Wednesday, November 27, 2002

1998 Thunderwing

Back in 1998, Hasbro released a small assortment of figures that were the follow ups to the modestly successful 1997 15th Anniversary figures. Among these figures are several gems that are currently highly desired by collectors everywhere, some decent figures that are nice updates to old molds, a few new characters that collectors have warmed to, and a slew of forgettable vehicle drivers who really offered little to the overall line. While I first thought that Thunderwing might fall into the final category, my further examination of the figure has lead me to a different conclusion.

Thunderwing is a straight repaint of the Thunder figure from 1984. However, he is a totally different character who was introduced due to the copyright loss on the Thunder name. While this, in itself, is forgivable, the Thunderwing figure really lacks any defining characteristics that would elevate him beyond forgettable status. He is cast is a solid dark green color that, while aesthetically pleasing, makes him rather indistinct. The figure is also lacking one of Thunder's most dominating features; his red hair. Thunderwing's hair is black and just doesn't have any flair. As such, this figure has found himself as a non-descript armoured vehicle operator.

However, when I pulled this figure out to profile him, I realized that the paint scheme isn't that bad. The grey vest offsets the green very nicely and this figure showcases a very nice level of painted detail that was usually lacking on any figures released between 1997 and 2001. Truthfully, this figure reminds me more of an original run Joe than just about any other figure from the re-release era. He has brighter, sharper colors that actually complement each other and create a nice overall package. As I started to examine the figure, my appreciation for him grew and I'm starting to think that Thunderwing may become a more important part of my collection.

I've chosen to profile this figure for another reason than just to showcase him. He is simply a catalyst for something of which I think people need to be aware. You see, as Joe collecting has become more popular, the demands by online collectors for up to the minute information about upcoming releases or new product has grown exponentially. As such, a few avenues of "inside" information have opened up. While this is a good thing, collectors must be cautious of which information they believe and act upon. There are many people out there who's motives are less than scrupulous and who do not care if they dupe Joe fans into doing something they would not otherwise do. As such, I've found it wisest to know the source that information is coming from.

However, even that can be problematic. Earlier this year, I found out the five figures Funskool had planned for release this year. (Wild Weasel, Cross Country, Major Bludd, Grunt, Metal Head) However, when it came time for Grunt to appear, Funskool produced a Law figure instead. (If you don't have one of these guys, get one. He's a really nice figure!) The Grunt figure has disappeared with no word as to what happened to him. Did I receive bad information? Well, I don't know. However, I believe the source of the information to be reliable. As this info was obtained in nearly 6 months before the figure was planned for release, though, my personal feeling is that the Grunt figure was intended for release but was changed to Law. (The Law packaging and accessories cross sell about 6 different figures so the marketing opportunities were attractive.) However, company plans can change, especially when information is proffered forth so far removed from the actual figure release.

The end result of this is that people need to be cautious before they raise their expectations too high for a newly announced product. There will be lots of information coming out in the coming months. Most of it will be reliable. Some of it will be utter crap. Collectors just have to be careful that they don't get excited about the crap and know that the reliable information is what they should pay attention to.

As a recent release, loose Thunderwing figures haven't really penetrated the second hand collector market, yet. However, as most current collectors have had a an opportunity to pick him up, he is not highly desirable. As such, you can usually find him mint and complete for under $7 or $8. For a fig like this, I'd suggest you just spend the extra buck or two and get a nice, original Thunder. He is a better looking figure and is a lot easier to find. Beyond that, this fig may have a use as an updated Thunder, but I don't see the Thunderwing character ever becoming a fan favorite. All told, I'm kind of undecided on this figure at this point. He has some merits, but I still think that the original Thunder is better. However, if I did not have this guy in my collection already, I highly doubt I would spend any time or effort to track him down. He's okay to have, but not so nice that I would recommend him as a new acquisition to anyone's collection.

I'm set for the 1998 figures save for the Ace that came with the Conquest. If you have him available for trade, email me.

