Friday, October 31, 2003

Sparta (South American Exclusive Cover Girl)

After Cover Girl won the most recent Feature Character Spotlight sponsored by, I was left wondering how I was going to profile the character. As a child, my Cover Girl figure disappeared only weeks after I acquired her. As such, I have no memories of her role in my childhood collection. As an adult, I have had little use for Cover Girl as her figure is rather horrid and really doesn't offer anything special to a collection. This didn't leave me with many options until I remembered a figure I acquired several years ago and had just packed into a box, never to really be seen again. Back in late 2000, I acquired a few Argentine exclusive figures for bargain basement prices. One of the figures I picked up was the Argentine release of the Cover Girl figure named Sparta.

The first thing about Sparta that attracted my attention was her exclusive card art. Many of the early Argentine Exclusives featured original card art that was only available in South America. When you couple this with the exclusive color schemes and the different use of figure molds that were previously only available as vehicle drivers in the US, the Argentine Joe line becomes a nice way to broaden a collection. I will state that the figure quality is hit and miss and the Argentine stuff I've had is not quite as nicely done as the Brazilian exclusive figures as the paint apps can be a bit off and the figures can be brittle to the touch. Still, if you take these figures for what they are and aren't too hard on them, they can be integrated into a predominantly American Joe collection.

Sparta's specialty is a "Secret Agent". While that may be a bit broad, I think that it allows her some leeway in character that could make her quite interesting. As I've done with Quarrel, Sparta has become a different character for me who is busier when she isn't being used as a figure than when she is. It is the idea of her infiltration skills that makes her appealing and useful in my collection. As a figure, she isn't all that spectacular. The idea of her as a South American born spy who is living on Cobra Island and reporting Cobra activity back to the Joes, though, is more interesting. She is a character that gives the Joe team a little more depth and makes them more of a truly international anti-terrorist force. In this day and age, I think the inclusion of foreign Joes is imperative to their overall success. Cobra is surely a global organization and having a team of only Americans working against them would allow Cobra great advantages in it's operations outside of the US.

Sparta does sport an exclusive color scheme. It was obviously based on Cover Girl's, but is slightly different. One thing to note is that the Argentine and Brazilian figures are slightly different and you can tell the difference between the two. Their card art is the same, but the Brazilian figure's package is also distinctively different. Plus, the Argentine figure has an accessory variation where some include Stalker's gun and others include Footloose's gun. Still, regardless of the differences, Sparta figures are simple to track down and are a more cost effective method of diversifying your female Joe ranks.

Both Brazilian and Argentine Spartas are easy to find. You can still get either of them MOC for under $20 or so. One thing to note, though, is that most of the Sparta figures that are readily available on the second hand market are from overstock that was not properly stored in South America. This means that many of the figures may not be of indicative quality as compared to other contemporary South American releases. Many Spartas are brittle and require care when handling them so they do not break. This is a function of being stored in high temperature environments for a long period of time and is something to remember when you go to add Sparta to your collection. Still, for the money, Sparta is a great way to pick up a carded version of a mold that was never offered that way in the US. The exclusive art is just icing on the cake. I'm not sure what role Sparta will ever play in my collection, but she is an interesting part of international Joe history and makes a solid addition to any collection.

Sparta is a decent character who I wouldn't mind seeing integrated into the American line.

Sparta, Plastirama, Argentina, Agente Secreta, Cover Girl, MOC, Carded

Saturday, October 25, 2003

2002 Shock Viper V2

In early 2002, the infamous Wave V was released to select online retailers. This wave has one of the lowest production runs of any group of Joe figures and has become rather sought after. The most expensive pack from that wave is the Serpentor/Shock Viper pack. In an attempt to help out the large number of collectors who were either not able to acquire a Shock Viper at all, or just not amass enough of them, Hasbro decided to release a re-colored Shock Viper at retail in late 2002. While most will agree that this V2 is not as nice as the V1 figure, I have been strangely captivated by the V2 figure since I first acquired one and have found myself using it even more than I do the V1.

