Monday, March 25, 2013

Funskool Airtight

Airtight was one of my first two 1985 Joe figures.  The minute I saw him on the shelf of KB toys in February of 1985, I had to have him.  Sure, he was brightly colored.  But, his helmet, accessories and general sculpt were too much for me to resist.  I bought him over other '85's and was very happy with my purchase for a long time.  As I got older, Airtight's role morphed from the original hostile environment specialist into a diver, pilot and even astronaut.  But, he continued to be used long after many of the other 1985 figures had been replaced.  Unfortunately, Hasbro never revisited the Airtight mold.  So, I only had the original for use in my collection.  In early 2002, though, Funskool brought back three older figures that they had not produced since before Joes were heavily imported into the U.S.  Among them was the Indian version of Airtight.  Once again, I had the chance to buy one and once again enjoy the notion of a new Airtight in my collection.

On the surface, the Funskool Airtight is the same as the U.S. version.  He has a yellow base, black highlights and green extremities.  The green is a bit brighter than the American version.  So, really, the figure is inferior to the American release.  When you add in Funskool's notoriously lack paint jobs from the 2002 era, you definitely have a figure that is worse than the American version.  But, sometimes that doesn't much matter to me.  The fact that I could get an Airtight on the card with his original artwork and original accessories for $4 offset the quality and coloring issues.  The accessories are the same as the American versions.  However, the hose attaching his sniffer to the pack is notoriously flimsy while the hose that attaches to the back of the figure's head is extremely stiff and hard.  So much so that it can not be used with the figure.  So, again, you have issues with the Funskool quality that is inferior to the original version, even with the original predating the new release by 17 years.

As a kid, I didn't view Airtight as just a Chemical, Biological and Radiological warfare specialist.  I took the "Hostile Environment" theme to include territories on Earth that were hostile to survival.  Caves, tundra and deserts were all within Airtight's realm of specialty.  I saw Airtight's suit as a self contained survivalist environment that could keep him heated, cooled and airtight underwater or in space.  It was a broad brush with which to paint the character.  But, it allowed Airtight to be more versatile.  In time, though, this catch all approach got old.  Slowly, I acquired more 1985 figures.  Airtight just didn't visually fit with Alpine, Flint, Snake Eyes and the others.  So, he became somewhat marginalized.  (Throw in the fact that I lost some of his accessories and you can see how his luster faded.)  In time, Airtight became a default member of my Whale Hovercraft crew.  In this capacity, he didn't need his accessories, but could still have some use.

As an adult, I have appreciated Airtight's true specialty more and more.  It remains a curious oddity that Airtight was not a member of Eco Warriors.  But, even with more modern figures that complement Airtight, I don't find the figure having much use.  I have used him as a co-pilot in the Skystriker and Dragonfly.  But, his bright colors really didn't fit with those vehicles.  So, mostly, the figure remains a display piece.  This Funskool version falls into the same position.  While I like the figure's look and visually appreciate the brighter green juxtaposed with the yellow and black, I just can't find myself using the figure with any contemporaries.  The mold fits with other figures from the 1985-1986 time frame.  As such, he looks out of place among the 1990's figures with whom his specialty best aligns.  All this leaves me with a figure that I want to use more, but just can't find a good fit.  So, today, Airtight mostly finds himself relegated to duty in the G.I. Joe Headquarters: manning a computer terminal or servicing the machinery.  Here, you can appreciate the visual aspects of the figure without having him contrast too greatly with the vehicles or other figures from his time.

