Sunday, December 28, 2003

Funskool Flint

Sure, I've already profiled this mold and the Funskool version is, basically, identical to the American figure. However, Flint is one of my favorite characters and this mold of him is one of my all-time favorite figures. Plus, it's been quite some time since I've profiled any Flint figure. Finally, Flint won the most recent Feature Character Spotlight at and I needed a version of him that I had readily available to showcase.

As I've said before, Flint is, to me, the epitome of Joe. He is the rugged soldier who is not only capable of leading troops to battle, but also of inspiring them to outperform even their most lofty expectations. This figure perfectly captures what is, to me, the essence of the character. His look is slightly military, but has enough uniqueness to it that you can see Flint's strong personality show through. His countenance is brash and shows great insight into his characterization while not being too over the top. His colors blend well together to allow for his use in forests, night ops, jungles, urban campaigns or just about any other environment. His accessories complement him perfectly and stick out from the traditional fare that most Joes seem to utilize. It is his uniqueness that makes the figure, to me, indispensable.

I consider Flint the hardcore combat leader of my Joes. If there is a mission that is considered too hairy, Flint is the first to volunteer. He is open to operation in any climate and works well as the leader of just about any Joe. To this day he remains a figure that is a staple in my dioramas. Having this Funskool version widely available has made it possible for Flint to retain that position of prominence for some time. I'm no longer worried about paint wear or lost accessories as I can easily replace them now for under $5. In fact, I would never have attempted a few of the pictures below were the Funskool Flint not so easy to acquire. The fear of damaging so important a figure in my collection would have been too great.

Back in February of 1985, I found my first cases of new Joe figures. While it was sensory overload at the time, I managed to convince myself that I wanted Footloose and Airtight. I was familiar with Flint from the cartoon that aired the fall before and actually wanted him most of all. However, the Flint's I saw all had their heads drooping in the package. As I did not know that the Joe head articulation had changed for 1985, I thought these figures were broken. So, I passed him by. That proved to be a mistake as I didn't find another Flint for many, many months. He became my Holy Grail of the day as I desperately wanted to add Flint to my collection. When I finally did acquire him, Flint became a mainstay in every mission I undertook. In fact, he was so used that I wore out my original figure and had to replace him in the same year. I ended up buying another Flint from a friend in early 1987 as I had lost both of my existing Flint guns. Even that third one ended up in bad condition. He was just a figure that I had to keep at the top of my collection.

In late 1987, my local comic shop got in a few issues of the UK "Action Force" comic. Naturally, I bought an issue to see what it was. I was fascinated by the UK exclusive stories and really liked their portrayal of Flint. That continuity used Flint as the leader of the Action Force and had him less American that his G.I. Joe portrayal. If you have occasion to pick up some of those old "Action Force" issues, I highly recommend it. Some of the stories are very well done, use some different characters, and are quite a bit different from the American fare.

When the Funskool Flint was re-released in 2002, an interesting thing happened. At that point in time, a mint, complete American Flint figure typically cost around $20 or so. Within a month or so of the Funskool re-release's arrival in the U.S., though, that price plummeted to nearly half the quoted rate. The reason was simple: many collectors who wanted a nice, complete Flint figure for their collections now had an acquisition alternative other than Ebay. This essentially took hundreds of collectors out the market for American Flint figures which then dropped the price. This is not a bad thing. However, it does provide a model that can be extrapolated to some of the new Hasbro released figures as well. Many collectors out there only collect one of every character or one of every figure mold. As Hasbro pulls out more and more and more ARAH-style molds and repaints them in exclusive figure sets many collectors will have a shot at some molds that might have previously eluded them. In turn, this will remove many collectors from the market for the repainted mold's original figure. In the case of many Joe figures, that will not really be of major significance, but it is something to remember as old molds are dusted off and put into production.

