Wednesday, May 7, 2008

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite

When you think of the Frostbite character, it is likely that one of two things comes to mind: 1. the well done classic vehicle driver from 1985, or 2. the overabundance of low quality Frostbite figures that Hasbro heaped into the early years of the new sculpt line in 2002. It is a stark contrast between the two perceptions and shows how classic characters can easily become corrupted in the modern toy world. Sandwiched between those two realities, though, is this largely unrecognized Tiger Force Frostbite. As a subset, Tiger Force is generally well liked by collectors. As a mold, Frostbite is largely appreciated by the collecting world. As a combo, though, the Tiger Force Frostbite is a figure that is somewhat problematic. It is a solid mold in a popular subset, but the figure itself is somewhat difficult to use. But, that summarizes Tiger Force as a concept rather succinctly, too.

My first encounter with Tiger Force was in the early months of 1988. I was pretty much done with Joe as of 1988. Frankly, I was too old and had probably over-reached my youth by staying interested in the toys through 1987. But, even as a newly turned teenager, I found the lure of Joes hard to resist. I spent my final toy allowance from my parents (earned for good grades) on two new Joe figures who were available in the early stages of the year: Hardball and the Tiger Force Roadblock. I purchased Hardball because I was a baseball fan and justified his purchase through that angle. I rationalized Roadblock by saying that I had been missing his accessories since 1984 and this was my only chance to get a nice, fully accessorized version of him. To me, the fact that Roadblock featured a yellow helmet was of significantly less importance than the fact that he did include a black version of his gun. As such, for years, my only impression of Tiger Force was that they were good ways to get differently colored versions of oft-lost accessories like Flint's shotgun, Roadblock's stand or Duke's binoculars. It was an impression that permeated the early collecting world, too.

When I first found online Joedom in late 1997 and early 1998, there wasn't much discussion going on. In reading what material was available, though, the general consensus was that Tiger Force figures were "rarer" than their original counterparts since so many collectors passed them over since these were just repaints of figures they already owned. For the collectors who were online then: that was largely true. Most of us were of the same age and had come into Joe in 1982 or 1983 and had been collecting since the beginning. Most of us had our heyday during the '84-'86 period and were largely gone by the time of the animated movie. What was missing from that original group was the next generation of collectors who started collecting in 1986 or 1987. To them, these Tiger Force figures were the originals since they had not been collecting when the original molds were available at retail. As these collectors came of age, it became more and more apparent that there were ample supplies of Tiger Force figures in marketplace since so many of these younger collectors had viewed these repaints as entirely new figures and characters.

The Frostbite mold is quite well done. He was designed at a time when vehicle drivers were still given the same paint applications and mold designs as the figures released on the single cards. As such, you can see the level of detail that slowly became absent on later vehicle drivers. The mold also has an interesting secret: the head was molded after a real person. Frostbite's distinct face was a direct result of it being based on a Hasbro employee. In fact, there are anecdotes around that this employee still looks much like the Frostbite figure even today, more than two decades after the figure's design. The second Easter Egg in Frostbite's character is his name. Named Seward and born in Alaska, Frostbite is an in joke to "Seward's Folly" which was used to refer to the Alaskan acquisition. The figure itself actually features some variants in the eye and eyebrow color on Frostbite's head. Some look better than others, but none of the variants are really any more desirable than another. The figure also features Frostbite's signature rifle. This oversized, scoped rifle was the reason I traded to acquire a second Frostbite in my youth. (I gave the rifle to Stalker to match his comic book appearance.) Beyond that, there isn't much too the figure and what you see is pretty much what you get when it comes to the Tiger Force Frostbite.

As a character, Frostbite held a position of distinction in my childhood collection. As I first acquired the 1985 figure during the summer months, I didn't have much use for Frostbite in his own environment. However, rather than put away my new toy until the winter, I decided to make Frostbite a visiting dignitary from a northern country. He was there to teach and learn from the Joes. In time, they made him a full fledged Joe himself. But, I was able to explain away the winter coat in the jungle by saying that Frostbite was proud of his heritage and refused to change from his winter fatigues. This lead Frostbite to a position of leadership and, for many years, he was among my highest ranking Joes. When I returned to collecting, though, my focus was less on the character of Frostbite and more on the figure. As I did with just about every figure in the late '90's, I army built Frostbites for a while. They were cheap, I liked arctic figures and he had a really cool gun. However, in my first big collection purge, the Frostbite figures were among the earliest duplicates to go. I returned the original character to his more traditional roots and he is rarely seen out of his Snow Cat today.

