Wednesday, December 12, 2012

1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

It's been 15 years since I began following the Joe collecting world online.  In that time, the sites of influence have changed greatly.  Originally, it was small, fan run sites that were the backbone of the community.  Then, message boards sprung up on licensed Joe properties and the world changed.  Then, the anniversary and the movie brought enough money into the Joe world that for profit sites have become the community du jour in the Joe world.  In the early days, though, the collecting world was rather quaint.  Digital cameras weren't really around for affordable prices, so pictures of action figures were in short supply.  As such, sites that did host diorama pictures of figures tended to have a great deal of influence.  One such site was Evilface's domain.  Here, Evilface's immortal customs served as the main attraction.  But, buried deep within the site were random diorama pictures taken with a camera.  Among these was a Cobra convoy that featured the first real online display of Cobra army building (be it ever so modest by today's standards).  Riding on the back of the HISS Tanks were Crimson Guard Immortals.  For most collectors of the time, this was their first exposure to a great figure that was actually fairly hard to find during that era.

In the late 1990's, it was easy to find all Joe figures from 1982 through 1987 online or at toy shops or shows.  1988 was fairly available, but some of the more obscure figures didn't show up all that often.  1989's were mostly only available in lots as kids from that time started to sell their childhood collections.  1990 fell into this category as well.  1991 figures, though, were extremely hard to find.  This was a combination of the fact that most of the 1991 series of figures were only produced for that one year and not carried over into 1992.  But also, those who had played with Joes during this time weren't quite old enough to have started selling their collections.  In the early days of Ebay, it was not uncommon to go two or three weeks without seeing a Crimson Guard Immortal offered for sale.  Usually, when they did appear, they were only included in large lots with other 1990, 1991 and 1992 figures.

At the time, I was heavily interested in all figures from the 1990's and was actively acquiring all the lots of figures from those years I could find.  Though that effort, I acquired 2 Crimson Guard Immortals.  The fact that I had a pair of the figures, along with the fact that others were difficult to find at the time gave the figure a mystique that has lived with me in the decade and a half since.  Of course, Crimson Guard Immortals are much easier to find these days and are actually cheaper than they were in 2002 - 2005.  But, that hasn't changed the way I feel about the figure nor has it sated my desire to always have a nice cadre of Immortals in my collection.  The armored uniform makes for a perfect Crimson Guard gunner for the ASP, Hiss Tank or SMS.  The colors being true to the original CG also tie this figure into Cobra's roots and help it rise above the other army builders of the time.

As far as accessories go, the Immortal isn't great.  His weapons are interesting, but not special.  The backpack is nice as it does feature three removable missiles that fit into the guns.  The launchers are designed to be action activated by a flick of the finger.  Hitting the exposed rear of the missile will "shoot" it out of the weapon.  This type of thing is common in 1990 and 1991 and was the precursor to spring loaded weapons.  The launchers aren't great and are awkward for the figure to hold.  The ammo belt that connects to the figure's leg is neater in idea than execution and really only come across as a hindrance when you try to display the figure.  They are distinct accessories, but nothing good enough to enhance the figure.  Again, though, I go back in time to the early days of Joedom and reference Cobra Command Online.  This site was the first to really take army building to the heights that defined 2001 through 2005.  But here, amidst the dioramas of hundreds upon hundreds of 1998 TRU Vipers were random groups of Crimson Guard Immortals.  Not equipped with their standard accessories, but the gun and pack from the 1985 Crimson Guard.  This look completely changed my viewpoint on the CGI.  With these accessories from 1985, the figure became even more useful.  Now, the infantry look of the CG's original accessories were matched with a combat uniform.  The result is a great enhancement to both the weapons and the figure.

As a character, the Crimson Guard Immortal is nothing more than a Crimson Guardsman.  The filecard makes no reference to the "Immortal" in the name and adds nothing new to the character that was not introduced in 1985.  That isn't a bad thing as it leaves a lot of interpretation open for kids and collectors.  The CGI's can be just an alternate uniform for Crimson Guardsman.  Or, they could be a more militaristic branch of the elite force.  The CGI gives collectors a way to grow the CG ranks without having tons of conflicting divisions developed by different generations of Joe designers.

