Friday, April 30, 2004

2003 Agent Faces (Crimson Guard Disguise)

In late 2003, Hasbro finally offered collectors a mail away premium figure. This long awaited development was greeted enthusiastically by collectors who have wanted a mail away figure since Joe really returned to retail in 2000. The choice of the figure and character was almost perfectly selected as it offered something that was different from anything ever released in the line and utilized one of the most popular sub-groups in all of Joedom. The fact that the figure tied into the Spy Troops movie was just an added marketing bonus for Hasbro.

If you wanted an Agent Faces, you had only to send away 12 Battle Points (Or Flag Points if you still had them!) and $2.99. If you wanted 2 figures, the Battle Points total doubled though the cost stayed the same. (It seemed Hasbro was really pushing you to order 2 figures.) 6 to 8 weeks later, bagged Agent Faces figures would show up in the mail. While Hasbro told customers that only 2 figures could be sent to each address, most collectors quickly found ways around this and were able to find new figures in their mailboxes on a consistent basis.

Many collectors are desperate to use this version of Faces as a Cobra army building figure. You will notice in my photos below, though, that Faces never appears with his helmet on. The reason for this is that the helmet, while a neat idea, really looks bad on the figure. It barely fits and is incredibly bulky. To me, it completely renders the figure useless as an army builder. What then is a collector to do with this figure? Faces is a neat character. However, I don't mingle old sculpt and new sculpt figures. As such, my ARAH-style Joes are well represented in the undercover world by Chuckles. The Wave 8 Faces figure is that character among my new sculpt Joes. That leaves this figure as kind of the odd man out. However, as soon as I saw this version of Faces, I knew how I could incorporate him into my Joe world.

As you may know, my Cobra hierarchy is primarily comprised of new characters that I have created. Back in the summer of 1994, I came up with 5 primary new Cobras. One is now dead, three others are major players in my Joe world. The fifth and final character, the one I described as a "spineless worm who sucked up to both the Commander and the Sea Slug character.". This character is a non-combatant who spends his time maneuvering politically to maximize his power within the Cobra hierarchy. He has no pull with the troops as he doesn't fight. He is, though, a great conniver who is capable of gaining the trust of the Cobra command. In this capacity, he is very dangerous. He is not interested in the furtherment of the Cobra cause. He is only interested in personal advancement. While this may seem to most collectors to be the type of person who would fit perfectly into Cobra, in my Joe world, he is not. My new Cobras are of a higher order than those past. They realized that no good could come from personal grabs for power. As such, they work together in a manner that is more inclined for success. As such, my new Cobra leaders have been incredibly successful. Throwbacks, like this character that this figure will represent, though, continually through wrenches into the cogs of the Cobra military machine. As my Joe world is now focusing more and more on the background maneuvering rather than actual fighting, a figure like this will probably end up getting a lot more use that I might have originally thought.

This figure is not a straight repaint of the original Crimson Guard figure. That mold was last seen in Brazil and has not been available. This figure is a remold based on the original design. For the most part, the chest and legs are identical. However, if you look at the front of the figure's collar and compare that to an original CG, you will that the Faces' body is a bit more squared off and is, definitely, a different tool than the CG. (If you look inside the torso mold, you will other tell-tale differences as well.) The figure uses a repainted head from the now oft-used 1992 Duke figure. Faces' upper arms are also from that figure. The lower arms are from the 1992 Shockwave figure. The result is a figure that looks a lot like the original CG, but is different enough to be something new. Since this figure, Hasbro has also remolded a few other classics. In some cases, I think this is good. Collectors do need a cheap alternative to some of the now expensive classic army building figures. However, I don't want Hasbro to spend too much time recreating classics when there are still so many high quality molds that were poorly painted the first time around and who, with a new paint job, could become excellent figures.

