Monday, February 29, 2016

1991 Eco Warriors Cesspool - Around The Web!

I hadn't planned on posting anything today.  But, a leap year is a once in four year event and figured I'd take advantage of that.

Cesspool is a solid character and even better figure.  He gets denigrated a bit for being in the Eco Warriors subset.  But, that's really unfair as he's one of the better Cobras created after the 1980's.  Here's some of the best content around the web for the character.

Cesspool Profile

Poluicao - Brazilian Exclusive Cesspool Profile

Cesspool at JoeDios.com

Cesspool at JoeBattleLines.com

Cesspool at JoeADay.com

Eco Warriors at IceBreakers HQ

Cesspool Video Review



Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage

I have never profiled an entire set of toys at once.  I've touched on individual figures or separate parts of vehicles.  But, I have never looked at a set as a whole.  The reason for Operation Crimson Sabotage being the first is the remarkable presentation and price that set offers.  Three army building figures, a classic Cobra vehicle repaint and a towed vehicle that had not been seen at retail in 15 years for $20 was beyond comprehension at the time.  Of course, collectors anticipated the set with a fervor that had been originally reserved for the Cobra Infantry from January of the same year.  And, the set did not disappoint.

The Crimson Sabotage set included three army building Crimson Guards, a red Hiss Tank and a Crimson ASP gun emplacement.  All of this was thrown into a nice window box and sold at KB Toy stores for a whopping price of $20.  In 1998, three figures sold for $10 at Toys R Us.  In 2001, a repainted Hiss Tank with driver also sold for $10 at Toys R us.  So, 3 years later, collectors got the tank, three figures and an ASP for the same total price.  (You basically substituted the Hiss Driver for an ASP.  While army builders may have wanted a 4th figure, not too many complained about what amounted to, basically, a free ASP.)  Naturally, collector interest was high.  But, delays in release and the confirmation of a Toys R Us set with more Crimson Guards somewhat tempered the set's release.  But, that doesn't diminish the set's quality at all.

The Crimson Guard figures in the set were based on the body mold first used for Agent Faces and planned for the cancelled Infiltrate Cobra Island set that was supposed to to include Snake Eyes, Duke and Gung Ho disguised as Crimson Guards.  This time around, though, the figure was given a new head.  The upside to the Sabotage set was that each of the three figures were slightly different.  One had red hair.  One had black hair.  The final figure featured an African American skin tone.  So, for army builders, the set offered the diversity that made the figures less homogeneous.  Of course, though, these figures were often displayed with helmets affixed which rendered the differences moot.

In 2005, Hasbro released the red haired figure again in the Toys R Us exclusive Crimson Guard set.  This set just included 4 of these figures.  The Sabotage figures, though, were slightly different.  Below is a comparison photo:

2003 Agent Faces, 2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage, 2005 Crimson Guard, Toys R Us Exclusive, Mail Away Exclusive, KB Toys Exclusive






The first figure is the mail away Agent Faces.  Aside from the unique head, Faces has a yellow Cobra sigil, dark cords and silver medallions.  The next three figures are from the Crimson Sabotage set.  These figures also feature yellow sigils and dark cords.  The medallions, though, are also a dark, metallic copper color.  The biggest difference is that the Crimson Sabotage figures all feature a Crimson Sabotage insignia on their right arms.  The final figure is the Toys R Us exclusive figure.  You see the red hair is the same as the Sabotage figure.  But, the Toys R Us figure features a golden Cobra sigil.  The shoulder cords are significantly lighter as are the medallions.  With helmets on, the 5 unique figures are very similar.  But, they are different enough to build an army with different ranks or just different units.  These subtle differences are nice.

2004 Crimson Guard, 2005 Crimson Guard, Hiss Tank, Operation Crimson Sabotage, KB Toys Exclusive, Toys R Us Exclusive






























The three figures included the standard CG helmet and a newly sculpted shotgun.  The shotgun didn't make much sense and isn't a weapon that's all that useful.  Really, the figures suffer for it.  While there were a lot of complaints about the infantry themed gear in the TRU set, it at least looked good with the figure.  The shotgun does not and is a disappointment.  But, army building accessories in the 2000's were notoriously awful.  As such, third party weapons makers were able to fill a massive demand by offering weapons for the awe inspiring army builders of the day that were better suited for the figures.

