Wednesday, May 21, 2003

2003 BAT Army Builder Pack

At the 2002 G.I. Joe Convention, Hasbro made mention that they were going to do a collector friendly army building pack. Their first proposed Cobra troop builders were the ever-popular BATs. Last December, I finally saw a picture of the proposed figures. They were planned to be 3 V2 BATs done in black with yellow trim, 2 more of the same mold done in translucent red plastic that would be called Inferno BATs and one '91 Overkill figure who was planned to be the leader. The set looked amazing and got the collecting world in quite a tizzy. However, we then had to wait 6 long months before the figures would finally be available. When the first figures finally arrived, there was actually little fanfare. It seems that the long build up may have actually dampened excitement over the delivered product. I, though, am not disappointed in this set in the least and think it is an exemplary demonstration of how a collector-themed army builder set should work.

I've long said that there are better ways for Hasbro to distribute army building figures. Originally, I would have suggested mail away premiums as a great way to offer collectors extra army builders. However, the notion of Internet only packs is actually a much better way of handling the situation. This method of distribution allows for the minimalist packaging of a mail-in that lowers the cost to the consumer. (As an example, the wholesale cost per figure in the BATs pack is about 60% less than the wholesale price per figure in the BJ's pack. That tells you how much packaging costs.) It also takes the burden of distribution away from Hasbro and allows online Joe dealers the opportunity to build an even better camaraderie with their customers. If the sales of the BAT pack are strong enough, future opportunities like this are a possibility. However, the online Joe community will have to come out in full force in order to prove that a concept like this works.

Most people who know me, know I don't like the concept of BATs. Nothing about that has changed. Were these figures released on a card, I would have gotten 1 of each figure as a completist. However, for the very cheap price at which these figures were offered, it simply makes sense to acquire them en masse. As such, even though I'm not a fan of the concept, my BAT army will be growing. You really can't go wrong with a large number of similar figures. They look nice on display and lend themselves to more use. My personal ideal number of an army builder figure is 6. Many beyond that get too cumbersome to use effectively. (Very few of my profile photos feature more than 6 of any one figure.) Many other collectors have higher numbers and I think that the affordability of the BAT pack will result in some impressive displays of Cobra robotic might.

As figures, the members of the BAT pack are very well done. The basic BAT is all black with silver and rust highlights on his chest. His waist and boots are highlighted in yellow as an homage to the original figure. The Inferno BAT is translucent red. While this may not sound like the type of thing that creates a memorable figure, in the case of the Inferno BAT, it works as the translucent outer casing is part of the robot's design. Inferno BATS, according to the filecard, generate such intense internal heat when they are in operation that they glow red hot. Their outer casing is both a psychological and physical battlefield device. Both of these figures include a hand attachment as well as a laser attachment. The only real drawback I've found is that they do not have a gun. To me, it would make sense to give the BATs firearms as they would be the most effective method of advancing on a position. Fortunately, the newer figures come with so many superfluous weapons that outfitting these BATs with infantry weapons shouldn't be too hard. Overkill is the most bizarre figure of the set. Aside from his mold, which features an opening translucent chest plate that revealed twin machine guns inside, the figure is colored in an odd combination of aqua blue and green. His overall color scheme is kind of a stretch and his back still features the flat panel and screw holes that are a legacy of his origins in the Talking Battle Commandos line back in 1991.

The most frequent criticisms I've seen of this set have centered around the Overkill figure. This version, which is still fully a robot, has the filecard of the cyborg version that was released in Waves 5 and 6 this year. To bridge the continuities, I've always viewed this BAT pack Overkill mold as a prototype BAT. Back in '91, he was simply too expensive to mass produce. Now that the average home computer has exponentially more processing power than the original BATs did back in '86, though, the Overkill BAT model is much more affordable to produce. It is still not used as the sheer cheap cannon fodder that regular BATs and Inferno BATs seem be, but the Overkill mold is a BAT model that sees time in the field. It is more capable of battlefield decisions and has transmitters that are capable to sending commands to the fodder BATs units. This makes BAT fighting forces as whole much more effective, while still maintaining a, relatively, cheap way to wage war. For me, it also gives me reason to have more than 1 Overkill figure and makes the BAT pack as a whole just that much more attractive.

