Tuesday, March 20, 2018

1983 FANG

The 1982 Joe toys were amazing.  They brought a level of detail and play-ability that surpassed even the Star Wars toys of the era.  But, 1983 was even better.  Joe got a Headquarters, attack helicopter and fighter jet.  Cobra got its first vehicles, too, putting them more on par with Joe as an enemy.  While most of the toys of that year are iconic, the Cobra FANG was a release that simply never clicked with me.  It may have been that I wanted too much out of a cheap release.  Or, I just had back luck with a single poor quality version.  But, as a kid, the FANG was the one vehicle from 1983 (aside from the gliders) that didn't really resonate with me.  It couldn't hold a candle to the Dragonfly or Skystriker and didn't include a unique pilot.  In short, it lacked the defining features that set apart something like the Hiss Tank.

But, the FANG has taken on new significance to me as an adult collector.  I didn't much care for the FANG as a kid.  I found that it was too flimsy.  The missiles always fell off when you played with it.  And, the overly exposed pilot was too easy a target for the Joes.  It had no place for a figure's accessories while they flew it.  And, the pilot didn't stick into the cockpit all that securely and the figure flying the FANG would often fall out when performing the most basic of kid maneuvers.  So, the FANG got relatively little use.  But, now, the FANG has all the hallmarks of classic Cobra vehicles.  It fits perfectly with the Hiss Tank, Rattler and Stinger.  In short, it's classic Cobra.  So, for that reason alone, I re-examined my dislike of the FANG and found some value in it.

My only real childhood memory of the FANG is also one of the reasons why I've dismissed it through the years.  In the late summer of 1983, a friend around the block had most of the new Joe toys.  Among them were the FANG, Major Bludd and Destro.  One day, the FANG grabbed my interest.  I don't recall which of the 2 aforementioned figures I had as the pilot of copter.  But, whichever it was, I placed his pistol into the cockpit by the figure's feet.  At one point, playing on the sidewalk that bordered the driveway, I had the FANG perform a maneuver and the pistol fell out into the tall grass.  My friend was, naturally, upset.  And, I spent what seemed like hours (it was probably only a few minutes.) combing the grass until I found the missing pistol.  At that moment, the FANG became worthless to me.

My younger brother would get a FANG for his birthday a couple of months later.  But, as I had purchased the Dragonfly before the FANG arrived into our house, I had almost no interest in such a basic toy.  The Dragonfly was infinitely better.  I had a few battles here and there between the two.  But, the FANG missiles were always a hassle and I ended up abandoning most air to air combat scenarios as they weren't all that much to play out.  The FANG remained in our toy room where, eventually, the rotor blades broke off and the skids were cracked.  It was never replaced and remained a ghost in boxes of broken Joe toys until 2003 when I finally tossed a bunch of my broken vehicles that were beyond salvage.  Even the Sears  Dreadnok FANG (which my brother got for Christmas in 1986) fell apart quickly and really had no place in my play patterns.

And, so, the FANG became a forgotten element of Joe for me.  I liked the way the FANGs were used in issue #30 of the comic.  I always thought it odd that the FANGs were referred to as SNAP helicopters.  The FANG had been out for over a year and a half at that point and even appeared in the comic several times.  It was a silly error that still bugs me to this day.  But, not even those printed adventures were enough to gain the FANG prominence in my collection.  Even as an adult collector, that bias lingered and the FANG was never a target for my acquisitions.  Now, though, I have more of a collecting focus on pre-1985 Joe offerings since those were the prime childhood years that drove my love for the franchise.  That moved the FANG back into focus.  But, never enough for me to seriously hunt one down.  Now that I have one, though, I appreciate it much more.  I like it as a venue for the Viper Pilot since the Viper Glider is a piece of junk.

The FANG has some decent display elements since the pilot is completely exposed.  (A hallmark of Cobra vehicles.  They must have hated their drivers/pilots.)  This allows for the display of a figure.  And, the skids hold two figures on foot pegs.  So, you can display some additional figures along with the pilot.  And, the FANG doesn't have a huge footprint if you position the rotor to be parallel with the FANG's body.  So, it's display to space ratio is pretty cool.  It has classic Cobra colors that complement the early Cobra figures, too.  In short, as a collector piece, the FANG succeeds despite the failings I found in it as a toy.