Technically, the Shock Viper is a Cobra flamethrower. However, as I've said in previous profiles, I have little use for human flamethrowers any more. The BATS take care of that duty, now. As such, I've had to find some other uses for the Shock Viper. While I had a specialty in mind for my V1 figures before they were even in my possession, I've found that this figure does not really fit into the role I've assigned for the V1 figure. Mostly, I use these guys as gunners or Cobra armour troopers. I've found they look nice in the turret of the Strike Hiss Tank. I also use them, from time to time, in place of Track Vipers at the helm of my original Hiss Tanks. I also, though, find myself just using these figures as common Cobra soldiers. Their look indicates they wear a bit more body armour than traditional Vipers that are used in my collection and that, to me, makes them the type of soldier who can be used in more dangerous environments. Their look is also not as familiar as that of the more traditional Cobra troopers and allows me some diversity in my Cobra ranks.

In the summer of 2002, at the annual Joe Convention, Hasbro first announced that the Shock Viper would be coming to retail. However, the figure they showed was a nice blend of black and grey and looked like a really different type of Cobra figure. For some reason, though, this color scheme was changed prior to release and the retail Shock Viper is a near-orange and copper concoction. I think that this color change really dampened some of the enthusiasm that awaited this figure and turned many collectors off to this version. One criticism of Hasbro's recent retail release army-building figures has been that the color schemes applied to them appear to be rather skimpy. This figure is cast in just 2 colors. That's the type of laziness that was indicative of the line in 1994. Personally, it seems to me that the lackadaisical color choices are a subliminal message sent by Hasbro. In '94, the lack of colors were indicative that Hasbro no longer cared about the line. Following that logic, it would seem that Hasbro really does not care about ARAH mold releases. The Viper, Alley Viper and vehicle driver releases have been poorly colored at best. What is more frustrating, though, is that figures like the Convention exclusives are highly detailed and show a more meticulous approach in their design. Hopefully, this trend was just a passing fad. However, the lack of paint detail on the 2003 Viper and Alley Viper seem to indicate the opposite. It is unfortunate that some otherwise nice figures are treated like second-hand citizens of the Joe world when we know that Hasbro is capable of so much more.

Aside from the two-tone coloring, the Shock Viper also fails in the accessory department. He comes with a copper, sound attack gun that is, essentially, useless as well as the Fast Blast Viper's gun. This weapon doesn't really fit this figure, either. Though, it can work in a pinch. I've mostly used various other weapons that are lying in my 2002 Joe drawer with this Shock Viper. If you have extras around, he also looks very nice with the 2001 Laser Viper accessories. Some work, others don't. You can see the diversity of weapons in my photos below. Mostly, my choice of accessories depends upon the role I've assigned for the figure at the time of use.

While this Shock Viper is more easily acquired than the V1, it also suffered from less than full retail saturation. For some reason, this figure was shortpacked in Wave 4 cases and, thusly, was less available than many collectors would have liked. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Hasbro was not able to ship all of their Wave 4 cases to retail. As such, a large number of them were bundled into "Value Packs" (which were 2 2-packs wrapped in a special package and sold for a lower price) that were only shipped to brick and mortar Toys R Us stores. Effectively, this raised the price point for many Shock Vipers and left collectors with a larger number of extra, unwanted figures if they wanted to army build this figure. The end result is that this figure isn't, exactly, all that common to find, either. His lack of overall popularity helps keep him affordable, though, and you can still pick up extra Shock Viper packs at a few online retailers. Personally, I like the figure enough to pick up a few more, but not enough that I'm going to spend any significant time looking for them. He is a neat addition to a collection, but not a Cobra army builder that I would deem imperative.

These Shock Vipers were decent. However, I would still like to see the grey version that was showcased at the 2002 Joe Convention in a retail release. Would you?

