Thursday, August 31, 2017

1989 Wild Boar - Around the Web

The Wild Boar figure isn't all that spectacular.  He's a bit oddly shaped, has few paints masks and is extremely susceptible to paint wear on the few parts that are painted.  He had potential, though, There's more content on him than I thought there would be.  Here's what I could find:

Wild Boar Profile

Wild Boar at

Wild Boar Dio 1

Wild Boar Video Review

Wild Boar at Joe Wiki

1989 Wild Boar, Iron Grenadiers, Frag Viper, 1987 Worms, Maggot

1989 Wild Boar, Iron Grenadiers, Frag Viper, 1987 Worms, Maggot, Hiss Tank, 1983, Night Viper

1989 Wild Boar, Iron Grenadiers, Frag Viper, 1987 Worms, Maggot, Hiss Tank, 1983, Night Viper, Aero Viper, HEAT Viper, Slaughters Marauders Mutt

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

1993 Nitro Viper

The Nitro Viper was one of my first profiles.  At the time, we were only six years removed from his retail release and the figure was both relatively unknown and hard to find on the second hand market.  In the 16 years since that original profile, though, the figure remains relatively unknown and somewhat hard to find.  I guess not that much changes.  The Nitro Viper, though, is a figure's who has remained a fun part of my collection.  The bright orange base color isn't for everyone.  But, when you accept the fact that he's bright, his integration with his vehicle and the stark, contrasting colors create a figure that is very useful.

The Nitro Viper is a straight repaint of the 1989 Track Viper.  As molds go, the Track Viper was decent, but flawed.  The Nitro Viper retains those original qualities, but covers them in a bright orange wrapper.  But, the result isn't as bad as you might think.  The orange is a solid contrast against the black and silver details.  The figure has a "shiny" appearance and is a perfect match for his vehicle.  The dark black contrasts so well with the orange and silver that the figure pops in any display.  He's hard to integrate with earlier Cobra vehicles and figures.  But, he actually matches up quite well with most of the Cobra hardware produced after 1991.

In the fall of 1996, I was finishing up my final semester of college.  I had a good amount of spending money from the summer before and, for the first time, had a car on campus that I could use to get out of town.  Many nights, I would run some toy rounds at the local stores.  My college town only had a Wal Mart and it was usually picked clean by up all night students.  But, a short drive away took me to Hamilton, Ohio where there was another Wal Mart, a Meijer and, in an older, run down building, one of the few remaining Hills stores around.  Here, I would shop for groceries while also searching out the new Star Wars figures that were being released.  Joes were a rare find by then as most stores had long clearanced their remaining stock.  On my final way out of town just days before Christmas of 1996, I stopped at said Hills store.  The toy aisle was nothing more than boxes haphazardly strewn onto shelves.  Most of the toys were older items that had not sold and closeouts of unpopular toy lines that traditional retailers had not bothered to purchase.  Here, I found a Talking Battle Commanders Stalker figure.  (Actually, three of them.)  It cost me $4.95, but I hadn't found any Joes for months and figured I shouldn't pass an opportunity by.  With him in hand, I strolled to the very back of the store.  Here was an aisle full of every knick knack imaginable.  It was heavily stocked with toys that had been opened.  There I found my first Detonator.

The box was opened and there was no figure inside.  Even for $10.00, I couldn't bring myself to buy it with no figure.  I stopped by the store a few more times in early 1997 on the occasion that I went to visit friends still in school.  That Detonator was always there.  Now, I regret not buying it.  The vehicle is very nice and I'd like to have more than one.  But, who knows if my fascination with the Nitro Viper would have ever occurred had I first acquired his vehicle.

That fascination began simply enough.  In the spring of 1999, a Joe collector discovered that Hasbro Canada still had overstock G.I. Joe mail away toys.  There were huge amounts of figures and vehicles, all available for insanely cheap prices.  I dutifully checked off the figures I wanted and mailed them a check.  A few weeks later, a package arrived at my apartment.  In it were most of the figures I had ordered.  But, also a few replacements for figures that were either not available or had already sold out.  Among the replacements were an Air Devil, Cloudburst and my first Nitro Viper figure.  At the time, I was obsessed with finding 1994 Star Brigade Roadblock figures.  For some reason, the orange and black combo enthralled me.  Finding a Cobra in a similar color scheme was an amazing discovery.  But, I had just the one figure.  I couldn't bring myself to remove him from the plastic mailer bag.

