Thursday, October 31, 2013

2001 Slythor - Manimal

There aren't many G.I. Joe figures that really fit into a Halloween motif. (Well, there are quite a few that work as ironic costumes, but that's another story.) You have a few space monsters, zombies and the general menagerie of costumed villains. But, I wanted to find something even more oddball and obscure for the rare opportunity of a profile posted on Halloween. A Manimal figure really fit the bill. The figures are generally obscure, stray from even the most liberal definition of vintage Joes and are of a construction type that makes them more a separate toy line than something easily integrated into a Joe collection. They are also, though, one of the most famous pieces of Joe lore. So, it became an easy selection.

The Manimals have the inglorious distinction of being the only G.I. Joe concept to be cancelled twice. The first series was sculpted, molded, painted and even carded back in 1994, only to have the rug pulled out and the line killed. The same happened again in 2001. The response to the Manimals was so poor that the second wave of the figures was cancelled. KB Toy stores had shelves full of Manimal figures well into 2003 and even 2004. The figures were spectacular failures. Most Joe collectors easily foresaw the retail disaster. But, in 2000 and 2001, Hasbro was still stubbornly clinging to 1990's collector mentality: collectors wanted remakes of obscure items, even if those items were terrible the first time, collectors liked army builders, but didn't mind getting an extra character with them, stores wouldn't support single carded figures, collectors would blindly buy anything with the brand name attached, etc. In time, failures like the Manimals broke Hasbro of some of these notions. But, others persist to this day.

The Manimals are en extension of Star Brigade. Had the Joe line survived later into 1994 and 1995, the Star Brigade line would have continued to expand with new astronauts, new Lunartix aliens and a host of new concepts that would have further bended the line away from its traditional figure-construction roots. Manimals, Replicators, War Dogs and other concepts were ways that Hasbro could infuse more science fiction into the line and develop toys that were not constrained by the O-ring/T-hook construction scheme. Really, though, Hasbro could have put the entire 1994 and 1995 Star Brigade concept as a completely separate toy line. The heroes could have been the same Joe characters, or they could have renamed the figures that used Joe molds. The result would have been a science fiction type toy line that would have been free of the legacy of G.I. Joe and could have competed directly against the Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers toys that were dominating the action figure aisle at the time. Standing alone, the Manimals, Lunartix and other bizarre concepts might have put together a solid little retail run. But, it's likely that Hasbro wasn't about to launch a new toy line without the brand support of G.I. Joe and, almost conversely, Hasbro needed new life from new concepts to shore up flagging Joe figure sales. Plus, many of the specialties and bios from the 1994 Star Brigade series sound like blatant Star Wars rip offs. With the knowledge that Kenner's flagship line would return in 1995, it's unlikely that Hasbro wanted another sci-fi to compete against itself.

If you look at the Slythor figure, you can see from his design the influences other toy lines had on the designers. Slythor's head is straight out of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line. The offset eyes, over sized ears and hyperbolically exaggerated teeth all give him the appearance of a toady for the Turtle's Shredder character. The '90's visor just completes the image and really dates the figure's design. The snake head is barely hidden in the figure's chest and I'll leave it to the reader to make jokes about the snake's tongue folding into the figure's fly. The original Slythor concept in 1994 was a red bodied figure. The KB version, though, changed the colors in an attempt to preserve the value of the originals. In the case of Slythor, the green color is an improvement that allows for the figure's details to come out and follows more in line with the character's snake form.

But, once you get past that, you see that there is a level of detail and paint application that would make this figure stand out among most of the low quality toys from the early '90's. The eyes on the snake head are excellently painted. And, the figure features no less than 7 different colors interspersed around the body. The construction quality is top notch and the entire figure is very solid. While the Manimals followed some tenets of standard G.I. Joe construction, they also deviated. Slythor does not have a standard O-Ring waist. Instead, his legs are closer to the construction of Sgt. Savage figures. (A line of World War II era soldiers fighting against aliens like the Manimals might have actually been a better retail concept than the Sgt. Savage line as it was released.) The result is that there are kneeling and sitting poses that are difficult to manage for the figure. But, since most collectors either have the figure only carded or standing in a standard loose pose, the construction limitations are not as much of an issue.

Slythor is actually quite imposing. The figure stands taller than standard Joe figures and is powerfully built. His hands feature razor claws that let you know this is a terrible monster. But, really, what do you do with a monster in G.I. Joe? Cobra's forays into genetic experiments and chemical enhancements might produce some one off mutants. In the past, the Lunartix aliens fit those roles, though. The Manimals simply don't fit. Displayed among the Lunartix and other Star Brigade figures, they can be visually interesting. But, that is about the extent of their involvement in any collection. I am an unabashed Star Brigade fan, but I have no use for the Manimals. That pretty much sums up their place in the Joe world.

