Tuesday, August 15, 2017

1993 Gristle

G.I. Joe's Drug Elimination Force has always been somewhat problematic in the collecting community.  The association of G.I. Joe with the anti-drug sentiment of the late 1980's and early 1990's isn't all that out of the ordinary.  Joe would have been a logical partner for the proponents of that movement.  The real issue in the collecting world is that subsets in general are not overly popular: especially one that introduced a new enemy to the Cobra/Joe/Iron Grenadier dynamic.  But, the DEF is also spared the harshest criticism because the figures that were released under its banner are some of the highlights of the 1990's era Joes.  They are well sculpted, excellently colored and include a great array of accessories.  Really, the only issue with them was the higher price point.  But, it was this price point that doomed the subset as the Joe line began its final descent into obsolescence.  So, with the figures not generating the retail interest that was needed, the 1993 DEF subset was scrapped and the figures who were to be released under that banner were instead incorporated into the general Battle Corps single carded figure line.  Among the new characters for 1993 was Gristle.

I never liked Gristle.  There was something about the figure that simply made me want to avoid him.  During my copious trips to toy stores between 1994 and 1996, Gristle was a figure who was overly common.  I found him at Toys R Us.  I found him at KB Toys.  I found him at Walgreen's.  He was so unpopular that he pegwarmed wherever Joes were sold.  Despite this, I never bought one.  The figure was simply so detestable to me that I passed him by, even going home empty-handed rather than pick him up.  Never, even as my desperation for finding new figures increased, did it occur to me to buy a Gristle figure.  Even when he disappeared from retail, I felt no pangs of regret over passing him by.  I didn't like the figure, I didn't want the figure and I wasn't going to own the figure.

By the late 1990's, though, my stance changed.  With the advent of me finding collectordom, I strove to be a completist.  So, despite my misgivings over a figure, I would, eventually, own one to complete my collection.  As I was one of the few people interested in the sparse loose figure lots that heavily featured figures made after 1990, I was able to acquire many collections: including two that contained Gristle figures.  With him in the fold, I put him out of my mind.  As the 2000's progressed, though, I became a more and more vocal proponent of the 1990's molds as preferred candidates for Hasbro repaints.  Even a figure like Gristle, whose sculpt I did not like, was well designed and would have been well suited to a modern repaint.

This lead me to another re-examination of the Gristle figure.  I thought it was possible that I'd missed a pretty solid figure in my mid 1990's resistance to the character.  But, with the figure now in hand, I found that I still wasn't impressed by him overall.  If I wanted a gritty street thug with bad hair, I had the vastly superior Headman figure for that.  If I wanted a Dreadnok wanna be, there were many options to that better filled that role, too.  The general look of the character didn't fit with any of the new Cobras who I had created.  I was always on the lookout for underutilized Cobra figures that I could co-opt to a new character of my own design.  But, I didn't feel that Gristle's look really fit with my vision of the characters I had created.  In short, Gristle still wasn't a figure that I found overly useful in my collection.

Gristle is big.  As the line progressed, Joe figures added bulk to their sculpts.  Gristle's head is exceedingly large.  This allows for the great facial detail that was designed for him, though.  His hair, glasses and face are all among the best examples of head sculpting that Hasbro produced in the vintage line.  But, it's hard to find pieces onto which the head will fit.  The rest of the body is also well done.  The chest knives and skull belt buckles are exceptionally done.  Gristle has a lot of details.  But, not so many as to take away from the quality design.

The colors, though, kill him.  The maroon and black base really aren't that bad.  While the red tone is somewhat bright: it's also in line with established Cobra colors.  The problem, of course, is the bright yellow.  It provides too great a contrast for the darker red and black and, likely, makes the red more gaudy as the brightness is drawn out by the yellow.  If you replaced all the yellow with silver, Gristle would be among the better Cobra characters from the 1990's.  He would fit with Headhunters and Headhunter Stormtroopers almost perfectly.  But, the yellow relegates him to the scrapheap of the line.

Gristle didn't get much use.  But, he has some significant variants to him.  The most famous Gristle release is from Australia.  There, Gristle was released as a member of the DEF as he was originally intended.  The only difference is the card art.  But, it's a release that has long been popular since it completes Hasbro's intentions for the character.  Gristle was also released in Brazil as Vandalo.  This figure is a bit darker red than the American figure and includes a maroon version of the Headhunter's shotgun.  It is an interesting figure that used to be pretty common but has dried up in recent years.  In 2008, the club repainted Gristle in their convention set.  This figure was colored black and arsenic.  With the painted details, it is the definitive Gristle release.  If you only want the best representation of the character in your collection, get this convention version.

Gristle is a case where being a pegwarmer in the 1990's has lead to being left behind in the 2010's.  MOC figures can be purchased in the $10 - $15 range.  Loose mint and complete with filecard figures tend to sell in the $6 - $8 range from dealers.  The unpopularity of the figure limits supply of non-dealer sales and you'll see lots of complete figures being offered at $12 or more.  However, you don't see any sales at that price.  You can get the figure for a buck or two if you're patient.  For the price, buy a MOC version of the figure.  You get the card art and the neon splendor that defines the early 1990's G.I. Joe figure.

For me, this figure has taken on an interesting place in my collection.  I still do not like the figure and it's rare that I would use him.  However, because Gristle reminds me of those days in the 1990's when I left him hanging on the pegs, he actually has some fun memories associated with him.  I recall friends from long ago rolling their eyes as I jumped over the toy aisle at a drug store when we stopped to buy booze.  I remember going to a store with my girlfriend's father and debating whether to be too obvious about looking at the toys with him in tow.  And, I recall standing in a TRU aisle with a friend and laughing at figures like Gristle and remembering when G.I. Joe was better.  The ridicule I've long had for the figure stands.  But, the memories of making fun of him now make the figure worth something to me.  I can't really recommend Gristle as he's not a figure I like.  But, he, like all the Joes from the last years, has his upside and there are collectors who have found him a good addition to their collections.

