Thursday, June 27, 2002

Letal (Brazilian Exclusive)

For the most part, Estrela toys in Brazil produced G.I. Joe figures (or Commandos em Acao) that were very similar to their American counterparts. Usually, there were slight color differences that could be attributed to the disparity in construction materials used by the different companies. Every now and then, though, Estrela produced a figure on their own that was either radically different in appearance or combined different original molds. The first of these figures was the infamous Cobra De-Aco. An interesting figure that utilized a silver Snake Eyes v1 head with a Flash v1 body that had yellow pads. As time progressed, though, Estrela came up with a variety of more interesting variations. Perhaps Hasbro loosened their grip on the license, or Estrela just decided to take advantage of some new ideas. Whatever it was, Estrela was able to offer some remarkable exclusive figures that have become highly sought after by American collectors.

If you are a long time patron of the site, you may have noticed the several other Brazilian exclusive Cobra figures that I've profiled. Continuing in this tradition is the figure you see here: Letal. Letal is simply a neon repaint of a 1989 Frag Viper who was released in Brazil as part of the Forca Electronica. He continued the tradition of the somewhat more offbeat Cobras that were exclusive to Brazil. Like many of his counterparts, Letal is visually distinct and is easily recognizable by anyone who is even slightly familiar with non-U.S. Joe releases. He is certainly not in the vein of more realistic Cobra named villains from the American line's heyday, but he is a cool figure, nonetheless. As such, he has found a role in my collection.

Who is Letal? In my collection, he is a known bio and eco terrorist based out of South America. He got is start in the early to mid '90's in some pollution related schemes that got Cobra's attention. While never contacted by Cobra, he was thought of as a possible operative if they ever needed someone in South America. During these early years, though, he encountered the former Joe Airtight. They two became acquainted when Airtight was leading an international team of experts to clean up some radioactive sites in South America. Letal was interested in stealing some of the radioactive material that was still on the site. Not realizing Airtight's background, Letal attempted his heist, only to be defeated. While he escaped, several of his co-horts were killed. He then disappeared to regroup for a few years. However, in the late '90's Letal resurfaced with a new focus on nerve toxins, biological warfare, and battlefield chemicals. This was enough of a resume for Cobra to make its overtures. That the character portrayed by the Flying Scorpion figure was now into his South American campaign only made Letal a more attractive operative. Letal joined Cobra and was quickly placed in charge of their research facilities hidden throughout remote areas of the South American rain forests and mountains. Here, he helps teams of Toxo-Vipers develop biological weapons that are capable of being delivered via live hosts, or more traditional methods.

As research is his primary forte, Letal is not a combatant. If there is the danger of a military unit finding Letal's position, Cobra employs a freelance operative to protect him. This person is responsible for Letal's safety. If he can keep the research facility intact, then that is just all the better. However, while Letal is considered part of the Cobra hierarchy, his work is segregated to the point where he has only research assistants as his direct underlings. This is why it is only freelance bodyguards who are assigned to him. While Cobra has an interest in Letal's activities, that interest is not so great as to risk one of their own, combat soldiers or field generals. The Flying Scorpion character is very shrewd and maintains control of the South American operations. While Letal is not lost to the fact that he only rates hired protection, he also knows that he will have nothing without the massive funding (and research specimens) that Cobra provides. While not a symbiotic relationship, it is provides a level of mutual distrust that keeps both sides honest. However, should Letal's facilities produce something of importance to the greater Cobra cause, his position within the organization would quickly rise.

As you can see, I've got a fairly elaborate background story for this character. That being said, though, Letal will most likely remain a "situational" figure. He will rarely be used except in very specific situations. I have, though, come up with a story line that will elevate Letal from his now lowly status. However, that story involves Airtight and Letal's transformation beyond his current incarnation and his reappearance (with his countenance no longer fully hidden) as Corrosao. That is correct. I plan for this guy to be Letal V1 while the Brazilian Corrosao figure (an Eco Warriors repaint of the Dee Jay figure that was released in Brazil as a Cobra) will be Letal V2. Both of the figures lend themselves to the same specialty and having two distinct South American bio-terror experts working for Cobra just seems a little too convenient for my tastes. (Of course, I have to acquire a Corrosao figure first. If you can help me out, let me know.)

