Monday, December 31, 2001

2001 Funskool Red Dog - Indian Exclusive

We all know that there are newly sculpted Joes coming out. In fact, the first wave of O Ringless Joes is currently hitting retail outlets all over the country. We have all heard rumours and innuendo about the future of the line. How much of it is fact, and how much is speculation will be determined in time. At any rate, though, the classic look to Joes is no more. I'm not, though, going to get into any feelings about the new figures. Personally, I have yet to see them. When I do, I will make the determination if they will be become part of my collection or not. That being said, what is the fan of the classic Joe figures to do? Hasbro has kept us interested for the past year with the re-releases. Beyond that, though, there is only one other outlet for collectors to get a classic Joe fix: the figures produced in India by Funskool.

Funskool released some great new figures in late 2000 and early 2001. They offered fantastic repaints of General Flagg, General Hawk, and the Desert Scorpion. With that track record, I figured the late year releases would continue that trend. When I heard the next figure to be offered by Funskool was Red Dog, though, I was disappointed. I've always hated the Red Dog figure. The original Slaughter's Marauders pack had three members, Red Dog, Mercer and Taurus. Of the three, only Mercer found a home in my collection. Red Dog and Taurus became afterthoughts who often filled criminal or civilian roles. The characters did nothing for me and I found the figures lame. I just didn't think that a version of Red Dog would interest me. How wrong I was....

The minute I saw a picture of this Red Dog figure, I instantly knew he would have a home and a very important purpose in my collection. The former Samoan was now done as a Caucasian. Unlike other race changing figures, Red Dog kept the facial features that had previously distinguished him. The pale skin just screamed "albino" to me. As such, this new Red Dig figure became a new criminal, an albino Dreadnok named ZinZan who has taken over the group now that Zartan has gone off to become a part of the Cobra hierarchy. He is a new, ruthless leader who runs drugs, guns, and anything else that will make him money. He is a character that is more deadly than other, established Joe characters, and has the law enforcement world very nervous. He has made the Dreadnoks a more powerful criminal element while keeping them true to their mischievous biker roots. Again, like so many figures that I tend to use often, it is the character I've made for this guy that is his drawing power.

If you are a long time reader of this site, you know that often times I acquire two figures simultaneously and those figures become forever linked. (See Interrogator and Night Vulture.) Such is the case with this Red Dog figure. At the time I acquired him, I also picked up the notorious Super Cop figure, also from Funskool. He is an amalgamation of Sgt. Slaughter, Iceberg, and Hawk. He is a very nice figure and an excellent example of a law man. Naturally, he and this Red Dog character have become mortal enemies. Once again, though, that kind of backstory makes this figure incredibly fun. He is very distinct from the American Red Dog and can be used as a totally different character without too much stretching of established Joe story lines. His color scheme is not too out of whack with what a villain like him would wear and isn't the typical over the top Funskool style. He is a perfect example of a foreign figure being utilized in a primarily American collection without losing anything in form, function or style.

As this figure is a relative newcomer to my collection, his role will mature with time. Unlike many of the figures I've recently acquired, though, I welcome whatever this figure will become. His unique nature really makes him stand apart from what Hasbro has offered the American market in the past year. Aside from a few gems, most of the new releases have been relatively uninspired and show a sameness to them that makes most of the Joe characters simply run together. Having figures like Red Dog available provides some fresh air in the Joe world. Sure, this figure doesn't fit the traditional role of a military based toy. However, Joe's success did not come from it's pure military roots, it came from the expansion of the line to more distinct looks and characterizations. When all the figures look the same, there is only so much you can do with them. When there is great diversity in the line, it really opens up and expands play options that make the line enduring. Hopefully, the new Joe sculpts will remember that. I don't want all olive drab Joes. I want some in some different type of uniforms that allow for them to expand upon their traditional military roles and allow them some leeway in use. I don't think I'm alone in this thinking.

