Tuesday, December 12, 2017

1994 Metal Head - Around the Web

In general, Cobra figures were the first figures to sell out after Joe stopped shipping to retail.  For someone desperately trying to fill gaps in their collection in 1995 and 1996, it was incredibly frustrating to see these aweome Cobras on the cardbacks but not on the shelves.  In the instances when I did find a Cobra, though, I usually bought him without hesitation.  Among the few Cobras I found at the time was the 1994 Metal Head figure.

I was aware of the Metal Head character from the comic and a kid down the street had the 1990 figure that I had seen after I had quit buying Joes.  So, I jumped at a chance to get a new version of him: purple weapons and all.  Like most of the later run figures, there's not a ton of content out there in regards to the figure.  But, here's what I could come up with:

Metal Head Profile

Metal Head at JoeADay.com

Metal Head Dio 1

Metal Head Pre-Production at YoJoe.com

Metal Head Dio 2

Metal Head at 3DJoes.com

Metal Head Dio 3

Metal Head at Wikipedia

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, Star Brigade Cobra Blackstar, Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, Mega Marines Cyber Viper, 1993, Action Soldier, Monster Blaster APC

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, Star Brigade Cobra Blackstar, Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal

Thursday, December 7, 2017

1983 Grand Slam - Around the Web

Grand Slam may be the most obscure Joe of the original 13.  He didn't get a lot of play in the early comics and didn't get much characterization until he kicked Major Bludd through the windshield of a bus nearly a year and a half after Joe debuted on the newstand.  He's a figure, though, that collectors have warmed to over the years.  Much of this is due to the fact that his silver pads version is considered a relatively rare figure. 

I was able to find a decent amount of Grand Slam content out there.  It seems his obscurity in early Joe media has allowed to take on more life in the ensuing 35 years.  Here's the best of Grand Slam from around the web.

Silver Pads Grand Slam Profile

Red Pads Grand Slam Profile

Grand Slam Dio 1

Grand Slam Video Review

Grand Slam Dio 2

Grand Slam at JoeADay.com

Grand Slam Dio 3

Grand Slam at 3DJoes.com

Grand Slam Dio 4

Grand Slam Dio 5

Grand Slam at Comic Vine

Grand Slam Dio 6

1983 Grand Slam, JUMP, Jet Pack, Short Fuse, Steeler, 1985 Mauler, Flash, 2017 Sightline, Red Laser's Army, Bootleg

TNT, Grand Slam, Silver Pads, JUMP, HAL, Rock and Roll, 1983, 1982, Argentina, Plastirama, Blowtorch, Flint, Funskool, India

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

1994 Viper - Around the Web

In 1995 and 1996, Cobra army builders were especially hard to find at retail.  I only found four of them and they were the Crimson Guard Commander twice and this 1994 Viper twice.  But, I was able to army build them from the get go.  The 2005 Iron Anvil proved what a good mold this figure has.  This Halloween orange leaves something to be desired.  But it remains a sign of the times from the 1990's.  Here's the best content I could find on the web for him:

Viper Profile

Viper Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Viper at JoeADay.com

Viper at Nekoman's Viper Pit

94 Viper at Droppin

Viper at OreoBuilder's Blog

'94 Viper at JoeDios.com 1

1994 Viper, Cobra Viper, Funskool Blaster

1994 Viper, Battle Corps, 1987, Jinx, 2004, Scarlett, Comic Pack
1994 Viper, 1987 Jinx, 2004 Comic Pack Scarlett

Monday, December 4, 2017

Holiday Hiatus

2017 has been a crazy year.  And, the last three months or so have been ridiculously odd, tumultuous and great.  But, the series of events that occurred have completely limited my time.  I haven't taken any new Joe photos in months and all my figures got packed away for a few weeks.  So, I'm out of content. 

With that, I'm taking the month of December off.  I'll have two or three Around the Web features every week.  (I've got about 60 of those ready to go.)  So, there will be something to stop by and check out.  I'll be back in January with new profiles and photos.  I've got the 1988 Cobra Bugg, some factory customs and a couple of fun, obscure releases who will kick off 2018.

Until then, you can follow me on various platforms for any new content and previews:




Friday, December 1, 2017

1984 Roadblock - Around the Web

The 1984 Roadblock figure stands as one of the great links between the line's first two years and the leap in quality it took in the third year.  In many ways, Roadblock feels like a 1983 release.  But, his gear makes him stand out from the simpler equipment from that year.  He's not as complex as Blowtorch or Stormshadow.  But, he remains an iconic figure, nonetheless.  I first got him in early 1984 at a Value City store.  He's been a staple of my collection since, even if this mold has gotten a bit stale.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Roadblock Profile

Roadblock Dio 1

1984 Roadblock at When It Was Cool

Roadblock at 3DJoes.com

Roadblock Dio 2

Roadblock Dio 3

1984 Roadblock, 2017 Sightline, Red Laser, Black Major, Factory Custom, Bootleg, Viper, Backstop, 1985 Mauler, Plastirama, Argentina

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2004 Tracker Kwinn - Comic Pack

In the first half of 2004, the initial images of the upcoming Comic Book Packs surfaced. Collectors were wowed by the assortment of figures: but the enthusiasm was largely due to the fact that there would another outlet for vintage style figures at retail. The first 9 figures had their gems. Everyone wanted another Cobra Trooper at retail. There were highly anticipated new head sculpts for original 13 characters.  And, we were finally getting Kwinn.  But, the figures were also flawed.  As was the case with many releases of the era: Hasbro tried to make do with what they had handy rather than what made sense.  So, while it's great to see a character like Kwinn, he is far from perfect.

In the summer of 1984, I walked down to the local Hook's Drug Store to get some candy. My cousins and younger brothers were with me. When we went into the store, I noticed G.I. Joe #27 on the comic rack. (They kept the comics between the greeting cards and the pharmacy, so I rarely went over to that part of the store.) I had to buy it as I had read my friends copy of #26 just before school let out for the summer. As a sign of the times, though, I didn't have enough money to buy it. I had only brought .25 to the store to buy some candy. (Amazing that a quarter was enough to get 2 Jolly Rancher sticks and get change....) In the irrational fear of a 10 year old, I couldn't leave the store in case someone came and bought all the copies of the comic they had in stock. So, I convinced my cousins to walk back to our house with my brothers and then walk back with some additional money so I could buy my first G.I. Joe comic book. Once I did this, the comic became a mainstay of my childhood. I soon discovered the Broad Ripple Comic Carnival just a few blocks from my home and this store became one of my main hangouts well into my teenage years. It was at that store in late 1984 that I found a copy of G.I. Joe #2 for the whopping price of $3.