Sure, the Letal figure is neon green. However, so is the '93 Firefly and I like and use that figure. In this case, though, the neon green is more of a functional color than anything else. A character who deals with chemicals and biological elements would have to be used to catastrophes where contaminants would escape from whatever their container of choice may be. In situations like this, having brightly colored clothing would better allow rescuers to find someone. As such, I don't have a problem with the figure's color. In function, the Frag Viper mold (which is highly under appreciated in the U.S.) works great as a bio hazard suit. The trappings convey the idea and the excellently done helmet allow for explanations that this character has build in recycling gear to protect him from his experiments. When I add a Toxo-Viper V1 backpack and hose to plug into the helmet, the effect is complete. (On another note, the Funskool Toxo-Viper pack is almost a perfect match for Letal. The colors are extremely close and work well. I'd take advantage of that figure's current availability if you want to ever outfit a Letal figure in this manner.) The figure then looks like a Cobra version of Airtight. While this isn't quite the manner in which I use Letal, it is enough of a match that anyone who saw the figure would know his purpose.

Like many of the later edition Brazilian figures, Letal isn't too tough to find. He is one of the few Brazilian figures you can find both loose and MOC for affordable prices. One thing to remember about Letal, though, is that he was featured in the 30th Anniversary Trading Card Set. As such, many collectors knew about him early on and some old school dealers will still try to sell Letal figures for prices that were normal 5 to 7 years ago for Brazilian exclusive figures. As more Brazilian Joe fans have come online, figures like this guy have become easier to find. As such, prices on them have fallen. While Letal will cost you a bit more than a typical American figure, I've seen him loose mint and complete sell for under $15. For a foreign exclusive figure of this quality, you really can't beat that. If you should have occasion to add a Letal figure to your collection, I would highly recommend it. He may not be as usable a figure as some other Brazilian exclusive Cobras, but he is a figure that I think you will enjoy.

I'm set for Letal figures. However, I am interested in a Marfim, Corrosao, Albatroz, or Marujo. If you have any of those figures available, email me.

1993 Letal, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Brazil, Frag Viper, 1988 Toxo Viper, 1991 Incinerator

1993 Letal, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Brazil, Frag Viper, 1992 Toxo Viper

1993 Letal, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Brazil, Frag Viper, 1992 Toxo Viper, 1991 Cesspool

1993 Letal, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Brazil, Frag Viper, Funskool Streethawk, Toxo Viper

1993 Letal, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Brazil, Frag Viper, MOC, Carded

Friday, June 21, 2002

1992 Cobra Air Devil

There are roughly 625 figures and variations in the American Joe line. (Currently!) If you add in the 75-100 major foreign exclusive figure variations (Currently!), there are easily over 700 unique figure variations for Joe collectors to track down. With a figure line that is as massive as Joe, it is easy for many smaller characters and figures to slip out of collectors' minds and become obscurities. While this site specializes in figures like that, it has become harder and harder to find figures that are not new releases, obscure variations, or foreign exclusives who fit this criteria. Recently, while sorting through some old bagged figures in my collection, I came across a figure who perfectly fit the Forgotten Figures archetype. However, as I only had the figure bagged, I had never really considered him for any purpose in my collection. As I looked at him, though, it finally dawned on me for what purpose I could use this figure. While not everyone may see this figure in the capacity I have given him, I think you will agree that the Cobra Air Devil is an interesting figure that really fleshes out a Joe collection.

