meant that Tollbooth took on a greater role in my collection than a figure of his design normally would.

While I found some charm in Tollbooth's figure, my friends from down the street were more grounded. They ridiculed Tollbooth from the get go and often made fun of his drunk face, hyperbolic open shirt and cockeyed helmet. The figure makes the character look slow. Rather than that, though, I viewed Tollbooth as a typical heavy equipment operator who understood the power of the vehicle he was operating and who had full knowledge of the consequences were he to be off in a bridge placement by even only a few inches. I saw his face as hardened experience that allowed him to operate a vehicle under that kind of pressure while he was also under enemy fire. Plus, his sledgehammer made him an interesting combatant for any Cobra foe who happened to get too close to the Bridge Layer during the course of battle.

As the Bridge Layer remained a staple of my Joe convoys for many years, Tollbooth saw more action than a figure like him normally would have. As such, my original figure quickly found himself with a broken thumb and crotch. While this normally would have been the death knell for any figure in my collection, Tollbooth managed to stay relevant. As he was rarely used outside his vehicle, the figure was still usable in that capacity. It was only after the Bridge Layer was phased out of my collection that Tollbooth finally disappeared from my use bin. As an adult, I was slow to re-acquire a new Tollbooth figure. He simply wasn't important enough for me to add now that vehicles were boxed away. Finally, though, I crossed him off my list of needed figures and have enjoyed having him back in the fold that as he helps complete my vintage collection.

The Bridge Layer, though, is a different story. I had at least 2 of them at one point in my adult collecting life and am pretty sure the overall number was at 3 for a little while. I have no recollection, though, of selling any of them. As the vehicle was an important part of my childhood, I liked having one around: even though I had no place to display it. However, it now appears that all my Bridge Layers are gone. I can not find any of them. As such, Tollbooth's relevance is severely limited. Had I even one Bridge Layer left, Tollbooth would be at the controls with most of my other favorite '85 figures adorning other spots of prominence on the vehicle. One day, I'll probably replace my Bridge Layer and pick up another. They're not expensive. But, I have other collecting priorities these days and adding more vehicles that take up space in boxes that make good scorpion nests out in the garage is not one of them.

As a figure, Tollbooth fits in with the other releases from 1984. But, he is largely out of place in 1985. He does have some decent detail. But, the head design isn't perfect by any means. The open shirt also dates the figure as it exceeds the standards for acceptable sloppiness and is brazenly in the territory of a 1970's disco king. The vest and waist do mesh well together, though, and give the figure a credibility as a heavy equipment operator. The figure's colors are strong, but the bright orange helmet does take away from that a bit. The inclusion of a sledge hammer as Tollbooth's accessory also grounds the figure in his utilitarian roots. Tollbooth is definitely a worker for the Joes more than he is a fighter. But, the design is such that this is OK and it helps to keep the Joes more grounded in realism.

Tollbooth uses the legs and lower arms from Gung-Ho. Other than that, the rest of the figure is original. But, it was also never used again. However, Tollbooth was one of just 5 figures with the straight head joint newly released in 1985. As such, he was obsolete the day he hit the retail shelves. As the Bridge Layer was an exclusive that hit in late '84 (along with the Dreadnoks) it makes sense that he used the older body style. But, that poor timing also relegates the figure into obscurity since he was dated so soon after his initial release. The mold lacks any real potential and would be hard pressed to repaint in any manner that would justify a return. The character, though, could be salvaged. The Hardtop head would be a good update for Tollbooth and I think that someone could make a figure that is a worthwhile update of the character with existing parts.

I would welcome that because Joe can always use more vehicle drivers and armour operators.
If you want a Tollbooth, they are not hard to find. The figure is subject to paint wear, though, so mint versions aren't as common as many collectors think. The filecard is also usually missing. But, even fully complete and mint, the figure rarely will run you more than $6 or so. He just isn't a figure that collectors care about. But, if you like the Bridge Layer, it is essential to have a Tollbooth figure. He fits in with the vehicle and brings an air of realism to the Joe line. He will never be a figure of great importance in any collection. But is a figure who serves a role and serves it well. The strength of the Joe line is the supporting characters. Tollbooth is just another example of how well planned the vintage Joe line really was.

1985 Tollbooth, Flint, 1982 VAMP, Schrage, Oktober Guard, 2005, Comic Pack

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rock Trooper Guile - Street Fighter Movie

Several years ago, I profiled the Paratrooper Guile figure. At the time, I was enjoying the various Guile variants that are available and felt the paratrooper was one of the better options for a profile as it was one of the higher profile Guile variants. Accompanying that Paratrooper Guile was another, more obscure Guile theme: the Rock Trooper Guile. This version of Guile features the same head as the other figures, but has a repainted body from the 1991 Dusty figure. The result is a solid repaint that has found a home in my collection.