Right now, BAT packs are plentiful. If Hasbro produces the number of these sets that they originally wanted to produce, there will not be any shortages on these packs for some time. However, like all well done theme sets, as soon as these guys disappear from the primary dealers who purchased them wholesale, you can be sure the price will rise. While I don't see these guys experiencing a '98 Cobra Infantry Team like meteoric rise in demand, I do think that those who either procrastinated or simply did not buy enough of these packs will find the price increases annoying once the primary dealers are sold out. As such, I highly recommend buying the amount of BATs you want now. These figures are very well done and incredibly cheap for ARAH-style army building figures. Hopefully, they will not be the last packs of this nature.

If you want a BAT pack, another BAT pack or just more BAT packs, dealers have them in stock and ready to ship. If you want them quick, placing an order now will get these guys in your hands inside of a week. As I alluded to before, online collectors are really going to need to step up and put their money where their mouths are with this set. In order for sales to warrant future packs, collectors are going to have to buy a lot of BATs. So, if you only wanted one set, buy two. If you only wanted two, buy three. And if you're a wholesale army builder, just buy another set or two to help secure the future of subsequent army builder packs. At less than $2.50 per figure, BATs are probably as cheap as you will ever get a Joe figure of their quality and are a great way to build your Cobra army.

I'm set for BAT packs. However, they are a great deal and those who miss out will probably lament the cheap prices for some time. What do you think of this pack? Let me know.

2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail away, Snake Eyes, DVD, G.I. Joe HQ, Overkill, Inferno BAT, Long Range, 1989, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, Charbroil, 1988

2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail away, Snake Eyes, DVD, G.I. Joe HQ, Overkill, Inferno BAT, Long Range, 1989, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, Charbroil, 1988

2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail away, Snake Eyes, DVD, G.I. Joe HQ, Overkill, Inferno BAT, Long Range, 1989, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, Charbroil, 1988, 1983 Cobra Commander, Brazil, Estrela, Python Patrol Airborne, Gatilho

2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail away, Snake Eyes, DVD, G.I. Joe HQ, Overkill, Inferno BAT, Long Range, 1989, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, Charbroil, 1988

2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail away, Snake Eyes, DVD, G.I. Joe HQ, Overkill, Inferno BAT, Long Range, 1989, TNT, Plastirama, Argentina, Charbroil, 1988

Thursday, May 15, 2003

2003 Funskool Grunt

When the first pictures of this figure surfaced, many people simply laughed. A version of the '91 Grunt mold colored in aqua blue and bright orange simply didn't capture the hearts of adult Joe collectors. As I'm a bizarre figure junkie, though, I couldn't wait to get one of these guys. Once I did, I discovered something rather interesting: the figure is actually very well done and nice to look at! As such, I felt it appropriate to profile him.

At first glance, Grunt looks like another Funskool freak job. He is bright, loud and ostentatious. However, when I first saw him, I immediately thought that he would make a great field medic. While the Joe line has its share of realistic medics, there is always a need for easily identifiable medical personnel. Grunt works well in that capacity. Beyond the fact that he comes with Lifeline's medical case, the bright orange shirt would tell any hostile elements that he is a non-combatant and is there to help, not injure. His rather robust physique also fits with my assigned role of a field medic and extraction specialist. Beyond that, the orange and blue combination would allow this figure to work as a deck hand on the USS Flagg. He could be another simple technician who could be used to help flesh out any Flagg.

This role may seem rather limited and it is. This is not the type of figure who will see extensive use in my collection. He is just another of a growing number of role-playing figures who are called upon when a specific scenario arises. What makes the Joe line so great (especially when you expand your collection beyond U.S. borders) is that it has a figure to fill whatever need you might devise. While core characters are what really drives the line, what keeps it fresh and sets it apart from other military lines is that there is so much depth. While outwardly goofy, figures like this Grunt do serve a valuable purpose. They keep the line a little more diverse than the "realistic" military themed figure and allow the line to be enjoyed by a wider cross section of people.

This figure is actually very well done. First off, he features a full 7 colors interspersed throughout his mold. The construction is also very solid and my sample shows none of the pratfalls than can befall Funskool figures. The colors are bright and the paint masks are sharp. In the accessory arena, the figure is lacking. He comes with Lifeline's medical case and it has a little surprise inside. Grunt also comes with a "Tattoo Maker". It is a wooden stamp that marks the G.I. Joe logo onto anything you want. However, it needs ink. While the figure does not include any, the medical case opens up to reveal an inkpad. That way, if you do happen to have some ink and no pad, you can use the inside of Grunt's case. Ingenious! He also has a blue gun that does nothing for me. It is from the Super Sonic Fighter Road Pig. As a sculpt, it isn't bad. However, the blue color really kills it. As I will be using this figure as a non-combatant, though, his lack of weapons really isn't a major concern.