I've never liked the Wild Weasel figure. After I saw how he was originally drawn in the comic, I really wanted him. However, once I got the actual figure, I just never liked him. As a character, Wild Weasel was great. As a figure, though, he really fails. (However, I am liking the Wild Weasel repaint that is currently available from Funskool. If I have occasion to acquire some, they will become the entry level Air Vipers that we were not given by Hasbro.) Over time, I've created new Cobra pilots by using figures such as Cesspool or the 1991 Bat. However, none of them ever represented Wild Weasel. As his figure was so poor, I just kind of forgot about the character and never really utilized him in any capacity. It was a shame, though, as Wild Weasel was one of the classic Cobra characters who really deserved a remake. He was the definitive Cobra pilot and would have made an excellent addition to a later edition Cobra aircraft, or even as a regular carded figure. Alas, it was not to be.

When I recently looked at my Air Devil figure, though, I realized he was nicely similar to Wild Weasel. In fact, I thought that the Air Devil would make an excellent Wild Weasel V2. While I had long concentrated on finding new combat pilots in my Cobra army, I never really thought about who would actually fly Cobra Commander around. The Baroness did this in the comic, but I use her as more of an ally to Destro, so she doesn't really fit this role. Wild Weasel, though, does. Now that I've assigned his character to this figure, I finally had someone who I liked in a previously underused capacity. With this figure in place, CC would have someone to fly him around, and would add another trusted associate to his cabal. It also gave me a way to keep an underused character around without creating a new one. (As I'm prone to do.) The look of this figure is such that were I to call him Wild Weasel in a dio-story or something, I think at least some people would think that this was really intended to be an update to that classic character.

The look of this figure is great. While many people dismiss any figure made after 1991, 1992 really offered some great figure sculpts in solid color schemes. The Air Devil is no exception. His deep red uniform with the black details is worthy of just about any Cobra character. The silver highlights on his uniform details give him some depth but still allow the figure to be well done with simplicity. His head sculpt shows more skin than many classic Cobra army builders, but is is also done well enough that it allows the figure more diversity in use. Even without his unique visor, you can put an airmask on the figure that makes him appear even more the pilot. The Air Devil is the type of figure that really fits with figures from any year. His colors and sculpt are indicative that Hasbro was still capable of producing high quality figures as the line wound down. Overlooking any single year of figures just due to their release date really limits a collection and prevents people from enjoying hidden gems like the Air Devil who were released near the bitter end.

Going forward, even as Wild Weasel, this figure will never be a heavily used member of my collection. However, for the niches that require pilots, you can be sure that this guy will be at the forefront. The deep red color and obscure mold makes this guy a great addition to dioramas. In that capacity, I think this figure will continue to flourish. He will continue to pilot Cobra Commander around in whatever aircraft is the Commander's choice that day. From time to time, he will also be used as the lead Rattler pilot for very high level missions. I, though, rarely use my larger aircraft. They are more difficult to play with and I've always found the smaller, lighter aircraft to offer more. However, when the times call for something a bit more robust, you can be sure that this figure, as the Wild Weasel character, will be at the controls.

Like all of the glider figures from 1992, the Cobra Air Devil is very tough to find. I got mine MIB from Hasbro Canada a couple of years ago. They offered most of the glider figures, but none of them had any accessories. As such, finding a mint, complete with filecard Air Devil is an even tougher proposition. Like most of the later edition figures, though, scarcity does not equate to pricey with this figure. Even MOC, you can find them for affordable prices. However, finding them in even that condition is challenging. I've only seen a handful of Air Devils offered for sale over the years. I think that is the primary reason that a figure of this quality has gone so unnoticed by the collecting community. Perhaps, with a little exposure, that will change. I'm just glad that I saw this guy when Wild Weasel was kind of on my mind. It allowed me to get more use out of an excellently done figure while updating a character I'd long neglected. Should you have occasion to add the Air Devil to your collection, I think you will find him an asset as well.

I like the Air Devil figure and would like a couple more. I also need his visor, gun, and filecard to complete the one I have. If you have any of these guys, or his accessories available, email me.

1992 Air Devil, Hurricane, 1994 Blackstar, Funskool Desert Scorpion, Cobra Commander

1992 Air Devil, 2005 Daina, Oktober Guard, Unproduced, Midnight Chinese, Unreleased

1992 Air Devil, 1992 Firefly

1984 Firefly

I've related the story of my first encounter with 1984 Joes before. Many of you know that the first figure I acquired that year was this version of Firefly. While this figure does not fit the traditional definition of a "Forgotten Figure" he is a character that I feel was underutilized in the role that I felt most suited him. As such, I've chosen to start my newest batch of profiles with the favored version of one of the most popular characters in all of Joedom.