When I got it home, I read the story and was awed by the introduction of the Kwinn character.  He was a fascinating villain.  He had thoroughly outfoxed the Joes.  But, had also sold out the Russians.  The final panel of Snake Eyes wearing Kwinn's necklace was a powerful image.  (It also was an early insight into Snake Eyes' character.)  It was cool to see the Joes working in a smaller team on a mission with a specific objective.  The fact that Larry Hama was able to tie the frequency modulator from this issue to Cobra almost 5 years later shows the dedication and forethought he put into the stories.  I started to wear the issue out as I read it so often.  I also started to notice the price for that issue was rising steadily.  So, I stopped reading it in hopes of preserving the issue's condition.  To this day, my only copy of #2 was the one purchased at the local comic shop all those years ago.

The issue sold me on the Kwinn character, too.  For a comic that was supposed to be "for a kid's toy", Larry Hama added a lot of complexity and depth to the characters.  Kwinn was complicated.  He was a bad guy: but with some morals and scruples.  (Kind of an early model for what would become Destro.)  He added political intrigue with the Russian element and showcased the grim realities of the world with the station crews going mad and killing themselves.  The comic remains a powerful memory for me because the intricacy of the characters made it far more compelling reading than most items geared at boys under the age of 10 at the time. 

Kwinn only really had two looks in the comic. He wore his winter gear in his debut in G.I. Joe #2 and then switched to Khahki shorts when he returned in #12. Getting a figure to match his jungle look with existing vintage Joe parts would have been difficult and likely produced an awkward looking figure.  The character's introductory winter gear was also problematic.  Kwinn was supposed to be a giant man.  His dossier in G.I. Joe #2 lists as 6 feet 10 inches tall and 260 pounds.  It would be impossible to showcase that impressive physique with existing Joe parts.  So, Hasbro made due with what they had.  As with Horrorshow, Kwinn's size is lost in the process.

Like most of the comic pack figures, though, this Kwinn isn't without his issues.  The main beef is that the figure's fur collar is attached to his head.  Looking straight ahead, this isn't much of an issue.  But, as soon as you turn the head, it becomes apparent and makes the figure rather odd looking.  It also precludes the head's usage on other figures without modification.  Since these figures were heavily clearanced, it wasn't a huge deal for collectors of the time to have a few spare Kwinn figures (especially since the Scarlett in the pack was also desirable custom fodder) so this wasn't a huge hindrance.  Kwinn's use of Big Ben parts, though, was a big cliched.  Big Ben is a great figure.  But, he was released in 2001, 2002, 2003 and his parts appeared multiple times in 2004 and 2005.  In short, collectors were sick of him and the parts that comprised him.  So, Kwinn appeared a little stale due to the overuse of the chest pieces.

Kwinn's gear is OK.  The mighty Eskimo was known for .30 cal machine gun.  While Hasbro had a more suitable weapon mold in the doomed 1995 Sgt. Savage line, they were not yet creative enough to think that far outside the box in 2004.  So, Kwinn was, instead, given the 1984 Roadblock's .50 cal machine gun.  Really, all the two weapons have in common is that they are big machine guns.  And, as Roadblock's weapon is iconically his, it looks even more out of place with Kwinn.  The figure does have a nicely done Weasel Skull necklace.  It's rough.  But, anything in this scale would be.  For good measure, the figure also includes a random black version of Dial Tone's weapon as well as a repainted Order animal that's meant to be a sled dog.  In short, a simple machine gun swap would have done wonders for this figure.  But, considering the era in which he was released, at least Hasbro tried to match the character's comic weaponry.

It is somewhat difficult to believe that this figure is now more than 13 years old. Despite the age, the figure still seems new to me. That's partly due to the fact that ARAH style figures have been pretty much dead since 2006 and even in the years before that, the number of releases was relatively low. As such, Kwinn feels like a new acquisition since there have been so few figures released after him.  I could have gone for a convention repaint of this figure, but maybe with a newly sculpted, hooded head.  It might have worked out and been a much more fun release than much of what we got.  I always found it odd that the ARAH style convention sets never attempted to reuse the Oktober Guard or Kwinn figures as they were collector favorite characters whose repaints would have better resonated than the dull and lifeless club creations.

Hasbro brought the Kwinn character back to life with an Anniversary release in 2013. This figure seems to have sparked a bit of resurgance in this original Kwinn. Three or four years ago, mint and complete with filecard Kwinn figures would sit, unsold, for $1.00. Now, the figure seems to sell in the $8 range. But, you can get a carded 3 pack with the Snake Eyes and Scarlett figure for around $12-$15. Since the Snake Eyes is decent and Scarlett is new enough, it's probably better (and easier!) to just buy a carded pack if you want the Kwinn figure.  Like most figures from this era, you'll see dealer pricing at quite a bit higher as the once ubiquitous supply of Kwinns has started to dwindle.

I find this Kwinn a reminder of the days when Hasbro still cared about the Joe brand and used as a proving ground for new ideas for retail products.  Unfortunately, so many of them failed that it's easy to see why Hasbro gave up on the brand.  But, if you were around in 2004, the comic packs were an awesome idea and really energized the Joe community for a while.  Most of the figures from them are highly forgettable, though.  Kwinn isn't perfect.  But, he's good enough for a Hasbro release.  In some ways, at least we got him.  That's more than could be said for his contemporary characters like Scarface and Dr. Venom who were also integral to his storyline.

2004 Kwinn, Comic Pack, Scrap Iron, Urban Strike, TRU Exclusive, Cobra Trooper, 1984, Stinger

2004 Kwinn, Comic Pack, Grunt

1984 Firefly, 2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, 2005 Snake Eyes, Night Force Roadblock, Short Fuze, Stinger Driver

1984 Firefly, 2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, 2005 Snake Eyes, Night Force Roadblock, Short Fuze, Stinger Driver

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

1985 Flint - Around the Web

Flint is my all time favorite Joe figure.  I found him at the local KB Toys in February of 1985.  But, his head was drooping in the package and I thought he was defective since I didn't know about the new head articulation, yet.  So, I passed him up for Airtight and Footloose.  I regretted that for months as I could not find Flint anywhere.  For Easter that year, my brother got a Bazooka.  I was sure I'd get Flint.  But, there were no Joes in my Easter basket.

When I finally got him, he didn't disappoint and quickly became the most used figure in my arsenal.  To this day, there is something about Flint's design that resonates with me and he remains one figures of whom I can own enough versions.  It was 18 years ago today that I first profiled the Flint figure.  I've revisited him a few times through the years.  Here's the best content on him from around the web.

Flint Profile 2012

Flint Profile 1999

Flint - Review of all International Flint Releases

Funskool Flint Profile

Muralha - Brazilian Flint Profile

Flint at JoeDios.com 1

Flint at JoeDios.com 2

Flint at JoeDios.com 3

Flint at JoeDios.com 4

Flint at JoeDios.com 5

Flint at JoeDios.com 6

Flint at 3DJoes.com

Flint at JoeADay.com

Flint at Mobile Strike Force

1985 Flint, 1988 Hit and Run, 1986 Beach Head, AVAC, 1987 Maggot

1985 Flint, Footloose, Snake Eyes, 1993 Monster Blaster APC

1985 Flint, Footloose, Bazooka, Heavy Metal, Airtight, 1993 Mega Marines Monster Blaster APC

Thursday, November 23, 2017

1990 Vapor - Around the Web

The 1990 Vapor is an odd figure.  He's supposed to be high tech.  But, he comes across looking more like a BAT upgrade.  But, the colors are strong and he's kind of tough to find.  So, you can forgive his quirkiness.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1990 Vapor Profile

Vapor at Nekoman's Viper Pit

Vapor Dio 1 (There's a DOZEN of them here!)