2004 Crimson Guard, 2005 Crimson Guard, Hiss Tank, Operation Crimson Sabotage, KB Toys Exclusive, Toys R Us Exclusive


The Hiss and ASP were the centerpiece of the set.  The vehicles were a throwback to the 1985 SMS set.  (KB also got a Crimson MOBAT based on the CAT Tank for release the same year.  It had a similarly sordid release tale, too, that I'll someday get around to.)  The Hiss and ASP combo, though, were a bit better.  First, they were both classic Cobra vehicles.  Secondly, they were colored in line with the Crimson theme.  Thirdly, they featured some intricate paint applications that made them more than just red and black.  Finally, they featured a strong sticker application that tied the set to it's origins, but also set them apart from some of the other Crimson sets that had been tried in the past.

The result is a vehicle complement for the Crimson Guards that made them the best equipped Cobra faction of the modern era.  The 2001 Hiss III tank was done in a purple hue.  As such, it's generally the forgotten member of the Hiss family: especially since original Hiss Tanks remain so cheap on the second hand market.  This set was great, though, and showed that Hasbro had the means to produce cheap vehicle sets and pairing them with a nice cadre of figures ensured their retail success.  Yet, for whatever reason, Hasbro rarely took advantage of this market.  We know that Hasbro had access to the Hiss II mold, the Warthog, the Stun and many other vehicle molds.  Yet, Hasbro mostly relegated those molds to limited Convention releases.  While I wouldn't trade this set for many others, it would have been nice for Hasbro to have given collectors a few more vehicle choices.

The Hiss and ASP are about as iconic Cobra as you can get.  They don't require much exposition since pretty much every collector has at least one version of each in their collection.  The bi colored vehicles, though, are an excellent way to bring some life to the molds.  The black seat of the ASP and the black parts of the Hiss Tank set the molds off nicely and are good updates to the vintage pieces.  Paired with the SMS and vintage Crimson Hiss makes for a great Crimson convoy.  It's an impressive array of hardware for an elite unit.  But, in absence of anything else, it was nice to get such an amazing set of vehicles and figures for such a cheap price.

2004 Crimson Guard, 2005 Crimson Guard, Hiss Tank, Operation Crimson Sabotage, KB Toys Exclusive, Toys R Us Exclusive, ASP

2004 Crimson Guard, 2005 Crimson Guard, Hiss Tank, Operation Crimson Sabotage, KB Toys Exclusive, Toys R Us Exclusive, ASP


When the Sabotage set was released, collectors were extremely excited.  Online forums were full of boasts of buying out every set that was found.  KB Toys' online set offered pre-orders for the set.  But, in the weeks leading to the set's release, these orders were cancelled.  The story was that the entire stock had been moved to the brick and mortar stores.  While many collectors were worried about finding the sets before, these cancellations set off wholesale panic.  Toy collector magazines began naming the set a good "investment" and likely to quickly appreciate on the second hand market.  Forums were full of pleas from collectors who lived no where near a KB for someone to help them acquire sets at cost plus shipping.  The collecting world braced for a storm.  When reports of the first sets found at retail hit, the collecting community went into overdrive.  Initial sets sold on Ebay for close to $60 each, even as they were actively shipping.  It looked like all the irrational fears of shortages were about to come true.

