Tuesday, January 28, 2003

1989 Arctic Tundra Stalker

1989 was a year the first real year where many older characters finally got an upgrade. While figures like Snake Eyes had already gotten an update, 1989 saw several classic characters reinterpreted in new ways. I think this was partially a way to keep original fans interested as they moved out of childhood and into their teenage years and part to keep trademarks active without having to put tons of old characters into subsets like Tiger Force. In most of the cases, though, the newly molded figure was highly superior to the original 1982 mold. Stalker is not quite an exception.

This figure suffers from one glaring problem: the head. The figure's head just doesn't look right. It appears as though Stalker's face was mashed in with an iron. It is too long and very, very flat. It lacks the depth of character that was exhibited on other Stalker figures during the line's original run. Aside from that, though, the figure is really well done. The mold is well detailed and colored appropriately given this figure's specialty. The combination of green and white creates a mix that blends with sub arctic terrain. However, for other uses, it becomes problematic. The figure is light and that makes it hard for the mold to stand out. On top of that, the mold lacks many of the small intricacies that we have grown accustomed to. As such, the figure is just that much more non-descript. While in many cases the "less-is-more" theory holds, in this case it detracts from the figure as a little extra detail may have made the mold more memorable.

For me, it is nice that I have a Stalker mold that I can use in other climates. Stalker is one of my favorite characters and I like being able to use him in multiple environments. This outfit works when I want an arctic Stalker. The thing is, I don't often have a need for a figure like that. There are other arctic specialists who are better suited for snow missions. I had to come up with a special reason why Stalker would be included on an environmentally specific mission. I think that's the primary reason this figure isn't so popular. While a solid mold with great accessories, Stalker is not an arctic character. The mold doesn't make enough sense for most people to use it as their primary Stalker figure. I know it doesn't for me.

When I first returned to Joe collecting, this was one of the figures that I really wanted. I remembered him from my youth and thought he was pretty cool. I also liked Stalker and wanted to add every version of him to my collection. At that time, most collectors were focused on major characters rather than simple army builders. As such, it took me a while to finally get a nicely conditioned version of this figure. However, once I got one, several others followed rapidly. The thing was, none of them were complete. I managed to put together a complete figure from the several specimens I acquired in the lots I bought but I never did pick up a fully complete Stalker in any of them. (Despite the fact that these lots were, for the most part, otherwise full of complete figures.) Once I managed to get him, though, I felt that one of my early collecting goals was accomplished. It was a good feeling and freed me to move ahead with different aspects of my collection.

This Stalker mold has seen release not only in the U.S. but also in China and Brazil. The mold could still he under Hasbro's control or it could be sitting in a Funskool warehouse. Either way, I don't think we'll see this mold again any time soon. As far as Stalker goes, there just really aren't that many collectors who associate that character with this figure. Even the '94 version is more closely tied to the character than this one. The tundra specialty is just too binding for most people. I know I don't want to use an arctic figure in a forest setting. I'm not alone in this sentiment. Were there to be any more classic style Stalker figures released, I would much rather see the original or '94 mold used. (The '91 Talking Stalker that was re-used for the new Tiger Force set leaves a lot to be desired.) Those are truer to the character I know as Stalker.

1989 Stalkers are prone to discoloration. (As all white figures are.) He also came with a lot of small, easily lost accessories. As such, it can be a challenge to find a mint, complete version. As this version of the character is less popular, though, he still won't cost you. That gives you a nice opportunity to acquire the Stalker character without having to spend a lot for the original or '97 molds and not search out a '94. If you only want the figure with maybe the gun and mask, he can be easily found via a number of outlets. In my early days, I considered this figure a positive when I was weighing whether or not to buy a lot of figures. I like the mold and consider this figure a neat addition to a collection. Arctic figures have far fewer uses than normally colored figures. In the case of the '89 Stalker, though, I think an exception can be made and he can find a nice home in any collection.

