Monday, June 23, 2003

1998 Vypra - TRU Exclusive

Vypra is probably the ultimate fan made character. She was created entirely by Joe fans and represents a lot of what fans might like to expect from a new character. She is a Cobra. She is female. And, she is a ninja. Many collectors see this as a positive thing as Vypra is what they want. To me, though, it diminishes the figure's overall value as her entire concept seems forced. The whole package was just too much and felt like they tried to pack the essence of all the fan favorite figures of the time into one new character. Of course, I'm in the vast minority on this part. And, while I don't like the concept of Vypra, her figures is actually well done and does succeed on the visual level.

Vypra is a straight up repaint of the 1987 Jinx figure. Her change in affiliation is her main selling point, though the new color scheme is decent enough. She is basically dark black and blue with wisps of white interspersed to give the color some depth. The overall effect is that you can actually see the figure, but the notion of her darkness is not lost. As a design, it is definitely something interesting and is different enough from Jinx's look that it is easy to accept Vypra as a new character. The marbleized effect gives her something that had not been seen before '98 and still leaves the figure as an a nicely done repaint. Vypra also includes the full complement of Jinx's accessories. It was a nice touch to fully accessorize the vehicle driver and makes finding a complete Vypra that much more problematic.

As she was released in 1998, Vypra has no real characterization beyond what appears in her filecard. As such, many Joe fan-fiction writers have taken to the character as they have been able to use her in any way they see fit. She is the only Cobra female who was not fully fleshed out in both the cartoons and comics and is about the only option authors have when they want a female Cobra operative for their Joe worlds. This has lead to Vypra getting a fan following as online collectors have the opportunity to see her in action in a number of dio-stories. Surprisingly, that exposure has been enough to take someone who should be obscure (like her contemporary, Volga) and vault them into the second tier of Joe figure popularity.

I don't use the Vypra figure at all. From the minute I got her a few years ago, she went into the '98 Joe drawer and hasn't emerged. I just don't have a use for the character. I do like what some authors have done where they have made Vypra Cobra Commander's bodyguard. However, as my Commander is now more ceremonial and has a contingent of private guards, I don't have a need for Vypra's services in that capacity. She doesn't fit with my new Cobra guard as they are more combatants and have moved away from the ninjas so heavily utilized by their predecessors. This leaves Vypra as the odd character out in my Joe world. She just doesn't fit with the Cobra hierarchy that I have established.

Going forward, I think Hasbro could look to the Vypra figure as an example of how to and how not to create a repainted figure. In some cases, making an old mold a new character will work. However, as many Joe characters are inexorably linked to their original molds, trying to create a new character from an existing mold can backfire. (See Wreckage.) Finding more obscure molds, or even those that haven't been used anywhere in the world in the past 8 years, seems to be a better way to create new characters. In Vypra's case, though, the idea worked. Even though we all know this mold is Jinx, the drastic color change was enough for collectors to suspend disbelief and accept this mold as a new character. Now that a repainted Jinx has been created, though, it's doubtful that this would work again with this mold. As Hasbro looks to create new characters or figure versions from existing ARAH molds, they need to remember that creativity is the hallmark. Overall, the repaints of 2002 and 2003 have been solid. The same could not be said of those from 2000-2001, though. Hopefully, we will continue to see a variety of molds and colors in the ARAH-style remakes. It just seems to work best.

The Jinx mold has only been used by Hasbro. After it's original use in 1987, the mold was kept in production as a mail away figure for many years. In 1995 or so, Hasbro used the body mold for Sonya Blade as part of the Mortal Combat line. There were two versions: one green and the other black that were quite popular among collectors for a while. The first whole body repaint was this Vypra in 1998. From there, Hasbro got some mileage out of the mold by producing a Jinx figure as part of the 2003 Tiger Force set. The mold then changed affiliation again and was used for the Cobra Ninja Strike Vypra figures in 2004. Also in 2004, the body mold appeared as part of the comic pack Scarlett. It has not appeared since but is a likely candidate for a future release since there are so few female bodies available in the ARAH style mold arena.

