Saturday, December 31, 2016

1990 Sky Patrol Airwave - Around the Web

Airwave was my first Sky Patrol figure.  I got him at a time when all Sky Patrol figures were hard to find and rather expensive.  Relative to their peers, Sky Patrol figs are still fairly pricey.  I still like Airwave the best of the sub set.  His helmet and weapon are just a great combo.  Here's the best I could find of him around the web.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Director Krennic - Rogue One

With G.I. Joe figures, there is one basic style that defines the genre.  You have straight arm figures, Ninja Force figures and Armor Tech figures.  But, that pretty much sums of the entirety of the line that has non standard articulation.  The rest of the figures are designed the same way and are pretty much interchangeable.  Where the difference comes into play are the sculpting style changes that occurred in the 2000's when Hasbro introduced the Joe Vs. Cobra sculpts and then the Anniversary sculpts.  These figures retain some elements of vintage Joes.  But, they are completely different in most design aspects.  However, you have a definitive break when each style began.

In Hasbro's Star Wars line, the design changes are less definitive.  If you follow the flow of figures from 1995 through to 2016, you see an evolution of the figures.  While a 1995 figure can't really hold a candle to a 2010 version of the character, if you also review the steps in between, you see how Hasbro got from the beefy 5 points of articulation figures from POTFII to the sleek and well design super articulated versions from the Vintage Collection.  They appear to be different lines until you follow the sculpting from the beginning.  Now, though, Hasbro has returned to the 5 POA action figure as the staple line for the new Star Wars films.  While I am, generally, opposed to this idea, there are instances where it works.  I've often stated that, when it comes to Star Wars figures, I'm less concerned about having the "best" figure than I am about having one that's good enough.  And, in some cases, good enough is represented by a 5 POA action figure.  Such an example is the Director Krennic figure from the 2016 Rogue One figure assortment.

Director Krennic is a new character created for Rogue One.  In some ways, he a superfluous character who isn't really needed.  The movie really didn't need a new bad guy as either Tarkin or Vader would have filled Krennic's role without much modification.  His motivations for his actions were based on Tarkin's theft of Krennic's role aboard the Death Star.  But, Krennic would have already been subordinate to Tarkin, so this seems like the type of thing Krennic should have seen coming.  Krennic had some sort of relationship with Darth Vader.  But, his audience with the Sith Lord seemed more of a cinematic opportunity to show more of Vader than actually advance the plot.  Krennic chased the protagonists around the galaxy and seemed to be a decent, if cookie cutter bad guy.  Krennic's death really only served as a bit of comeuppance for Jyn in her quest to avenge her father.  But, seeing as how she also perished shortly after Krennic, the good feeling was relatively moot.  In the end, you have a character who's relevance is more political than action.  His only real value is that he wears a cool, white uniform, he has a huge cape and he's flanked by a sextet of custom "Death Troopers".  He could have been purged from the movie and no one would even realize it.

But, this is Star Wars.  And, Star Wars if heavily about characters that serve no real purpose.  In fact, there are, literally, hundreds of action figures based upon characters who are not just minor, but so minor they neither speak, are the focal point of a scene or even credited in the film.  For some reason, these background players take on lives of their own and we, as collectors, demand toys for them.  In that zeal, we get some stuff that, on paper, should be awful.  Krennic, after all, is a grey haired old man with an inflated sense of self importance.  As a toy, he should be awful.  But, as he is a major character in a film, collectors demand a figure and they were rewarded with a pretty solid representation of the character.

For me, Star Wars figures are display pieces.  They sit out on shelves or in a display case and never move.  It's nice to be able to pose them into dramatic stances.  But, that is more of a novelty as most figures can only be posed so many ways before you've exhausted the limits of ways to get the figures to remain upright without the aid of stands.  For some characters, just having them stand there, doing nothing, is the perfect look.  Imperial Officers fall into this category and Krennic fits right in with them.

As a sculpted toy, Krennic is great.  He has his arms at his side, shrouded by his massive, stiff plastic cape.  His legs are straight, with no odd bends to force him into a pose.  Just out of the package, Krennic looks exactly like he did in the movie.  Sure, he looks like a guy who might deny your loan application.  But, that's what he's meant to be and the head sculpt brings that across.  Where you get your value on the figure is detail.  The cape perfectly hides the joints on the figure, so you focus just on his visible uniform.  The tunic has folds and wrinkles to show use.  His pants do, too.  He has the baggy thighs that define Imperial Officers and his spit shined boots are simplistic bliss.  The tunic's long waist is a separate piece that covers the figure's waist.  This gives Krennic much more depth, even if it limits his articulation at the hips.  His Imperial insignia are solid.

The real conversation point is the waist mounted holster.  As a kid, I wanted nothing more than working holsters for my Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures.  Now, they are a staple of the Star Wars line.  Krennic's works perfectly and holds his pistol with the handle out.  It is just visible from behind the cape and shows that Krennic is a bit more than a standard officer since he carries a visible side arm.  Mine featured some poor paint applications and overspray around the belt.  This seems to be a common issue with the lower price point figures.  So, keep that in mind when picking out a sample.

Krennic is readily available right now.  Oddly, he seems to sell through fairly well.  You'd think a silver haired villain with limited articulation would pegwarm with the best of them.  But, for now, Krennic appears to move fairly well.  It might be that collectors are stockpiling a few extras for customizing purposes.  Or, maybe, Krennic really did fill a villainous niche and casual fans have taken to the character and want a plastic representation of him.  You can find Krennics pretty easily, but he will sell down as the waves age on the shelves.  I'm not sure if this will last, long term.  But, it's pretty apparent that Rogue One toys will disappear come August or September of 2017, replaced by the new film's figures.  So, even if Krennics do start to back up in early 2017, collectors are assured they will disappear to clearance bins before the next series of toys hits retail locations.

Long term, I'm not sure where Rogue One will fit into the Star Wars pantheon.  Right now, enthusiasm for the movie seems high.  But, "The Force Awakens" also energized fans.  Within a year, though, the general reception for that movie had cooled and many of the flaws were more apparent.  It's likely Rogue One will suffer from the same pattern.  The movie has holes in it and Krennic is not the only character who could have been removed without affecting the plot at all.  In time, cameos from original trilogy characters will become blase and the shock effect will diminish.  With all the main characters dying at the end, there's not much legacy to Rogue One beyond what we've seen.  However, Krennic is a character who could return in an earlier story.  Being the director of the Death Star construction, he's a major player in the Empire.  So, should there be another film or two set between Episode III and Episode IV, Krennic could return.

In the past, you could be assured that a character like Krennic would, eventually, get remade into an ultimate, super articulated version.  But, that reality no longer exists.  Barring his appearance in another film, this is probably the last Krennic figure we'll see unless Disney/Hasbro completely change their approach to Star Wars toys.  For years, Star Wars was immune from the dreaded "movie tie in toys" where a line was heavily marketed prior to a film release and then relegated to clearance and discount stores within weeks of the film's premier.  Disney seems to be pushing Star Wars toys in that direction.  The only difference being that the brand has enough legs at retail to survive the dead first half of the calendar year.  This gets us more figures and toys than we'd get for most other franchises.  But, leaves Star Wars feeling scarce and limited.

That may be part of the ploy to retain interest for the next decade.  It's worked on me, though.  I have more Rogue One figures than I do from the Force Awakens.  But, that's mostly due to the original trilogy tie in which is more in the wheelhouse of my interest in the franchise.  But, figures like this Director Krennic show that there is value in limited articulation figures, especially if they are well sculpted.  I'll pay premium prices for super articulated versions of characters who require it.  (Chirrut Imwe is one such character for sure.)  But, for guys like Krennic, the 5 POA format works perfectly and allows me to spend a little less for features that would be wasted on the character.