Vapor at JoeADay.com

Vapor Dio 2

Vapor at 3DJoes.com

Vapor Dio 3

1990 Vapor, Airwave, Sky Patrol

1990 Vapor, Airwave, Sky Patrol

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

2001 Zartan

We all know the "Comic Book Guy" from the Simpsons.  You can hear his voice when you say "worst...Joe...EVER!".  But, which figure really is the worst?  Big Boa?  He's definitely horrible.  Raptor?  Terrible.  Crystal Ball?  Historically bad.  (Notice the 1987 theme?)  But, those figures, to me, get a break.  They were made in a time for kids of that time.  The designers of the Joe line took a chance.  It failed...miserably.  But, they were trying to make something great.  The Hasbro team of 2001, though, doesn't have that as a fallback.  They knew better.  They were making a line of Joes for collectors, to appeal to collectors and hoped that collectors would love them.  As such, their release of the 2001 Zartan figure really is unforgivable and that makes him my far and away choice for the worst figure in the line.

When Joe returned in 1997, collectors were lukewarm to the offerings.  Vintage Joes were cheap and plentiful.  So, the missing molds and generally lackluster repaints didn't ignite the collecting world.  1998, though, started to change things.  Hasbro filling in the Oktober Guard was a huge nod to collectors.  The classic Firefly figure returned to retail for the first time in 14 years.  And, Hasbro dropped 4 spectacular army building figures into the collecting world.  The 1998 line really felt like Hasbro really understood Joe collectors.  When the new line debuted in 2000, the first wave felt like it carried on this tradition.  Cobra Commander, the Baroness mold, another Firefly (that was OK then!) and General (Toma)Hawk all felt like they were made for collectors.  The rest of the figures were well done enough that the line felt like a solid homage to the vintage run.  But then, Hasbro out-thought themselves.  Instead of getting collectors what they wanted, they continued to pack army builders with named Cobra characters.  They painted every Joe in olive drab: diluting the color.  And, terrible homage figure shredded any credibility that the Joe team at Hasbro had.  The line spiraled into oblivion as retail interest faded away.  The final insult was the release of the Zartan figure.

In 2001, Zartan was about as popular a Cobra as you could find.  At the time, it was rare for a G.I. Joe figure to appear on "Best Of" toy lists.  Joe just didn't have the cachet.  However, Zartan was an exception.  His name and gimmick transcended Joe and the Zartan figure was as popular as any of the mainstay Joes or Cobras.  Collectors really had no options.  There was the original Zartan figure.  And, that was it.  The 1993 Ninja Force figure was simply ignored as the Joe world of the time barely acknowledged any figure made after 1987.  So, collectors were keen for a new Zartan that was cheaper and less brittle than the original.  The anticipation was high: probably higher for any figure other than the planned "Crimson Viper" that ultimately ended up a convention exclusive release.  When the figure appeared, though, the disappointment was colossal.  The Zartan was not the version 1.  It was a newly amalgamated figure using the SAW Viper body and a new head based on the original.  To say the figure was terrible and not in any way up to the legacy of the original Zartan is an understatement.  Collectors were dismayed at Hasbro's complete ineptitude when it came to such and important character.  They had completely bungled one of the easiest slam dunks in the line's history.

The very best part of the Zartan story, though, comes from India.  Right after Hasbro botched their Zartan figure, Funskool announced they were releasing a Zartan figure on a single card.  When the images showed up, Funskool was using the V1 Zartan mold!  And, it was a slight repaint of the American figure.  In short, it was everything American collectors wanted.  So, the Hasbro Zartan was all but forgotten as jilted collectors instead spent $4 to buy Funskool Zartans.  This way, they got a mask and the original gun (though in red).  The upside is that this fiasco lead many collectors who had avoided Funskool due to quality control issues to finally take the plunge to get a cool new Zartan figure.  The bad news was that Funskool quality at the time was terrible and many collectors found their worst expectations of poor quality to be true.

The real travesty of this mold is that it used up a slot on the SAW Viper's body.  As such, the body got a bad rap.  We'd only see the SAW Viper one more time: in the 2003 Python Patrol set.  Sadly, this figure is not in the standard pattern as the rest of the figures and is bright red in color.  The SAW Viper would have been a great substitute in the Urban Strike set or as part of a convention army builder.  The Zartan head created for this release could have found life on another, better conceived Zartan.  But, Hasbro got the V1 Zartan mold back from Funskool in 2003.  (In an ill conceived attempt to appease collectors.  Funskool's return of the molds ended up hurting collectors since Hasbro simply never used most of the molds and the Funskool figures who had been cheap and plentiful were taken out of production: never to return.)  From the ashes of this figure could have risen a phoenix of other, decent figures.  But, Hasbro let this Zartan and his parts die on the vine and focused their efforts on rehashes of the V1 figure.

One of the things that blinded Hasbro in the 2000's was their attempts to remain true to the originals.  In some cases, that worked.  But, in the case of this Zartan, it backfired atrociously.  If you take the flesh parts of this figure and color them silver, you get a solid homage to V1 Zartan that's not ridiculous.  The collar on his chest would then make sense and you get a figure that was different enough that people might have actually warmed to him.  The SAW Viper accessories still made no sense.  But, a few extra sets of those were nice to have when the 2004 Cobra Infantry Team was so weakly equipped.  Just making one color change would transform the worst figure ever into something that collectors could have, at least, accepted.  I doubt even that figure would have been popular.  But, he wouldn't be the laughingstock of the line.

Again, this figure is worthless.  It's so worthless that you don't see them very often because no one wants to waste their time on the figure.  As the Shadow Viper with whom he was packed isn't an overly popular army builder, there weren't collectors who stockpiled dozens or hundreds of spare Zartan figures and who will easily part with one for a buck or two.  But, you can find the figure without too much trouble if you ask around.  Since you can get a carded version for under $10 and that includes the excellent Shadow Viper, it's probably best to just buy a carded sample and open it up.