Despite her current pricing, Vypra was a remarkable peg-warmer at retail. Rattler jeeps were available at TRU's well through 2000, more than a year after they had last shipped from Hasbro. Back then, army building was not as in vogue as it currently is. Plus, as Joes were substantially less expensive back then, it didn't make a lot of sense for people to spend $10 for a Rattler jeep with a unique character when they could still easily acquire original Stinger jeeps with driver for even less than that. As such, collectors didn't tend to pick up more than 1 or 2 of the Rattler jeeps. Many of those who did, also quickly traded off their spare Vypra figures to those who didn't want to spend the money for the entire jeep. Of course, yesterday's pegwarmer is today's hot collectible as mint, complete Vypras can now easily top $40. Frankly, I don't know why. As a character, she is simply not really part of what I would consider cannon and couldn't have gained a fan base based upon her Joe media appearances. As a figure, she is interesting, but nothing so remarkably creative as to warrant such a high price tag. From a production standpoint, she is probably rarer than most figures produced for retail from '82-'94, but, again, there are probably exponentially more Vypras than there are 2002 Serpentor figures. As such, I think that Vypra figures are highly overpriced. I know I balked at paying $8 for one, but decided to take advantage since I needed her to complete my collection. Were it not for completeness, though, I would never have added this figure to my collection. I just don't get collectors' fascination with her.

If you have any questions, or comments, email me.

1998 Vypra, Jinx, TRU Exclusive, Rattler, Funskool Flint, Lady Jaye, 2002 Shipwreck

1998 Vypra, Jinx, TRU Exclusive, Rattler, 2002 Shipwreck

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

1986 Leatherneck

Some Joe collectors consider Leatherneck a cheap imitation of Gung-Ho. Like many '86 figures, he just seemed too eerily similar to an earlier, now discontinued at retail, character. As such, Leatherneck is often given the short shrift in the collecting world. Personally, I always felt the figure was a nice concept that wasn't quite properly executed in plastic. His uniform and overall design was intended to make him a more standard marine soldier than Gung-Ho was. In effect, they took Gung-Ho's specialty and stripped it of his personality. The result was a character that was uninspired but a figure that is decent.

Leatherneck's mold is fairly solid. He is cast in realistic military colors and sports a nifty cammo pattern. Where Leatherneck really shines, though, is in his accessories. He sports an amazing rifle/grenade launcher combo that was tops on many people's favorite weapons list. Aside from the nice mold, the weapon actually looked good with Leatherneck and added to his overall appearance. As a youngster, this weapon alone made Leatherneck worth having. Where the figure is less appealing, though, is in his torso. Instead of making this match the cammo pattern of the rest of the figure, Leatherneck's torso is solid brown. It's OK, but kind of takes away from the figure's overall appearance. I think this is one reason why this figure is never mentioned among the all time great realistic Joe molds.

My original Leatherneck figure disappeared into a black hole. Back in '86, I spent a week in the summer at my grandparent's home in South Buffalo. They had a neat front stairway made of limestone that was surrounded by gardens that was a perfect place to play with my Joes. Every day, I went out there and had some sort of fantastic adventure. When I returned home, though, my Leatherneck figure was gone. There was simply no trace of the figure or his accessories. I didn't buy another one until I returned to Buffalo to ensure the figure was not buried in the dirt or hidden in the bushes. After I was sure the figure was not still there, I went and bought a replacement Leatherneck. However, by this time, the '87 figures were coming out and my new Leatherneck was quickly replaced by the new characters who were appearing in the shelves.

As such, Leatherneck has mostly remained a nameless, faceless soldier in my collection. I just never got into his character and my own circumstances kind of relegated him to the background. Now, I rarely pull him out and he only gets any use in period designed dioramas or as expendable cannon-fodder. In re-examining this figure, though, I think that, had things gone differently way back when, I could have liked the Leatherneck figure. I don't think he would have ever been a major player in my collection, but I think he could have occupied the role now taken by Recoil. (A guy who goes on every mission and supports it rather than leads it.) For now, though, I'm able to use this figure a little more. Perhaps, in time, Leatherneck will regain a place of more prominence. I'm slowly running through most of the Joe characters who are out there. Finding guys like Leatherneck allows me to keep going a little while longer without the franchise going stale.

