Back in the summer of 1999, a prominent G.I. Joe dealer offered via Ebay a number of A Real American Hero prototypes. For most, it was the first real look at many of these items. Naturally, Joe fans flocked to auctions and saw their first glimpse of what the proposed 1995 line was going to look like. During all this hullabaloo, Ebay crashed. During the span when the auctions ended, Ebay was only available periodically. Because of this, many collectors missed out on their chance to snipe away these prize prototypes at the last minute. I was one of these frustrated collectors. I finally connected to Ebay only to discover that the figure that most intrigued me, a very unique and incredibly cool Dr. Mindbender figure, was gone. Instead, I settled for the Battle Rangers Flint and just figured that my one opportunity to own the Dr. Mindbender was gone forever. About a year later, another Dr. Mindbender appeared on Ebay from the same dealer. Unfortunately, I had just bought my house, and just couldn't come up with the money necessary for a purchase this large. In the auction, the dealer commented that this was his last Mindbender. I figured this was it. However, just a couple of weeks ago, another opportunity presented itself. I decided that I couldn't let this go. I made an offer the owner of this figure and it was accepted. Now, finally, I have the crown jewel of my collection: the unproduced 1995 Battle Rangers Dr. Mindbender.
It is well known that 1995 would have been a very interesting year for Joe. While concepts like the Lunartix aliens, Manimals and Replicators would have taken Joe to the very edge of science fiction and the Ninja Commandos would have given us yet another Snake Eyes and Stormshadow rehash, the Battle Rangers would going to be the more military themed Joe toys. Characters like Flint, Footloose, and Duke were going to anchor the Joe team while Cobra was finally going to see a new Baroness and, of course, a newly frankensteined Dr. Mindbender. The line was also going to feature a few repaints from the 1994 Battle Corps series and was going to also have a full array of newly molded vehicles. The paint schemes were going to be realistic, (You can see the beginnings of this with the 1994 releases. While '93 offered horrid color choices, 1994 was much better. Figures like Stalker, Shipwreck, Joseph Colton and Snowstorm all had very nice, more realistic color schemes that showed Joe was regaining its focus.) and the line may have even included original accessories rather than the hated weapon tree. All in all, the Battle Rangers could have salvaged a little of Joe's lost dignity in the mid '90's. At least the new releases have helped take away the bad memories of what was the original Joe's final years.
Why do I like this figure? I really can't tell you. From the moment I first saw it, this prototype grabbed me more than any other element of Joedom that I have ever seen. I think it was the incredible detail on the figure. His mold is just astonishing. The level of detail put into the hand and head are far above any other figure ever produced. Frankly, I don't know how they could have mass produced this figure without losing some of the head detail. The other thing about that is so neat is the helmet. He is the only '95 prototype I have seen that actually comes with an accessory. The helmet fits onto his head perfectly. I think of it as a Darth Vader type thing where the helmet helps his ravaged body survive. While I know of no evidence that points to a purported paint scheme for this figure, I let my imagination run wild. I'm sure he would have offered the nice, subtle, realistic color scheme that was found on all the other Battle Rangers figures. (Flint and Footloose can be seen in Battle Rangers production art. A copy of a painted Baroness hard copy has been found. A character that seems to be the Battle Rangers Duke can also be seen on many licensed Joe items from the late '94 - early '95 era. Another unnamed and unknown Cobra figure is shown on the box art of a new Cobra helicopter. [See YoJoe.com for details.] He could have been a new version of Cobra Commander, a totally new named Cobra villain, or a new Cobra army builder who would have rounded out the Cobra assortment in 1995. All are very nice and would have fit in very nicely with the Joe line as a whole.)
The main thing that grabbed me, though, was the darkness of the character. This Dr. Mindbender looks truly evil. Of all the characters in Joedom, none, not even Snake Eyes, would have experienced the horrors to which Mindbender was subjected. The look of evil in his eyes, as well as the devastated body would have created a character that would have been the epitome of darkness. Personally, I feel that Mindbender would have been a monster capable of doing gruesome things to prisoners, spies, and poor test subjects. In this capacity, he is underrepresented. The Mindbender we saw in the comics and cartoon was not this dark. I think Joes' creative team, though, was steering for a new path with a character this mutated. Remember, in 1994 and 1995, Spawn was starting to see some popularity on the toy market. The dark character was something that was selling at retail. It made sense for the Joe brain trust to look down this avenue. Personally, I would love the opportunity to see Dr. Mindbender appear in the new comic in the same characterization that was meant for the Battle Rangers. Perhaps, with his rumoured (I stress, RUMOURED!) appearance in wave IV of the new Joes that are slated for this fall to coincide with the comic release, we might finally get a glimpse of this character as he was planned to be.
