Thursday, January 27, 2000

1983 Major Bludd

I vaguely remember the Major Bludd mail away offer. I do remember that I thought the guy sounded really cool, but I don't think my mother went for his name. As 1983 progressed, though, my friends began getting the new Joe figures. I was mainly into Return of the Jedi figures at this time, but my interest was waning. One of our neighbors got Destro, the Hiss Tank, the FANG, and Major Bludd for his birthday in August. I had recently discovered Airborne and found these new enemies awesome. I put Bludd in the Fang and had a fabulous time. For some reason, Destro never did it for me. I didn't like the metal head. Major Bludd was the enemy that I wanted to use. His specialty, Mercenary, was just too cool. I thought all the dog tags he wore were from the people he had killed. My Major Bludd was a bad ass and couldn't be stopped. I used his armored arm as a bionic extension that had super strength that would pulp Joes' necks.

I got a Bludd for either my birthday or Christmas of 1983. That figure died a quick death. He didn't last a year. In 1984, though, I got another one for my birthday. At this time, my mother was a teacher at my grade school. She decided to host the Christmas party on the day we got out of school. In order for her to pull this off, though, my brothers and I were relegated to the basement for the duration of her party. Of course, we took a full box of toys down with us. Among them were my brand new Hovercraft and Major Bludd. During the course of the day, my brand new Major Bludd disappeared. I don't know what happened to him. He never came out of the basement. For years, I maintained that he must have been eaten by this horrid '70's yellow and green disco couch my parents had hidden down there. I almost tore that thing apart, but never had any luck. As it turned out years later, my younger brother took this couch off to college with him. When he graduated, I knew the couch would meet a fiery end in the University of Dayton's famed "ghetto". I asked him to look for Major Bludd before the thing went up. Alas, there was no Bludd, and if he was hidden in the bowels of that couch, he is now among the cinders of many a valiant piece of furniture that had met its end during the pandemonium of graduation week at UD.

In 1985, I managed to get the Bludd you see here. I kept him rather well as I was now more interested in many of the new Cobras that were coming out. I was also more careful with my toys by then and have managed, to this day, to keep most of post '84 stuff in fairly good condition when you consider the amount of use all my figures received. Bludd remained high on my play list for many years. When I discovered the comic, I liked Bludd's character. It was a shame that he was only utilized for a short time. At least his run, which included the murder of General Flagg, was memorable. I made my Bludd fiercely loyal to Cobra Commander. He remained the Commander's enforcer after I made up the character that was portrayed by Sea Slug. I had many battles where Bludd's well timed appearance kept Cobra from disintegrating around the various factions I created.

Bludd had three incarnations, but this original one is my favorite. The '90 Sonic Fighters version is pretty cool, but the '94 version leaves a lot to be desired. (On a side note, I have a prototype of the '94 Bludd figure that can be seen at I managed to pick up a junker version of this figure at some point and had him, the original Destro and the original Cobra Commander displayed on a Hiss tank in my room at my parents' house. When the chance to get a bagged version from Hasbro Canada came up, I jumped on it. With this figure, I moved my good Bludd back into my rotation. It was like getting an old friend back. I still rank this figure very high. Some characters and figures can't be improved upon. Bludd is one of them. His design was basic and color scheme simple. Still, it created one of the more enduring figures in the line.

After Major Bludd's appearance in the American line, the mold was sent over to India. There, the figure was released in a highly distinctive blue and yellow color scheme as well as in a brown and black paint job that is very similar to his American figure. Funskool stopped producing Bludd early in their line, though, and the blue and yellow figure is one of the more difficult international exclusive figures to track down. The whereabouts of the Bludd mold, though, is a mystery. Almost all of Bludd's Funskool contemporaries like Firefly, Baroness, Stalker, Snake Eyes, Torpedo, Snow Job, Zap and Gung Ho were returned to Hasbro for the 1997 and 1998 series. In fact, of the figures released with Bludd in India, only Scrap Iron's mold remained there and was not used in the U.S. until Funskool gave it back to Hasbro in early 2003.