Leatherneck's mold was sent down to Brazil and was released there in colors nearly identical to the American figure. Whether his mold made it back to the U.S. or not is undetermined. However, just about every figure who was released contemporarily (BBQ, Croc Master, Crazylegs) has re-appeared in India in the past decade. As such, it is probably not too much of a stretch to guess that Funskool might have possession of this mold. We do know that his gun mold is still available, though, as the '02 Dusty figures included it. In the grand scheme of things, that's not too bad. I wouldn't mind a Funskool Leatherneck, but would rather that Hasbro not re-acquire this mold as I don't think there is a whole lot they could do to it that would make it more compelling.

Time was, not too long ago, that a mint, complete Leatherneck figure was going to set you back $10-$12. Now, you can get them for half that. It seems that a lot of collectors out there have finished their '82-'87 collections. As such, the regular release Joes from those years have significantly dropped in price. (However, the Cobra army builders from those years remain as hot as ever!) This has made it substantially cheaper to finish off a nice collection of these early Joes. It's also allowed a lot of people to pick up an extra figure or two that they can customize, use, or just get dirty. While some people have really lamented the rising price of Joes, those meteoric rises are really isolated. Aside from Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, rarities and classic army builders, most Joes are actually more affordable now than they were in the recent past. This has allowed many people to expand their ideas of a Joe collection and look to different years and different characters as they take advantage of some of the cheaper prices. For me, guys like Leatherneck are part of what made Joe great. He was a good concept who filled a need but who lacked overall staying power.

I've got all the Leatherneck figures I need. However, if you have any information as to whether the '93 Leatherneck mold made it to Brazil, please email me.

1986 Leatherneck, 1989 Night Force Repeater, Recoil, 2002 Viper

1986 Leatherneck, Viper, Funskool Flint

1986 Leatherneck, 2007 Convention Exclusive Steeler, 1985 Mauler, 1989 Rock and Roll

1986 Leatherneck, 1986 Claymore, 1984 Whale, Hovercraft

Friday, June 13, 2003

1989 Scoop

Back in 1989, I was out of Joe. It was the first year I did not buy any new figures. However, my youngest brother still, from time to time, would pick up a Joe figure or two. This allowed me the opportunity to keep up with the new releases without having to actually acquire any of the figures myself. Unfortunately, my brother's taste in figures left something to be desired. As such, he did not often pick the type of figure that I would have chosen were it I buying the character. One of his, at the time, garish choices is now the subject of this profile: Scoop.

Scoop was intended to be a battlefield reporter: someone who could document the happenings on a battlefield for either later training or simple evidence. In fact, his filename was an homage to a real-like reporter. While this concept was good, Scoop's usefulness was used up in his initial introduction story. "Hey, here's a guy whose teammates don't like him as he's not really a combatant." For a one-off story, Scoop was an okay character. However, he just didn't bring anything else to the table beyond that. As such, he remains an obscure character to this day. Most people just don't have a need for someone of Scoop's specialty in their Joe missions. The fact that his mold is poorly colored in bright yellow and dark green only helps to further sink him into Joe obscurity.

In my collection, Scoop basically has two uses. His more historic use has been as a gunner. For some reason, his helmet just made him fit into that role for me. He is, essentially, a nameless, faceless trooper type character who has a job as a gunner on my various vehicles. Usually, the gunner is among the first operatives killed when Cobra attacks, so my Scoop figures tend to have hard lives. The more recent niche that Scoop has filled is as a member of my security forces. He documents things like arrests, seizures and crime scenes so that the investigators have a record of the proceedings. I don't use Scoop as a real security officer, but as a tag-along who is responsible for keeping the officers honest. Of course, this leads to tension and resentment among the true law enforcement officials as they feel the character represented by this figure is there to keep tabs on them. It brings another element of conflict to my Joe stories and gives some of my more hardened law enforcement characters additional depth as they now have to deal with a rolling camera documenting their every move. Beyond those sparse uses, though, Scoop doesn't see much time out of his drawer.

