Tuesday, January 29, 2002

1992 Roadblock

Much has been made of the new Joe releases. While everyone has their opinions of the figures made between 1997 and now, most people agree that classic characters seem to retain the most popularity. It seemingly makes no sense that an immensely popular character like Roadblock would not make an appearance in these new releases. Sure, we got Double Blast, an original Roadblock mold. But we never got to see a new version of one of the most recognizable and popular characters to ever grace the Joe world. (Roadblock was another rare crossover character that has appeal to both comic and cartoon fans.) The speculative reasons for this are many. Hasbro may have lost the copyright to the character's name. As was proved with the '00 Tomahawk, though, simple problems like that can be creatively worked around. The real reasons for Roadblock's disappearance may never be known. It could be oversight. It could be that a high ranking executive has it in for this character. We may never know. For some, the slight is an injustice that taints the integrity of the line. For others it is just a footnote as the line matures and attracts a new generation of fans.

I've long liked the Roadblock character. From the earliest days of 1984 when he first graced my collection to my unending search for his 1994 Star Brigade version, Roadblock has been a staple of my collection for a long time. The character's complexity and unique attributes allowed him to transcend most other Joes in terms of characterization and popularity. As such, his various figures were always featured in my collection. (In 1988, I had all but quit Joe collecting. I only bought 2 figures that year: Hit and Run and the Tiger Force Roadblock.) Usually, though, it was the original mold of the figure that I used. In recent years, though, I've moved away from using any figures made prior to 1985. The smaller, less detailed molds just don't interest me the way figures from the line's later years do. I hate the '86 Roadblock and have never used that figure. The Star Brigade figures have always been army builders as rescue personnel, firefighters, or pilots. That really left me with only one choice if I wanted to use Roadblock, this '92 version.

Like many people, though, I didn't really have a use for this figure. I thought the mold was cool, (Most of the 92 molds are. 1992 is really a great year for Joes, but too many people just overlook it.) but hadn't really associated the figure with the Roadblock character. As has happened many times, though, it was another Joe fan whose showcasing of this figure brought him to my attention. In General Hawk's fabulous dio-story Power Struggle, he uses this mold of Roadblock. Seeing this figure used in that capacity opened up a new mold for me. I pulled out my '92 Roadblock and armed him with the accessories from the Tiger Force Roadblock. At that point, I had a new figure to represent Roadblock in my collection.

Since then, I've found this figure to be a nice addition to my collection. While the classic Roadblock mold is still a great version of the character, it is this later mold that allows for him to be better utilized with the later year figures that tend to see the most use in my collection. This, of course, raises another issue. For me, the newest Joe figures are the most interesting. Frankly, most of the pre '88 figure molds have been played out. I consider them boring and overused. When I see some of the lists of figures who are planned for release in 2002, I am excited that it appears that many later characters and molds may see production. The reasons for this are many. Personally, I'm sick of having the same figures repainted over and over. I want some variety. If you look at a snapshot of '92 figures, you will see some very realistic paint jobs, but they still offer stark color and contrast. The newly sculpted Joes bring that feeling back. The repaints we have been getting are just the same color scheme applied to very boring and mundane molds and frankensteins.

I won't lie to you and tell you that the recalled version of this figure isn't hard to find. It is. Some collectors put the total number of recalled Roadblocks at around 10,000. However, he came out at a time when lots of kids still opened, broke and lost their toys. As such, whatever the production numbers on the recalled version of this figure, you can be sure there are far fewer than that today. Carded, a recalled Roadblock can fetch $100 or more. Loose, well, the interest just isn't there and you see a significant drop off. Without the recalled accessories, though, this figure is pretty easy to find. He was shipped in ample quantities and can be found in many lots of later year figures. There are two important things of note about this figure, though. As far as the figure itself goes, there are absolutely no differences between the recalled version and the corrected version. The figures are identical, only the accessories are different. (There is also a repaint of this figure that was released in 93 that has some neon highlights. This is from a different year and not, in any way, related to the '92 version you see below.) While talking about the accessories, a couple of years ago, the machine gun itself was the most desired of the "rarer" accessories that came with this figure. The recalled version was the only figure ever released with this gun in the U.S. In the past year, though, Funskool figures have become quite common. The very cool machine gun that came with the recalled Roadblock is currently available with several different Funskool figures, including a repaint of this classic '92 mold, for very cheap prices from a number of online Joe dealers. With this advent, the desirability of the machine gun has gone down as Funskool offers a cheap way to acquire it. (Much the way I did. The gun you see in the figure's hand below is taken from a Funskool Red Dog.) With all that in mind, this guy is still my most used version of the Roadblock character. Given a chance, I think you will find him in a similar role in your collection as well.