So, did Funskool simply not send Major Bludd back to Hasbro? That seems unlikely since the figure disappeared from retail in India as well. (Funskool produced Scrap Iron on and off for several years.) More likely, the mold was returned to Hasbro and Hasbro decided, for whatever reason, to not use the mold in the original commemorative series. Instead, they replaced the dated '83 mold with the '91 Sonic Fighters mold in traditional colors when they opted to release the character in 2001. It is also possible that the original Major Bludd mold returned from India damaged and we will never see the original version of Bludd again. Either way, I feel this is a mold that was simply done right the first time. There really is no reason to revisit it and I prefer the more modern versions of Bludd that we've seen since 2000.

Major Bludd figures used to be expensive. He was one of the first figures to ever be offered, but he was also available as a mail order figure for many, many years. I think one of the reasons Hasbro only made three versions of this figure was because they made him so available from Hasbro Direct. Of course, this now means that you can find Bludds both loose and MIB for not terrible prices. Granted, this guy is going to cost you a bit more than you expect to pay for some other jobber figures from 1983, but he won't set you back as much as many of the other figures from his time period. Remember, this guy was also available from Hasbro Canada in early 1999, so there should still be plenty of bagged samples, like the one you see here, out there for decent prices.

Bludd is also interesting in that there are two distinct versions of his filecard. For some reason, they changed the poetry sample in the bottom section. You can view both of the filecards here.

Major Bludd is one of my favorite figures. However, I am only after a carded sample of him, as that is all I am missing. Unfortunately, that is a bit out of the cards right now. Maybe next year. If you have any interesting anecdotes about any of your favorite figures, Email me.

1983 Major Bludd, 2004 Urban Assault Firefly, Cobra Trooper

1983 Major Bludd, 2006 Viper Pit

1983 Major Bludd, 2004 Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer

1983 Major Bludd, MIB, Mail Away, Filecard, Variant

1983 Major Bludd, MIB, Mail Away, Filecard, Variant

1983 Major Bludd, MIB, Mail Away, Filecard, Variant

Thursday, January 20, 2000

1989 Aero Viper

If anyone has been paying attention to this site, they would see that one of my goals has been to acquire a 1989 Aero Viper. From the first minute I saw this guy, I was fascinated by him. His color scheme, the cool goatee, and the general obscurity in which he languishes were all factors that contributed to my desire to own one. I immediately found a couple of them for sale, but stupidly tried to lowball them. I ended up not getting either of them. I then searched for nearly 8 months before I found another one for sale. This time, I made no mistake and bid high. As it turned out, there were two of them on sale at the same time. My final bid ended up being far less than I was willing to pay when I lowballed the originals way back when. The bottom line, though, was that I finally had the Aero Viper.

This figure is just awesome. I think it is the head hood and the goatee that make him for me. The color scheme seems wasted on a pilot and makes for a really cool figure. You will notice that I break from my normal tradition and have posted scans of the Aero Viper both sans and with helmet. With his helmet, the figure looks pretty good. Without the helmet, he still looks pretty good. I really have yet to decide if I will use him as a pilot. I have a feeling that he will join my ranks of Cobra Superior Officers that is made up of the '87 Worms and the '90 Decimator. This guy is just a figure that screams to be used in some important capacity. I may make him in charge of my Night Viper and Urban Death Squad legions. He seems to fit that sort of role.

It's kind of funny that had this figure been given a different helmet, we might have seen him in the Star Brigade line. That would have been the perfect death knell. Instead, collectors are treated to an obscure figure that is a lot of fun to own. The Condor was an awesome vehicle and many people had it when it was available retail. Still, though, this figure sees almost no press. Collectors seem to forget about him. Like many of the figures that were only available with rather expensive vehicles, the Aero Viper had a great mold, but never got any airtime. For this reason, though, he is a great figure to have around. He is not bounded by the constraints of a pre-determined characterization. Whether you use him as an army builder or a unique individual, the Aero Viper is an integral figure to be a part of your collection.

