Tuesday, December 31, 2002

2002 BAT

Any of you who are familiar with this site know that my stance on BATs is quite contrary to most other collectors. As such, I would venture to say that many readers are gearing up for another of my negative articles regarding BATs, their very concept, or the toy execution of such. However, I found myself quite surprised earlier this year when I opened my Wave 4 BAT figure. While I had first thought the Shipwreck figure to be the highlight of this pack, I was quite disappointed in that figure. However, the BAT (that I had intended to simply go into the back of the drawer like all his other versions) figure actually grabbed my attention. For many reasons, the figure just worked better in this incarnation than it had in any of the vintage versions. While this is a great departure from my normal stance on these figures, I've found that even my new found like for this new figure has not warmed my opinion of his ancestors. Regardless, I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts on the figure.

As a sculpt, this figure works perfectly. Past BATs have failed (In my opinion) due to their sculpts making the too human like. (That's why I continue to use the '91 version as a human pilot.) This figure, though, is definitely a robot. First off, the figure is sculpted taller than the humans in the line. As such, in terms of proportionality, this BAT would be about 7 feet tall. From a realism perspective, I like this better. The exaggerated proportions allow for the character to be more believable and fit in with what robotics of this sort would actually look like. On top of that, the body does not retain human dimensions. The figure has long legs, an elongated torso and a sleek, small head. Again, this makes the figure look like a the robot it is supposed to be. The thin, electronics covered arms finish off the sculpt in a way that makes this figure more real to me.

My favorite part of this figure is his accessories. I know most people are long time fans of the removable BAT attachments. I, however, am not. I always preferred to use the hands on my BATs and give them real guns. The concept of a Laser or Flamethrower attachment never really did much for me. This BAT simply has two human-like hands. He comes with a small, newly sculpted rifle that meshes with him perfectly. I see the gun as more wieldy that a heavier weapon and more manageable for a robot with limited dexterity. Tucked behind his large elbow joints, the gun just seems balanced. For an automaton, these features would be indispensable. On top of that, the figure comes with a black version of Torch's backpack. One of the gripes I had with the old BATs was their power source. Batteries, while rechargeable, would be heavy and have limitations. A fuel powered robot, though, would have multiple uses. (I know this runs counter to the filecard, but I've never been one to be limited by established Joe continuity.) First off, the fuel tank would provide a more measurable operation time for BAT units. That would be imperative to Cobra battlefield commanders as they would be able to time when BATs would simply run out of gas. Next, the exposed gas cannisters make BATs perfect walking bombs. One feature of the BAT that I've utilized since 1986 is the fact that they burst into flame when hit from behind. As BATs have this tendency, Cobra would always be behind them. With the fuel tank on the BATs back, the trailing Cobra Troopers would be able to simply blow the BATs up by shooting the fuel tanks. This would make the BATs work as both infantry cannon fodder as well as poor man's sappers. The duality of purpose makes the BATs more valuable to Cobra field soldiers as well as more dangerous to any potential foes.

This BAT has another hidden little feature that you can see below. Rather than resurrect the oft lost chest holograms from BATs past, Hasbro instead gave collectors a little Easter Egg on this BAT. His chest plate is removable and hides the BAT's inner workings inside. It is a neat little feature (and a piece that will be oft lost on those BATs that now below to children) and shows that a great deal of thought was put into this figure. It is this level of detail that keeps the new sculpt figures very interesting. I liken the new sculpt figures to the POTFII line. The characters are similar, the designs are familiar, but the figures have a more modern feel to them that is more amenable to display. Wave 5 appears to continue this trend. As long as there are details that allow these new figures to separate themselves from other retail lines, I think that the line will create quite a legacy for itself.

BATs are still relatively available for retail prices. Beyond that, there are rumours that we will see another BAT in an upcoming figure wave. (My guess is that it will be a slight repaint of this version with new arms and, possibly, removable attachments.) If that still doesn't solve your BAT needs, there is the upcoming BAT Army Building Pack that will include 6 figures and sell for all of $15. All that should help sate some of the demand for BATs that seems to have been building for several years. In the meantime, I enjoy this figure for what it is. Atop my shelf, standing behind the new sculpt Dr. Mindbender, this figure looks regal. I think this is why I like the new sculpts. For display, they work great. For use, though, I'm still a classic mold enthusiast. Regardless of your figure construction preference, though, this BAT is nicely done. In that regard, I'm glad I was decided to acquire one when I did. Surprisingly, it is a not a choice I regret. If you've been putting off the acquisition of this figure, I don't think you will regret his purchase, either.