Stalker is a nice figure. In fact, I can't think of a bad version of Stalker that was ever made. Can you?

1989 Stalker, Night Force Muskrat, Toys R Us Exclusive, Funskool Hydro Viper, 2000 ARAHC Snake Eyes

1989 Stalker, Night Force Muskrat, Toys R Us Exclusive, Funskool Hydro Viper, 2000 ARAHC Snake Eyes

1989 Stalker, Rock and Roll, 1988 Mean Dog

Friday, January 24, 2003

Gatilho (Brazilian Exclusive Python Patrol Airborne)

Most of you are familiar with my other profiles of Brazilian exclusive figures. Estrela toys produced a steady stream of exclusive Joe figures throughout the late '80's and early '90's. While their exclusive Tiger Force Airtight (Ar Puro) and Tiger Force Shipwreck (Marujo) figures garner the most collector attention, they also produced two exclusive Python Patrol figures to complement the Brazilian Python Patrol line. Unlike the American Python Patrol, that was only comprised of army builder type figures, the Brazilian line included two dramatic re-interpretations of classic molds. While I've already profiled the Python Patrol Ripcord (Relampago), I felt it was time to showcase the second, and more elaborate exclusive entry into the Brazilian Python Patrol world: the Python Patrol Airborne, Gatilho.

While the Relampago figure is nice, he is rather bland. the entire figure is done in the camo pattern that matches the Python Tele-Viper. It works and it a nice homage to the original design, but lacks any real flair. Gatilho, though, has no such shortcomings. In fact, it was the overstylized nature of this figure that decreased my interest in him. The photos I had seen didn't do Gatilho justice. However, once I had him in my collection, the truly unique nature of the figure lead to his greater prominence in my collection. This figure is colored in a way that mimics the Python Copperhead. If you look at the photos below, I made an effort to include Copperhead in order to showcase the figures' similarities. As on the Copperhead figure, the dark greens offset by the deep blacks with the yellow and burgundy accents work to create a richly colored figure who is remarkably likable.

In an odd twist, Gatilho utilizes the mold of the 1983 Airborne mold. Like Relampago, Gatilho takes a good guy mold and turns him to Cobra. For whatever reason, both Airborne and Ripcord saw heavy use in South American interpretations of the G.I. Joe line. Both appeared in Argentina and in Brazil as Joes. (Both had slight color variations, but were nothing extraordinarily different from what we saw in the US.) They were then chosen as the exclusive entries into the Brazilian Force Naja. The equivalent of Python Patrol. It could be that these molds were simply available and the powers that be at Estrela decided that they would work as exclusive figures. It could be something else. At this point, their reasoning will probably never be known.

In my collection, Gatilho is a specialized mercenary who, while employed by Cobra, is not actually a part of the organization. In my previous profiles, I've made mention of my currently running Cobra story line. Gatilho fits into this as a hired gun whose sole purpose is to protect Letal while he conducts his research. (He is the hired gun to whom I refer in Letal's profile.) This makes Letal less vital to the overall Cobra hierarchy, but also keeps him a more interesting role player as he is not pigeon-holed into Cobra and is free to associate with other factions in my Joe world. He really is a mercenary, but prefers to work for Cobra as they pay well, provide competent help and have the best equipment. As such, he is most often seen in the company of Cobra forces.

Gatilho's goal, though, is to join Cobra. He is a native to South America and realizes that if Cobra's goals on that continent are reached, he would be in a good position to help them. However, after meeting the character portrayed by the Flying Scorpion, Gatilho realized that the lack of loyalty in the past was going to prevent from just joining Cobra in a position of prominence. As such, he works as a freelancer in the hopes that he can prove his worth to Cobra and be allowed to join them. He also realized that Letal was a good way for him to show his loyalty. Gatilho's contract with Cobra was to protect Letal at any costs. When the Joes found Letal's secret lab in Brazil, Gatilho managed to flee with Letal (and all his research) and left the Joes with no tangible evidence of the operations' purpose. Gatilho took Letal to a plane he hid in the jungle and flew him to safety, showcasing a skill Cobra was not aware he had. As such, Gatilho is now more valuable in Cobra's eyes. While still not a part of their organization, he is now paired with higher ranking Cobra leaders and is slowly earning his way into the top cabal. Like most of my new Cobras, though, Gatilho is more interested in following the plan of the Flying Scorpion character than trying to gain more power for himself. However, Gatilho's past shows that he is loyal to who pays him. Where I'm going to take his story from here, though, is something that is going to have to play itself out in the coming months. ;->