There are actually several variations of the Funskool Flint figure. After this mold's run in the U.S., it was scheduled to be released in Argentina. (Flint appears on some of the latest Argentine cardbacks.) He was not, to the extent of my knowledge, though, released there. He was, however, released in Brazil. From there, the mold was send on to India. At some point in the Flint mold's history, the arms were either lost or rendered unusable. As such, all Funskool Flints have variant arms from the American figure. (If you look at the prototype Night Force Flint from the 2003 Convention photos, you will see that he also has new arms.) The earliest figures used lower arms from the '92 Roadblock. At some point after that, Funskool switched the arms and some late '90's or so Flint figures actually have the lower arms from Zandar. (Both of these figures are also available with elbow joints that are black: matching the upper arm rather than the flesh colored forearm.) In 2002, Funskool reverted back to the '92 Roadblock arms. Not satisfied with these variants, though, in 2003, Funskool decided to change the upper arms of the new Flint figures to feature the mold originally used for Blaster. These figures also feature much brighter green on the paints, lighter brown on the gloves and visually distinctive backpack colors. Not to be outdone, though, Funskool produced a final batch of figures in early 2003. These figures were only available bagged but use the upper arms from Blocker. The forearms are still Roadblocks, but the upper arms differ. You will also notice slight color differences in Flint's based on their time of production. Usually, they are subtle and hard to recognize if you don't have the figures sitting next to each other. It should also be noted that Flint's accessories vary in color. They can range from a dark green like the American weapons all the way to a light brown. The variants on both the figure and accessories are minor and are hard to notice. However, it does give Funskool collectors something else to track down. (You can see the three modern variants and some of the accessory differences in the comparison photo below.)

Funskool Flints are not too hard to find. Funskool re-released him in 2002 and then again in 2003. As such, you can get either carded or bagged Flints from most online dealers. However, now that the mold appears to be back in Hasbro's hands, the supply of Funskool Flints will, eventually, dry up. As such, now is a good time to acquire any of these figures that you might desire. He is so close to the American mold that this figure is interchangeable with the original figure and provides a cheap alternative that meshes well with any collection. I've basically retired my American Flint figures and only use my Funskool version. The figure is of excellent quality and provides an easy way for new collectors to revisit a truely classic mold.

While I'm well set for Funskool Flints, I do need one with Zandar's arms. If you can help, let me know.

Funskool Flint, Law, Caucasian Iceberg, 2002 Desert Striker

Funskool Flint, Law, Caucasian Iceberg, 2002 Desert Striker, Hiss IV, Viper, 2003 BAT, Night Rhino

Funskool Flint, Law, Caucasian Iceberg, 2002 Desert Striker, Hiss IV, Viper, 2003 BAT, Night Rhino

Funskool Flint, Law, Caucasian Iceberg, 2002 Desert Striker, Hiss IV, Viper, 2003 BAT, Night Rhino, Dreadnok Stinger, Sears Exclusive, Hit and Run, Stalker, Big Ben, Mirage

Funskool Flint, Law, Caucasian Iceberg, 2002 Desert Striker, Hiss IV, Viper, 2003 BAT, Night Rhino, Dreadnok Stinger, Sears Exclusive, Hit and Run, Stalker, Big Ben, Mirage, Hydro Viper, Python Patrol Lamprey

Funskool Flint, Law, Caucasian Iceberg, 2002 Desert Striker, Hiss IV, Viper, 2003 BAT, Night Rhino, Dreadnok Stinger, Sears Exclusive, Hit and Run, Stalker, Big Ben, Mirage, Hydro Viper, Python Patrol Lamprey

Funskool Flint, Law, Caucasian Iceberg, 2002 Desert Striker, Hiss IV, Viper, 2003 BAT, Night Rhino, Dreadnok Stinger, Sears Exclusive, Hit and Run, Stalker, Big Ben, Mirage, Hydro Viper, Python Patrol Lamprey