The FANG is actually quite brittle.  It also has some easily lost and broken pieces.  The fact that it's still so cheap suggests that a lot of them were made and, despite all the issues, a ton made it to the collecting world.  The FANG missiles never stayed on well for me.  But, they are large and bright.  So, neither they nor the bomb are really difficult to find.  The rotors do tend to break off.  Once that happens, there's no salvaging the victim.  The real bugger on this vehicle is the engine cover.  It is the most often missing piece.  And, the little tabs that hold it in place are easily broken.  So, finding a mint engine cover can be frustrating.  I'd like to say the engine cover doesn't matter much.  But, the red color helps break up the grey and black on the copter's backside and is a welcome visual diversion.  Of course, you'll notice that my FANG is stripped down.  I have the parts somewhere.  I just don't know where.  Hopefully, they'll show up some time this summer as I clean out more boxes.

Hasbro released the FANG in 1983 and then repainted it in the Sears Exclusive Dreadnok Sets in 1986.  After that, the mold was done in the U.S.  However, the FANG saw extensive life as an international release.  Repackaged FANGs were sold in Europe and Japan.  Exclusive FANGs were released in both Brazil and in India.  In fact, Funskool was shipping the FANG into the early 2000's.  Hasbro resculpted the FANG in the late 2000's and released in colors also reminiscent of the original.  Despite all these releases, though, the international versions were essentially the same as the American release.  So, there's lots to buy if you are a FANG collector.  But, the looses versions don't bring a great deal of diversity to a collection.

Dealers will sell mint and complete with blueprints FANGs in the $30 range.  With a little looking, you can get them for 1/2 that: especially if you are willing to buy several of them at once.  Incomplete, the copters can be had for under $10.  But, the missiles, bomb and, especially, the engine cover will set you back quite a bit more.  The real issue is the shipping.  The large rotor blades require the FANG to be shipped in larger boxes: adding to the price.  So, the best deals are local ones where shipping can be avoided.

Now, I have a FANG.  It's nice to have it among the early Cobra vehicles and figures as it fits them so well.  But, I don't see a need to build an army of them and I don't really foresee my general feelings on the FANG changing all that much.  I appreciate the copter for what it is and understand why many collectors love it so much.  But, I see limitations that are leftovers from childhood memories.  That's a powerful force for a toy to overcome: especially when the line is as vast as the Joe line is.  There's so many more toys that I find cooler and more fun to own.  But, this FANG was there in my Joe infancy.  So, good or bad, that carries some nostalgic value.  I can't see the vehicle without thinking of that fall day where the gun fell from the cockpit.  That reminds of the climbing tree in that old front yard and all the fun times we had there.  I guess that makes this FANG more valuable than I had given it credit for.

1983 FANG, Major Bludd, Cobra Trooper, Viper Pilot, Vibora, Python Patrol, Black Major, Estrela, Brazil

1983 FANG, Major Bludd, Cobra Trooper, Viper Pilot, Vibora, Python Patrol, Black Major, Estrela, Brazil, steel Brigade, Mail Away

1983 FANG, Firefly, 1984, Stinger, Stinger Driver, Hiss Driver, Wal Mart Exclusive, Unproduced, Midnight Chinese, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

Thursday, March 15, 2018

1992 Toxo Zombie Around the Web

So, it turns out that people seem to like Zombies these days.  Caught up in that cultural zeitgeist is the 1992 Toxo Zombie figure.  Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, this figure was pretty much a joke.  Collectors hated the fact that it even existed.  Now, though, the Toxo Zombie figure is rather popular.  Just looking at the sheer volume of content below, you can see that the figure has become a staple of many people's collections.  It is a favorite of photographers and the Toxo Zombie often appears on various online communities.  Here's some of my favorite content on the Toxo Zombie from around the web:

Toxo Zombie Profile

Toxo Zombie at ARAH Gallery

Toxo Zombie Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Toxo Zombie at JoeADay.com

Toxo Zombie by OldBaldysToyChest

Toxo Zombie by JamietheTeleViper

Toxo Zombie by ScarrViper

Toxo Zombie at 3DJoes.com

Toxo Zombie Halloween at JoeADay.com

Secret of the Ooze Dio

Toxo Zombie by Outrider

Toxo Zombie at Half The Battle

Toxo Zombies at JoeDios

Toxo Zombie by b33jb

Toxo Zombie Returns at JoeADay.com (He really likes the Toxo Zombie!)