Gatilho's are very hard to find. If you want them mint and complete, they are almost impossible to acquire for under $50. Like the other Brazilian exclusive Python Patrol and Tiger Force figures, Gatilho is very brittle and is VERY prone to breakage. As he also comes with an exclusive helmet, Gatilho becomes even harder to get if you are a stickler about completeness. However, when I acquired this figure, I had only ever seen 2 other mint, complete Gatilhos offered for sale. Since my acquisition, I have seen nearly a dozen more publicly sold and know that many collectors have also picked them up via private trades. Why the upturn in availability? Simple, Brazil, as a nation, is making a push to get its citizenry more internet access. As that occurs, more Brazilians are realizing that many of the toys they have sitting around can be sold to Americans for substantial amounts of money. This has, in turn, made many previously hard to find Brazilian exclusive figure much easier for American collectors to track down. As we go forward, I see figures like Gatilho becoming easier to find. However, I don't think they'll ever be so common that you'll find them for common prices. With that, if you want a Gatilho, it is probably in your best interests to wait. However, as this figure is very cool and will remain desirable, if you can find one for a price that you're comfortable with, I would go for it. I've found Gatilho to be a nice mesh into my collection. With an updated Python Patrol supposedly coming this year and, perhaps, new prominence for that subset in the collecting world, having a Gatilho makes more sense. He is certainly not a typical figure, but one that I think most collectors would enjoy.

With Gatilho, I've got the Brazilian Python Patrol exclusive figures. I would, though, like to track down a Reptil Do Ar figure. If you have one available, please let me know.

Gatilho, Python Patrol Airborne, Brazil, Estrela, Viper, 1989, 2002 Viper, Copperhead, Funskool Flint, 1984 Mutt, 1988 Hit and Run, 1993 Gung Ho

Gatilho, Python Patrol Airborne, Brazil, Estrela, Viper, 1989, 2002 Viper, Copperhead, Funskool Flint, 1984 Mutt, 1988 Hit and Run, 1993 Gung Ho

Gatilho, Python Patrol Airborne, Brazil, Estrela, Viper, 1989, 2002 Viper, Copperhead, Funskool Flint, 1984 Mutt, 1988 Hit and Run, 1993 Gung Ho

Gatilho, Python Patrol Airborne, Brazil, Estrela, Viper, 1989, 2002 Viper, Copperhead, Funskool Flint, 1984 Mutt, 1988 Hit and Run, 1993 Gung Ho

Gatilho, Python Patrol Airborne, Brazil, Estrela, Viper, 1989, 2002 Viper, Copperhead, Funskool Flint, 1984 Mutt, 1988 Hit and Run, 1993 Gung Ho

Gatilho, Python Patrol Airborne, Brazil, Estrela, 1988 Super Trooper, Mail Away, Chinese Major Bludd, 1994 Windchill, 2001 Rock and Roll, Flint

Friday, January 17, 2003

2002 General Tomahawk

Back in the summer of 2000, the online Joe collecting community got their first look at the wider scale relaunch that would be coming their way in the fall. Early images of the upcoming figures were shown at a toy show. Reaction was a bit mixed as these initial prototypes still exhibited some raw flaws that needed to be ironed out. One of the problems that was pushed to the forefront by the '00 releases that was not resolved, though, was the loss of copyrights on many codenames. While this had happened before in the TRU exclusive releases, the broader scope of the '00 figures made the problem more prominent. Among those most affected was the long time leader of the Joes, General Hawk. In a bold move, Hasbro decided to keep the character intact but simply supply him a new name. Thus was born General Tomahawk.