Funskool Flint Variants, India Exclusive

Sunday, December 21, 2003

2004 Urban Neo-Viper (Wal Mart Exclusive)

If your Joe eye has blinked any time in the past 120 days, you have missed quite a lot. Through the first 8 months of 2003, Hasbro released, essentially, 12 figure packs to retail. This was the beginning of the Spy Troops theme and offered some excellent new characters and molds. The drawback, though, was that these figures were available at retail for a long time and there were only 2 army building figures among the 12. The last 4 months of 2003 have seen a flurry of Joe releases. First, there was the highly anticipated Wave 7 (Though that, technically, appeared in late August.). Before that wave really had a chance to settle into retail, the first cases of Wave 8 were released. While collectors were still trying to finish acquiring that wave, the most anticipated wave of the year, the army building wave was released. That wave, though, quickly disappeared, leaving many collectors without the figures they wanted. The reason for the quick hook was that Hasbro wanted to get the 2004 Venom vs. Valor figures on the shelves before Christmas. This lead to Wave 9's appearance at retail in early December. This, alone, made for 24 figure packs that were released in the final third of this year: twice as many as were released in the previous 8 months. There was one last surprise, though. Hasbro offered Wal-Mart an exclusive 6 figure repaint wave that was to be released under the Venom vs. Valor banner. This wave was 3 desert Joe repaints who were paired with 3 urban themed Cobra army builder repaints. This brought the total to 27 figure packs released in the final 4 months of 2003. A huge number of these figures are army builders so budget conscious collectors have had to make some tough choices. The saving grace is that these figures have been the best new sculpts to date and the repaints, in this case, are inspired. As such, I felt it appropriate to profile the Urban Neo-Viper from these Wal-Mart exclusives.

In my opinion, this Wal-Mart wave is a perfect example of repaints done right. Hasbro has tried to theme some repaints in recent waves, but I don't like that approach. What we've ended up with is a hodge-podge of characters that don't really fit into a theme. The Night Force repaints are scattered and it's hard to piece them together as a cohesive unit. (Especially with the long time between some of the wave releases.) Offering repaints as an exclusive is a great way to fit a number of like-colored Joes and Cobras together without making a full release figure wave too bland. Rather than the full 12 figures that comprise a normal, full retail wave release, this exclusive wave only offers 6 figures. That is the perfect number as it doesn't allow the theme to overtake the importance of the entire line, but does offer collectors and children alike some variance in their figure purchase choices. Going forward, I would prefer to see smaller exclusive waves like this for repaints rather than having them spread through full retail release waves. That will keep the full releases fresher and allow Hasbro to better time their releases for 2004.

This Wal-Mart exclusive figure wave features 6 figures: Duke, Roadblock, Gung-Ho, Iron Grenadier, Cobra Claws and this Neo-Viper. The Roadblock is a straight repaint of his Wave 6 release. The Gung-Ho, reuses the awful non O-ring mold from Wave 1 of 2002 and, as such, is really out of place in this wave. The Duke is more interesting as he is an amalgamation. He features the Wave 4 Duke head on the Wave 3 Snake Eyes body. I like this approach as the figure is not a straight repaint and offers something more exclusive than just figure color to this wave. The IG is nicely cammoed re-do of the figure we've already gotten at retail twice in 2003 and the Claws is the O-ring version. (And is, in my opinion, the best version of Claws to date.) The three Cobras mesh well together and work well as an urban assault force. All the Cobras feature their basic accessories that we've grown accustomed to. However, the dreaded sound attack weapons make an appearance in these sets. While the Cobras at least have guns that are usable, some Joes do not. Duke only has a sound attack gun and that, to me, makes him less desirable than he should be. These figures also feature spring loaded missile launchers. (Yes, these sets feature 2 of the most hated additions to the Joe line, spring loaded missile launchers and sound attack weapons!) The nice thing is that the figures are evenly packed in the cases and are shipped in ratios that make it possible, should you find these guys, to build an army in short period of time.

I have always liked the Neo-Viper mold. From the first non O-ring figure from 2002 to this figure, the mold is just solid. He looks like the updated Cobra trooper he is supposed to be. He is articulated in a manner that allows for some nice action poses and makes him the type of figure that is easy to display in a variety of ways. The inclusion of the unique rifle and pistol with this version really make him a more desirable alternative to army building than many of the Neo-Vipers of the past. His colors really allow for some diversity in his use. The marble, white, black and bright red Cobra sigil work in a way that allows this guy to be used in arctic, urban or mountain environments. To me, this makes this version of the Neo-Viper the most useful of all his incarnations.