The one thing about this figure that many people will deride is that he looks so sci-fi. The mutated hand and scarred face make this figure appear to be something out of a horror flick rather than a simple, military villain. However, closer examination of the Mindbender character reveals that this figure follows a path that was laid down by the original 1986 version almost a full decade before this figure was ever conceived. The 1986 filecard made reference to the fact that Dr. Mindbender liked to experiment on himself. It would only make sense that his mutated hand would be the side effect from one of his experiments. The scarred face (it's hard to see because of the photography. Once I get my digital camera back working, I will get more detailed pictures of the amazing head sculpt.) also shows that the good Dr. has been working to update his computer enhanced body parts. The original file card said the Dr. Mindbender had become vain. It would only make sense that he would attempt to remove the computer terminal from the outside of his head in order to improve his appearance. The scars he left behind, though, would seem to indicate that he still has a good way to go before his countenance is back to anything near its original state. All of this, though, shows that the Battle Rangers would have been a subset for Joe diehards. They took the personality traits laid down in all the filecards and expanded upon them to create a new manifestation of the character. Again, it was all of Joedom's loss that the Battle Rangers never came to be. I think they would be held in very high regard by the modern collector had they ever made it to full scale production.
Personally, I know of three unique examples of this figure. All are in private collections. There seems to be a consensus, though, that this figure probably had about a dozen of them produced. I would imagine that at least 6 survive to this day. I would imagine that at least one is still in the possession of the source for most of the '95 prototypes that have made their way to the second hand market. A couple of others are probably sitting in private collections, never to be known for many, many years. The rest, I would imagine, are quietly rotting away in Cincinnati's Mount Rumpke, or some other similar place, along with other '95 Joes, Gargan, and the Luke Skywalker in Robes figures. Perhaps, some day, we will know the full story of the Battle Rangers and find a treasure trove of the unreleased toys. Until then, we only have snippets, like these prototypes and the box mock ups you can find at YoJoe.com. Despite the fact that it would greatly reduce the monetary and collectible value of this figure and the Flint, I would like to see these molds used in the line of new releases. I'm not sure if the general Joe buying public is ready for this version of Dr. Mindbender, but I know that I, and many other collectors, would relish the opportunity to own this figure in a playable version. It would help bridge the gap between Joe's original run, and its current manifestation.
In 2006, the first painted test shot of Dr. Mindbender appeared. The figure was in a base of dark purple with black highlights. It is a very muted tone for the figure and one that, at first glance, I was disappointed in. However, as this figure had been built up inside my head for over 7 years, there was no way the first glance of his intended coloring would have lived up to the hype. With more reflection, though, I actually quite like the color scheme as it was in line with the intentions of the Battle Corps Rangers, kept with the character's roots and was visually pleasing. My one gripe was that the skin tone for Mindbender was vibrant. For some reason, I've always pictured this figure with a more ghoulish skin tone. I figured the facial bruises from the massive surgeries couples with the lack of sunlight from hiding his visage inside the mammoth helmet would have left Mindbender's skin an otherworldly palour. Naturally, it would have been tough for Hasbro to pull this off, but it would be the one change in the way I would represent the figure were I the one painting it up.
The appearance of this painted Mindbender gives us more insight into what was planned for the Battle Corps Rangers line. I have long felt it would have been a line that collectors would have enjoyed without being the repetitive monotony we have seen in the post '94 re-releases. This figure shows the perfect evolution of the Mindbender character over a decade. It offered a glimpse into a more monstrous world of Cobra. I think that would have been a vision that collectors would have enjoyed had it come to fruition.
This Dr. Mindbender figure is my favorite unproduced item. Would you like to see the Battle Rangers some day see a wide release? Do you think this is a cool figure? Let me know your thoughts.