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

Friday, August 11, 2017

1995 Dr. Mindbender Concept Art

As part of the ill conceived "HasCon", Hasbro released this spectacular 1995 Dr. Mindbender Battle Corps Rangers artwork.  It is, to my knowledge, the debut of what would have been this figure's card artwork.  It has taken nearly 25 years for this artwork to come out and it's rather disingenuous of Hasbro to have held it back for a self serving convention that doesn't cater to Joe fans rather than showcase it at any of the 15 Joe conventions that have been held: many encompassing major milestone anniversaries of the brand.  That aside, though, we finally have a glimpse into what this character may have looked like on retail shevles.

From the hand painted sample of this figure that exists, we knew that the figure would be mostly purple and black.  So, the colors aren't really a surprise.  But, there are a few elements to the figure that do stand out.  The most obvious is the black version of the 1992 Wet Suit's rifle.  This is a terrible weapon and would have been a huge disappointment for this figure.  It's an odd choice for sure.  I'll discuss that more later on, though.

The next interesting part is Mindbender's hand.  In the unpainted prototype, the hand appeared to be a monstrous deformity.  On the painted figure, the hand was just purple.  Initially, I could have seen this just being a cost saving measure.  However, the artwork shows that the hand is actually a glove and the razor sharp fingernails are metal weapons built into the fingertips.  On the one hand, this is kind of a cool.  But, on the other hand, it takes away from the monster aspect of Dr. Mindbender.  The unpainted piece always conjured up a ghoulish image of a broken Dr. who was the victim of his own mad experiments.  This artwork, instead, shows a man wearing armor to enhance his fighting prowess.  It's a drastic departure from my ill formed, preconceived notions for the figure.  So, I feel that it's destroying 20 years' worth of my imagination of what this figure would have been.

The final aspect of the art that is great is that we can see Mindbender with his helmet on.  The unpainted prototype has the helmet.  But, the hoses were hard resin, despite the fact that there were holes in the back of the helmet which appeared to be for the hose ends.  This art shows that the figure was likely to have had hoses that did attach into the helmet.  It's possible they would have separate pieces.  Or, the entire helmet may have been planned to be flexible plastic like the mask on the 1994 Shipwreck.  Either way, it could have worked.

Coming back to the gun...I wonder if this Dr. Mindbender was supposed to be a diver.  My first inclination is definitely not.  He doesn't have flippers and any diver would be drawn with those.  But, the Wet Suit gun gives me pause.  and, this artwork clearly shows the mandible like helmet, much more clearly.  This is interesting because of the bug like figure that appears on the 1995 Tactical Battle Platform artwork.  As this figure is attacking the TTBP, it's obvious he is a Cobra.  He is also wielding the Wet Suit gun.  The character's head, though, is looking up with pincers.  In looking more closely at this Mindbender, it appears this is very likely meant to be Dr. Mindbender crawling out of the deep the attack the Joes.  Plus, the helmet with the hoses looks like it could be underwater breathing gear.

Now, I have no idea why Hasbro would make Dr. Mindbender (of all people!) a diver.  It is possible.  The prototype Dr. Mindbender appears to have a webbed left hand.  However, this detail is missing in the artwork.  At any rate, it makes me that much more interested to read this figure's planned filecard to see what Hasbro intended for him.

1995 Dr. Mindbender, Unproduced, Battle Corps Rangers

Thursday, August 10, 2017

1988 Hardball - Around the Web

In 1988, I bought Hardball due to his baseball connection.  In a weird bit of kismet, the day that JoeADay.com showcased the figure, Matt Cain of the Giants threw a perfect game.  I attended my first Cubs game on August 5, 1988.  It was the first of a four game series against the Phillies that would culminate in the first night game in Wrigley Field history.  So, I'm in a baseball kind of mood this week.  So, here's the Joe team's resident ballplayer and the best of his content from around the web.

Hardball Profile

Hardball at JoeADay.com

Hardball Dio 1

Hardball Video Review

Hardball at Joe Wiki

Hardball PreProduction at YoJoe.com

Hardball Dio 2

1988 Hardball, 2016 Stinger BAT, Bootleg, Black Major, Red Laser's Army

1988 Hardball, 1992 Barricade

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

2001 Shadow Viper

There are good ideas and bad ideas that permeate any product that has a wide base.  If you look at any given year of the vintage Joe line, you'll see ideas that probably looked good on paper but didn't translate well to an actual toy.  Conversely, you'll see a figure that's actually really good, but has a fundamentally dumb gimmick.  But, in 2001, Hasbro was so desperate to avoid what was seen as a "mistake" from 7 years prior that they turned in a doozy of a horrible idea.  The filecard team at Hasbro working on the 2000/2001 Joe brand was laughably bad.  But, in the case of the Shadow Viper, they outdid themselves in ludicrousness.  It was almost enough to obscure the fact that they actually produced a pretty solid repaint of the more classic Astro Viper figure.

In 2001, collectors were still almost exclusively adult versions of kids who came of age in Joe's heyday of the early to mid 1980's.  There was an extreme disdain for anything neon.  And, subsets like Star Brigade were hated and ridiculed.  So, Hasbro overcompensated for this when they brought Joe back by avoiding bright colors and bringing a blandness to the line that was probably worse than the neon nineties.  Their zeal for "realism" lead to a sea of green that pretty much looked the same on retail shelves.  On the Cobra side, they didn't really try anything all that daring and most of the Cobras released were barely repaints of the already decent original releases.  But, Hasbro did offer a pretty decent selection of molds that hadn't been seen in a long time.  And, in many cases, would not be seen again.  Among these was the Shadow Viper.  This figure used the body of the 1988 Astro Viper and all his gear.  But, avoiding the Star Brigade stigma, he was not an Astro Viper.  Hasbro came up with a new specialty for the mold.