Agent Faces are out there in numbers. There are many collectors who have, literally, dozens of this figure. Many have spares for army building in the unlikely event Hasbro does not release a real Crimson Guard army builder pack. Others simply have extras as future trading fodder. The fact that this figure now sells in the $20-$30 range shows that there should be demand for him there: at least until a real CG is released. What's odd, though, is that Faces reached this price point on the second hand market while it was still possible to order 2 of these figures from Hasbro for under $3. This shows the insane reasoning behind some of these "collectibles" and makes me think that a lot of the higher prices you are seeing are artificial and are based on the naiveté of neophyte collectors. That could bode ill for the long term value potential for a lot of figures. With that said, I don't think I'd spend a lot for a Faces. Frankly, if you look at the offer, it states until March 30th, 2003 or while supplies last. As such, if Hasbro had a few hundred of these left over after the deadline, I would bet that they would honor orders postmarked after the magic date just so they can get rid of the figures. Hasbro has no use for surplus figures so I would imagine they will continue to send them out until their supply runs dry. On top of that, much of the demand for Faces stems from the fact that he's a new Crimson Guard body. Right now, a large number of pre-production Snake Eyes, Gung-Ho and Duke figures all in Crimson Guard disguise have appeared on Ebay. This would seem to indicate that the cancelled 3-pack featuring these figures is going to see some sort of production which will put more CG bodies into circulation. Plus, every collector knows that, at some point in the not too distant future, Hasbro is going to use this body to release a real Crimson Guard figure. Hasbro didn't remold the body to use it just a few times. Once there are more options for new CG's out there, the demand for Faces will soften and you will see the prices on them drop to levels that are more indicative of the figure's availability. In the meantime, enjoy the ride!

2003 Agent Faces Crimson Guard Disguise, Mail Away, 2004 Cobra Trooper, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Estrela, Brazil, Escorpiao Voador

2003 Agent Faces Crimson Guard Disguise, Mail Away, 2004 Cobra Officer, 2003 Alley Viper, Funskool Flint

2003 Agent Faces Crimson Guard Disguise, Mail Away, 2004 Cobra Officer, 2003 Alley Viper, Funskool Flint, BAT, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Estrela, Brazil, Escorpiao Voador

2003 Agent Faces Crimson Guard Disguise, Mail Away, 2005 Crimson Guard, Tomax and Xamot, Crimson Hiss, Sears Exclusive SMS, Crimson Guard Immortal

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

2004 Night Force Beach Head

Beach Head has always been a popular character. I think it mostly stems from the overall quality of his original figure. From there, the character was able to spawn a loyal fan following even in the wake of some less than familiar molds. Beach Head was one of the most requested Joe characters for inclusion in the new Joe line and has already had 3 figures and 2 distinct molds made for him. For many collectors, though, nothing really compared to the original Beach Head mold. Despite the hard-to-top quality of the original color scheme, most collectors wanted to see a repainted original Beach Head. Fortunately, when this finally happened, the figure was well done and a perfect addition to a Beach Head collection.

Much has been written about the Night Force. Some people hate it with a passion. Personally, I think it one of the best done repaint sets we've seen out of Hasbro since the original line. The figures feature intricate details, sharp colors and a mold selection that hasn't (at least to those who only collect American figures) been overused. The 6 figures on the team look like they belong together. However, unlike the Tiger Force set, these figures also work well on their own or mixed in with other, vintage figures. That is what makes the set so successful. The figures are Night Force, but they are not limited by that role. The original Night Force figures all blended together and got boring after you had three or four of them. This new set, while maintaining some consistency, doesn't portray that same similarity. That's not to say the set is perfect. The total lack of creativity on the part of the included accessories is almost enough to sink the entire concept.

Every theme pack released prior to Night Force featured at least a few of the figures with updates of their original accessories. Night Force did not. While the weapons were at least black, they were the same ones we've seen over and over again and they don't go with these figures. The characters in the Night Force set: Flint, Roadblock, Short Fuze, Tunnel Rat, Beach Head and Tracker (released as Action Man in the set) all featured unique accessories that were so well done that they became part of their characterizations. (OK, maybe not Tracker, but his raft does make the figure!) For Hasbro to completely skip even any of these accessories in this pack shows, in my opinion, a low regard for the collector market and a laziness that is really starting to appear in other areas of the line as well. Hopefully, the management over there will get someone in place who can right the ship before things sink too far. (Remember, the '94 Joe line was actually pretty good but the crap of '93 had made it impossible for the concept to be salvaged. I hope history is not repeating itself.)