I have always viewed this character's name as slee-thor. Basically, the name is a He-Man version of Slither. However, the earliest images of the Manimals have this character named Slither. So, it's likely that the actual pronunciation is more like Slither than my Slee-Thor version. But, I like Slee-Thor better and will likely to continue to pronounce his name that way. Seeing the spelling of the name change is an interesting insight into the designer's intentions. Did they run into copyright issues with Slither? Did they just want to spice the name up and make it appear more alien? We will likely never know. But, it is nice to have of this insight into an unproduced character.

Slythor includes three accessories: a pistol, a rifle and a visor. The pistol is fairly interesting and is reminiscent of the Air Devil's gun. The rifle is huge and doesn't really work with the figure because the bulk of the barrel overwhelms the cylindrical handle and falls out of the figure's hands. The rifle looks very much like the "extra" guns that were included with the 1995 era Star Wars figures. The visor barely fits onto the figure's head and falls off easily. Had this figure been a vintage release, it's likely the visor would be an expensive accessory as I nearly lost it twice on the garage floor when I took the figure out for the photos below.

The Manimal molds were used by Hasbro to create the unproduced figures in 1994, the released wave of figures in 2001 and the unreleased wave of figures in 2001. After that, Funskool acquired the molds. However, Funskool determined they would never release them because the figures were too "devilish". However, in the mid-2000's, an enterprising person from India contacted a few American dealers about an unsanctioned run of Manimal figures made in Funskool factories. These would not have been Funskool releases and would not have fallen under Funskool's licensing agreement with Hasbro. The whole thing was very sketchy from the start. Fortunately, the deal never came to pass and there were never any Manimals made in India. It is likely, though, the molds are still there and it's doubtful that Hasbro would want them back.

Today, Manimals cost about the same as they did 12 years ago. The $9.99 retail price was stupidly high at a time when you could get two figures for $5.84 at Wal-Mart. But, that's part of the reason that KB Toys isn't around anymore. It's not that easy to track down Manimal figures. But, even carded, they rarely sell for more than $12-$15. Dealers ask a lot more: banking on expediency trumping frugality. But, the modern collector can acquire these figures for about the same real dollar cost as the collector from more than a decade ago. That, more than anything, defines the ultimate failure of the Manimals. Had they been released, they would be hated to a degree reserved for only the most disdainful of Joe releases. Even being an "unproduced" item, they can not muster up excitement since they deviate so much from Joe's roots.

2001 Slythor, KB Toys Exclusive, Manimals, 1993 Bulletproof, Barricade, Star Brigade

2001 Slythor, KB Toys Exclusive, Manimals, 1993 Bulletproof, Barricade, Star Brigade

2001 Slythor, KB Toys Exclusive, Manimals, 1993 Bulletproof, Barricade, Star Brigade, Duke

Monday, October 28, 2013

2004 Crimson Guard

When Hasbro released Agent Faces, savvy collectors knew it was only a matter of time until the newly sculpted Crimson Guard mold would be given a new head and made available in some form of army building pack. Hasbro didn't disappoint as the mold was quickly used three more times over the next 2 years. Collectors rejoiced at finally having mass quantities of affordable Crimson Guard figures. But, these weren't without flaws. All of the figures released featured removable helmets. While this seems like a great idea, the reality is that the helmeted figures look bloated and out of scale. Without the helmets, though, the figures are nicely done and integrate well into any Crimson army. Of the 4 Crimson Guard figures Hasbro produced, I have actually chosen the black version from the Operation Crimson Sabotage set as the actual subject of this profile.

I'll just say it, these figures are poor man's Crimson Guards. While they are close to the originals, they are inferior to the classic, vintage figure. It's not that these are bad. But, they were made to suck some of the money out of the vintage army builder market. That, in an of itself, isn't a bad thing. But, this figure was quickly overproduced and it's likely that at least one of the slots used for a release of this mold could have been given to another figure and it would not have impacted sales at all. It would have been great if Hasbro had also made an alternate head with the helmet molded that would have been closer to the vintage figures.

This mold is both resculpted and uses some existing parts. The chest, head, waist and legs are completely new sculpts while the arms are from the 1991 Duke figure. It's a nice blend that works well. The removable helmets are a nice touch. But, when the helmets are on the figures, they are bulky and look out of scale, especially when compared to the sleek, vintage sculpt. The KB Toys figures included the helmets and terrible shotguns. The Toys R Us figures included the helmets, black versions of the 1991 Dusty's backpack and new sculpt rifles that are based on the AR-15. It's a decent accessory complement, but not as distinctive as the vintage figure's bayoneted rifle.