So, this gets us to the absurdity of the figure.  The Shadow Viper filecard is just terrible.  Ostensibly, the Shadow Vipers are infiltration specialists who are experts in concealment, martial arts and computer hacking.  They sneak into installations using, "a dark, powder like substance that makes them invisible to ground radar and infrared sensors".  Yes, that is their special ability.  They cover themselves in pixie dust.  Despite their stealth and martial arts prowess, the figure includes a space jet pack with protruding laser cannons.  There's no mention of that on the filecard.  Really, the whole exercise of building the character was to make no reference to the mold's origins as a astronaut.  So, they came up with a ludicrously lame gimmick and just made no mention of why the figure includes all his gear.

Collectors of the time rightly ridiculed the filecards of all the figures that came out.  They were horrible.  So, with them discarded, many collectors were fine with adding a new version of the Astro Viper to their collection.  In a time when collectors were demanding Vipers, Cobra Troopers and Officers, Crimson Guards and BATs, Hasbro ignored those pleas and offered a repainted Astro Viper instead.  With so much Hasbro focus on specialty army builders that was counter to the demand for basic troops, figures like the Shadow Viper were pretty easy to find.  It was rare for someone to buy up dozens of figures like this.  Though, there were many collectors who picked up between 6 and 10.
At the time, you'd see a few dios and such where a collector tried to fit the new figures into their version of Joe.  It was often awkward.  And, pics of massive amounts of Shadow Vipers were no where near as popular as those of the more traditional Cobra army builders.

As 2002 turned into 2003, collectors began to be more satisfied with Hasbro's army building releases.  By 2004, collectors had seen several retail releases of the Viper and Alley Viper, a mail way BAT pack and both Crimson Guards and Cobra Troopers/Officers as retailer exclusive releases.  This pretty much buried the Shadow Viper onto the scrap heap of the Cobra army.  You almost never see them in any capacity today.  And, while most collectors have at least one Shadow Viper (if not a few) it's not a figure that they like to display, use or photograph.  It's a harsh fate for a figure that's actually a pretty decent repaint.

In looking at the figure, he has the basis of Cobra royalty in the design.  The Shadow Viper uses blue, a smattering of dark red and silver to create the base for the figure.  The entire body is awash in "paint wipes" which were a method of making a figure look worn.  On one or two offerings, this technique would have been unique and somewhat interesting.  But, Hasbro used it on most of the 2000/2001 era figures and the look got repetitive very quickly.  The wipes dull the figure even more than the dark blue and red and take away the vibrancy that was the hallmark of vintage Joes.  Really, though, this is the best release of the Astro Viper mold and it's really not even close.  The only real issue with the figure is that the hoses that connect on the backpack are probably a bit too short and either won't connect or will easily pop off.  Otherwise, this is just about a perfect repaint of a mold that no one really wanted to see again.

Hasbro royally screwed up the A Real American Hero Collection (ARAHC) in 2001.  The first wave of figures started shipping in October of 2000.  These quickly found an audience and disappeared from the shelves after Christmas.  As 2001 started, Hasbro started shipping their second wave of figures.  This case featured three new sets of figures and two carry overs.  But, there was a flaw.  The cases featured 4 sets of Big Ben and Whiteout.  In fairly short order, that set began to back up.  Simultaneously, the discontinued 2000 sets started to rise in value.  Within a first months of 2001, you could get any Wave II figure you wanted, but the Dial Tone/Tomahawk and Firefly/Undertow sets that had been discontinued were $25 packs on the secondary market.  Yet, Hasbro kept shipping the same, unaltered Wave II case assortment for nearly 6 months.  This backed up the line at all but the busiest toy retailers and made Wave III relatively hard to find.  With the pipeline stopped by all the pegwarmers the line died.  Wave IV, of which the Shadow Viper was a part, found itself heavily shipped to closeout and discount stores.  Here, it sat for quite a while.  You could find Shadow Vipers still hanging around at KB Toy Works stores well into 2003.

The failure of the ARAHC was two fold.  The one bad case assortment really did the line in.  But, in general, the subsequent waves of figures weren't all that exciting.  Collectors were clamoring for army builders and remakes of classic molds.  Collectors who wouldn't have bought an Astro Viper for a penny were gobbling up Shadow Vipers because they were so desperate for anything army builder.  Yet, Hasbro stubbornly stuck to their guns for several years.  Rather than spending their resources on the figures collectors wanted, they produced pathetic repaints, tribute figures and overly specialized army builders who were packed with insipid character repaints.  In retrospect, it seems they were trying to kill the line.  And, considering how quickly the 2002 new sculpts showed up, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they were.  Yet, collectors still look fondly on that time because the figures at least, mostly, included their original gear and the coloring was decent, if repetitive and uninspired.

The Astro Viper was used for the 1988 release of the figure.  From there, it went to Brazil.  Estrela released the Astro Viper in the early 1990's.  The most interesting part of that figure is that he was part of the Iron Grenadiers subset.  But, the figure is pretty similar to the American Astro Viper and hasn't really taken on any sort of collector life.  Oddly, Hasbro got the mold back in 1993 when they released the figure in the Star Brigade subset.  Astro Viper didn't make the cut for the 1994 Star Brigade assortment, though, and disappeared until 2001.  The mold was never used again after that.  It's kind of a shame as the Astro Viper head could have been used for any number of amalgamated Cobras in the repaint era of the 2000's.  But, Hasbro lacked the vision to do anything like that.  So, collectors are left with just the few uses of the mold.