The best part about General Tomahawk was that he utilized the nicely done but rarely seen 1991 Sonic Fighters mold for General Hawk. This mold was a stark contrast from other interpretations of the General and was a figure that, done right, made for a sensible re-release. Despite the name change, this figure was well received. In an attempt to maintain their momentum, Hasbro returned to this mold in 2002 for the quickly conceived Wave 1.5 figures that were, for the most part, repaints of classic figures. This new mold of General Tomahawk maintained the quality of his first release but was done in a less busy color scheme that really produced a quality figure.

I like the color schemes on the Wave 1.5 classic mold figures. My harshest criticism of the '00-'02 ARAHC figures is that they all look the same. The colors are muted and dark. In a quest for gritty realism most of the personality was stripped from these releases. As such, aside from a few figures who stand out, the ARAHC figures are not high on most collectors' lists. The Wave 1.5 figures tried to change that. Gone were the hushed shades of olive and brown and in were brighter, yet believable, color schemes that were more reminiscent of the line's glory days. This figure uses tan, off-white and a teal green blend to create something very different from what we had gotten used to seeing. Tomahawk's only drawback, in terms of color, is that he is very similar to the Wave 1.5 Big Ben. When posed together, these figures mesh too well. Apart, though, the originality in the color scheme comes through and allows you to appreciate this mold.

This mold has had a sordid history. The 1991 figure was okay, but suffered from golden weapons and a huge sonic backpack that played sounds upon the push of a button. Once the pack was removed, the figure had some great qualities. The head sculpt looked like a hard-ass general who would lead a group like the Joes. (It had also become a favorite of customizers who used to create Schrage customs as well as other, high ranking, American military, fan created characters who were the faceless enemies of the Joes.) However, the head was done in a horrible color that made the figure look either extremely sunburned or simply sick. This alone was enough to push that figure into obscurity. The 2000 figure fixed a few of these problems but used marbelized plastic on the chest, arms and legs. On many figures, this was okay. However, the nature of the mixture means that no two General Tomahawk figures are alike. Of the four I have, 2 are colored with far too much white and look bizarre. It was not until 2002 that they finally released the mold in a nearly flawless color scheme. However, the mold still has one drawback. Despite being finely detailed and well worthy of a character of Tomahawk's stature, an original feature from the Sonic Fighter figure was left as a legacy. In order for the sonic packs to work, the 1991 figures had to have their backs molded flat. While the 1993 Cobra Commander featured a back that was fixed and looked more normal, the two versions of Tomahawk were not. As such, if you turn this figure around, the back looks very out of place. It is a small nuisance, but something that has kept more than a few people from fully enjoying this figure.

In my collection, this figure is General Hawk. While I no longer use General Hawk as the combat leader of the Joes, this figure remains important in an advisory capacity. I simply give him the large pistol included with him (the great part about this figure is that his extra accessories are a perfect match for the '02 Green Vipers. Since the '98 Cobra Troopers, I've used Tomahawk's spare rifle and pack as standard Cobra arms. This gives me the ability to update the crummy accessories that came with the '02 Viper flavors.) and have him restricted to a base or non-threatening setting. He is still important, but now simply advises the actual combat leader of the Joes. You see, my General Hawk character is heading towards retirement. It's not that I don't like the character. In fact, to me, Hawk has always been the leader of the Joes. It's just that Hawk said he had thirty years of military experience back in 1983. That makes him a bit long in the tooth. While I don't perceive him to be nearly 70 years old, I do think that Hawk would be at the point of his career where he would be giving press briefings and consulting his field commanders rather than leading alongside them. For me, this works. It allows Hawk to keep his well deserved dignity but also step aside so he does nothing, in his old age, to tarnish his reputation.