Most collectors have now seen the pictures of the upcoming KB Toys exclusive Crimson Tank. It includes a repainted Crimson Guard Immortal figure. This implies that Hasbro has reacquired the CGI mold from Funskool. Apparently, Funskool has returned a full 18 molds to Hasbro's control. (Don't ask me which molds as I don't know.) While many collectors may herald this news and enjoy the fact that Hasbro now has more molds to use, I think that it will actually hurt some segments of the hobby in the long run. I look at it this way, for over 2 years now, Joe collectors have always had various Funskool army building figures available. That meant that, at any given time, a collector could go online and buy a few new Cobra figures for retail price. The essentially endless supply of the Funskool figures kept demand in check and allowed for very low prices. As such, many people have been able to build up armies of CGI's, Night Vipers and Desert Scorpions. Now that these molds are back in Hasbro's control, though, the supply will be much more closely guarded. Hasbro releases new figures for a very short window of time. After those are gone, collectors who missed out or who were financially unable to acquire all they wanted in the short retail availability are forced to turn to the secondary market to get the figures they want. This drives up secondary market prices and shuts many people out of some figure molds they enjoy.

I think Funskool's return of some figure molds is very much a "be careful what you wish for; you just might get it" type of scenario. For now, there is enough overstock on the no longer available Funskool figures that availability will not be affected. In time, though, that will not be the case. Once dealers sell out of their stock on hand, certain figures will simply be gone and will only be available on the second hand market. In the meantime, those figure molds that are returned to the U.S. will see a short release (perhaps only in a higher priced Convention set) and may not be available in the quantities people want. This will lead to increased demand and higher prices for many figures that were once cheap and plentiful. Explain to me again how this is a good thing.

On top of that, my personal feeling on many of the molds that have been consistently produced by Funskool in recent years are a bit tired. Frankly, I'm not all that excited about the possibility of Hasbro re-using these molds since I've been able to add the Funskool versions of them to my collection. Like the Viper, Alley Viper, Mirage and Big Ben, the Funskool molds are a bit over done. They just don't have the originality factor that will make me really want to add a new, American version to my collection. I would rather Hasbro spend their time and energy either re-acquiring less heralded and seldom re-used molds from Brazil or digging other molds (like those in the upcoming Python Patrol pack) than going after molds that have seen great recent production in India. Call it a hunch, but I think the collector's marketplace will reflect this feeling.

If you want a Funskool Grunt (and you know you do now!) they are not too hard to get. Right now, the first shipments have yet to fully saturate the online dealer market. Within a week or two, though, just about every online dealer will have them in stock for under $5 each. To me, that continues to be a great deal, especially when the Funskool stuff is of this quality. In time, I can see me ending up with 4-6 Grunt figures. They appear to have some uses that I think would lend themselves to army building. Unfortunately, I think I'm in the minority on this point and the Funskool Grunt will join Cross Country, Captain Grid Iron and General Hawk at the bottom of the Funskool "hot" figure lists. That's not a bad thing, but I think that, given a chance, this figure can find a niche in most any collection. I know that I enjoy this figure and will use him, from time to time. Hopefully, I will not be alone in that assessment.

You may not like the figure, but if Funskool can continue the level of quality that is seen on Grunt, then their future offerings should be very nice. What do you think of this figure? Let me know.

2003 Funskool Grunt, 1998 Vypra, India, TRU Exclusive

2003 Funskool Grunt, 1998 Vypra, India, TRU Exclusive, Flint

Thursday, May 8, 2003

1994 Star Brigade Predacon - Lunartix Alien

It has been a while since I profiled an astronaut figure. That's mainly due to the fact that I've exhausted what I can say about the space element in the Joe line and I kind of ran out of figures to showcase. However, I recently opened up one of my spare carded Predacon figures that had been sitting in a box for almost 4 years. I had long wanted a loose Predacon, but found that the experience of owning the figure was substantially less fun that wanting to find a loose one.

As a mold, Predacon is probably the most useful Lunartix alien. Carcass is decent, but his bendy arms prevent him from being truly useful. Lobotomaxx is just a bit too out there with his long neck, four legs, and tail. He looks neat in the package, but is a little awkward to use. Predacon seems fairly useful. He is well colored in shades of light blue, white and green. His four arms are all articulated in standard Joe fashion and have some detailed adornments that look like ceremonial armour. His head is well formed and highly detailed with his molded teeth and snake-like hair. His eyes retain a truely reptilian look. As such, Predacon seems almost like he could be a Cobra genetic experiment gone awry.