The worst part about the Scoop figure is that his mold and accessories are actually very well done. Aside from the gaudy color, Scoop's mold is very worthy of praise. He is covered in little details that make the figure true to his specialty. He is covered in electronic gadgets that you would expect to find on a high tech cameraman. On top of that, you can plug his camera into a battery pack molded onto his leg. His accessories show an equal level of detail. The camera fits into a small notch on Scoop's pack, thus freeing his hands and enabling him to carry his gear efficiently. He also includes a nicely done helmet that is not too big to look nice. It even has a small microphone that protrudes from the side and adds another little cool factor to the figure. Finally, he includes a small pistol. It is not much, but something that works in the context of the figure. Basically, Scoop is perfectly outfitted with realistic accessories that would, were the figure better colored, probably have made Scoop a more popular figure.

Scoop figures are pretty easy to find. However, they are usually missing at least one accessory with his mouthpiece being the most common absence. With a little searching, though, you can find them as collectors, as a whole, tend to ignore this character. This means you can still get even carded Scoops for next to nothing. For as cheap as he is, he makes for great custom fodder as his specialty really lends itself to some sort of repaint. (On that note, Scoops parts also saw extensive use in South America. He, himself, (though with a slightly altered mold) was released in Brazil. However, his legs were then used on the Flying Scorpion and Tigor.) As collectors really don't mention this character at all, though, you still don't even see that many Scoop customs even though his mold screams for a repaint. To me, though, this character is someone one the very fringes of usefulness. From time to time, I can find a reason to include Scoop in a mission. But, those times are few and far between. This leaves me with a well molded, well thought-out, albeit poorly colored, figure. While some guys like this find themselves frequently used in my collection, it just doesn't happen with Scoop. He gets no press and remains fairly forgotten in my collection. Perhaps this exposure will help me remember him, but he is just not the type of figure who I think will ever see long term popularity. He is just another backup character in the Joe mythos whose most important role is that he makes the line just that much more diverse.

I'm good for Scoop figures. Do you find Scoop a valuable member of you collection? Let me know.

1989 Scoop, 1983 APC

1989 Scoop, 1985 Snow Cat, Alpine, Frostbite, Funskool Iceberg, Caucasian, 2003 Tiger Force Dialtone

Thursday, June 5, 2003

1985 Ferret

One of the things I most enjoy about the new Joe line is that they have brought back the small, lower price point vehicles. While some of the designs on the new toys aren't all that inspiring, the fact that you can get a small vehicle and a figure for under $10 is a nice addition to the line. It hearkens back to the line's heyday when the Joe line covered the gamut of all price points. The figures were sold for under $3 each and you could get a nice assortment of small vehicles and playsets for not too much more than that. If you had more money, you could spend it on classics like the Snow Cat or AWE Striker. This continued all the way up to the $100 Aircraft Carrier. As a kid, though, I was always most impressed by the smallest vehicles. They were often the first to show up at retail, were affordable so I could get them without having to save up for a few weeks, and were marketed to be used with the newly released figures. (The only reason I originally wanted the V1 Wet Suit figure was so he could pilot my Devilfish like it was shown on the box.) One of these small vehicles that I still use to this day was the immortal 1985 Ferret.

Back in the mid-'80's, the little all terrain vehicles enjoyed a brief moment of popularity. Joe cashed in on the fad with this Ferret. However, unlike later cheesy attempts to capitalize on a fad, the Ferret actually worked and remains a staple of most people's collections. The four-wheeler is small, but not small as to be useless. It easily holds 2 figures, has a side mounted heavy machine gun, a front mounted swiveling, double-barrelled machine gun, side mounted missiles, working steering, rubber tires, and a working removable storage cover on the back that could hold small guns or the hook that came with the Crimson Twins. That's quite a bit to pack into something that easily fits into the palm of your hand and shows the level of attention paid even the smallest parts of the vintage Joe line. It has left a legacy that is hard for modern toy lines to achieve.

I still remember the night I got my Tomax and Xamot figures. It was in the spring of 1985. G.I. Joe #37 had already come out and I (and every other kid in America) was on the lookout for the Crimson Twins. I had had a Ferret for some time, but really didn't use it as I was saving it for the CG Commanders. When I found the twins on a Friday night, I took them home and spent a while trying to open them up without damaging their cool packaging too much. When I did so, I stuck both of them on Ferret, dug out Flint, Footloose and my Armadillo. I then had the Joes chase the twins around the house for the rest of the night. The two little vehicles and the combination of classic figures left a lasting impression on me.

