Friday, May 19, 2000

1986 Strato Viper

The Night Raven is simply an awe inspiring toy. It is massive, very detailed, and just looks cool. From a pure aesthetic standpoint, I would say it is the best aircraft ever produced for the Joe line. Who, though, would be worthy of flying this magnificent bird? Hasbro's answer was very good. Rather than give us another named Cobra Pilot, like the highly overrated Wild Weasel, they gave us the first Cobra minion pilot, the Strato Viper. This guy followed the Viper standard that was introduced in 1986 and created a very nice looking pilot. Sure, his helmet doesn't come off, but the molded version is very nice looking and has never caused me any problems. This is another Cobra vehicle driver that, while very cool, just doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

Anyone who has ever read G. I. Joe Special Missions #5 can not forget the Strato Viper's first appearance. He was pompous, cocky, and a real ass. The look of terror on his face as his he realized the break out tool was gone and he was doomed to slip, with his craft, forever into the sea is priceless. From that, I was inspired to use my Strato Vipers extensively. Somehow, I ended up with two of them. I don't know how this happened, but I considered myself lucky. As I've said before, the big planes aren't much fun for me to play with. They weren't back then either. I had a great time preparing the Night Raven for flight, but, once it was in air, the fun was over. As such, Strato Vipers quickly found themselves piloting other aircraft. I did use the Night Raven drone rather extensively. It was fun to pit that against Sky Hawks. The Strato Vipers, though, did just find themselves relegated to pilot duties. They often took second chair and the gunner's station aboard my hydrofoil. They are cool figures and just begged to get more use than just sitting in a cockpit.

This guy has a great color scheme and a cool mold. For some reason, though, many in the collecting community deride him. I think he is one of the best Cobra pilots they ever released. The figure is basic and gets the job done. Sure, the Aero Viper is a cooler figure, but this guy came out just when Cobra was starting to expand. He is easily on par with all his contemporary releases. Since he doesn't have a removable helmet, I think collectors tend to overlook him. His mold is very good and the head hints at all sorts of technological gadgets. For me, though, I like having some pilots without removable helmets. I've found the TARGAT figure makes for a very nice pilot. One the Joe side, Airtight also works very well. It is nice, though, to have a figure as cool as this is be forgotten. It allows people who know about him to acquire him without any interference.

The Strato Viper mold was used by Hasbro to make this figure as well as a member of Sky Patrol. After the Night Raven was discontinued at retail, the Strato Viper was released for years as a mail away figure. As such, they are relatively easy to find despite the fact that they were only available at retail in a high price point vehicle. Around 1997, Hasbro sold the Strato Viper mold to Olmec Toys. Olmec used the mold in their infamous Bronze Bombers figure set. That figure features some bright colors and the wrong waist piece. Unfortunately, Olmec Toys went under due to a corrupt CEO. As such, all the molds that were sold to Olmec are now lost and no longer available for use by Hasbro. Frankly, that's too bad as a new Strato Viper would have been a welcome addition to the modern line. But, at least we can take solace in the fact that the original isn't too hard to find or too expensive.

At first appearance, you would think these guys tough to find. They came with a high price point vehicle and shouldn't be all that common. However, Strato Vipers were available for many years as a mail in figure. In fact, the bagged specimen you see below if from the Hasbro Canada Find. For these reasons, Strato Vipers aren't hard to find at all. Sure, they might set you back a little more than figures like the Motor Viper, but that is to be expected. This guy is a great figure and many people like having multiples. Most collectors like to have at least three to man every Night Raven in their collection. (I've got three and I no longer have a Night Raven.) There is contingent out there, though, that doesn't like these figures. As such, it helps keep the popularity lower than would otherwise be expected. These guys won't be hard to find and they aren't terribly expensive. As you build your Cobra air wing, though, you will find the Strato Viper imperative to your operations. As Cobra pilots go, he is the best.

I'm not actively seeking these guys, but if you have some you want to trade, email me.

1986 Strato Viper, Night Raven, 1994 star Brigade Blackstar, Reptil Do Ar, Brazil, Estrela, Crimson Guard Commander

1986 Strato Viper, Night Raven

1986 Strato Viper, Night Raven, 1985 Crankcase, Flint, 1998 Ace, Sky Hawk, 1984

1986 Strato Viper, Night Raven

1986 Strato Viper, Night Raven, 1985 Rattler

1987 Blaster

By late 1987, I was getting too old for Joes. I was in eighth grade and really couldn't be seen playing with them anymore. (Stupid peer pressure!) I had kept up my buying binge throughout 1986 and into 1987, but, by the end of the year, my purchases were falling off. I would get the Mamba helicopter for my birthday in December of that year, but that would be about it. I wouldn't get any more Joe vehicles until the mid 1990's. I had managed, though, to pick up a complete set of the 1987 figures. I figured I could still buy a couple of figures in 1988, but really hoped to get some before my birthday. Imagine my surprise when I went to Toys R Us around Christmastime and found 6 new Joes on the shelves. The 1987's had been released a bit early and I kind of expected it to happen again. Sure enough, Battleforce 2000 (It doesn't sound all that impressive now that we've actually reached the milestone, now, does it?) were the early bird figures for late 1987. The first figure I grabbed was Blaster.

Green has always been my favorite color and I think that was why I instinctively grabbed for Blaster first. In the meantime, my brothers grabbed Dodger and Maverick. They were the next best two, so I was stuck with Knockdown as my second figure. (I don't know if they had Blocker or Avalanche. I like to think I would have chosen Blocker had they had him, but it has been a few years and I'm not sure what my mindset of the day was, exactly.) Blaster, though, more than made up for that disappointment. He is an awesome figure in a great color scheme. His little mask is a frustrating accessory to find, but is great fun to have. He quickly rose to the top of my play list. (It seems that whatever was new was always my favorite figure. It still continues to this day as I tend to use my latest acquisitions more than some of the guys I've had around for a while.) At this time in my life, I loved science. For that reason, I tended to use science themed figures more than others. I made the nerds heroes. (There's no psychological reason here. Really.) As such, figures like Blaster became science officers who were capable of creating fabulous devices that transformed the face of battle. The normal, military themed figures also got a lot of use, but the science officers were the ones who came up with new machines and weapons. Since Battleforce 2000 sort of fit this genre, it only made Blaster that much more an attractive figure to use.

Blaster was originally a Transformer. I loved the name and his specialty of gunner. As such, I made a custom figure that I named Blaster. Much like the situation with Falcon, though, I managed to explain it away by having this guy be an older mentor and the younger character, portrayed by my custom, was paying homage to his elder. How Hasbro was able to use the same name on toy lines that had similar buying demographics but now can't seem to keep a trademark for more than 6 weeks is another mystery I will leave to minds greater than mine. Part of the mystique of this character was that I made him older, but also the victim of a serious injury. I made up a back story where one of the Cobra bigwigs had almost burned Blaster to death.