The Airtight mold had a short, but distinct history.  The figure was released in the U.S. the one time and not seen again.  Around 1991 or 1992, the Airtight mold showed up in Brazil.  However, Estrela released Airtight as a member of Tiger Force (Forca Tigre) named Ar Puro (Pure Air).  While this figure still featured a yellow base, the yellow was more muted than the American figure.  The black and brown tiger flecks, though, make the figure much more distinctive.  As such, Ar Puro is a must have for many collectors.  From there, the mold migrated to India.  At some point in the mid to late 1990's, Funskool began producing Airtight figures.  There are slight coloring differences from year to year, but no major variants.  The fact that the Funskool coloring closely matches that of the American figure tells you that Hasbro had at least some interest in the character since they didn't allow Funskool to stray too far from the figure's original design.  Funskool stopped producing Airtight figures at some point prior to 2001.  As such, he was not among the 40 or so Funskool figures that became available via American dealers in early 2001.  In 2002, though, Funskool brought back Airtight, Flint and Scrap Iron and reissued them.  This allowed modern collectors to acquire the figures for rock bottom prices.  In late 2003, Airtight was among the molds returned to Hasbro by Funskool.  But, Hasbro never did anything with it.  So, while Airtight had 3 releases on 3 different continents, there are really only two distinct versions of the figure and both have similar base colors.  Hasbro could easily have brought the figure back in a new color scheme (He would have been a perfect fit for the Anti-Venom Set.) but they did not.  So, the Airtight mold is a story of what could have been.

Funskool Airtights are cheap.  They were heavily imported by U.S. based dealers for at least two years and sold for around $4 each.  A decade later, the figure hasn't appreciated much on the aftermarket.  Carded, you can still get them for under $6 plus shipping with a little looking.  It's a great figure and one worthy of being a part of every collection when you consider the price.  I'm happy to have had a chance to get another new Airtight.  The brighter green is just enough of a difference to make the figure distinct.  Really, that's all you can ask for when the figure is so cheap and plentiful.

Funskool Airtight, Beach Head, Flint

Funskool Airtight,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

1994 Star Brigade Countdown

I remain a Star Brigade junkie.  I enjoy the subset and find the figures from both 1993 and 1994 to be extremely well done.  I freely admit that the notion of all astronaut sub team that, in the end, was fighting aliens is pretty far off the edge of acceptable G.I. Joe mythos.  But, that doesn't take away from the overall quality of the figures released in the series.  The reality is that the Star Brigade figures are extremely high quality and feature some great colors and molds and were a great bookend to the vintage line.  Of the figures in the 1994 Star Brigade series, it is the Countdown figure that features my favorite color palette.

As a character, Countdown was not the first Joe astronaut figure.  But, he was the first to be released in the carded retail line.  (Though the Cobra Astro Viper was released the year prior.)  As such, Countdown was actually designed as an astronaut mold.  The remaining repaints in this series are all from other purposes, originally.  This gives the mold some authenticity.  The body features intricate details that fit with the astronaut theme.  The helmet, though, is the greatest asset of the figure.  The helmet fits snugly over the figure's head and melds perfectly with the body.  It looks like an astronaut helmet and matches the look for the figure.  Countdown has some weapons (which I assume would be used inside space stations or in the atmosphere) molded to his chest.  This version, though, lacks the backpack from the original figure.  The result is a helmeted figure with no life support systems.  The upside is that 1989 Countdowns are cheap and it's easy to get extra packs to outfit this figure.  But, it's a glaring omission that plagued most of the Star Brigade figures.

I found the 1993 Star Brigade figures at a toy liquidator in 1995.  I enjoyed the hodge podge of blues, reds, whites and greens that comprised the 1993 series.  I did not learn of the 1994 series until much later.  As soon as I saw the more muted colors of the 1994 Star Brigade series, I was hooked and had to have them.  I began a search for any and all 1994 Star Brigade figures.  At the time, it was fairly easy to find the Lunartix aliens on the second hand market.  They were expensive, but available.  The remaining figures, though, were very difficult to find.  Over time, I was able to track down carded versions of the complete 1994 Star Brigade series except for Countdown and Ozone.   Those two figures just never appeared for sale.  Finally, in very early 1999, I found a lot with multiples of each. I staked it out and was finally able to add Countdown to my collection.

I immediately opened the carded version as there was no way I could not have a loose version of the grey, green and blue Countdown figure.  This version was easily the best version of Countdown ever released.  Quickly, this figure became the replacement for the 1993 Countdown who was one of the main pilot figures in my collection.  He looked good in the Skystriker, but did not fit in the Skyhawk.  As I did not have a Defiant, though, my uses for Countdown were somewhat limited.  I wanted the figure to be more prominent.  But, it was difficult to find many of the few aircraft I had in my collection that would both fit the figure and display him appropriately.