The Street Fighter Movie figures were a ploy by Hasbro to milk some last pennies out of their now defunct G.I. Joe toy line. The line featured some new parts. But, the vast majority of the figure construction was leftovers from the Joe line. At the time, it was a way for Hasbro to keep the costs down while still producing a line of toys that would take advantage of the marketplace. It is curious that Hasbro has again done this just this year with toys from the Hulk movie line. The existing Joe molds were a cheap way for Hasbro to bring more diversity to that line without having to invest in all new tooling. I don't mind this approach. In the case of the Street Fighter and Mortal Combat Movie figures, the results were some great additions to any Joe collection. In time, it would be nice for Joe collectors to have some other lines like this that would keep classic Joe molds on retail shelves.

Really, what is a "rock fighter"? Is he a mountaineer? A survivalist? Or, is he just a figure that has some a tan base and comes with an eagle? At its core, this is what makes the figure useful. This Guile can be a Joe, an unaffiliated, military consultant or just some guy who likes to forage in the woods with a high powered assault rifle. As such, he brings some much needed diversity to a collection. He is a visually distinctive method of adding some diversity to your Joe ranks. The figure looks like a Joe, but is different enough that most people would not recognize the body at first glance.

This leads to the question of how does one use this Guile version? I see him as a standard infantryman. He is somewhat of a survivalist and is capable of operating unsupported for long periods of time. In a way, he has many of the characteristics of Outback. But, I see more of an independent and rebel streak in the Outback character. Guile is more straight and narrow when it comes to his outlook. He will get the job done. But, he often lacks the creativity that someone like Outback could provide to a situation. But, this trait is also highly desirable in some circumstances as Guile is somewhat predictable. His teammates know what to expect from him and will not be surprised by Guile going against his training when the situation becomes stressful. He is a dependable soldier who is always a known commodity. In a unit like the Joes, this is the type of person who is needed to offset the more rebellions tendencies of some of the other team members.

Guile features a very intricate set of paint masks. They are the most significant part of the figure. Guile is covered in overlaying applications of red, green and blue cammo all on top of a light tan base. He features black painted details that offset the colors, nicely. You wouldn't think that red and blue would make a color palette that was pleasing to the eye on an action figure. But, surprisingly, it actually works. The colors are muted and work to give the figure depth without making him stand out like so many of his neon contemporaries. Even the red and blue help the figure to blend into a neutral background like you find on many rock formations. He isn't invisible, for sure, but he also doesn't stick out like some of his neon contemporaries would.

Guile's mold was well used. Originally, the entire body was used for the 1991 Dusty figure. From there, it was used for the obscure Chinese Exclusive Flint figure. Immediately after that, this Guile figure appeared. In 2000, Hasbro recolored the mold for inclusion with the first wave of A Real American Hero Collection figures. The mold was planned for use in 2001 as the driver of the Desert Striker, but that figure was replaced with Flint. It then appeared for the last time in 2002 as the seldom seen Convention Paratrooper Dusty figure. At this point, we have probably had enough of this body mold to satisfy even its most ardent fan. However, I would not mind seeing the Guile head return. Master Collector has proven that some Street Fighter heads make for great new characters. As such, I would not mind seeing the Guile head return as a different take on a characters like Mace or, maybe, even Duke. It would be a daring departure from the norm. But, in the right context, it would also make a figure for the ages.

Guile's accessories are very solid and provide an interesting look into what was available at the time. The figure includes the first black version of the 1991 Dusty's backpack. (Which has subsequently become quite common.) It also includes an olive version of the 1991 Snow Serpent's rifle. This accessory is somewhat fun as it gives the rifle that is only otherwise available in white a very different look. As such, it helps to distinguish the figure. Guile also includes the missile launcher from the 1994 Flint figure. Only, this version has an olive trigger and missiles that match the plastic color of the figure's rifle. The final accessory, though, is the most interesting. Guile also includes the falcon from the 1987 Raptor figure. This is notable as Raptor was last seen in Brazil only a few years prior. Among Raptor's contemporaries, though, were Blizzard (who also appeared in the Guile series), Hydro Viper, and the unproduced Crimson Guard Immortal and 1991 Cobra Commander. Just about all of Raptor's Brazilian contemporaries ended up in India. But, Raptor did not. Not to say that I would like for Raptor to return. But, it does lend credence to the theory that Hasbro had access to molds like Repeater, Sci Fi and Psyche Out. Perhaps they could one day appear if one knew they were likely under Hasbro's control.