This figure's fate is even less interesting. Really, I have no use for him. It is a neat figure to have around and is necessary for any Tiger Force display. But, beyond that, he doesn't have much purpose in my collection. The odd assortment of yellow, orange and brown doesn't lend itself to a wide variety of uses. I suppose I could see him as a winter, desert fighter who focused on arid climates during the winter. (It can get downright cold in the desert.) But, that's hardly a duty that can offer this figure more than the obligatory appearance in a few photos. (It is rare for a vintage Joe figure to appear nowhere on this site. Yet, this was the first time that the Tiger Force Frostbite has appeared in any of my photography.) But, I am an ARAH style Joe completist and if figures like Frostbite can serve no other purpose, at least they offer me fulfillment towards that end.

As a subset, Tiger Force remains a collector favorite. It wasn't the first theme to bring repaints to the Joe world, but it was the first that saw a full retail release. For many collectors, this was their initiation to some of the classic characters from the comics and cartoons. Today, Hasbro has brought the idea of Tiger Force into their modern ARAH style figures, the new sculpts and there is at least one Tiger Force figure rumoured to appear in the Anniversary style lines. The problem with Tiger Force, though, is that the figure designs that are produced for it tend to inferior to other paint jobs of common characters. The brown, orange, yellow and green hallmarks of Tiger Force don't really lend themselves to great figures. But, Tiger Force is a concept that was exported to Brazil, Europe, China and even India. (though to a lesser extent, there) This widespread influence of the basic theme coupled with the high profile characters who comprise much of the Tiger Force roster has kept Tiger Force a popular collecting theme. Many collectors who would ignore figures in these colors were they on their own will gladly buy them if they are aligned with Tiger Force since they want to complete their set. Tiger Force offers a nice collecting niche and is a way to justify repaints...even if they are a bit wacky.

The Frostbite mold has been conspicuously absent since 1988. It was only used the two times: for the original figure and then for this coloring. However, the original Frostbite figure was available as a mail away premium for many years and it is likely that Hasbro was still using this mold rather than relying on overstock to fill those orders. The mold was never released in any other countries and, like his contemporary Crankcase, has not appeared in any of the modern Joe renditions. The Frostbite character, though, has been done to death by Hasbro in the new sculpt line where the figure received several versions and sculpts...none of which were really an homage to this original design. Part of me would like to see another modern take on Frostbite. But, his mold is rather specific to the arctic and you really couldn't significantly upgrade the look of the version 1 figure to justify his inclusion in any of the precious ARAH style Joe slots that we see these days. As such, even if the mold were available, it would take something remarkable for me to really clamour for this mold to return.

Tiger Force Frostbites are not the easiest figures to find. The Tiger Force vehicles weren't the sellers that the figures were and a yellow vehicle that was originally designed for the arctic didn't, exactly, endear itself to the toy buying world. (Though, to be fair, the Snow Cat worked better in Tiger Force colors than any other arctic themed vehicle of the time would have....) On top of that, Frostbite is very susceptible to paint wear on his red and gold highlights. His elbow joints, like those of all the Tiger Force figures, is prone to cracking. So, finding a mint version of this figure can be challenging. But, it will also be cheap. Mint and complete with filecard, you can find this figure for around $6. Take away the filecard and the price will drop in half. It's not a figure that most collectors care about and will likely never be a figure that really captures the attention of the collecting world. The figure has its place as a member of the Tiger Force subset, but that's about the extent of its usefulness. For what it is, the figure works. But, the practical application of something like Tiger Force is difficult to utilize so it is likely that this figure will forever languish in obscurity.

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite, Flint

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite, Flint, 2007 Chuckles, 2004 Cobra Trooper

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite, Flint, 2007 Chuckles, 2004 Cobra Trooper

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