Now, I use the Ferret as one of Cobra's support vehicles. Basically, Cobra uses it to supplement the larger vehicles and for surveillance around their set positions. The heavy weaponry makes the Ferret valuable in these situations. However, the mobility of the vehicle makes it useful in other ways that would not require combat capabilities. It is the versatility that makes the Ferret so much fun to have. It can be used in a variety of ways and looks realistic doing any of them. It has great detail but still maintains overall style and usefulness. From a vehicle that was so cheap (originally), that's an awful lot of features and is indicative of why collectors, to this day, still enjoy the Ferret.

Even with lots of small parts, complete Ferrets aren't too hard to find. You can even get them rather cheap without looking around too much. Usually, though, if you get one in a lot, it will be missing the hose from the gun to the chassis, at least. As this doesn't really detract from the vehicle's usefulness, though, a lot of people will put up with it and enjoy the Ferret for what it is. Be on the lookout, though, for the mail-in Ferret variant. It is slightly lighter blue than the retail release Ferret and is a bit tougher to find. Even it, though, isn't something that is unattainable for the average collector. I enjoy vehicles like this. I like the fact that I can easily still acquire nicely conditioned Ferrets without too much difficulty. It just makes an old friend that much more special as it is always available. Fewer and fewer vehicles are like this, these days. As the Ferret is, though, it allows me to continue to use it in my collection without the fear of being unable to replace it should it break. That's the type of thing I look for in a Joe toy and keeps the Ferret as one of my most used Cobra small vehicles.

I have fond memories of the Ferret and still enjoy pulling it out every now and then. What's your favorite small vehicle?  Let me know.

1985 Ferret, Funskool Major Bludd, Scrap Iron, Beach Head, Law, India

1985 Ferret, Funskool Major Bludd, Scrap Iron, Beach Head, Law, India

1985 Ferret, Funskool Major Bludd, Scrap Iron, Beach Head, Law, India

Sunday, June 1, 2003

2002 Serpentor - Cobra Emperor

Few characters in the Joe world inspire such disparate emotions than Serpentor. For every fan who considers him a favorite, there is another who despises him more than any other character who was ever immortalized in plastic. Some see Serpentor as a great idea and concept that helped to popularize Joe at a time when it's impact was waning. Others see Serpentor as the harbinger of the later "atrocities" that were made part of the line. Few collectors, though, have no opinion on the character. Most have strong feelings either way. For that reason alone, Serpentor must be considered among the most important pieces of Joe history.

Back in 1986, I was at my Joe peak. I was old enough to appreciate just about all elements of Joe. I was mowing lawns to earn the money I needed to buy all the Joe figures I wanted. But, I still wasn't so old as to have lost the innocence of childhood. As such, when the character of Serpentor, and his origin, was revealed, I thought he was really cool. His creation, as the DNA composite of the greatest military leaders in history, was just realistic enough where I could accept it. In fact, that sci-fi origin was the impetus for many of the later Joe adventures that I conjured. It really opened me up to the possibilities scientific breakthroughs could allow.

I first found the original Serpentor figure in a Target store in late spring of 1986. I didn't have any money with me, so, I hid one a couple of aisles over. A week or so later, I returned to the store and claimed my hidden prize. From that point, he played a vital role in my collection. He was quickly elevated above Cobra Commander (mostly due to the fact that my figure was worn out!) and became the de facto Cobra leader. However, after a few months, something interesting happened. Serpentor got played out. Having him be this uber leader and soldier was just too much and made the character uninteresting. As such, when I acquired the battle armour Cobra Commander right before Christmas of '86, I killed Serpentor off. He just wasn't the type of character who had any long term potential. I think this was played out in the comic in later years. Cobra Commander was just a more interesting leader for Cobra since he had more depth. Serpentor was a perfect side diversion, but might have been better suited as the super-soldier the Commander originally intended.