Rock Fighter Guile figures are not easy to find yet still inexpensive. It will likely take a few weeks to find a mint, complete or carded version of this figure. But, a carded sample will run no more than $15 and a loose, mint, complete figure will typically run about half of that. As such, when you do track one down, it will not cost you a substantial amount to add the figure to your collection. Of the Street Fighter Movie figures, the Guile variants are the most common. You will pay substantially more for some of the ancillary characters in this series of toys. Personally, I find these Guile environmental figures to be a fun addition to my collection: but not figures in which I maintain any level of long term interest. They are fun to have, but hard to use. On display, it's cool to see all the Street Fighter Movie figures. But, as integral parts of a collection, only a select few of the total figures released in this set are really worthy of distinction.

1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter, 1991 Grunt, 1985 Heavy Metal, Bomb Disposal

1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter, 1990 Rock Viper



































1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter, 2005 Convention Exclusive Gung Ho, Steel Brigade, Mega Marines

































1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2004 Demolishor - Convention Exclusive

I have long felt that the popularity of the Dreadnoks as a subset in the Joe line was vastly overstated. While collectors are familiar with these characters, they aren't the type of subset that collectors want to see repainted ad naseum. This was made all to evident in 2004 when Master Collector released their Dreadnok themed convention set. While some people were happy to see Zarana, Ripper and Buzzer return, the set still turned into a massive dud. Collectors were not interested in the Dreadheads and the colors chosen for many of the Dreadnoks were downgrades from their original incarnations. As such, just about every figure from that convention set can now be purchased on the second hand market for about 1/2 of the original price. There are 2 exceptions to this. Hardtop continues to be popular and consistently sells in the $35+ range. The other exception is the subject of this profile: Demolishor.

The Demolishor figure is the highlight of the Dreadnoks in this convention set. He is a completely newly amalgamated figure utilizing obscure original molds. He is decently colored and features the typically complex paint masks that are the hallmark of convention figures. Sure, his name makes him sound like a two-bit He-Man villain, but it works in this context. The convention set used a common color theme to separate the Dreadnoks into "factions". So, there were certain figures that matched each other. Demolishor was part of the "blue" team. This was fortunate as he is cast in colors that are actually useful outside of a Dreadnok setting but they also match the colors of the 2004 Dreadnok exclusive vehicles.

Demolishor utilizes the head of the Street Fighter Viktor Sagat. It is a mold that you don't often see mixed with Joe collections and perfectly fits the nature of the character. The head looks like a Dreadnok and is visually distinctive. Demolishor also uses the body of the 1987 Steamroller figure. Raise of hands: how many collectors actually have a Steamroller in their collection? Of those, how many use him on a regular basis? Frankly, this body was a great choice as it is incredibly obscure, well detailed and perfectly fits the look of a Dreadnok. Like the Convention Dragonsky, Demolishor shows that when a little thought is put into mold combinations and coloring you can create one of the great figures in the history of the line. His accessories aren't great, but they work. Demolishor is outfitted with 2 new sculpt weapons: a grenade launcher and the AK-47 esque rifle that was a staple of new sculpt Cobras. These work well enough with the figure, though I'm not a fan of any of the new sculpt weapons since they appear too large for ARAH-style figures. But, since Demolishor is supposed to big and muscular, I can accept the weapons as they are.

As a character, Demolishor isn't too well thought out. While some of the convention exclusive characters feature decent backgrounds, Demolishor's is nothing but cliche after cliche. The reality is that anti-social miscreants with severely violent tendencies don't tend to form lasting friendships. One reason why I always felt the original team of 3 Dreadnoks worked was because Buzzer was actually educated and he was able to keep Torch and Ripper in line with his superior intellect. As the subset grew, though, that became less and less likely. As such, I can't really get behind the canonical origin of Demolishor and have had to create my own personality for the figure.

One of the reasons why I'm not a big Dreadnoks fan is because you really can't use them for much beyond their intended purpose. Even in that regard, though, there are now so many different Dreadnoks that the entire gang is a bit of overkill. Demolishor, though, can at least step out of the Dreadnok role...somewhat. The figure's colors are such that he can be an outside Cobra contractor. To me, that makes the figure more valuable since he isn't saddled with the ineptitude that is the hallmark of the Dreadnoks. Still, though, the mold is limited. In the right parts of town, Demolishor would be taken for something all together different than a hard core biker. So, that does limit the mold to an extent. But, the solid colors and less garish than other Dreadnoks appearance of the mold does allow for Demolishor to fit in with other, named Cobras. The head is different enough that it doesn't clash with Major Bludd and the colors do work with standard Cobra blues.