Since the day I first acquired this figure back in the spring of 1984, I've used him as Cobra's answer to Snake Eyes. (Not in the ninja sense, though!) He was Cobra's saboteur and commando. While he would blow things up, he was more dangerous as a infiltration expert who would break into Joe compounds to capture or kill high ranking Joe officials. He was stealthy and deadly and possessed a skill level easily on par with any of the Joes. He was well trained in the use of all the little weapons that are molded on the figure. At one point, I even went so far as to imagine the knife that is above his wrist as a rope shooter that gave Firefly near Spider-Man like abilities. Sure it was over the top, but I was 10 years old and stuff like that made a figure just that much more special.

As a figure, the V1 Firefly is nearly perfect. His body mold is covered in trappings of explosives, tools and hidden weapons. His colors are perfect for his specialty. The sleek head sculpt differentiates him from his other, contemporary Cobras. His accessories were top notch. The pack with the removable cover that revealed detailed tools and explosive making devices was just about the coolest accessory I had ever seen. His gun was highly unique and so cool that it was impossible to replace. His little phone, that I long thought was a walkie-talkie, gave him a slight element of mystery. I always envisioned him blowing up a building and talking to his client as the structure burned in the background. The combination of greys that make up his cammo pattern allow Firefly to be at home in both field and urban areas. They also created one of the most visually stunning figures that the line saw. Fantastic in his simplicity, Firefly was an excellent example that a few, base colors, properly done, could make a remarkable figure.

To this day, this version remains the only representation of Firefly in my collection. The 90's versions are used as a new, younger character who is the second in command to the Flying Scorpion character. The well done '98 version does see some use as Firefly, but more often as a just a run of the mill arctic commando who is sometimes used as a good guy. The suberb update to the mold that was released in 2000 primarily sees use as a Cobra Demo-Viper in my collection. (That's mainly due to the fact that I've got a bunch of them!) And works in that capacity more than as the true character. The original version was so well done that there is no way for me to have the character represented by any other figure. (Although it does appear that the new sculp Firefly that is slated for release later this year will be quite a figure. I think he may do the original character justice.)

How, then, you may ask, is Firefly forgotten? Well, after the character became bogged down in the ninja story from the later issues of the Joe comic, he was heavily devalued as a Joe character. The Firefly from the early to mid '80's is the way that I always wanted to use this guy. Based on general collector sentiment, I am not alone in this. In my Joe world, Firefly never had any connection to Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, or any other ninja. He was simply a mysterious outside contractor who did remarkable enough work that he was able to join Cobra and worm his way into Cobra Commander's inner cabal. In this capacity, he remains a very dangerous foe about whom the Joes know little. I prefer to keep Firefly that way.

As most of you know, mint, complete V1 Fireflies are expensive. Often, they fetch over $40 with some going as high as $50. His green phone is one of the most difficult accessories to find in the entire line and is just pushes complete Fireflies that much higher. Of course, the figure being one of the most popular molds in the history of the line makes even off conditioned, incomplete Firefly figures desireable. The nice thing, though, is that the figure is easy to find. While he may cost you a bit more, you can find incomplete and slightly less than mint Firefly figures in many figure lots and by themselves. He was released during the most prolific years of Joedom and there are many, many Firefly figures out there. For those who don't have one, though, that doesn't make the financial pain of acquiring one any less.

(One thing to note, there were unsubstantiated rumours abounding that Funskool was going to re-release the V1 Firefly figure that they produced. As such, many collectors were on the lookout for that figure as a cheap alternative to this one. However, the Firefly mold that Funskool used to create their version was returned to Hasbro for use on the '98 and '00 versions of the figure. These figures show the alterations made to the mold to remove copyright information by the foreign Joe producers. As such, unless someone finds some warehouse stock of the Funskool Firefly, it is HIGHLY unlikely that we will see a V1 Firefly figure re-released by Funskool. Those of you who passed on a V1 Firefly figure in anticipation of a Funskool version should probably refocus your searches on V1 American figures.)