2016, Black Series, Director Krennic, Death Trooper, Rogue One, Star Wars
Director Krennic and a Black Series Death Trooper

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Diorama - Busted

This dio was taken in Indiana in either December or January.  It was a clear, dry and sunny day: as you can see in the pics.  But, it was freezing cold.  By the time the whole thing was set up, the vintage thumbs started getting brittle and my camera kept shutting off as the battery was too cold.  I liked the idea of a large group of law enforcement capturing the Dreadnoks and the show of force it would take to do so.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

1990 Pathfinder - Around The Web!

Pathfinder is a figure that I really like, but always forget about.  In the early days of collecting, he was a staple of LRRP custom figures.  But, he stands well on his own with a good mold, realistic colors and amazing accessories.  Here's the best of the content relating to Pathfinder I could find:

Pathfinder Profile

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2000 Lamprey

Back in the summer of 2000, the first lists and photos of brand new, retail Joe toys started to circulate.  At the time, everyone was pretty much excited about each and every release.  As the hype died down and I had more time to digest the full list, there were certain items on it that appealed to me more than others.  One of the items that was highest on my list was the fact that Hasbro would be releasing a new Lamprey figure.  The 1985 Lamprey had long been a personal favorite and he was one figure that I really, really wanted to army build when I was a kid.  But, I was out of Joe by the time that he became a staple of the mail away premium.  So, my childhood dreams had to be fulfilled by the adult collector.  A collector who, by early 2000, had managed to acquire an impressive for the time amount of original Lamprey figures.  So, seeing the figure would return prompted me to assume that I would quickly amass quite a few of these figures and build an impressive force of Cobra naval troops.

In October of 2000, the first reports of collectors finding the newly released vehicles began to appear on the G.I. Joe Usenet group and the PIT mailing list.  On a Sunday afternoon, I decided to head over the nearest Toys R Us store and try my luck.  I was rewarded when I found several of the new Man O War subs on the shelf: each including a Lamprey.  I snatched one up, took it home and opened it.  I discovered that the Lamprey figure was what I wanted from the character.  I was disappointed, though, that he did not include his vintage rifle.  But, after not seeing Joes at retail for nearly two years, this figure was a shot of enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, the Man O War was not.  To paraphrase Homer Simpson, the Man O War is the suckiest ball of suck that ever sucked.  It's just terrible.  It's small, had no play value, will not stand up on it's own and displays terribly.  It may be one of the single worst G.I. Joe toys ever released.  Why this was chosen over any number of other vehicles makes no sense.  But, for around $7, I felt somewhat ripped off.

This feeling, of course, was compounded by the fact that vintage Lamprey figures were still cheap.  In the late spring of 1999, huge amounts of mint in bag Lampreys were discovered in the Hasbro Canada find.  I, personally, got three or four of them as fill ins for other figures I had ordered who were sold out.  The overstock was readily available on Ebay and you could easily buy up bagged Lamprey figures for around $3 without really trying.  If you were willing to buy in lots, you could get them even cheaper.  As such, you could get two mint and complete 1985 Lampreys for about the same as you'd spend to get a Man O War and a new, weaponless, Lamprey at retail.  The Man O Wars were completely worthless (you can't give them away to this day!) so the full retail cost was associated with acquiring the figure.  With scads of 2 figure packs available for 5.84 at Wal Mart, my retail money was quickly focused on those and the original Man O War and Lamprey was the only one I ever purchased.

In 2001, Big Lots did get overstock Man O War sets that they sold for a discount.  This got a few people to pick up extras as the price of vintage Lampreys had risen a bit in the prior year as the army builder craze began to take hold.  But, superfluous 2000 Lamprey figures remained somewhat scarce on the aftermarket unless you were willing to buy boxed Man O Wars.  That changed in the mid 2000's, though, when Asian G.I. Joe sellers began to offer large quantities of 2000-2004 army builders for very low prices.  The catch was that you had to ship from Asia, which added a great deal to the cost.  However, these same sellers were often also the ones selling the alternate, unproduced figures from the Toys R Us and other exclusive sets.  As such, it became economical to buy some of these higher priced rarities and then add in a few $1 or $2 army builders since the shipping was, basically, the same.  The result was that a lot of Lamprey figures were imported into the hands of collectors and the figure became much more available.  I took this route and acquired a few of these figures from Asia.  Simultaneously, as the prices fell, it became easier to find extra figures for sale from domestic collectors who were looking to downsize.  With this phenomena, I was able to acquire a few more of the 2000 Lampreys and add them to my forces.

With them in hand, though, the limitations and highlights of the figure became more prominent.  On the plus side, the 2000 Lamprey is a perfect paint match for the 2001 Sub Viper and the 2000 Undertow.  Paired together, they make for a great Moray crew that retains the uniform coloring, but offers some breakups in the molds used.  On the down side, the figure isn't that strong as the color palettes are left to plastic rather than paint and you get some awkward joints on the figure that make him seem cheap.  The other thing about the figure's look was the paint wipes.  Paint wipes were controversial in 2000.  Hasbro had created the concept in their Star Wars line where they used paint to simulate weathering and age.  The results in that line were mixed.  On the Joes, though, it was a rough road.  The earliest waves were heavy on paint wipes and not in a good way.  The black paint to showcase details looked like oil and it appeared that the Lamprey had been cleaning penguins after the Exxon Valdez.  In later production runs, Hasbro would lighten up on paint wipe applications.  But, the did detract from the shiny, spit polished look of the 1985 figure.

Still, this isn't a bad figure.  He meshes with the 1985 version and looks good at any station on the Moray.  For me, Lampreys are the backbone of the Cobra naval forces.  This is in stark contrast to their filecards where Lampreys are elite Eels, culled form those ranks and further refined.  Cobra filecards always made each character out to be the elite of the elite or best of the best.  It was a mandate to make the villain seem dangerous.  But, the world needs grunts, too.  And, the Lamprey was too cool of a figure to make a super elite trooper.  Cobra needs maritime forces to guard coastlines, man ships and even commandeer wayward vessels.  Eels would be wasted on such duties.  And, Eels need a base from which to be pulled.  The Lamprey fills that need nicely.  I use the 1985's as the standard commandos while this 2000 version forms the basis of my Moray crew.  The different uniform and lack of gun denotes their specialty versus the common ground troopers.  With this role change, I get to use Lampreys more often and in more settings.  I can also justify having far more of them than I do Eel figures.

The Lamprey mold was used 4 times.  The original 1985 figure is far and away the best use.  In 1990, the figure was painted bright orange and released in the Super Sonic Fighters line.  The figure's weapons were good, but the fig is a '90's kind of terrible.  It's found some popularity due to the horridness and has a bit of a collector following.  But, it's not a great look for the Lamprey.  This figure was released in 2000.  Hasbro used the mold again in 2003 for the Python Patrol Lamprey.  He was a solid choice for the set and the figure is decent.  Aside from that, the figure's legs appear on the infamous Chinese Major Bludd and also appear on the unnamed 1995 Figure.  (Though, that may be convenience rather than planned construction based on drawings of the figure.)  Hasbro could have done a lot with the Lamprey.  But, the later Moray releases were all for Joe rather than Cobra and there weren't many other slots for the figure to fit.  A white version based on his first appearance in #40 of the Marvel comic would have been awesome.  And, a version that matched the coloring of the Eel would have been another no-brainer repaint.  But, those didn't happen.  To me, the original Lamprey is just about perfect.  This 2000 version is decent, but doesn't do anything you can't get from the original.  The other versions are one off, fun releases that serve as conversation starters, but nothing around which you build a Cobra army.  The mold has untapped potential.  But, it will never come to be now.

These days, the figure isn't as available as he was in the 2000's.  Dealers sell him in the $7 range.  Due to low supply, they seem to sell at that price, too.  (Though they will sit at $10.)  If you can find a collector selling the figure, you can get it a lot cheaper.  You will find lots of the figure that are leftover Asia stock, too.  And, those can be a great way to pick up quite a few for a low average cost per figure.  It will take you a bit of time to find loose figures at open market pricing: mainly due to the low value of the figure.  Though, if you ask around, you may find people who will sell you a figure or two just because you have the interest.  But, if you really want Lamprey figures, just spend $5 to buy loose, incomplete vintage figures.  They are easier to find, better quality and more readily available.

Personally, I don't understand the Lamprey's lack of popularity.  I've always felt it was a great figure and Cobra would have a need for naval commandos.  But, the fact that the collecting community doesn't agree with me has left all his versions as fairly cheap acquisitions.  That, I do like.  While I'd have loved for Hasbro to have better utilized this mold in the 2000's, the enduring lack of popularity of it's actual uses shows their decision to ignore it after 2003 looks smart.  For the modern collector, the Lamprey remains a cheap army building target and this 2000 version is a great way to add some ranks or specialties within their legions.