Demolishor is a perfect example of how a figure that I do not own can capture my attention. For a time, this figure was my holy grail of collecting. As soon as I got one, though, he went off into his drawer and I have yet to really use him aside from a few pictures you see here. The reason is that, while the figure is good, he isn't something that really offers the diversity that I like to see in figure molds. My collection is littered with figures like this: characters that I had to have and as soon as I got them, the figure lost all its luster. Now, I have quite a few figures in my collection that I really wanted that do get a lot of use, too. But, I have found that one of my collecting M.O.'s is to quickly grow disenfranchised with certain figures that were once so desirable. I think the reason for this is because I build the missing figure up so much in my head that there is no way the actual product could ever live up to my expectations. Frankly, I can trace this all the way back to 1985 when I acquired the 1985 Snake Eyes. I wanted that figure so badly, but could never find a way to use him that lived up to the expectations in my head.

Still, Demolishor has his uses. It is a figure that really lends depth to some Joe displays as you don't often see him in online dioramas. He can be used as a standalone bad guy or with his other Dreadnoks. Personally, I see this figure moving more towards the world of independent freelance work where he will be paid by Cobra for some jobs, but not be a true member of the organization. It's a limited role, but this figure simply lends itself to that now that he is a part of my collection.

This is only the second use for the Steamroller body and the first since the original figure. The Sagat head was used in the Street Fighter line in the US. As neither of these molds had been done since the vintage line, seeing them together in the convention set was a refreshing change of pace from the other figures: most of whom had just been released by Funskool. Going forward, though, there isn't much else to do with this parts combination. You could make another Demolishor, but that's about it. And, while that might seem like a good idea since this figure is rather pricey and popular, I think that it would be a waste to produce another version of a convention only character. We just get too few opportunities to see ARAH figures these days. I'd hate to see one wasted on a figure that, while top notch, is probably best left as he is.

If you want a Demolishor, it's going to cost you a bit. I watched these figures for over 3 months. In that time, there was rarely more than 2 available at any given time and the average ending price was $35-$40 with some going as high as $70. Naturally, once I had my first Demolishor figure, the price fell down to around $20 for a week or two, then, it went back up to the $30-$35 range. However, these days, the price has once again fallen and recent Demolishors have sold for under $20. It seems that if collectors want one figure from the Dreadnok set, it is Demolishor and his price reflects his popularity. (Plus, there were a ton of surplus 2004 convention figures that were available from Asia. However, Hardtop and Demolishor were not among the common ones so the demand for those two figures was not offset by the Asian surplus.) Personally, I've found that the figure's look is much better from afar and I actually was disappointed when I first held one in my hand. But, like many figures, I have grown to like it more and more just due to the originality of the figure and way in which the mold amalgamations mesh so well to create a new and highly distinctive unique creation.

2004 Convention Exclusive Demolishor, Zanzibar, 1994 Action Soldier, Action marine

2004 Convention Exclusive Demolishor, Zanzibar, 1994 Action Soldier, Action marine

2004 Convention Exclusive Demolishor, Funskool LAW, 1993 Dee Jay, Mail Away, 1992 General Flagg

Friday, October 10, 2008

2002 Crimson Fast Blast Viper - Gift Set Exclusive

I don't know why this figure has my attention these days. It's been in my collection now for almost 6 years and almost all of that time has been in a bag with the figure's filecard and accessories, safely packed away in a drawer or a box. The 2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper really shouldn't be the type of figure in which I have any interest. Yet, in recent months, I've taken a new interest in the figure and found it an asset to my collection...all the way to the point where I've actually gone out and acquired multiples. On the surface, this should be an inferior version of this figure. But, there is something about the look of the Crimson Fast Blast Viper that attracts collectors.

Beginning in 2002, Hasbro became fascinated with crimson. For some reason, it became the color du jour for Cobra repaints. While crimson has long been a staple of the Cobra army and the popularity of the Crimson Guard over his equally high quality contemporaries like the Eel and Snow Serpent shows that collectors hold it in high regard. But, Hasbro went a little overboard with some of their Crimson choices. Figures like Firefly, Undertow and this Fast Blast Viper really had no purpose in the crimson color. Collectors were quick to adopt the figures, though, as either ceremonial outfits or as the colors the unit leaders. It was an innovative approach and one that allowed collectors to be satisfied with fewer of these crimson army builders in their collections. But, at the end of the day, how useful, really, is a Crimson Undertow or Fast Blast Viper? Up until late 2004, the answer was not much.

In late '04, though, Hasbro released the Operation Crimson Sabotage set. This highly popular exclusive included 3 Crimson Guards in different racial and hair colors, a crimson Hiss Tank and a Crimson ASP. Most collectors really don't use Crimson Guards as standard Cobra infantry. Yet, the set was so well done and the demand for Crimson Guards so strong that the sets were largely gobbled up prior to Christmas. It is the vehicles, though, that were the real gem of the set. The Crimson Guard figure mold has now been released no less than 4 times, with 3 of them in easily acquirable crimson color. Collectors largely liquidated their extra vehicles from this set, though, as they tried to recoup some cost but also wanted to gain some storage space. At first glance, crimson Hiss Tanks and Asps don't have all that much practical use. But, coupled with a figure like this Fast Blast Viper, they can take on more significant roles within a Cobra organization.