The Operation Crimson Sabotage set was shown at the 2004 G.I. Joe Convention. It was slated as a KB Toys exclusive. Immediately, collectors loved the idea and went batty talking about how many they would buy. When the set was finally released in the 4th quarter, panic set in as the initial shipments were spotty in parts of the country. Plus, KBToys.com cancelled a HUGE number of online orders for these sets and many collectors were stricken with the reality that they might not be able to get numbers they desired. Quickly, prices of the sets spiked to $50 or more on Ebay. But, slowly, supply outpaced demand. By the time the holiday season was over, these sets were showing up at KB's outlet stores at clearance prices. The initial rush was heavily due to the Cobra Infantry Teams selling out so quickly earlier in the year. But, as we approached 2005, more and more rumours of a Crimson Guard themed 6-pack leaked out and that got collectors to take it a bit easier on the Sabotage sets.

Hasbro really missed the boat with this mold. While getting a new Crimson Guard was nice, Hasbro basically released the same figure three times. Fortunately, Hasbro did color the mold entirely in black for the underappreciated Crimson Shadow Guard. However, Hasbro could have done so much more. A Cobra blue repaint of the Crimson Guard was such an obvious gap in the vintage line and Hasbro simply passed on their chances to make one. A blue Stinger with a couple of blue Crimson Guards would have been a great way to end the line. Even making the Shadow Guard half blue and half black would have been a great nod to collectors. But, that never came to be and collectors are left with bootleggers to fill the gaps that Hasbro missed.

Initially, collectors thought this figure might be scarce. But, Hasbro made an ample supply of the CG molds available again in 2004 and that has helped keep this figure reasonably priced. Of all the CG's, though, the black figure is most desirable and tends to cost a dollar or two more than his counterparts. Still, you can get about three of these guys for the price of one vintage Crimson Guard. The Crimson sets were released at a time when collectors were finally starting to feel army building overload. As such, they didn't sell through as quickly as the Cobra Infantry sets and remain less popular today than those well done figures. Hasbro overdid it on releases of the classic, red Crimson Guard updates. But, that leaves this figure as something that can still be affordably army built almost a decade after its release. That isn't terrible. This figure was a nice nod to collectors, but has its issues. As such, it tends to be a figure that collectors own, but don't really appreciate like they do earlier versions.

2005 Crimson Guard, 2004, Tomax, Xamot, SMS

2005 Crimson Guard, 2004, Tomax, Xamot, SMS

Thursday, October 24, 2013

1991 Falcon - Super Sonic Fighters

Except for the final two years of the vintage Joe line, repaints of whole figures were rather uncommon. It started with a straggler figure here or there like Grand Slam, Grunt or Clutch. In time, the repaints became ways to recycle some older molds in a genred way with Tiger Force and Python Patrol. As the 1990's began, though, repaints became more and more common. Hasbro was trying to find ways to both increase interest in the Joe line while cutting costs. Finding older molds that could be reused in new ways was a great way to do both.

I first acquired this figure in one of the many lots of figures I was buying in the late 1990's. While Falcon had been one of my more popular figures during the final year of my youth, I was not aware of this version. When I found the figure in the lot, I was amazed at the colors and quality. At its core, this was the figure that the Night Force Falcon wanted to be. The light grey base with the black cammo and green beret and accents made the figure stand out, even as just a repaint of an older mold. This new Falcon quickly became my default version of the figure and appears in many of my earliest photos since the figure was fairly unknown at the time and was a great way to showcase an obscure version of a classic character.

I first got a Falcon figure in December of 1986 when my local Toys R Us got a small allotment of 1987 figures early. Falcon immediately caught my eye for two reasons: the figure was just an awesome blend of mold, color and accessories and the name Falcon. I had already created a custom character named Falcon in my collection. So, having a canonical character with that name was problematic. So, I killed off my character and had this Falcon appear and take the name as a homage to the deceased. The new Falcon quickly became a staple of my collection. My Flint figures had slowly deteriorated through overuse. So, Falcon was both a solid replacement, but also a figure that could stand on his own.

Through 1987, Falcon was one of the most popular figures I owned. Despite his late arrival in my collection, my figure showcased great playwear due to his use. Falcon was a solid leader and soldier for the Joes. He was, though, younger than guys like Flint and that left him feeling like an outsider. As such, Falcon always strived for attention from the Joe commanders. He wasn't incompetent, but he did take missions that would get him notice from Hawk, Flagg and others.

At its core, this figure is pretty basic. He has a grey base with black and green paint applications. That's it. There is no textured motif that seemlessly blends 6 or 7 colors together. It is, really, a basic figure. But, this Falcon is a perfect example of how less can be more in the right circumstance. The combintation of grey and green offset by the black details just works perfectly. Grey wasn't a color that was often used on vintage Joes, so its appearance is always a visual treat. The digital cammo pattern that criss-crosses the figure gives the appearance of greater color than actually exists on the figure.