After the Aero Viper's original release, the mold was not dusted off again for a full 15 years. In 2004, the mold appeared as the head of the Dreadheads in the 2004 Convention set. This showed the Aero Viper mold was still out there and the fact that Hasbro never used it really shows a lack of understanding on their part about their mold inventory. The Aero Viper could have been recolored in various ways that would have put a high quality Cobra pilot into collector hands. Instead, we were treated to the same, tired Cobra molds over and over again. That was the frustrating part of the whole ARAH repaint era. There was so much that Hasbro could have done that they never even attempted. Instead, the line was quickly tired out with the same colors, characters and molds over and over again. As such, what should have been a great renaissance of the classic molds is left with a sullied legacy. With figures like the Aero Viper available, the worst part is that had Hasbro shown a bit more vision, it wouldn't have been that way.

After reading my diatribe, you probably get the idea that Aero Vipers are tough to find. To an extent, this is true. However, if you are interested in buying a Condor, you almost always get one. Not too many people, however, break them up from their vehicle. When you do find them, though, they aren't too expensive. They are no where near as costly as some of the other '89 Cobras. Like most of the figures I obsess over, I think I made it too hard to get this figure. He was available in many lots, but they always included about 20 figures I already had and of which I didn't want any more. Like the Headhunters figure, this guy was starting to frustrate me to no end. For some reason, many of the figures I was truly searching for became available around 1999 year end. I managed to pick off some big names, like this guy, Hardtop, Rampage, and the Viper Pilot but those cost me the chance at a couple of more I still need. We'll see what 2000 brings in terms of me finding the figures I am after.

The Aero Viper is a guy I would like to have more than one of. Some day, I'll spring for a complete Condor. Until then, if you can help build my Aero Viper army, Email me.

1989 Night Viper, Aero Viper

1989 Aero Viper, 1985 Tele Viper, 2004 Baroness, Comic Pack, 1987 Mamba

1989 Aero Viper, 2002 Viper

1989 Aero Viper, Python Patrol Viper

Monday, January 17, 2000

1993 Cutter

In 1994, I came home for Christmas and was in search of Joe toys. I went to TRU and picked up a 1994 Shipwreck, a 1994 Dial Tone, and a couple of other guys. I was highly disappointed that I couldn't find a Headhunter. (It is a disappointment that continues to this day.) On my way home, I decided to stop by a K Mart that was going out of business. In here, I found, on clearance, a SHARC 9000 for $5.00. This was a deal I couldn't pass up. While I really didn't want any vehicles, I am always a sucker for boats. (The hovercraft and hydrofoil rank no.s 1 and 3 respectively on my list of favorite vehicles.) I managed to sneak the SHARC into my parents' house. (Some 21 year olds sneak booze, drugs or porn into their parents' house when they are home on break. Me, I sneaked toys.) Once I got this sucker opened, it was awesome. Sure, the colors weren't the best, but it was great fun to have a new boat. I always loved the gun turret on the hydrofoil. The one on the SHARC was even better. (It actually shoots water!) I had the new Dial Tone man the turret, Shipwreck took the second chair, and Cutter was at the helm.

I've always liked Cutter. The original hovercraft is my favorite vehicle of all time and I had always used the original Cutter as a high ranking Joe who was always in charge of his craft. My only problem with that original figure was that it wasn't much fun to play with outside of the hovercraft. This version of Cutter solved that problem. The toned down look still allows for the figure to have a sculpted life vest, but it doesn't overpower the figure like it does on the original version. The 1992 Cutter, which was available as a carded figure, kept the orange life vest, but this version took a more militaristic approach and used the subtle green. It is odd that the vehicle this figure came packaged with is so mis-colored while the figure is actually very good. Cutter is very basic and doesn't suffer from overkill like so many of his contemporary releases. He proved that Hasbro was still capable of making great figures that didn't scream for attention, they just were too lazy to do so.

Most hard core collectors don't really like the SHARC 9000. It is a very poor substitute for a hovercraft or hydrofoil, but by 1993, the days of vehicles of that calibre were long gone. This figure suffers from his vehicle's lack of popularity. You don't often see him and never hear about him in any collecting circles. It's really too bad as this figure is very worthy of at least a little attention. He doesn't have anything that is really detrimental to his appearance, though the orange hair is a bit Ronald McDonaldy. Still, this figure remains high on my list. I've found myself substituting this figure for the original Cutter on my original hovercraft. He works so much better with the military colors. Cutter is just a fun figure to have around. I fully plan to man my aircraft carrier, when I get one!, with a couple of 1992 Cutters to complement my 1984 Cutters, all my versions of Shipwreck and about 4 1998 Navy Seal Teams. When the mission requires a hovercraft to recon or attack, though, the 1993 Cutter will be at the helm.

