It is no secret that Flint is my favorite character in the Joe world. I have versions of him from all over the world. Really, there are no bad releases of the character's original mold. The issue with the mold is that all of its uses around the world gave collectors a Flint figure with the same basic colors. There are no desert, Arctic or dress versions of the mold. They are all done in basic military colors. Truthfully, that's not a terrible thing as it is rare for any important vintage mold like Flint to not have some terrible color variant that was released at some point in time. But, even Flint's modern releases were well done. The 2004 Night Force version is a perfect example of a slightly different take on a classic mold.
At its core, the idea of a Night Force Flint is fantastic. A seminal, core character redone in one of the most popular subsets of all time is definitely a winner. And, frankly, this Flint version is extremely well done. The Night Force set in general was a triumph for Hasbro. The figures featured up to 7 paint applications (on par with convention figure) and featured intricate details. The face cammo, overlaying body details and the American flags on the figure's arms showed what modern technology could do with 20 year old molds. The problem with the set, though, was two fold. First, the accessory complement was horrendous. These amazing figures all had rehashes of accessories that didn't fit their specialties and had been included ad naseum with JvC era figures. The second issue was the mold choice. It's not that Flint, Beach Head, Short Fuse, Tunnel Rat or Action Man were poor choices. Far from it. (The V1 Roadblock mold was heavily played out, though.) The real issue was that the set featured 4 Funskool molds that collectors had been able to easily acquire for more than 3 years. As such, 5 of the 6 molds in the set just seemed stale at the time of the Night Force set's release. The collector malaise, though, allowed the figures to slip under the radar a bit since little attention was paid to them at the time.
As a figure, though, the Night Force Flint is exceptional. While the basic green a black colors are similar to the original figure, they are alike only in that they work in the same environment. The deep, forest green criss crossed with black lines offset by black and grey cammo pants is a visual treat. In total, the figure features no less than 8 paint application colors...something that was unheard of for a retail release just a year later. It is a release well worthy of the Flint character and something that could have been released in the vintage era.
One of the other plagues from this Night Force set was that the figures didn't fit in with any of the vintage Night Force members. Those early figures used a lot of olive greens and black to distinguish themselves. The 2004 versions, though, are much more colorful and look more like a forest cammo team than anything dedicated to nighttime operations. This was the same approach taken with the 2003 Python Patrol set. But, the vintage Python Patrol is often seen as an interesting novelty among collectors. Vintage Night Force is a must have for any vintage fan and most of the figures who were released in Night Force see their subteam versions considered the best version of the figure in lieu of their original release. Not meshing with these vintage beacons is something that greatly limits the subset value of this Night Force team. Instead of seeing them as a unique uniform for specific duties, they are better used as high quality examples of individual characters. It is a much lesser role for the '04 releases and is likely a reason why they don't enjoy a higher collector profile these days.
For me, this is just a different look for Flint. Without his trademark shotgun, though, I find this version doesn't see the use reserved for the Funskool or American version. (If you can find black versions of Flint's shotgun and backpack, though, the are perfect for this figure. They are just really hard to track down from customizers and bootleggers.) I do find him useful as part of displays that utilize vehicles from the 2000's. He blends nicely with the Night Rhino and even works with the vehicles from the 1997 and 1998 TRU exclusive sets. But, this is a very limited use for a figure of this quality. The reality, though, is that while this figure is very well done, he does not surpass the iconic nature of the original Flint figure. Given a choice, I'd take the original Flint every time. That's less a detriment to the Night Force figure and more a testament to the enduring quality of the V1 Flint mold and colors. But, I do appreciate at least an attempt to give collectors a Flint in slightly different colors.
The Flint mold has a long history. It was used in the U.S. in 1985 and again in 1988 on the Tiger Force Flint. The Hasbro produced V1 Flint was released in Europe (where he was a major player in the Action Force comic) and Japan. From there, it was sent down to Brazil and the mold was released in colors similar to the U.S. figure as Muralha. After that, the mold went to India. There, Funskool produced Flint for many years. It was here, though, that the arms from the Flint mold were separated from the rest of the body. (It is likely that the use of the arms for Starduster caused the separation.) The loss of the arms lead to a wide variety of arm variants in India. In 2003, the mold was returned to Hasbro for use in future U.S. releases. For whatever reason, though, Flint's accessories that were available in India never made a return appearance in the U.S. Hasbro used the mold for the Night Force Flint, again in 2005, but with a new head, on the comic pack Flint and the head appeared in 2010 on the Convention Flint figures.
This Flint was actually released twice. The first version was in the Night Force set. But, the exact figure was released in 2005, along with the Night Force Beach Head, as the crew for the Toys R Us exclusive Hydrofoil. Of the 2, the Hydrofoil is the more obscure release since so many collectors bypassed it at the time. But, the figures are identical. The Night Force figure is the only one with accessories, though. Aside from those official releases, large quantities of Unproduced White Pants Night Force Flint's were available in Asia. These figures are similar to the official retail release except they have white pants in lieu of black. The figures are relatively easy to find (as Midnight Chinese figures go!) and aren't too pricey on the second hand market.
The Night Force sets were not a huge hit at the time of their release. Paired with the highly anticipated Cobra Infantry set, the Night Force simply couldn't catch collector attention like the Cobra release. Night Force sets languished at TRU stores until the end of the year when the holiday sales finally saw their absorption into the market. At around ~20,000 sets produced, there are ample Flints to sate collector demand. The fact that another ~10,000 were made for the Moray release shows that these figures exist in abundance. The result is a very cheap figure to acquire on the secondary market. While entire Night Force sets will fetch $40, you will rarely pay the $7 that the set price breaks down to if you want individual figures. So, you have a cheap figure of a great character in a great color scheme. That sounds like a winner to me.