It is the Falcon mold, though, that is the highlight of the figure. Sculpted at the height of the Joe line, Falcon is almost a work of art. The beret features not only an insignia, but also realistic folds that make the fit appear much more natural that those from Stalker, Flint or Dial Tone. Falcon's face shows the youth that is alluded to in his bio, but also the toughness that shows he is a capable commander. Around his nick is a knotted, textured scarf. It is as close the cart art as could be achieved in a toy of the time. The rest of the figure's torso is adorned with a radio receiver (to complement the radio & antenna in the original figure's backpack), bandoliers that hold a sculpted knife and pockets, shirt buttons and additional pockets that were sculpted beneath the bandolier strap. The result is a layered figure that is not too bulky. Falcon's arms feature rolled up sleeves that are held in place by buttons and straps. It's a small detail, but shows the level of care that was put into the mold. Falcon's waist has a mesh belt and blends seamlessly with his torso. The figure's legs feature additional pockets, but also have a hard to see flashlight that is strapped to his right leg. The complete package is a figure that looks about as military as you can be and is also colored in line with the sculpt.

Falcon's accessories are both great and terrible. The sonic backpack was designed to be a helicopter. But, the awful color and general laziness of the mold make it pretty much a useless piece of gear. Falcon's guns, though, are excellent. The figure included 2 rifles: a large, long barreled rifle and a second weapon that has a stock that can wrap around the figure's arm. Both weapons are unique to this Falcon figure and both work well with the mold. This figure can work with an extra backpack from the version 1 figure. But, a spare backpack from a Night Force Falcon figure is a perfect match for this 1991 version. (I was fortunate to have two complete sets of Night Force Falcon gear. I have no Night Force Falcon figures, but had a set left over from my brother's figure from my childhood and second set I found at a comic book store along with Night Force Tunnel Rat's gear, the Night Force Shockwave figure, Starduster's gun and visor, Keel Haul's pistol and 2 Sneek Peek microphones. I got it all for basically nothing and it remains the best accessory cache I've ever run across.)

The Falcon mold got good use in the vintage line. It was used in 1987, as part of Night Force in 1988, for this figure in 1991 and as the legs for Leatherneck in 1993. (As an aside, there is a European exclusive version of this Falcon that has a 1993 date stamp on the leg. That's the only difference, but it is out there.) In 1994, the head showed up on the bizarre, but excellent Chinese Exclusive Flint figure. In 2003, Master Collector found the body and head mold and released a Tiger Force inspired figure in their convention set. After that, though, neither the mold nor the character reappeared. The three vintage figures are all excellent in their own ways. Even the convention figure has it's merits. But, the Falcon mold still had a lot of life that could have been exploited in many of the retail offerings from Hasbro from 1997 through 2006. A desert themed figure would have been a perfect member of the Desert Strike set. A broader Urban cammo would have been a welcome addition as well. But, despite these oversights, collectors still have 3 great and 1 solid release of the character and mold to use to fill their Falcon needs.

The Super Sonic Fighters were not produced in the same quantities as the other figures from 1991. (Which is saying something since most of the 1991 figures were discontinued after just one year at retail.) As such, finding a mint and complete version of this figure can take some time. Collectors have started to realize this and mint, complete with filecard versions of this figure tend to sell in the $15 - $20 range. But, for a hard to find version of a popular character, that's not a terrible price. Original Falcons sell in the same price range and the Night Force version is even more expensive. So, if you can find one, this may be the cheapest option for a vintage Falcon figure. I've found this to be my favorite version of the character, even outshining the original that played such a vital part of my childhood collection. It's a figure I think is worth the price and is a great way to appreciate a nearly perfect mold all over again.

1991 Falcon, Super Sonic Fighters, Plastirama Quick Kick, Argentina, Sigilo, 1983 Snake Eyes

1991 Falcon, Super Sonic Fighters, Plastirama Quick Kick, Argentina, Sigilo,

1991 Falcon, Super Sonic Fighters, Comando Trevassia, General Hawk, Estrela, Brazil

Monday, October 21, 2013

1994 Alley Viper

The Alley Viper has long been a collector favorite mold.  Despite his orange color, collectors have taken to the specialty, mold and accessories.  The character seemed to be a favorite of Hasbro as well as they released Alley Vipers in both 1993 and 1994.  The new mold was very similar to the original version.  The 1994 version even brought back the orange color.

The Alley Vipers are the backbone of my Cobra urban forces. As Cobra mostly undertakes urban missions, they are, by extension, the backbone of Cobras army as a whole. The excellent gear, cool rifle and fearsome face shield all add up to a group of figures that would strike fear into any urban center they attacked. However, the bulk of my Alley Viper forces are now made up of later, better colored versions of the Alley Viper. The orange of the original was cool for what it was. However, the bright yellow of the 1993 figure and the orange of this 1994 version didn't do much for me. I greatly prefer the more traditionally Cobra versions from 1997, 2002 and 2004. Those figures are much more interesting and useful.

There are 2 variants to this figure.  One has stripes on the legs, the other does not.  The striped version is harder to find than the non striped version.  This was a common occurrence in 1994 as Hasbro tried to cut costs on the later produced figures by skipping paint applications. This had lead to a string of variants across the 1994 releases. Unfortunately, the 1994's, in general, skimped on paint applications in comparison to the Joes from prior years. So, having some applications skipped in a cost cutting move really is a detriment to several of the figures from this year. (Except in the cases where the color omitted was neon!)