For me, I've always enjoyed having the V1 Firefly figure. He has always been a constant in my collection and remains the primary mold I use to represent Firefly. I'm not alone in this as Firefly's popularity among collectors is equal to just about everyone save Storm Shadow or Snake Eyes. While this may make him a bit more expensive to acquire, I would say that this version is always worth it.

Fortunately, I'm all set with Firefly figures and don't need any of his accessories, either. Are you looking forward to the newly sculpted Firefly figure that will be available later this year? Let me know.

1984 Firefly, Stinger Driver

1984 Firefly, Tigor, Tiger Force Psyche Out, 2002 General Tomahawk, European Exlcusive, Brazil, Estrela

1984 Firefly, 1990 Heavy Duty, 2000 Dusty, 2002 Big Ben

1984 Firefly, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal, 2002 Fast Blast Viper, SMS, ASP

1984 Firefly, 2005 Cobra Night Watch Trooper, Officer

1984 Firefly, 1983 Cobra Trooper, Skystriker

Thursday, June 6, 2002

Tiger Force Tunnel Rat - European Exclusive

I've wanted to profile a Tunnel Rat figure for quite some time. About a year ago, I took one out in my yard to photograph. However, the shots just didn't do the figure justice. As such, I decided that I would hold off on profiling the Tunnel Rat character until I was able to acquire a version of him that is a bit more seldom seen. From that point on, there was a race between the Night Force version of Tunnel Rat and the European exclusive Tiger Force version. While both figures are pretty cool and well deserving of some recognition, it was the Tiger Force version that won out and it is my choice to profile.

A long time ago, I profiled the first foreign Joe I added to my collection: Tiger Force Outback. In that profile, I wrote of the difficulty in acquiring any of the European exclusive Tiger Force figures (Outback, Psyche Out, Blizzard, Sneak Peek, Tunnel Rat & Hit and Run) who weren't Outback and Psyche Out. The main reason for this is that Outback and Psyche Out were available for a full year before the next four were produced. As such, they have a full additional year of production that bolsters their numbers and makes them easier to locate. It has also made the later 4 Tiger Force exclusives some of the most sought after and hardest to find foreign exclusives out there. Unlike many of the wacky Indian figures out there, the Euro Tiger Force guys are often thought to be very similar to American Joes and an excellent addition to a very popular subset.

Tunnel Rat also has another claim to fame. His facial likeness was based upon the countenance of Larry Hama, the long time writer of the Joe comic. It was sort of an homage to the creative force who helped define so many Joe characters. (1987 seemed to be the year of tributes as Law's face was based on a Hasbro employee and Sneak Peek was named after the son of horror author Stephen King.) This is just another reason why this figure has remained popular with modern collectors. It is impossible to deny Hama's influence on the Joe mythos. Having a figure made in the likeness of such a figure is something that collectors often like to have. (Just look at the prices the Jorge Sacul figure from the Star Wars line are currently fetching!) As such, it is just another little thing that pushes the Tunnel Rat figure a little higher than most others.

Back around the time that the Tunnel Rat figure was released, Marvel comics had just started up a new comic series entitled The 'Nam. It was a comic series about the Vietnam war that was set in "real" time. As such, it featured some stories that were very self contained. One such story was about the war's actual tunnel rats; American soldiers who were trained to operate in and explore Viet Cong underground hideouts and tunnels. I found this issue to be particularly compelling as the story was very good and, to me, really portrayed the types of terror that these men were subjected to. Reading this just made me want a Joe figure in the same veins. When I finally got the Tunnel Rat figure, his first mission was flushing out a couple of Quick Kick figures from the depths of the couch cushions. While it was pale in comparison, it was my way of re-enacting a storyline I had really taken to.

