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