2000 Lamprey, ARAHC, Man O War


2000, 2001, Lamprey, 1985, Sub Viper, Moray, Hydrofoil, Man O War


2000, 2001, Lamprey, 1985, Sub Viper, Moray, Hydrofoil, Man O War, Chinese Major Bludd, Brazilian Flying Scorpion, Patrulha do Ar, Escorpiao Voador, Estrela, Comandos Em Acao

Saturday, December 17, 2016

2005 Revenge of the Sith Clone Commander (Green Variant)

As 2005 began, I was not too into Star Wars.  I had lost much of my enthusiasm for the franchise with "Attack of the Clones" and had immersed myself into the massive amount of Joe retail product that Hasbro released between 2002 and 2004.  But, as the year started, I found myself getting interested in the upcoming "Revenge of the Sith".  I read online spoilers.  I paid attention to the toys.  I watched the "Clone Wars" cartoon series in its entirety.  I even went so far as to read the novel ahead of the movie.  In short, I was excited for the film and was completely satisfied with how it unwound.  I found it a vindication that helped ease the disappointment of the prior two films and also rekindled my interest in the toys.

That summer, I bought a couple figures which were the first Star Wars toys I had bought since 2001.  They happened to be mostly super articulated figures, though, and this new quality coupled with the movie's solid release sent me into Star Wars acquisition that I had not experienced for quite a while.  Not all of the first 40 or so "Revenge of the Sith" figures were good.  But, many were.  One that really garnered my attention, though, was the Clone Commander.  He reminded me of the Arc Troopers I had seen in the "Clone Wars" and didn't match any appearance of a Clone onscreen.  I picked up the initial, red, version and planned him as a commander for any Shock Troopers that would, surely, be released.  That fall, though, the unexpected popularity of the "Revenge of the Sith" figures lead Hasbro to slap together some hasty repaints of recently released molds to capture more money while they prepped the 2006 line.  In these was a Clone Commander, repainted with green highlights.  And, that is the figure I'm reviewing today.

Supposedly, the Clone Commander design was based on Commander Bly, who was assigned to Aayla Secura in Revenge of the Sith.  Bly's design is a dead ringer for this figure, only he has yellow highlights.  The story at the time was the Hasbro created the initial, red figure from early drawings of Bly who was later changed to yellow onscreen.  The upside was that Hasbro released a cool looking figure.  The downside was that he was, basically, an EU character since he had yet to appear onscreen.  But, with this figure being released as a generic "Commander" character, that also freed Hasbro up to repaint it.  The green version is just as EU as the red version and was a way for Hasbro to get a highly popular mold out into the market for both collectors and kids in time for the 2005 holiday shopping season.

I wasn't too keen on the Clone Trooper origins and designs from Episode II.  Seeing color added to the troops seemed like a cheap play to sell more toys.  (It likely was.)  I didn't think the colors really added much to the designs and that the white and black versions that were closer to Stormtroopers were more in line with what I wanted to see.  This stance softened by Episode III.  Seeing the clones in action in the Clone Wars cartoon had made them cooler to me.  And, the updated Episode III versions that were closer to Stormtroopers were much more interesting.  The one thing I did like about this figure was the added gear.  Aside from the Stormtrooper inspired look, the Clone Commander featured  hinged binoculars (very 1983 Steeler!) and a kama with two working holsters.  He also has a shoulder pauldron and bandolier.  In short, he's decked out in gear that greatly enhances his look and cements his status as something more special than a rank and file Clone Trooper.  He includes the two pistols for his holster and the standard Clone Trooper rifle.  He also included a zip line accessory that could be used with the Republic Gun Ship.

For a 2005 figure, this Clone Commander is well articulated.  But, he's not super articulated.  This was less of an issue when he was released.  But, the body now exists in far better sculpted and articulated releases.  As such, despite the fact that this figure was excellent upon his release, he is actually pretty dated now.  The forearms and hands are awkward and can make posing a challenge.  The figure's hips are not as articulated as they could be.  More than a decade after his release, the figure is good enough, but there are better versions out there.  But, for a collector type figure, good enough is really all I ask for.  I have a couple of later versions that have better articulation and slightly different accessory configurations.  But, none have captured my attention like this figure has.

Disney has released a Star Wars movie in both 2015 and 2016.  Accompanying them was a full array of toys and merchandise.  However, Disney is not as tied to the legacy of 3 3/4" figures as their flagship product.  As such, while you do see a lot of figures hanging on the pegs now, the modern displays pale in comparison to what you could find for Episode I, II or III.  Stores had the majority of an aisle dedicated to the small figures and they were produced in astronomical numbers.  Despite that, though, several popular molds were actually hard to find.  The one thing those molds had in common was that they were based on Clones.  I only saw a #6 Clone Trooper a couple of time.  The super articulated #41 Clone Trooper was even scarcer to come by.  I found maybe a couple of the red Clone Commander figures: and those were always when I hit the local Wal Mart after I figured out the day and time they stocked figures.

While both Episode I and Episode II figures had, eventually, found their way to clearance bins, Revenge of the Sith figures continued to sell strongly: even after the movie was long out of theatres.  The success of the line caught Hasbro off guard and they didn't have any more figures planned for 2005 after the final lines of the Ep III figures were released in the summer.  So, they hastily repainted a few molds and re-released a few favorites to fill store shelves for Christmas.  But, the repaint waves were also hard to find.  If a case hit, eager parents were just as likely to buy it up as were collectors.  You could find the figures if you bought like a collector.  But, casual trips to the store would almost always result in failure.  The most sought after repaint was the #6 Clone done in Shock Trooper colors.  But, this green Clone Commander was close behind.

My one great compliment of modern Star Wars figures is that they are now everything I wanted as a kid.  I wanted lots and lots of removable lightsabers.  I wanted working holsters with cool guns.  I wanted figures with more posability.  I wanted obscure aliens, bounty hunters and more Rebels beyond the main heroes.  I wanted cloth goods and removable gear that you could interchange with other figures.  Hasbro has delivered on all of those.  They have moved away from much of this with the Disney movie figures.  But, Hasbro produced thousands and thousands of figures prior to 2015 and does continue to make a small number of super articulated figures in the overly expensive Black Series.  But, most of these high quality figures from prior years are very affordable.  As my kids are starting to move into the age where they can play with Star Wars figures, I'm less inclined to spend money on retail releases and, instead, go back and buy up cheap lots of figures from 10 or more years ago.  The characters are mostly the same aside from the new movies.  And, my kids won't care they don't have the "best" Boba Fett in the rarest packaging.  They'll be content with any of the tons of cheap Fetts that you can get.

Like most Star Wars figures of his era, this figure is basically worth less then retail today.  Carded versions can be acquired for $5 or so.  Loose, mint and complete figures can be tougher to find, but will still sell for under $5 most of the time.  So, if you spent $6 to get this guy a decade ago, you've lost money.  But, that's OK.  In the end, the purpose of toys like this is the enjoyment you get from them.  This figure was re-released in various cardbacks and the general Clone Commander style now exists in many different forms that beat this one.  This leaves the Clone Commander as a cheap way to get a good figure, either for a collection or for your kids.

2005 Revenge of the Sith Green Clone Commander, Star Wars, The Clone Wars, Clone Trooper, Scorch

2005 Revenge of the Sith Green Clone Commander, Star Wars, The Clone Wars, Clone Trooper, Concept General Greivous, Astromech, Clone Pilots

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One

If you don't want spoilers, don't click the link.  But, I just saw Rogue One.  Not bad.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chinese Major Bludd - Around the Web

The Chinese Major Bludd figure is one of the most famous international figures ever released.  The Hasbro construction, easy availability and low price have made him a staple of most collections, even though he was not available at U.S. retail outside of some deep discount retailers.  The figure is excellent and worth owning.  Here's the best of the Chinese Major Bludd around the web.

Chinese Major Bludd profile

 Chinese Major Bludd at JoeADay.com

Chinese Major Bludd meme at Joecustoms.com

Chinese Major Bludd Guest Link at JoeADay.com

Chinese Major Bludd at Nekoman's Viper Pit

Chinese Major Bludd at JoeDios.com

Chinese Major Bludd Dio

Chinese Major Bludd Dio 2

Chinese Major Bludd, Funskool Street Hawk

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

1992 Talking Battle Commanders Stalker

I've told the story of the my foray into the Hills store in Hamilton, Ohio as 1996 wound down before.  Along with the Detonator that was left behind, there were some figures on the shelves.  For the whopping price of 4.95, I could have bought several Talking Battle Commanders Stalker figures.  Even after finding nothing in terms of Joe figures at retail for several months along with paying $5 for one of the new Star Wars figures I constantly sought, I simply could not get myself to buy one.  The price was so high and there was nothing about the figure that called to me.  Mind you, I had paid 3.33 for both the Battle Corps Muskrat and the Battle Corps Mace figure at a KMart in Bloomington, Indiana the December before.  Those are terrible figures.  But, that extra 1.62 was simply too much to overcome.  I finally gave in, though, and grabbed one in my final stop before moving home.