The Crimson Guard Immortal mold has an interesting history.  After its release in the US in 1991, the figure was also produced by Hasbro for release in Europe.  At some point, though, Hasbro co-opted the CGI head for use on the mail away 1993 Create a Cobra.  At this time, the European Crimson Guard Immortals saw a very truncated run of figures that used the Rock Viper head in lieu of the traditional CGI head.  (These are among the rarest figures in the world.  But, before you spend $400 on one, be sure to get the provenance.  The Euro CGI's with Rock Viper heads are also heavily faked out of Asia.  So, be careful when you are in the market for one.)  At some point, the figure was slated for release by Estrela in Brazil.  A figure named Flagelo appeared on Brazilian cardbacks and in the catalogs.  But, this figure was never actually released.  In 2001, the mold resurfaced in India as the highly anticipated Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal.  This figure was imported en masse to the U.S. by dealers at the time and collectors bought them by the dozens and even hundreds.  Again, though, this figure was very similar to the American version with just some minor color variances in the figure and accessories.

Hasbro reacquired the mold from Funskool in 2003.  But, in their great wisdom, never really utilized it effectively.  A Crimson Guard Immortal was released in late 2003 in a KB Toys exclusive remake of the CAT Tank.  This blue and red figure never really caught on in the collecting world.  The Tanks were eventually clearanced for below wholesale prices and large quantities of 2003 CGI's were available cheaply from Asia.  In 2005, Hasbro released a Toys R Us exclusive Crimson Guard 6 figure set.  This set featured 4 Crimson Guards, either Tomax or Xamot and...Firefly.  So, they split up Tomax ans Xamot, but left collectors to buy 2 Firefly's with their duplicate sets required to complete the Twins.  The box art, though, was suspicious and Firefly used the exact paint masks as the 2004 Urban Assault Firefly.  The implication was that Firefly was a last minute addition to the set.  A CGI would have been a perfect command figure to include.  But, the reason for that molds absence was made apparent when the 2005 Convention set was released.  The entire CGI body was used for the under appreciated Convention Destro.  After that, the mold never appeared again.  Really, there is much that could be done with the mold and released in blue, black, silver with reverse red highlights, etc. would have been gobbled up by collectors.  But, that never came to be.

The result is that the Crimson Guard Immortal retains some of his mystique.  Since the figure wasn't overused and the mold only really appeared in 2 really different varieties, the original CGI remains somewhat unspoiled.  I would have enjoyed seeing the figure redone in black with the silver highlights.  Or, in Cobra blue.  A companion figure to the Crimson Shadow Guard would have at least given us something different with the mold.  But, it was not to be.  That's OK, though, since this figure hasn't suffered from the same character degradation that occurred when Hasbro repainted the Viper and Alley Viper to death.

Today, Crimson Guard Immortal figures still command a premium.  Mint and complete with filecard, the figures run as high as $23.  Lose the filecard and you can get them for around $18, though.  Still, in this post army-building world, that's pretty steep for a later edition army builder with some limitations.  But, it is a testament to the figure's quality, its relative scarcity and its propensity for breakage that the price remains high.  (In relation to the breakage, I had crotch snap right off of the figure you see in the photo below as I was posing him for additional pictures.  So, it can happen to the best of us.)

Personally, I find the Crimson Guard Immortal to be one of my favorite army building figures.  He has the look of a commanding soldier while retaining the regalia of the Crimson Guard.  The armor is well designed and the colors are a near perfect blend of crimson and silver.  With the elite status of the Crimson Guard already established, the CGI fits perfectly into the existing Cobra hierarchy without introducing new colors or ideas.  Really, that is a great way for Hasbro to handle a new aspect of an existing faction.  As such, the Crimson Guard Immortal is one of the few figures who still exists in numbers in my collection.  For the price they fetch these days, I still feel this is a worthwhile addition to a collection.  And, going forward, it is a figure that I will continue to acquire as the opportunities to add them to my collection appear.

1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

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