Shadow Vipers have somewhat dried up.  They aren't hard to find.  But, you won't find them with the ubiquity of some of his contemporary army builders.  Left to his own devices, mint and complete with filecard versions sell in the $4 range.  But, on good days, you can get a carded set with the Zartan for about the same price.  Most dealers sell him in the $8 range, though, and they do sell quite well at that price.  So, depending on the size of the army you want and the expediency with which you wish to build said army, you may pay a range of prices.  Considering the figure was likely to have cost you $8 at retail in 2001, either price isn't terrible.

For me, the Shadow Viper is a way to get a better set of Astro Vipers.  You get all the gear and better coloring.  The packs even work on the surprisingly solid 1993 Astro Viper, too.  You can get Shadow Vipers much more cheaply than V1 Astro Vipers so they make sense as an alternative.  But, Cobra lacks any real space vehicle.  And, as the figures don't have stands to give them the appearance of flight, it's tough to incorporate Shadow Vipers into an attack on the Defiant type display.  But, I still like the figure.  Had this figure been released in late 2000 instead of late 2001, I'd probably have more than half a dozen of them.  But, timing played a role.  Still, I've got a couple.  I just don't think about them often.  They are there, ready for duty should the need arise.  But, that need hasn't arisen in over 15 years.  And, after this profile, it might be another 15 before they come out again.  But, the Shadow Viper remains one of those forgotten niceties of the A Real American Hero Collection and probably deserves a better fate.

2001 Shadow Viper, ARAHC, Laser Viper, Astro Viper

2001 Shadow Viper, Astro Viper, ARAHC, Destro

2001 Shadow Viper, ARAHC, Laser Viper, Major Bludd

Thursday, August 3, 2017

1991 BAT - Around the Web

The 1991 BAT was a modernized version of the 1986 classic.  It is sleeker and more humanoid than the original.  But, the neon green and orange are a definite downgrade.  The 2003 repaint showed the mold's potential.  But, this brightly colored 1991 release has its charms.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1991 BAT Profile

1991 BAT Dio

1991 BAT at realheroamericano

1991 BAT at 3DJoes.com

1991 BAT, Battle Android Trooper

1991 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Dial Tone

1991 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Clean Sweep, Eco Warriors

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

1984 VAMP Mark II

My younger brother got a VAMP for his birthday in October of 1982.  A few weeks later, for Christmas, I got one of my very own.  Both of these jeeps were staples of our early play and were put through rugged hardships as they rode down stairs, were left in mud, crashed into walls and were hit by enemy fire resulting in them being turned upside down when they exploded.  In short, they had a great early life.  But, my brother's VAMP was all but destroyed by 1984.  Mine had fared better since it spent most of the first of 1983 being neglected as I focused on Star Wars toys.  But, even it was showing signs of wear from heavy play.  But, more importantly, the VAMP was old.  It had been part of Joe since there was Joe.

As soon as I first saw the 1984 Joe catalog, I began a quest to acquire all the toys that were showcased therein.  While I had a decent income from mowing lawns, I was not about to blow my entire summer earnings on toys when I had an alternative.  My grandmother was always up for spoiling me and I knew she'd be a great source of toys as the year went on.  In the late spring, my family drove to Champaign, Illinois to visit some of my father's relatives.  My grandmother would be there, too.  The day was very sunny and hot for so early in the year.  I recall this as I tried to play out in the driveway with my '84 Firefly and couple other figures.  But, quickly found it uncomfortably warm and there was no shade available that availed itself to play.  So, I spent the rest of trip sitting near the adults as they talked, bored out of my mind.  Before we started the long drive home, though, my grandmother asked me if there were any toys I wanted.  But, as I didn't actually own a 1984 Joe catalog, yet, I had to go by memory.  And, in the spur of the moment, I could only recall the VAMP Mark II.  She dutifully wrote this down and we parted ways.

As summer started, though, the lawn mowing money was coming in frequently.  On one sojourn to the local Children's Palace, I found the VAMP Mark II.  With funds to acquire it handy, I splurged on the jeep and added it to my collection.  With the VAMP Mark II in hand, though, I quickly learned that it had some limitations to go along with the enhancements that were such a selling point.  The newly added doors and roof were great.  But, they also hindered figure movement and play.  I loved having a figure holding an Uzi out of the window as the VAMP went into battle.  But, it was also a hassle getting that figure into the fray when the time came for him to leave the vehicle.  I always used the hood pack as survival gear for the VAMP crew, which was a welcome addition over the original VAMP.  And, the crew having water cans from which they could drink was another realistic detail that I enjoyed.

What I didn't enjoy was that the vehicle had no guns.  As with the Wolverine, I found the VAMP Mark II's missile launcher limiting.  It had four shots in battle and was then spent.  I tried in vain to affix the VAMP cannon to the back, but couldn't reconcile the green gun mount on the tan jeep.  (I later put the VAMP Mark II doors and roof on the original VAMP.  But, the roof is higher than the resting point of the VAMP gun.  So, the guns were always shooting above the advancing infantry, rendering the roof useless.)  Plus, the VAMP Mark II didn't seem as sturdy as the VAMP.  While my VAMP had suffered some beating, the VAMP Mark II broke very quickly once it was in our home.  The roll bars snapped and it just didn't seem up to the challenges of rolling down concrete stairs like the original VAMP had done.  The missile launcher tan that held it onto the body quickly frayed and would not stay in.  The original VAMP gun had been removed many times and was in fine shape.  But the launcher fell apart quickly.  In the end, I took the VAMP Mark II chassis and put it under the original VAMP body.  This way, I got the updated cockpit on the better colored and armed VAMP.