The second series of Star Brigade was extremely limited in production.  It was estimated that only around 10,000 of each Lunartix alien figure was produced.  The humans in the series were produced in equal numbers.  So, Countdown, Ozone and Effects join Lobotomaxx, Predacon,  Carcass, Gears and the V2 Techno Viper as some of the rarest figures in the vintage line.  That doesn't mean you can't find them.  But, even today, it is much easier to track these figures down still carded than it is to find them loose.  By the time the 2nd series of Star Brigade was released, many collectors and dealers were in the market for them.  That kept the carded figures easily available in the collector market while loose figures have mostly come from collectors like me who opened carded figures acquired on the secondary market.

The Countdown mold has a decent history.  It was released in 1989, 1993 and then in 1994.  Around 1999 or 2000, the mold appeared in India where it was released by Funskool.  The Funskool version is similar to the 1993 Countdown, but has some unique elements.  (It should be noted that Funskool was still releasing Countdown as late as 2009.)  Overall, there are 3 basic incarnations of Countdown, but each is very well done and is different enough from the others that the mold has some nice diversity.  The V1 and V3 figures are both excellent visual representations of the character.  The V2 offers some different colors that still work very well.  Even if Hasbro had the mold back (though that is unlikely) there isn't much that could be done with the mold that would surpass the figures that have already been released.

These days, the 1994 Star Brigade figures are actually somewhat desirable among collectors.  This has lead to higher prices than we've ever seen for carded and loose samples of the figures.  The most highly sought after figures remain Roadblock, Blackstar and Space Shot.  But, figures like this Countdown are starting to get their due.  Collectors have realized that Countdown is among the rarest figures ever released in the line, is actually a great color scheme and is worth owning.  As such, you can expect to pay upwards of $12-$15 for a mint, loose, complete version and maybe $25 for a carded sample.  In the grand scheme of things, that's still pretty cheap.  But, when you consider that about a decade ago, you could carded samples for under $3 each, you're talking quite an increase.  For my money, this figure is worth it.  The colors are excellent and really add something interesting to any collection.

1994 Star Brigade Countdown, Wave 2, Payload Variant, Ozone, Roadblock

1994 Star Brigade Countdown, Wave 2, Carded, MOC

Monday, March 11, 2013

1992 Cobra Parasite

In 1995, I was buying pretty much every Joe toy I could find.  Over the summer, I had spent many lunch breaks scouring various retail stores to purchase just about every figure and vehicle I could find.  As the calendar wound into fall, I headed off to my senior year of college.  Back in my college town with no automobile, my inventory of stores to search for Joes was limited to Big Lots and Wal Mart.  In September, I was shocked to find a rack of 1993 Joes at Big Lots for the outstanding price of $2.00 each.  I only had a few dollars on me at the time and just bought two figures.  When I returned to the store a week later, the entire stock had sold out.  I pretty much resigned myself to not finding anything else to buy until I went home for Christmas.  However, in October, I was buying groceries at the local Kroger and wandered down the promotional aisle.  There, atop a shelf was a Cobra vehicle I had never seen before: the Parasite.

At the time, things like the Internet were nascent.  So, there were few ways for someone like me who had been out of Joe to really establish a timeline of when certain figures and vehicles were released.  Through my purchases in 1994 and 1995, I was able to track down catalogs from 1993 and 1994.  This helped me date some of the figures and vehicles I was finding at the time.  As the Parasite was not featured in any of the catalogs I had and since the artwork featured the 1992 Destro (who I had purchased in 1992 so I knew the date of his release), I figured it must be an earlier release.  I hoped it would contain a 1992 catalog that would help me piece together more of the puzzle that was the final years of Joe to me.  But, I wasn't about to go buying a G.I. Joe toy at Kroger, in a college town, in the middle of the day.  Sure, an adult buying toys now is commonplace.  But, in 1995, it was still a bit odd for someone who was too old for toys but too young to have a child of the proper age to be buying toys.