Red Dog is easy to find. A number of online retailers are currently selling him for about $4.00 for a MOC specimen. He was just released this year, so he should be available for a good long time. With that in mind, I'd continue to look to Funskool for some nice figures releases in the next year. Sure, some figures like the Wild (Wacky) Bill are a bit out there, though cool in an the offbeat, innocent way toys should be, but others, like the Crimson Guard Immortal have become staples of most people's collections. Funskool seems to rotate the figures they offer. With any luck, 2002 will provide us with some old favorites as well as some new guys we are not expecting. They will, though, continue to be a great outlet for collectors to keep acquiring classically molded Joes. Personally, I've found the quality on this Red Dog figure to be excellent. His paint masking is sharp, the details are nice, his accessories work with him, and the figure is well constructed and moves freely. From a toy standpoint, what more can you ask for? I know that Funskool will be one of my primary focuses next year, regardless of whether or not I like the newly sculpted Joes. They offer interesting and fun figures with decent quality at an incredibly affordable price. That's all I look for when I'm after Joe figures and I know you will not be disappointed in Funskool figures at all.

I like this figure, and most of what Funskool has done. If you have any older (pre '95) Funskool figures available for trade, email me.

2001 Funskool Red Dog, Super Cop, Law, Dreadnok Thunder Machine, 1992 Mutt

2001 Funskool Red Dog, Super Cop, 1992 Shockwave

Saturday, December 15, 2001

1997 Stormshadow

I've debated for long time as to whether or not I would profile this figure. When I finally decided to do so, I had another debate as to which year of this mold I was going to utilize. I use both the '84 and this mold about the same and couldn't decide if I should go with the classic, or keep with my original plan and showcase this later, less heralded use of this immortal mold. Finally, I let fate decide. I still keep my '97 figures ready and none have gone to the archive, yet. That is not the case with the '84 figures. All my original Stormshadows were packed away in baggies. As such, I took the easy way out and settled on the 1997 Stormshadow as my profile for this week.

There are some slightly more sentimental reasons why I wanted to profile this figure mold around this day. You see, back in 1984, Stormshadow was impossible to find. You couldn't get him even at the just recently opened Toys R Us stores. A friend of mine, in desperation, ordered a Stormshadow, along with 5 or 6 other figures he already had, in a figure pack from the JC Penny catalog. I, though, was a bit more patient. Finally, in mid October of '84, I found a lone Stormshadow at the aforementioned Toys R Us store. As October coincides with my younger brother's birthday, the only way I could convince my father to buy the figure was as a present for my sibling. I figured that as long as one of us had the figure, that would be okay. My brother's birthday came and went and I discovered that my plan had backfired. Instead of relinquishing the new Stormshadow figure our toy room, as was my brother's M.O. after the initial novelty wore off, he kept using the Stormshadow figure. I never got the opportunity to stash it into my collection like I had hoped. I watched in horror as my brother lost Stormshadow's accessories and left him in the mud in our backyard. I realized that by the time I was going to be able to commandeer the figure into my collection, the figure wouldn't be worth having. I needed a new plan.

By December, my thoughts had turned to 2 possible times when I could acquire the Stormshadow figure: Christmas and my birthday. I was hoping for my birthday as I was usually able to pimp my brothers for some insight into my upcoming presents. Christmas wasn't much of a challenge as I knew where the presents were kept. You can imagine my disappointment, though, when all my "sources" turned up no info that I would be receiving a Stormshadow figure of my own that holiday season. I let this slip from my mind, though, as I was preparing for my birthday party. For whatever reason, the weekend I had my party that year was unseasonably warm. We had a 65 degree day so all my friends and I could play outside. As such, my party ran long and I didn't open presents until much later in the evening. When I did, I found I had received a Stormshadow figure! One of my friends who wasn't really into Joe, but knew I was, had found it and thought it looked cool. We all then spent the rest of the evening in an epic G.I. Joe battle.