I like this version of Roadblock. However, I'm not really into accessory variations. As such, I don't need any more. Also, Roadblock never had an really interesting foreign variations made, so I don't need any of those, either. What is your favorite version of this character? Do you think Hasbro should attempt to bring back the Roadblock name to the new Joe line? Let me know.

1992 Roadblock, Chinese Exclusive Flint, Funskool Beachhead, European Exclusive Tiger Force Outback

1992 Roadblock, Chinese Exclusive Flint, Funskool Beachhead, European Exclusive Tiger Force Outback

1992 Roadblock, Chinese Exclusive Flint, Funskool Beachhead, European Exclusive Tiger Force Outback, Night Viper

1992 Roadblock, Chinese Exclusive Flint, Funskool Beachhead, European Exclusive Tiger Force Outback, Night Viper

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

2002 Cobra C.L.A.W.S.

Since these figures were first found at retail, it seems that everyone and his brother has had an opinion about them. The nature of my site being what it is, it is fitting that I, too, offer my opinion of these newly sculpted Joes. My problem is that so many others have already done this that anything I have to say seems like it's been done. However, I have this figure and still think my opinion of him is something poignant, if not uninteresting. I'm not going to pay attention to packaging, or accessories. Frankly, I could care less about stuff like that. Packaging is opened to get at the figure and accessories can, and will, be changed. All I'm concerned with is the figure.

I've decided to do things a little differently with this profile. Rather than my usual diatribes, I'm going to offer pragmatic looks at what I like and what I don't like about this figure. After that, I'm going to let my overall opinion be known.

First off, what I like about this figure:

1. The Color Scheme.

Let's face it, the repaints that we've gotten since 2000 have been poorly colored, at best. While the molds have changed, we've gotten the same Joe figure several times. Why does every Joe from Duke to Big Brawler have to be colored the same. Back in my profile of Sidetrack, I said that his color scheme was great, but it didn't need to used on every other figure. That's what Hasbro has given us. What collectors have forgotten is that vibrant colors are not always unrealistic. Look at 1986 or 1987. Those figures are classics that are held as the pinnacle of the line. Look at the colors of those figures. Tunnel Rat, Falcon, Outback, Dial Tone, Hawk and Beach Head are all excellent figures that feature vibrant and eye-catching color schemes. When I look at my box of re-release figures from 2000 and 2001, all I see is drab, boring color schemes that aren't exciting.

When I saw these new figures, the first thing that jumped out at me was the bright, vibrant colors that they featured. This figure has 5 different colors on him and they blend perfectly. The red, gold, black, and brown create a realistic body with highlights that accentuate the incredible details on the mold. The best part about the figure is the green eyes. It is a small feature that adds some depth to the figure and shows an attention to detail that has been lacking since at least 1992.

2. The details.

Love or hate these figures, you can not deny that they are super-detailed. Each figure features tons of pouches, armbands, details and strappings that make the figure seem more alive. In some cases, the detailing has been overdone. However, this amount of detail shows a dedication to the line that has been missing. It shows there is some creativity being applied to these guys. While some may think it is misapplied, just having some creative minds behind the Joe product bodes well.