But, a few things then happened.  First, many collectors were not fully attuned to the army building fatigue that was finally settling.  While collectors still wanted army builders over all other figures, the reality was that from the latter half of 2003 through the end of 2004, Hasbro had been very good at getting army builders into collector hands.  The Python Patrol, Cobra Infantry, Urban Strike, Army Builder Wave and the Comic Packs had all combined to suck up collector's money and slowly siphon off some of the pent up demand for Cobras.  The second thing that happened, actually happened in late 2003.  Hasbro released Agent Faces as a mail away.  For $2.99 and 12 flag or battle points, collectors could get two Faces figures.  With the helmets on, those figures were almost the same as the Crimson Guards from this set.  Most collectors of the time had several, if not several dozen, Agent Faces figures by the time the Crimson Sabotage Set was released.  The third, and most important thing that happened was that news of a Toys R Us exclusive Crimson Guard 6 figure pack surfaced and were confirmed during the initial waves of the Sabotage set shipping.  Collectors now knew they could fill up on Crimson Guard figures without having to store tons of extra vehicles.

All of this left the Sabotage sets lingering at retail.  While some stores had sold through initial shipments in minutes, these later shipments sat for a while.  To add insult, stacks upon stacks of unsold Crimson Sabotage sets started to appear at KB Toy Liquidators stores.  While they still carried the original $20 price tag, it was evidence that the sets had either been over ordered, or had simply not been all that popular.  While all this was going on, Toys R Us released a set with 3 Joe figures, a VAMP and a Whirlwind.  If you had asked anyone which set would be more popular, you would have gotten zero votes for the VAMP.  Yet, by early 2005, the VAMP sets were gone from Toys R Us while KB was struggling to give away the last of the Crimson Sabotage sets.  It is known the Toys R Us ordered around 16,000 VAMP sets.  But, the KB numbers for Crimson Sabotage were not generally available.  It might have been a much higher number.  Or, it might have been the same and the difference was just the lower traffic that KB stores received.  Regardless, the set was widely available for a long time and anyone who had access to a KB during the release window had ample opportunities to acquire a set, in some cases, even on clearance.

The result of all this was that Operation Crimson Sabotage sets were very cheap for a long time.  Even into 2009 and 2010, you could get them for under retail.  (Shipping would kill you, though.)  Now, though, the sets have become harder to find.  Boxed sets sell in the $40 range.  Loose, complete with filecard sets sell between $25 and $30.  If you sacrifice the filecard, you can get a set cheaper.  But, oddly, buying the individual parts of the set is substantially more expensive.  Being almost 12 years removed from the set's release, the pricing is probably a bit high.  But, the set is nothing short of excellent and no Crimson army is complete without at least one.  But, there are a lot of Crimson Hiss tanks out there vying for collector attention.  But, this is the only way to get an ASP and the coloring is well worth the acquisition of the entire set: especially since all the component pieces were so well done.

2004 Crimson Guard, 2005 Crimson Guard, Hiss Tank, Operation Crimson Sabotage, KB Toys Exclusive, Toys R Us Exclusive, ASP

2004 Crimson Guard, 2005 Crimson Guard, Hiss Tank, Operation Crimson Sabotage, KB Toys Exclusive, Toys R Us Exclusive, ASP

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1986 Mission to Brazil Leatherneck

I have often chronicled my Mission to Brazil figures.  In fact, with the addition of this Leatherneck figure, I have now profiled all five figures that were included with the set.  The reason for this is that the Mission to Brazil figures were among the most important items in my collection during my final year of playing with toys in 1987.  They hold a special spot with me for that reason.  The sentimentality likely obscures the fact that this set is mostly less than stellar repaints.  Had this set been released in 2006, I would likely have lambasted it for the terrible color choices.  (Though it would have gotten points for the molds.)  But, vintage paints a different picture for me and the fact that these figures were an important part of the tail end of my childhood Joe experience forever makes them important to me.

The Mission to Brazil set featured 5 figures (Leatherneck, Wet Suit, Dial Tone, Mainframe and Claymore) and a cassette tape all boxed together in a nice presentation for retail shelves.  My local Toys R Us store stacked them on the front endcap of the Joe aisle during the holiday season in 1986.  There were stacks and stacks of the sets sitting there.  I would pick up the set and look at each time I was at the store.  And, each time, I would notice the stacks getting smaller and smaller.  I never, specifically, asked for the set.  But, 1986 was an odd year.  Usually, I got a large G.I. Joe toy for my birthday.  In 1983, it was the Skystriker.  In 1984, it was the Whale.  In 1985, it was the Moray.  But, I didn't get such a present in 1986.  The Terrordrome was out.  And, while it was more expensive than the other toys, it was not outlandishly so.  But, I have no recollection of even wanting a Terrordrome.  (I had bought myself a Tomahawk in the fall when I got $50 for house sitting for a neighbor while they wintered in Arizona.)  Something else must have occupied my time in the fall of 1986 to take my focus off of Joe.  I can't recall what it was.  But, on Christmas morning, I found the Mission to Brazil set under the tree.