Just to show that this story has a point and that things do sometimes come full circle, there is one more little element to this tale. On December 15th, 1997, I decided to stop at a Toys R Us store on my way home from work. I always bought myself a present for my birthday. (It is a tradition to continues to this day, though now my wife buys me the toys. I've got a nice box of stuff coming from this year!) I was hoping to find the elusive Slave Leia from the Star Wars line. Of course, TRU was a bust for Star Wars, but I did see something very, very interesting. It was the Stars and Stripes set that contained 8 new Joe figures. At that time, I was not as involved in the online Joe world as I am now and didn't have any idea this set was being released. Naturally, I snatched it up. The figures weren't great, but it was enough to get me thinking about my Joe collection once again. (Oddly enough, I also stopped at the Wal Mart one freeway exit down from the TRU and found that Slave Leia. I've always had good toy luck on my birthday!)

Sadly, though, this about ends my fascination with the Stormshadow figure. When the '85 Snake Eyes was released the next year, Stormshadow had a brief opponent, but I just couldn't keep him near the top. My Joe world was changing and the need for ninjas had disappeared. Characters like Flint, Airtight and Footloose were the guys I liked to use. With them, I gravitated more towards traditional Cobra army builders like the Eel, Crimson Guard, and Viper. My Cobra Commander didn't need a bodyguard as he was rarely used. When I finally did pull him out for the '87 incarnation, the body armour precluded any further need of Stormshadow's services. The Cobra ninja then became an afterthought in my collection for many years. In the mid '90's, though, I did pull out both an original Stormshadow and an '85 Snake Eyes and had them engaged in a sword battle on one of the shelves in my room. Beyond that, though, this figure's uses were limited.

Now, little has changed. I still like the look of Stormshadow, but have no real use for the figure. In fact, the Stormshadow idea is kind of dated. Like the '80's ninja craze, Stormshadow's day has passed for me. I no longer have much use for the figure. However, he does still look cool. As such, I now have this '97 version displayed among my Cobra army. While Cobra Commander now has new bodyguards, Stormshadow is still there, just to keep everyone honest. It is a nice way to remember this figure, even though his days of heavy use are past.

This year of Stormshadow is a bit tricky when you talk about pricing and availability. While mint, complete 1984 Stormshadows are starting to consistently hit the $60+ price range, the '97 can still be affordable. However, again, this is problematic. I've seen this figure sell carded, along with the Snake Eyes and Lady Jaye figures, for around $20. Of course, I've also seen this figure, loose with no accessories, sell for $40! Like all the '97's, this figure was missed by a great many collectors. If you were wanted this guy in 1997 or 1998, though, he was very easy to find on the retail shelf. Basically, he is not a difficult figure to find, but you may have to endure many dealers who will try to convince you otherwise. Personally, I passed on this guy back in '97 and '98 because I was focusing on Star Wars figures and these Joes were just repaints of figures I already had. A couple of years later, I realized my mistake and started looking for them. You can see the search was successful. With that in mind, you should be able to get this guy without too much trouble. With the original mold reaching high price points, this figure is a great alternative and the one version of this original Stormshadow mold that I currently own that actually seems some use.

While I no longer need a '97 Stormshadow, I am really after the Satan and Ninja Ku repaints of this mold that were released in Argentina. I would also be interested in a Ninja Viper mail away figure. If you have any of those that you would be willing to trade, shoot me an email.

1997 Stormshadow, TRU Exclusive

1997 Stormshadow, TRU Exclusive, Cobra Commander, 1983 Hiss Tank, Hiss Driver, 2006 Viper Pit, 1993 Crimson Guard Commander, Skeres

1997 Stormshadow, TRU Exclusive, Cobra Commander, 1983 Hiss Tank, Hiss Driver, 2006 Viper Pit, 1993 Crimson Guard Commander, Skeres

1997 Stormshadow, TRU Exclusive

1997 Stormshadow, TRU Exclusive, 1985 Snake Eyes, V2, Cobra Commander, 1983, Cobra Officer, Funskool Desert Scorpion

Thursday, December 6, 2001

Brazilian (Estrela) Carded Figures:

I figured I would do something a little different here. I haven't profiled a carded version of a loose figure in quite some time and thought I could use this opportunity to showcase a little information about Brazilian cardbacks.