I hate this figure.  I hate this figure because he's terrible.  I hate this figure because he took up a rare slot for a vintage figure and it was wasted.  I hate this figure because I hate what Hasbro turned the ARAHC into.  But, mostly, I hate this figure because someone (probably a lot of someones) at Hasbro at the time looked at this monstrosity and thought that collectors would gobble up garbage because it had the Zartan name.  And, they were right.  I have one.  At one time, I had three or four of them due to my acquisition of a few Shadow Vipers.  But, they were also wrong.  The type of lazy thinking lead to demise of the short lived Joe line.  I suspect that was Hasbro's plan as they geared up to get the JvC sculpts into production.  But, their disdain for collectors lives on to this day.  And, that irritates me.  But, I see items like the 2017 Missile Command and think that, maybe, Hasbro is finally starting to get it.  But, when items like that are only available for exclusive, limited windows before you have to pay a 100% - 200% markup on the aftermarket,  I still see them thumbing their noses at us.  But, like I said, I'm still here.  So, now we all know who the true fool is.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

1984 Zartan - Around the Web

Zartan is one of the most popular and enduring Joe characters.  His original figure is revered and the character is considered among the titans of the line.  Through the years, I've often neglected Zartan in my photos.  His original figure rarely appears, even though I quite like it.  I'm not sure why.  I've just never felt that I've been able to capture the essence of the character in a photo.  But, I still consider him among the best figures Hasbro ever produced and he is a perfect example of how Joe could veer away from harsh military realism and still be enjoyed.  There's lots of content on Zartan out there.  But, here's some of my favorites from around the web.

Zartan Profile

New York Times Article from December 6, 1984 regarding Zartan's filecard change

Zartan at JoeaDay.com

Zartan @ 3DJoes.com

Zartan at WikiPedia

Zartan Video Review

Zartan at the Cobra Temple

1984 Zartan, 1985 Cobra Tele Viper

1984 Zartan,  Firefly, 1983 Destro, Stinger

1984 Zartan,  Firefly, 1983 Destro, Stinger, Stinger Driver

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

1997 Cobra Commander

In late 1997, I found the Toys R Us exclusive Stars and Stripes figure set.  I quickly bought it: excited to see new Joes at retail.  As 1998 dawned, though, Hasbro started releasing wave after wave of excellent new Star Wars figures.  Simultaneously, they were pumping out army builders galore.  In short, Star Wars consumed most of my collecting time and money.  On top of that, I had been disappointed in the Stars and Stripes set.  It hadn't captured my attention enough to really sell me on Joes.  So, trip after trip to Toys R Us, I'd pick up a G.I. Joe pack and each time, put it down, leaving it behind.  When Hasbro finally bungled some Star Wars case assortments in the summer of '98 and basically killed the line, I turned back to Joe.  Now, though, I was buying vintage Joes online.  I simply didn't see the need to buy the Toys R Us figures when I could get more vintage figures for the same price.  Again, the '97 Joes were left behind.

When the 1998 Joes shipped, though, everything changed.  Star Wars became an afterthought and G.I. Joe became my number one collecting priority.  Still, though, I never went back and bought the 1997 Joe packs.  I don't really know why.  But, I think my looking at them for a year had left them as old news, even if I didn't actually own them.  Plus, I found it more satisfying to buy additional Cobra Infantry or Polar Assault packs than I did to get repaints of characters I wasn't overly interested in at the time.  In 2000, the 1997 Joes dried up from retail.  They even got hard to find online.  As 2001 began, 1997 Joes were starting to get expensive and were kind of hard to find.  I snapped up a poorly labeled lot of figures that included all of the 1997 figures I had left on the shelves.  At first, I didn't pay them much heed.  In time, though, I found the gems in the release year.  Now, 20 years later, I find many of the '97's to be among Hasbro's best post-vintage work.  Yes, Hasbro was hamstrung by missing molds and a tight design window.  But, the sets feature a lot of fun and interesting figures that were never replicated.  The 1997 Cobra Commander fits that mold.

Originally, the 1997 Cobra Commander was to be a repaint of the 1983 battle helmet Cobra Commander mold.  It would have been in dark blue with gold highlights.  (There are photos of handpainted samples out there that showcase the idea.)  However, Hasbro could not find the Cobra Commander mold.  This was somewhat odd since Hasbro had used it in 1994 for the Chinese exclusive run of Cobra Commander figures.  But, with no mold, Hasbro had to find another idea.  They settled on the 1987 version whose mold had just been returned from Funskool.  They gave this mold the same dark blue and gold theme and released him in a three figure back with Destro and the Baroness.  This three pack featured artwork from the 1983 versions of both Cobra Commander and Destro, even though neither original mold was present.

The effect of the dark blue plastic, though, was actually quite striking.  Visually, this version of Cobra Commander is substantially different from the original release of the mold.  It gave collectors a version of the Commander who could wear his late '80's iconic outfit and yet still blend in with Vipers and other figures utilizing the classic Cobra blue.  The gold and red highlights give the figure and regality.  This figure looks like something that Cobra Commander would have worn and is an excellent alternative for the silver and light blue of the original mold colors.  I rank this version as the 5th best release of the character, behind the original, the Hooded mail away, the 1993 and the Star Brigade figure.  Your mileage will vary.  But, this is a figure I can appreciate.

Gear wise, this figure is pretty sparse.  He includes the requisite figure stand (which was a great inclusion in 1997) as well as a version of the classic Cobra Commander pistol.  Sadly, the pistol looks out of the place with this mold.  The greater detailing and bulkier sculpt makes the weapon look puny.  An original 1987 pistol is a much better fit.  Oddly, Hasbro never released the 1987 pistol with any subsequent versions of the mold from the same year.  Yet, they did release the weapon in silver in 2002.  So, you can track down a cheap 2002 Snow Serpent and steal the silver version of his weapon and give it to this figure or one of the later 1987 Cobra Commander repaints as a way to reunite the figure with his intended weapon.  For me, classic figures look out of place without their appropriate guns.  Likewise, later figures look out of place with reissued early weapons.  So, I prefer an alternative weapon for the figure and save the classic 1983 pistol for other uses.

This figure's biggest flaw (other than not being the V1 mold....) is the lack of the helmet hose.  For some reason, Hasbro did not include the hose from the 1987 figure on this 1997 version.  Those hose had appeared on the international versions.  But, not here.  Hasbro modded the head to not have the page on the helmets left side to which the hose affixed.  They also made the mouth hole shallower.  As such, if you have a spare 1987 hose lying around, it barely fits onto this figure and easily falls off.  In the photos below, my Cobra Commander has a spare hose.  But, you can see the how ill fitting it is.  In 2001, the hose returned with this mold.  So, it wasn't a missing piece.  Hasbro just didn't feel they needed to include with the 1997 figure.  To me, the head looks incomplete without the hose.  So, I have to have one.  I have not tried a 2001 hose to see if it fits better.  But, the 1987 version is not a great match.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the 1987 Cobra Commander mold.  It's a cool enough figure and was a valuable addition to my collection in 1987 since my original Cobra Commanders were all worn out and broken.  But, the figure quickly fell into disfavor.  I didn't like any character wrapped in invincible armor.  Nor did I like the direction that the comic took with the Cobra Commander replacement.  So, to me, Cobra Commander wearing this suit never approached an iconic visage for the character.  That lead to this 1997 figure getting lost in the sea of acquisitions that comprised my collecting in the early 2000's.  It has only been recently that I've really grown to appreciate this release.  The rich colors, excellent paint details and general diversity from other uses of the parts has created a figure in whom I find great value.  This dark blue version of the battle armor is my favorite appearance of the Commander in this get-up.  While I overlooked him for years, it's nice to find him now.  It's proof that the vastness of the Joe line can obfuscate solid figures right before your eyes.