He escaped, but with severe lung damage. I let my Star Wars influence take over here and made Blaster's mask imperative to his survival. If he lost the mask, he would become very weak and die within a matter of hours. It was a nice way to give this guy some characterization outside of the regular Joe realm. Since he had such an intricate background, Blaster remained a favorite figure of mine until my youngest brother lost his mask. Blaster sat for in excess of 5 years without being used. One day, in either 1995 or 1996, I finally dug out my old Hovercraft shell. When I did, I checked out the main cockpit and was amazed to find Blaster's mask lying in the bottom. How I had missed this accessory in this open and easy to check place I will never know. The result, though, is that my Blaster regained his mask and once again found use in my collection.

Blasters aren't terribly tough to find. His mask, though, does sometimes pose a problem. He is not a figure, though, that will set you back a great deal. Not too many collectors have overly fond memories of Battleforce 2000. They did get killed off in the comic and I think that was indicative of their popularity. As such, I don't ever foresee any of the Battleforce 2000 figures ever being overly desired by the collecting community. Still, these figures are actually very good. I still use Maverick and Blocker a great deal. Dodger was a favorite of mine, but his popularity waned after a year or so. Blaster has found new use in my collection, but he is no longer a major player like he used to be. He is still, though, a nice figure to own and have as part of any collection.

Got anything interesting to add? Email me.

1987 Blaster, Battle Force 2000, Fridge, Red Dog, Taurus, Persuader, Back Stop

Wednesday, May 17, 2000

1993 Star Brigade Payload

When I was a kid, I decided that G.I. Joe needed army builders. While we have already explored figures like Recoil and Salvo, they were later additions to my collection. In the mid '80's my army builders for the Joe side were relegated to a custom I frankensteined out of Airborne, Ripcord, and Duke. I decided, though, that I needed an elite unit. The guys I used were cannon fodder. I needed some guys that were the creme de la creme of the enlisted units and were only a solid mission or two away from becoming full fledged Joes. As G.I. Joe Special Missions had just started up, I named them Special Missions Commandos. The figure I used to represent these guys was the 1983 Ace figure. I loved that figure, but didn't like only using him as a pilot. I always thought his uniform made him look like a deep sea diver, so I had taken to using him as such. Since I wanted my Special Missions guys to be able to handle any environment, I naturally turned to Ace. I outfitted him with Torpedo's backpack and Sci Fi's gun. He became the elite unit trooper of which I was so desperately in search. As time progressed, though, I loved the idea of the Special Missions, but Ace was dying a slow death. His joints were all too loose, his crotch broke, and, the final straw, I broke his thumb and he could no longer hold a gun. I kept the concept of the Special Missions alive for many years, but lacked a figure who could fill the role. In 1995, I walked into a discount toy store and found several 1993 Star Brigade figures on clearance for $2.00 each. When I saw Payload, my search for a new Special Missions Commando was over.

This guy is just about perfect. The mold is very basic, but the colors are great. Unlike many of the other Star Brigade figures that utilize light colors or neon, this guy is just green, black, and silver. He can easily be used in combat situations. The minute I got him, he became a crew member on my Sharc 9000. I use him primarily as a deep sea combat diver. While Deep Six is a rescue trooper, this guy is purely combat. I've given him Psyche Out's backpack and the blue pistol that comes with the 1993 Muskrat. It gives him a slight sci fi look without being too over the top. I've also found that the pack from Deep Six or the Hydro Viper also works very well with him. Just about any dark air tank pack and dark weapon look good with this guy. His color scheme is very inviting for most of the Joe accessories that came out in the earlier days of the line. Since dark weapons look so good with him, Hasbro, of course, included a neon pink weapon tree for him. This awesome figure carrying a neon pink gun doesn't do much for his macho image. Muskrat comes with darker versions of Payload's weapon tree so the guns work perfectly. Once properly outfitted, this guy just screams for use. I've spent a good amount of time tracking down multiples just to build my armies. When I can finally get a Defiant, my crew of Payloads will certainly be on the maiden voyage. They work great as divers, pilots, astronauts or combat troops. He is another versatile figure of whom every collection needs many.

Payload is the only 1993 Star Brigade whose color scheme was worse in 1994. All the other re-releases were improvements. Payload, though, has a slight twist to his existence. There are actually 3 Star Brigade versions of him. He came in the black and green trim you see below. He was then re-released in white, red, and blue in 1994. However, sometime in between these two figures, there was a third version made. It is cast in black, but the green trim you see on the figure below is in a dark blue color. Some say this guy was released in 1993 and in 1994. I have found him on 1994 packaging, but have never, ever seen one on 1993 packaging. This is one of the hardest figures to find in the entire run of G.I. Joe figures. He saw a very limited run in a sub series that wasn't all that popular to begin with. I've only seen two of these guys offered loose, but they do appear about once a month or so if you want them carded. The blue trim Payload is one of the most obscure figure variations in the whole line, and is one of the figures many collectors need to complete their collections. In my opinion, though, the black and green version is the best color scheme this mold ever saw. (The same mold was originally cast in red and used for the series 2 Eco Warriors Barbecue in 1992.) The other are good, but the the dark green and black just make a visually pleasing figure to own.

Payload, like all of the 1993 Star Brigade figures, is incredibly easy to find. They came in terrible pink packaging where the G.I. Joe logo was downplayed. As such, most of them found their way to clearance outlets. You can now find them both on the card and loose with great ease and with little expense. (Carded figures, though, tend to have the discount store's price tag still affixed. It is an affliction that affects most of the existing carded samples.) These guys were never popular. The normally articulated '93 Star Brigade figures were readily available at retail well into 1996. The Armor Tech assortment was still available at retail when the Arizona Mills Mall opened around Christmas of 1997. Needless to say, these guys are the figures that doomed the awesome '94 Star Brigade figures. They wouldn't sell even at discounted prices. That is really a shame, as many of the figures are good. At least, though, it allows you to acquire Payoads cheaply and easily. Beware, though, as Payload's face shield tends to yellow. I have 5 of them out of the package and they all have yellowed visors. Finding one with a clear shield is a challenge, but the figure works well regardless. The obscured shield only enhances this guy's position as a faceless minion in my collection, though. Once you have a Payload, though, you realize the army building potential and will welcome any additional specimens into your collection.

1993 Star Brigade Payload, 1991 Sci Fi

1993 Star Brigade Payload, 1991 Sci Fi

1993 Star Brigade Payload, 1992 Eco Warriors Deep Six

Monday, May 15, 2000

1986 Beach Head

Never had I so anticipated a new Joe year than in 1986. 1985 had been awesome and there was no reason in my mind why 1986 wouldn't follow suit. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. 1986, while not as powerful as 1985, was a great Joe year. At this time, I subscribed to the comic, had my own money to buy up all the figures I wanted, and was getting the grades to justify my parents taking me to toy stores on a routine basis. Needless to say, Joe was one of the primary things in my life. In late 1985, the comic was beginning one of it's greatest runs of storytelling. Cobra Island had just formed and new Joes and Cobras were getting introduced all over the place. One of my favorite covers in the entire run of the comic was issue number 47. It came out in either January or February of 1986 and featured the Devilfish (a great toy that's lots of fun to own!) with a crew of the new General Hawk, Wetsuit, and Beach Head.