So, I left the Parasite that day.  I figured I would find a time when I was at the store late at night (it was a 24 hour store) and purchase it then.  But, as the Kroger was about as far from my house as possible and I didn't have a car, it was a few weeks before an opportunity presented itself.  Finally, late one night, my room mate needed something from the grocery.  We headed off to Kroger around midnight.  The store was empty.  So, I took advantage of the vacant aisles and pulled down the Parasite.  The grizzled towny cashier looked at me a bit funny when I took it through checkout.  But, that was the extent of the hassle I got.  I took the Parasite home, opened it up and found the incredibly disappointing 1992 catalog inside.  While this helped me piece together more of the Joe figures I would need to acquire, it did not give me the great pictures of the figures I had hoped for.  It was mostly the same artwork that I had already seen on the few cardbacks I had available to me.  This disappointment, though, was somewhat tempered by the quality of the vehicle I had just opened.  The Parasite was actually surprisingly better than I had anticipated.

On it's face, the Parasite did not match up with my collecting goals of the time.  I generally didn't buy vehicles unless they met the following criteria:

1.  They included a figure.
2.  They were decently colored and fit with my collection.
3.  The vehicle design was something I simply had to add to my collection.

The Parasite did not match 1 or 2.  I was not sure on number 3.  On the box, the vehicle looked a bit odd and blocky.  But, for the price and my desire for the catalog, I was willing to reconsider my criteria.  When I had the vehicle in hand, the most glaring aspect is the outlandish orange and purple coloring.  Once I got past this, though, I found the Parasite to contain a remarkable level of detail and play features.  In short, I had some great potential.

Prior to the Parasite's release, the best Cobra Troop transport was the limited functionality of the Hiss II.  After the Parasite's release, the best Cobra Troop transport was the limited functionality of the Hiss II.  The Parasite had the mold to displace the updated Hiss.  But, it lacked the colors.  It's just too hard to get past the garish orange and offsetting purple.  The Parasite should be a distant second to the Hiss.  But, the quality of the Parasite's mold makes the race much closer than it would otherwise appear.

The Parasite is armed to the teeth.  The front gun station features 4 guns focused on the ground to take out any infantry.  It also has a mounted four barrel weapon array that is capable of elevating to take out low flying aircraft or just to elevate to take out troops on higher ground.  This entire weapon system rotates to protect the vehicle from a rather large angle.  If this isn't enough, there is a mounted Gatling cannon on the vehicle's back that protects the rear but also can cover the sides of the vehicle.  Finally, the Parasite features a set of mines.  These are stored on the vehicle's side.  The true play feature of the Parasite is that the mines can be launched from the spring loaded catapult on top of the rear door.  It is somewhat intrusive to the design.  But, it does give the Parasite an impressive amount of weaponry.

From a troop transport perspective, the Parasite can carry six figures in the cargo hold.  There are seats large enough for figures from the '90's.  It holds one driver and can carry a large amount of additional figures on the footpegs on the side rails and rear.  This gives the Parasite a larger footprint than vehicles like the Hiss Tank.  The extended front guns and wheels that jut out from the main body make the vehicle appear larger than it is.  But, fully loaded with a complement of 15 figures, it is an impressive sight.

One of the knocks on the Parasite is the open driver's cockpit on the front of the vehicle.  You have an armored troop transport to move highly valuable Cobra Troops around the battlefield, but you leave the driver of the vehicle dangerously exposed to fire from any weapon.  While this is a realistic detriment to the vehicle, it is in line with Cobra vehicles from prior years.  The classic Hiss puts the driver front a center, though he is encased with a canopy.  The STUN, though, does not.  Motor Vipers atop a STUN are not only susceptible to any fire, but the design of the STUN's front gun pods would actually deflect a lot of bullets directly up towards the driver.  So, in design, the Parasite's driver protection is actually a step above the STUN's.  However, I have long incorporated this exposed driver as part of the Cobra lore.  Cobra likes fearless drivers.  In order to temper them a bit and prevent total recklessness, Cobra leaves the drivers exposed.  This causes them to be more cautious.  Sure, it's a stretch to incorporate major design flaws into the toys.  But, those exposed drivers have a lot more play value than protected drivers like you find in the Mauler or Mean Dog.  So, you kind of go with it.

My general feelings on the repaint era from 2000 through 2006 is that Hasbro missed the boat with what they could do.  The spent far too much time trying to give us the classics either in different colors or in colors generally similar to the vintage release.  The result is a convoy of forgettable vehicles with a few gems interspersed.  I would have much rather seen Hasbro look to vehicles like the Parasite.  Later year vehicles with solid molds but that suffered from terrible colors the first time around.  The Parasite redone in black and grey, black and crimson or Cobra blue and black would have been an excellent update to the Cobra armory.  Instead, Cobra got multiple repaints of the original Hiss Tank and little else.

