Monday, April 22, 2013

2004 Unproduced "Night Force" Tracker

There are certain figures who have found decent popularity despite poor colorings on their actual releases. Many of these are molds that are well done and unique. Oftentimes they are also characters that have potential. One such character is Tracker. Since the early days of online collecting, repainted Tracker figures have been a staple of the collecting community. The great mold but bad colors made it a customizers dream piece. In the modern line, Hasbro has taken a few occasions to give up properly colored versions of under appreciated vintage molds. In the case of Tracker, collectors were oh so close to finally seeing a properly colored version of the figure in 2004. But, a last minute change left Tracker in the cold as his character was changed to Action Man and he was given a bright orange shirt in the Night Force set. But, a little Easter Egg was left. A few of the Night Force Tracker figures were actually produced and they found their way into the hands of Asian Joe sellers. The result is the best version of Tracker never made and the subject of this profile.

There are a few collecting phrases that truly annoy me. The first is "Argen 7". There is no Argen 7. There are 6 rare figures released in the scarce 2nd series of Plastirama figures. The Cobra Invasor was not in that wave and is not part of them. It is a cutesy term that novice collectors use to make themselves seem more knowledgeable than they are. The other is "Midnight Chinese". I'll grant this, the term is clever and catchy. But, it is also derogatory and misleading. It is true that some Asian factories likely churned out after hours product using whatever material was in the machines at the end of the day. But, these are almost certainly limited to the unpainted, odd colored "prototypes" that have become all too common. The fully painted production level figures, though, are unlikely to be "bootlegs" and are more likely truly unproduced items. This is an important distinction as it lends the proper amount of credibility to figures such as this Tracker.

This Tracker has a nice paper trail that cements its status as a true unproduced figure. At the 2003 Convention, a hand painted Tracker in colors eerily similar to this figure was shown. At that time, it was Hasbro's intention to release Tracker as part of the Night Force set. As the existence of this figure indicates, that remained Hasbro's intention until fairly late in the process. While this Tracker figure does feature the same paint masks as the Action Man figure, there is one important difference: the Night Force insignia on his chest. This stamp is unique to Tracker and shows that Hasbro produced a entirely new paint mask for the Tracker figure. It also proves that the change From Tracker to Action Man occurred at nearly the last minute and it's likely that had there not been other issues with the Night Force set that we would have seen Tracker at retail.

As a figure, this Tracker is beautiful. All of the Night Force figures were well done with intricate paint applications. Tracker is the exception, though. Instead of the complex Night Force cammo pattern, Tracker's base color is just simple, olive drab. But, it is this simplicity that makes the figure special. Instead of being part of a specialized team that is difficult to integrate with figures of a different paint design, Tracker fits perfectly with figures from all generations of Joes. The figure actually uses the same paint masks as Action Man. So, he has silver and green grenades, a silver knife and a green pistol on his legs. There are 2 points that differentiate this figure from Action Man, though, and prove that he is a true, unreleased figure.   First, Tracker has black boots. For whatever reason, the first incarnation of the Night Force figures wore white pants. Tracker is no exception. However, his boots are painted black. This was an unnecessary detail on Action Man as Action Man featured black pants. But, on Tracker, the contrast between the green upper torso, white pants and black boots creates a visually remarkable figure. The second detail is the Night Force logo on Tracker's chest. Action Man features a unique Action Man logo on his chest. Tracker, though, features a distinctive yellow Night Force logo that is unique to the Tracker figure. This is an entirely new paint mask and that helps prove the intention of Night Force Tracker as a truly unproduced item.   As you might be able to tell, I am quite pleased with the Night Force Tracker figure. He fills a huge gap in my collection and is a figure who I would use endlessly were he not an unproduced rarity. Tracker, as a character is highly underused. The reason, though, is because the figure features such a high quality mold.

Collectors do not have any Navy SEAL who was not released in underwater diving gear. Since one of the early issues of Special Missions when Wet Suit was featured in standard fatigues, Joe collectors have wanted a Seal who could be used outside of the water. Tracker offered hope of that, but fell short in the most important area: his colors. The original Tracker is a horrid mishmash of yellows, oranges and browns. As such, he isn't all useful in standard combat situations. In the early years of online Joe collecting, a repainted Tracker was a standard right of passage for novice customizers. The mold features strong details, solid design and a look that, properly colored, would stand among figures and characters from any year. Alas, to this day we have yet to see a decently colored Tracker offered in any official release.   And this brings me to the crux of this profile. As a figure, I think Action Man is quite nice. However, as a replacement for this Tracker, he is inferior. Night Force Tracker shows us the great opportunity cost when figure slots are either wasted or underutilized. Had Action Man replaced the Night Force Roadblock, I don't think anyone would have any issues with him since the NF Roadblock figure sucks. But, as a replacement for this Tracker figure, Action Man simply has too high of standards to live up to. This was the Tracker figure that collectors were waiting for and the unreleased figure offers a tease of what might have been available to all collectors had things gone a bit differently. It is this opportunity cost that most collectors struggle with. Many collectors have the notion that anything Hasbro puts out is fine as they will, eventually, release some good figures.