I'm well set for BATs. However, I could use one of the variant accessories. If you have one you would be willing to part with, let me know.

2002 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Variant, JvC

2002 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Variant, JvC, Gung Ho, Duke

Monday, December 30, 2002

1988 Blizzard

Back in 1988, I was pretty much out of Joes. I picked up three figures and figured my Joe collecting days were done. My younger brothers, though, continued to acquire new Joes, though not with the same fervor that I had employed. Over the course of the year, they managed to acquire about half of the available Joes. Some of the figures did very little for me. However, others, were excellently done. The Iron Grenadier, Repeater and Shockwave became some of my favorite figures that I didn't, technically, own. Some other figures, though, had their situational nature work against them during that summer. However, when winter rolled around, I discovered one of my youngest brother's figures that was about the best arctic trooper I had ever seen: Blizzard.

The main thing that made Blizzard so cool was (and still is) his accessories. He was topped with a mediocre helmet that didn't work all that great, but his pack was truly one of the most innovative concepts of it's time. Blizzard included both skis and snow shoes. It was possible to attach both of these accessories on his pack at the same time. With the skis in place, the pack could be used as a miniature snowmobile as it was equipped with handlebars complete with hand brakes. This little piece combined great styling and detail with an incredible amount of fun. It gave this figure a usability beyond even that of the original Snow Job figure. The figure was then filled out by two excellent weapons: a white uzi that featured molded cloth wrappings to keep it from freezing and a small white pistol. Both of these weapons were well done and perfectly fit the figure. The overall complement of accessories was among the best released that year ('88 saw a nice run of well accessorized figures) and remains the pinnacle or arctic mission gear.

The concept of arctic army builders entered in my Joe world early in my childhood. As 1983 was a big year for Joe toys in my house, both I and my brother ended up with Snow Job figures. Some time that winter, I remember seeing some terrible made for TV movie where some American soldiers, dressed nearly identical to Snow Job, were killed by some enemy force. Seeing this, though, forever turned Snow Job into a nameless army builder in my Joe world. From here, things progressed. In 1985, Frostbite became the leader of the arctic Joes. In 1986, he was joined by Iceberg and from the Snowcat, they commanded a legion of snow soldiers who supported the Joes. To this day, Snow Job remains an army builder. However, as the line progressed and arctic Cobras became more sophisticated, I needed a new level of arctic soldier who was more skilled and better equipped than the tired old Snow Job figures. In this role, Blizzard fit fantastically.

The Blizzard mold has had an interesting life. After his release in 1988, Blizzard made his way to both Europe and Brazil. Some time around 1990 or 1991, Blizzard was released in Europe in an exclusive Tiger Force color scheme. While I don't normally consider yellow and orange to be typical arctic colors, the figure is still very well done and very aesthetically pleasing. From there, this mold made its way to Brazil. Around 1992, Blizzard was released down there as a new character named Nevasca. However, like the '93 Beach Head mold, Nevasca was now a Cobra! I am not familiar with the figure itself, but I don't think it had any modifications made to it that would denote the figure's change in affiliation, but seeing Blizzard alongside the Hydro Viper, Raptor, the Crimson Guard Immortal and the '91 Cobra Commander is rather interesting. Unlike the other molds in this series of Brazilian Cobras, though, it does not appear that Blizzard was sent to India. In 1995, Blizzard's body was used for the Arctic Assault Guile from the line of Street Fighter, the Movie figures. This body is painted similarly to the original Blizzard but is something a little different that you may come across in your collecting travels. To top this off, Blizzard was to be included in the 1997 Arctic Mission Team with Snow Job and Iceberg. In fact, the cart art depicts Blizzard as one of the members. However, Hasbro could not locate the tooling for Blizzard and went with the '93 Frostbite mold instead. (Missing tooling was a common problem in 1997. Cobra Commander and Destro were originally intended to be their V1 molds while Snake Eyes was planned as the V2 mold. However, these could not be located so we got the figures many have come to loathe instead.) This was unfortunate as a new interpretation of Blizzard (along with his original accessories) would have been a great asset to the line.