In my collection, the crimson equipment serves a dual purpose. It is the ceremonial display that Cobra puts on for the tourists of Cobra Island. It is also, though, the equipment that dots Cobra Island. Since satellite imaging and surveillance techniques are so advanced, Cobra chooses to hide much of its weaponry in plain site. These Crimson tanks drag Crimson Asps all over Cobra Island and they are full service weapon emplacements. By doing this, Cobra lets the outside world know they are protected by standard weapons. But, it also suggests that if they are so overt about it, that they must have other, nastier weapons hidden. The casual invader isn't likely to be a world power. As such, they will probably not look below the surface and will underestimate the Cobra defenses. At the same time, those who know that Cobra must have other, hidden weapons, can't find them as the electronics zero in on the stuff in plain site. The tanks leave tracks and the Asps leave trenches that, at night, are used by Cobra's secret safeguards. But, since the tanks are overtly running day and night, no one is ever able to discern what types of weapons might be hidden beneath the island's surface.

This all leads to the Fast Blast Vipers. For me, the Fast Blast/Heat Vipers serve dual purposes. The HEAT Vipers and the black Fast Blast Vipers are the mobile armored weapons specialists for which the figure was designed. The crimson Fast Blast Viper, though, is the gunner of the Cobra world. The crimson attracts less heat than the black when stationed in the sun and it looks stunning as these Vipers man the turrets and gun seats of the Hisses and Asps that are their specialty. It's not much of a use, but it is an important one as it gives me a figure that is perfectly suited for these vehicles without sacrificing one a figure who is also well suited for other, more glamorous duties. The Joe line is filled with niche and role figures. Frankly, they are what makes the line so enduring since there is something for everyone. This crimson Fast Blast Viper is such a figure and one of the rarer examples of the role player on the Cobra side.

The Heat Viper/Fast Blast Viper mold has a bit of a history. After it was first released in 1989, the mold made its way down to Brazil where Estrela released it as Estihaco in colors very similar to the American figure. From there, the mold was returned to the US and dusted off by Hasbro in 2001 and released, with a new head, as the Fast Blast Viper. This Fast Blast Viper was released in 2002 and the full HEAT Viper mold returned in 2003 as a member of Python Patrol. It has not been released since. But, this isn't a bad thing. While the mold is good, it isn't a classic. With the first Fast Blast Viper, collectors had the mold in a coloring that was pretty much as good as we needed. The Crimson figure offered some diversity and the Python figure served the dual purpose of giving us a niche version of the HEAT Viper but also offering a fully black head that was the perfect way to turn the first Fast Blast Viper into a fully helmeted HEAT Viper.

The Gift Set in which the Fast Blast Viper was offered was the epitome of a marketing and distribution mess. To this day, the full set can be purchased for less than 2/3 retail price at many online dealers. Individually, some of the figures in the set can be acquired for under $2 each. Overall, the set was a disaster full of overused figure molds done in obscure and relatively useless colors that included no sensible accessories. But, time has shown that we actually got a couple of decent figures in the set. In fact, this is the third figure (along with Dial Tone and Wet Suit) that I have profiled from the set. But, it is also likely the last as these three figures are the highlights of the set and the other, remaining figures are less useful.

The thing was, in 2002, we had high hopes for what the Joe line would become. Largely, at least in the ARAH-style arena, these hopes went unfulfilled. Sure, we got some great figures in the 6 years of the ARAHC and its successors. But, most of the releases were flawed in some way. With several hundred figures released now, we have the opportunity to reflect and look back at the line as a whole and find the figures that really stood out, but were forgotten for whatever reason. They are out there and have become somewhat of a focus of my collection in recent months. During this time period, Hasbro released Joes as fast as they could. (In fact, they released more unique figures between 2001-2006 than they did between 1982 and 1994.) As such, the frantic pace caused more than one collector to acquire something and not get the time to integrate it into their collection and gain the appreciation of the figure's design because there were new items with short shelf lives that had to be acquired. This has given me a great chance to take this time when there really isn't much new to collect to look back and find figures like this Fast Blast Viper and give him his due.