First off, Estrela Brazilian cardbacks are not of the same quality as the American cardbacks. They are stronger than the sturdy writing paper that Funskool passes off as G.I. Joe cardbacks, but they are not as sturdy as even those from the currently released figures. When you purchase MOC Brazilian figures, this is something to keep in mind.

Second, the unique card art that was produced in Brazil is easily on par with that of American figures. Again, most of us have seen Funskool's attempts at card art. While well intentioned, they don't live up to the American art that most of us are most familiar with. That is not the case in Brazil. Some of the earlier art, like Sparta, Tan Grunt, Airborne, Ripcord, and the infamous Cobra De-Aco is rougher, but these later Patrulha do Ar figures have cart art of exceptional quality. By the 90's, Estrela was producing some Joes for Hasbro to distribute in the U.S. Guys like Rampage, Slaughter's Marauders, and the Arctic Commando Dee-Jay were all made by Estrela for U.S. consumption. The high commitment to quality shows not only in the figures, but the detail that went into the package art as well.

Third, Estrela cards are made of a darker cardboard than the glossy American cards. This is most noticeable in most scans you see of Brazilian cardbacks and filecards. Most scans look like they were taken with a low quality scanner that could not produce enough light to properly illuminate the image. This is not the case. The cardbacks are made of darker cardboard that is not nearly as sharp as the gloss coated American figures. This, I think, is part of the problem with the flimsier cards. Without the coating, the printing colors are not as bright and are somewhat difficult to see. The cardboard certainly doesn't hold details like the more glossy backings. Of all the features, this was the most striking when I first acquired a carded Brazilian figure.

There is one other little note I feel I should mention. I've opened several Brazilian carded figures. One thing I've noticed is that figures with helmets, like the Patrula do Ar and the Forca Eco, tend to have a little problem. It seems the plastic of which the helmets are made is starting to degrade. Both figures I've opened that came with helmets (from different sources) have had helmets that have become tacky and soft. In fact, they are even starting to seep into the cardback. I haven't seen the problem on any figures, or accessories other than helmets. I don't have any loose figures that have been loose for longer than this year, so I don't know if the degradation is an effect of the helmet still being in the bubble and not being able to breathe, or if all the helmets will eventually succumb to this. I know many vintage Star Wars figures have had this problem. I just offer this as many people who have some Brazilian figures tucked away with the hopes that they will one day retire from their sale may be surprised to find a puddle of orange goo that has seeped through a cardback and ruined a great part of their collection. Just something to think about.

All in all, the carded Brazilian figures are very nice. They display well and mesh with a diverse Joe collection. Personally, I prefer to have the figures loose, but not many people seem to agree with me. As more people are exposed to these foreign figures, and complete their American collections, perhaps that will change. Until then, I enjoy having guys like this in my collection and think you will as well.

This guy rocks! Who is your favorite foreign figure? Let me know.

Abutre Negro, Brazil, Estrela, Black Vulture, MOC, Carded, Patrulha do ar

Cobra Black Vulture (Abutre Negro) - Brazilian Exclusive Sky Patrol

Most of you now know that I've become a foreign Joe junkie. That is the area in which I've most grown my collection in the past months, but is also the one area where there is really no other avenue in which the figures are showcased. Sure shows all the awesome (and rare!) foreign variations, but no one out there seems to make these guys a vital part of their usable collection. Lots of people have these figures. They just keep them out of sight and out of mind so that the mint specimens aren't damaged. This is great. However, I've decided that some of these figures deserve to be used in the manner for which they were intended. Like earlier profiles of foreign figures, the Abutre Negro, or Cobra Black Vulture, has become an integral part of my Joe world.