In my collection, Blizzard remains an army builder. He is the step between the basic grunts portrayed by Snow Job and the hard-core, highly trained soldiers portrayed by the '93 Frostbite figure. He is more of a middle ground. His accessories allow him to be more self sustaining than Snow Job's, but not too the point where they would force him into an "elite" status. In this role, this figure has flourished. While he does not see use throughout the year, he is always among the first figures to come out of hibernation every winter. In the snow and cold, this figure works great. His accessories make him playable without sacrificing any detail. That's the way I like some figures to be. Joe is about diversity. Blizzard is one of the many figures who, while not a major character or oft-discussed mold, remains a vital part of the Joe world. He is the supporting character who fleshes out the line and keeps it so fresh even 20 years after the concept's original launch.

Blizzard figures are very easy to find. However, getting one that is not discolored and complete is a bit harder. As such, mint complete Blizzards can fetch upwards of $12 or so. For this price, the fig isn't too bad. However, even missing one accessory (like a handle on his pack) Blizzard's selling price drops off quickly. In fact, it is economical to army build Blizzard figures who have just the helmet and gun. For a short while, this was something I enjoyed. However, after about 6 of them, the novelty wore off and I kept my Blizzard army at that modest sum. However, he still remains one of my mainstays on arctic missions. While Snow Job and Frostbite get all the press, Blizzard is the definition of forgotten. I don't foresee him ever gaining any great amount of collector interest, but that allows those who have yet to acquire him to still do so reasonably. As more and more new collectors discover the Joe line, figures with these qualities will become fewer and further between. As long there remain a few, though, I think that Joe will stay an accessible collectible line well into the future.

I'm well set for Blizzard figures. However, I am in need of a European exclusive Tiger Force Blizzard. If you have one of those for trade, I might be inclined to part with a carded Cobra Infantry Team. If this intrigues you, please let me know.

1988 Blizzard, 1998 Firefly

1988 Blizzard, 1993 Snow Serpent Mail Away, 1997 Snow Job

1988 Blizzard, 1991 Snow Serpent, 1998 Snow Serpent

1988 Blizzard, 1991 Snow Serpent, 1998 Snow Serpent

1988 Blizzard, 1991 Snow Serpent, 1998 Snow Serpent

Thursday, December 19, 2002

2003 Snake Eyes (Blue Version DVD Exclusive)

I've profiled this Snake Eyes mold before. Many of the thoughts that I proffered forth in that profile remain true about this mold today. However, much like my earlier profile of the 2002 New Sculpt Snake Eyes when I see a new interpretation of a character that radically changes the existing notion of a mold, I feel compelled to profile that figure as a reward for innovation. (Yeah, like Hasbro or anyone else cares about my "rewards" for their work.) As I was duly impressed by this special version of Snake Eyes, I felt he would be a perfect fit for this milestone profile.

At the 2002 G.I. Joe convention in Norfolk, Hasbro showcased most of their product for 2002. Among these items was a set or original mold figures (Scarlett and Snake Eyes) that would be offered as an exclusive from Toy Fare magazine. While I won't pontificate on the choice of the distribution vehicle and it's notoriously poor track record in handling exclusives, it was the figure choices themselves that really left a sour taste with me. You see, rather than reinterpret this highly over-used molds into something a bit more interesting, the set is almost a straight recolor of the figure's original decos. Frankly, that was something that was about as boring as I could possibly imagine. Seeing the same figure, with a slight paint change, is just a waste. At least the repaints in the Joe vs. Cobra line have been major and almost always produce a striking contrast. These proposed figures, though, did not.

Then, a few weeks ago, something interesting appeared. It was the Toy Fare Snake Eyes, only molded in blue plastic. This immediately got people talking as the blue was reminiscent of Snake Eyes cartoon appearance. Of course, a black Snake Eyes (similar to the prototype shown at the convention) also appeared. Now, the speculation began. Which figure would be released? Slowly, information leaked out that seemed to indicate the blue Snake Eyes was a prototype and all of the Toy Fare figures would be the mundane black. However, in the past week it has become known that the blue Snake Eyes will ship with a DVD set some time next year and will be available to retail outlets. While this has helped many people to acquire this figure right now, I think that many more will enjoy the opportunity to be able to find this figure in its intended release format.

While this little history is interesting in itself, it is really the figure that has captured my attention. The reason being he is so different from the other incarnations of Snake Eyes that are out there. Let's face it, the original Snake Eyes mold has been used to death. Beyond the now 6 times it has been used in the U.S., it has also seen release in exclusive color schemes in Europe, Argentina (2), Brazil and India (at least three major versions). (Plus, they released 5 versions of Snake Eyes in 2002. This figure and the black Toy Fare version already make 2 for 2003!) Scarlett is the same way. As such, I would much rather see these figures retired instead of having them rehashed again and again with only slight paint differences. (Look, now Snake Eyes has green arm pouches instead of gray! Whhooooo!!) This blue Snake Eyes, though, is something that has not been previously seen in any of the incarnations of this mold while still remaining true to the character. The fact that Snake Eyes was produced in something so different was enough to make me actually look for this figure. He showed the type of differences that I usually enjoy in a figure.