For me, Beach Head ushered in the new crop of Joes. When a kid at school showed me a Dialtone he had found at a local Target, I bugged my parents for days until they finally took me. Of course, all the new Joes were gone. As we were walking out, though, my brother found a Dialtone on some random linen shelf. Needless to say, he got the new figure I was after. (I think this is the reason that I have 9 Dialtones today.) I ironed out that inequity, though, rather quickly. By the summer of '86, I was a Joe buying fool. (I seem to remember that 1986 was a particularly wet summer that allowed a kid who mowed lawns for a living, like me, to really clean up.) Beach Head was one of the figures of whom I had more than one. I loved his accessories and his parts made for excellent customs. I still have three or four custom figures that count Beach Head parts as an integral part of their makeup. He is a figure whose form is just awesome. He is a radical departure from figures I normally like. This guy is very busy. He has C-4 on his chest, a bomb, knife and pistol on his legs, and a pack full of good stuff. Unlike the other, bland figures I tend to find so enjoyable, Beach Head's molded gear hinted at him being much cooler than he really was. Had the grappling hook on his pack actually worked, this guy would have never been allowed out of my primary rotation.

I consider Beach Head forgotten only because I had stopped using him. I don't know what it was about him, but both he and Leatherneck disappeared from my play rotation rather quickly. In 1986 and 1987, I couldn't get enough of these two guys. They were a team. They both had great paint schemes and awesome accessories that were perfect for fighting the new Cobras. For some reason, though, I put these two away and have yet to really take them out. I recently purchased a new Beach Head as part of a lot. When I got him, I was reminded of why this figure was once so popular with me. He is a perfect commando, but also works in forest of jungle environments. His appearance in G.I. Joe #50 in the Special Missions introduction was enough to get me hooked. I think his lack of later appearances, though, are partially to blame for his fall from grace in my collection. Another reason I put this figure away, though, is that he is brittle. I know I had at least three Beach Heads. His accessories and parts kept breaking on me, though, so I think I tucked him away to prevent my final specimen from suffering a similar fate.

This Beach Head mold only saw 1 release in the US. He then appeared in India in the mid-90's. There, the figure was released in several color schemes: some more bizarre than others. The mold was constantly in and out of production in India for several years and saw one last production run in early 2003 right before Hasbro re-acquired the mold. Since then, this mold has been used for a convention exclusive figure as well as a retail release 6 pack figure.

Beach Head's aren't all that tough to find. He readily appears in all sorts of lots. However, he is usually found with great paint wear, a broken crotch, and missing or broken accessories. Finding a mint, complete specimen can take up more of your time than you wanted. For that reason, pristine Beach Heads will command a premium while figures with normal, run of the mill wear and tear will sell for nothing. He is a figure, though, well worth adding to your collection. He is one of the great unique figures from the mid '80's whose mold and form were never reused. As such, he really stands out in any collection. Be sure to check that his gun is a light grey. There is a dark grey version that came with an accessory pack that is very easy to mistake for his original gun. You also have to watch his ammo pack. Many of them have broken straps that are easy to place together in a scan or picture. (See what I mean about his accessories being brittle?) After you've got this guy, though, you will find all sorts of uses for him. He's a great figure you really don't hear enough about but should be an integral part of any collection.

1986 Beach Head, Mercer, 1991

1986 Beach Head, Crimson Sabotage Asp, 2002 BJ's Fast Blast Viper

1986 Beach Head, 1985 Mauler, 1986 Havoc, 1993 Duke

1986 Beach Head, 1986 Tomahawk, 1990 Pathfinder

1986 Beach Head, Dial Tone, Hawk, Mission to Brazil Wet Suit

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

1992 Headhunter

In late 1992, I went to a Toys R Us for the first time in years. I was looking over the Joes and decided that I was old and mature enough to buy a couple. I immediately grabbed Destro and General Flagg. I then looked at the card back and saw the picture of the Headhunter figure. He intrigued me to no end. I decided that he was the coolest looking figure available, plus, he had a great name. Of course, they had none for sale. I would not be able to finally get a loose Headhunter until early 2000. When I did, I was not disappointed. These figures are awesome! I managed to get two of the 1992 version and 3 of the 1993 version. They instantly went to the top of my playlist. They were just awesome figures that come with awesome accessories. Sure, they were supposed to be drug dealers, but I have made them Cobra elite street troops who go in and do the dirty work after the Alley Vipers have lead the initial assault. Once you have a couple, you have to find uses for them.

This guy is just too cool for words. He has a nice, basic mold. His flak jacket is very realistic, though the shoulder armor is a bit out there. His head is just amazing. The sleek helmet and the stylish beret make for a figure that looks mysterious. (He also looks like these guys who worked for Silver Sable in old Spider Man comics. I remember how I wished there was a G.I. Joe guy who looked like them. 7 or so years later, this guy came about.) It completely adds to the mystique of this figure as an elite Cobra unit. The fact that he is cast in subtle, dark colors helps make him usable in just about any environment. His shotgun, and the fact that it can be held in the sheath on his pack, are amazing. They are some of the best accessories offered on any figure in the line. I usually give these guys Alley Viper guns and have their shotguns in their packs. They use the heavy rifles while in the streets, but switch to shotguns once they get indoors. You can be assured that Headhunters will play a vital role in any upcoming works of fan fiction that might appear here. They photograph well and look good in any diorama.

As with most figures that I really like, I can't find the words to adequately describe the Headhunter. The thing about him, though, is that he is not too cool to use. I have found that many figures, most notably the 1985 Snake Eyes, are so visually appealing that they are just not fun to use. The figure looks so good that you can't come up with any uses for him that wouldn't be a letdown to the mold. As such, I have many figures on display that I never use. They look great, but play poorly. The Headhunter, though, is not one of those figures. From the moment I got him, he joined the Alley Vipers and Range VipersRange Vipers as the most prominent Cobra troops in my army. He works perfectly with the urban assault story that I currently find so appealing. Needless to say, this is a figure that I now consider essential. I was on a Joe blitzkrieg when I finally got the Headhunter. As soon as I got him, my purchasing dropped off considerably. There are few figures that have had that effect on my. The Ceremonial Luke Skywalker is the only other one that comes to mind. One I had the Headhunter, my collection was just fine. Sure, I'll add many more figures before the year is over, but this guy made 2000 a collecting success.