As much as I want to blame Hasbro, though, I really can't.  In 2004, Hasbro tried something different when they repainted the 1993 Monster Blaster APC as the BAT Transport.  The Monster Blaster was another late year vintage vehicle that had a solid mold.  In this case, the vintage colors weren't even that bad.  But, the mold, while high quality, is very sci-fi in appearance and isn't for every collector.  And, sales played that out.  Even at the height of the army building craze, this repainted BAT Transport that included 3 unique army-building BAT figures did not sell anywhere near as well as the repainted Version I Hiss Tank in Operation Crimson Sabotage.  Collectors did not tend to reward ingenuity at that time.  So, Hasbro using an unheralded late year vehicle and repainting it in decent colors was nowhere near as popular as repainted a classic vehicle in a color that was already available in the vintage line (albeit expensive).  So, the chance for something like the Parasite to be revisited never materialized since there really wasn't a market for it.

Today, Parasite's are rather inexpensive.  They are not desired by collectors and don't really show up except when someone is after one for completion's sake.  A few customizers have discovered the mold and repainted the vehicle into something much more exciting.  But, you would expect the Parasite to be a customizer staple since it can provide such a valuable role to a Cobra army.  For whatever reason, it is not.  Generally, seeing even nicely customized versions is a rarity.  That leaves the Parasite as a hidden value for new collectors.  They are cheap enough to paint into something different.  But, if that's not something you do, the mold still has some value.  The oddly colored '90's Cobras do look at home in the Parasite.  So, it's worth acquiring for that alone.  Personally, I doubt I would have this vehicle had I not bought it in 1995.  But, I did and have not regretted it.  For the small financial outlay a Parasite will cost, I think most modern collectors would find their feeling about the Parasite to be the same.

1992 Parasite, 1993 Nitro Viper, Cyber Viper

1992 Parasite, 1993 Nitro Viper, Crimson Guard Commander

1992 Parasite, 1993 Nitro Viper, 2005 Zarana, Night Watch Officer, Buzzer, Dreadnok, Comic Pack

1992 Parasite, 1993 Nitro Viper, Interrogator, Mail Away

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

1985 Listen & Fun Tripwire

By 1985, G.I. Joe had become extremely popular.  Toy stores were packed with entire aisles of Joe toys.  Hasbro tried to capitalize on Joe's notoriety by producing ancillary products to their main Joe line.  These included lunch boxes, stickers, pencils, napkins, etc.  As time progressed, they got a bit ambitious in their undertakings.  One such project was the Listen & Fun Tripwire.  Not part of the main Joe line, the Listen & Fun Tripwire was packaged with a cassette tape and sold for a higher price point.  The result is an unflattering repaint of an obscure mold that is rather difficult to find.

The Listen & Fun notion probably looked good on paper.  Hasbro could cheaply record a lame spoken word Joe adventure, feature the character with whom the tape would be sold and bundle it into a higher price point item that would, potentially, expand Joe's audience.  The reality was that they created a figure that was sold at a much higher price point than their traditional figures with a feature that wasn't all that compelling.  Throw in the fact that the figure was colored bright orange in an era of realistically colored figures and you see the disaster that was the figure.

In the late '70's and early '80's, recorded adventures were big sellers to kids.  Most properties put out records and, later, tapes that featured popular kids characters.  I distinctly remember having original G.I. Joe Adventure Team .45's and wondering why none of the Joe characters I knew were part of the stories.  I listened to them on a record player for kids in the basement.  I had some Disney and Star Wars records as well.  In short order, though, these things became passe.  The cassette players of the '80's ushered in a new era of recordings.  Hasbro tried this Listen and Fun idea and included a cassette with the Mission to Brazil set in 1986.  But, this was the end of the cassette tapes with Joes.  By 1991, Hasbro had advanced to video taped, animated adventures with figures.