As such, I see this figure joining my other '97 original Joe repaints on display. The original paint decos are just too bland for me. Many of the '97 updates make for better display pieces, especially when intermingled with other figures from 1983 and 1984. This Snake Eyes will fit in much better than either of the other '97 versions and will better mesh with the overall appearance without taking away from his intended character. The mold is definitely Snake Eyes while his sharp color, detailed paint mask and quality accessories (including the return of Timber!) also make him a good figure. While I've long used other versions of this mold as nameless, filler characters, I think this figure will finally see use as the real character. It is just different enough that I think it will look nice out on display and add some depth to any posed scenes I may attempt.

When this figure first appeared, some people freaked out that it was going to be a limited production test run. As such, a few samples of this figure sold for well over $100. However, the Asian source for many of these figures kept getting more. As the figure became more plentiful, the price dropped to about $15 and shipping from Asia. Now, though, news has come out that this figure will be shipped as an extra in a Joe DVD set. How much this set will cost is anyone's guess. It could be $11.99 at Costco or $39.99 at Target. Either way, if you can get this figure for around $15 or so, that is a good deal. There are no versions of this Snake Eyes mold that don't sell for around that amount when they are mint and complete. As such I don't think this figure will ever be readily available for a whole lot less than that. I do think, though, that this guy will end up as a lesser produced figure. However, as collectors are now acutely aware of his existence, they will acquire him now, when he's available. That will severely limit his long term value potential. Personally, I like this figure just because he is so different from the traditional American interpretations of this mold. However, I don't ever see him becoming a vital part of my collection. He will simply join other repainted '82 figures in their rare appearances outside of their respective year figure drawers. Other collectors' opinions of this figure and his value to their collection will differ greatly. However, we now have the chance to acquire this figure for a relatively low cost with relative ease. It is a great way for those who have always wanted this mold to get one without resorting to alternative methods. For the rest of us, this figure is a nice departure from traditional Snake Eyes figures and offers us something a little different. On the rare occasions when that occurs, I think everyone wins.

As an addendum, the DVD that includes this figure is now available at Amazon.com for $35.99.

While I've got all of the later release versions of this Snake Eyes mold, I still need his swivel arm version from 1983. If you can help, let me know.

2003 Snake Eyes, DVD, 1997 Stalker, Scarlett, 1983 Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer, 2002 Stormshadow

2003 Snake Eyes, DVD, 1997 Stalker, Scarlett, 1983 Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer, 2002 Stormshadow

2003 Snake Eyes, DVD, 1997 Stalker, Scarlett, 1983 Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer, 2002 Stormshadow

2003 Snake Eyes, DVD, MIB, Bagged

Friday, December 6, 2002

2002 Skullbuster

As 2002 has progressed, we have seen some awesome newly molded figures, some pretty poorly designed new sculpts, and a smattering of repainted classic figures that have been hit or miss. As the year winds down, though, I look back at the nearly 100 figures released (it will be more if Wave 5 is considered part of the '02 line, though my personal opinion is that it should not) and think that 2002 has been a pretty good Joe year. There have been plenty of army builders, lots of new characters, and plenty of old favorites have been revisited with remarkable success. Not everyone out there is pleased with the direction the line has taken, but there really has been something available that should have appeased all factions of Joe fandom. As such, I'm greatly anticipating 2003 as I think we will continue to see some great new stuff combined with special offers of classically molded figures that should keep collectors' interest high. I really don't think much else could be expected for the line's future.

In the recently released Wave 4, Hasbro tossed two bones to collectors of classic sculpts: a new version of the Shock Viper and a newly created character that utilized the original Range Viper mold who is named Skullbuster. Skullbuster has already been much maligned even though he utilizes one of the greatly under appreciated molds in the history of the line. This figure has been called wonderful names like "Mardi Gras Viper" as a slam to his metallic purple base color. However, in an admission that is sure to be a shock to every long time reader of this site, I like Skullbuster's color scheme and think he is another high quality aesthetic addition to the Joe line.