But, even with this, the reality of the VAMP Mark II destroyed the idealistic notions of what the vehicle could have been.  I have few memories of using it and the jeep was mostly just a quickly destroyed weapon when Cobra would attack my Joe base.  As years went on the shell of VAMP Mark II would appear from time to time.  My youngest brother cut the back of the top of the body off.  He could then place it on the frame to appear solid.  But, he would hide a figure or gear in the jeep's "trunk".  This configuration, sans missile launcher, would be used for smuggling or criminals.  This was the fate of the toys that simply didn't live up to their expectations.

As a collector, though, these childhood limitations are things of the past.  I no longer run VAMPs down stairs or crash them into walls.  I'll put figures in and place them on display or even use the vehicle in a photo or two.  But, that's the extent of the use any vehicle gets these days.  As such, I find the VAMP Mark II better today.  It looks cool.  And, there are many desert figures with which to pair it.  The later Desert Striker vehicle used a VAMP like body with the desert color scheme.  But, it is a substantial downgrade from the VAMP Mark II.  The highly detailed interior, weapons and classic design all make for the de facto desert vehicle for tan colored Joes.

VAMP Mark II's are quite popular and can get a little pricey.  There is a much lighter tan mail away variant, too, that commands a substantial premium.  Dealers will charge substantially higher prices for VAMP Mark II's as well.  But, you can get a high quality, complete version in the $25 - $30 range.  Sometimes, you can get them for that price with an included Clutch as well.  You'll see lots of them offered for sale in the $50 to $60 range.  And, with the blueprints, you'll see a few sell here.  But, patience can yield much lower prices.

As the VAMP Mark II is a highly popular VAMP, it is both popular with collectors and lends itself to multiples in a collection.  Being based on the original mold, the VAMP Mark II works well with all early years of Joe figures and you'll often see collectors with three or four that will be used to hold some of their favored beginning years figures.  For me, the vehicle is problematic.  It's cool.  But, my childhood disappointment with it colors my experiences.  I've learned to appreciate it more now.  But, given the choice between this version or the original, I'll add multiple originals before I'd army build the Mark II.

1984 VAMP Mark II, Clutch, Buzzer, Dreadnok, 1985

1984 VAMP Mark II, Clutch, Tiger Force Flint, 1988

1984 VAMP Mark II, Clutch, 1997 Stalker, Snake Eyes

1984 VAMP Mark II, 1992 Talking Battle Commander Stalker, 1990 Bullhorn

Monday, July 31, 2017

2001 Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal - Around the Web

16 Years ago today, I profiled the newly released Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal figure.  At the time of this figure's release, it was one of the most anticipated army builders of all time.  Collectors salivated over being able to buy them by the dozens.  And, they did.  Dealers constantly sold out of the figure as people built up massive armies of CGI's at insanely low prices.

There area  few variants of the figure with him having gold, silver or black bullets on his leg.  You don't see much interest in those variances, now, but they were something fun to differentiate the figure back in 2001.  Today, the Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal is harder to find and is no longer a cheap army builder if you buy carded examples.  And, with lots of army builders to now choose from the limitations of the mold are more evident.  But, this figure is a reminder of a much different time in the Joe world when every month brought news of an upcoming release.  Here's the best on this figure from around the web.

Funskool CGI Profile

Crimson Guard Immortal at Serpentor's Lair

Crimson Guard Immortal at JoeDios

Crimson Guard Immortal Dio

2001 Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal, Beach Head, 1993 Midfighter

Thursday, July 27, 2017

2004 Anti Venom Barricade - Around the Web

The Anti-Venom set was pretty well done and it a nice update of many figures.  Barricade is among them and this was his only release in the repaint era.  It was good to see him, though, in a color scheme that really made the mold more valuable.

Barricade Profile

Unproduced Anti-Venom Figures - Dark Blue

Barricade at GeneralsJoes.com

Barricade at JoeADay.com

Barricade at HalfTheBattle.com

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, Night Force Flint, Funskool Ripper

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

2003 DVD Snake Eyes - Around the Web

Hasbro dropped a surprise DVD Snake Eyes repaint in early 2003.  Bagged samples first showed up in 2002 and, due to the similarity to the Toy Fare Snake Eyes figure, may collectors thought it might end up being an unproduced figure which lead to insane pricing.  But, this figure turned out to be readily available and anyone who wanted one could get him.  It's a great Snake Eyes repaint and something a little different for the character.  I thought there would be more on him out of the web.  But, the content was pretty sparse.  Here's the best of what I could find.

2003 DVD Snake Eyes Profile

DVD Snake Eyes at JoeADay.com

Snake Eyes at Comicbookbin

2003 Snake Eyes, DVD, Purple, 1982 VAMP, 2004 Night Force Flint, Toys R Us Exlcusive

2003 Snake Eyes, DVD, Purple, 1982 VAMP, 2004 Night Force Flint, Toys R Us Exlcusive

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

1997 Alley Viper - Around the Web

At the time of his release, the 1997 Alley Viper was generally reviled.  Most collectors didn't care for him since vintage army builders were so cheap.  Now, though, a lot has changed and this figure is one of the better colored and desirable Alley Viper figures.  Here's the best on him from around the web.

1997 Alley Viper Profile 1

1997 Alley Viper Profile 2

1997 Alley Viper at JoeADay.com

Alley Viper at JomiToys.com

Hand Painted Alley Viper at YoJoe.com

Unproduced Boxed Set Alley Viper at YoJoe.com

1997 Alley Viper at Serpentor's Lair

Alley Viper at HalfTheBattle

1997 Alley Viper, Brazil, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Escorpoa Voador, Estrela, 1983 Hiss Tank

Monday, July 24, 2017

1987 Payload - Around the Web!

Payload is the Joe Team's original astronaut and remains one of the best space themed molds Hasbro ever produced.  The original version has the best coloring on the mold.  But, all three uses of the mold (1987, 1989, Brazil Orbita) are hard to find and somewhat expensive.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Payload Profile

Payload Pre Production Figure at YoJoe.com

Payload Variant at JoeDios.com 1

Payload at 3DJoes.com

Payload at JoeDios.com 2

Sunday, July 23, 2017

1987 Chuckles - Around the Web

Chuckles is a figure that should be terrible but is kind of fun.  His holster and pistol are excellent accessories.  And, his outfit is a nice way to get a civilian-esque figure into the line.  I've long used him as my de facto prisoner figure.  And, for that reason, I have a about half a dozen of him.  Here's the best on him from around the web.