There was really only one reason why I finally acquiesced and purchased this figure: his black weapons.  Most of the Joes I had been buying as the line disappeared had neon weapons.  So, finding some cool looking guns cast in black plastic was a bonus.  As it was a Stalker figure, I was happy to get a new version of the character.  Though, I had long ago found the excellent 1994 version and that figure far surpasses this look for Stalker.  But, the main plan was to buy him for the guns, open him up and disperse the weapons to other figures I liked more.

But, as 1997 began, other priorities took over.  I had just graduated from college.  I got my first "real" job.  And, to top it off, I planned to move to Arizona (a place I had yet to even visit!) that summer.  Those things took precedence in my life and I sort of forgot about this Stalker.  As the initial chaos of the early year began to subside, the 1997 Star Wars line began to hit in force.  I spent my free time searching out Star Wars figures, playing rugby, visiting friends in Cincinnati, St. Louis and even Paducah, KY.  In short, this Stalker was dropped into a dresser drawer and was left there.  When I moved that August, Stalker was left behind as I put him out of mind.  In 2001, I returned to Indiana for a time.  I then re-discovered this figure.  By that time, though, the need for black weapons had diminished and I kept the figure carded.  This time, he made it back to Arizona when I moved again and has been part of my collection since.

It has been 20 years since I bought that Stalker.  You will see the carded version in the photos below. Two decades later, I still haven't opened the figure.  I've never owned a mint, complete version of the figure other than carded version.  The Hills sticker is still there.  I should just open him and have a loose figure as I'm not much of a carded collector.  But, I can't do it.  There is so much personal history wrapped into the figure that opening him would destroy him.  I can associate figures with their acquisition.  I have my childhood memories.  I then have my '90's, neophyte collector memories.  Those really end in late 2000 or early 2001 which I consider my "collector" phase.  I've been in that phase for more than 15 years now.

But, so far, nothing in that phase has been associated with life memories like items from the first two phases.  I think that's just to the ages I was when those memories were forged.  Childhood is the formative time of our life.  Young adulthood is the time when you largely become the person you will be for a long time: but the future is still unlimited.  I don't look back at the early 2000's with the same nostalgia: mostly because collecting was not woven into the fabric of everything I did and my best memories are associated with other parts of my life that didn't involve toys.  But, part of why I collect is the memories associated with the items at the time of their acquisition.  Seeing this figure recalls my younger self driving through the backroads of Southwestern Ohio in my '88 Ford Aerostar with the windows down and the heat on full blast due to a blown head gasket looking for out of the way stores as I went to visit old friends.  It's possible that 15 years from now, I'll re-read this and recall staying up too late writing this on a Friday night before my kids soccer game listening to Urban Dance Squad's "Deeper Shade of Soul" over and over again.  It's not quite the same.  But, Joes remain tangible mnemonic devices for times that are long gone.

There's another reason I haven't opened this figure.  He's terrible.  Really, I mean it.  He's a truely bad figure.  The main complaint is the bright yellow highlights.  Offset against the black body, they really pop.  I have forgiven neon ever since it was first introduced into the Joe line.  But, something about this figure really sparked intense dislike.  It might be the yellow beret.  But, the bright highlights are something that halts me from digging too deep into this figure, despite it not being a hindrance elsewhere.  So, what else is wrong with him?  The most obvious answer is the Talking Battle Commander backpack.  The thing is enormous.  It's a massive weight on the figure and it nothing short of ridiculous.  Rather than make these packs use the standard back peg (like they did with the Super Sonic Fighters in 1991) Hasbro screwed them onto the figure's back.  Now, you can remove the packs with some effort.  But, in order to accommodate the pack, the designers gave the figure a flat back so the pack could rest flush against the torso.

This flat back has raised it's head before.  The excellent 1993 Cobra Commander solved the problem by getting a new back piece.  But, that piece disappeared in the 2000's and several solid Cobra Commander colorings were ruined by the return of the flat back.  Really, though, this shouldn't bother me.  Truthfully, figures are displayed from the front.  And, the backpack hole is still there and there are any number of backpacks that could cover the back to solve the issue.  I've overcome more glaring gaps with inventive accessory usage.  But, this Stalker is not offered the same opportunity.

This leads to the final issue I have with the figure.  I'm not a fan of the head sculpt.  I don't particularly like the overly floppy beret.  It doesn't fit with how I've seen Stalker through his other incarnations.  But, my main beef is the face.  To me, the expressive face is overdone.  Including the scowl and open mouth was a great leap forward in sculpting prowess on the part of the Hasbro designers.  But, it feels like they tried too hard.  In their zeal to make Stalker appear like a bad ass, they had him come off as a bad action film actor.  So, taking the head, bad colors, stupid backpack and flat back, you get a figure that I really don't have any interest in owning.  So, I've kept him carded for two decades and will likely never open him.

Accessory wise, you know he includes black weapons.  While these were novel and new to me in 1996, they don't hold up when you have the full panoply of G.I. Joe accessories available to you with little effort.  The smaller rifle is very reminiscent of the 1992 Destro weapon.  When I found the figure at retail, I thought they might be the same.  But, they are very different when compared directly.  The larger rifle looks cooler in the package than it actually is.  It's somewhat futuristic and the odd design and large size makes it difficult for a figure to hold and use without being top heavy and awkward.  The offset sight is interesting.  But, I've found the weapon's value is in aesthetics rather than use.  The sound backpack says three phrases: Blitz 'Em, Let's Party and Attack!.  There's a fourth, combat sound.  The sound quality is what you'd expect from a twenty five year old, $5 toy.  I'm sure it was novel in 1992.  But, it really doesn't hold up any more.

Hasbro released this figure in 1992.  They also released him internationally.  Many years ago, I had a carded Spanish Overkill figure whose talking backpack was actually recorded in Spanish.  I've never looked, but I'm sure a Spanish speaking Stalker also exists.  So, there is a likely, legit European variant for the figure.  In 2003, Hasbro surprised collectors when this mold showed up in the Toys R Us exclusive Tiger Force set.  The flat back to accommodate the talking pack was still present.  That, and the bizarre color scheme pretty much doomed the figure and Tiger Force sets lingered for most the year.  (Though, they are tougher to find, now.)  Despite returning to the Stalker character many more times in the comic sets and Toys R Us sets, Hasbro never revisited this Stalker mold.  Done up in more military colors, this mold has some potential.  But, the only two versions we ever got both has severe color limitations and that has doomed this mold to obscurity forever.

This Stalker is worthless.  Frankly, the $5 I spent in 1996 is worth more than the figure is today.  You can still buy MOC figures for $6.  Loose, mint and complete figures sell for $2 to $3, though dealers will usually ask at least $8.  For completion's sake, the figure is out there.  But, there's not much other reason to really seek him out.  The black weapons aren't even enough of a draw to spend a couple bucks to get one.  I can see the figure having its charm and I'm sure some people out there like this version of Stalker.  I'm not one of them, though.  The upside is that the figure has value to me based on the memories I have of finding him at retail.  Sans that, I'm not sure I'd even remember this figure exists.  The good news is that if you do like him, he's cheap and available.  If you don't like him, there's tons of better Stalker figures to ensure the character is properly represented in your collection.