This Cobra Commander mold was used rather extensively.  Hasbro released the figure in the U.S. and Europe starting in 1987.  From there, they mold was sent to Brazil.  Estrela released the figure in colors nearly identical to the American release.  When Estrela was done with it, the mold went to India.  Funskool then also released this Cobra Commander in colors nearly identical to the American release.  The main difference in India was Cobra Commander's weapon.  Instead of the unique pistol from his earlier releases, he was given a stock-less Crazylegs rifle in India.  Hasbro got the mold back in 1996/1997 where it was used for this figure.  Hasbro released it again in 2001, again colored similarly to the 1987 release.  In 2005, the mold appeared twice.  First, it was used for the Comic Pack "Fred" Cobra Commander.  This release featured a new head and helmet, but was also colored similarly to the 1987 figure.  The body was also used on the Imperial Processional Guard figure.  At least this body was colored differently. For Cobra Commander releases, this 1997 figure remains the only significant repaint of the mold.

Time was, 1997 Joes were expensive.  This Cobra Commander was a $15 figure, 15 years ago.  Now, though, pricing has softened.  While there aren't any real alternatives to this mold in this color scheme, this version of Cobra Commander has been generally forgotten by the collecting world.  You see lots of dealers who will get $10 for this figure just because you don't see many offered for general sale.  However, you can get a carded set with the Baroness and Destro for $20 these days.  So, before you pay half that for just this Commander, I'd buy the full three pack and get all three figures.  They all have their charms and are well worth the $20.  This Commander is worth even the $10 just because he's the only way to get the updated take on the character in classic Cobra colors.  It just seems so odd that among so many releases of the mold, this one would stand apart as the singularly different release that was true to the Commander's roots.  But, that's the main reason I've grown more fond of the 1997 releases in the decades since their release.  They tried to be vintage.  While that's not always a perfect strategy, it was far better executed than the neither vintage nor interesting figures that tended to follow in the 2000's.

1997 Cobra Commander, Skeres, Midnight Chinese, Stormshadow, 2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage, Crimson Guard, 2006 Viper Pit, Cobra Viper, Crimson Guard Commander, Hiss Tank, 1983, Hiss DRiver, Alley Viper

1997 Cobra Commander, Skeres, Midnight Chinese, Stormshadow, 2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage, Crimson Guard, 2006 Viper Pit, Cobra Viper, Crimson Guard Commander, Hiss Tank, 1983, Hiss DRiver, Alley Viper

1997 Cobra Commander, Skeres, Midnight Chinese, Stormshadow, 2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage, Crimson Guard, 2006 Viper Pit, Cobra Viper, Crimson Guard Commander, Hiss Tank, 1983, Hiss DRiver, Alley Viper

1997 Cobra Commander, Skeres, Midnight Chinese, Stormshadow, 2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage, Crimson Guard, 2006 Viper Pit, Cobra Viper, Crimson Guard Commander, Hiss Tank, 1983, Hiss DRiver, Alley Viper

Thursday, November 9, 2017

2003 Python Patrol Lamprey - Around the Web

The Python Patrol set in 2003 received mixed reviews.  Collectors loved the fact that you got 5 unique army builders.  They also loved that Python Patrol was returning.  But, the actual figure releases didn't really fly.  While the figures matched the vintage vehicles: few collectors in 2003 really focused on the them.  The figures not being compatible with the vintage Python Patrol was a detriment.  So, while collectors did buy quite a few sets, the Python Patrol stuck around at retail for quite a while.  Due to its pegwarming, the Cobra Infantry set in 2004 only got a production of 20,000 sets instead of the Python Patrol's 25,000.  Now, though, this set is more appreciated by collectors and has gotten a bit harder to find.  For me, the highlight of the set was the Lamprey.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Lamprey Profile

Python Lamprey at JoeBattleLines.com

Violentfix's Python Lamprey

OGToys.com Python Lamprey

2003 Python Patrol Lamprey, 1987 Maggot, Toys R Us Exclusive

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

1994 Action Pilot

1994 was supposed to be a great Joe year.  The retail line had been struggling for a couple of years.  But, it was G.I. Joe's 30th Anniversary.  And, Hasbro had big plans to celebrate the milestone of one of their flagship lines.  Along with a stable of 12" figures, Hasbro shrunk down some of the classic G.I. Joe icons into their more popular 3 3/4" scale.  This resulted in adult collectors of the originals to both bemoan the injustice done to their childhood classics but also rush out and buy them up with hopes of future riches dancing in their heads.  In short order, though, it became apparent that Hasbro's approach of melding the 3 3/4" scale with the 12" Joe mythos didn't create a lasting collectible.  The 12" collectors abandoned the 3 3/4" renditions in favor of the new 12" offerings.  And, 3 3/4" collectors found the homages boring toys that lacked the characterization that drove the A Real American Hero franchise.  The result is a group of neglected figures from the final year of the Joe line that are generally unloved.  Among them, though, are some solid molds that work for generic army building.  But, there is one figure for whom I have found little use in my collection: the Action Pilot.

The Action Pilot looks very dated.  In an of itself, this isn't bad.  All of the four figures are dated and the diver is equally bad as the pilot. But, pilots have come a long way since 1964 and the Action Pilot looks out of place with the futuristic pilots that have been Joe's hallmark since Ace in 1983.  The real problem, though, is the helmet.  The helmet and gas mask are not the same mold from the 1992 Ace.  They are similar, but not the same.  This air mask is much smaller and does not fit as tightly with the helmet.  So, the main redeeming quality of the figure (the helmet and mask) are mostly useless and make the figure even more out of place in the cockpit of any Joe fighter plane.

When I pulled this guy out for photos, I was shocked at how much the head looks like Sterling Archer.  So, for any customizer out there, this figure is a great piece of source material to make a custom Archer figure.  The 60's style, slick black hair, strong cheeks and jaw and the blue eyes all fall into the archetype of a heroic figure from that time period.  It's hard to fathom that this Action Pilot is an homage to a figure that's now over 50 years old.

In 2000, my Joe collection was bursting at the seams.  I was buying up large lots of figures every week and supplementing these purchases with smaller, targeted acquisitions.  For a few weeks in 2000, I got on a 1994 Action Series kick.  I needed all 4 of the figures to complete my collection.  And, I thought that they may make for decent army builders.  So, in a very short time, I made the Action Series figures the focus of my acquisitions.  In very short order, I acquired seven or eight figures.  All were MIB as that was the only way you could find them at the time and they were dirt cheap: you could get all 4 for under $25 shipped.  As I opened the figures, though, I found myself disappointed in them.  The Soldier and Marine were cool enough.  But, their bulky sculpts were annoying.  The Diver was retro cool.  But, again, there were aspects of him that simply didn't hold up against the Joe divers of the '80's.