In my collection, Neo-Vipers are the replacements for Vipers. I was somewhat disappointed to see the Viper character appear in Wave 9 as I felt that it was the Neo-Viper who really occupied this position in the new Cobra. I feel that it is the Neos who make the basic grunts of the Cobra legions and their different uniforms allow for their appearance in all situations. Going forward, I think I'll keep that concept intact and use the Viper as a higher ranking trooper who is a bit more elite than the standard Neo-Viper. My new Cobra will be a bit more streamlined than my ARAH-sculpt based Cobra as I feel that Neos will comprise the bulk of my troops. The other Viper types will be more highly specialized and exist in far fewer numbers.

This figure's availability is not yet determined. It could be that Wal-Mart will completely sell out of this wave before Christmas and those who don't have this guy will be left in the cold. However, that is unlikely to happen. I would imagine that this figure will be available at retail well into the start of 2004. As he ships 4 to a case instead of 2, it will take longer for even a small shipment to sell out. Plus, there are thousands of Wal-Marts in the U.S., and even the most remote American collector usually has access to more than one. That should allow collectors to get their fill of this figure. International collectors, though, are less lucky. As this is a Wal-Mart exclusive, it will only be available in the U.S. Online Joe dealers won't be able to get these figures without buying them at retail and passing the markup on to foreign buyers. This is unfortunate as this is a nicely done Neo-Viper. Hopefully, 2004 will see Hasbro take at least some steps to help overseas and remote collectors who can not find items at retail. For, when they start producing even repaints of this quality, Joe's popularity can only be supported.

What do you think of this method of repainting army building figures? Let me know.

2004 Urban Neo Viper, Wal Mart Exclusive, Claws, Iron Grenadier

2004 Urban Neo Viper, Wal Mart Exclusive, Claws, Iron Grenadier

2004 Urban Neo Viper, Wal Mart Exclusive, Claws, Iron Grenadier

2004 Urban Neo Viper, Wal Mart Exclusive, Claws, Iron Grenadier

Sunday, December 14, 2003

2003 Tele Viper

Several years ago, I profiled the original Tele-Viper. In that profile, I remarked at how important this character would be to any organization like Cobra. However, I was less enthused about the figure's actual design. Now, that has all changed with the release of this new sculpt Tele-Viper. He has all the functionality of the original with a look that should make this figure one of the more popular new sculpt Cobra army building molds.

This version of the Tele-Viper is both an homage to the original figure and an improvement upon him. You will note that the Tele-Viper's distinctive vest is still present on this version. It is, however, more subdued and is just the base for the figure's design rather than the entirety of it. Added are a number of small details that make this figure look more handy. You can tell this figure's specialty just by looking at his body. Gone is the original Tele-Viper's less than stellar head. This version features a sleeker design with a movable comm device and smaller goggles. He still has some of the Cobra blue base, but now features more purple. The visual effect is still the same and you can place this figure as a Cobra with only a quick glance.

The Tele-Viper is nicely accessorized. He includes a small pistol that is now becoming a bit too common along with a well proportioned grenade launcher. Instead of including a traditional backpack, though, the Tele-Viper sports a custom fitted shoulder mounted communications pack. It fits into two holes molded onto the figure and looks decent. However, as this item was custom made for the Tele-Viper, it means that this accessory can not be shared among other figures. One of the hallmarks of the original line was that almost every accessory worked on every figure. The new line is moving away from that as we are seeing more and more custom accessories. The Tele-Viper also includes one of the smallest accessories ever released. He has a small, hand held radio. If, fifteen years from now, there is the same type of nostalgia for the new sculpt Joes as there is now for the original line, I can see this accessory being among the hardest to find. (Assuming it isn't released again at some point.) It's a neat feature, though, and makes the Tele-Viper a figure that has lots of play value.

