Monday, May 27, 2013

1993 Armor Tech Star Brigade Destro

With a decade and a half of hindsight, it is somewhat easy to second guess some of the decisions made during the final years of Joe's original retail run. How could Hasbro have possibly thought that bulkier, less articulated figures and poorly detailed figures sold at a higher price point would entice a dwindling consumer base back to the brand? It seems like such an obvious problem that there's no way a toy company at the top of its game would ever make that mistake. Yet, in 1993, there were the Armor Tech figures: a brand new addition to the Joe line that would gather retail dust for almost 5 years in some markets. But, in looking back at the toy market of the time as well as Hasbro's original intentions for this line, you can see how figures like these came to light. It is an interesting glimpse into what might have been and what, had it been fully realized, could have been the catalyst for Joe's rebirth for a newer, younger audience.

In 1995 and 1996, I used to hit my local Toys R Us store a couple of times per week in search of Star Wars figures. I'd always check the Joes, though, and it was common for them to put out a long forgotten case of figures from time to time. Usually, these were things like Shadow Ninjas, Mega-Marines or the standard Battle Corps figures. (I never saw any 1994 Star Brigade figures at retail.) However, the one staple that was always hanging on the Joe shelf was the Armor Tech figures. They simply hung there, never moving. I couldn't bring myself to buy them since they were expensive, unarticulated and their weapons were largely neon. I moved to Arizona in the fall of 1997. That Christmas, a new mall opened near my residence. Inside was a small, independent toy store. Their shelves were stocked with peg after peg of Armor Tech Joes. They had no other Joe figures, but they had all the Armor Tech anyone could ever want at the whopping price of $5.99 each. I didn't return to that store for many years, but I suspect that those figures lingered even longer than the end of 1997. Such was the failure of Armor Tech. Even with major characters, they were the final figures that most people report seeing at retail during the vintage days. I think that's a fair place for these figure in history. While it might be hard to argue the merits of Shadow Ninjas over Armor Tech, at least the Shadow Ninjas shared articulation and design with standard Joes.

Thankfully, this mold was only used for Destro and has never appeared again anywhere else in the world. None of the Armor Tech molds were picked up by other companies...even as Hasbro was shipping molds off to Brazil as fast as they could as the line ended. These figures remain an anomaly in the line. Together, they are a conversation piece. But, they will never be more than that. The parts really can't be used for much. The heads might have some value. But, the '92 Destro mold features a similar head that is already compatible with the existing line. I don't think these molds will ever see any collecting interest and it's likely that they have died a merciful death. It would be kind of fun should they ever show up in some oddball line produced in a place like India. But, they're value would be camp rather than important parts of a collection.

In the late '90's and early '00's, carded Armor Tech figures were dirt cheap. Complete MOC sets often sold for under $15. You could get individual figures as low as a dollar or two. Slowly, though, the marketplace absorbed much of the dealer and clearance overstock that caused those low prices. Now, the figures are still comparatively inexpensive, but they are not the bargain they were just a few years ago. Many collectors who spent their time finishing more interesting aspects of their collections are now to the point where the Armor Tech figures are among the last they need to complete their domestic set. As such, these days, the carded figures will go between $10-$15 depending upon the character and the demand at the time. Loose, mint and complete with filecard, figures like Destro will still run $7 or so. But, it's still MUCH easier to simply buy a carded version as you don't see high quality loose samples as often as you do carded figures. For me, though, the Armor Tech figures really only have value as requirements for a complete vintage collection. Beyond that, they are an out-dated look into a different time in the toy world. They are a testament to unfulfilled potential and unrealized dreams. As they are priced accordingly, it seems that collectors still see these figures now just as we did when they were released: as poor companions to most Joe collections.

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