When the gift set first appeared, the Fast Blast Viper quickly became the most popular figure in the set. At the time, collectors were starved for army builders and even obscure figures in useless colors got a lot of attention. As such, this has always been the most expensive figure from the Gift Set and continues to hold that distinction. However, a large quantity of these figures appeared over in Asia. That supply has helped keep the figure below the price it might otherwise have achieved. Still, this figure, complete with filecard, will typically cost you $7. That's not cheap for an army builder that most collectors agree is only needed in quantities of 1. As such, the price is a testament to the figure's overall quality. In time, I don't see the figure appreciating too much in value, though. It seems that the current price is fairly good for what the figure is and I would expect that in another 5 years you'll be able to still acquire Fast Blast Vipers for about this same price. Regardless, if you like this figure, you might as well get them now. They are a useful addition to most collections and can fill a valuable role in some of the Crimson vehicles that Hasbro has released since 2002.

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, ASP, 1986 Beach Head

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, SMS, Sears Exclusive, 1985, Crimson Guard Immortal, 1991, 1984 Firefly

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, SMS, Sears Exclusive, 1985, Crimson Guard Immortal, 1991, 1984 Firefly

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, 1987 IMP

Thursday, October 2, 2008

1986 HAVOC

Simply put, the Havoc is goofy. From a practical standpoint, it is one of the more ridiculous concepts in the Joe line and is about as useless in a real combat situation as you can imagine. But, none of that takes away from the fact that the Havoc is a fun toy. It features great play features and has tremendous value since it's so interesting to play with. It has long been one of my featured vehicles and is one of the few vehicles that has made the cut in my modern collection. It is certainly not without shortcomings. But, the vehicle works well as a toy which is how I was first exposed to it.

1986 was probably my most prolific Joe year. I was 12 years old, had plenty of spending money and was old enough to spend my cash and time wisely. 1986 has started slowly for me in terms of Joe and it took me a while before I felt I had caught up with some of the other kids in my class. By May, though, I had managed to acquire most of the '86 figure lineup and had even tracked down a few of the early release vehicles. The one big item I wanted, though, was the Havoc. To me, this looked like the Joe vehicle that I had been waiting for. You see, by '86, I had long since trashed my VAMP and VAMP Mark II. The Whale was still around, but not suitable for every situation. I had a Mauler, but found it heavily lacking in play value. Basically, I wanted a Joe vehicle on which I could use several figures and that had something unique that made it easy to play with. The Havoc fit the bill perfectly.

As the month of May wound down, I was certain I'd find the Havoc. But, it simply wasn't happening. I distinctly remember the weekend I finally acquired my Havoc, though. It was the weekend of the Indianapolis 500 in 1986. (Back then, the race was still relevant and was an event...very unlike today.) My father had managed to get 2 tickets to the race, but decided to take my younger brother. I stayed home and had to go grocery shopping with my mother. Back then, we did our grocery shopping right next to a Toys R Us store on Indianapolis' north east side. Since I had to go that way anyways, I managed to convince my mother to stop at TRU for me. But, as an added precaution, I called the TRU that Saturday and asked the employees if they had the Havoc in stock. Sure enough, they did. (Remember when calling a store meant you'd get actual help?) The clerk was even kind enough to hold one for me at the service desk. When we arrived at TRU, I went right to the desk, asked for my Havoc and went home a happy kid. I distinctly remember one other detail of that day, 1986 was a rainout at the Indianapolis 500. As the day wore on, I played with my new Havoc in the living room as I heard a torrential downpour fall outside the picture window in my parents' living room. I always felt I got the better end of that day as my brother shivered in the rainy cold at a track on the other side of town while I got to play with my long awaited Havoc from the warm dryness of our childhood home.

From there, the Havoc quickly took over as my de facto Joe vehicle. It was the one transport that was always called into duty. Cross Country drove with Sci-Fi or Dial Tone as the co-pilot. Sgt. Slaughter was always the gunner and Lifeline always manned the fancar. Leatherneck, Beachhead and Hawk were always on the side rails, ready to jump off and take out Cobra Infantry that tried to sneak up on the Havoc's sides. It battled against the Cobra armor of the day and was easily the equivalent of the STUN and the Thunder Machine. It was the mainstay of my Joe armor and was always the first choice for a vehicle whenever my Joes needed armor, transport or transportable air cover.

As a toy, the Havoc has some decent play features. While the cockpit is oddly designed, it also is greatly detailed and will hold two figures with ease. You have to fit them into their positions with bent knees, but it works. The gun tower moves up and down and can be used as long range artillery, close quarters weaponry or anti-aircraft weapons. It also locks behind the cockpit and covers the main engine cover. The real hallmark of the vehicle, though, is the fan car that is disguised in the back. The back doors open up to reveal a flying fan car that has guns on the side. It isn't the most practical thing, but it is a fun way to expand the play value of the Havoc. The nice part, though, is that if you don't want to use the fan car, you can leave the doors closed and the seat of the car works as a rear gunner station for the small guns on the back of the Havoc.