One thing of note is that the Tele-Viper has a packaging variation. He is available with either a figure called Halo Jumper or Sgt. Airborne. A lot has been made of this and some people have gone bananas trying to get both versions. I'll just say this: this is a packaging variant and, historically, those have not proven to be all that collectible in the long term. Sure, people will pay more for a carded Cobra Red Star, but not a whole lot more. And, he is hardly a sought after figure. Every figure from 2002's Wave 1 had a packaging variation, but no one is really interested in those. As such, I don't put much stock in a variation like this. Were I looking for something that will be significant down the road, I'd be on the lookout for the Gung-Ho with the variant facial hair. Actual figure variations tend to have much more collectibility than packaging variants.

Normally, this is where I tell you how this recent release should be widely available at retail outlets as well as online Joe dealers. However, that is not the case. The Tele-Viper joins the rest of his wave as well as the infamous army builder wave as figures that were not fully produced. The production runs seem to have been cut short and many collectors have not had the chance to acquire these figures at retail. Adding insult to injury is the fact that online dealers only got a fraction of their army building wave shipments and no shipments of Wave 8. This means that, for the most part, foreign Joe collectors were totally frozen out of these figure waves. The worst part about this is that these two figure waves were the most anticipated new figures of the year. The army building wave was probably the most anticipated figure wave ever and, due to some odd decisions by Hasbro, has become the one wave that a lot of people do not have and most people do not have enough of. This is incredibly frustrating as Hasbro produced the army building wave as a way to appease collectors. Now, it has turned into another black mark against them. There is a lot of anti-Hasbro sentiment among the collecting world at this time. (Much more so than normal.) It is running high due to the perception that Hasbro has really treated collectors like the proverbial mud on their shoe. The problems with the army building wave, Wave 8 and the Crimson Guard 3 pack seen to indicate that collectors aren't high on Hasbro's priority list. As this has happened, though, there is little we can do at the present time. I think that this version of the Tele-Viper is one of the lower produced molds in the current new sculpt figures. As such, I think it is a certainty that we will see this mold again in some form in the next 6 months. It may be a repainted figure or this color scheme again. As Hasbro spent a lot of money developing this mold, though, there is no way they are going to let it collect dust when there is still collector demand for it.

What do you think of Hasbro's recent decisions regarding figure availability? Let me know.

2003 Tele Viper, Spy Troops

2003 Tele Viper, Spy Troops

2003 Tele Viper, Spy Troops

2003 Tele Viper, Spy Troops, BAT, Dr. Mindbender

2003 Tele Viper, Spy Troops

Thursday, December 4, 2003

1987 Payload

Just about every collector out there has a "Holy Grail" in their collection. It is that one piece that they have sought after for a long period of time but, for some reason, have not been able to acquire. Usually, a grail is either a very rare or very expensive piece that either does not appear for sale all that often, or requires a great deal of saving over time. In other cases, though, a grail is just an item that should, on the surface, be easy to find. This was my situation. Long time readers of this site know that I used to post my collecting goals for each year. Some goals were ambitious. Others were less so. One common goal that ran through my attempts at defining what I wanted to do with my collection in a given year was the acquisition of a 1987 Payload figure. Most of you know that I am a Star Brigade junkie and consider space themed figures my favorite subset of the line. The original Payload figure is the pinnacle of the space themed Joes. Aside from starting it all, he features a great mold and is rather difficult to find. I narrowly missed acquiring a Payload almost a dozen times. Often, I just didn't want to pay more than $15 or so for him and would end up outbid by just a dollar. Other times, I would get distracted at the time the auction was ending and miss my sniping opportunity. After a while, though, Payload became that elusive grail item in my collection. For years, he stood as my number most wanted figure. When the time came that I finally added him to my collection, I found the wait most worth it.