2002 Shock Viper, Funskool Metal Head, Viper, Hiss IV

2002 Shock Viper, Funskool Metal Head, Viper, Hiss IV, Beach Head, Blocker

2002 Shock Viper, Funskool Metal Head, Viper, Hiss IV, Beach Head, Blocker

2002 Shock Viper, Funskool Metal Head, Viper, Hiss IV, Beach Head, Blocker

2002 Shock Viper, Estrela, Brazil, Letal, Forca Electronica

Sunday, October 19, 2003

1984 ASP

Back in the summer of 1985, I went to a Kohl's store. As my mother browsed for clothes, I strolled back to the toy department. In those days, stores like Kohl's had fully stocked toy departments year round. As they weren't a traditional toy store, though, they usually had a few toys left over from prior years. Among the older stock that they still had in stock was a swivel arm Cobra Trooper and an Asp. As I had some lawn mowing money, I decided to pick up both items. I had long wanted the Cobra Trooper and the Asp just looked like it would match him. When I got it home, I quickly realized just how neat the Asp really was. I had had Whirlwinds when I was younger, but had never really fully appreciated their uses. By the time I had the Asp, though, I was able to utilize it more effectively.

The Asp is unique in that it is one of very few portable weapons that were ever offered for Cobra. One of the great innovations of the Joe line was the addition of tow hooks to vehicles. This little design feature allowed for Hasbro to create a line of supplemental vehicles that could be towed behind the primary jeeps and tanks that comprised the basic line. While the Joes got several of these in the line's earliest years, Cobra was neglected. However, the Hiss Tank did have a tow hook on it. So, when the Asp was released in 1984, Cobra had its only mass-retail released battlefield emplacement that could be hauled into combat behind their flagship tank.

The Asp is a simple concept. It is just a gun emplacement that really isn't all that innovative. However, the level of detail and movement gives this toy something that was severely lacking as the line moved forward. The Asp can swivel 360 degrees. The main cockpit can also raise up to facilitate better sight angles for the gunners and to allow easier access to the unit. It gives the toy a lot more play value than was offered on the Whirlwind. The other thing it gives the Asp, though, is some bulk. The extra features mean the Asp is larger than it might need to be and would allow for pilots to better pinpoint Asp emplacements from the air. The deep blue color, while in stride with the Cobra theme of the time, is also difficult to hide in many settings. This does not diminish from the overall coolness of the Asp, but is something to be considered. (Especially if the Asp mold has been recovered from Brazil. This would look great and be well received as a repaint!)

In my collection, the Asp is used in multiple ways. I use them as the primary anti-aircraft defenses at any Cobra installation and envision them being placed all over Cobra Island as both a deterrent to any aircraft as well as defense against any enemy. I also use them, though, as part of Cobra's roving armies that are placed all over the globe. The Asp provides portable firepower for these smaller units without taking up too much space. In these settings, they are used both as anti-aircraft weapons as well as first strike weapons that are used to soften a non-military target before the Alley Vipers move in.

In their day, Asps retailed for around $5 or so. Now, they still aren't that expensive. Even with all the little parts, you can get complete Asps for decent prices. As I consider them essential to my Cobra defenses, I've found myself with multiple Asps. They do work great in multiples, though, and I've found them a valuable addition to any Cobra convoy I might put together. Hopefully, as we go forward, the new Joe line will move away from the smaller vehicles like the Venom Cycle and look to towable items like the Asp as future offerings. I think a gun station like this could be designed in a way that fits with the newer vehicles but would still offer collectors some realism. I know I would welcome the attempt.

Asps are a neat idea and the type of thing I think could be integrated into the new line. Do you?