1992 Talking Battle Commanders Stalker, MOC, Carded

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Diorama - Chopper Base

In the fall of 2001, I got out a Mamba and took these pics.  I've never been a huge Mamba fan, even though it was the last toy I got as a kid.  Sadly, I still have this Mamba and a companion.  But, both have been pretty much destroyed since these photos.  The Mamba's large size makes it difficult to box up and move, especially when you're in a hurry.  But, the fact they aren't worth much and aren't much fun also makes me less careful with them than I would be with something I liked more.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Tiger Force Blizzard - Around the Web

What would winter be without an arctic figure?  But, what about an arctic figure clad is bright yellow and orange with black highlights?   Such is the spectacular oddness of the Tiger Force Blizzard figure.  Only released in Europe, this hard to find repaint has taken on quite a life of its own.  Collectors covet the bizarre palette and continental exclusivity.  There's not a ton of info on him out there, but here's the best of his content around the web:

Tiger Force Blizzard Profile

Tiger Force Blizzard at JoeADay.com

Tiger Force Blizzard Fan Page

Tiger Force Blizzard at Toys and Bacon

Tiger Force Blizzard at Toys From the Past

European Tiger Force Blizzard

European Tiger Force Blizzard, Estrela, Tigor, Brazil, Forca Fera, SAS Panther, Action Force, Palitoy

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

1986 Iceberg

In the first part of 1986, I was on a hell bent crusade to find all of the newly released Joes at retail.  In fairly short order, I had most of the new releases.  But, as with prior years, there were a few figures who eluded me.  As spring turned to summer, though, I wrapped up my new figure quest.  Among the last figures I acquired was the 1986 Iceberg figure.  You may wonder what a kid is to do with an arctic figure in the summertime.  I certainly did.  While I had plans for him when winter finally came around, acquiring him in the summer ended up defining the Iceberg character for me in a completely different way than any of his media.

In the summer of 1986, I found refuge from the heat in my parents' basement.  My mother was loathe to use air conditioning unless the temperature was above 90 degrees.  So, on the humid days where the mercury didn't climb that high, I found the basement was substantially cooler than the rest of the house.  At that time, we had a large room at the bottom of the basement stairs.  The stairs served as a de facto separator where the right side was for my father's model train setup and the left side housed an air hockey tables that, mostly, was covered with camping gear that didn't fit into the small "incinerator" room that had once housed the coal stove used to heat the home in a bygone era.  Filling the alcove created by the small incinerator room was a custom built bar.  It was beautifully designed with high quality wood.  It had a swinging door by which you entered it.  But, the bartop itself was hinged so that it could fold over the door, locking the bartender behind it and anyone else on the outside.  It had been a great play feature with my brothers for years and there was always at least one toy pistol hidden inside one of the drawers on the backside of the bar itself.

It was this bar, though, that became the focal point of my summertime refuge.  It became a Cobra fortress.  A fortress the Joes had to siege and capture.  I laid out all of my Joe toys on the rug in front of the bar.  There, for weeks, various story lines played out where the Joes tried to destroy the fort and Cobra along with it.  In this large scale battle, different toys came into play.  I had a high quality Snow Cat from 1985.  And, despite the fortress not being the arctic, the Snow Cat's weaponry was badly needed by the Joes.  This lead to Frostbite getting a promotion as I saw him as a strategic commander in this operation.  When I added Iceberg to my collection that summer, his natural fit was in the second seat of the Snow Cat.  (My Snow Job figure had long died a broken thumb and crotch death.)  From there, Iceberg was elevated to Frostbite's second in command and became one of the higher ranking Joes who conferred directly with Hawk, Flint and other custom members of my G.I. Joe command.

In this role, Iceberg became someone who was not a combatant, but a strategist.  He rarely saw combat and almost never left the cockpit of the Snow Cat.  His large rifle played into his character.  I had it as a very rare, high powered rifle that was the only small arms weapon capable of hitting a Cobra on top of the fortress from the ground.  Not even Low Light's sniper matched his range.  (Later, I took this concept further and even gave Iceberg's gun a name.  Smugglers and criminals would attempt to steal the weapon due to it's potency.  Laws were enacted specifically to punish anyone in possession or Iceberg's rifle and I had elaborate stories of bands of scofflaws stealing the weapon and then attempting to escape capture while in possession of the contraband weapon.)  With that, Iceberg's character became cemented as something completely different than I had originally planned.  When winter rolled around, Iceberg still never left his Snow Cat.  I have no specific memories of taking Iceberg out into the snow and ice.

But, in his advisory role, Iceberg never blossomed into a warrior.  He was a thinker who would pull out his rifle for specific purposes, infantry missions not being one of them.  In this role, I began to think of Iceberg as older than the average Joe and pretty much out of combat age.  As such, he didn't get much use.  Politically, he was well connected and would often appear in the command center of bases.  But, I never really used him in the vast majority of my adventures which often either involved small teams of Joes escaping masses of Cobras or the full Joe team repelling a full on Cobra assault.  With that, Iceberg fell into obscurity and never attained the popularity of some of his contemporaries.

As a collector, I had a decent Iceberg left from childhood.  He went into the Snow Cat on display and stayed there for many years.  At some point, I realized that the figure needed an upgrade.  So, I actually went without an Iceberg for a while.  I didn't miss him.  In looking at the figure now, the mold is well designed and the colors match for arctic conditions.  There's no reason why he didn't become useful to me other than the fact that he entered my collection in the summer and found a niche that superseded his arctic proclivities.

Iceberg's sculpting is good.  His hat is part of his head and not removable, but this wasn't much of an issue as the first removable headgear arctic figure would not appear until Blizzard donned the shelves in 1988.  The chest mold is good.  The shoulder holster and grenades are well done.  The fur collar somewhat limits the figure's parts usage in customs, though I still think it would have a better Comic Pack Clutch in 2004 than Mace did.  But, the figure gets bland after this.  His legs are just, basically, white with just a knife molded to one.  The big knock against Iceberg is his lone accessory: the large rifle.  It is, in and of itself, just fine.  However, most 1986 Joes included an ample supply of gear.  Even those who only included a gun and pack had well detailed packs that gave the figure a bit more heft.  Plus, Snow Job had included about the best complement of accessories for any figure up through 1986.  Getting the same amount of gear with the carded Iceberg as you got with the vehicle driving Frostbite was very disappointing.

Iceberg has a decent history.  He was released in the U.S. in 1986 and 1987.  He then reappeared as mail away and convention premiums in the early 1990's.  But, these may have been overstock from the '80's rather than new production.  In the mid 1990's, Iceberg was shuffled off to India.  There, Funskool produced a panoply of Iceberg variants for both India and Egypt (under the Nilco brand name).  The first Iceberg figures were nearly identical to the U.S. figure.  But, Funskool then changed Iceberg's race and released a Caucasian Iceberg figure.  This skin color was released in several different color schemes, many involving pink and red.  Funskool Icebergs are among the most fun foreign variants to collect because there are so many and so many of them are just bizarre.  In 1997, Hasbro got the mold back and released the 1997 Iceberg figure.  Oddly, though, that ended the mold's appearances.  Despite the parts lending themselves to many repaints and Hasbro producing a plethora of winter themed figure and vehicle exclusives, Iceberg never made it back to retail.  It's too bad as more could have been done with the mold.  The fact that he appeared in 1997 also proved that Hasbro had access to him.  So, his absence is one of those great mysteries of the 2000's.

Iceberg figures are very prone to discoloration.  Dirt, finger oil and sunlight are all natural enemies of white plastic on action figures.  As such, finding a truly mint Iceberg can take some doing.  But, he was introduced during the height of Joe's popularity and was produced in more than ample numbers.  Dealers will price mint and complete with filecard Icebergs in the $8-$10 range.  The general market is even more lenient on pricing.  While you do find lots of discolored figures in the lower price ranges, you can also find mint and complete Icebergs that are gem white for under $5.  For those prices, there is no excuse as to why someone would not have an Iceberg in their collection.  The abundance of winter gear that was available in the 2000's makes it easy to outfit Iceberg in better accessories and makes him that much more desirable.  Iceberg no longer holds the place of importance that he once did in my collection.  But, he's among the solid second tier of figures who fill valuable specialties with the Joe mythos and who make the Joe line as spectacular as it is.

1986, Iceberg, Leatherneck, Firebat, Wet Suit, Mission to Brazil, Toys R Us Exclusive


1986 Iceberg, 1990, Cold Front

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Diorama - The Blitz

Here's the first set of photos I took in the puddle that formed after every rainstorm at my house in Indiana.  The sun was setting so I didn't have much time.   But, I think the urgency of the setup is conveyed in the chaos of the scene.