I have few recollections of seeing the Listen and Fun Tripwire in 1985.  Were he heavily featured, I'm sure I would have eventually caved and asked my parents for him as I was inclined to buy any Joe figure I did not own, no matter how oddly colored.  I do recall seeing the figures hanging by the checkout counter at the local KB toy store.  They were not stocked with the Joes, but hanging on pegs high above the cashier.  I'm sure I saw the figures other times, but that memory of KB sticks out in my mind.

When I returned to Joe collecting, I maintained the memory of seeing that Tripwire at KB.  I sought out others who recalled the orange Tripwire, but found few local collectors who did.  When I found the figure in the early days of online Joedom, I was quickly reminded of how poorly colored this selection was.  While I didn't mind the neon colors of the '90's, those were largely contextual.  Neon was big in the '90's so having toys in those colors matched the time period.  That was less so for the Listen and Fun Tripwire.  The figure is so out of character with the other releases of his time that he stands too far apart from Joes of his era.  Had he been a '90's repaint, I think I could better accept him.  But, an orange and red figure who wasn't a flamethrower made no sense in 1985.

As a figure, this Tripwire is pretty terrible.  He is based in bright orange with deep red highlights.  He has his silver goggles and insignia along with Copper trimmings.  In all, he is so bright that the details of the mold are largely lost.  The figure did include the full complement of Tripwire accessories, though.  Recolored in a light grey, the original Tripwire minesweeper, pack and mines are a nice addition to this figure.  But, they also add a degree of rarity to it as the mines were easy to lose in their own right.  Some collectors consider the tape to be part of a complete figure.  Others do not.  It is really up to the individual if the tape is necessary.

As a figure and character, Tripwire never played much part in my collection.  In 1983, Tripwire and Torpedo were the last carded figures we found at retail.  As such, my younger brother acquired our first Tripwire in the fall, right as I acquired my first Dragonfly.  This somewhat tied the two together.  But, Tripwire's lack of a firearm quickly doomed him to second tier duty.  Add in the fact that his crotch broke rather quickly and you understand how Tripwire never made much of an impact on my childhood play patterns.  In the mid 1990's, though, Tripwire made a bit of a comeback, though in a different capacity.  At the time, I had few Joe figures available to me.  But, I had two Tripwires, both with no accessories and broken crotches.  I pressed these figures into duty as nameless Joe vehicle drivers charged with driving APC's into hostile territories.  Often, they would end up as cannon fodder as the vehicles were attacked.  But, the non-descript head and identity stealing goggles allowed the figure to fill this role.  In time, though, Tripwire morphed back into the original character and has been pretty much a display piece ever since.

The Tripwire mold was well worn.  The original figure was released in the U.S., Europe, China and Japan.  Over time, the rank insignia paint mask on Tripwire's arm changed.  In addition to the 1985 Listen & Fun figure, Hasbro also repainted the mold in Tiger Force colors in 1988.  In 2001, Hasbro brought Tripwire back in the ARAHC series with a militaristic paint job that was reminiscent of the original figure.  But, they then sent the mold off to India.  In 2002, Funskool produced a purple and orange Tripwire figure, only with a new mine sweeper accessory.  The result is that there are great Tripwire figures, odd Tripwire figures and bad Tripwire figures.  For such a minor character, there are likely more than enough versions of Tripwire to go around.

The Listen and Fun Tripwire is actually rather rare.  As the figure was released through non-traditional outlets, many kids didn't know about it.  He never appeared in any catalogs, so collectors had little way of knowing of him, either.  This has lead to a $50+ figure today.  As Tripwire features unique accessories that can be easily lost and paint that wears easily, finding a mint and complete figure can be a challenge.  So, he remains one of the most expensive vintage figures, even if he is relatively unknown and not something on most collectors' want lists.  Personally, I don't find this figure offers much to my collection.  The 1983 Tripwire and even the 2001 are much better options.  And, if you want something odd, the Funskool version is better.  So, for the price, this isn't a figure that I've found to be really worth the cost.  But, he does stand as an oddity among the first 4 years of the Joe line.

1985 Listen and Fun Tripwire, Alado, Crazylegs, Argentina, Plastirama, Estrela, Brazil, Hawk, Comando Trevassia

1985 Listen and Fun Tripwire, Alado, Crazylegs, Argentina, Plastirama, Estrela, Brazil, Quick Kick, Sgto. Slaughter