Where the Predacon figure fails, though, is in his body construction. He has huge feet. These over sized appendages tend to cause loose knees in the figure as the standard knee joint was not made to withstand the increased mass of the figures lower legs. As if this weren't enough, Predacon is sculpted so that he is permanently bent over. It's difficult to explain, but his torso is bent so that he can stand up straight only when his knees are bent. (Such as in the photographs below.) This feature makes the figure nearly useless as he can not move in a manner that enhances play. Frankly, I think that had the Lunartix alien portion of the Joe line continued, it would have failed due to the figure quality rather than the concept. While aesthetically pleasing, all three aliens are lacking in play value and would have made for a boring toy line to most children.

Where this construction does help Predacon, though, is that it makes him more animal like. Even with his knees bent, it appears as if Predacon is from a species that has only recently been able to walk erect. This feature has lead to my using him as a hybrid genetic experiment. I use Predacon as the result of an early failed experiment to give humans certain animal reflexes. As a horrid shell of a human, Predacons (There are more than 1. It took Mindbender a while to get it right!) roam the swamps on Cobra Island. From time to time, one is rounded up and set loose as either a training exercise for some Cobra Troopers or an act of terror against a Cobra enemy. As the Predacons are animalian, though, they are mostly dangerous as raging beasts. They lack the intelligence to properly utilize their physical abilities. Hence, my use of the figure is rather limited.

If you want to know my take on Star Brigade and its place in the Joe line, you can read any of a number of my other Star Brigade profiles. My stance on Star Brigade as a concept has not changed. I still think they are among the most eye-pleasing subsets ever offered. But, I'm not naive enough to think that a Star Brigade's return to retail would be a big hit among collectors. As such, as we see more and more themed ARAH style Joe sets released, I think that we would be best served to avoid Star Brigade for some time. Eventually, after most other subsets have been done, there could be a call. Properly done, a Star Brigade set could be cool. However, it simply would not sell fast enough to justify its production. Released now, such a set would probably kill the potential for any future ARAH style themed sets. So, while Star Brigade remains among my favorite parts of Joe lore, I would prefer them to remain in the past rather than risk future Joe offerings by having them appear now.

While they were produced in limited quantities, Predacons are actually kind of easy to find. MOC, they are just about everywhere. He will, though, usually set you back a bit more than the other 2 Lunartix aliens as he remains the most popular. Loose is a different story. As such, if you want this figure, it's probably easier to just buy a carded one and open him up. However, my experience has been that this figure is much more interesting MOC than he is loose. While I normally recommend all things Star Brigade, that is not the case with Predacon. He is a cool addition to a collection. But, his design is just not conducive to use. As background in a Dr. Mindbender's lab diorama, the figure would work. As an enemy to Star Brigade, though, he leaves a lot to be desired. As that is most fans' assessment of Star Brigade as a whole, though, Predacon is probably destined to remain a collecting afterthought.

While I've got all the American Predacons I need, I would still like a Mexican version. If you have one available, email me.

1994 Predacon, Lunartix Alien, Star Brigade, Viper, Cyber Viper, Dr. Mindbender, 1986, 1993

1994 Predacon, Lunartix Alien, Star Brigade, Viper, Cyber Viper, Dr. Mindbender, 1986, 1993

1994 Star Brigade Predacon, Lunartix Alien, 1987 Payload, Gears, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

1994 Star Brigade Predacon, Lunartix Alien, 1987 Payload, Gears, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

Monday, May 5, 2003

1997 Cobra Rage

The 1997 G.I. Joe line is probably the most flawed year of toys Hasbro ever produced. From the get-go, there were problems with finding molds, determining a character lineup and making quality products. As such, collectors mostly met the '97's with a universal groan that has still not dissipated to this day. While some of the hatred over the toys produced this year has subsided, most people still have a sour taste in their mouths over the whole fiasco. However, if you can get past the many problems that afflict many of the '97 toys, there are a few gems hidden in there. Figures like Stalker, Snake Eyes and the Viper are all very well done. For the most part, the '97 vehicles were as well. Sure, the quality wasn't always top notch, but the deco was. While I've already profiled the driver of what I consider to be the best '97 vehicle, I felt that now was the time to actually showcase what has become my second favorite Cobra ground vehicle: the 1997 Cobra Rage.