The Alley Viper's accessories both match the figure and the time in which they were released. The 1993 Alley Viper included a recast V1 Alley Viper backpack as well as a black weapon tree, shield and face mask. (There was a yellow missile launcher thrown in.) The weapon tree included a new version of the classic Alley Viper rifle, just with a bulkier front handle. It also included a Dial Tone rifle, knife and missiles. The 1994 figure skipped the backpack, but included the same weapon tree. Only, this time, the weapons were bright orange. It was nice to have the correct weapons for the figure and the orange color is kind of fun on display since it's so apropos for the 90's. But, the figure looks much better with black weapons, if you can find a spare set.

The Alley Viper mold got way too much use. It debuted in 1993 with the "bumblebee" version of the Alley Viper and was repainted in 1994 for this version. The mold was then sent to Brazil where it was colored nearly identically to the 1993 figure and released as Mortifero. The body, arms and head made their way back to the U.S., though, and were used in 1997 when Hasbro couldn't find the body from the original 1989 figure. Hasbro then repainted this mold ad naseum with a blue release and a red repaint in 2002, a bright blue repaint in 2003 and an all black version in the Urban Strike set in 2004. There are now a full complement of Alley Vipers available and collectors had grown rather tired of the mold. A grey urban version would have been nice. But, there are enough other colors out there to suit the needs of pretty much any collector.

The 1994 Alley Viper isn't easy to find. He is probably the hardest figure from the main Battle Corps line to find both carded and loose. He was popular even during his release period (he is the only regularly carded series 1994 Battle Corps figure I never found at retail) and continues to be popular today. The meshing with the classic Alley Viper and general obscurity of the release year have added up to a figure that is tough to army build. Mint and complete figures will run upwards of $17 these days. Carded versions tend to hit $40 with the striped versions going even higher. Of all the vintage Alley Vipers, this is probably the least interesting. But, it is still a solid mold worth acquiring. But, given the figure's scarcity and price, the 1989 Alley Viper is still the better option for building a decently sized Cobra army.

1994 Alley Viper, Battle Corps, 2002 Alley Viper, 1985 Snake Eyes

1994 Alley Viper, Battle Corps, 2002 Alley Viper, 1985 Snake Eyes


Friday, October 18, 2013

2005 Winter Operations Snake Eyes

In 2005, Toys R Us listed a set called Winter Operations as one of its upcoming exclusive 3 3/4" Joe products. A few weeks before the set's release, an early sample appeared in Asia. The pictures were quite a disappointment to many collectors as they featured poor accessories choices, odd color combinations and some questionable molds. However, upon the set's release, an odd thing happened: it sold fairly well. While some collectors were still able to pick it up on clearance, the Winter Operations sold more briskly than collector favorite army builders like the Shadow Guard and Imperial Processional. The reality is that the Winter Operations was a breath of fresh air in series of 6 packs that had become to formulaic and predictable. While the colors weren't the greatest on some figures, they were unique and allowed the set to stand apart among its contemporaries. As a bonus, though, Hasbro slipped a little gem into this set: the Winter Operations Snake Eyes.

Snake Eyes is a double bonus in that he uses a non-traditional Snake Eyes head, but also a body that is new for the character. The entire body mold was originally used for the Sub Zero figure and is a high quality arctic mold. It combines perfectly with the head to create a visually distinctive figure. The true calling card of the figure, though, is the coloring and paint applications. Snake Eyes features convention quality paint masks and is colored all in black, white and green. Frankly, this is probably the most useful combat Snake Eyes that has ever been released. He is definitely more commando than ninja: but features a completely new uniform that breathes new life into a character that has been heavily overdone at this point. The look is, for me, a decidedly military take on Snake Eyes and something more akin to his original design than the ninja he later became. But, the Sub Zero body is slender enough, even with the winter gear, that you can still see the lithe ninja behind the mask and that offers just the hint of versatility that I look for in a figure design.

As such, this Snake Eyes sees a good amount of use in my collection. He is a perfect complement to a commando team and works in many vintage vehicles. The green and black coloring allows for the character to be used outside of the Arctic setting. Outfitted with a uzi, pack and sword from the 1989 Snake Eyes, this figure quickly becomes an excellent rendition of the Snake Eyes character that features the added value of modern, more pliable plastic. I still find it surprising that this figure has slipped so far under the collector radar in the past few years. But, he does show that value can be found in the figures from the repaint era.

The molds on this figure disappeared for a long time and then came back with a vengeance. Sub Zero was last used in 1993 in a mail away set. The Snake Eyes head had been lost until the fall of 2004 when it was used in the Desert Patrol set. This use was the second time Hasbro brought it back and it was well worth it. (Granted, the HAS Snake Eyes that was released right after this set takes away some of the uniqueness of this mold, but since the hallmark of this figure is the paint applications and alternate body, it still leaves this figure as a winner.)