1998 Thunderwing, Gung Ho, 1993, Beach Head, 1997 Lady Jaye

1998 Thunderwing, Gung Ho, 1993, Beach Head, 1997 Lady Jaye

1998 Thunderwing, Gung Ho, 1993, Beach Head, 1997 Lady Jaye

Friday, November 15, 2002

1993 Battle Corps Beach Head

Back in the summer of 1996 I was a Joe buying fool. As the line had been cancelled, I was on a mission to find every different figure I could before all the toys disappeared from retail. As such, I often did not discriminate as to the figures I bought as I simply followed the mantra that if I didn't have them, I needed them. Of course, the strategy landed a number of less than stellar figures in my collection. However, it also gave me a keener appreciation for many of the figures that were released at the end of line. These figures that I bought at retail became the backbone of my collection as my older stuff was all buried away in a closet at my parents' house. As such, I used these later figures in a variety of capacities and really expanded their characterizations as they had to fill many roles in my collection. Among these figures is one that I have long thought a decent mold and excellent colors, but never really used beyond a niche capacity: the 1993 Beach Head.

1993 is generally considered one of the worst years ever for Joe figures. Though there were nearly 100 original figures released, most were horribly colored or utilized lame gimmicks that really had no place in the Joe line. In my opinion, it was the '93 figures that really killed the line. The '94 lineup was very solid and showed a return to what made Joe great. However, by that time, it was too late. The aftertaste of the '93 assortment was just too great and there was no saving Joe from its original cancellation.

However, while '93 as a whole had its problems, it did give us some very nice figures. The recent Mirage repaint has shown there were some decent molds released in 1993. They were just poorly colored. There were a few places, though, where the figures were done right. Cutter, Duke, Spirit, Cobra Commander, Snow Serpent and this version of Beach Head all utilized decent color schemes on solid molds. The fact that they were all known characters should have helped them. Unfortunately, though, Beach Head's look was so ingrained that this figure has become a point of collector scorn. If you look at the mold itself, though, it is a nice update the Beach Head character. He retains the face covering while adding a protective helmet. The chest is a bit bulkier than earlier figures, but has detailed web gear that suggest the character's abilities. (My one major beef with '93 and '94 figures is that the molds were well detailed, but those details were left unpainted. As such, a cursory glance at the simple paint jobs leaves many people with the impression that the later molds don't have as much to offer as their predecessors. This is simply not the case. The detail is there but is obscured in simple paint schemes.)

As with most of the '93 and '94 figure molds that were well done, Beach Head suffers from one fatal flaw: his accessories. He includes a tree of bright, neon yellow guns that ruin what could have been a great figure. However, as accessories are easily replaced, this slight drawback can be easily remedied. Personally, I like outfitting this figure in the same manner as the original mold. This used to be fairly difficult as the original Beach Head is a highly sought after figure that many collectors consider to be a key component of any Joe collection. However, there is currently a Beach Head figure available in the Wave 3 new sculpt figure wave. He comes with the Beach Head pack and and a nice, black version of the gun that looks even better with this figure. As we move away from Wave 3's retail availability, though, there is another option. For about $4 and change you can get a Funskool Beach Head figure that comes with excellent accessories that fit this figure perfectly. (Plus, you get the ammo pack that is missing in the newest American release.) With these new accessories in place, this figure's value quickly rises and he can become a welcome addition to any collection.

For me, this figure has had a myriad of uses. First and foremost, I used him as a maritime Joe army builder. He represented random troopers who specialized in harbour, shoreline, and ship to ship combat. They weren't divers, but soldiers who were trained to repel boarders, operate aquatic vehicle mounted gun stations, patrol harbours and docks, and just keep maritime operations flowing. In this capacity, the figure served the longest. In fact, his first duty was manning the side gun stations on the Shark 9000. He later branched off onto the Whale gun stations. From there, though, the figure stagnated. However, the recent interest in Beach Head gave me occasion to revisit this figure. When I pulled him out of the '93 drawer, I was amazed at the level of detail the mold was given. At that point, I decided to re-classify this figure as a new, original character. (Topside has also replaced this guy as my maritime Joe army builder.)