This began an obsession to find as many Nitro Vipers as I could.  But, it was 1999.  Finding any lots of Joes made after 1991 was actually pretty hard.  While you'd see many Night Force and V1 Steel Brigade figures all the time, you might find one or two lots of 1992 or later figures in any given month.  Pretty much the only way to get a Nitro Viper was to buy an overpriced dealer's boxed Detonator and pay $20 in shipping to boot.  Near the end of the year, though, I found a huge lot of 1992 and 1993 figures.  I was mainly interested as the lot contained Headhunters.  But, also in the menagerie of neon goodness were both a Detonator and my first, loose Nitro Viper.

The Nitro Viper had two early appearances.  In the 1993 G.I. Joe product catalog, the figure was blacked out.  The figure model that was used for the silhouette was the 1991 Toxo Viper.  It's possible that a repainted Toxo Viper was considered for the driver.  Both have the large face shields.  Frankly, seeing the 1991 Toxo Viper in bright orange with black highlights and a silver facemask would have been awesome.  But, it might also have just been a placeholder.  The Nitro Viper appears again in some Hasbro product photography.  This early figure features more silver paint on the figure's chest and more closely matches the artwork on the Detonator box.  It's likely the additional paint applications were removed to save money on a low production run figure.  This more silver Nitro Viper appeared on the photo of the Funskool Detonator, too.  This sometimes leads new collectors to believe that Funskool produced not only a Nitro Viper, but also an Alley Viper in close to 1993 paint schemes.  Funskool produced neither figure, though, as they reused Hasbro stock photography for the box of their Detonator release.  (The Funskool Detonator only included random pack in figures that were also produced in the regular, carded Funskool line of the time.)

The Nitro Viper mold was sold by Hasbro to Olmec toys in the mid 1990's.  At the time, Hasbro had used it twice and had no intention of ever producing classically molded G.I. Joe figures again.  Olmec used the mold in the infamous Bronze Bombers set: as the body base for a few good guys.  As such, there are four uses of the body for collectors to track down.  Though, just two of them are Hasbro produced and include the head.  The original paint job of the Track Viper was decent and the Nitro Viper is fun.  In Cobra blue, this figure would have made a great driver for an updated Hiss II or even original Hiss.  The mold is simple and isn't the type of thing that warrants being out of his vehicle.  But, there are two solid versions of the figure for collectors, so that's something.

Nitro Vipers used to be stupidly cheap, but really hard to find.  Now, they are still relatively affordable.  While many dealers will try to get $25 or more for a mint and complete figure, the reality is that the market price seems to be between $8 and $10 if you can find them out in the wild.  The Nitro Viper didn't have a legitimate filecard (A collector wrote one that Hasbro "sanctioned" in a toy magazine and that will sometimes attract a good price but the figure does not have a Hasbro produced filecard.) so the figure is complete with just the pistol.  You still don't see tons of Nitro Vipers for sale.  Many that do see were sourced from the Hasbro Canada Find in 1999.  So, a lot of these were pumped into the collecting community and made more available than were they only available with the Detonator.  Personally, I like army building the figure and wish I had more.  I have a soft spot for the 1993 and 1994 figures due to my searching them out as a young adult.  That makes the Nitro Viper more forgivable to me.  But, more and more collectors have found the figure fun and interesting.  If you can find a cheap one, you should buy it and see if you feel the same.

1993 Nitro Viper, Detonator

1993 Nitro Viper, Detonator

Thursday, August 24, 2017

2002 Shock Viper - Around the Web

When the Joe line was cancelled at retail in late 2001, Hasbro was pretty far along with the final wave of the A Real American Hero Collection.  Rather than let it go to waste, Hasbro produced a very limited run and sold them to online G.I. Joe resellers.  The result was a wave that was hard to get in large numbers.  For the most part, this wasn't an issue: except for one figure.  Packaged with Serpentor, the 2002 Shock Viper was one of the best army builders of the ARAHC era.