As a character Snake Eyes is overdone. As a toy, he is more so. Yet, his enduring popularity shows that collectors, despite their complaints, still love the character and will acquire every version of him they can. Personally, I still like the character. As an adult, Snake Eyes is interesting enough to me that I can still see his relevance. But, as a kid, Snake Eyes was the highlight of the Joe team. It is those memories (especially of the '85 figure) that keep the character important in my collection. But, I do think that we got too much of a good thing in regards to Snake Eyes figures. Since 1997, we have seen no less than 6 takes on the V1 Snake Eyes mold. Seeing a figure like this Winter Operations version, though, shows that Hasbro could have been much more creative in their Snake Eyes releases. (Especially when you consider that it is the '85 version of Snake Eye's look that is more iconic and better known.)

Today, Snake Eyes is the most expensive Winter Operations figure. As the Winter Operations set has become somewhat scarce on the secondary market, it's not uncommon to see many mint and complete with filecard figures hit $20. Boxed sets, though, can still be had for around $50. And, from time to time, some of the figures do sell very cheaply. At that price, though, he is well worth acquiring. The rest of the Winter Operations set has potential and has its moments. But, Snake Eyes is the highlight and really is a must have figure. I know that I was happy to acquire a few multiples of the figure for future trading and to ensure that I have a "use" specimen in my collection. The figure is one of the hidden gems that are common in the modern Joe line. He was hidden with a group of figures that many collectors either passed by or simply forgot about once they were purchased, opened, and packed away. But, the figure is amazingly high quality and one of the better Snake Eyes figures ever released that was not the traditional V1 or V2 look. He has found a nice home in my collection as one of the few Snake Eyes versions I still use.

2005 Winter Operations Snake Eyes, Funskool Flint

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2002 Big Ben

The repaint era of Joes had more than its share of duds from a figure perspective.  Every now than then, though, Hasbro really got a repaint right.  In some cases, collectors love the figure and hold it in high esteem even today.  More likely, though, is that the figure is relatively forgotten.  Usually, this is due to the fact that the figure was released at a time when there were many other high quality figures available, the figure was released in a set with better figures, or, the figure was released with an army builder that caused collectors to over dose on the mold and turned a good figure bad.  This was the case with the surprisingly high quality 2002 Big Ben figure.

When this figure was released, collectors hated it.  It had nothing to really do with the figure itself.  There were two driving factors behind the backlash:

1.  Big Ben was part of the epic pegwarmer Big Ben/Whiteout pack that was still around at retail.
2.  Big Ben was included with the army building Alley Viper.

It's easy to forget now just how strong the army building urge among collectors was during 2002.  Cobra armies were more popular than anything else in the hobby.  Really, collectors could not restrain themselves.  If they found 27 samples of a figure at retail, they bought all 27.  High quality Cobra army builders were fetching very high prices on the secondary market and collectors were desperate for a retail alternative to the online auction.  At the time, though, Hasbro only released Cobra army builders in 2 packs.  At first, the army builder was paired with a Cobra named character.  But, in 2002, this practice was abandoned for the Joe Vs. Cobra angle which required one Cobra and one Joe in every 2 pack.  The result was that collectors who stocked up on the Alley Viper figures ended up with dozens, or even hundreds!, of Big Ben figures.  This was incredibly frustrating to collectors of the time and they tended to take out their frustrations by disliking the Joe figures who were always included with the more desirable army builders. Despite the fact that this Big Ben and his companion, Mirage, were exceptionally well done, collectors could not stomach any more of them since they ended up army building the Joes along with the Cobras of the time.

As this figure multiplied like rabbits in collections around the country, collectors tried a variety of ways to make use of the surplus Big Bens. Many people tried to use the figures as Joe army builders. Since Big Ben wasn't an iconic character, this worked. But, after a time, even this was too much. Some collectors tried to trade off their extra figures to customizers. But, the parts quickly became far too common and the mold didn't have tons of customizing life in it. With few outlets to either offload or reuse the parts from this figure, the animosity towards it grew and grew in the collecting world. Hasbro compounded the problem by repainting the figure and releasing it with another army builder repaint only a few months after this figure's release. The disdain for Big Ben far outweighed what the mold, in and of itself, warranted. But, sometimes, other circumstances intercede and ruin what would have been great figure. And, that was certainly the case with this Big Ben.

I consider this the third best Big Ben figure behind the 1991 and the 2001 Arctic version. That may not seem a ringing endorsement of the figure. It is, though, a testament of how well done those other two versions of Big Ben were. The colors of this figure, though, are visually appealing and well worth the acquisition. I find the combination of green and tan to be a solid color palette that lends itself to more use than most of the other colors attempted during this time. The painted accents bring the figure to life and make him more dimensional than many of the later repaints that were released. The modern plastic is more pliable than that on the vintage figure, though not too much so to be trouble.