3. Working holsters.

For a lot of people, this might not be a big deal. For me, this is awesome. When Hasbro first had a working holster on Cantina Han Solo figure back in 1998, it was a grand harbinger of things to come. Since then, I've bought several Star Wars figures just because they had working holsters. Back in 1986, I wanted to hollow out the holster on Hawk's leg so that I could have it work with his pistol. Now, 16 years later, Hasbro has finally given me a play feature I've wanted. I love the look of the working holsters and think them a great addition to the toy line.

4. The Joe Vs. Cobra packaging.

I am an army builder. Everyone knows it. Why would an army builder espouse a packing strategy that is inherently detrimental to army building? Simple. I see the collector favorite army builder packs as a detriment to the hobby as a whole. Here's why. If Hasbro ships a case of 12 figures with 2 of them being an army building pack (Don't fool yourself with the thinking that, "well, they should ship army builders in a higher ratio". If they do this, then you have shortpacks. Suddenly you have otherwise mundane figures becoming hard to find since people buy up shortpacks to sell at a profit on Ebay. This is a blight just as bad as the army builder packs themselves.), those 2 packs are quickly purchased by the first collector who happens by them. Now, you are left with 10 less desirable packs sitting on the shelf. Multiply this by the number of cases a typical toy retailer receives and you have instant pegwarmers. In order to get more army builders, the stores order more pegwarmers. Then, the shelves clog with the pegwarmers and the new waves of figures are ordered in much smaller quantities thereby creating an artificial shortage. This is exactly what happened to Star Wars figures in 1998.

Hasbro shipped cases of Imperials that were about 50% army builders. These figures quickly sold out and retailers ordered more figures. This was fine until the buying public had had enough of the Emperor and Grand Moff Tarkin figures. Suddenly, these figures, plus a couple of other non-army builders in the same case became overwhelming pegwarmers. As such, after June of 1998, almost no new Star Wars product shipped to stores. Collectors and parents got frustrated because the only figures that were available were ones that had been out for months and no one wanted anymore. Suddenly, the figures that were scheduled to come out in late 1998 became incredibly scarce and demand soared. The final wave of figures was cancelled until the Fan Club stepped in and offered it for a very high mark up to the serious collector. The only way for the stores to clear the pegwarmers was for them to massively discount the figures and take huge losses. Thus, the retail confidence in the Star Wars brand was heavily damaged. The final insult occurred in early 2000. By then, the stores had cleared most of the pegwarmers. That finally allowed the cases of late 1998 figures to come to market. Toys R Us bought the figures for a song and sold them for a drastic discount. Imagine a collector's surprise and anger when he walked into a TRU store and found hundreds of the "rare" Mon Mothma figure he had spent $20 for on Ebay staring him in the face for a paltry $2 price tag. This is the aftermath of the army building two pack. Packaging one Joe and one Cobra together will not deter serious army builders. It will deter the casual army builder, though, and allow for kids to actually find figures they want on the shelves and allow for new waves to be sorted into the retail market in the most efficient way possible. I've had no trouble finding all of the new Joe packs and I live in toy hell. That shows the distribution system is working.

Now, the section most of you are probably interested in, what I don't like about the new figures:

1. The new construction.

Like this one is a surprise. I was the one who called the day the pictures of the prototypes for these figures were released "Black Thursday". That was a bit melodramatic, but I do miss the O ring. From the torso up, these guys aren't bad. I don't even mind the swivel waist. What I can't stand is that the legs don't allow the figure to sit. I like to put my figures in vehicles, or at base stations. This new construction really hampers my ability to do that. However, with the return of the O ring imminent, this criticism will go away. I'm anxiously awaiting the first photos of the new sculpts with the O rings. I think they have incredible potential.