I wanted to use the 1994 Viper more, especially en masse.  Being able to use Shockwave, Stalker and Hit and Run was a bonus.  This location would get a lot more use in the next two years as a setting for lakes, swamps and islands.  Having access to clear, pooled water made for a lot of fun photos.  It's something I do miss about the weather in the Midwest.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

1986 Serpentor - Around the Web

Serpentor looms over the Joe line like the dictators from whom he was derived.  Some collectors love him.  Others hate him.  But, he is one of the most important and influential characters in the Joe mythos.  His figure is great and brought cartoonish super-villainy to the Joe line.  Here's the best content around the web for Serpentor:

Serpentor Profile

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

1991 Red Star

Back in October of 2000, I first reviewed the 1991 Red Star figure.  He was one of my great finds when I started buying '90's Joes and was a figure I immediately appreciated.  The high quality sculpt, excellent accessories and character obscurity all added up to a figure that was new and exciting to me.  As the years wore on, though, the figure fell to the wayside.  There was so much that was new to my collection from both retail Joes and back-filling my vintage collection that early finds like Red Star would be pushed aside as something even newer arrived in my mailbox.  The mid 2000's also saw many reuses of the parts that comprised Red Star, rendering him less relevant.  But, nearly 20 years after I first acquired this figure, I've once again come to appreciate the gem that Hasbro gave collectors in 1991.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Diorama - The Mountain

One cold morning, when I let the dogs out, I noticed that the outside of my stone chimney had these icicles running down it.  I went inside and grapped Alpine for a quick shoot among them.  The cement and mortar kind of ruins the effect.  The location looked a lot cooler until I had to zoom in for the details.  Still, a fun reminder of the time I spent in a place where you actually could see icicles.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

1983 Steeler - Around the Web

Steeler was the only member of the original 13 Joes that I did not have as a kid.  I finally got one in 1988, just as my Joe days were ending.  As a figure, though, Steeler is noteworthy for both his original gear and his distinct sculpt.  The character was not revisited until the 2000's, though, he was available via mail away for many years through the '90's.  Here's the best of his content around the web.

1983 Steeler profile

1983 Steeler at JoeADay.com

PreProduction Steeler at YoJoe.com

Steeler at JoeDios.com 1

Steeler at JoeDios.com 2

Steeler at JoeDios.com 3

Steeler at JoeDios.com 4

Steeler at JoeDios.com 5

Steeler at JoeDios.com 6

Steeler Video Review

1983 Steeler, Rock and Roll, 1984 VAMP Mark II


1983 Steeler, Tank Commander, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Black Major, Urban Cammo, Stalker, Snake Eyes, G.I. Joe HQ, Headquarters, Palitoy, action Force, European Exclusive

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

1993 Cobra Commander

In my many travels searching out the last retail remnants of the Joe line in the mid 1990's, there are a few figures that I never found.  This Cobra Commander was one of them.  It created the odd obsession where you just know that the figures you can't find are so much better than the ones you can.  To this day, I give a disproportionate amount of credit to figures that I didn't find at retail over ones that I did, even when the evidence of which figure is better is overwhelming.  In the case of this Cobra Commander, though, the figure is excellent.  The sculpting, colors and details are all in line with the character and fit with the notion of what Cobra Commander is supposed to look like.  Hasbro dropped a gem into the 1993 line with this figure and he is a release who really holds up well today.

The greatest complaint about this Cobra Commander mold is the bulk.  Most collectors have a view of Cobra Commander as a small, wispy man who isn't big on muscles.  This version is heftier than many collectors like.  I look at it two ways.  First, it was made in 1992 when the Joe line was getting a bit beefier.  If you stand this figure next to the 1992 Destro, 2001 Major Bludd and 1986 Viper, you have a solid Cobra Command and army that all fit with each other.  The other way to look at it was that in the very late issues of the comic, it was revealed that Cobra Commander wore a robotic suit under his uniform to both protect him and enhance his physical abilities.  This bulkier physique is explained by the armor beneath it.  In that regard, it works for me.  Plus, I like having a classic look commander that fits with the later figures from the Joe line.

For me, this look is about perfect.  The figure's hooded head isn't quite as elegant as it was drawn in the comics.  But, seeing the 2004 attempt to recreate the longer hood gives the actually released head much more value.  This Commander is regal with the arm tassels, formal tunic and bandolier.  But, the molded knife and pistol also denote that this Commander is dangerous and not to be trifled with.  I've never been a fan of the flat back.  As such, this figure's proper design elevates far above the other releases of this basic mold.  The black color is fitting with Cobra and matches with the classic blue.  The figure's furled brow and angry eyes showcase far more character than you usually saw on G.I. Joe toys.  (But, it was also a sign of the times as '90's action figures ushered in a wave of facial expression, though often to the detriment of the overall toy design.)  There's just enough color to keep the figure from a dual chromatic limitation with the red Cobra logo and belt buckle.  In this case, the simplicity works and you get an elegant, yet dangerous Cobra Commander.

For me, this figure was a unicorn.  It enticed me from the cardbacks of all the 1993 figures I was able to find at retail.  But, Cobras were popular even back in the 1990's.  This Cobra Commander, the Alley Viper and the Flak Viper were three figures that I simply never found.  (Oddly, I found multiple Crimson Guard Commanders.  Why them over the orange Flak Viper?)  So, the figure remained elusive.  Around 1999 or 2000, I picked up a carded version of this figure in a random lot.  I planned to open it. But, it was so nice of a card that I hesitated.  Before I came to a final decision to open the carded figure or not, however, I acquired a large lot of 1992 and 1993 figures that included a loose version of the figure.  (Back in that time, it was fairly difficult to find loose figures from any year after 1990.)  It wasn't mint.  But, it was good enough to keep me from opening the carded sample.  From that day on, the 1993 has been my default Commander version.

Hasbro used this mold to death.  After it's introduction in 1992 in the Super Sonic Fighters line, the figure's flat back was discarded and remade in regular style for this 1993 version.  (Overstock 1993 Cobra Commander figures were available from kid's pizza chains in the 1990's, too.)  In 2000, the mold appeared again, this time in a deep Cobra blue.  However, the 1993 back was gone: replaced by the awful flat back from the original figure.  This same construction continued.  Master Collector released a lighter blue with red highlights version of the figure as a convention exclusive in 2003.  They offset the flat back by including a cape.  This is a very well done figure and a worthy successor to the 1993.  In 2004, Hasbro sculpted a new, hooded head and put the figure into the first comic pack.  The head is interesting.  But, nothing great as it doesn't fit the body quite right.  The flat back and bright yellow color leaves the figure as less than stellar.  In 2005, the new head and flat back body appeared in copper in the Imperial Processional pack.  It's final appearance was as a translucent Cobra Commander that was released in a comic pack in 2006.  Why Hasbro didn't just sculpt a battle helmet head is beyond me.  They could have released that in the comic pack and collectors would have gotten something they didn't have.  But, it never happened.  While this mold got a lot of uses, only two are decent, with this 1993 being the cream of the crop.

When taken in context of 1993, Cobra Commander's accessories were not too bad.  They were silver, which matched the figure and was realistic enough for the time.  The actual assortment of weapons, though, wasn't great.  The Rock Viper, Toxo Viper, Incinerator and Voltar rifles don't really fit with Cobra Commander.  His missile launcher is massive, but also a complementary red.  The odd point is that on his card art, Cobra Commander is seen swinging in on a rope.  Usually, if such a detail was included in the artwork, the figure would then include a rope as well.  Cobra Commander did not.  It may have been artistic license for the artwork.  The Commander on a rope is a bit out of character.  But, it's also possible that it was a planned piece of gear for this version that was scrapped too late in the process to update the artwork.  Personally, I've always outfitted this figure with a Track Viper/Nitro Viper pistol.  It is reminiscent of the original laser pistol from the 1983 figure, cast in black and not overly hard to find.  To me, it better fits this figure than his included gear.

It should be noted that Funskool produced an inarticulate figure based on the 2000 use of this mold for the premium figures that were available with Pepsodent toothpaste in India.  Several cheap toy makers in Asia then acquired this mold and produced figures in various knock off packs throughout the early 2000's.  In the early 2010's, a large portion of knock off figures based on 1993 Joes appeared on the market.  They had remade G.I. Joe cards and artwork, but were not Hasbro properties.  This Cobra Commander mold was among the figures made.  (It's likely they were made by recreating 1993 molds rather than using the Hasbro molds themselves.)  The paint jobs are horrible and the quality is too awful to describe.  The Cobra Commander is interesting in that he has silver highlights on his hands and facemask.  It's a different look for him, though it is obviously based on his Hasbro design.  These bootlegs offer collectors something else to look for that is based on this mold.  And, in the case of the silver faced knock off, a pretty interesting update that is worth adding to any collection.