At first glance, the Rage seems like kind of a silly vehicle. It is short, fat and full of accouterments that seem like overkill. However, once you fully examine the Rage, you realize that it is actually a very well detailed and fun vehicle to own. First off, it's armed to the teeth. Aside from the double-barreled main turret gun, the Rage features an anti-infantry Gatling cannon on the vehicle's nose, 2 swivel Gatling cannons that are located underneath the main turret, 4 rockets, a side mounted flak cannon or some sort and landmines that are dropped from a compartment on the vehicle's rear. All of this leaves you with a combat weapon that is armed in every direction. Even if you discount all of the vehicle's weaponry, it is also useful for carrying troops around. 2 figures fit into the protected cockpit. One sits in the exposed gun turret. (I don't know why, but just about every Cobra vehicle has an exposed gunner. Maybe it's just to show how tough Cobras are. Or it could be that it just makes the vehicle more playable. But, the exposed gunner is a hallmark of Cobra mechanized weaponry.) You can then put at least 5 more figures on the side and rear foot rails. This makes the Rage more useful as it can be utilized for both combat and logistics.

To me, the HISS Tank remains the consummate Cobra vehicle. While Stingers and STUNs have their place, I've always found the HISS to be the most useful and fun to use toy. While the Rage is not going to displace the HISS Tank, it has helped flesh out my ranks of Cobra armour. The heavy weaponry and great mobility have left the Rage as my second most used Cobra vehicle. This version has the right colors to mix well and look like a part of the Cobra army. As such, whenever more than 1 HISS Tank is pulled out, the Rage also follows. It is the ideal companion to the heavier armour but lacks some of the whimsical features that are seen on other Cobra vehicles. It adds some depth to any Cobra armour display and, as you don't see this version of the Rage so often, allows for something a little out of the ordinary in dioramas.

This version of the Rage is now kind of hard to find. The '97 Joes saw a lower production run than much of the current stuff and have become relatively scarce on the second hand collector's market. What's amazing, though, is that back in '97 and '98, Rages were really pegwarmers. Due to the fact that army building was not as vogue as it is now, just having "Cobra" on the box was not enough to make something a good seller. The prevailing sentiment of the time was that the Rage was too obscure a vehicle for collectors to really get excited over. Plus, it was pricey. The retail price on the Rage was $19.99. For comparison, you could get the Rattler with 2 figures for $24.99. Plus, at that time, you could still pick up mint, complete HISS Tanks and other, better known Cobra vehicles on the second hand market for well under $10 each. All of this resulted in Rages sitting around. In fact, many people resorted to outright theft where they simply tore the Alley Viper out of the box so they could have the figure without having to pay for the entire vehicle. As such, the 1998 assortment of Joes featured better priced vehicles so that the errors of the Rage were not repeated.

This, though, has left the modern collector in kind of a lurch as finding '97 Rages is time consuming and expensive. MIB, '97 Rages can go as high as $90. (Though you can get them cheaper.) It's the finding that is the real problem, though. I'm glad I managed to get mine right as '97's were starting to dry up. Were it not for that, I wouldn't have one today. As I've started to exhaust my interest in HISS tanks, this Rage has been a nice addition to my Cobra army. Now, I wouldn't want to be without this vehicle. Should the chance arise for you to add this Rage to your collection, I certainly wouldn't pass it up.

I'm well set for Rages. What was your favorite vehicle of the '97-'01 repaint line? Let me know.

1997 Rage, Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, Convention Exclusive Lt. Clay Moore, Balrog, 2004 Cobra Infantry, Urban Assault Nullifier, Flak Viper

1997 Rage, Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1997 Viper, 2001 Desert Striker, 1987 Rumbler, Flint, HQ, Rock and Roll

1997 Rage, Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1997 Viper, 2001 Desert Striker, 1987 Rumbler, Flint, HQ, Rock and Roll

1997 Rage, Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1997 Viper, 2001 Desert Striker, 1987 Rumbler, Flint, HQ, Rock and Roll

1997 Rage, Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1997 Viper, 2001 Desert Striker, 1987 Rumbler, Flint, HQ, Rock and Roll

1997 Rage, Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1997 Viper, 2001 Desert Striker, 1987 Rumbler, Flint, HQ, Rock and Roll

1997 Rage, Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, Convention Exclusive Lt. Clay Moore, Balrog, 2004 Cobra Infantry, Urban Assault Nullifier, Flak Viper