Like the other 1993 vehicle drivers, Cutter can be problematic to find. Not many people were in to vehicles near the end of the line and none of them saw a high production run. In fact, the line this figure was originally intended for, the D.E.F., was cancelled before the figure was even released. As such, you don't often see him for sale. Like most of the later edition figures, though, Cutter suffers from the Collectors' Paradox: this is a hard figure to find, but since he is not highly sought after, he remains cheap in price. Many people don't even know about this version of Cutter. The 1992 version is cool, but often overlooked. This figure, though, beats the original color scheme in almost every way, including collector obscurity.

1993 Cutter, Wet Suit, Shark 9000, Ice Cream Soldier, 1994

Monday, January 10, 2000

1992 Shockwave

While the 1993 D.E.F. figures were very, very bad, the original 1992 figures were actually very good. While it's hard to pin one figure as the best, the 1992 Shockwave is a perfect example of a great fig redone very well. Regardless of your feelings about the G.I. Joe foray into the drug wars, the figures produced in this subset are of the highest quality and should be a part of just about every collection. They were all colored realistically, came with good accessories, and are fun figures to own. It's a shame that so many collectors disdain the D.E.F. without really paying attention to the figures. I find it sad that so many collectors hold the joes so close to their predetermined personalities and specialties. A little imagination is all it takes for figures like this to be an integral part of any story line.

This figure is just awesome. He looks like a member of the bomb squad. I've only recently acquired this figure, but from the first moment I put him together, he went into my heavy play rotation. There is always a use for this guy, be it security, guard, bomb squad, or military E.O.D. He is a great figure of which to have multiples. Like most of the Joes I feature here, this guy can make an excellent army builder. I like figures like this as you can have them get killed by Cobra, or whatever other enemy you have. The faceless minions of law enforcement would be the first wave of contact if Cobra was into domestic terrorism. This figure makes this type of scenario much more fun to enact.

This figure is excellently sculpted, and has a realistic color scheme. The basic blue and black is very close to uniforms that would be worn by American police departments. I love the flak vest and kneepads. Small features like this that added to the figures' realism often go unnoticed, but they are what made the Joe line so enduring. Even without his helmet, this guy is just a solid figure. The helmet, though, makes him incredibly unique. His gun is very cool, but the battering ram he came with really sucks. All the flash up accessories that I've seen were very lame. I would, though, like to get my hands on Cutter's net launcher. That has some potential.

4/20/07 Update

Since this original profile, Hasbro has graced collectors with 2 new releases of this Shockwave mold. The first, in 2001, was similar in color to this figure, but had a new head and was released as Sure Fire. That figure was also released without the trademark helmet that makes this Shockwave so cool. In 2002, Hasbro recolored the entire Shockwave mold in green and brown and again released it as Sure Fire. This figure is a great companion to the '92 figure but it, again, was missing the accessories that made the original so memorable. At this point, Hasbro has had enough opportunities to release the figure as Shockwave with the original accessories that they would have done so had they any intention of ever doing so. Still, it was nice to see the mold reappear as it allowed the mold to be better appreciated by collectors that had bypassed the original release of the figure.

End 4/20/07 Update

1992 Shockwaves are kind of difficult to find. I think the D.E.F. was cancelled due to low sales. The amazing lack of loose samples of all the D.E.F. figures seems to say this was the case. You can find Headhunters carded, but that's about it. Most people have a couple of these figures, but few have them all. I think Hasbro included the light up accessory in order to raise the price point. Why would anyone buy a figure for a dollar or more extra when similar, cheaper figures are sitting right next to it? I'm no business major, but adding gimmicks to raise the price doesn't seem like a particularly good idea, especially if the cheaper alternative is still being produced. Just look at all the Star Wars merchandise, with the overpriced and really horrible commtech chips, that is clogging the shelves. Every now and then you can pick this guy up in lots. He can, though, become expensive if you manage to find him by himself. Like most of the '92 D.E.F. figures, Shockwave doesn't appear too often, and when he does, many people are after him. Still, if you can find him, this figure is an excellent addition to any collection.