The figure is a repaint of the 1994 Ice Cream Soldier mold.  But, the sculpting, combined with new colors, lent itself to a Cobra repaint to such an extent that most people now refer to this as the "Shock Viper Mold" instead of the Ice Cream Soldier mold.  For most collectors, it was tough to get more than 6 of the Shock Vipers due to sold out stock and online dealer purchasing limits.  But, time has somewhat evened that out.  Even though, the figure still remains relatively hard to find.

Despite being one of the best army builders of the era, there's not a ton of content in regards to the figure out there.  This is a combination of his relative scarcity and the fact that collectors tend to prefer the more standard Cobra army builders when setting up displays.  But, here's the best content for the 2002 Shock Viper form around the web.

2002 Shock Viper Profile

Shock Viper at Half The Battle

Shock Viper at

Shock Viper Dio by Outrider

Shock Viper Dio by ScarrViper

Shock Viper Dio by Outrider 2

2002 Shock Viper, ARAHC, Wave V, Dial Tone, 2000, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

1985 Transportable Tactical Battle Platform

The G.I. Joe line was originally conceived as a series of vehicles.  They were high profit toys for Hasbro.  However, the figures that were designed to interact with those vehicles turned out to be massively popular.  But, the vehicles remained a vital part of the line's overall profitability.  As the line progressed, the scale and audacity of the vehicles grew as well.  Each year, Hasbro was able to produce vehicles that outdid the year before.  In 1985, though, the bar was raised as high as it could go.  Along with the excellent Moray and Mauler, Hasbro pumped out the unprecedented USS Flagg.  The 7 1/2 foot behemoth remains the flagship for the Joe line: both literally and figuratively.  Lost in between massive carrier and the amazing higher end vehicles, though, is the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform.  Despite its lack of an included figure, the TTBP (for short) is on par with Hasbro's other releases and is an excellent example of the overall vehicle quality that dominated the Joe line.

My younger brother got the TTBP for his birthday in October of 1985.  Unfortunately, the one he got had a production defect where the control room windshield was warped and didn't fit into the base.  This heavily colored the toy for me since it was frustrating to not have a cool feature like the window be available.  So, I didn't really pay the TTBP much mind.  Of course, I had my recently purchased Mauler and hope of a Christmas USS Flagg (that never materialized) to divert my attention.  One of my best friends, though, loved the TTBP.  Whenever I'd go to his house, he'd pick it first and have it be the focal point of his play.  He had his mom get him longer string and kept it on a small table.  The longer string could reach all the way to the floor and he'd use this as the means of making his base impenetrable.  I finally starting bringing my JUMP pack over so I'd have a way of attacking him other than the Skystriker, Rattler or Dragonfly.  (At his house, it wasn't Joe Vs. Cobra, it was me vs. him with each of our armies.)  But, that was about the extent of my interaction with the TTBP.

In late 1986, the TTBP finally found a calling.  Having given up my dreams of a Flagg, I looked to other options for an aircraft carrier.  So, I used my bed.  I set up the 1983 HQ at one end and put the TTBP at the corner of the other end.  The HQ was the ship's bridge and command center.  The TTBP was the air traffic control who launched the fighters and spotted approaching Cobras.  This made the TTBP the action center when it was time to fight.  Cobra would attempt to destroy it first, so the Joes couldn't launch any more aircraft.  Usually, the TTBP would last for a while: its missiles taking out the first few Night Ravens or Rattlers.  But, eventually, Cobra would take it out.  Once that happened, the battle turned into a sea fight with Hydrofoils and Hovercrafts while the ground crew on the ship tried to sort out the carnage while also trying to fend off boarding Eels.  Some of these battles were so elaborately set up that I'd sleep in my parent's guest room for a few days so I didn't have to move all the toys each night.

This scenario, though, was a recurring theme throughout 1987 and continued as a key plot point until my final days of playing with toys.  Having a massive command ship opened up large opportunities for play.  In that regard, the TTBP held its own.  The bridge, helipad and mounted gun and missile launcher offered a myriad of different stories.  If the missiles shot down the Cobra aircraft too soon in the battle, the next attack would be differently formulated to avoid this problem.  It allowed for an ever escalating conflict to remain fresh.  And, with large surface area of the "ship", I was able to combine sea, air and land vehicles into one battle.  This was perfect as it allowed me to use all of my toys and keep my favorites in the mix, even when it wouldn't, on the surface, appear that a Mauler tank would be all that useful at sea.