Toxo Zombie by kaboomtoys

1992 Toxo Zombie, 1991 BAT, Battle Andriod Trooper, 1991 Toxo Viper, Eco Warriors, Battle Corps

1992 Toxo Zombie, 1993 Duke, Eco Warriors, Battle Corps

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

1989 Darklon

I was pretty much out of Joe toys in 1988.  I still followed the comic, though.  And, as such, was familiar with Destro's new Iron Grenadiers faction.  My younger brother got an Iron Grenadier figure and I was enthralled with its design.  But, it wasn't enough to entice me back to toys.  As 1989 dawned, I kept Joe at arm's length.  I still bought the comic and read it.  But, the stories didn't speak to me in the same way that the earlier issues had.  I didn't like the splintering of Cobra and the fact that Destro had gone out on his own.  The 1988 through 1990 comic story lines became a string of largely forgettable arcs for me.  Among these stories was the introduction of Darklon: a distant relative of Destro's who didn't seem to serve much purpose.

The Darklon figure is interesting.  If you start at the head and work your way down, it takes a while for the issues to come to light.  The figure's head is strong enough.  The helmet is odd and weird.  But, that's not bad and it fits the Cobra theme.  His painted, reddish eyes beneath the mask are a spectacular touch that give the head far more depth.  As you move to the figure's torso, the green and black remain quite strong.  Sure, the traditional military colors are more a fit for a Joe.  But, Cobra needed some green and Darklon brings it.  From the waist up, this is really a figure everyone should love.  But, the design completely goes off the rails starting at the figure's waist.  It's red.  And, not a cool, crimson red that would tie to Cobra.  No, it's an off red that simply looks out of place everywhere.  Add to that brown highlights and a golden cluster of grenades on his right boot and you've suddenly got one hot mess of an action figure.

Fittingly, Darklon doesn't see much press these days.  He's a rare participant in Joe photos and isn't often seen on any favorite figure lists.  He's just so odd that he doesn't resonate with collectors.  While his Evader vehicle is a nice match for the Iron Grenadier vehicles, the figure is not.  Darklon simply doesn't match up with any of Destro's other compatriots.  That leaves Darklon without a real purpose.  He's not cool enough to stand on his own.  But, he's so different from other Iron Grenadiers that he doesn't match with them, either.  In the comic, Darklon was selling the Python Patrol technology to Cobra.  If you look at his filecard, you can see that the artists had him in a more python-esque theme with his shirt pattern.  If that had found it's way to the figure, you might have more collectors who viewed Darklon as a Python Patrol member or leader.  But, as he was released, he doesn't work in that capacity, either.

Personally, I have no use for Darklon.  As the figure isn't that good, I have little reason to find a place for him.  And, since I was out of Joe in 1989, I have no nostalgic sentiment attached to the character.  I've found the Bronze Bomber version of Darklon to be somewhat useful.  But, even that figure couldn't survive my collection downsizing of the early 2010's.  So, Darklon becomes a figure I own for completion's sake and little other reason.  His weird gun is kind of fun.  But, it's also so bizarre that it's tough to take it too seriously.  And, it really looks like Darklon's weapon and that makes it difficult to attach the gun to other figures.  So, Darklon languishes in obscurity, even for me.

As a character, Darklon is all but forgotten. He is as a figure, as well.  Hasbro never reused the Darklon mold.  They thought so little of it, they sold it Olmec Toys in the mid 1990's.  Olmec found value in the mold when Hasbro did not.  They released what is probably the best Darklon figure in their 1997-ish Bronze Bombers set.  Crazeblaze, a full repaint of the Darklon mold in dark purple (almost black) and tan is easily a far better figure to represent Darklon in any collection.  If that weren't enough, there is a "good guy" figure in the set who utilizes Darklon's body mold in grey and blue.  He's a great match for a Snow Serpent and can work with a simple Darklon headswap...assuming you can find a cheap Bronze Bomber with which to work.  The mold died with Olmec as they ran into legal problems and was, likely, sold for scrap.  Darklon did see two releases in the anniversary line.  One a convention exclusive and the other a club exclusive.  Both figures are overly expensive and not great alternatives when you consider what else you could get with that kind of money.