After his two releases in the US, the Headhunter mold was sent down to Brazil. There, he was released in colors similar to the 1993 American figure and was named Brutus. (These figures aren't too hard to find and are relatively cheap to acquire.) Usually, this means that the mold is in exile and that Hasbro will not be able to release a new Headhunter in the near future. However, something has recently happened that may offer some hope for fans of the Headhunter and the Headhunter Stormtrooper. Hasbro is going to release a new Clutch figure in 2004. What's notable, though, is that this figure uses the chest from Mace. Mace was also last seen in Brazil and was released contemporarily to the Headhunter! So, if Hasbro has Mace back in their stead, then it is possible that they may also have reacquired the Headhunter. Time will tell, but this does offer some hope for fans of this mold!

***Update 10/20/08***

Sure enough, the Headhunter did return. In 2008, Master Collector found the mold and produced it in two different colors for their annual convention set. The first figure that was included in the box set is cast in arsenic and is different from the normal look of the Headhunter. The other, and more desirable figure, is the Headhunter Driver. This figure uses the same paint masks as the original Headhunter figures and has the same base, black body. This was only available as an attendee exclusive and has become one of the more expensive Joe figures in recent years. Unfortunately, the original Headhunter accessories did not reappear with the figure mold. As such, there is still a void in the collecting world regarding Headhunters. But, we at least know the mold is available once again.

***End 10/20/08 Update***

Headhunters are a pain in the wazoo to find. Loose, that is. They are all over the place if you want a carded specimen. As these are very cool figures and don't appear all that often, prices on loose, complete Headhunters get a little high. You can usually buy a carded sample for only a dollar or so more than for what you could purchase a loose, complete specimen. Building an army of these guys is proving to be a challenge, but they are worth the search. Like most of the DEF figures, this guy wasn't produced in similar numbers to the other '92's. He is, though, far and away, the most popular DEF figure released. Many people who disdain the line love Headhunters. For that reason, finding him is all that much more difficult. I, though, was not disappointed in this figure like I have been many of the others over whom I have obsessed. The Headhunter is an excellent figure to add to your collection for just about any price.

I dig Headhunters and am always trading for or purchasing more. If you have some available, email me.

1992 Headhunter, DEF, 1993 Monster Blaster APC, Mega Marines, 1987 Chuckles, 2000 law

1992 Headhunter, DEF, 1993 Monster Blaster APC, Mega Marines, 1987 Chuckles, 2000 law

1992 Headhunter, DEF, 1993 Cobra Commander

1992 Headhunter, DEF, Funskool Major Bludd, Skull Squad Trooper, Convention Exclusive, 1985 Tele Viper, 1990 Rage

1992 Headhunter, DEF, Headhunter Stormtrooper, Backblast, Beach Head, 1993

Monday, May 8, 2000

1987 Hardtop

In 1987, Hasbro continued a trend when they released the Defiant Space Shuttle Complex. It was the finale in a series of capstone vehicles that were released near the end of the year for the Christmas buying season, had a big dollar price point, and were impressive in scale. The USS Flagg and Terrordrome had been fantastic vehicles, but the Defiant complex took the idea to the next level. While not as massive as the Flagg, the Defiant was more ambitious if only in what it represented. 1986 had not been kind to NASA and America had lost a bit of enthusiasm for space exploration. That Hasbro would come out with a vehicle like this showed remarkable daring for a company that has recently come under criticism for being too conservative and stodgy. Of course, they didn't flood the market with Defiants the way they did with Flaggs. I distinctly remember Flaggs being discounted down to about $70 in the months following Christmas. They were everywhere. I think I only saw maybe three or four Defiants. I think the big toy stores had gotten stuck with Flaggs and were reluctant to take the same type of hit with something like the Defiant. It also explains why Hardtop, and his companion figure, Payload, are so difficult to find today.

Hardtop is the center of some controversy. Some people say that he came with a very unique handgun. Others, pointing to bagged samples they have in their collections, say that he only came with the microphone headpiece that you see attached to this specimen's head. I do, someday, hope to acquire a MIB Hardtop. When I do, perhaps I can help solve this little mystery. Until then, I just showcase mine without a weapon. (On a side note, I have only ever seen one of the guns that is purported to have come with Hardtop. It is a very cool pistol, but is almost never seen. The only one I've spotted was in a mixed lot that had a bunch of Star Wars, Mask, He Man, and other toy line accessories mixed into it. I should have bought it, but didn't know of the gun's scarcity until a couple of weeks later. Oh, well.) Besides, this is a figure that would have been better suited to have come with tools instead of a firearm. I don't think too many people would want to be shooting in close proximity to those huge fuel boosters. One is reminded of the scene in Hunt for Red October when Rameus tells Ryan, "Some things in here don't react well to bullets", when Ryan is after the plant in the nuclear missle room. I think the effect would be the same were a fuel booster to be punctured.

Hardtop is a very cool figure. He is not military, but he is realistic. When I get a Defiant, I will, no doubt, want several Hardtops to make up the ground support staff. He just looks like a guy that would really work on a space shuttle launch pad. That is part of the figure's appeal. While not in the traditional folds of Joedom, this guy is a very realistic figure that is essential for any space exploration missions. Sure, the helmet's a little big, but one small oversight can be overlooked. I've always enjoyed figures that can be used for ground support staff. Any working military unit, especially one as cutting edge as the Joes would have had to have hundreds of support staff who could repair and service their equipment. A Joe airfield just doesn't look right without some support guys fueling and reloading planes. Just like the Flagg needs a couple of dozen Shipwrecks swabbing the deck, the Defiant needs more than one Hardtop. When I was a kid, I always hoped that Hasbro would offer Hardtop and Payload on a card, or as part of a mail in offer. Alas, they never did. I think my dream of a crew of Hardtops working on the Defiant minutes before takeoff will never be a reality. Finding, let alone affording, that many Hardtops would be a too consuming task.

After Hardtop's original appearance, the character remained gone for over 15 years. In 2004, though, most of the mold was resurrected in an interesting orange color scheme as part of the 2004 convention set. Upon that figure's release, the demand for original Hardtops fell considerably. What had been a $100 figure now sells for about 70% of that at best. The convention Hardtop, though, remains one of the more expensive figures from that set. I think this has more to do with the fact that many collectors only want one version of any given character in their collections than it does with Hardtop's popularity. As such, they buy the cheaper Convention figure as a way to fill the Hardtop gap. In time, this will even out a bit, but I do think that we've seen the peak prices for mint, complete V1 Hardtop figures.

Hardtop, along with his companion Payload, is a nightmare to find. Unlike Keep Haul and the AVAC, these two were never offered via any mail in offer. As such, the only way to get them was with the Defiant. That remains the best way to get them today. Neither of the two drivers appear all that often. You can sometimes find the pair, but even that is an oddity. Be prepared, though, to shell out some big bucks when these guys do come up for sale. Many collectors count Hardtop and Payload among their MIA and know of the difficult struggle to find them. When they do appear for sale, the interest, and ultimate selling price, is very high. If you are lucky enough to find a MIB Defiant, that is probably the easiest way to acquire these two figures. Since the Defiant is a rarely seen piece, though, even that poses a challenge. I honestly believe that these two are the least produced non variation Joes. Since interest in the space themed toys, though, is lower than that in the rest of the line, their prices are not indicative of their scarcity. I managed to pick this guy up in my end of 1999 haul that saw me add many new, hard to find pieces to my collection without spending even a fraction of what it would cost me to get them today. I just got lucky. My only lament is that I didn't pick up a couple of more of the items I had a shot at adding to my collection. I am glad, though, that Hardtop was one of the figures I did buy. Now, for Payload....