The Pilot, though, was the biggest disappointment.  His large body made it difficult to get him into any vintage aircraft.  And, he was cramped in those into which he would fit.  His helmet and mask were definite downgrades from the 1992, 1993 and even 1997 Ace figures.  In short, he was an utter disappointment.  I had planned on purchasing many more of the Action Series figures as 2000 wound down.  But, after finding them so limiting, I turned my focus to other things and the Action Series figures in my collection today can all be traced to that short window in 2000 when these guys initially grabbed my attention.

Since then, the Marine and the Soldier have appeared in various photos and dios.  They were decent enough filler and were a nice match for the Joseph Colton figure that I like more than I should.  They worked as generic army builders that helped to balance out the Cobra armies that would be attacking.  The Sailor has appeared less frequently.  Every now and then, he makes an appearance since he's a nice addition to maritime forces.  If I had a Flagg, he'd be a staple on it.  The pilot, though, has really never left his drawer.  I tried using the mold a few times in the early 2000's.  But, his poor fit in most early Joe aircraft was a drawback from which he could not recover.  I like the notion of a pilot far more than I like the figure.  Even the Action Astronaut finds more use than the pilot.  That's a tough lot for a figure that is a pretty decent homage and includes decent accessories.

The Pilot's gear is cool and kind of lame.  He includes the requisite rifle and pistol that also appeared with the Marine and Soldier.  But, this time, they are cast in green plastic.  There is the helmet and ill fitting air mask.  The pilot then, though, includes a parachute pack based off of the 1985 Parachute Pack mail away.  The pack itself is a deeper green than the earlier offerings.  But, the main difference is that there are no manufactured in markings.  The parachute is plain white.  And, the belt is all new and no longer sports the nifty plug in for the Ripcord air mask like the mail away release.  It's always nice to get more parachute packs.  And, the green accessory color is a subtle difference from the more commonly seen black and brown.  But, when you have the other figures, the common accessories start to get a bit stale and the bulk of the chute prevents it from working on the pilot in his intended specialty.

The Action Pilot actually has three variants.  The yellow version was released as part of the single, boxed figures.  The figure was then recolored in blue and released in special 5 figure set that included the exclusive Action Astronaut.  The blue version isn't really any better than this yellow version and I'm not sure why the Pilot was chosen to get such a drastically different paint job in the set.  But, it's also a useful figure to have hanging around the Flagg.  The final version, though, is among the rarest G.I. Joe figures ever made.  It is an all black version of the Action Pilot that was only available at the 1994 G.I. Joe Convention.  This was a special figure offered by Hasbro to celebrate the 30th Anniversary.  It is an incredible obscure and rare release and easily crosses into a triple digit price tag now.  The pilot was among the figures that showed up as keychains around 1998.  That keychain was colored similarly to the boxed 1994 figure with another blue keychain figure available in a boxed set that was an homage to the 5 figure gift set figure from 1994 as well.

Right or wrong, collectors don't care about the 30th Anniversary Action series of figures.  Even now, they are shockingly cheap.  While you don't see dozens and dozens of unsold samples like you used to, they are not hard to find.  Mint in Box versions of the Action Pilot run $10 and that's only because no one leaves them to open pricing.  If they did, they'd be even cheaper.  Bought in a lot with other boxed figures, you can get pilots for $7 or $8.  Loose, mint and complete versions are few and far between because only a small contingent of collectors opened these guys up.  Most are still boxed.  Pretty much every Action Series figure in my collection was opened from a boxed sample.  It's just easier to get them that way and the price makes sense.  As an oddball one off, the Action Pilot is worth having, especially for the price.  But, unlike the other three figures in the set, I find little value in army building him.  The ill-fitting helmet and mask limit the figure's usefulness.  So, that really relegates the Action Pilot into the realm of figures I own to check off the list rather than figures I find fun to own.

1994 Action Pilot, Dial Tone, Lifeline, 1993, Mudbuster, 30th anniversary

Thursday, November 2, 2017

1990 Metal Head - Around the Web

The 1990 Metal Head was one of the figures from the 1990's that I saw as a teenager.  A kid down the street had him and I thought he was awesome.  To this day, Metal Head's design and specialty are a great addition to Cobra.  You just don't see as much of him as you'd expect.  He's one of those lost gems from 1990 that straddles the line between the generation of kids who grew up around the G.I. Joe Movie and those who latched on in the neon years.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Metal Head Profile 2002

Metal Head Profile 2006

Metal Head at 3dJoes.com

Metal Head Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Metal Head Video Review

Metal Head at Joe A Day

Metal Head Video Review 2

1990 Metal Head, Iron Grenadiers

1990 Metal Head, Iron Grenadiers, 1991 Heavy Duty, Mercer

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Red Shadows Shadowtrak - European Action Force Exclusive

Everyone knows about the repainted G.I. Joe vehicles that were incorporated into the European Action Force line.  There are two lost gems from this line, though, to which G.I. Joe collectors pay little attention.  The first is the excellently sculpted weapons that were exclusive to the European line.  The second was the Palitoy exclusive vehicles that were created to accompany the figures.  It is the vehicles to which this profile is dedicated.  And, while there are are several exceptional Palitoy exclusive vehicles that were released, I find the Shadowtrak the one example that most fits with an American Joe collection.

The Shadowtrak was affiliated with the collector favorite Red Shadows faction of the Action Force line.  And, while it was designed for use with the 5 points of articulation Palitoy figures, the similar 3 3/4" scale G.I. Joe figures also work with the toy perfectly well.  The vehicle is also cast in red and charcoal black: giving it a wonderfully vintage G.I. Joe feel.  While you can tell the Shadowtrak isn't a Hasbro release, a casual observer would definitely mistake the vehicle for something straight out of Cobra's earliest years.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

The Shadowtrak has about the same footprint as a Hiss Tank.  It is much lower in height, though.  And, despite the appearance of a lot of area for figures, the vehicle only actually holds two individuals: one in the driver's seat and one in the rear facing gunner's station.  For some reason, the driver's seat folds down to create a larger space in the vehicle.  But, since the driver is now precluded from sitting at the controls, the seat doesn't seem to serve much purpose beyond being one of those little nuances of a toy that make it appear to do more than it actually does.  You can put the driver in a prone position with the seat down, making the Shadowtrak work much like the 1987 G.I. Joe Low Crawl Vehicle.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

The Shadowtrak is well armed.  It includes 2 mounted machine guns.  They can be configured differently around the Shadowtrak's various post holes.  You have have them forward facing or as weapons for use by the rear facing gunner.  If you can find either reproduction machine guns or extra originals, you could easily double the armaments for the Shadowtrak.  It also features two small missile caps on the side mounted bars.  Just the tips are removable and they are somewhat small and can often be missing from Shadowtraks found in the wild.  There's also an antenna that fits into the posts and can be moved around to fit your tastes.