Dealers sell mint, complete with filecard Darklons in the $16 range.  But, left to the open market, you can get them for just a hair under $10.  Sacrifice the filecard, and you can get them for $6.  You can still get mint in bubble figures for around $12, too.  For a figure that's susceptible to paint wear and breakage, that's not a terrible price.  But, Darklon is a terrible figure.  So, he's never going to be overly popular and will pretty much remain the lost member of the Iron Grenadier fraternity.  The upside is that you can add a bizarre enemy figure to your collection for peanuts.  The downside, though, is that you have a figure that really doesn't fit anywhere.

1989 Darklon, Evader, Iron Grenadiers, Metal Head, 1990, 1988 Voltar

1989 Darklon, Evader, Iron Grenadiers, Metal Head, 1990, 1988 Voltar

Thursday, March 8, 2018

1989 Gnawgahyde - Around the Web

Gnawgahyde was released after my time.  But, among the Dreadnoks released after 1985, I think he's the best.  It's an incredibly detailed mold and includes amazing accessories.  He's a favorite of Joe photo collectors and he appears in quite a bot of content out here on the character.  Here's some of what I found on him around the web.

Gnawgahyde Profile

Gnawgahyde at JoeDios.com 1

Gnawgahyde at JoeBattleLines.com

Gnawgahyde PreProduction at YoJoe.com

Gnawgahyde at JoeDios.com 2

Gnawgahyde at JoeDios.com 3

Gnawgahyde at Wikipedia

Gnawgahyde at JoeDios.com 4

Gnawgahyde Video Review

Gnawgahyde at JoeDios.com 5

Gnawgahyde at HalftheBattle.com

Gnawgahyde at JoeDios.com 6

Gnawgahyde at JoeWiki

Gnawgahyde at JoeDios.com 7

1989 Gnawgahyde, Dreadnok, Poacher

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

1993 Flak Viper

In the fall of 2001, I planned to profile this figure.  I even went so far as to take him outside with the 1997 Rage on a crisp autumn day and took a couple of photos of him.  You can see him in the background of a couple of other figures I profiled around that time.  For some reason, though, I never got around to writing the profile of the figure.  I acquired a few other figures around that time who got my attention.  Then, I got really sick for a couple of weeks as the year ended.  As the photo session drifted further out of sight, so did the desire to profile this figure. 

In the mid 2000's I had occasion to acquire a couple of new versions of this figure.  Even then, though, the timing never seemed right.  A few years later, I began to purge my collection and trim it down.  Among the figures who were let go were all my Flak Vipers.  (For some reason, at the time, I was only keeping the best coloring of any mold.  So, I got rid of tons of excellent repaints since there was at least one "definitive" version that I retained.)  I grew to regret that decision and have been slowly rebuilding my neon army.  While this Flak Viper is hardly anyone's favorite, there's something about the bright orange offset against the green base that makes for a stupidly fun to own.

There were a couple of figures that I simply never saw at retail during my 1990's trips to the toy store.  I'd stumble across a freshly stocked case of Joes at various stores from time to time.  But, in every instance, some common figures were already gone.  The two who stick out to me the most are the Alley Viper and the Flak Viper.  For a couple of years, those two characters mocked me from every cardback I owned.  The Flak Viper, especially, looked like an awesome figure.  The fact that I could not find one was overly frustrating. So, when I returned to Joe, finding a Flak Viper was an early priority.  It was also fairly easy.  While '92 Joes were overly common at the time, there was no competition for lots containing them and most of them contained a Flak Viper.  In short order, I had a small army of blue and green 1992 Flak Vipers and a single version of this 1993 repainted Flak Viper.

If you look back at that Flak Viper profile I wrote in 1999, I twice call this 1993 figure terrible.  And, at the time, I was about the only person who actually liked neon Joes!  But, when I wrote that, I only had one, incomplete 1993 Flak Viper figure.  It took a couple of years and couple more acquisitions for me to fully appreciate the orange and green goodness that Hasbro offered collectors in 1993.  Sure, this figure uses orange as the primary color to offset the base green and grey of the Flak Viper.  But, this works for a couple of reasons.  First, bright orange figures are a lot of fun.  I don't care if you disagree with me because, if you do on this point, you are wrong. :)  Second, since the base colors are identical to the 1992 Flak Viper, this version does work well as a different rank or specialty within the Flak Viper corps.  Finally, the bright colors do work with some of the vehicles of the 1990's and having a gunner type figure available for the crews is a nice addition to the Cobra army.