Going forward, I see this figure in a role closer to what was Beach Head's originally intended specialty. He will be more of a self sufficient commando and soldier who is utilized in self supporting missions. I haven't come up with a name for him, yet, but will probably match him up with a characterization in my database in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I'm still determining just how important a role he will play. This figure has long intrigued me, but was never able to really grab my attention. Now that he has, it will be interesting to see how long he holds it. Keep checking the dioramas and profile pictures on the site for the next few months. If you see this guy lurking among them, then you know that his popularity has survived beyond the proverbial 15 minutes.

This figure mold has a bit of an interesting history. First off, he utilized the legs of the highly popular 1988 Shockwave figure, only they are reversed. Second, this figure was repainted in 1994 and released with a bright yellow vest. Third, the figure appears to have been planned for a 1995 release. There exists box art for a planned set of "Arctic Commandos". It was intended to be a retailer exclusive product that was to be offered as part of the 1995 line. The box art shows silhouettes of two figures that appear to be the Sub Zero mold and this Beach Head figure. The intended color scheme is not shown, but I think this figure could have been quite nice were he done right in an arctic scheme. Finally, this mold was also released in Brazil as Armadilha. This figure is nearly identical to the American release, but has one important difference: the figure was released as a Cobra. However, the figure itself has no markings indicating the change in affiliation for the mold.

As far as availability goes, the 1993 Beach Head is pretty easy to find. Over my Joe buying years, I've picked up about 5 of them. Even mint and complete, you can get them without too much effort. Even carded, the figure should barely cost over $12. For that price, this guy is a great addition to any collection. Sure, the accessories suck, but what you save in the cost of the figure can be applied to any of the options listed above to properly accessorize this figure. While I know that many people simply will not be able to associate this figure with the Beach Head character, the figure itself is simply a great addition to a collection. I use this figure as a new character, faceless maritime soldier, or aquatic gunner. The lack of distinguishing facial features allows for more leeway in play and has made this figure one that has seen a lot of use in my collection when you consider that it's only been recently that he's become a true, original character. I think, given a chance, this version of Beach Head can prove a nice member of any collection, regardless of his use.

1993 Beach Head, Ar Puro, Tiger Force Airtight, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Tigre, Toxo Zombie

1993 Beach Head, 1987 Worms

1993 Beach Head, 1994 Major Bludd

Sunday, November 10, 2002

2002 Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty

Much has been made of the exclusive figures that were offered as part of the 2002 G.I. Joe Convention package. The Crimson Strike Team really struck a nerve in the collecting community because the set was so nicely done and was collector friendly. However, for everyone that loved that set, there were two or three other fans who were angered by the fact that the price point ($210 for the boxed set and an additional $90 for a supplemental, bagged set) was beyond their budgets. Many people wondered how Hasbro could allow for something that collectors would have salivated over as a retail release ended up as a higher priced exclusive item with a very high price point. While these issues continue to be debated, a little surprise slipped by everyone. On top of the Crimson Strike Team set, Convention attendees were also given a nicely re-deco-ed version of the 1991 Dusty figure. The purpose was to throw him off the roof of the hotel as part of the convention's annual parachute drop. While few collectors paid this figure heed in the barrage of info that was the convention, I realized that Hasbro had quietly slipped collectors a little gem: the convention exclusive Paratrooper Dusty.

It's really a shame that a figure of this quality never had the opportunity to see a regular, retail release. While the 2000 version of this mold was well done and remains one of my preferred figures, the greens on this guy make him much more useful as a field trooper. As soon as I saw this paint job, I knew that a superior version of this mold had been released. In that vein, I had a problem with the figure. I didn't like the fact that a repaint of this quality: one that would have been well received as a retail release, was so limited in availability and production. One one level, I'm happy that the collecting community was given the opportunity to see more classic repaints. However, on another, I'm disappointed that I'll never be able to have 6 to 8 of these guys roaming my collection room as a squad. As such, I'm still conflicted about the convention exclusive figures. I missed out on the Crimson Strike Team and have faced the reality that they will not call my collection home for many years. However, seeing those who did get them so pleased with the outcome of the sets really reinforces the fact that collectors have a place in this new line. It may not be as exalted as we would like, but it appears that our whims and desires are heard and efforts are made to appease them. Not all will agree with the methods through which collectors are satisfied, but the fact that an effort has been made to include our wants does inspire hope in the line's long term future.