Among the parts included with the Shadowtrak is a removable tow hook.  The hook isn't the standard G.I. Joe hook introduced in 1982.  It is just a single spike.  The upside is that is more versatile than the Hasbro designed hook that was really engineered to only be compatible with other Joe toys.  The downside, though, is that it's not standard Joe height.  Neither an ASP nor the SMS can be affixed to the hook as it sits too high: which is a shame as they both are great companion pieces.  But, as neither design was given to the Red Shadows, you can see why the precision of the hook with all Joe vehicles may not have been as much of a concern.  The Laser Exterminator, though, does fit onto the hook.  So, this makes the two Red Shadows vehicles perfect companions for each other.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

The Shadowtrak was first released by Palitoy in 1983.  That version was released in a window box.  Around 1984, the packaging was changed to a card box, more similar to G.I. Joe vehicles from the U.S.  The vehicle itself, though, is a modified release of the Action Force AF5 vehicle that first appeared around 1982.  This vehicle was a flying car that included a lot of snap on accessories.  The body was used again on the Cosmic Cruiser around the same time as the Shadowtrak was released.  The versatility of the mold is shown by these three releases.  You will note there are a lot of unused holes on the Shadowtrak.  On the surface, these allow for the owner to configure the guns and antenna in different combinations.  But, they also allowed for Palitoy to get more uses out of the base body mold without the toys appearing to be just straight repaints.  This is both a marvel of engineering and design as well as a genius way to get more out a single toy mold.  Hasbro really never took this approach.  To a causal observer, the AF5, Shadowtrak and Cosmic Cruiser would appear to be different toys.  But, the use of the removable parts helped to obscure the fact that the base body was used several times.

It also allows you to move the guns and antenna around and set the Shadowtrak into different configurations. I love vehicles with rear facing weapons as you never know when the bad guys will start chasing you.  But, it's also practical to have the weapons forward facing for attack positions.  With the Shadowtrak, you can move the guns around to your preferred setting depending upon the situation.  It's a neat little detail that gives the vehicle more flexibility without sacrificing too much aesthetic.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

The Shadowtrak included a driver named Red Vulture. Red Vulture was a straight re-release of the single carded Red Shadow figure with a minor difference.  Red Vulture has black gloves painted on his hands.  It's easy to remember that the driver is wearing driving gloves.  There are instances where the vehicle included the standard Red Shadow figure, too.  Fortunately, the vehicle being designed for a 5 points of articulation figure doesn't preclude vintage Joes from fitting inside it just fine.

Shadowtraks are both easy and hard to find.  In the U.S., there are few people who sell them.  Those who do, want inordinate amounts for them.  You'll often see opened box samples offered for $100 or more.  They don't sell at that price.  However, if you can find sellers in Europe or, especially, the UK, the prices fall precipitously.  You'll often see mint and complete Shadowtraks in the $30 or so range from non U.S. sellers.  Unfortunately, many of them will not ship to the United States.  If you can find one who does, the shipping isn't terrible as the vehicle isn't overly large and is relatively lightweight.

While we don't know for sure what happened to the Action Force toy molds, it's a pretty safe bet that they no longer exist.  When Hasbro acquired Palitoy in the early '80's they shifted Action Force away from the Palitoy proprietary molds towards repainted Hasbro molds.  Then, the forfeited the repaints and just released American toys on Action Force cards.  These transitioned into differently logo-ed G.I. Joe cards and boxes and the Action Force roots slowly faded away.  It's doubtful that Hasbro had any incentive to save the Palitoy molds.  They could have sold them off or licensed them out like they did with G.I. Joe.  But, this would have likely cut into Joe's international revenue stream and there was little incentive for Hasbro to compete with its flagship toy line.  So, the molds have been MIA since these releases.  I'd have loved for a few of them to have popped up in the 2000's.  But, since Hasbro didn't know where most of its own molds were, it is unreasonable to think they had access to the old Palitoy offerings.

For me, the Shadowtrak is an excellent way to expand an early Cobra army.  You have seen mine outfitted with Crimson Cobra Troopers from factory custom Joe makers.  They are a perfect match for the look and feel of the Shadowtrak and allow me more flexibility when putting together a Cobra convoy using figures and vehicles from prior to 1985.  On top of that, the vehicle fits the Cobra aesthetic.  It's kind of odd and loaded down with lots of weapons that may or may not make sense.  But, that is Cobra to a "T".  The Shadowtrak is a nice addition for a Laser Exterminator and looks good among other Cobra vehicles.  It offers anti-infantry capabilities that were lacking on the Hiss Tank and Stinger.  And, the different configurations lend themselves to army building Shadowtraks without them all appearing the same.

The Shadowtrak has opened the door of Action Force vehicles to me.  There are a wide variety of Palitoy offerings (mostly on the good guy side, though) that look very cool and fill a niche that Joe could use.  The problem, of course, if that some of them are very hard to find in good condition and complete.  While this Shadowtrak can be affordable, many of the other Action Force exclusives are less so.  But, the additional value this item brings to my collection far exceeds it's monetary cost.  I'm not really sure how I went so long without a Shadowtrak: especially when you consider they were rather common from U.S. sellers in the early 2000's.  But, I have the Shadowtrak now and it's become a vital part of my collection.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

Thursday, October 26, 2017

1988 Destro - Around The Web

I've always thought of the 1988 Destro as a perfect upgrade of a classic character.  They made him different enough to stand out.  But, he still retains enough of his original personality to know that this is Destro.  As such, I've always been fond of the figure, even if he lacks some paint details.  However, I've found that many collectors don't share my fondness for the mold.  There's surprisingly little content on the figure out there.  Here's the best I could find around the web for a figure that I quite enjoy.

1988 Destro Profile

1988 Destro Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Destro Dio 01

1988 Destro at JoeBattleLines.com

Destro & Despoiler Video Review

Destro Dio 02

1988 Destro, Despoiler, M Bison, Street Fighter Movie

1988 Destro, Despoiler, M Bison, Street Fighter Movie

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

1984 Clutch - VAMP Mark II Driver

All G.I. Joe vehicle drivers have to live up to Clutch.  I state this as fact only for the simple reason that, in the fall of 1982, Clutch was the coolest figure that my brother got for the birthday that introduced G.I. Joe into our lives.  While he was a vehicle driver, the awesome factor was mostly driven home by the complexity of his design and the fact that his chest was not shared with other figures from the time.  So, it is my own bias that puts Clutch as the standard for vehicle drivers.  But, through the line's early years, vehicle drivers often showcased designs that were equal, if not superior to, most of the carded figures from the year.  As the original Clutch's chest was not shared with other figures, Hasbro had less chance to recoup their costs from his design.  So, in 1984, when they produced an updated VAMP, Hasbro took a bit of a cheap way out and gave kids a newly repainted Clutch as it's driver.

As a kid, this Clutch was the only Clutch who really saw use.  Both of the original VAMPs from my childhood were acquired in 1982.  So, the standard Clutch figures were both straight arm.  By 1984, straight arm figures were used for parts or cannon fodder since they couldn't measure up to the swivel arm versions.  So, the only real representation of the character for me was this Clutch release.  And, as a kid who read the comic more and more as 1984 wore on, I simply had to have a Clutch figure. 