I'm still looking for most of the rest of the 1992 D.E.F. Especially Headhunters. Can you help? Email me.

1992 DEF Shockwave, Bulletproof, 2003 Python Patrol Major Bludd

1992 DEF Shockwave, 1987 LAW, 2000 ARAHC Law, G.I. Joe HQ, 1983

Thursday, January 6, 2000

1984 Scrap Iron

In 1984, Cobra really began it's expansion. While '83 had given us the ground roots of the Cobra organization, 1984 began to show just how great Cobra could be. Firefly, Stormshadow, Zartan, the Baroness, and this guy, Scrap Iron were the beginning of the great enemy we all know today. Scrap Iron was an integral part of this success. His missile table was a remarkable accessory for this early in the line. He had great accessories, a solid look, though the head is a bit large, and a great gimmick. This figure was just one of many that year that was finally starting to capitalize on the strength of the lines sales. More time and money could be devoted to making excellent sculpts and cool accessories. As figures like this flourished, they were paled by their later counterparts. For a few figures, though, the original mold was so far ahead of its time that the figure is a classic. I hold Scrap Iron in this category.

Scrap Iron was one of my favorite bad guys. I wore the original one out and had to use his body for one of my favorite customs. I purchased a second one that I kept fairly decent. Still, years of play took their toll and the specimen you see here is Scrap Iron #3. I rarely used his missile table. Instead, I used the hose as some sort of electronic whip. It made him much more fun to have around. Periodically, I would lose the hose. One day, though, I found it curled up inside the table I had discarded. I don't know how it got in there, but I'm glad it turned up. That original hose is still in my collection today.

Scrap Iron had a good run in the comic, though it wasn't until nearly a year after his figure had been introduced. For this reason, many people forgot about him. In the later years of the line, he was one of the few early Cobras, Baroness being the other, who never got another version made. Metal Head, a character that is cool, but kind of a Scrap Iron rip off, took all this guy's thunder. While Metal Head got dual versions made, Scrap Iron kind of faded away. It's really too bad, as this guy is very good and could have spared us another carbon copy character that was all too common in the early '90's. Still, his appearances were enough to be memorable. He was one of the very few big name Cobras that actually got to kill a big name Joe, or Joe affiliate. (He killed the Soft Master.) After reading these stories, my interest in the figure was renewed. It has only been of late that I haven't used this guy. I think I consider him to be among the older Cobras and my focus is now on the newer figures. (They're easier to build armies with.)

After his release in the US, Scrap Iron found a long release life in India. That mold, though, seems to have deteriorated too badly for Hasbro to use as the Scrap Iron figures based on this mold that have been released in the US since 2004 have all been a newly sculpted mold made to resemble the original. As an interesting note, it seems that Scrap Iron was also not the original intended character for his body mold. Originall, the Joe Alpine Trooper was going to use the Scrap Iron body. Read more about that in my profile of the Urban Assault Scrap Iron.

Scrap Irons aren't terribly expensive, in relation to what some '84's have become. He is rarely talked about and the figure is, for the most part, ignored. His gun and the hose can be tougher accessories to find, but they don't pose the unique challenges that Firefly's Walkie Talkie and Stormshadow's nunchuks can be. Scrap Iron, though, is an essential part of any Cobra collection. The figure is very strong and the character is even better. Since the other big name Cobras of this year steal his thunder, though, you can still pick up Scrap Irons without spending too much time, effort or money. Once you have him, you will be very glad Scrap Iron is part of your collection.

This guy is pretty cool. I do suggest you try putting the blue missiles from the Cobra accessory pack in the table. The effect is pretty good. If you have anything else you would like to add,email me.