Aside from the absurdity of the overall design, the Havoc does suffer from poor color choices and lack of details. The guns and missiles on the Havoc are bright orange. While this can work, it does leave the vehicle somewhat bright and obvious. Fortunately, the parts are small and removable so a slight bit of paint will solve the brightness problem. The weapons on the Havoc also lack great detailing. While the rear guns are a nice feature, they are somewhat bland and lack the realism that collectors had come to expect from a Joe vehicle in 1986. It is these detriments that are most remembered by modern collectors, though. Which probably isn't fair. But, when taken against the line as a whole, the Havoc is easy to pass by in favor of other vehicles.

As a driver, Cross Country was a disappointment. The 1985 vehicle drivers had been nothing short of amazing. They had great sculpts, realistic colors and incredible accessories. But, all that changed in 1986 and Hasbro largely sucked the greatness out of their vehicle driver pack ins. Sure, Cross Country was still a unique mold that was only available with the Havoc. But, he suffered from an odd color combination and a head that was overly large for his body. Plus, he included no weapons. In short, he was nothing more than something to put into the window of the box to show the Havoc included a driver. In time, I removed Cross Country from my Havoc and replaced him with Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal had the look of someone who would operate large machinery like the Havoc and was a much cooler figure to have around. Hasbro attempted another Cross Country years later, but even its design fell flat. As such, I rarely associate Cross Country with the Havoc. To me, the vehicle stands on it's own much moreso than the figure who was intended to drive it.

The Havoc was released in the US as well as Europe and Brazil. The Brazilian version is a slightly different shade of green and is visually distinctive from the American Havoc. If you can track one of these down, it is an interesting companion piece to the American Havoc. The Havoc was also covered in chrome and released as part of the Sky Patrol subset in 1990. After that, the mold disappeared and this vehicle has been MIA since then. But, as modern collectors are quick to point out the vehicle's shortcomings, it probably wouldn't make much sense for anyone to attempt a reissue. No enhancement in color is going to make up for the wacky design of the vehicle overall. Plus, Havocs are so cheap these days that it is more prudent to buy a spare and paint it any way to you want rather than hoping to some day see a re-release.

Havoc's are not expensive nor are they hard to find. Even mint and complete, they cost nothing when compared to Cobra vehicles of the era or other Joe armor like the Mauler. The vehicle is somewhat large, though, so it will cost a bit to ship. But, by and large, collectors are indifferent to the Havoc. Most people who have been in the hobby a while likely have at least one Havoc in some state of repair. And, most of them have no desire for another version. To me, the Havoc's value is solely sentimental. It was the last vehicle that really made an impression on my childhood and remained a relevant part of my collection long after its design shortcomings became all too apparent. But, it's the innocence of childhood that has kept me a collector in the two decades plus since the vehicle was released. So, in some way, the Havoc is very much a great success.

1986 Havoc, 2002 Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, Python Patrol Viper, 1989, 2003 Mirage, 1985 Heavy metal

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Funskool Zartan

Ahh, the Funskool Zartan: an infamous release in many ways and one that was, at the time, among the most anticipated new figure offerings that collectors would see. It was a figure that whose release led to fights and an early splintering of the community. But, as a design, it didn't disappoint those who had waited so long for a new version of the mysterious Cobra Chameleon. Today, the figure isn't as special as it once was since the mold has subsequently been used a few more times on solid releases. But, this figure remains a testament to Funskool's ability to, every now and then, produce a figure that was almost universally accepted by the American collecting community.

As a figure, the Funskool Zartan isn't that much different from the American figure. (Though he no longer changes color.) He is cast in the same basic maroon and black that is the hallmark of the American original. But, there are a few, subtle differences that allow this figure to stand out and offer a little something more for the Zartan fan. Aside from the additional paint mask on Zartan's boots, the main difference is the face paint. The American figure features dark makeup around Zartan's eyes. On the Funskool figure, the paint is more subtle. But, the face paint only accentuates the truly noticeable difference in the figure: the eyes. The Funskool Zartan features a pair of beady yellow eyes that give the figure a more monsterish look. This Zartan is even more bizarre than the character who debuted in 1984 and the eyes add a creepiness to Zartan that only enhances that aspect of his personality.