Rumour has it that Hasbro did not intend for this version of Tomahawk to be the same as the '00 figure. They wanted to use the '86 Hawk mold, that they had just pulled out of storage in 1997, for this figure as a way to add some variety to the line and appease fans who like that mold. In addition to this, they also planned for the Sure Fire figure to be the 1988 Shockwave mold. This is why the two figures that were released were packaged with less desirable Cobras. It was thought that these Joe molds would sell themselves. However, neither the '86 Hawk nor '88 Shockwave toolings could be found. As such, we are left with the figure molds that were released. While decent in their own right, they are not up to the standards the intended molds would have presented. It is another case of what might have been outweighing what we actually got. It's not bad, but it leaves a sour taste on these figures as collectors lament what might have been.

If you want this version of General Tomahawk, you can probably still find them at retail in many parts of the country. Many online Joe retailers still have them in stock. Even if they are gone, this is not a figure that will ever be hugely popular. The original Tomahawk is kind of hard to find, but most of the interest in him is only on the carded level. This figure is nice to have and makes a nice addition to a collection but was part of a wave that was probably overproduced and will end up as major pegwarmers in most of the country. This should mean that future collectors will be able to acquire him for next to nothing. That's nice as this is the type of figure that helps fill out a collection and add depth to many scenes. As the leader of my Joes, though, I still prefer the '86 Hawk as he more closely resembles the type of character that would lead an elite unit like the Joes. Most other collectors feel this way as well. It means that a nice figure like this will probably not get the recognition it deserves. Perhaps this little diatribe will change some of that.

I've got all the Tomahawks I need. Would you like to see this character return in a new sculpt figure? Let me know.

Tiger Force Airtight, Ar Puro, Estrela, Brazil, Tigor, Forca Eco, Forca Fera, 2002 General Tomahawk, Funskool General Flagg, 1997 Lady Jaye

Tiger Force Airtight, Ar Puro, Estrela, Brazil, Tigor, Forca Eco, Forca Fera, 2002 General Tomahawk, Funskool General Flagg, 1997 Lady Jaye, Flint, Blades, Action Force, European Exclusive

2002 General Tomahawk, 1993 Ace, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, 1990 Night Creeper, Gung Ho

2002 General Tomahawk, 1993 Ace, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, 1990 Night Creeper, Gung Ho

2002 General Tomahawk, 1993 Ace, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, 1990 Night Creeper, Gung Ho

2002 General Tomahawk, 1993 Ace, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, 1990 Night Creeper, Gung Ho

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

1988 Budo

I've profiled many other figures from 1988. While it was the year that I fully stopped collecting Joes, I still kept abreast of the developments in the Joe world. While figures that I did not own still piqued my curiosity, there were a few others that I simply had no desire to ever own. As time went on, though, I realized that several of the figures I had passed over in my earlier years had some redeeming qualities. Among this figures is the 1988 Budo.

My first impression of Budo was that he was a waste. The mold looked silly in the context of the semi-realistic Joe line. He lacked any guns and his the only unsheathed sword was colored red. As such, he was not a figure that I had any desire to own. He simply didn't fit into what I wanted out of a Joe figure. However, some time in the early '90's, I acquired a mint, complete Budo figure. I don't remember where it came from or how I got it, but I did. At that time I had a shelf in my room that held a few plants and some miniature Asian temple shaped incense burners. (Ahhh, the craziness of youth!) For some reason, I stuck Zanzibar's spear in Budo's hand and placed him up on this shelf as symbolic guard over my desk below. Suddenly, I liked the figure. In fact, when I found another complete one at a flea market a year or so later, I bought him over several other, major characters so that I would have a set of guards. (I remember the day when you could get mint, complete Joes at a flea market for about $3 each. I only wish I had taken more advantage of those days!) This resulted in me having two Budo figures during a time when I had only about 25 Joe figures of any sort available to me. However, the aesthetic appeal of the Budo's in my setting was enough to make me rethink my position on this character.