1984 Scrap Iron, 1983, Hiss Tank, Cobra Trooper, Destro, Firefly, Major Bludd

1984 Scrap Iron, Unproduced Wal Mart Hiss Driver, 2004 Cobra Trooper, 2006 Viper, Midnight Chinese, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

1984 Scrap Iron, 1985 Crankcase, Mauler, 1986 Mission to Brazil Leatherneck, 1988 Tiger Force Flint

1984 Scrap Iron, 1983, Hiss Tank, Cobra Trooper, Destro, Firefly, Major Bludd

1984 Scrap Iron Filecard

1982 Clutch

In 1982, I was a Star Wars fan. I had all the figures and vehicles. The only toys I played with were Star Wars. My younger brother had a birthday in October of 1982. For this birthday, all his friends bought him this new toy line called G.I. Joe. He got a number of the same vehicles and figures. I didn't really like this stuff, but when you're 8 years old, you play with anything that everyone else is playing with. Of course, after using the Joe stuff for about 6 minutes, I was hooked. I got the RAM motorcycle and Breaker for my birthday in December and followed that with my own VAMP, MMS, and Snake Eyes figure at Christmas. I got a bit sidetracked with Return of the Jedi figures in early 1983, but quickly returned to Joe and have pretty much stayed there ever since.

The 1982 Clutch was my first custom job. I gave him a visor, Grunt's backpack, and Stalker's gun. While my brother played with his Grand Slams and Stalkers, I took the best figure and made him the ulitmate hero. It was the beginning of my Joe collection. My brother was none too happy that I took the coolest figure, but I was older and could do what I wanted. When I got my own VAMP that Christmas, my brother got his slightly used figure back. It was a practice for which I became notorious. I would let my brother get a figure I didn't really know if I wanted. I would then use that figure, wear it out and lose the accessories. If I liked the figure, I would then buy one for myself that I would keep nice. That way, I had a nice collection of complete figures while my brothers had junky figures. Since they would discard these guys, I would scoop them up and use them for customs. I then made the rule that a custom figure was mine, regardless of whose figure the parts were from. I still don't think they've ever caught on to this. Oh, well. All those figures are in Arizona now and they can't get them back.

The one you see here is my original. I don't know how he made it this far. I retired most of my straight arm figures once the swivel arm figures came out. I think that since Clutch mainly drove a vehicle, I kept him in my rotation. That's why this figure is beat. Still, he holds a high place in my collection. I still have my original VAMP, but I did replace the bottom with the one from the Stinger since I liked the control panel better. This Clutch still sits in his jeep, ready to go. I don't know what it was about the VAMP. That jeep took dozens of dives off the concrete stairs in front of my parents' house. It's still around. The newer vehicles seem to fall apart while they're sitting on a shelf. I'm still amazed by the quality of those early toys. Perhaps, toy makers today could learn a lesson. If you make a quality product, people will buy it.

The Clutch mold was used by Hasbro from 1982 through 1985. After that, Clutch was available as a mail away for many years. At some point in the early 1990s, the mold was sent to India and Funskool produced a Clutch as an exclusive vehicle driver. (The Funskool Clutch is one of the very few Funskool exclusives that was not available on a single card.) The Funksool Clutch is a fairly rare figure and it is very possible that there are still undiscovered Funskool Clutch variants out there. Clutch disappeared around the time that Funskool returned molds to Hasbro in 1997. It is possible that Hasbro got the mold back. Or, it could have been cannabalized in India. It's impossible to know at this point.

Clutch, like all of the straight arm figures, is expensive. He isn't too tough to find, but you will pay for him. Even the swivel arm version will cost a few dollars. He is, though, a must have for any collection. He was the one original figure whose personality really stood out. His filecard was memorable; a buddy of mine only had about five Joes in his life, but he can still recite, from memory, the bottom part of Clutch's filecard. This is why this figure remains to popular today. Many people remember him, and want to add them to their adult collections. He's not Snake Eyes, or Scarlett, but since he is an original mold that was not shared with other '82's, Clutch will always be one of the most popular early figures.

I'm looking for a swivel arm Clutch. I know they exist, I just haven't seen too many. If you have one available, let me know.