From the reviews I've seen and read about the convention exclusive Crimson Strike Team figures, it seems that they are of exceptional quality. Dusty was created in the same vein. This figure feels like the '00 version, but has tight paint masking a some detailing that was sorely lacking on that first release. The soft greens and browns meld well together and are offset by a white undershirt and a maroon cloth stuck in his shoulder strap. His legs continue the tradition of marbleized plastic, but is done here with some subtlety that almost makes you miss it. The figure is capped off by black boots. The remarkable detail about these, though, is that there are brown laces actually painted onto the figure. This little detail (that is showcased in the final picture on this page) adds greater depth to the figure and shows that the ability to paint small details on classic molds was not lost during the release period of 2000 and 2001, it was simply ignored. Aside from the details, the figure came with little in the way of accessories. Included with him were a green Jinx backpack to which a silver parachute was tied. The parachute reads "Toys R Us" and is obvious overstock from long ago. For me, these inclusions are simply packed away and my figure is outfitted with a wider variety of weapons that are more befitting his role in my collection.

In my collection, this figure joins my ranks of Joe army building type figures. The '00 Dusty, both versions of the '02 Mirage, Salvo and many other figures are used as faceless equivalents of the Cobra Viper ranks. The Mirage figures are the lower end soldiers who are closer to cannon fodder. The '00 Dusty is a higher end commando who is more highly trained and more dangerous a foe. This Dusty simply provides me a more interesting color scheme for that specialty. As such, I tend to use this figure more in the field while the '00 version stays around bases and convoys. This look is closer to what I had envisioned a soldier in this defined role looking like. So, this Dusty sees more than his fair share of outside time in any number of activities. You will notice from the photos below that there are four unique days spread over several months represented. This shows the figure's diversity and his place of prominence in my collection.

As this figure was a convention exclusive, his production numbers are probably lower than just about any other figure from the vintage line. I've heard numbers as low as 1,000 units for this figure, but think the real number is probably closer to 3,000. However, many of these guys were thrown off a roof of a hotel. As such, many suffered terrible fates as their parachutes either failed to open or became entangled with other participants in the parachute drop. Any way you look at it, this figure is one of the least produced original figures to ever be offered. Right now, loose figures with the pack and parachute can be had for about $20. Bagged figures range from the same price all the way up to double that. It just depends on the day. You would think that all that would add up to a figure with great long term value potential. However, there is one little wrinkle that I think will keep this guy near his current price point. You see, by being a convention exclusive figure, Dusty was created for the collector market. As such, most serious collectors either have this figure already, or have no desire to acquire him. As he is not considered a regular release figure, his long term popularity will suffer and I see Dusty becoming a truly forgotten member of the Joe family as we are further and further chronologically removed from the '02 convention. As such, I don't think he will ever near the price point he would have achieved were he a regular, retail release with the same production numbers. However, as we are still only a few months removed from the convention, those who have this figure but no longer want it are liquidating them now. This means that if you were unable to attend the convention, you can still get one of these guys with relative ease. In a few years, while I don't see the figure getting very pricey, I do not think this will be the case. I think this figure will become very obscure and join the ranks of Gears, V2 Techno-Viper, and the 1994 Ozone as low production, hard to find figures that really don't garner much collector interest.

I like this figure. While I'm not willing to pay much for any more of them, I am interested in how much you would pay for a convention exclusive figure. I'm also interested in hearing your thoughts about convention exclusive figures and whether or not you think it is something that you think Hasbro should continue. Let me know.