By now, you know that in my Joe world, Cobra is focusing on South America. The operations down there are lead by the Cobra Flying Scorpion. He has a cadre of younger Cobras that I have assembled from '90's remakes of classic Cobra characters. This group has been flying high. However, the old guard (all of my Cobra figures from the '80's) is starting to get a little antsy and wants in on some of the success. Naturally, the new generals think the old guard will bring their history of defeat and will bog down the operations in South America. In order to help prevent this, Destro, a silent ally of the new Cobras, approached the Flying Scorpion character with an idea. He proposed that an old, lesser Cobra named operative become secret allies with the Flying Scorpion's character. The idea is that this old Cobra is friends with all the other old Cobras who want to usurp the Flying Scorpion's power. He will act as a buffer and keep the Flying Scorpion informed of any impending actions by the old Cobras that could jeopardize the South American operations. In return, the Flying Scorpion will train this older Cobra in his combat techniques and allow him to win some major successes in North America. The end result is that the older Cobra gains power and allies himself with the new Cobras while still maintaining his ties to the old guard. It also builds in a layer of internal protection for the Flying Scorpion and keeps his vision for Cobra South America intact. Of course, all that holds the relationship together is that this old Cobra is loyal to Destro and Destro is allied with the Flying Scorpion. Complicated? Yes. Fun? You betcha!

Of course, I had a dilemma. Who would be this old, lesser Cobra that Destro would bring aboard? I thought about Scrap Iron, but decided that he was still needed as an ally of Cobra Commander. I needed a new figure to be this character. Someone that didn't have a back story. Like other times I have faces this same problem, I looked to foreign exclusive figures. More specifically; Brazil. The Abutre Negro had what I was looking for in this character. First, he is a totally new interpretation of classic molds. He utilizes the head of the G.I. Joe figure Dee Jay, though cast as a Caucasian instead of African-American, the chest and arms of Cesspool, and the legs and waist of Dee Jay. He has a look of a more grizzled, older character who fit the criteria for which I was searching. His black, red, and silver color scheme also matched the Iron Grenadiers with whom he was first assigned.

I will admit that the translation of this figure's name was something I did on my own. Several translators that I found all translated Abutre to Vulture. As such, I call this figure Black Vulture. Others out there may have different names for this figure based upon different translations of his name. At any rate, I like both his Portuguese and English names. Both are nice, somewhat complex, and different from many other traditional Cobra names. I have decided that in my collection, this guy will go by both names. His younger years were spent under one appellation while his older years were spent under another. He will not deny either name, but it is enough to keep unprepared enemies confused. It also adds an element of depth to this character.

I've also got a carded version of this figure. Along with that, I've written up a short description of the Estrela Brazilian cardbacks so that you can get an idea of what they are like.

Are Black Vultures hard to find? Yes, they are. Are they unattainable? No. Like most of the later release Brazilian exclusive figures, Abutre Negro can be had with a little searching. Carded samples are the easiest to find, but they are still affordable and are at a price point where it would not be unheard of to actually open one. Any way you look at it, though, he is another excellent addition to any collection. I have found foreign Joes to be the most fun way to grow my collection over the past year. Army builders and lame American figures just don't hold the same level of fascination that many of these non-U.S. releases inspire. Granted, not every collector shares my feelings. However, I've found that figures like this guy allow for more imagination and leeway in the conventional Joe story lines. They are not bogged down in nearly 20 years of history and characterizations like most of the most popular originally U.S. released characters are. That is a great appeal to me and makes guys like the Abutre Negro the type of figure I want to keep adding to my collection. I think, that given the chance, you would find him and his brethren awesome additions to your collection as well.

I don't need any more Abutre Negro figures, but would like an Albatroz, Aguia Commando, Ar Puro, Marujo, Letal, Corrosoa, Biosfera, Marfim, and Biologico. If you have any of them that you are willing to trade, let me know.

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1988 Destro, Iron Grenadier

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1988 Destro, Iron Grenadier

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1988 Destro, Iron Grenadier

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Escporpiao Voador, 1993 Firelfy, 1992 Destro

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Escporpiao Voador, 1984 Rattler, Wild Weasel

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 2002 Convention Crimson Viper

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Escorpiao Voador, European Exclusive Mutt, Spirit, G.I. Joe HQ

Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Patrulha do Ar, Sky Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1988 Destro, Iron Grenadier, filecard