2. The "buff" look and proportionality.

Frankly, the heads and chests of these figures aren't too bad. I don't mind some figures being broader in the chest since that's the way real people are. You can see from the photo below that the most of the figure fits with the original figures. He is slightly differently proportioned, but not so much that he can't fit in with older figures. Some guys, like the Heavy Duty that comes with CLAWS, though, are just too wide. The feature that is poor across the entire wave, though, is the arms. Every one of these figures would have arms bigger than most body builder's legs! The arms are just way too big and hinder proper movement. They must be corrected. Once again, though, I refer you to the Star Wars line. Back in 1995, all the figures were released in this same style where they all looked like they were on steroids. After collector backlash, the buff style was toned down. By 1998, most of the original figures had been resculpted in a less buff style. I'm giving this time. I think this wave was rushed to retail so that it wouldn't be delayed by the release of Episode II figures. As such, there is still work to be done. I would imagine that by wave III or IV, this problem will be solved to collector's satisfaction.

3. The accessories.

This point is kind of moot. As I said above, I think these guys were rushed to retail. As such, there just wasn't time for new accessories. It has been stated by Hasbro that Wave II will have new accessories. That is certainly welcome news.

4. Figure choice.

Almost every figure choice Hasbro has offered since 1997 has been second guessed by the collectors. I like some of the choices in this wave, but others are more problematic. Does Cobra really need a new character like CLAWS when there are so many awesome Cobra troopers that have never been remade? The preliminary names for Wave II of the new sculpts seems to have more classic names in it and should include some characters that have desperately needed a remake.

5. The Joe Vs. Cobra angle.

While I like the Joe vs. Cobra packaging, I don't like the angle. It will get old and tiresome very quickly. I don't really care why Gung Ho and Destro are mortal enemies. I can come up with more on my own. I'm afraid the creative minds behind this are going to get pigeon-holed by this gimmick. Perhaps, though, that will change with 2003. Hasbro seems to like changing its packaging every year or so. (I wonder how much they paid to get that bit of marketing genius?) As such, next year could offer a different packaging style that would not be so confining.

One thing you may notice in the above write up is how often I refer to Hasbro's Star Wars line. I think the comparisons are apt for a number of reasons. The largest reason, though, is that Star Wars is a mature toy line. The people who have been into Star Wars since their childhood are moving out of their 20's and into a different phase of their life. I think we are seeing it run its course. After Episode III is done, I wouldn't expect to see any Star Wars toys on shelves any longer. Joe is a very young toy line, from a "collector" standpoint. As such, many of the growing pains that afflicted the Star Wars line have yet to manifest themselves in the Joe line. They will happen and these new sculpts are the first signs of it. I think the POTFII line is a great blueprint for what this new Joe line will experience. Hopefully, we the collectors, have learned from previous mistakes. (Beware of what you ask for. You just might get it.) If Hasbro has learned some, as well, then the future of Joe looks bright and I see more potential for the coming years than there was back in 1982.

I don't know if it's obvious or not, but I don't mind these new figures. However, I think much of that is because they have already announced the return of the O ring and the other construction problems can be easily fixed with more experience by the designers. I think Hasbro is putting some money behind this line. That always offers hope. As for the CLAWS figure, though, I don't think he'll ever be an integral part of my collection. I could one day see the 10 figures that are currently shipping being on display in my toy room. I don't see them lying in my base after seeing some use. I don't have the army building bug with these guys like I do with classically articulated figures. We'll see if that changes when the next wave of new sculpts come out.

CLAWS are currently available. They will only become more available as the year moves on. However, Hasbro has a very large plate of toys for the year 2002. As such, you probably aren't going to see long shipping lives for most of these figures. Buying them now is probably your best bet to avoid future Ebay price gouging. Remember, there are tons of Joe figures and little thing called Star Wars Episode II coming this year. There are going to be lots of figures that are shipped to retail. In order to do this, other figures will have to have production halted. Most of us collectors were caught off guard when the Firefly/Undertow pack was pulled from production. If you are looking to build armies of any of the new Joes, that would be a lesson well remembered. Beyond that, to each their own. If you don't like the figures, fine. If you do, that's fine, too. I don't have the problems with these guys that most others out there seem to. It's a toy line and I'm past the point in my life where I take a toy line seriously. That being said, I think 2002 will still be the most interesting year ever to be a Joe collector.

2002 Cobra Claws, Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal, 1997 Cobra Commander

2002 Cobra Claws, Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal, 1997 Cobra Commander