Chuckles Profile

Chuckles Video Review 1

Chuckles Dio

Chuckles Video Review 2

Chuckles Packaging Review at JoeADay.com

1987 Chuckles, 1986 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Cobra

Thursday, July 20, 2017

1986 Sci Fi - Around the Web

Sci Fi isn't a figure that I really enjoyed as a kid.  Even as an adult, his oversized head and gear takes a lot away from an otherwise decent design.  The bright green color is eye-catching, though, and does brighten up what had been, up until 1986, a relatively modest mix of figure colors.  Here's the best on him from around the web:

Sci Fi Profile

Sci Fi Video Review

Sci Fi at JoeADay.com

Sci Fi at Joepedia

Sci Fi Video Review 2

1986 Sci Fi, Mainframe, 1985 Snake Eyes, Mauler

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1993 Col. Courage

When I first returned to Joe collecting in the mid 1990's, there were lots of figures for me to buy.  Mostly, this was because I didn't have any figure released after 1989.  But, it was also because Hasbro produced a ton of new figures between 1992 and 1994.  As the months and years went by, though, I managed to buy all of the best figures that were out.  As these dried up, I looked for other criteria that could justify a purchase, such as if the figure included black accessories.  Eventually, though, even these dried up and all I was left was the dregs of the Joe releases.  Outside of the standard subsets like Street Fighter and Ninja Force, there were a few figures that were always easy to get.  Gristle, Beach-Head and Dr. Mindbender were often among the last figures you could find on the pegs.  Another was Col. Courage.

For me, Col. Courage was about one thing and one thing only: the green version of Tunnel Rat's rifle that was included with him.  I instantly recognized the gun when I saw it framed in the package behind the figure.  As a kid, Tunnel Rat's rifle had been one of my last favorites.  But, for some reason, my version was brittle.  As such, the handle broke off (a rare breakage that occurred after 1986) and was rendered useless.  Col. Courage was the first time I had seen the rifle re-used.  (There were older uses, but I was not collecting when they occurred.)  So, I bought the figure for his gun.  Shortly after his acquisition, though, the folly of a neon green weapon assigned to Tunnel Rat became apparent.  But, the figure itself proved somewhat worthwhile.

In the mid 1990's, the only figures I had available to me were a handful of childhood leftovers that were mostly off condition and lacking accessories and the figures I could find at retail.  As the retail figures were new, in good shape and had gear (no matter how poorly colored it might be), they found themselves in various roles outside of the figures' specialties.  For Col Courage, his main use was a generic soldier.  His uniform suggested that he could be a basic grunt (Aside from the tie!) and his plethora of weapons were useful against the onslaught of Crimson Guard Commanders and 1994 Vipers who formed my Cobra army of the day.  In this role, Col. Courage might save the day.  But, far more often, he would die.  Sometimes quickly in the fight and other times, he would last until the final three or four men against Cobra.  But, he found some usage here just to the complete lack of options available to me.

Naturally, as my collection grew with the advent of online acquisitions in the late 1990's, Col. Courage's value proportionally decreased.  I had many better figures to fill any role I wanted.  And, now, I had the means to acquire those figures both in good condition and complete.  So, any advantage held by Col. Courage and some of his less than stellar ilk was lost as I brought more and more outside figures into my collection.  As a sculpted figure, though, Col. Courage isn't terrible.  He is well detailed and the colors used are fairly calm, aside from the neon green highlights.

Col. Courage features a nice complement of weapons.  His tree includes the Tunnel Rate machine gun, a rifle from the Sky Patrol Airborne figure, Shockwave's pistol, Muskrat's machete and Blaster's oddball Battleforce 2000 cannon.  Of course, they are all colored neon green which really limits their usefulness.  He also included the requisite spring loaded missile launcher and missiles.  If you can find some spare weapons in black (his tree was released in black with Predacon) they work much better and draw away from the neon green highlights of the figure: giving Col. Courage a much more muted look.  But, really, there's not much to say about this figure.  Aside from the tucked in necktie, there is nothing exceptional about the mold.  But, for a 1993 release, Col. Courage is just subtle enough that he blends into the line and remains an obscure release.

Col. Courage's mold was used by Hasbro in 1993.  He featured new arms, chest and head.  But, used the lower body from Recoil.  Shortly thereafter, the mold was sent to Brazil.  There, Estrela released the mold as Coronel Coragem (which is a direct translation for Col. Courage) but with caucasian skin.  This figure really is the interesting part of the Col. Courage story.  In Brazil, Recoil's body was used twice around 1993 and 1994 for the Tigor and Flying Scorpion figures.  Neither of these, though, used Recoil's lower body.  The reason being that Hasbro kept it for use with Col. Courage.  Estrela, ultimately, got the rest of the Recoil mold when they released the Coronel Coragem figure.  Col. Courage disappeared after this release.  However, Coragem was released in Brazil with three other figures: Marfim, Brutus and Vandalo.  Brutus and Vandalo are noteworthy as they used the molds from the Headhunter and Gristle figures, respectively.  Hasbro released both of those molds in 2008.  As such, it was extremely likely that Hasbro had access to the Col. Courage mold at that time, but never used it.