Clutch was one of those characters that simply stuck with you.  Larry Hama did a great job with Clutch's development.  And, as Clutch remained a mainstay of the comic for many, many years, it's likely that he was a favorite of Hama's.  Clutch was the guy who everyone should hate.  He was slightly misogynistic and completely full of himself.  But, he did it in a way that people liked him.  Scarlett felt that Clutch was relatively harmless and that made his swarm charming.  It's difficult to create a character like this.  Usually, the dichotomy is too much and the character ends up actually being unlikable.  But, Clutch retained his comic popularity and is a collector favorite to this day.

The VAMP Mark II is a solid vehicle.  It didn't live up to the VAMP in my childhood.  But, it was OK and served its purpose.  All of the original Joe vehicle drivers really just "fit" with their vehicles.  As such, Clutch was really the only choice to drive the updated VAMP.  Putting anyone else behind the wheel would have been disingenuous to the character and to the kids to associated the two together.  So, in this case, such an early repaint was entirely forgivable.  And, since I didn't have a good version of the original, it was an excellent way to keep Clutch in my collection.

As the VAMP Mark II didn't last all that long in my collection, I often found this Clutch figure other vehicles to drive.  There weren't many desert vehicles back in 1984 and 1985.  But, Clutch was the perfect driver for my APC.  This vehicle lacked a true driver.  So, Clutch was a good choice, especially if his jeep was out of commission.  In 1985, my younger brother got a toy jeep (non-military) that was a golden brown color.  It was slightly too large for Joes.  But, the fit well enough.  Clutch and Dusty had many an adventure in that jeep.  Clutch was Dusty's personal driver for the few weeks when Dusty was my newest figure and was the main focus of my play.

Like all the pre 1985 Joes, though, Clutch's days were numbered.  Starting in the second half of 1985, I became much more careful with my figures.  While I still played with them: I was more cautious and conscientious about keeping my figures nice.  The Joes who pre-dated this turn in my mindset found themselves on the outside looking in as the newer, nicer versions of figures became my focal point.  But, by 1986 and into 1987, the reality was that Clutch was dated.  He was a smaller, less detailed sculpt than the new offerings.  And, I was heavily swayed by recency in my collection so the newer figures always took precedence over the older models.  So, Clutch went into a box and became an afterthought.

When I first started up Joe collecting as a adult, though, Clutch was one of the first figures I sought out.  I remembered him vividly from my childhood.  A friend of mine at the time, who was only casually interested in G.I. Joe, could still recite Clutch's filecard: more than a decade since he had last read it.  That was the impression the Clutch character left behind.  So, now, both the original and this desert Clutch are vital parts of my collection.  You will often see them around as background characters in photos.  They may be driving a VAMP or other vehicle.  But, they may also be involved in general combat duties.  I'd viewed Clutch as a field trooper since day 1 of Joe in my life.  So, he remains more than just a driver to me.

Despite this early repaint, Clutch didn't see too much use.  After the original release and this 1984 repaint, the mold disappeared for about a decade.  Both the VAMP and VAMP Mark II were staples of release around the world with notable variants in Brazil.  Yet, Clutch didn't make the journey.  In the early 1990's, though, Clutch finally reappeared with his jeep when Funskool released their version of the VAMP.  There are several versions of the Clutch figure: all in various shades of green with a few instances of the Clutch body with a Short Fuze head: but with black hair.  The Funskool figures are very hard to find: especially in good condition.  But, they are very similar to the U.S. release and don't offer anything outside of different shades of what we already got through Hasbro.  Both the VAMP and Clutch appear to have gone out of circulation in the mid 1990's.  That implies that Hasbro may have gotten his mold back when they re-acquired the Funskool figures that made up the bulk of the 1997 and 1998 Toys R Us exclusive figures.  But, the Clutch mold was either not among the returns, was too damaged to be used again, or simply dropped into a Hasbro warehouse where it was forgotten again: never to return.

I'd love to see a factory custom Clutch.  While the Clutch character could be repainted into Night Force, Tiger Force and every other sub team imaginable, his parts would have other potential.  (If you want to see the potential for Clutch repaints, check out Chad and Matt's Clutch customs.)  Clutch's chest and arms could be combined with Cobra Trooper waist and legs and a Hiss Driver or Cobra Officer head.  This would be a great Cobra driver for Stingers or Hiss Tanks.  Again, the repaint would lend itself to a panoply of colors.  The head could be used for new Breaker or Rock and Roll figures.  Or, repainted into a color the head never appeared in and used to make a new figure in early Joe style.  In short, the possibilities are endless.  Hopefully, one of the factory custom makers is listening.

In the vintage line, Hasbro really didn't do too much with repaint until the very end of the line.  Sure, there were Tiger Force, Night Force and Python Patrol.  But, they were always supplements to the main figure line rather than parts of it.  As an adult collector, I lament the fact that Hasbro didn't do the entire original 13 in a desert scheme to make a variant, unified team.  As a kid, though, I probably would have hated it since I would have lost out on other figures.  (Though, getting the gear I had lost from the original figures would have been a welcome perk.)  In the collector era starting in 1997, though, Hasbro really had no reason to not revisit the original 13 Joes and do some sort of specifically themed team.  The 1997 Stars and Stripes and the comic packs from the mid 2000's were the two closest attempts.  But, the Stars and Stripes was more about getting the molds out to appease collectors.  The comic packs were closer.  But, the odd greens and mix matched parts from different eras created a mis-match that's probably worse than the Stars and Stripes set.  I keep hoping that factory custom Joe producers will look to bring some desert variants of original 13 Joes into the fold. More and more parts are available.  And, I'd love a tan Flash, Grand Slam, Hawk, Stalker and the rest.  But, since I've played with and collected Joe since 1982, I have a more nostalgic bent to these original figures and my preferences may not play well in a larger market.

The desert Clutch is about middle of the road as far as Joe figures go in terms of price.  Mint and complete with filecard figures can be had for $10.  But, dealers will charge $20 and you'll see more sell at that price than they should.  But, you don't see as many desert Clutch figures as you used to.  And, the lower supply leads to more dealer sales.  For $10, this figure is a no-brainer.  You buy him and move on.  He's a great companion to the Tan Grunt and his parts can be used in conjunction with that figure to make a perfect Tan Breaker, too.  When these guys were cheaper, they were desired for the custom possibilities.  Now, though, they are desired for the figure itself.  Collectors like Clutch and they like his desert repaint.  It's awesome to get an iconic character in environmental themed colors.  It's just too bad we didn't see a few more of the early Joes get this treatment.

1984 Clutch, 1982 VAMP, 1997 Grunt, 1984 Thunder, Zap

1984 Clutch, 1988 Desert Fox, 1983 Rock and Roll, Steel Brigade, Mail Away

1984 Clutch, 1988 Wild Card, Mean Dog, VAMP Mark II
Clutch doesn't take kindly to Wild Card stealing his parking spot.