Back in the spring of 1983, my youngest brother was given, for his birthday, a Zap by our grandparents. Zap was about the only original Joe we hadn't yet acquired, so this was pretty cool. What was odd, though, was that this was a straight armed Zap that my grandparents had managed to find after the swivel armed version had already been released. My brother opened him in our van as we were on the way to the park. He promptly attempted to put the large bazooka into Zap's right hand and was met with disastrous results as the thumb broke before the handle had even started to get close to being fully inserted. I immediately took the figure and chastised my brother for being so stupid as to break a new figure the first time he tried to use the accessories. I promptly told him to let me show him how to have the figure properly hold the gun in his left hand. I barely slid the handle into this Zap's left hand when that thumb snapped off as well. Thus ended the illustrious reign enjoyed by Zap in our collection.
I'm not kidding. I broke that Zap back in 1983 and haven't managed to get a new one until just about 2 weeks ago. Due to that early incident, I always considered Zap to be an inferior figure who wasn't worth getting since he would easily break. As an adult collector, I've not been too keen on acquiring any of the early figures. I just don't like them enough to spend the type of money it usually requires to add one of these guys to my collection. Recently, though, this has changed. I'm now down to under 70 figures that I need to have a complete set of domestic Joes. With this in mind, most of the figures I do not yet have are not very high on my list. In fact, I've found it hard to get excited about the search for just about any of them. That's why I've moved more towards foreign releases as my primary way of adding new Joes to my collection. The few new American Joes I have added, though, have tended to be the swivel armed rereleases of the original 13 Joes, and a few of those original straight armed figures. I've just been missing a few and they are now among the figures I like the most of those which I am missing.
The thing I like about Zap, though, is that he's different. All those early Joes are the same color and have little difference between each other. Zap, though, really stands out. His color scheme is dramatically different from the other originals' and his accessories have actually better withstood the test of time. Because of this, I actually started looking for Zap. I decided that I liked the figure and might actually have a use for him. Unlike Breaker, I think that Zap may actually be a part of my collection rather than an homage to it. I don't normally go for these early figures, but Zap has become kind of an exception. His look blends well with other, more modern figures and they never really introduced a bazooka trooper who was better than this original Zap. (His second version, though, is a great figures as well. I nearly had to flip a coin to see which version would be profiled. The second's less than stellar accessories, though, made this guy the winner.) The figure has the unique blend of color and aesthetics that make him stand out when posed with the original Joes. He is the odd ball. That alone is enough reason for me to like him.
I see Zap becoming one of those background figures that I tend to like. I don't think he'll get used as a primary trooper. Those roles are relegated to figures that are more infantry and less specialty in nature. Zap, though, will be a guy who stays with the chopper or transport and is called in when the core unit gets into trouble. Kind of like the '89 Rock and Roll, Zap isn't the type of guy who goes traipsing through the field. His weapons are just not conducive to that. He is the type of figure, though, that is necessary when things get really bad. He is the foil to the Heat or new Fast Blast Viper. He is required to be present on missions, but you hope his services are never needed. I like guys like that. They are what gives the line the diversity it needs to be realistic. If Hasbro had only released the same type of trooper over and over again, the line would have floundered and died out very quickly. Hasbro would do well to learn from their past success with the new line. Many collectors have bemoaned the Wet Suit/Wet Down two pack. They don't like the divers. It is this type of diversity, though, that makes the line fun. We now have divers that can be used for water missions. If Hasbro only releases green colored infantry figures, the line is going to go stale very quickly. I would hope that the announced Gung Ho/Leatherneck two pack remembers this. Those two characters, while being similar specialties, had very different looks to all their incarnations. If the figures just look the same, I know my interest will be severely limited. I like diversity of form and function in my Joe ranks. It just keeps the line fresh. Fans with short sighted "realism" points of view need to remember that.
As an addendum to that last paragraph: I wrote those words on July 18,2001. The very next morning I turned on my computer to find pictures of the next wave of Joes. What do I find? All of the things I warn about have come true on the future releases. All the new head sculpts look the same. The figures all have similar paint schemes and are indistinguishable from each other. I find it hard to get excited about waves 4 and 5 since the figures aren't really all that different from what we've already seen. Oh, well. At least the army building bills will be much lower.
Zap is a weird figure. Lots of kids broke their originals, be they swivel or straight armed. In fact, Hasbro updated Zap's bazooka three times. The first, and rarest, is a double handed job that is very cool, but tough to find. The second is the version we are most used to seeing, but it has a fat handle that still broke thumbs. The third version has a thinner handle and helps keep the figure intact. A mint complete Zap, regardless of which bazooka he comes with, will still set you back a decent sum. Recently, this guy has been fetching $20-$25 for a mint, loose, complete with filecard specimen. This makes him the third most expensive original figure behind Snake Eyes and Scarlett. Like all of these original Joes, though, Zap's price is subject to change. A couple of months ago, Scarlett's could be had for under $10. Now, they're getting $30. Zap is just in favor right now. In a couple of months the people looking for him will have all gotten a sample and his price, like the price of just about every figure, will fall a bit. The key to getting a good deal is to know when the peaks and valleys are. Of course, this is always the case. Zap, though, is a figure I'm actually happy to have. He will get some use in my collection, though not what other, more recent figures will see. He is a guy, though, that fits well with figures from all years. The line has precious few figures who can boast that claim.
Zap is cool, but I'm not too keen on building armies of these early figures. If you have a straight armed Zap with no damage, though, I would be interested. If you can help, email me.