However, as we've seen with Tracker, that is simply not the case. We missed our window for the definitive Tracker figure. And now, over 3 years later, we have yet to see the figure revisited and there is no hope on the horizon for a decent Tracker to ever make an appearance. As such, due to Action Man, we lost out on one of the better figures of the modern take on ARAH. This is why each and every figure that is released carries such importance. Every slot wasted on Avalanche, another V1 Duke, Firefly, Alley Viper or several other characters is one Night Force Tracker, Wal Mart Low Light or other, high quality, otherwise unreleased figure that never gets to see the light of day. I get quite cynical about this hobby at time and can be animated in my criticism of Hasbro and others. But, that is a direct result of this notion above. It is a waste to see a single figure slot used on something that collectors and consumers have no use for since it cost us the chance at something cool. When Joe is an infinite line and everything we want is released, things will change. But, while ARAH-style releases are finite and infrequent, each and every slot counts and should be treated as the opportunity it is.

The alternate Asian figures tend to feature soft paint that chips and rubs easily. As such, if you hope to use a figure like this as your everyday Tracker, you need to be especially cautious. The silver paint rubs easily and the Night Force logo is incredibly fragile. These figures do not seem to full production quality. But, that is to be expected from a quality control run.   This Tracker is truly a striking figure. His deep green matte offset by the while pants and heavily painted details really makes for a figure that could be considered convention quality. The Night Force set as a whole is greatly under appreciated as most of the figures featured up to 8 different paint applications. Much of this is lost, though, due to the overdone striping and patterning on the figures. Granted, it's a great detail. But, it clutters the figures and doesn't allow you to fully appreciate the quality of the underlying colors. Not so with Tracker. He is devoid of the patterns that clutter the rest of the Night Force figures and stands apart in his simplicity.

The bad thing is that the accessories for the Night Force set suck. This was the beginning of Hasbro cheaping out the accessory complements in their exclusive sets. As such, none of Tracker's hallmark accessories are available with Night Force. But, the enterprising collector can find ways around this. The one accessory on the original Tracker that was done in black was the mask. Tracker's gun molded in black was then available with many figures in 1993 and 1994. Finally, Tracker's Funskool raft is actually blue. It's not a perfect match, but it is darker than the American raft. As such, collectors are really only left with Trackers oars not being available in a good color. For me, a spare face mask and gun is all this figure needs to make it a vital part of my collection.

The Tracker mold has a decent history: even though the offerings available out there all have issues. After Hasbro used the mold in 1991, it was supposed to be used in Brazil. Tracker even appeared on Brazilian cardbacks and in the catalog. But, Tracker was never actually released in Brazil. From there, Tracker showed up in India in the early '00's. The Funskool figure was actually brighter than the American figure and didn't really offer collectors the perfect version of Tracker they sought. In 2003, Hasbro recalled many molds from Funskool and Tracker was among them. The first figures to utilize the newly reacquired Funskool molds were the Night Force set. While this Night Force Tracker is a great figure, the Action Man who was released at retail suffers from the same issues as earlier Tracker figures since his base chest color is bright orange. Since then, we have not seen the Tracker mold used at all. Frankly, this is baffling. Tracker is a high quality that has never been released en masse in a good color scheme. As such, he is a logical candidate for a future release in a Convention Set or other exclusive that utilizes ARAH style molds. But, for now, if you want the best version of Tracker ever released, this unproduced figure is your only option.

When the alternate color, unreleased figures first started appearing out of Asia, this Tracker was among the rarest of all the releases. Initially, only a handful of samples made their way to the US and it was believed this figure might pull a Pimp Daddy Destro and become one of the true rarities of the line. In time, though, more of these figures were found in Asia and they were imported to the US in decent enough numbers to appease the hard core collectors who were really after them. Truth be told, though, this figure is still probably among the rarest figure in the history of the line and there are probably a few hundred of them in the hands of collectors at maximum. Here's the rub, though...collectors have yet to properly value most of the alternate, unproduced figures. As such, you can get this figure for next to nothing in terms of his rarity. Price wise, you might pay upwards of $80 for this figure, but people pay that for mass produced figures from the '80's. My point is that most of these unproduced figures have yet to fully realize their value potential. As such, deals can be had these days. In five years, I don't know if that will be the case. But, as many of the alternate figures have dried up and almost never appear for sale these days, I certainly wouldn't let an opportunity to add this figure to my collection pass me by.

2004 Night Force Tracker, TRU Exclusive, Unproduced, 1989 Recoil, 1989 Night Force Muskrat, VAMP

2004 Night Force Tracker, TRU Exclusive, Unproduced, 1989 Recoil, 1989 Night Force Muskrat, VAMP

2004 Night Force Tracker, TRU Exclusive, Unproduced, 1989 Recoil, 1989 Night Force Muskrat, VAMP

2004 Night Force Tracker, TRU Exclusive, Unproduced, 1989 Recoil, 1989 Night Force Muskrat, VAMP

2004 Night Force Tracker, TRU Exclusive, Unproduced, 1989 Recoil, 1989 Night Force Muskrat, VAMP

No comments:

Post a Comment