1986 was a huge Joe year for me.  I had tons of lawn mowing money and bought up each and every figure I found.  I completed the full run of '86 figures by summer and then focused on vehicles.  (I got both the Havoc and Stun by calling local toy stores to ensure their stock.  The local Children's Palace said they had Stuns in stock, but couldn't guarantee how long they'd be there.  I went a few days later and found them, literally, stacked half way to the ceiling.  I guess they overestimated short term demand.)  I spent my time developing a rich alternate world in which I could immerse myself for hours.  Each and every figure I owned had a more than superficial characterization.  And, the newer figures all got the largest roles.  As such, getting repainted versions of characters I already owned didn't really excite me.  What did excite me, though, was that I now had figures who could be used as representations of Joe army builders.

I needed Joes who could die.  But, I didn't want to kill off major characters as I had a long going continuity and killing someone meant the figure would then be useless.  (I would kill off Joes whose figures broke or wore out, though.  When I got newer versions of those figures, though, I was left with a conundrum of how to bring the character back.)  The Mission to Brazil set gave me four new army building figures.  Wet Suit was a nameless diver who could die at the hands of Eels.  Mainframe was a scientific trooper builder who would man command posts, gunnery stations or missile units.  Dial Tone was a hybrid.  I liked the figure and made him more of a character.  But, he broke early and didn't get the attention the other figures did.  This Leatherneck became my de facto special forces trooper.  Armed with the excellent M-203, these troopers were the equivalent of the Cobra Snow Serpent (the best trained troopers in Cobra!) and were nearly Joes.  Many of the later characters of my own creation had their roots in these special forces units.

In this capacity, the Mission to Brazil figures saw great amounts of use.  This Leatherneck was often the final wave of reinforcements who would arrive to save the Joes.  There were times when he was a lone commando who was paired with Joes.  He would then fail to impress and die, or become someone whom the Joes would watch for eventual membership.  Somewhere along the line, I assigned the Leatherneck figure the grey Zap bazooka from the Battle Gear pack.  This made the special forces more deadly as they carried assault rifles, grenade launchers and the bazookas.  When the brown version of Leatherneck's rifle was released in a later Battle Pack, I gave that to this figure.  This allowed me to give the grey version to the 1986 General Hawk figure.  Hawk then became a younger, combatant General rather than an older, figurehead type character.

Throughout 1987, the Mission to Brazil Leatherneck figure was an essential part of my collection.  He went with me to my Grandparents' homes.  I actually created an entire storyline for the character around a huge, underground Cobra prison that was defined by the limestone terraced walls of my Dayton Grandparent's home.  As 1988 began, though, my Joes were put away.  I was too old to be playing with them.  Leatherneck was among the last figures to be packed into sandwich baggies inside some old shoe boxes in my closet.  He retained his relevance for quite some time.  But, once the figure was packed away, his importance slipped.  When I restarted my Joe collection in the mid 1990's, the special forces army builders were trumped by a new series of special commissions troopers.  These characters relegated special forces to 2nd class status and this Leatherneck figure has never again gained the popularity he enjoyed in my youth.

The Leatherneck mold was used just three times.  The first for for the original figure.  This Mission to Brazil repaint followed in the same year.  The final release came in Brazil.  There, around 1991, the figure was released in colors based on the version 1 figure, but using a little brighter green base color.  That figure (Oficial De Reconhecimento) is also named Leatherneck  The mold disappeared from there.  Most of the figures released contemporarily with the Leatherneck in Brazil have also never reappeared.  Hasbro might have had the mold, or they might not have.  Either way, collectors only have two distinctive appearances for the character with a third, derivative, variant from the International marketplace.