1987 Hardtop, 1994 Spaceshot, 1987 Knockdown, Razonblade

1987 Hardtop, 2003 Mail Away Big Ben, 1990 Major Storm

Friday, May 5, 2000

1994 Dial Tone

Whether you like neon or not, 1994 had its fair share of good figures. We have already looked at Shipwreck and have spend a good amount of time talking about the Star Brigade. Dialtone, though, is another solid figure from the line's swan song year. He has a good mold which does not suffer from the '94 "big shoulder syndrome", striking color scheme, a cool helmet, and is a rehash of a character that I certainly wanted to see return to the line. Sure, this guy has some bright yellows and neon green, but it contrasts well with the dark blue body and creates an aesthetically pleasing figure. His yellow weapons are terrible, but black replacements can easily be found in your weapons reserves. (In consider Dialtone's gun to be one of the best in the line. I use it with all sorts of different figures. Both the original white version and some of the later black versions are awesome and work with both Joes and Cobras.) Once properly outfitted, this guy is fun in a combat setting, on the water, in the headquarters, or in just about any other environment in which you can put him.

The original 1986 Dialtone is one of my all time favorite figures. I use him as a security guard or young officer. The beret just emanates an official aura. As such, I've got about 10 of the originals. The Mission to Brazil version is also kind of in my collection. The figure was trapped in my garage door and had its foot broken off. I replaced the terrible red legs, though, with those from a spare '86 Hawk. The result is another awesome figure that I use as a new, young field Joe. I don't have the sonic fighter version, though it looks like it could be cool. This version, though, is another great figure to have. I primarily use him as a gunner aboard my Shark 9000. I also use him as a computer operator or communications officer in either the Joe Headquarters or aboard the Tactical Battle Platform. The sci fi look to him allows you to use him as a science officer or technician, but he also has a combat look about him. I've found all sorts of uses for him on many of my expeditions. A spare communications officer always comes in handy.

When I first returned to Joe collecting, one of the first lots I bought had this guy, a '93 Star Brigade Roadblock, and a '94 Lifeline. I was after '94 figures then, and I'm still after them today. I just really like many of molds and specialties they came out with that year. '93 gave us figures of primarily neon with some dark highlights. '94 brought us nicely colored figures with some neon highlights. I think Hasbro had figured out that neon was not the way to go. They were phasing it out in '94 and probably would have even more so had the line survived to '95. It is really a shame that the line ended with the '94's. It seems that the problems that had started in 1992 and exploded in 1993 were finally being reigned in and put under control. The line probably would have experienced a slight rebirth had it been allowed to survive and flourish under what would have been separate entities for Star Brigade and regular Joe. Kids would still have been able to get brightly colored, far out figures in the Star Brigade and Manimals lines while not neglecting their military appetite by being able to also get Battle Rangers figures. I guess all good things must come to an end, but 1994 proved that Joe was not going out without a fight.

On a very happy note, there is some news, though still speculative, that there might be some Joes returning to the shelves in late 2000. Dialtone is one of the 10 mentioned. The figure could be a repainted version 1, a new version 4, or an amalgamation that creates a whole new figure. Either way, that figure is the one to which I am most looking forward. In 1998, there was originally supposed to be a Dialtone packed as part of a 5 figure set that would have come with an updated 1983 G.I. Joe Headquarters. When the first rumours of what figures would see production in 1998 surfaced, I was ecstatic that Dialtone was going to be one of them, but I was disappointed that he was going to come with a high price point contraption like the headquarters that would preclude me from buying more than one. That disappointment was magnified a thousand fold when I learned the headquarters had been scrapped and there were no longer any plans to return Dialtone to retail shelves. Perhaps, the rumoured 2000 Dialtone will be the one originally slated for the 1998 release. In any case, I am excited about Joe again and can hardly wait to see what the end of the year brings.

1994 Dialtones are not hard to find. I've got three of them. I always make sure to get at least the helmet. The gun you see pictured is a nice add on, but not necessary. I primarily give this guy Psyche Out's gun. He looks great with it. Like most '94's, this guy will keep appearing for quite some time. He was readily available at retail almost into 1996. For that reason, though, there are still many carded samples out there. It may be easier to acquire a loose, mint, complete specimen by purchasing a carded figure and liberating him from his plastic dungeon. Since the carded figures are still cheap, now is the time to do it. I was fortunate enough to pick up my original Dialtone at retail, but I've since added two more. They are available, especially if you look for lots with '93 and '94 figures. This is another figure that once you have him, you will just start finding him all sorts of uses.

I've got a couple of these guys and am not in the market for any more right now. 1994 Star Brigade figures, though, are a different story. If you have some of those to sell or trade, email me

1994 Dial Tone, Joseph Colton, Action Soldier, 2000 Law, 1989 Scoop, 1990 Sky Patrol Airwave

1994 Windchill

In 1995, Joes were mostly gone from the retail shelves. There were, though, a few pockets of them that could be found. On summer afternoon, I went to a local Meijer store. They only had two carded Joes, a 1994 Snow Storm and a 1993 Colonel Courage. They also had, though, the Blockbuster tank. It is a huge, Arctic tank that is very heavy, but very fun to own. The driver of this vehicle is Windchill. This is Windchill's second version, but I think it his best. When I first got this figure, I was hooked. The Blockbuster has a command gunner's seat that just makes this guy look regal. The green jacket doesn't really fit in with an Arctic vehicle, but the color is nice and it can work as the Blockbuster appears to be a sub Arctic tank that actually has wheels rather than treads or skis.

My Blockbuster is driven by a 1993 and 1994 version of Snow Storm. Windchill takes the command seat and various other Arctic troops, including the special commando unit that is made up of 1998 Fireflies, flank the tank on all sides. It is actually a very nice vehicle as it holds about 10 figures. I like vehicles that can be used as playsets. I find most Joe vehicles to be too small to really have fun with. Some, like the Hovercraft, Hydrofoil, and Tomahawk chopper are great. The Blockbuster falls into this category. A couple of Wolves accompanies by a phalanx of Snow Serpents makes for an excellent enemy to a single Blockbuster armed with some hearty troops. Sure, the Blockbuster has no basis in realism, but it makes for a very fun toy. For that reason, it has found a nice place in my collection.