There is a reason that the Funskool Zartan is similar to the American figure. It is the same reason why many iconic Joe characters who appeared in the Funskool line are similar to their American counterparts while other, less iconic figures, tend to take on wacky and bright color schemes. As Funskool was a Hasbro licensee, they were bound by Hasbro's whims when it came to figure design. There were certain characters that Hasbro wanted to keep consistent across all their releases. These are the big name, iconic characters who appear in cartoons, coloring books and comics. This gives the brand a universal appeal, but also allows for licensees like Funskool to re-use other aspects of Joe media as a cross selling tool for their products. As such, these core characters were kept close to their American designs so that the figures would maintain their consistent look. (You will note that while Funskool deviated from this in many of their early figure offerings, in almost every case, they also released the character in colors more similar to the American original.) Characters or figure molds about which Hasbro had little concern in regards to branding were allowed to be redone by Funskool in the bright, atrocious colors that have become the calling card of Funskool designs. As such, it is easy to spot characters about whom Hasbro cares by looking at which Funskool figures stayed true to the original character. Those who saw massive deviations were figures about whom Hasbro had little long term interest.

This Zartan isn't without his problems. Like most Funskool figures made in 2001 and 2002, early Zartans suffered from poor quality. The distinct and desirable eye paint was usually botched the worst and that rendered many figures unusable since the most desirable characteristic was ruined by the factory. If you could get a good Zartan figure, the accessories were also problematic. The Funskool Zartan's hood is not glued to his head like the American figure's is. To make matters worse, the hood is a hard, rigid plastic that is not pliable and does not take the shape of the head. So, it is often wobbly and loose on the figure. Most collectors got around this with a dab of glue. But, that posed another problem. While this Zartan does include his trademark face mask, the mask is also of hard, rigid plastic. So, if the hood is glued in place, you can not easily bend the mask to fit into the hood as it was intended. But, since Zartan didn't include his original backpack to hold the mask, that can be less of an issue. The highlight of the accessories is the body armor that Zartan wears. The Funskool version is solid black and that adds a bit of depth to the figure when it is affixed. However, the leg pads especially are notorious for not fitting into the figure (though, to be fair, the comic pack Zartan from Hasbro in 2005 has this same issue...) and they do tend to pop off at inopportune times. This version does include the original pistol (which Hasbro has thus far failed to return to the market) but it is colored bright red. So, as a package, the Funskool accessories are a definite detriment to the figure. But, if you have some spare American Zartan accessories around, those do work quite well with this figure. One other point of interest is that this figure isn't glued together like the American figure. So, customizers can easily use his parts on any other Zartan inspired creations they might have.

In my collection, this figure remains popular. He is not, though, used for the Zartan character. Instead, this is a figure who commiserates with the Funskool Red Dog and Funskool Mercer as criminals on the outside of all factions. They are sought by law enforcement of both Joe and Cobra as their activities are to the detriment of both entities. This Zartan figure always wears his mask. (Thus, making him distinctive from the real Zartan in my collection.) What's beneath the mask remains an enigma and many speculate that he is, in reality, a high ranking member of either Cobra or Joe who has gone rogue and uses his inside knowledge to stay one step ahead of his pursuers. Essentially, I have taken the elements of the Dreadnoks that I liked best and put them into characters who, I feel, have more depth and range. It is something I have always done with my various foreign figures and is probably why those releases play such a prominent role in my collection today.

The Zartan mold was used in the US for the original figure. From there, Zartan was produced by Hasbro for various countries. (The most famous being Japan where Zartan was released as a single carded figure.) The mold was not used again until late 2001 when it appeared in India for use on this figure. (As a note, there is a variant on this figure: some early Zartans have black elbows and others have flesh elbows. This is a common Funskool variant that affects many figures. It's not terribly interesting, but should be noted.) In 2004, Hasbro reacquired the mold and used it for a Convention exclusive Zartan figure. This bright orange creation simply never caught on in the collecting world and remains largely unsold. Hasbro managed to redeem the character with the comic pack version that was released in 2005. While the original head was replaced, the figure still included all the chest and leg armor that make the figure so unique. Really, there isn't much interesting you can do with the Zartan mold. So, at this point, there really isn't any reason for it to be used again.

The Funskool Zartan figure used to be available from a variety of dealers for about $4. But, like most of the more popular Funskool figures, the supply of Zartans dried up after Funskool got out of the Joe business. These days, collectors have to turn to aftermarket dealers or Ebay to find a Funskool Zartan. But, while they may be a little harder to track down these days, they aren't much more expensive. You might pay upwards of $8 for a MOC figure but that's still pretty good for so important a release. If you're in the market for the figure, though, be sure to find Zartans produced in 2003 or later as those will be the best quality. (There are bagged versions that are the best, but they don't include any accessories so you still need the carded figure for those.) This is a great version of Zartan if only for the creepy eye factor and remains the version of the character that is most often used in my collection. Even at the now higher prices, this is definitely a figure that every collector should own.

2001 Funskool Zartan, Street Hawk, Roadblock, Mercer

2001 Funskool Zartan, Red Dod, Budo





















2001 Funskool Zartan,

2001 Funskool Zartan, Variant