Mission to Brazil figures are more expensive than their retail release counterparts.  There was a time when they were $30 figures with some going as high as $50.  But, the fact that they include the same accessories as the retail release helps keep the prices tempered.  These days, you can get them between $12 and $18 depending on the people in the market.  Most dealers still try to get $30 or more.  And, those do sell from time to time to impatient collectors.  The distinctive filecards for the set are the harder find and tend to raise prices up.  But, if you just want the figure, they are much more affordable than they were a few years ago.  I have a sentimental attachment to the Mission to Brazil set.  Without that, it's doubtful I'd have all the figures, or maybe any of the figures.  But, the set is worthwhile.  It's nice to have an environmentally themed Leatherneck figure and it's nice that some of these great molds say at least one vintage repaint.  In this day and age, many collectors have space as a premium.  If I'm making cuts, only the Mission to Brazil Wet Suit would beat out his original paint job for a spot in my collection.  But, that's an imperfect argument.  I'd keep this Leatherneck figure over many other figures released both before and after him.  It was nice to have him out to remind myself of younger days.  The value in that is immeasurable.

1986 Mission to Brazil, Leatherneck, Marine, Toys R Us Exclusive, 1987 Crazylegs

Thursday, February 11, 2016

1994 Cobra Blackstar - Around the Web

The Cobra Blackstar is one of the final Cobras to be released.  He is, technically, an individual character.  But, he is affiliated with a group of "mysterious space pilots" and "may not even be human".  Regardless of your feelings on aliens and G.I. Joe, this is a figure worth tracking down.  Here's some of the best content on the web for the figure:

1994 Cobra Blackstar Profile

Blackstar at 3DJoes.com

Blackstar at HalftheBattle.com

Preproduction Cobra Blackstar at YoJoe.com

Blackstar at JoeDios.com

1994 Cobra Blackstar, Star Brigade, MOC, Carded

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

1988 Toxo Viper

In 1982, the original series of Joes that were introduced were solidly planted in military realism.  While this certainly was a linchpin in their initial success, it was the deviation from the traditional military in the subsequent years that allowed for greater characterization that really drove the line's immortality.  While there were bizarre concepts like Zartan and the Crimson Twins, though, Joe still maintained strong military ties.  The Joes themselves were splashed with more color, but they didn't stray too far from the core concept.  As the years progressed, though, the line moved more and away from it's traditional roots in military realism.

While it's easy to see the progression from 1982 through 1994, it is the year of 1987 that really stands as the line of demarcation between military and fantasy.  It is likely the G.I. Joe animated movie was the catalyst for the change.  But, 1986's Serpentor had laid the groundwork for Cobra La.  1988, though, was a bit truer to Joe's roots.  The Joes were (mostly) solidly colored, military specialists.  Gone from Cobra were the mutants and clones.  Destro's Iron Grenadiers were introduced as well, bringing back a traditional villain, but one who was rooted in military avant garde technology.  There were just six Cobra characters released in 1988: one Dreadnok and five new army builders.  The new troops in Cobra's ranks were all highly specialized and on the forefront of technology as well.  They featured two astronauts (Astro Viper and Star Viper), two underwater specialists (Hydro Viper and Secto Viper) and the subject of this profile: the 1988 Toxo Viper.

As a concept, the Toxo Viper is quite strong.  A series of biological warfare troops capable of delivering a chemical attack anywhere at any time is quite frightening.  As a design, though, the figure is nothing short of bizarre.  In the late 1980's, the Joe line had some people working on it with a very different sense of creation.  They introduced many of the more "out there" concepts to Joe.  Their influence zenith was 1987 and 1988 and the lines of those two years.  You can see the different ideas in designs like this Toxo Viper.  While the figure's head is somewhat rooted in reality with the internal breathing mask, the helmet that covers it is nothing short of outlandish.  The color combo of brown, yellow, aqua blue and red just adds to the bizarreness that is the Toxo Viper.