If you look at the Budo figure, he is actually a remarkable mold. He features rick color, intricate detail, and quality design. He is one of the few figures in the line whose head works both with and without his helmet. He also has a small hook molded onto his waist that was designed to hold his scabbarded sword. His chest armour is thick, like you would expect from a non-ninja sword fighter, and finely detailed to give the appearance that is handcrafted rather than a product of the modern age. His chest probably could stand a little more color to better accentuate the details, but still works as the solid brown. From this color, the rest of the figure is set off. The green legs and grey arms with red highlights create the type of figure that you can appreciate even if you don't want to use him extensively.

Budo's accessories are nicely done, but have a few glaring problems. First off, his pack is designed so that it can hold both his unsheathed sword and his sai. The sai also has a loop on the end that would allow it to be hooked onto Budo's waist should his scabbard not be attached. The sai is in a nice, silver-grey color that looks like a metal weapon. Budo's sword, though, is red. This is a failing of both this figure and the Stormshadow figure from the same year. The red sword takes away from the figure's realism and was the first mockery of edged weapons in the line. As a design, though, the sword is nice. It is just red. Budo also has a sheathed sword that attaches to his belt. This is done in the same color as the sai and looks great attached to Budo's side. In fact, it was this feature, with Budo's hand resting gently on the handle as if a sly cat who could pounce at any time, that drew me to the figure and lead me to my current use for this figure.

Currently, in my collection, Budo acts as a ceremonial guard. He is no often used on real combat missions but does see some time watching over prisoners and secure installations. He is not a named character but a nameless, faceless character type who fills a role that would be better served in Cobra but can be utilized on the Joe side as well. Every now and then I'll pull out a single Budo who will fight against some other swordsman in a combat arena type setting. That, though, is more of a one off type thing than real story continuity. However, in recent months my Funskool Budo has become a bodyguard to accompany my Funskool Cross Country who is a recently depowered criminal boss. Budo is the silent weapons expert who helps the Cross Country character in his quest to escape from the U.S. and avoid his criminal enemies (lead by the Funskool Red Dog and Funskool Zartan. Budo is fun to use in this capacity, but that type of thing, again, has less effect on my overall Joe universe and is more of a side-continuity that only, occasionally, crosses paths with the primary story.

If you want a Budo figure, you can find them cheap. As figures and characters go, Budo is down near the bottom. As such, even mint and complete, the figure is easy to find and cheap to acquire. (Be sure to check the figure's arms, though. Budo's arms are often discolored.) On top of that, if you really want a nice version of this figure for dirt cheap, Funskool makes a Budo figure that is colored nearly identically to the American release. As a bonus, the sword colors on the Funskool version are reversed so that you can replace the red American sword with a silver one from Funskool and have a nice Budo that is fully accessorized with realistically colored weapons. For most people, though, this doesn't matter. Budo is the type of figure that, while looking decent, doesn't really fit into the Joe mythos. While the ninja stuff with Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes was acceptable, adding a samurai to the mix just didn't quite work. Budo's outfit prevented his use in a more military way, so we are left with a figure that just lacks real purpose in the history of the Joe line. If you are like me and enjoy having figures that can fill some diverse roles, then this is okay. Otherwise, your need for Budo is probably pretty small. Personally, I don't mind this as it has enabled me to acquire the Budo figures I wanted for very cheaply. Of course, when that's all you can say about a figure, you know his place in the collecting world is lowly.

I'm well set for Budo figures. About the only thing I need is a 1993 Budo (International Team) filecard. If you've got one available, please let me know.

1988 Tiger Force Recondo, Budo

1988 Budo, 1993, Mail Away, International Action Team, 1994 Night Creeper Leader, 1990 Night Creeper

1988 Budo, 1993, Mail Away, International Action Team, 1994 Night Creeper Leader, 1990 Night Creeper

1988 Budo, 1993, Mail Away, International Action Team, 1994 Night Creeper Leader, 1990 Night Creeper