As a character, Big Ben was introduced to me around 1990 or 1991. I was out of Joes and not buying or keeping up on the figures outside of the comic. I would babysit some younger kids down the street occasionally, though, and they were still buying Joes. One of them had Big Ben. When I saw the figure for the first time, I was enthralled. It was a great figure with awesome accessories. When I started buying Joes in the late 1990's on the secondary market, Big Ben was high on my list of figures to acquire. Once I had one, he became a staple of my photos and displays. I was excited to see the 2001 Arctic repaint and actually army built a few of them in the first few weeks. Even after that figure collected dust around the country and, ultimately, lead to the demise of the A Real American Hero Collection series, I was happy to see this figure in 2002. It was still a great mold with great accessories and the colors were very cool. After that, my enthusiasm for additional Big Ben figures waned. There was no reason for the second repaint in 2002 nor the vehicle driver figure in 2003. This figure, though, still holds up. It can stand among vintage figures. But, it works best among the highest quality figures from the 1997 - 2006 era.

For a figure as much maligned as Big Ben, it is surprising to see just how high quality the figure actually is. The base colors of tan and green had not been seen on any Joe figures until this figure wave. (The General Tomahawk and Surefire figures basically use the same hues.) The only real detriment to the figure is that the gloved hands are painted flesh. This wouldn't be a huge problem, except that Big Ben's gloves were sculpted onto the mold. So, seeing these details in flesh coloring makes the figure appear to have some sort of skin disease. That and the G.I. Joe logo on the figure's leg, though, are the only real downsides to the figure. The paint masks are convention quality with grey fur on his had, an olive undershirt, golden bullets held in place by tan straps and tan and black boots. He is an excellent combination of strong, common colors detailed with accents that enhance the mold.

In the fall of 2000, the first carded image of a Big Ben/Whiteout pack was shown. Included in the sample was the bi-pod to Big Ben's rifle. When the first figures appeared on the shelves, though, the bi-pod was absent. Hasbro never saw fit to release the bi-pod again. That is the only small nitpick that can be levied against this version of Big Ben's accessory complement. He includes his original rifle, huge pack, soft plastic satchel with working lid and two grenades that fit inside. To make up for the missing bi-pod, Hasbro threw in a version of Snow Job's classic rifle. (At the time, these were not as common as they would become so it was a nice addition to the figure.) Basically, the figure was outfitted the same as the vintage version. For most figures during this release period, Hasbro skimped on accessories. (It got especially bad in 2004.) But, when they were able to include the full complement of original accessories with a repainted figure, the release was made that much better for it.

The Big Ben mold should be dead. It was used for the original figure in 1991, a hard to find mail away repaint in 1993 and then appeared in 2001, twice in 2002, partially in 2003 and then became the staple of the comic pack figures where he was used for figures like Kwinn, Schrage and Rock and Roll. Basically, collectors never wanted to see Big Ben again. And, there really is no need to. The figure exists in his classic green, an interesting brown, the requisite Arctic repaint and then this figure with an odd, blue version thrown in for the oddball repaint every good figure mold needs. This was a case of a mold where Hasbro got all the mileage they could from it and collectors have plenty of high quality options to choose from for the character.

Wave 1.5, of which this figure is a member, was one of the most overproduced waves of the repaint era. It was a stop gap wave between Wave 1 of the new sculpt figures and Wave 2 that were retrofitted with O-Ring construction to appease Joe fans. At first, collectors salivated over the wave with its inclusion of the Viper and Alley Viper. As the wave trickled out in the spring of 2002, collectors gobbled up the army builders with gusto that was pretty much unprecedented. Within a few weeks, though, the figures kept shipping and shipping. Collectors who were afraid they would never find the army builders at retail discovered that the figures were available just about everywhere. For months after the initial shipments, more and more Wave 1.5 kept showing up. As the year wore on, Hasbro sold more overstock to dollar and discount stores. So, into 2003, it was possible to find these figures at retail. It took until the summer of 2004, when Dollar General stores reduced the figure two packs to $1.00 each that collectors finally absorbed the U.S. based overstock. However, it also appears that Hasbro liquidated large quantities of the figures overseas as dealers from other countries contacted many American collectors about bulk purchases of these figures at drastically reduced prices. But, the sheer volume of figures had lead to collector apathy for even the army builders and most of these offers were refused since the figures had become somewhat unsellable to the collector market since demand had been completely sated.

Today, these Big Ben figures are basically worthless. You can get them for around $3. As the Alley Viper's popularity has dipped, though, even carded figures won't cost you more than $10. Considering that you get a great repaint of a high quality mold with almost his entire original accessory complement, that's a pretty good price. The character of Big Ben was overused by Hasbro during the repaint era and the mold was overused more so. This has left many collectors overlooking the actual quality of this figure. It is a great combination of mold, color, character and accessories that was rare to find during this time of Joe releases. Throw in a cheap price and you can find an overlooked figure that's worth far more than the price he will cost to acquire.