This is really a shame.  In 2005, Hasbro produced the terrible Greenshirts 6 figure set that was released at Toys R Us.  Col. Courage's mold would have been a great greenshirt who would have fit into that set and given collectors a very different take on the mold.  Instead, we got the horrible figures that barely fit together and look like knock offs.  Hasbro's inability to search out and understand that the 1990's molds were full of valuable repaints was a big part of why the repaint suffered so much.  Two or three repainted Col. Courages figures, two or three Steel Brigade updates and even two of the Greenshirts that were released would have been a pack that collectors would still enjoy.  But, like so many other opportunities of that era, Hasbro simply squandered it for poor reasons.  It's an almost certainty that this mold is gone now.  But, at least there's something out there for collectors to enjoy.

Left on their own, mint and complete Col. Courage figures will sell for $2 - $3.  Dealers will get $9 or $10 for him.  But, that's mainly due to limited supplies driven by the fact that the figure is immensely unpopular.  The late release, substandard name, neon green highlights and the tie on a combat uniform all add up to a figure that has never and will never catch on in the collecting community.  As a background filler, though, Col. Courage is a good pick up for a couple of bucks.  His mold doesn't have the heft of many of his contemporaries and he can fit in with figures from many years.  That's not a bad little use for a cheap and common figure.

1993 Col Courage, Bazooka, Battle Corps

1993 Col Courage, Spirit Iron Knife, Mail Away, International Force, Battle Corps

1993 Col Courage, Spirit Iron Knife, Mail Away, International Force

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Diorama - The Trojan BAT

Hot Seat picks up the latest supply crate and enlists Fast Draw and Dodger to unload it.

Red Laser Army, Bootleg, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Stinger BAT, 1987 Fast Draw, 1989 Hot Seat, Dodger, BattleForce 2000, 1992 Mutt, DEF, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Red Laser Army, Bootleg, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Stinger BAT, 1987 Fast Draw, 1989 Hot Seat, Dodger, BattleForce 2000, 1992 Mutt, DEF, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

But, the crate comes to life as a hidden BAT explodes from the box.

Red Laser Army, Bootleg, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Stinger BAT, 1987 Fast Draw, 1989 Hot Seat, Dodger, BattleForce 2000, 1992 Mutt, DEF, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Hot Seat is quickly taken out.

Red Laser Army, Bootleg, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Stinger BAT, 1987 Fast Draw, 1989 Hot Seat, Dodger, BattleForce 2000, 1992 Mutt, DEF, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Fast Draw fails as the BAT moves on to Dodger.

Red Laser Army, Bootleg, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Stinger BAT, 1987 Fast Draw, 1989 Hot Seat, Dodger, BattleForce 2000, 1992 Mutt, DEF, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Mutt hears the commotion and arrives just in time.

Red Laser Army, Bootleg, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Stinger BAT, 1987 Fast Draw, 1989 Hot Seat, Dodger, BattleForce 2000, 1992 Mutt, DEF, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

The BAT is dispatched.

Red Laser Army, Bootleg, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Stinger BAT, 1987 Fast Draw, 1989 Hot Seat, Dodger, BattleForce 2000, 1992 Mutt, DEF, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Thursday, July 13, 2017

1983 Tripwire - Around the Web

The Joe team's favorite klutz is also one of the better designed figures from his era.  Tripwire's look fits his specialty and his gear is excellent.  He's one of those background characters who is essential to the long term prosperity of a toy line.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Tripwire Profile

Tripwire Dio

Tripwire Variants

Tripwire Instagram 01

Tripwire Instagram 02

Tripwire Video Review

Tripwire at 3DJoes.com

1983 Tripwire, Rock and Roll, Cover Girl, Grunt, Falcon Glider, Wolverine

1983 Tripwire, Rock and Roll, Cover Girl, Grunt, Falcon Glider, Wolverine, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, Bomb Disposal

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

1988 Lightfoot

I have many odd, random memories from my youth.  While I recall certain major events, I also find that some small, specific items stick with me and maintain a clarity that is not present for occurrences of far greater significance.  I don't really know why this is.  One of these days, I'll have to research it a bit and see if I can come across some explanation.  But, one such incident involved the 1988 Lightfoot figure.  Aside from this poignant memory, I would not have any recollection of this figure at all.  But, those are the weird nuances of the human brain.

In 1988, I was done with Joes after the first couple of months of the year.  I picked up a few figures in the early part of the year, but after that, my Joe buying days were over.  My youngest brother, though, continued to acquire new figures throughout the year.  As I was into my own stuff, it was rare that I'd have insight into his figure purchases until I'd find a random figure strewn about the house.  Inevitably, the accessories were already dispersed in multiple rooms and the figure's packaging had been thrown away.  So, tracking down all of a figure's gear was often tough.

One day, I happened upon the Lightfoot figure.  He was easy to notice due to the bright yellow color.  For me, though, this was not a detriment...especially once I saw the helmet included with the character.  My final Joe playing days had involved a lot of aerial combat between Sky Hawks and Cobra Drones either from the Night Raven or the Mamba.  I searched long and hard for figures that would make good pilots for the Joe aircraft.  Based on years' worth of Star Wars watching, my Joe pilots had to have certain attributes that would make their inevitable death sequences exciting.  Removable helmets and airmasks were great...especially for Joes who would become trapped in their air filled cockpits beneath the ocean: unable to escape without outside help of highly skilled divers.