The TTBP has a few key elements to the design.  It's set up so there are multiple play areas that can either act alone or in concert with each other.  The primary point is the command center.  This is a large, open pit with a control room piece that surrounds the space.  Inside is a mounted spotlight and the whole area is enclosed by a windshield.  There is just a single seat.  But, there's lots of other space to pose figures around the controls or in command.  It has an opening to a tunnel that connects the command center to the cargo area.  It's nicely tucked along the back of the toy and is a somewhat forgotten feature of the TTBP.

The cargo area is another wide open space that allows for lots of figures.  The keystone is a crane.  It has a winch with rope and hook from the Dragonfly.  It has a small ladder to allow characters to climb in and out of the depressed pit.  The lowered floor allows for figure posting around the edges.  There's some small details on the floor.  But, in general, the space is open and uncluttered.  You can easily store some of the mundane pieces of the Joe line like weapon crates, gas cans and other battlefield necessities in the space.  It's something that's overly practical on a base like this, even if it doesn't seem like much fun out of the box.  (Oh, and as Jeremy reminded me in the comments, there is also a 5 weapon rack that fits across the outer wall.  Included with the TTBP were slightly differently colored versions of Stalker's M-32, Grunt's M-16, Snow Job's XMLR, Airborne's XM-16 and a very differently colored version of Ripcord's SLR-W1L1 rifle.   The weapons were attached to a tree and slightly lighter in color than the versions packed with the figures.  It's a great additional detail that adds some more play value to the cargo area.)

Between the command center and cargo area is a helipad.  It is accessible by a small ladder.  (The entire playset uses ladders to great effect as they don't take up much real estate and provide great realism.)  The helipad can hold either a Dragonfly or a Skyhawk, depending upon your preference.  You could also set a JUMP platform up there.  Thought that's overly redundant.  You will notice small hooks on the dec.  In the comic, two Dragonflies attached their hooks to these and carried the TTBP out to sea.  As a kid, I re-enacted that scene with two Dragonflies.  It actually held for a while and I could the whole thing.  But, eventually, one of the hooks gave way and snapped under the weight.  So, they aren't overly useful bits, but are kind of fun to remember from the TTBP's introduction in the comic.

Across the front the TTBP are three main details: a gun turret, missile stand and ramp.  The ramp is somewhat interesting.  The slot for it is about the exact size of the 1985 Armadillo vehicle and it's a perfect piece to combine with the ramp for extra defenses.  The missile launcher uses slightly recolored versions of the missiles that were available on the Skystriker.  The Skystriker missiles are darker and you often see TTBP missiles sold on complete Skystrikers.  So, that's something to watch for.  The gun is massive and can shoot up in the air or straight.  Not being able to point down is a bit of a letdown.  But, it's still cool to see a gun station on a Joe base.  Each weapon sits on a small platform and has a hatch that is covered with a tab.  You can remove it to see additional mechanical details.

The overriding theme of the TTBP is space.  There's lot of open area to display figures.  In that regard, it's an excellent toy.  You can showcase pretty much an entire year's worth of figures without being overly cramped.  For something with a small footprint, that's a real rarity.  And, adding in the fact you could also showcase a Dragonfly and Armadillo on it, it has a full range of possibility.  As such, you often see TTBP's as showcase items in many collections.  They aren't there to show off the possession of a TTBP: like you see with both the Flagg and Terrordrome.  They are a clean way to show off a collector's favorite Joes while being able to use a fun playset.

The TTBP is slightly reminiscent of a Maunsell Fort from World War II.  There are pictures of samples that are in colors similar to the TTBP's.  The notion of a water fortress has been ingrained in man since early warfare.  So, getting something like this in the Joe line was just another example of how the early designers were tuned into real military concepts.