This brief segue away from realism, though, was an infusion of concepts that might not have otherwise been released.  This Toxo viper laid the groundwork for Eco Warriors.  And, while you can argue that Eco Warriors are a bad thing, collectors did get some solid figure designs from the subset.  But, Toxo Vipers also helped Cobra appear more deadly.  Sure, the comic showed Cobra's military might with them taking over entire countries.  But, the reality is that such an endeavor would be expensive and wasteful.  Toxo Vipers allowed Cobra to terrorize the masses and launch full scale attacks with minimal personnel.  With just half a dozen Toxo Vipers, Cobra could take out an entire US military installation.  The toxins could be neurological or biological.  But, they would be effective and allow a small organization like Cobra to take on much larger opponents.

The Toxo Viper mold appeared three times.  The first, obviously, was for this figure who was released in 1988 and 1989.  In the early 1990's, Hasbro sent the mold to Brazil.  Estrela then released it in a brighter color of purple in the Forca Electronica series.  This figure was named Maligno and is actually quite hard to find.  The mold then made its way to India.  Funskool released a darker purple version of the Toxo Viper for many years.  The Funskool figure is probably the best version of the figure and was widely available from American dealers in the early 2000's.  Funskool ceased production on the Toxo Viper in 2004 when they started returning molds to Hasbro.  The Toxo Viper was not among the first 18 molds returned.  But, he may have been part of subsequent returns to Hasbro.  The mold, though, was not used by Hasbro and has not seen production since the last Funskool runs.  This leaves collectors with two easy to acquire versions and one very hard to get version: all of which are slight variances of the same color scheme.  While it would have been nice to see something outlandish on this mold from Funskool for a final variant, I'm content with the three versions.

Mint and complete Toxo Vipers aren't that hard to find.  While the backpack prongs are brittle and prone to breakage and the figure's nose is susceptible to paint wear, the number of unbroken, mint specimens out there is vast.  The figure's relative lack of popularity hurts it and the bizarre color scheme keeps collectors from really army building them en masse.  These days, mint and complete with filecard figures run around $8.  You can get them as low as $6 if you forego the filecard and if you will take a broken pack or rubbed nose, they get even cheaper.  At the price, they are a good acquisition.  But, after you have 6 or 7, the figure's value diminishes greatly.  Unlike the classic army builders who are often amassed in multiples of 10, these more specialized Cobra troopers work better in small doses.  The result is a solid figure that's affordable.  The line needs more of those.

1988 Toxo Viper, 1986 Dr. Mindbender, 2008 Headhunter BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Convention Exclusive

1988 Toxo Viper, 1987 Mercer, Slaughters' Renegades

Thursday, February 4, 2016

1986 AVAC - Around the Web

The Air Viper Advanced Corp or AVAC figure was released in 1986.  He's a solid army builder who, were he not available as a mail away for many years, would be a lot more expensive than he already is.  Here's some of the best content around the web for the figure:

AVAC Profile



1986 AVAC, Firebat, 1987 Law, Funskool Law

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Condor - Argentine Exclusive Airborne

Condor, Argentina, Plastirama, Airborne, Blowtorch, Antorcha, 1983 General Hawk, SOS, Doc, Medico, Fuego, Brazil, Estrela, Ripcord, Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, 1985 Tactical Battle PlatformWhile my first G.I. Joe figure was Breaker and my earliest memories of the line were playing with my younger brother's Clutch figure, the reality is that I am a Joe collector today because of one figure and one figure alone: Airborne.  In the late, post "Return of the Jedi" summer of 1983, I was captivated by the Airborne figure.  The swivel arm battle grip opened up a huge new realm of play possibilities.  Plus, the figure and his accessories were nothing short of spectacular.  Airborne piqued my curiosity and I found the entire slate of 1983 Joes to be so much more entertaining than the Star Wars figures that had dominated my play patterns from May through June.  With that new notion in hand, I've embarked on a 30+ year collecting odyssey with Joes.