But, if we're real for a minute, this figure is not good.  The 1992 is light years ahead of this orange version.  And, the 2004 Nullifier simply makes both vintage versions obsolete.  (The desert version is also pretty good, though very environmentally specific.)  Orange, green and grey are not, exactly, complementary colors and the figure is a mish-mash of contrasting brightness.  The orange accessories are probably worse than of the colors from the weapon trees that dominate 1993 and 1994 figure releases.  But, it is that terribleness that drives my fondness for this figure.  You would never see a figure released at retail like this in the 2000's.  (One of the charms of Funskool was that they did, though.)  Now that collectors dominate the Joe market, fun figures made just for kids are non-existent.  As the collector base has aged and kids of the '90's have become a larger part of the fandom, we've seen some homages to neon figures.  But, they are done with an eye towards either realism (to the degree it can be) or as straight homages to subsets that the general collecting world finds more palatable when compared against the worst the vintage line had to offer.  That's a good thing since the crazy diversity of the vintage line was what made it so much fun.  But, we're not, yet, to a point where a figure like this Flak Viper could come out without being accompanied by tremendous collector backlash.

I do wonder what the Hasbro design sessions were like in those days.  I'm guessing that many of the brighter colors were mandated based on focus group feedback.  (Hasbro loved focus groups.)  I can see the designers having to concede which of their creations would have to have the bright colors infused into them.  Some choices were likely made out of necessity.  And, in cases where we got a brightly colored 1993 repaint of a solid 1992 figure mold, I assume that those were concessions to avoid the brightness on a newly created mold.

1993 and 1994 brought some construction changes to the Joe line.  Torsos got bigger and bulkier.  It was a way to move the line more towards other action figure stalwarts of the time.  In the case of the Flak Viper, though, the larger body works.  Seeing the massive missile launcher that the Flak Vipers wear on their backs, you conclude that they must be big and strong.  The overly large rifle also adds to the premise that Flak Vipers are larger than your average Cobra Trooper.  Through the years, I've attempted a couple of customs using Flak Viper parts.  Even the large chest works well with heads from earlier in the '90's.  There are some really nice custom Flak Vipers out there.  But, they are few and far between since so few people really focus on the line's final years as a source of parts.

The Flak Viper's gear isn't great.  Setting aside the fact that it's cast in bright orange plastic, the figure doesn't include all that much.  The rifle is interesting.  But, it's a little big.  I'm not sure how more Flak Vipers don't have snapped thumbs as the rifle features a very thick handle.  Even the softer hands of the 2000's era figures is stretched when holding the rifle.  The missile launching pack is kind of cool.  If it were a little smaller, it would be within the realm of Joe reason.  But, the pack had to accommodate the spring loaded firing mechanisms which necessitated the size.  The beauty is that the figure works well without the pack.  But, if you're going full on neon army, you might as well push the absurd and have the brightly colored figures wearing back-breaking missile launchers on their backs.

For me, this figure's use is limited.  There's not a lot of situations that call for an orange and green trooper carrying massive missiles on his back.  Despite that, though, I'm fascinated by this figure and want many, many more of them.  It might be a simple relic of not being able to find this figure at retail.  It could just be the fact that the figure isn't commonly army built so having several of them stands out in photos.  They are good matches for the Nitro Viper and Detonator and those are among my favorite late release items.  I could have terrible taste.  All are equally likely.  But, I like this Flak Viper and will buy all I can find for reasonable prices. 

For a very long time, this Flak Viper repaint was cheap.  He was never overly easy to find.  But, those who did have him didn't care about him.  Even into the late 2000's, it was pretty much the same price to get a loose mint figure and a carded figure.  Now, pricing is more uneven.  Dealers will get as much as $18 for a mint and complete with filecard figure.  Yet, on the open market, carded versions of the figure sell for around $15.  While the supply isn't as great as an army builder would like, you can get mint and complete figures for just under $10.  Missing their gear, the figures can be had for under 1/2 that, too.  As with most figures from the line's later years: the perceived dealer rarity far outweighs the actual market desire.  So, with patience, you can still get a decently priced Flak Viper army.  It may just take a while.

1993 Flak Viper, Battle Corps