I never had a Steel Brigade figure as a kid. I just couldn't stomach spending that much for a figure when I could buy other figures at retail for less. Plus, I was never sure enough of the design to know if I would enjoy having it for the price Hasbro charged. As an adult, the Steel Brigade never really factored into my collection. I had the figures. But, Joe army builders never appealed to me. Plus, the Steel Brigade name was heavily sullied by an early collectors club of the same name. Their juvenile antics in the early days of online Joe collecting just soured the figures for me. (Most of these guys are now part of Master Collector. Big surprise, eh?) As enough time has passed, though, I have re-examined these figures in my collection. The design is actually fairly strong and the figures are made with pre-1985 parts which makes them a perfect integration into my collection. The more common figures are good enough, but is one of the rarest G.I. Joe figures ever produced that has recently captured my attention: the Gold Headed Steel Brigade.
This Gold Headed Steel Brigade likely started shipping to collectors in 1993. Exactly how long it shipped and how many were made is unknown. However, Hasbro did still have large volumes of regular colored Steel Brigade figures into 1994. So, was the Gold Head version produced and then followed up with more of the standard colors? Or, was it just something to help spark sales of the Steel Brigade in general as the line wound down and Hasbro wanted to reduce their mail away figure overstock? At this point, it is unlikely we'll ever know the full story behind this figure. But, we do know that he is rather rare and that has remained unchanged since his original release.
This figure is striking. The bright green chest is perfectly offset by the deep blue body. The golden head gives the combination a regal look. I have long thought that this figure is not substantially rarer than the 1993 Create a Cobra. However, the Create a Cobra is pink and this Steel Brigade variant is visually remarkable. It is this desirability that has lead to the large pricing disparity between the two figures. The Create a Cobra is a figure you get to complete a collection. The Gold Head Steel Brigade is a figure you want to acquire because it is so appealing.
The deep blue base color, though, provides the insight into this figure's place in my collection. I have long been more interested in the early years of the Joe team. This is partially because those were not fleshed out in great detail in the original comic. But, it is also because the entire notion of Joe's formation within the historical context of the late 1970's and early 1980's lends itself to some interesting perspective. That time in US history was not overly kind to the military. For Hasbro to take such a leap with a toy line either shows them to be great risk takers or Nostradamus-ly prescient as to the attitude the country would develop as Ronald Reagan's presidency took hold. Which leads us to this figure's backstory....
Even in my childhood, I always had another team that was an equivalent of Joe. They had different missions and, sometimes, different enemies. But, they were formed at the same time as Joe. The thought being that multiple teams would eventually produce a leader with the public support to be president. This second team morphed over time to an international response team. Joe was domestic. However, when Cobra's first strike was on US soil, Joe got the call and then expanded into international operations in pursuit of Cobra and their contractors. Regardless, these 2 teams were supported by a third team: the Steel Brigade. The Steel Brigade was a group of 50 soldiers who weren't ready for acceptance into Joe or the other team. The Steel Brigade was lead by a group of 3 officers who wore the golden uniforms. Slowly, Steel Brigade members perished in support of their elite units. However, no one from the Steel Brigade was promoted up to these units, even as their rosters expanded.
This did not sit well with Goldenrod, one of the leaders of the Steel Brigade. He became more and more bitter about his oversight. Finally, the Pentagon brass admitted that the Steel Brigade would never be expanded nor promoted. They would just support the more prominent teams until there were no members left. Goldenrod was not pleased with this, but continued on. In support of a small Joe team along a river, though, the Steel Brigade was ambushed by a hidden Cobra force who was intended to overrun Joe reinforcements. All but Goldenrod and 6 Steel Brigade members were killed. Goldenrod could not overcome this. He then plotted with Firefly to blow up G.I. Joe headquarters. But, the plot was uncovered by one of the Steel Brigade soldiers. However, when the MP's came to arrest Goldenrod, he lied to the other 5 members and told them they were under Cobra attack. In the resulting melee, several US troops were killed. Goldenrod and the 5 others were convicted of treason. The 5 pleaded their innocence since they did not know it was US forces and not Cobra they were fighting. But, it did not work. They were sent to prison for life and Goldenrod was sentenced to the gas chamber.
On his execution day, though, the executioner dropped the gas tablets into the waiting room and freed Goldenrod while his accusers died in agony. The executioner, a specialist from Australia, offered Goldenrod a deal: join him or join the recently deceased guards. Goldenrod accepted on one condition: his 5 Steel Brigade compatriots were also freed. As news of Goldenrod's escape spread, military prison officials decided to move the 5 other Steel Brigade members to a Supermax prison. All 5 were taken to a small base, just as Cobra had planned. Cobra troops overwhelmed the base staff and freed the 5. While all had been betrayed by their country, not all were ready to take up arms against it. But, facing that or life in solitary confinement, all went with the Cobra and rejoined Goldenrod as an early Cobra specialist unit. Goldenrod remained one of the most wanted men in the world until one of the 5 finally contacted Hawk to work out a deal. Ultimately, this man gave up information on Goldenrod and he was killed in combat in the mid 80's. It was an end to a dark chapter in Joe's history and was one of the reasons why the Jugglers were so distrustful of Joe for many years.
This use left the figure as desirable in my collection. But, as his story is complete, his use fullness has diminished. As such, this figure is left as an expensive display piece. He looks good when showcased with various figures from Joe's earliest years. Whenever you see the figure, it is certainly a conversation piece. The look draws attention to the figure and the golden head gives a vibe of either importance or rarity. It's rare that a figure from any toyline accomplishes this.
This figure is expensive...often the most expensive American production figure of all. In 2010/2011, prices went nuts...so much so that a loose figure sold for nearly $1000. More typically, though, the figure was selling from $350-$400 if it was mint and complete with the patch. As 2011 wound into 2012, prices came down a bit and mint, complete figures started selling in the $225-$275 range. But, as 2012 has worn on, the pricing has climbed back towards the $300 range for a mint, complete figure. If you want the patch, that will typically run about $50 more. If you forgo the exclusive backpack, the price will often drop another $75. (Though, the pack alone will cost you $100 most of the time.) The result is a figure that, in my opinion, is more expensive than he's worth. It's an interesting design and the figure certainly is rare. But when you consider what else that much money can buy for a collection, I find it hard to justify for a figure like this.