Skullbuster has a primary color of metallic purple with copper highlights. It is very pleasing to the eye, even if it is not something you would normally consider a "Cobra" color. (Also not the highly detailed Cobra logo on Skullbuster's leg. It is a very nice addition to the figure.) However, it is the white face masking that truly stands out. On the 2001 Rock Viper, the skull like face was painted white in an attempt to accentuate the mold's detail. On this figure, the effect was decent, but the stark contrast on Skullbuster really allows for the effect to be appreciated. It allows the figure to portray the fearsome helmet that was obviously designed with this intent. While the figure is nice looking, though, he is poorly accessorized. Rather than including the full complement of Range Viper equipment like the aforementioned Rock Viper did, Skullbuster includes a version of Low-Light's backpack without the knife or flashlight to fill in the holes. He also includes a version of the 1992 Destro's pistol. The underwhelming accessories leave a sour taste, especially when the originally intended accessories are known to exist. However, on a good note, the awesome 2002 Headman figure comes with a Range Viper rifle. As I outfit my Headman with Mutt's silenced pistol, I have a spare weapon for my Skullbuster to use. With this in hand, he fits in well with original Range Vipers, recent Rock Vipers, or the Acid Vipers you see in the photos below.

Skullbuster is not an army builder. Instead, he is the leader of the Range Vipers. It is nice that we have been given a new named Cobra who had such a specific purpose. However, the utilization of a mold that already has been used for two previous army building figures makes this guy a little harder to accept as an individual character. As such, I don't know if I'll be able to use him as the intended character. Instead, I foresee this guy becoming a ceremonial Range Viper. In my Range Viper profile, I mention how I use them as basic Cobra troops. They aren't only for wilderness use. As such, having one in purple makes sense from a differing uniform perspective, even if the color is not something that would be heavily utilized in the field. As such, I foresee this figure filling out dioramas and melding with my other Cobra hierarchy as a way to augment their visual appearance. In the field, though, I still find uses for oddly colored figures. So, while I don't foresee it now, Skullbuster will probably make future appearances in some of my dioramas.

Skullbuster may suffer from what I, and many others, consider the biggest packaging error in the line's history. Rather than including Skullbuster with another repainted old sculpt figure, or a repaint of a new sculpt figure from a previous wave, they included a Wave 1 Heavy Duty figure. Now, this isn't even the repainted Heavy Duty from Wave 1.35. This is an exact copy of the original Heavy Duty figure that anyone who built a Cobra Claws army has dozens of. This is the same Heavy Duty that is still VERY available in his original pack all over the country. Why he, of all figures, was included with Skullbuster makes no sense. However, I have a theory as to why this was done. Again, this is only my theory and not something that has been confirmed or anything. You see, there are many old sculpt only collectors out there. Hasbro knew that all of them would buy this Skullbuster figure. In an attempt to get them to at least try the new sculpt figures, Hasbro packed the old molds in with new molds so those who had been avoiding the new figures would have to buy at least two. The only problem with this theory is that why would they include Heavy Duty? He is an okay figure, but there are many others from earlier in the line who are better. As such, you would think that if my theory were true, they would have at least offered a high quality figure as the attempted enticement.

Skullbusters availability is yet to be fully determined. However, this figure only ships one per case. As Wave 5 is now starting to ship from Hasbro, it seems that Wave 4 may have had a truncated production run. What truncated means, though, is open to debate. Regardless, if you find a Skullbuster figure and want one, I would buy it when you see it. I don't think that Wave 4 will have the recurrence of some previous waves. On top of that, when a Wave 4 case does appear, the Skullbuster figure is the second fastest to go behind the BAT/Shipwreck pack. Long term, I think this will make the Skullbuster figure one of the lesser produced 2002 figures, but as they are available now and the figure is not a true army builder, I don't think the he will see any major price increases in the future. For me, I'm content with one of these guys. The lack of accessories and inclusion with Heavy Duty is enough to keep me away from any beyond the one you see below. While I like the figure, I don't hold him in high enough regard to spend money for another example that would be better spent on additional versions of other, more desirable, figure packs. Regardless, I'm glad that we got this figure. While he is certainly not the most important figure I've come across, he is cool enough to warrant residence in just about everyone's collection.

Skullbuster is a decent figure. I'm looking forward, though, to seeing this mold in Python Patrol colors. What about you?

2003 Skullbuster, Range Viper, Viper

2003 Skullbuster, Range Viper, Viper, 1990

2003 Skullbuster, Range Viper, Viper, 1990, 2002 Convention Paratrooper Dusty, 1993 Beach Head