Thursday, January 10, 2008

1984 Wild Weasel

As the Joe line progressed, Hasbro realized the need to create villains that would be offsets of Joe specialists. The reality was that they couldn't have Ace always flying against nameless pilots as that would quickly grow stale. The only way to keep many of the characters from fading too far into the background was go give them a nemesis. This allowed for expanded play patterns since kids could then work out their stories with two, more evenly matched adversaries. The result was an expansion of the Cobra roster well beyond the original old blue Cobras and a more diverse set of villains from which kids could choose. Among these new specialists was Cobra's first pilot: Wild Weasel.

When I first saw Wild Weasel in the comic book, I simply loved his design. He looked like one of the coolest figures that was going to be released in 1984. The Rattler didn't start showing up for sale until the fall of that year, so I had several months of anticipation for the Wild Weasel figure. My brother finally got the Rattler for his birthday in October. As soon as I help Wild Weasel in my hand, I was taken aback. This wasn't the awesome design that was seen in the comics. It had its similarities, but it was drastically different. I went and pulled out my comic to ensure I wasn't mis-remembering Wild Weasel's design. But, sure enough, I wasn't. The figure simply didn't live up to that original comic rendition. The head was too large and the figure, overall, was too red. It lacked the great grey details that really offset the comic version. This was a tremendous disappointment and Wild Weasel was never able to recover. I simply never used the figure. He wasn't interesting to me so he was largely ignored. He flew the Rattler for a time. But, as my brother broke the canopy on the Rattler within a week or two of his acquisition, that plane also quickly faded from my childhood collection.

Today, much has changed. A few years ago, I had little interest in Wild Weasel. Even after I acquired a mint Rattler, I had it manned by Strato Vipers rather than its intended pilot. But, in recent years, I've begun to appreciate the Wild Weasel mold much more. The figure is a deep red and has some amazing detail. It really meshes well with other Cobras from 1984 and before. But, it also has the bulk that allows it to still stand among Cobras from later years and not look out of place. As such, it offers a nice range and versatility that I often look for in figures that take places of importance in my collection.

Now, Wild Weasel proudly calls the cockpit of my vintage Rattler home. He simply looks right as the pilot of his intended vehicle. As the Rattler is one of the few vintage vehicles that I keep around these days, that is an honor. Aside from that, the character may pop up from time to time. But, in looking through my old pictures to see if I had any old photos where Wild Weasel was used, I found that the figure really doesn't get much use outside of his intended specialty. I doubt that will change much. But, 2008 is going to see a re-focusing of my collecting efforts on the years of 1982 through 1984. Really, those are the years of my childhood (though I was collecting through 1987) and are the toys that bring back the most innocent memories. As such, one of my goals is to get a display case finally done and showcase only the best pieces from those years as well as 1985. (I'm not focusing on '85 this year as the only mint, complete figure I need from that year is Heavy Metal and I'm not at the point where I'm going to drop $175 for a microscopic plastic microphone when that money could fill so many other holes in the earlier years.) Once that is done, Wild Weasel will join his classic brethren as the centerpiece of my Joe room.

While Hasbro always put out a full catalog of the year's toys during the first months of year during the vintage line, it is likely that many of those toys pictured were not fully finalized at the time the catalog photos were taken. If you look at the vintage Joe catalogs they are full of pre-production and prototype pieces that, in some cases, drastically differ from the actually released toys. It is hard to see the Wild Weasel figure that was used for the pictures in the '84 catalog, but the Rattler itself has some obvious differences. The most glaring is the fact that the turret guns are substantially longer and more pronounced. It is a fun diversion to look through some of the old Joe photography since it's full of such interesting first takes on many toys and gives an informed glimpse into what might have been.

Several of the early Joe filecards contained imagery that simply stuck into my brain as a child. Clutch's filecard was probably the most vivid. But several of these characterizations contained lines that conjured up an image of the character that was hard to shake. Wild Weasel's was among those. Being 10 years old when I first read his filecard, I didn't understand that "cut his teeth" was an expression. As such, I took it that someone physically cut wild Weasel's teeth and that was the mouth injury he suffered. Just imagining someone taking a knife across my teeth is still enough to make me shudder. So, I always viewed this as an insight into the toughness of Wild Weasel. The characteristic speech pattern that is referred to on the filecard, though, never really came across in the vintage comic book and it remains one of the great unexplored nuances of the Wild Weasel character.

The Wild Weasel mold was used by Hasbro for this figure. (It was also released in Europe in the Action Force line as Red Wolf: the driver of the grim Roboskull.) It was used for many years as mail away fodder and likely went through several production runs. (Wild Weasel figures exist with either 1984 or 1988 date stamps.) The entire body mold was used in 1988 for the Tiger Force Skystriker figure. Aside from that, though, the mold had no other vintage uses. However, in 2002, the Wild Weasel mold showed up India and was used by Funskool. This figure features unique card art, brighter colors, neon accessories and a working parachute. It is a fun figure, but one that is definitely inferior to the American figure in terms of collection integration. However, as this mold was used to recently by Funskool, it is likely that is available to Hasbro. As the Wild Weasel character was used by Hasbro several times in the new sculpt figure line and he has been shown in a planned Anniversary sculpt comic pack scheduled for 2008, it's possible that the character could come back at some point. I would welcome that as a new take on this mold would be a figure well received. The modern ARAH-style Joe line has been light on Cobra pilots so seeing Wild Weasel return would be a welcome sight.

Wild Weasel figures are easy to find. Aside from being shipped in the very popular Rattler jet, he was also available as a mail away figure for many years. Still, the figure does feature some easily damaged silver paint and he also tends to discolor. So, it may take a few samples before you find a perfectly mint version. Either way, though, the figure won't cost you. While some places may try to get $10-$12 for the figure, you can usually find them for half that. And, if you're looking for lots of figures, Wild Weasel is usually easy to find in those as well and you can get him even cheaper that way. For me, this is a figure who is necessary for completion but has never really gotten any real use. He stands as a figure that would be perfect had the head just been slightly smaller. But, these days, I'm growing to appreciate the figure more and more and find him a more useful addition to my collection than I ever have previously. But, for the price to get one, that's all really moot as this figure is really an addition that is too cheap to pass by.

1984 Wild Weasel, Rattler, 1986 Strato Viper, AVAC, 1994 Techno Viper

1984 Wild Weasel, Rattler, 1986 Strato Viper, AVAC, 1994 Techno Viper, Baroness, 1983 Destro, Cobra Commander, Cobra Trooper, 2004

1984 Wild Weasel, Rattler, 1986 Strato Viper, AVAC, 1994 Techno Viper, Baroness, 1983 Destro, Cobra Commander, Cobra Trooper, 2004

1984 Wild Weasel, Rattler, 2004 Cobra Trooper, Night Watch Officer, 2005

No comments:

Post a Comment