1983 Clutch, VAMP, Short Fuse, Fuze, Mortar Trooper, Vehicle Drivers, Original 13

1982 VAMP, 1983 Clutch, Flash, 1988 Night Force Sneek Peek, 2002 BJ's Snake Eyes, Original 13, Toys R Us Exclusive

1997 Stalker

In December  of 1997 (my 24th birthday) I went to Toys "R" Us in an attempt to find new Star Wars figures. While there, I saw the Stars and Stripes set. My heart skipped a beat as I had heard nothing about any G.I. Joe rereleases. (At that time, I was focusing on Star Wars toys. Joe was kind of in the background.) I grabbed the Stars and Stripes set as fast as I could and headed home to open it. Once opened, the set was a major disappointment. The figure quality was terrible, and the new sculpts were very poor. There were, however, a couple of quiet gems in the set. Of these, Stalker was the best. (The Snake Eyes is a close second, but I have to give the nod to Stalker.)

I have always loved the Stalker figure. In 1985, I made my grandparents search the entire city of Dayton, Ohio for one. I finally found one in, of all places, a Kroger store. The flashback sequence from Vietnam in G.I. Joe 26 and 27 had sparked my interest. Once I had Frostbite's gun, I had all I needed to create an awesome Stalker. After I managed to track down the figure, he was one of the few early figures that remained in my heavy play rotation. In fact, it wasn't until years later, when I finally broke his thumb that he found retirement. I've yet to replace that figure, but this 1997 version is a more than ample substitute.

The original Stalker was an awesome figure. His cammo pattern and beret made him really stand out among the original Joes. He also had one of the best runs in the comic. Stalker's character was developed to the point where he could have gone out on his own. Really, the only other characters developed more than Stalker were Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Scarlett, and Cobra Commander. As this is the case, he is one of the most popular characters in the entire line. He is one of the few characters who transcended year and had multiple versions made of him to keep him in the collections of all generations of Joe fans. It really is a shame that G.I. Joe Special Missions wasn't around longer. I think it would have been an excellent showcase for characters like Stalker to have really showed their stuff. I always liked the deeper character development in Special Missions and wish that the series had stayed with the formula of the first few issues, rather than just being the showcase for the death of the Oktober Guard.

This figure is, in my opinion, an improvement over the original. While he doesn't have the green beret, that is easily remedied with a quick head swap from one of my many original Stalker heads. The improved cammo pattern and painted detailing just make this figure look awesome. He is the consummate soldier for all wilderness and other situations. Unlike the other '97's, I have no problem using this figure along with my figures from later years of the original run of the line. He fits in perfectly and doesn't look out of place like some of the other figures do. Despite the reputation of terrible quality plastic in the '97 figures, I have not had any problems. This figure has seen extensive use and hasn't had any problems with breakage, rubber bands, or stretching.

The Stalker mold saw use all over the world. The straight arm figure was released in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The swivel arm version was released in exclusive color schemes in Europe and India. Hasbro recovered the mold in 1997 and the produced several versions of the V1 Stalker over the next decade. For my money, though, this '97 figure is still the best. The comic pack Stalkers with the new heads simply don't do anything for me. The simplicity of this original release mold is enough to make the figure successful and preclude the need for the later versions. The deep color schemes overall look of this '97 figure is enough to make it the default Stalker in my collection.

Stalkers usually are pretty expensive. Original ones, that is. This version, since it was released so late, is very, very tough to find loose from the Stars and Stripes set. As he is also one of the highlights of the set, few collectors would be willing to part with him. This version is a much more fun version to have, even though a Green Beret now wears a black one. Many die hard collectors have never opened their Stars and Stripes sets. This is a shame. While most of the figures aren't really worth much, this is one that is particularly worthy of attention. I find myself using him in all sorts of situations. If you are lucky, you might still be able to find a beat up Stars and Stripes set in a clearance bin at a Toys "R" Us. If you do, this figure alone makes the set worth buying.

Not counting the quality of the plastic, what were your favorite figures of either '97 or '98? Email me.

1997 Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive Stars & Stripes Set, Unproduced Comic Pack Caucasian Stalker, Hawk, Effects, 1994 Star brigade, Dial Tone

1997 Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive Stars & Stripes Set, Duke, Scarlett, Silver Mirage

1997 Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive Stars & Stripes Set, 2005 Comic Pack Flint, Night Watch Officer

1997 Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive Stars & Stripes Set, 2005 Comic Pack Flint, Night Watch Officer

1997 Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive Stars & Stripes Set, 2007 Convention Zap, Snake Eyes

1997 Stalker, 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Falcon, 1991 Low Light