Tunnel Rat's role in my collection evolved as time went on. In the comics, he was the team's light machine gunner. As my Roadblock figure had pretty much been retired and my Rock and Roll figure was long dead, Tunnel Rat became one of the most important machine gunners in my collection. He was involved in just about every mission. His large pack and cool satchel charge made him the type of figure that was imperative for just about every operation. As such, my original figure was beaten up pretty badly and I broke his gun. When this happened, Tunnel Rat kind of fell out of favor with me. While the figure was cool, it was the accessories that really made me want to use him.

When I returned to Joe collecting in the mid '90's, I sought out a replacement Tunnel Rat figure. In my zeal for one, I managed to pick up a couple of them. However, as the figure quickly regained his prominent position in my collection, that was fine by me. Tunnel Rat returned to his light machine gunner roots and became a fixture in many of my features. He works well on vehicles, underground, or in the field. He really has a versatility about him that allows for a wide range of uses. He also retains the sense of realism that so many casual collectors value. He remains one of the first selections I always make when choosing up a mission team. He just has the type of characteristics, both in figure and in character, that make him vital to many situations.

This version of Tunnel Rat is cool mainly because he is seldom seen. However, the orange headband, blue pants, and maroon shirt and yellow bandanna aren't really a recipe for a popular repaint of a great original figure. Were this figure not a European exclusive, I think he would be less desirable than the Sonic Fighters version of this figure that was released in the U.S. Of the 6 Euro Tiger Force figures, I think that Blizzard, Outback and Hit and Run are the most visually striking. While they may not have the uses their original figures did, they are still very neat. The Sneak Peek, Psyche Out and Tunnel Rat figures are less so. While they remain true to the Tiger Force theme, the colors and styles given them don't have the same wow factor that the other three do.

I'm not going to lie to you. Tiger Force Tunnel Rats are hard to find. Mint and complete, they can easily run upwards of $70! (One nice thing, though, is that the Tiger Force Tunnel Rat's accessories are identical to the original, American version's. Therefore, unlike the TF Blizzard or Outback, if you can get the figure, completing him isn't too hard.) Tunnel Rat is a very popular character. His original figure, that is pretty easy to find, can fetch almost $15 for a mint, complete specimen. The Night Force version is even more. (Especially if he is complete with his very tough to find flashlights!) Any way you look at it, if you want any Tunnel Rat version that is not the Funksool or the Sonic Fighters version, you are probably going to have to pay a little bit more. Of course, that doesn't mean he isn't worth his price tag. For my money, Tunnel Rat is the best light machine gunner ever offered in the Joe line. Since my childhood, he has been a constant member of any mission team I put together. Having a new version of him to complement his original is just an added bonus. However, the original Tunnel Rat version remains my favorite and the one that primarily represents the Tunnel Rat character in my collection. While this Tiger Force version is a cool figure in his own right, I'd prefer the original for day to day to use. This is a rare occurrence for me, but Tunnel Rat is a figure and character that no collection can really be without.

I've now managed to track down three of the six European Tiger Force exclusive figures. I still need the Tiger Force Blizzard, Tiger Force Hit and Run and Tiger Force Sneak Peek. I am also after a Red Laser and a European Mutt exclusive as well. If you have any of these guys available, let me know.

Tiger Force Tunnel Rat, European Exclusive, Funskool General Flagg, Quarrel, Z Force, Palitoy, Action Force, Beach Head, 2002 Sideswipe

Tiger Force Tunnel Rat, European Exclusive, Funskool General Flagg, Quarrel, Z Force, Palitoy, Action Force, Beach Head, 2002 Sideswipe

Tiger Force Tunnel Rat, European Exclusive, Funskool General Flagg, Quarrel, Z Force, Palitoy, Action Force, Beach Head, 2002 Sideswipe

Tiger Force Tunnel Rat, European Exclusive, Funskool General Flagg, Quarrel, Z Force, Palitoy, Action Force, Beach Head, 2002 Sideswipe

Tiger Force Tunnel Rat, European Exclusive, Funskool General Flagg, Quarrel, Z Force, Palitoy, Action Force, Beach Head, 2002 Sideswipe