This figure is stupidly cheap.  It seems that all the figures that were quickly snatched up off of retail shelves in 1993 were bought by dealers and collectors who hoarded them away for 20 years.  You can buy this figure carded for about $10.  Loose, mint and complete, he sells for half that.  There's really no reason to not own one at that price.  The figure is very well done, has acceptable accessories and is true to the Cobra Commander character.  He is everything you want out of a later done remake of a popular character.  I wish I had been able to find him at retail in 1995.  But, I had one within a few years and continue to enjoy the figure today.  In my opinion, he is one of the highlights of the 1990's as a whole.  If you don't own one, go buy him right now.

1993 Cobra Commander, Battle Corps, Detonator, Crimson Guard Commander

1993 Cobra Commander, Battle Corps, 1994, Major Bludd, Beach Head, Detonator

Saturday, November 19, 2016

1994 Alley Viper - Around the Web

I never found the 1994 Alley Viper at retail.  By the time I was combing the scraps of the Joe line in 1995 and 1996, Cobra army builders were long gone.  But, this figure is a great homage to the original and a very nice update.  There is a variant where one has little stripes on his legs and the other does not.  As this guy is somewhat tough to find in any form these days, getting both variants can take a bit of work.  There's not much content on this guy out there, but here's what I could find around the web:

1994 Alley Viper Profile

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Diorama - Joe Base

In 2000, shortly after I got my first digital camera, I took a photo set of some of my favorite Joes in the HQ.  The centerpiece was my Tiger Force Outback figure.  I liked how it turned out and tried to replicate it 2001.  This time, the showcase figures were the Chinese Flint, the Tiger Force Psyche Out and the Action Force Blades figure.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

1983 Hiss Tank

The Joe line has many icons. They are images of characters or vehicles that simply transcend the line and all subsequent versions of specific items must be derivative of those original incarnations. Items like the VAMP, Skystriker or even Snake Eyes wearing black are ingrained notions of the line that can not deviate too far from their original design. One such icon for Cobra is the classic Hiss Tank from 1983. Sleek, simple and, yet, so well done, the Hiss Tank personifies Cobra's military might. All subsequent takes on the Hiss have had to live up to the lofty standard of the original.

In August of 1983, my brother's best friend who lived around the block from us had a birthday. For this birthday, he received most of the 1983 Joe line. Aside from the awesome Joe figures from that year, he got the full gamut of Cobras. Destro, Major Bludd and the FANG were great starters, but he also got the first Hiss Tank I had seen. The tank was perfect for kids of the day. It held 4 figures, could move fast and was armed to the teeth. It was the ideal weapon for Cobra and was something for which the Joes had no real answer since there was only one MOBAT in the neighborhood and no one ever wanted to play with it.  A few weeks later, I recall zooming his Hiss down the sidewalk as we waited for the first G.I. Joe cartoon to air.  That's one of the driving forces behind the early memories of the tank.  Oddly, I recall the Hiss Tank and the adventure outside leading up to the cartoon moreso than I remember the cartoon itself.  That Christmas, my brothers and I got most of the rest of the G.I. Joe line, too.  While we shared the HQ and my younger brother got the Battle Bear, I got an APC and the Hiss Tank.  Immediately, the Hiss was opened and my Cobra forces now stood on far more equal ground with the Joes.

The greatness of early Cobra was the uniformity.  The Cobra Trooper and Officer were blue.  (Along with the Viper Glider and Viper Pilot.)  Cobra Commander was a lighter shade of blue.  Destro was black with red highlights.  Major Bludd was black with brown.  The Hiss Driver was red.  The FANG and the Hiss tank were red and black and black, respectively.  Sure, you had the white SNAKE armor.  But, even that was standardized as a Cobra color in 1984 with advent of the CLAW.  Cobra moved away from some of the standardization as the line progressed.  But, that early core cemented the idea of Cobra to me.  They were the blue and black brigade: fearsome terrorists (usually heavily Russian in the early '80's) who were willing and able to destroy the American way of life.  The Hiss Tank gave them power.  No longer were they some guys with Warsaw Pact small arms trying to infiltrate a town.  Now, they could roll their armor against any American city and impose their will while the populace waited for the military to arrive and turn their town into a ravaged war zone.

My favorite quality of the Hiss Tank is the durability.  The Hiss is sturdy.  As such, my original Hiss survived in pretty good shape while most of the vehicles which we acquired at the same time suffered damage and wear.  With few moving parts and a generally strong design, the Hiss withstood the constant play a 10 year old could put on his favorite toy.  That strength, though, is also a likely reason why vintage Hiss Tanks are cheap today.  On the surface, it is the most popular Cobra vehicle and is army built heavily.  Yet, they remain relatively cheap.  The surface reason is that Hasbro sold a LOT of Hiss Tanks in the early 1980's and then the tank had a very long life as a mail away as well.  However, I think the fact that good conditioned Hisses were common survivors of childhood collections meant that fewer found the trash can back in their release window.  Broken toys were thrown away in my home and many of friends faced the same policies.  If the Hiss didn't break, it was more likely to survive and be available for the adult market.

In my childhood collection, I had three Hiss Tanks: two black versions and the Sears SMS.  This convoy formed the backbone of my Cobra army for years and years.  For a time, the Hisses were replaced by STUNs.  But, I was always brought back to the Hiss because I had so few Cobra vehicles in general.  But, as a vehicle, the Hiss was pretty much perfect.  The cannons were large enough to plausibly destroy smaller Joe vehicles and do damage to the perimeter defenses around Joe bases.  But, they were also small enough to be used for anti-infantry purposes.  They could elevate to shoot down aircraft and the gunner was, relatively, protected for a Cobra vehicle.  The Driver was exposed.  But, the sloping bulletproof canopy was uses as a shield that could deflect most small arms fire away from the cockpit.  The Hiss was large enough to hold four figures (though, at some point, almost every Hiss that saw extensive play suffered a broken foot peg on the rear figure stand) while small enough to be easy to transport and play with.  Like the VAMP, the Hiss was pretty much an ideal toy for kids of the day.

The detail on the tank, though, is what elevates even beyond the basic construction quality.  While the pins that hold the guns into position are often broken, the rest of the tank had little in the way of moving parts.  While it would have been cool to have moving treads, the wheels hidden beneath the tank worked perfectly well and left the rolling tracks to be part of your imagination.  The cockpit is well detailed with controls and buttons that make it appear high tech.  The sides of tank features molded rivet marks to show where the steel is fastened together.  It's a cool little detail that brings more depth to the tank's appearance (which is important due to the overall black color) and adds an element of design that was missing on most, cheaper toys of the day.  Two figures could ride on the back of the tank.  The platform is large enough to be useful and pose figures less awkwardly than most of the later vehicles which incorporated the same feature.  The gun turret is nicely detailed and there is a sticker to show the gun controls.  The canopy fits tightly over the cockpit and is easily held in place.  The entire package is a marvel of toy engineering and holds up remarkably well more than 30 years later.

The Hiss Tank was a staple of international release.  Hasbro repainted the Hiss for the Sears exclusive SMS in 1985.  But, the tank was also released in Brazil, Argentina, Europe and Japan.  Palitoy released an exclusive coloring of the mold called the Hyena and released it with Red Jackal.  In 1991, the canopy was retooled for the Septic Tank.  Hasbro retained the mold in modern times and released a Toys R Us exclusive version in early 2001, a convention exclusive tank in 2002 and then a KB exclusive crimson version in late 2004.  Oddly, though, Hasbro would not revisit the mold again.  In the modern line, remakes of the Hiss have been rather ubiquitous, but they have gotten some really nice repaints that are sadly missing from the vintage line.  Hiss collectors will keep themselves occupied for a long time tracking down all the international and packaging variants.  (There are sticker variants as well between the retail release and mail away versions.)  But, the general look of the Hiss was kept consistent and there are really only three materially different color schemes: black, red and the 2001 purplish-blue.

Hiss Tanks are not expensive.  Nicely conditioned tanks, with the blueprints run under $25.  Just the tank alone runs between $15 and $20, usually depending on the condition of the gun mounts or stickers.  For a vehicle that is as popular as it is and as important as it is to the Cobra army, that is a pittance and there's no reason why any army building collector doesn't have a convoy of Hiss Tanks to transport his troops.  But, collectors are fortunate that such an iconic and important piece of Cobra equipment is also so ubiquitous.  There's no excuse for anyone to not have a Hiss convoy as large as they want except for sheer indifference to the toy's availability.  If only we'd gotten a couple of more repaints in the 2000's.  But, when the original is as perfect as the Hiss, it's hard to not just be grateful for what it is.  33 years later, this vehicle still remains the backbone of my Cobra vehicle motor pool.  I'm not alone in that which is a testament to the incredible quality of this toy.