The TTBP was only ever released by Hasbro.  It saw production in American, European, Canadian and Japanese packaging.  But, all the toys were made from the same facilities.  It was never exported out of the Hasbro family.  In 1995, Hasbro planned to repaint the TTBP and release it as the Battle Station.  It appears this would have been an Arctic themed release that was mostly white.  So, not all that much different from the original release.  But, it would have included a couple of figures: Snow Serpent and Big Ben.  Had it been released, I probably would have bought it just to get the two figures.  But, it would have been cool to see another take on this mold.

Transportable Tactical Battle Platforms have lots of small pieces that are easily lost and broken.  On top of that, you have a windshield that tends to yellow.  And, the base itself is easily discolored white plastic.  As such, truly mint and complete TTBPs are pricey.  Usually, they'll run between $60 and $80 depending on the number in the market and the brilliance of the white base.  You can get them a lot cheaper if you sacrifice a few pieces or are fine with some discoloration of the plastic.  There are some spectacular custom TTBPs out there made from discolored parts.

As a playset, the TTBP is tough to beat.  It can display a lot of figures, and even hold a vehicle or two.  It can use the storage footprint to offset other toys and becomes a relative bargain as a display piece in terms of space used.  Plus, it's a great way to incorporate figures from across G.I. Joe generations since many different figures integrate well with the design.  In short, it's one of those toys that pretty much every collector has: but none really love.  It's awesome to own.  But, once you have your setup complete, there's no real reason to come back.  Other, more popular vehicles of the vintage era are returned to by collectors time and time again due to their complexity and general spectacular design.  The TTBP is kind of like an Alpine or Footloose figure.  They are rarely anyone's favorite.  But everyone has them because they are great toys.  They are just eclipsed by other figures from their time that were better.  That's the TTBP's fate.  But, that's OK since that will keep something that's attainable and useful for pretty much everyone.

1985 Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, TTBP, Comando Trevassia, Brazil, Estrela, General Hawk, 1986, Mission to Brazil Wetsuit, 2006 Shipwreck, Footloose, 1983 Dragonfly, Lift Ticket, Convention Paratrooper Dusty, 2002, cutter, Mainframe

1985 Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, TTBP, Comando Trevassia, Brazil, Estrela, General Hawk, 1986, Mission to Brazil Wetsuit, 2006 Shipwreck, Footloose, 1983 Dragonfly, Lift Ticket, Convention Paratrooper Dusty, 2002

1985 Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, TTBP, Comando Trevassia, Brazil, Estrela, General Hawk, 1986, Mission to Brazil Wetsuit, 2006 Shipwreck, Footloose, 1983 Dragonfly, Lift Ticket, Convention Paratrooper Dusty, 2002

1985 Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, TTBP, Comando Trevassia, Brazil, Estrela, General Hawk, 1986, Mission to Brazil Wetsuit, 2006 Shipwreck, Footloose, 1983 Dragonfly, Lift Ticket

1985 Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, TTBP, Comando Trevassia, Brazil, Estrela, General Hawk, 1986, Mission to Brazil Wetsuit, 2006 Shipwreck

Thursday, August 17, 2017

1997 Stormshadow - Around the Web

I've grown to appreciate the 1997 Stormshadow figure much more.  His 1992 Ninja Force inspired look isn't overbearing.  But, is different enough from the original.  His construction and paint quality is pretty strong and he includes the full array of vintage Stormshadow accessories.  Plus, you can get him cheap.  All of that adds up to a solid figure release.

I still consider this figure "new" even though he's 20 years old, now.  But, he's held up much better than many of the later repaints and show that the 1997 Hasbro team was much more in tune with what collectors would want than their later counterparts.  There's not much out there on this guy as the bulk of the character content is focused on the 1984 figure.  But, here's what I could find of him around the web.

Stormshadow Profile

1997 Stormshadow at ARAH Gallery

1997 Stormshadow Pre-Production at

1997 Stormshadow Dio 1

1997 Stormshadow Dio 2

1997 Stormshadow at Nekoman's Viper Pit

1997 Stormshadow, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Gung Ho, Short Fuse, Black Major, Bootleg, Blue Stormshadow, Ninja Viper

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 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

Hardball Dio 1

Hardball Video Review

Hardball at Joe Wiki

Hardball PreProduction at

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 the 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

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