When I first got this figure, I had no idea that it was a repaint from an earlier mold. I was just impressed by how it looked. At that time, I was leery of purchasing figures I couldn't see. In fact, I passed on the Star Fighter and Detonator because I wasn't sure of what the figures they came with looked like. By 1996, I was past this and was buying every Joe I could find. When I got the Blockbuster home, I had to sneak it into my parents' house. This is a much more daunting challenge that it would appear as the Blockbuster's box was immense and heavy. There would be no smuggling this under a summertime t-shirt like I could a simple carded figure. I managed to get it into the house and was pleasantly surprised when I opened it. The vehicle was fun, but the figure was fantastic. He came with a cool gun and had a nice color scheme. Windchill quickly joined my then small army of newly purchased Joes as they fought against Vipers and Crimson Guard Commanders. He became the leader, not because of any filecard or official notice, but because he looked very commanding sitting in his gunnery perch aboard his tank.

Windchill is the type of figure I tend to like. He has a basic mold and color scheme that is not too complex or overwhelming. He is a relatively obscure character who never really appeared in any measure of official Joedom. Finally, he has good accessories and just complements the look of many other figures. All of those ingredients add up to a figure that will almost always see substantial time in my collection. They are just more fun to develop and flesh out than the predetermined characters. Those guys are great, but sometimes their personalities are limiting. When you have a new character who can have any background you want, the play possibilities are endless.

Don't let production numbers about this figure scare you into a high dollar purchase. Some have put the total run of Blockbuster tanks at around 10,000. Whether or not this figure is accurate, though, is irrelevant. This figure was produced in much higher volumes. After the Blockbusters were sold off, this guy was offered either as a mail in, or was going to be offered in some other way. At any rate, thousands upon thousands of bagged samples made their way to the secondary market after the line's demise. I have seen collectors who literally have dozens, if not hundreds, of these bagged figures. The end result is that some dealers will try to scare you into thinking this guy is very rare. That is simply not the case. He is very common and only sells for about $5.00 MIB. That should give you some idea of his availability. Also, he is not a very popular figure and probably never will be. As such, I don't think this guy will ever have the type of interest that would allow him to sustain a high price point. The bottom line is, don't let dealers influence your purchases. There are no truly rare G.I. Joe figures. Check around and talk to collectors. There are hundreds of very nice people on Usenet and available through websites that will take the time to get you the proper information and help prevent you from being ripped off by a fly by night dealer.

Got anything interesting to add? Email me.

1994 Windchill, Blockbuster, Snow Storm, 1993

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

1993 Mail Away Snow Serpent

Rarely does a new version of a figure live up to its original counterpart. Some figures, like the 1991 Low Light, are better than the originals. While I'm not sure if that is the case with the Snow Serpent, I do know that they never made a bad version of him. This version I am showcasing, though, is the least known of the four Snow Serpent variations that were offered. However, after examining it, I think you will agree with me in that it is a spectacular figure worthy of much praise and more recognition that it receives from the collecting community. All three incarnations of this mold are relatively forgotten. I consider this one to be the best of them.

The figure you see below does not have its original accessories. The figure only comes with Hit and Run's rifle and a battle stand. (Which can be seen in the bagged sample.) The cool gun, snowboard and pack are from the 1998 incarnation of this figure that was available in a Toys R US exclusive 3 pack. While the Hit and Run's weapon is not bad, the figure is much more fun decked out in the full range of accessorized regalia he was originally intended to have. I use this guy as the Snow Serpent leader. The 1998's are the minions though, sometimes, the original 1991 versions serve in that capacity, too. This guy, though, is starting to see much more time. I just like the way this guys looks. The 1998's are too bland while the 1991 is too flashy. This guy is the happy medium that proves Hasbro was still capable of making a good figure in 1993, they were just too lazy to do so on a consistent basis.

One of the great things about this figure is the throwback red face mask. In the comic, early Cobra troopers and technicians all had red face masks. When the first Cobra figures were released, the masks had changed to black. Having a figure with the red mask is a nice homage to the early days of the line. It also makes this figure very unique in appearance. The cool Arctic blue blends subtlety with the white chest. The black extremities and red mask only enhance the overall appearance. The small Cobra sigils on the boot tops are the icing on the cake as far as attention to detail goes. I've had a bagged sample of this guy for some time, but have only recently acquired a loose specimen. Now that I have one, the figure really stands out in my collection. I have taken to posing figures near my desk. As I grow tired of one, he goes back into his drawer and a new figure comes out. Right now, the Snow Serpent is among the figures honored. I just like the way he looks. While I don't have much use for Arctic figures out in the now summertime desert, I still like having them around and use them on white carpet all the time. The 1998 3 pack gave me an excellent opportunity acquire a few of these molds, but I now have the figure that really makes the mold stand out among all Arctic figures.

One of the hallmarks of the Snow Serpent character has always been his gear. The original 1985 version was loaded with an assault rifle, heavy pack, parachute, snow shoes and a missile launcher. The 1991 version was more sleek and featured a rifle (That was also available in green with the Rock Fighter Guile figure.), a large pistol, 2 hoses that connected to a pack and a snow board. (The figure also featured a spring loaded missile launcher.) All of this made the Snow Serpent a figure that was heavily dependent upon his gear. However, the high quality paint job on this 1993 figure shows that the mold is capable of standing on its own without the gear. Many Joe figures derived their value directly from their accessories. This Snow Serpent is different in that it can stand on its own. The accessories only enhance a great mold.

This Snow Serpent mold has not seen much use. Aside from the original 1991 figure and this 1993 repaint, it was only used one other time: in 1998. All of these figures are top notch, though, and there really isn't any need to see this figure in different colors. There are only so many ways that, basically, white figures can be made visually distinctive. However, Hasbro largely neglected arctic Cobras in the modern Joe renaissance and most of these molds are still obscure enough that collectors would enjoy them...provided they were properly colored. As Master Collector has found the molds to both the original Snow Serpent and the Ice Viper, I could see, someday, an arctic themed convention set that would include a few of each of those molds alongside at least half a dozen of this Snow Serpent mold. At this point, I would enjoy a set like that since it would be something so different from the majority of modern Cobra releases.

***12/2/08 Update***

In the time since I wrote this, I acquired a ton of 1993 Snow Serpents. There was a dealer selling off surplus stock in 1999 and I bought out the last of his Snow Serpents. As such, this figure now comprises the bulk or my arctic army. On top of that, though, these figures have gotten rather pricey. While I bought all I could for a measly $3 per bagged figure, this Snow Serpent will now fetch upwards of $20 if he is still bagged. Even loose, this figure will reach $15 or so. In the late '90's, there were tons of overstock bagged figures from the final years of mail ins available. Now, though, those have largely dried up and many of the once common mail in premiums are starting to get pricey. It's too bad as this is easily the best version of this Snow Serpent mold available. But, I guess his new, higher prices are indicative that collectors, by and large, have figured this out.