1983 Hiss Tank, Cobra Trooper, 1984 Stinger Driver, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer, MMS, Stormshadow, Black Major, Red Laser, Bootleg

1983 Hiss Tank, Cobra Trooper, 1984 Stinger Driver, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer


1983, 1984, Destro, Baroness, Hiss Tank, Baroness, Firefly, Scrap Iron, Cobra Trooper, Hiss Driver, Cobra Officer, Viper Pilot, Stormshadow

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

1991 Sci Fi

I started reviewing G.I. Joe figures in 1999.  These days, pretty much every collector that's still around is at least familiar with all the figures released in the vintage Joe line.  In 1999, though, that was not the case.  The vast majority of collectors stopped collecting at 1987 and had little desire to learn anything about the figures released after that year.  If you wanted to buy Joes made in 1987 or earlier, they were plentiful.  You could find a good deal of 1988 and 1989 collections online from students who were selling off their childhood toys for beer money.  But, anything made after 1989 was actually pretty hard to find.  It wasn't uncommon to go weeks without seeing any 1990 or later figures offered for sale.  Individual figures were nearly impossible to find unless you bought a large lot.  But, since these lots often sold for under $2 per mint, complete with filecard figure, it wasn't a huge burden to pick up the extras for the sake of the figure you did want.

My childhood was immersed in pre 1988 Joes.  A decade later, I could still fully equip the entire line from memory.  I had a passing knowledge of 1988 and 1989 figures as I was still dedicated to the comic and my younger brothers bought enough items that I owned cardbacks and catalogs.  After 1989, though, my only real resource regarding Joes were the fleeting memories of a kid down the street who had some figures that I had seen when I babysat him and his little brother.  From here, I recalled Big Ben and Metal Head.  But, I couldn't have told you if they were released in 1990 or 1991.  So, when I returned to Joe collecting, my primary focus was to acquire later edition figures that I had not owned as a child.  (I still had pretty much all my childhood figures and, while they weren't mint or complete in many cases, I considered them good enough at the time to satisfy my collecting goals.)  In short order, I acquired most of the 1990 through 1992 line.  As I did so, I discovered the quality of these figures was easily up to par with that of the figures from the '80's.  While most collectors at the time would not have entertained the thought of these figures supplanting the vaunted 1985 and 1986 series, I found that there were hidden gems among these years.

In my zeal to overshare everything, I started a website to showcase these figures.  17 years ago today, that site went live with the review of a 1990 Decimator.  The purpose was to tell the story of later figures and "prove" there was life in the tail end of the Joe line.  7 of the first 10 profiles I did were of figures made in the 1990s.  While I did showcase a large volume of '80's figures, too, the first year of the site was heavy on figures from 1990 through 1993.  I doubt this had little impact.  It was only as more collectors whose childhoods occurred in the 1990's came of age and the older collectors ran out of pre-1988 figures to buy that interest in the line's later years began to flicker.  Now, most collectors can find favorites in any year and the real dichotomy remains between the construction styles rather than the release years.

Among the figures I acquired in one of those early lots was the 1991 Sci Fi figure.  In my amazement at the Crimson Guard Immortal, Desert Scorpion, Topside and Salvo, this figure slipped through the cracks and fell into obscurity.  If you peruse the thousands of photos on this site, you will see the figure very rarely appears.  But, if I opened the 1991 figure drawer looking for a photography subject, there were so many great figures from which to choose that I would overlook Sci Fi.  Plus, I really liked the 1986 version and that was my default if I wanted the character.  But, like many 1991 figures, Sci Fi is a solid figure worthy of a second look.

The original Sci Fi figure did not have a removable helmet and was rather bulky and bright.  The 1991 version solved those issues and gave collectors a drastically different view of the character.  Sci Fi's head was fully visible and his helmet was now removable.  The helmet still features the open face of the original figure.  But, does have goggles and what appears to be some mouth protection.  The base uniform is grey with black details.  Just so you remember that this is a 1991 release, though, Sci Fi also feaures bright yellow gloves and stripes.  He's more muted than the 1986 figure, but still has some color to him that showcase his release year.

The mold isn't overly detailed, though the head sculpt is quite good.  The figure pretty much has a vest and wrist gauntlets.  That's it.  Sans helmet, Sci Fi isn't much to review.  With the helmet and his full complement of gear, there is a lot more there.  But, Sci Fi is definitely an example of capable minimalism.  He works despite his simplicity.  The basic colors work well together and the splash of color gives him depth.  There's just enough here to create a nice toy without overdoing it.

Hasbro's dedication to accessories started with a few, sporadic 1987 figures.  You saw it again in 1988.  But, it expanded in 1989 and, by 1990, figures were laden with gear.  Sci Fi is no exception.  He includes a removable helmet, backpack, laser rifle and two hoses.  If this isn't enough, there is also a spring loaded missile launcher and a yellow missile.  The silver pack and gun add to the futuristic nature of Sci Fi's specialty.  But, the rifle later appeared as a stand alone item in so many multi colored weapon trees in 1993 and 1994 that it's uniqueness was lost.  The missile launchers of 1991 were designed to be more realistic and less intrusive that those that would come later.  So, the launcher plugs into a hose and generally fits the look and scale of the figure.  Overall, the gear enhances Sci Fi's look and makes him much stronger as a release.

For me, this Sci Fi is one of those background figures that you need to make the line work.  He's not going to be anyone's favorite.  The lime green original took chances and created a figure that you either love or hate.  This version inspires neither such emotion.  It is one of the multitudes of figures that simply are.  They are great to have around in dios or manning vehicles.  And, you need them for that.  But, he's not a figure that you notice or go out of your way to include in a collection.  But, that's ok.  The Joe line's strength was the army of figures and characters who filled in behind the main players.  You had a figure for every occasion.  That's what lead so many kids to buy them all.  You may not have wanted this Sci Fi.  But, you probably wanted a laser trooper.  So, when you saw this guy, you'd, eventually, buy him.

Hasbro seemed to have a reluctance to redo some of the original 13 Joes.  Stalker, Snake Eyes, Hawk, Rock and Roll and even Scarlett got multiple vintage versions.  Clutch, Grunt and Zap eventually saw new versions, too. Short Fuse, Breaker, Grand Slam, Steeler and Flash did not.  (OK, Grand Slam got a repaint, but that's not really a new version.)  Why these four characters were ignored while others were not is a mystery.  Maybe the designers didn't like them.  Maybe they just liked the replacement characters better.  This Sci Fi could easily have been Flash.  But, the same could be said for the V1 of the character, too.  My affinity for Flash was his original outfit being so different from the other, carded figures'.  So, I don't mind this being Sci Fi over Flash, even if Sci Fi is a bit more obscure.

This Sci Fi was only made by Hasbro.  He was released in the U.S., Europe and various Asian countries.  The figures are no different, but the packaging can be quite fun to track down.  In 1993, Hasbro repainted the mold in white and included him as the pilot of the Starfighter.  This is a nice remake of Sci Fi and is also worth owning.  The figure then disappeared until 2001.  Hasbro resurrected the body and added a new, Cobra head and released the figure as the now unappreciated Laser Viper.  That marked the end of the mold.  Sci Fi would have been a nice member of the Anti Venom set and it's hard to understand how Hasbro could remake the same mold over and over while neglecting an easy repaint that was right before their eyes.  This body painted like the V1 would have been a hit in the 2000's.  But, like so much in that time period, it was simply not meant to be.

Sci Fi figures are not expensive.  You can get a carded version for around $20.  Mint, loose and complete with filecard figures usually run around $7, with some going cheaper if you skip the filecard or one of the easily replaced hoses.  Dealer pricing runs around $11.  But, the figure isn't overly difficult to find and appears with enough frequency that the extra price for expediency isn't really worth it.  The figure is a good addition to a collection, though.  He's the least gaudy of the vintage laser troopers and his gear is solid.  The removable helmet is a nice touch and adds some depth to the figure.  He's one of those guys that is great to have, but you don't miss him if he's absent

1991 Sci Fi, Laser Trooper, 1993 Payload, Star Brigade