So, seeing Lightfoot immediately brought to mind him leaning forward, helmet falling down as his aircraft exploded from behind him.  So, I included the figure in any little 5 minute adventure I might steal away when no one was in the house.  But, the true memory of the figure is from sometime in the summer of 1988.  My parents had an ancient vacuum cleaner.  It was probably made in the late 1960's.  It wasn't the main floor vacuum.  But, it had a hose attachment and was the only way to clean corners or around the baseboards on the floor.  One day, while using this beast, I accidentally sucked up Lightfoot's helmet.  Had I not cared about the figure, it's doubtful I'd have done anything other than shrugged it off.  But, I liked the helmet and wanted it back.  So, I took the vacuum outside, onto the poured concrete stops that lead from an unused door on an addition my father had built onto the house in the early '80's. These steps were rough concrete and were next to a small garden full of hostas that were supported by limestone fossil rocks my brothers and I had found in various camping excursions through the years.  This garden was home to many Joe adventures since it was relatively small and I could sit on the steps or the driveway to play, rather than the mud and grass in the backyard.

But, on these steps, I dug out months and months worth of lint and dirt from the vacuum bag in search of Lightfoot's helmet.  You would think that being the last think sucked into the vortex that it would have been on top of the bag.  But, no.  I had to empty out most of the bag before I found the helmet.  It was no worse for wear other than being covered in a fine layer of dirt.  I washed it off, replaced the vacuum bag and Lightfoot's relevance to my youth ended.

Fast forwarding to around 1995 and 1996, though, Lightfoot was still around.  My brother's interest in Joe basically ended in 1988 as well.  (I'm not sure we had any 1989 figures in our house aside from a few, random appearances of figures that neither my brothers nor I had any recollection of purchasing.)  So, the Lightfoot figure was in good shape.  When I started collecting Joes again in the mid 1990's, the Lightfoot figure was one of the few who was in really good shape.  And, as I hadn't used him much as a kid, he still seemed new to me.  So, when I had just a shoebox of a couple of dozen figures from which to choose to display on my shelves, Lightfoot made the cut.  He was either in the co pilot's chair in the Tomahawk or driving the APC.  But, he found a home since he fit in so well with the neon heavy figures that I was still able to buy at retail in those years.

Since then, though, Lightfoot has been pretty much neglected.  There are lots of better figures for his specialty.  And, my need for new pilots is sated by better figures that fill that role, too.  When it came time to get the Lightfoot character, the Night Force version was really the only choice.  It is really a nice figure and blows this version out of the water.  With that in hand, I had no real use for the yellow version.  So, this Lightfoot fell into obscurity...so much so that I sold my only complete versions without realizing I was missing some gear for my final figure.

As a figure, Lightfoot is three basic colors: yellow, green and black.  They are an eye-catching combination whose stark contrasts does create a visually appealing figure.  Like many 1988 figures, though, Lightfoot is somewhat light on the paint applications and has some unpainted details on his mold.  He's got some body armor, but not enough to really matter and the grenades attached to his chest would offset any value gained from that armor.  Beyond that, the figure is non-descript.  Were he in more muted colors, he's be nothing more than a Wild Card or Armadillo with accessories.

In the accessory department, Lightfoot is unusual.  He comes with a lot of gear.  Usually, figures who included lots of gear had really cool uses for it.  Lightfoot's complement, though, seems mundane and boring.  He has a backpack to which he can attach his "sniffer" either directly through the pegs on the pack or via the belt that can attach to both.  He also includes a robot.  But, it's boring and bright red.  Lightfoot's pack has a lenticular sticker, as does the robot.  But, the overall design just isn't fun.  When you see Trip Wire's mine detector, you know what it is.  Seeing Lightfoot, his specialty is not overly apparent.  His helmet is really just bizarre and bulky.  Plus, it's in a blue color that really doesn't fit the overall color scheme of the figure.  Lightfoot looks better with his gear on.  But, the gear itself isn't all that much fun or useful.

The Lightfoot mold was used three times.  The first was this original version in 1988.  The Night Force version then appeared in 1989.  After that, the mold was sent to Brazil where it was released as Desarmer.  Desarmer is colored nearly identical to the 1988 Lightfoot and includes the same gear.  Lightfoot disappears from there.  Many of his contemporaries in Brazil later appeared in India.  But, many also never appeared again.  It is very likely that Hasbro got the mold back at some point in time.  But, they either then sent it to Funskool or simply packed it away in Asia and never bothered looking for it again.  But, really, the Night Force Lightfoot is pretty much a perfect repaint of the figure.  While you could make a case that the mold might look good in some different colors, there's many other figures I would have wanted to see repainted ahead of him.  At least collectors got one really nice version and alternate, bright version for other uses.

While Night Force Lightfoot figures tend to be very expensive, the original version is not.  Despite lots of easily lost accessories and lenticular decals, the figure remains cheap.  Mint and complete with filecard versions can be purchased for around $7.  But, you can get carded versions for around $20.  (Most of the Night Force Lightfoot's individual accessories sell for more than a mint and complete 1988 figure!)  Either is a solid way to get an interesting figure for a cheap price.    It's hard to call Lightfoot a background character since he's so obscure.  But, he provides good filler and he does look kind of cool when he's fully accessorized.

1988 Lightfoot, Super Trooper, Mail Away, Cobra Imp

1988 Lightfoot, Sgt. Slaughter, Cobra Imp, Night Force crazylegs

Thursday, July 6, 2017

1998 Thunderwing - Around the Web

The 1998 Thunderwing is a fairly obscure release.  He was unpopular in his time and was even more unpopular when he was repackaged for release in 2000.  But, the figure is very well done.  The odd hue of green is unique among Joe figures and helps him stand apart from other, early molds.  Plus, the paint details are convention level.  He's turned into one of my personal highlights from the post vintage eras of Joe.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Thunderwing Profile

Thunderwing Dio 1

Thunderwing at Half the Battle

Thunderwing Dio 2

Thunderwing and MOBAT Video Review

Thunderwing Dio 3

Thunderwing on Instagram 01

1998 Thunderwing, Thunder, 1997 Zap, Snake Eyes, Bazooka Soldier

1998 Thunderwing, Thunder, 1997 Zap, Snake Eyes, Bazooka Soldier, Slugger, MOBAT