***End 12/2/08 Update***

You can get these guys pretty easily, if you are willing to buy the Arctic 3 Pack Mail In. (Beware of this set. It is supposed to be a 4 figure set and include a repainted Dee Jay figure, but many of the ones for sale don't have him as he was bagged separately from the main 3. He is, though, pictured on the filecard.) Fortunately, the 3 packs are still very cheap and can be had under $10.00. Of course, you get three figures. While the Sub Zero is good as an army builder, I have yet to find the Stalker so. Building an army of Snow Serpents can prove difficult, but, with patience, can be done. When you outfit them with the accessories from the 1998 Arctic 3 pack, you are styling. I think this is the best incarnation and a rare case where a mail away figure is actually superior to its original version. This is a figure that is well worth picking up whenever the opportunity presents itself.

These guys are cool, but so are all the other versions of the Snow Serpent. Which is your favorite? Let me know.

1993 Snow Serpent, Arctic Commandos, Mail Away, 1998, 1991, 1987 Ice Viper, Maggot, Wolf

1993 Snow Serpent, Arctic Commandos, Mail Away

1993 Snow Serpent, Arctic Commandos, Mail Away, 2002 Hiss IV, Skullbuster, 2000 Snake Eyes

1993 Snow Serpent, Arctic Commandos, Mail Away, 1998, Ice Viper, Wolf 1987

1993 Snow Serpent, Arctic Commandos, Mail Away, MIB

Steel Brigade Mail Away

We have already visited Hasbro's personalized figures with the 1993 Create Your Own Cobra. This time, however, we are going to examine the successful side of this promotion, the Steel Brigade. There are many, many variations of the Steel Brigade figure. Hasbro "frankensteined" these figures together with many different parts. Personally, I use as my resource. They list 5 distinct versions of the figure. (It should be noted that I do not count accessory variations of a figure as a variation of a figure. Only a physical change to either body construction or factory paint jobs is considered a figure variation to me.) The version you see here is the one I have found to be most common. (I only base that on my collecting experience and the fact that I have 4 of these guys and no other versions.)

These guys are just awesome basic Joe infantry troops. They make perfect cannon fodder. They are the one figure that just about everyone will agree as to their usage. Still, these guys have a cool mold. Sure, they are cast from existing figures, but the head is very cool and allows you to easily use them as field troops, security officers, or any number of other duties. I think the enduring popularity of this figure is that it could be whatever you wanted it to be. Hasbro allowed for customized filecards on Steel Brigade figures and I think many people made this guy into the character they most wanted to see in the line. As such, this guy was offered for years with great success. The amount of people who have these guys in their collections is also staggering. Some people have dozens of them. Many collectors have more than one. They created the figures when they were kids and the nostalgic memories have kept the Steel Brigade figure in featured spots in many collections.

The version that I have pictured comes with, in my opinion, the best accessories of any of the known Steel Brigade figures. Earlier versions came with either Airborne or the Crimson Guard's rifles as well as the pack you see here. This version has a black version of Recoil's rifle. It is an awesome accessory that looks great with a wide variety of figures. It is truly a shame that it was only available with a mail order figure, but it was available for about 4 or more years and, therefore, is rather easy and cheap to obtain today. This gun, though, only enhances an already good figure. The Steel Brigade, by itself, is a great figure that is a lot of fun to own. If you are lucky enough to get the properly accessorized version, you can create quite a formidable force for your Cobra legions to engage.

The Steel Brigade made an appearance for a brief time in the modern line. In 2004, versions of the Steel Brigade started appearing in Asia. A good number of these figures made their way to the US and can be found today with a little looking. However, this figure was never actually released. In its place, Hasbro released the Anti-Venom Set which featured Steel Brigade inspired helmets on classic figures. In 2006, Hasbro actually released a new sculpt set of Steel Brigade figures that featured the classic colors and removable helmets. But, all of the figures were actual characters rather than nameless recruits. At this point, I think the Steel Brigade concept is pretty much a sham of the original concept and should simply be put to bed. There really isn't any reason for it to make another appearance as there are plenty of options out there for collectors.

Some versions of the Steel Brigade figure are incredibly hard to find. Some collectors count one of the variations as the rarest Joe figure out there. This version, though, is not hard to get at all. He can be found all over the place and usually for under $8.00 for a MIB specimen. They are cheap and plentiful enough to build ample armies. You should, though, take full advantage of their availability now. As with most Joes that are easily obtained MIB, these guys are starting to disappear into private collections where they will stayed bagged forever. However, I just picked up two of them for $5.00 for the lot. You can easily buy these guys up and not feel guilty about opening them. Now that I've got a couple of loose samples, I can honestly say that I have no regrets freeing them from their plastic prisons. I'm sure you won't either.

I'd like another version of the Steel Brigade figure. If you can help, email me.

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Bootleg Cobra Mortal, Cobra Troopers

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Mauler, Rock and Roll, 1983, 1985, JUMP, Scarlett

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Lifeline, Tollbooth, Slipstream

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, MIB,

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, MIB,
Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Fuego, Ripcord, Argentina, Plastirama, Parachute pack, 1985

Mail Away Rampage

I'm not sure about this figure. I know that he was released in either 1989 or 1990 as part of a vehicle drivers mail in set. The set was supposed to include 1985 Heavy Metal and the 1983 Steeler. Instead, people got Rampage. I don't know which figure he replaced. The official dispatch you see in the bag behind the sample below mentions that Steeler has been "reassigned". This would suggest that Steeler was replaced with Rampage. This figure, though, is just a slight repaint of Heavy Metal. Did Hasbro really ship two of the same figure to everyone who ordered this set? Especially when Rampage's file card is nothing but Heavy Metal's with a few things changed. (The file name not being one of them!) Many things Hasbro does make no sense. However, I don't think sending two of the "same" figures to everyone would have flown in the late '80's or early '90's.

Nonetheless, Heavy Metal was an awesome figure. He was the perfect tank driver. I managed to get two of them and used him in the Armadillo tank since it was more versatile and fun to play with. Even when I lost his communication device, I still kept Heavy Metal in my play rotation. Rampage follows the same pattern. Since he lacks the Heavy Metal's face stains, though, I don't think of him as being as gritty as Heavy Metal. I do like the slightly different color green in which Rampage is cast. It's not as traditional military as Heavy Metal, but still looks good. He doesn't come with the communication device that made Heavy Metal so cool, but he does have the gun. I have always loved this gun. I often gave it to other figures. The strap was perfect for Alpine and, later, Hit and Run. I always wanted more of them, but this was a weapon, like Frostbite and Crankcase's guns, that was never offered in any of the accessory packs. Fortunately, I kept mine in good condition and still have two loose examples of this gun today.

I love this mold. The heavy jacket and bulky look makes this guy look like an armour man. He's got the chest holster that looks good on so many figures. He also has that cool helmet that fits so tight to his head. I always wished he could have had goggles to go over his eyes, but the molded pair works for me. I always used this guy as the primary vehicle driver for all my missions. He drove tanks, jeeps, and even flew planes and helicopters. Unlike Crankcase, who I used outside his vehicle, this guy always stayed in his vehicles. He looked great in them, but I couldn't find much use for him outside of his vehicular confines. I now use him primarily as a jeep driver of my CORPS! hummers. He also sees some time in the gunner's seat of my APC. He is just a great vehicle driver that must be used.