1984 ASP, 1986 Viper, Cobra Viper, BAT, Battle Android Trooper

1984 ASP, Assault Systems Pod, 1983 Cobra Trooper, 2003 Python Patrol HEAT Viper, 1994 Razorblade

1984 ASP, Assault Systems Pod, 1983 Cobra Trooper, 2003 Python Patrol HEAT Viper, 1994 Razorblade

1984 ASP, Assault Systems Pod, 1983 Cobra Trooper, 2003 Python Patrol HEAT Viper, 1994 Razorblade

Friday, October 17, 2003

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Zap

One of the great things about the Joe line was that its original members were never really forgotten. Almost every one of the original 13 Joes had a remake in the original line. Some of them were "interesting" while others were almost perfectly done. The inclusion of these original characters, though, allowed new Joe fans to connect with the line's history and established a sense of continuity that collectors were able to relate with. I think one of the primary reasons Joe has been so successful for over 20 years is this familiarity. If you collected in 1982 or 1983, you can still find some of those same characters, albeit updated with a more modern look, on retail shelves today. This is not done to excess, though, so the line has not become stale with releases of the same, repetitive characters over and over again. (Yet!) This version of Zap is another example of an original character done right.

If you have any knowledge of the Joe line, you can immediately recognize this figure as Zap. While the original figure was rather non-descript and used parts that were shared with other figures, this version of Zap really allows his character to appear. This figure shows the ethnicity and distinct personality that made Zap a unique and valued member of the original team. As such, this figure corrected many of the "errors", if you will, of the original figure. This mold allows Zap to be seen as an individual. This means he can be more effectively used by collectors who always felt that the original figure did not do the comic-created character justice.

This Zap succeeds on many levels. First off, his mold is excellent. It is nicely colored and has the trappings you would expect from a bazooka soldier. His accessories are also well done. The large bazooka is a great weapon that not only looks awesome on its own, but fits in perfectly with the figure. This combination allows for this figure to be used in a base, vehicular or infantry setting. It allows for the diversity that makes a figure usable and keeps them around in my collection. I use this Zap in a variety of ways and he has become my favored anti-armour trooper. The dark green and silver blends well with a variety of other figures and allows me to use Zap more effectively than, say, Bazooka.

Earlier this year, Hasbro offered collectors a little glimpse of this figure when they used his body on the Python Patrol Major Bludd figure. What was really nice, though, was that the body also worked for Bludd and made that figure the best American rendition of Bludd in some time. However, after this use, I can't say I'd be all that excited to see this Zap figure appear again. The original figure is too well done for Hasbro to improve upon it much. When this is the case, my feeling is that the original figure should be left alone. If a repaint is not an improvement, then it shouldn't be done. As the mold was also used on a Cobra, it would be harder for me to accept this Zap figure so close to Major Bludd's release. Maybe sometime in 2005 this figure would make a good member of a repaint set. (Though a convention exclusive that featured the updated outfits of many of the original 13 Joes would be cool. I wouldn't want any '82 or '83 molds, but the later, more modern looks that many of the characters received.)

If you want a Zap, it's really not too hard to find one. They are out there, even mint and complete. However, if you're just hoping to randomly acquire one of these figures, that can be a bit problematic. As Zap was a Super Sonic Fighter, he saw lower production and less interest at retail. (All of the '91's were a bit absent at retail, but the SSF's were more so.) This meant that a lot of people did not have this figure and he was the type of thing you did not amass were you to randomly acquire lots of figures. Were he a Cobra army builder, I think you'd hear a lot more clamour over the scarcity of figures from this series. As a Joe aligned individual character, though, Zap remains pretty much forgotten.

This Zap is a nicely done figure that is exemplary of how a re-design of a figure can be done right. Would you like Zap to appear as a new sculpt figure? Let me know.

1991 Super Sonic Fighters, Zap, 1994 Stalker

1991 Super Sonic Fighters, Zap, 2000 Funskool General Flagg, 1988 Hit and Run

1991 Super Sonic Fighters, Zap, 1983 Hiss Tank, 2002 Shock Viper