Payload figures were only available with the Defiant. Unlike Keel-Haul or the AVAC, Payload was never available as a mail away figure. (There are some bagged Payloads out there, but these are more likely salesman samples rather than actual mail in figures.) The Defiant was also a harder find than earlier large playsets. The USS Flagg was fairly ubiquitous at retail in late 1985. The Terrordrome was less so, but I still remember seeing them. The Defiant, though, was not as common. It is the most ambitious playset Hasbro ever created in the Joe line and was the most expensive. While it was grand in scope, though, its reception at retail was not so. The Defiant failed to make the impact on toy buyers that the USS Flagg and even the Terrordrome had. Even among collectors today, far more can boast of complete Flaggs or Terrordromes in their collection than can for Defiants. For a myriad of reasons, the Defiant was never the stalwart of the Joe line that I'm sure Its designers had hoped for. All this has made Payload and Hardtop among the rarest figures of the entire line.

After its release in 1987, the Payload mold was pulled out again in 1989. A yellow version of Payload was released with the Crusader Space Shuttle. My feeling is that this vehicle was released as a way to help recoup more of the design costs for the Defiant. It was much cheaper than the Defiant and offered a way for Hasbro to make money back on both the figure mold and the vehicle. Shortly after the Crusader was done in the US, it was released in Brazil. Payload was included with this international release, too, though in colors nearly identical to the '89 American figure. Again, this would help offset design costs. The final appearance of this figure mold, though, came in 1993. This version of Payload was supposed to be released instead of the recolored Eco-Warriors Barbeque. Early 1993 Star Brigade packaging shows a green and black '87 mold Payload. However, if you look at the photo closely, you can tell that the picture has actually been airbrushed to look black and green. (They couldn't even hand paint an existing figure!) Hasbro never had the mold back in their possession so they scrapped their plan and just went with later edition mold that they had handy. My guess is that this mold is still down in Brazil and is not available for Hasbro to re-use.

I had an '89 Payload in my collection long before I acquired an '87. As such, I was able to appreciate the mold even though I did not yet have the figure I consider to be the most important piece of any Joe astronaut collection. It is this original Payload, though, that I use most. His better colors and greater historical significance have made him a much larger part of my collection that his more brightly colored successors. His mold makes him look more like a traditional astronaut than the more combat-oriented Star Brigade figures. As such, he is a more realistic portrayal of a true shuttle pilot and is more in line with the Joe releases of his time. He is not the whacked-out science fiction type character who goes off to battle aliens. Instead, he is a more traditional astronaut who looks the part in both mold and accessories.

My lone remaining Holy Grail of Joedom is a complete Defiant playset. At some point I hope to have one and finally be able to put my legions of Star Brigade figures to constant use. Until that point, my Payload won't see a whole lot of use. He is simply biding his time until he can take his rightful place at the helm of the Defiant. In the meantime, I use Payload as a test pilot or consultant. He is a Colonel and would be among the highest ranking Joes. So, Payload can be seen, from time to time, conferring with my Joe leadership. However, as I don't have him out of his space suit, he does look a bit awkward. He also gets used, albeit seldomly, as a radioactive worker who deals with nuclear elements that Cobra tries to steal. That is mostly an excuse so I can use the mold in an earthly setting. The figure is just so well done that leaving him in his drawer seems like a waste.

If you want a mint, complete Payload, be ready to pay for him. These days, a really nice one will set you back at least $50 with some going for even higher. The good news is, if you can find one in a second hand shop, a lot of those places may not know what they have and will sell him for less. I will say, though, that doing that is going to be tough. There just aren't a lot of Payload figures out there. If you just want the character or the mold, I recommend finding an '89 Payload figure. The figure and accessories are the same. He is just a different color and a lot cheaper. For those completists out there, if you don't have a Payload, I wish you luck. While he's not impossible to find, he is a challenge and the competition for a nice specimen can be fierce. He is, though, worth it as Payload remains the pinnacle of the Joe space-themed figures. Now, I just wish I could pick up a few more of them!

With Payload in my collection, my Joe astronaut series is complete. Is there a specific area of the line you concentrate on? Let me know.

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

1987 Payload, Defiant, Star Brigade, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

1987 Payload, Defiant, Star Brigade, Rare G.I. Joe Figures