I don't have any loose samples of Rampage. Since the figure is virtually identical to Heavy Metal, though, I'll use my Heavy Metal stories for this guy. This is a mold that was just great. All of the '85 vehicle drivers were exceptional. They set the standard for all future vehicle drivers. Fortunately, many of those '85's were available via mail order for many years. You may have gotten a Rampage instead of a Heavy Metal, but the mold and use of the figure is certainly the same. I know I wouldn't have been disappointed had I received both a Heavy Metal and a Rampage in the same mail in pack. I liked my Joes to have generic vehicle drivers. These guys are similar enough that they would have worked perfectly in my scenarios. Now, I would like to someday track down a loose version of this figure. However, since I still have my Heavy Metal's, I am more willing to wait.

This guy is tough, tough, tough to find. I've only ever seen two of them for sale. I got mine for $5. The next week, another sold for $50.00. This guy doesn't appear all that often. When he does, he can go very high, or very low. I like to think that I got lucky with my purchase. Still, this guy is a cool piece of Joedom that very few people know about. Very few people have him. He is not even listed as a normal figure. Many people simply consider him to be a variant Heavy Metal. Since he is somewhat unique, and has a different name, though, I consider this figure to be part of the complete set of Joes.

You can also view Rampage's filecard here.

If you know any more about Rampage, let me know. I'm always interested in information about the figures I profile here:

Rampage, Mail Away, Heavy Metal, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, MIB, Filecard

Rampage, Mail Away, Heavy Metal, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, MIB, Filecard

1990 Big Ben

In 1990, I was out of Joes. My youngest brother was still buying an occasional figure (See 1990 Bullhorn), but we were mostly done with Joes. I babysat to supplement my meagre income. The cool thing about this was that I got to play with the kids' toys. There were two joes that really stuck out in my mind, Recoil, and Big Ben. I just thought this guy was awesome. He had a great mold, fantastic accessories, and an interesting background. Joe had finally expanded into international territory and had started including foreign members in its ranks. When the figures were like Big Ben, they were a very welcome addition.

This figure has a great mold. Bullet straps are always a popular feature with me, and this guy uses them to perfection. Other than that, though, the mold is very plain. Like Crankcase, this guy uses simplicity to create complexity. The mold is plain, but suggests functionality that made this a very realistic figure. The fact that he comes with a gun that has a removable bi-pod as well as a pouch that actually carries removable grenades is simply an afterthought. The figure is good enough to stand on its own. When the accessories are added in, this guy's lack of popularity among Joe collectors is baffling. He has everything they claim to like. Perhaps the fact that he is from England was enough to turn some people away. It is unfortunate, though, but does provide enterprising collectors an opportunity to easily acquire one of the line's top quality figures.

One of the very first mint complete figures I went after when I first returned to Joe collecting was a Big Ben. I just wanted to finally have one. Unlike most of the figures I really want, though, this guy was not a disappointment once he was in my collection. He quickly became one of my most used infantry troops. It is a distinction he still holds today. He just fits in with any strike force you put together. Tunnel Rat used to be my light machine gunner. Now, Big Ben is the man. Tunnel Rat still goes on some missions, but Big Ben is always the primary. He works in the jungle, the forest, and even Arctic conditions. Big Ben is the epitome of what Hasbro was capable of during the Joe line. He is just a remarkable figure that looks cool and plays well. (I have often found that many of the sharpest looking figures are just too cool to use. They look great, but aren't much fun to play with. Snake Eyes is often the greatest example of this.)

I use Big Ben as both an individual figure and as an army builder. He often is the heavy machine gunner that accompanies a platoon of Recoils or Salvos. He is the light fire support troop that keeps the grunts from being outgunned. As such, this figure gets a lot of use in my collection. He is just a great figure to have around. The awesome accessories make him perfect for a variety of situations and his gun isn't so big (like Roadblock's!) as to prevent from being involved in light infantry and infiltration missions. I often use him in the back of my CORPS! hummers. He blends perfectly with the green cammo pattern. Big Ben works great as both vehicular support, a helicopter insertion team member, or just a plain old run of the mill infantryman. That is the beauty of this figure. He is very simple but still has many uses.

Back in May of 2000 when I first wrote this profile, I had no idea that Big Ben would become such a hated part of Joe lore. That really isn't any fault of his, though. The simple fact is that Hasbro produced three distinct Big Ben figures in under 18 months. The first of these was the high quality but overproduced arctic Big Ben. This was a great figure and a perfect repaint of this mold: but it was packed 4 per case and became the ultimate pegwarmer throughout the U.S. and Canada. About the time that stores finally cleared that retail dud off the shelves, though, Hasbro put out the Wave 1.5 Big Ben figure. Again, this figure featured solid paint schemes and his original accessories. However, Hasbro packed him with an Alley Viper and overproduced the wave. As such, many collectors ended up with 6, 8, 12 or even 25 extra Big Ben figures which they couldn't give away. It gave the figure a further bad name even though the actual figure was really well done. Finally, Hasbro packed a baby blue Big Ben repaint into the harder to find Wave 2, 2002 cases. This figure was again packed with an Alley Viper, but this Alley Viper was red, packed one per case and wasn't as desired by collectors who had gotten their fill of the superior blue Alley's from a wave prior. As such, even though this was the worst Big Ben ever offered, it didn't garner collector ire like the first two figures. After that, Hasbro reused the head on a 2003 Big Ben and then re-used Big Ben parts throughout the comic packs. The result is that the mold is just overly used and almost cliched at this point.

At this point, I, and most other collectors, are Big Ben'ed out. The reality is that the figure has been overdone. In 2000, I thought an arctic repaint of the mold would be perfect. We got that and I can't complain. The Wave 1.5 figure is true to this original figure, but is different enough to stand on it's own. Beyond that, we really don't need another version of the figure ever again. Really, Hasbro started off right by repainting Big Ben at a time when most collectors weren't too interested in any figure produced after 1989. But, they simply went too far and made some poor packing decisions that have forever sullied the legacy of this once desirable mold.

Big Bens are easy to find. He does have lots of tiny accessories, though, and is often found incomplete. Still, mint, complete specimens are very readily available. This is a guy, though, that I use as an army builder. He also makes for excellent custom fodder. His accessories also work great on many figures. As such, the supply of Big Ben figures may not always be so ample. I, for one, have three of this guy. I will add to my armies as well, if the price is right. Now, it seems that it usually is. Over time, though, more collectors will discover this guy and his many uses. When they do, Big Bens may not be so easy to find.

Got anything interesting to add? Email me.

1990 Big Ben, 1988 hardball

1990 Big Ben, 2004 Desert Patrol Gung Ho

1990 Big Ben,