Today, Serpentor sees little use in my collection. Frankly, he just does not fit into the Cobra hierarchy I have created. As a figure, though, he is still one of the most visually appealing figures to ever be released. This version, with the black background accentuated by the regal golds and greens is even more striking than the original. (Also, his black cape is highlighted in a way that makes it actually appear to be metallic. The effect is that Serpentor is wearing a chain mail cape and is a very nice touch.) He just creates an aesthetic visage of royalty befitting an Emperor. In that sense, this figure is one that I would consider essential to any collection. It offers a version of the Serpentor character that is a little more menacing than the original version but still fits with most fans' ideas of who Serpentor should be.

As Serpentor was a major player in the cartoon at a time when it had many viewers, though, Serpentor's legacy in the Joe world is among the top. As such, there are many fans who want to see the character return in the new Joe line. Done differently, I think that Serpentor could be made into an interesting character who wouldn't fizzle out after a few months. However, making him be the Cobra leader is probably not the way to go. Perhaps bringing him back as a genetic experiment, but having him fill the role originally envisioned for Overlord might be a way to extend the conflict and allow Serpentor time to develop some characterization.
The Serpentor mold hasn't seen much use. After the original run was complete in 1987, the figure did not appear again in any form until this 2002 release. After that, we had to wait until 2005 before the body mold with a new head and well done snake cowl helmet appeared in a comic pack. The mold was never used by any foreign company, but there is an alternative pre production version of the 2005 figure that features green hair instead of the standard black. While it sounds odd, it works for the Serpentor character. If you collect the new sculpt or anniversary figures, there are many alternatives to acquire a Serpentor. But, in the ARAH style realm, we have but these three distinct releases to represent the character.

Based on the research I have done, it appears that the Wave V figure assortment had a production run of between 3,000 and 5,000 of each figure. With numbers that low, the 8 unique figures in that wave are among the rarest Joe figures ever produced. In fact, that number is even lower than many of the variant figures out there that collectors are now paying big bucks to acquire. Right now, you can still get a MOC Serpentor/Shock Viper pack for around $25. Based on the production numbers, my feeling is that these figures are currently under-priced. Face it, in one MOC pack, you get a well done Cobra army builder as well as a true fan favorite figure who has only this one repaint. As many people like me opened their extra packs for the Shock Viper, you can be sure that there are substantially less than the original production run of figures still left MOC. Going forward, this is the type of thing I would look for were I looking for any recently produced Joes who will develop strong future trade value. As the Joe collecting world expands, there simply won't be enough of these figures to go around. When that happens, I think you will see the price for this figure soar. Even now, a little over a year removed from this figure's release, the number of them available on the second hand market has dropped significantly. It was possible to sell this figure for a substantial profit only months after his release. That helped redistribute the secondary market supply and there probably aren't a whole lot of dealers out there who are sitting on more than a case or two of Wave V. As such, if you don't have this figure, want him, and find him for a decent price now, I would certainly take advantage. Serpentor is one of those characters that will always have a loyal following in the collecting world. As this is one of only two versions of him available, this figure will always have a demand. Personally, I'm glad I had the chance to get this guy when he was first available. Otherwise, I probably would not have him in my collection.

I'm well set on this version of Serpentor. I could, though, use a cape from the '86 version. Also, I have a spare of this version that I might be willing to trade. If you are interested, email me.

2002 Serpentor, ARAHC, Internet Exclusive, Abutre Negro, Estrela, Brazil, Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal, Night Viper, Tigor, Chinese Exclusive Flint, Night Rhino

2002 Serpentor, ARAHC, Internet Exclusive, Abutre Negro, Estrela, Brazil, Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal, Night Viper, Tigor, Chinese Exclusive Flint, Night Rhino

2002 Serpentor, ARAHC, Internet Exclusive, Abutre Negro, Estrela, Brazil, 1986 Dr. Mindbender, Chinese MAjor Bludd, Metal Head

2002 Serpentor, ARAHC, Internet Exclusive, Abutre Negro, Estrela, Brazil, 1986 Dr. Mindbender, Chinese MAjor Bludd

2002 Serpentor, ARAHC, Internet Exclusive, Abutre Negro, Estrela, Brazil, 2002 Alley Viper, European Exclusive Spirit

2002 Serpentor, ARAHC, Internet Exclusive, 2004 Cobra Trooper

2002 Serpentor, ARAHC, Internet Exclusive, 1985 Snake Eyes