2002 Big Ben

Monday, October 7, 2013

2005 Iron Anvil - Convention Exclusive

There are some large gaps in the ARAH-style G.I. Joe line. Usually, they are defined by missing Cobra troop types or by high profile characters that appeared in the comics or cartoon. Since 2000, Hasbro has done an adequate job of filling some of these holes. But, despite their efforts, there remains a few key specialties that are unfulfilled. During the repaint era, there was great hope that Hasbro would revisit some of those missing specialities. Instead, collectors were treated to a barrage of repaints rather than reimaginations. Every now and then, though, a figure was re purposed into something new and interesting. That is the case with the Iron Anvil.

Cobra Paratroopers first appeared in issue #14 of the original Joe comic. Lead by Destro, this group of Troopers (with air masks and parachutes) showed that Cobra had specialized units within their standard Cobra ranks. In time, Hasbro would exploit this with wave after wave of specialty Cobra Vipers. But, while collectors were treated to Cyber Vipers, Monstro Vipers, Gyro Vipers and other obscure specialties, we never were given a chance to buy a Paratrooper Viper. It seems like such a glaring omission, especially in light of subsets like Sky Patrol and the fact that a parachute pack was a mail away item for years and years. But, it was simply a unit of the Cobra forces that never received any attention.

That finally changed in 2005 with the release of the convention exclusive Iron Anvil figure. Granted, the name was stolen from an obscure Sgt. Savage figure who drove the Iron Panther tank. But, it worked well enough. As Destro's paratroopers, the Iron Anvils finally gave the enemy some airborne insertion capabilities. But, the Iron Anvils were pigeonholed as Iron Grenadiers. That limited their use since they were not full fledged Cobras and were in traditional Iron Grenadier colors. The fact that it took a high priced convention set to actually bring any type of Cobra paratrooper to collectors was another issue altogether. Hasbro had tried to bring Sky Patrol Cobras to retail in 2003, only to have Wal Mart go another way. (Supposedly, the parachutes failed safety tests. But, Hasbro has released other parachutes at retail since then. So, there may be more to the story.)

The Iron Anvil features high quality paint applications and great accessories. The homage to the classic Iron Grenadier colors is a great feature and something that really ties the figure back to the vintage line. But, I still find the overall colors off-putting. The black, red and gold are just a bit too contrasting. I have the same issue with the original Iron Grenadier. I find the idea of the figure much more interesting than I do the actual toy. It isn't a bad figure. But, the general use fullness is very limited. Many convention Cobras are best utilized as part of the overall set. They don't stand on their own as well. The Iron Anvil is no exception. Posed with the rest of the set, it is a great figure. But, taking him out of the context limits the figure's use value since he isn't in more traditional Cobra colors.

The 1994 Viper mold was criminally underused.  It appeared in a shade of purple and orange in 1994 and not again until this set in 2005.  In the comics, the 1994 Vipers appeared with green suits and golden helmets.  I don't know if these were just artistic license by the comic creators, a discarded design for the Viper that was changed or if they were the planned 1995 repaint of the mold.  Regardless, the high quality mold was only used these two times and still has some potential.

Despite initial positive fan response to this convention set, the Iron Anvil has become rather cheap to acquire on the secondary market. While many collectors did like the coloring and re-use of the high quality mold, the reality is that the figure is difficult to use. Even with a full complement of army builders, the Iron Grenadier convention set did not sell out and was still available a few years after its release. As such, these days, you can get mint and complete Iron Anvils for under $12 on a consistent basis. This might seem somewhat pricey, but it right around the original cost if a collector bought a boxed and bagged convention set. It's not a bad price for a figure of this quality. But, it is a price at which I've found the value of army building this figure to be low. It's cool to have one Iron Anvil and it would be cool to have 12. But, with the money it would cost to buy 12 of them, I could get about the same number of Stinger Drivers or original Cobra Troopers. So, in those terms, the figure might be overpriced. Regardless, it is a figure that works well with the existing Iron Grenadier figures and offers something new and unique to a collection. As there have been so few figures in modern times about whom that could be said, the Iron Anvil is worthwhile.

2005 Iron Anvil Convention Exclusive Iron Grenadier, 2006 Viper Pit, Viper, Viper Commander

2005 Iron Anvil Convention Exclusive Iron Grenadier, 2006 Viper Pit, Viper, Viper Commander

2005 Iron Anvil Convention Exclusive Iron Grenadier, 1988 Night Force Crazylegs, 2004 Night Force Beach Head, Toys R Us Exclusives

2005 Iron Anvil Convention Exclusive Iron Grenadier, Wild Boar, Viper, 2006, 1989 Viper Pit, Darklon, Bronze Bombers, Crazeblaze, Olmec Toys