Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hunter - European Action Force Exclusive

International Joes are one of my favorite areas of collecting.  There's just something about owning figures that were never available in the U.S. that makes the hobby more exciting.  Through the years, I've featured figures from all over the world.  But, the original foreign exclusives are the one area in which my profiles have been rather deficient.  The first Joe figures exclusively repainted outside the U.S. were in Europe as part of the Action Force line.  The Joe repaints are low in number and were produced just before Action Force was replaced by G.I. Joe in Europe.  In the history of this site, I have only reviewed three of the Action Force exclusives, even though they were, likely, the most famous international exclusives of the time.  Two of the prior profiles, Blades and Stalker, were both members of the SAS subset of Action Force.  The fourth Action Force figure I've reviewed, and the subject of this profile, is the sole remaining SAS member of the subset: Hunter.

Hunter is a straight repaint of the 1983 Cobra Officer.  Instead of being a villain, though, Hunter was re purposed as a member of the SAS.  He was given a repainted Wolverine as his vehicle and promptly drove himself into Joe lore.  All three members of the SAS squad featured figures with at least some of their face covered.  Hunter was no exception and makes you wonder what the SAS was so keen on hiding back in the '80's.  But, as a small subset of figures, the SAS works and looks great together.

Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, Hunter was one of the most popular international figures.  He was a repaint of a highly popular army builder done in a base color of black with blue highlights.  During the army building craze of that time, Hunter figures became increasingly expensive as collectors gobbled up the majority of the supply in the marketplace.  In those days, even figures without the SAS were desired as they were more integrateable into Cobra ranks. As the army building craze simmered down, though, Action Force figures in general became highly desirable.  That kept Hunter among the more expensive releases.  While some interest in Action Force has diminished due to the increased demand for South American figures, Hunter remains one of the more difficult Action Force figures to track down and retains his higher price tag.

The real issue facing this figure is how do you take a masked villainous mold and convert it into an ally of the Joes?  It's nearly impossible, especially when Hunter's basic color scheme is closer to Cobra's classic colors than he is to any Joe colors of the time.  As such, I have never really found a use for Hunter.  He is just a figure who calls my collection home, but has no real purpose.  With the SAS logo, I can not display him with Red Laser and Red Jackal.  But, the classic Cobra mold looks too out of place with any Joe figures: foreign or domestic.  The nice thing is that Hunter is a blank slate for collectors.  He could be a turncoat, mysterious spy, or just some guy who likes to keep dust out of his nose, but doesn't mind it in his eyes when he drives his mobile missile launcher.  Regardless, he does offer collectors something different from what we saw in the U.S.  Even if it's not as useful as it could be.

For their popularity, there are actually very few Action Force repaints of Hasbro molds.  Jammer, Gaucho, Dolphin, Moondancer, Quarrel, Steeler, Red Jackal, Red Laser, Stalker, Blades and Hunter were the extent of the series.  But, those small numbers equated to collectors easily completing the set and lead Action Force to extended popularity among modern collectors.  But, despite this popularity, Action Force did not make any return to Joe until the 2010 Convention Red Shadows set.  And, even this only featured the Black Major and Red Shadows figures rather than a full complement of Action Force characters.  In reality, the original Action Force line was quite amazing.  Despite the figures only have vintage Star Wars type articulation, the complement of vehicles and accessories was actually ahead of Joe for the time.  It was a shame that none of the Palitoy weapons or vehicles ever appeared in a Hasbro release in the U.S.  But, it does give modern collectors a nice way to distinguish their collections by peppering them with the various Action Force toys.

There is some debate in the collecting community regarding the accessories on Action Force figures.  It appears that the original figures were released without accessories.  But, as the line progressed, accessories were going to be added as part of a packaging change.  These packaging changes, though, likely never went to production.  So, where do the Action Force figures who are packaged in bubbles with accessories come from?  The answer is that Palitoy/Hasbro Europe liquidated a huge amount of Action Force vehicle driver overstock to various dealers in the UK.  In the '90's, there were UK dealers who would sell all the Action Force drivers for a fraction of their cost today.  This was the source of the accessorized versions of the Action Force figures.  As such, getting an AK-47 with Hunter is a bonus, but not, necessarily, a requirement for a complete figure.

The reasons behind the foreign figures, though, were nothing more than money grabs for Hasbro.  The tone was set in Europe right around 1984.  Here, Hasbro wanted to introduce G.I. Joe.  They were able to co-opt the popular Action Force brand that they acquired in the Palitoy acquisition, and include G.I. Joe molds in the toy offerings.  After one year, the repaints were ended and standard G.I. Joe figures were released on generic Action Force cards.  Soon after that, the Action Force logo was incorporated into the G.I. Joe style and the European brand became nothing more than G.I. Joe under a less Americanized name.  This was the same philosophy Hasbro followed in Brazil, Argentina and India.  Though, in these later countries, they did not acquire an existing brand as much as they just introduced G.I. Joe to the markets and raked in the international licensing fees.

Hunters are very hard to find.  The SAS logo is as fragile as any paint application on any figure released anywhere in the world.  As such, finding Hunter with a perfect logo has gotten extremely difficult in recent years.  As such, pricing reflects the scarcity and mint, complete Hunters will now fetch upwards of $150 each.  If you are willing to sacrifice some quality on the logo, the price falls, but not that much.  For that much, this is an interesting figure, but not one that is really worth the cost.  The Cobra Officer mold is just too iconically evil to transition to a heroic character.  But, since the Action Force line is so small, it still makes sense to add Hunter and complete the set.

Action Force Hunter, Palitoy, Cobra Officer, European Exclusive, Bootleg Red Shadows Invasor, Red Shadow Trooper, Bootleg, Custom, Black Major

Action Force Hunter, Palitoy, Cobra Officer, European Exclusive, Tiger Force Tunnel Rat

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