The Beach Head mold hasn't had quite the history of some of the other members of the Night Force set, but it has been around. Aside from his American release, the figure saw a long production life in India. There, Beach Head was produced in a few different paint schemes, the most common being the lime green version that was re-offered in 2002 and 2003. Beach Head, though, was among the original 18 molds that Hasbro re-acquired from Funskool. This NF Beach Head is the Funksool mold with updated date stamps and copyright information. Going forward, my guess is that this figure is going to end up being overused. It is a fan favorite and has appeared in the Night Force set and is slated to appear in the upcoming Convention set (probably in Tiger Force colors) as well. Hasbro has a very bad habit of overusing good molds rather than trying to find something new. They did it with the Viper, Alley Viper, Roadblock, Mirage, Firefly and a variety of other figures. Rather than leaving well enough alone, I would expect that Beach Head's legacy will be tarnished by the sheer multitude of times that Hasbro will produce this mold. It's sad as figures that should remain collector favorites are done to death and is another reason why I think Hasbro's reacquiring of molds from Funskool will, eventually, be regretted by collectors.

In my collection, figures of this mold serve multiple purposes. I'm a notorious Joe army builder and I do like to have a few extra Beach Head figures around for use as S.W.A.T. troopers or a tactical commando unit. Mostly, though, I use this mold as Beach Head and have him part of a small team of Joes who are mostly used for the dirtiest and nastiest missions. This figure looks like someone who would mostly work on highly dangerous and secretive projects so I add him to any missions that would require something like that. This figure works in whatever regard I choose. I just have to re-accessorize him so that he has equipment fitting his mold.

In the long run, I think that this Night Force set will prove popular. The combination of excellent molds, great colors and the Night Force name will definitely make this set one that future collectors will want to track down. (Even if it is all Joe themed!) While I don't think these sets will sell out before the end of the year, I do think that they will move more quickly than the Tiger Force sets did and could rival the Python Patrol in terms of popularity. As always, if you want a set, I recommend getting one now. They are shipping all over the country and can still be purchased online for $20. Night Force is a theme that always sits well with collectors and this set only continues that tradition. If all the future repainted ARAH-style Joe offerings from Hasbro continue to exhibit this type of quality in design, then I will gladly put up with delays in production. (The accessory problem, though, definitely needs to be addressed!) I think that collectors are going to consider this set one of the key pieces of any post-original line Joe collection. It is an honor well deserved.

2004 Night Force Beach Head, TRU Exclusive, 1991 Night Vulture

2004 Night Force Beach Head, TRU Exclusive, Flint

2004 Night Force Beach Head, TRU Exclusive, 2003 BAT, Internet Exclusive, cobra Officer

Thursday, April 1, 2004

2004 Crimson Sand Viper

For the most part, the new sculpt figure that Hasbro has produced have been decent. A few molds have been terrible, but an equal number have been great. One area where Hasbro has succeeded, though, is in the fact that they repaint their great molds frequently. I know that many collectors are down on repaints as a method to expand the Joe line. My opinion, though, is that, done right, repaints can add a vital element to the Joe mythos without expanding the character base at too great a rate. In many cases, the repaints are something drastically different from the original figure's paint scheme and allow a mold to be used in more areas. A great example of this is the Crimson Sand Viper.

The Sand Viper mold is top notch. As a figure, the Sand Viper offers a superb sculpt, intricate detail and quality design. As a testament to his overall desirability, many collectors have army built the original Sand Viper in numbers that far outpace their intentions for a figure who is so limited by his specialty. The mold was just too cool to not buy in bulk. However, the desert theme on the original Sand Viper meant that this figure was somewhat limited in his role. That limitation, though, has been alleviated with the release of this Crimson version. Done in basic crimson and black, this Sand Viper is at home in most any combat arena and allows the Sand Viper mold to move beyond his desert intentions and truly utilize the sheer evil promoted by his design.

I will say that Hasbro has been very repaint happy in the new Joe line. I am of the feeling that any one mold should only be repainted a maximum of three times before it is retired. One is the original paint scheme. One should be a themed paint job like Night Force, Tiger Force or Python Patrol or an environmentally specific paint job such as desert, jungle or arctic and the final should be something completely different from either of the other two paint jobs. Each repaint should be at least 8 months removed from the prior and the repaints should be packaged in different ways to help promote the diversity of the different color schemes. I think that if Hasbro followed a similar scheme, then you would hear less complaints about the repaints and I think you would actually see some excitement over a properly done repaint.

As this figure is crimson, a lot of collectors will use him as the Sand Viper leader or as a smaller squad of elite Sand Vipers. I have yet to fully determine this guy's use in my collection, but the sheer sense of danger created by his color scheme has me wanting to find some special place for him. In the long run, though, I think this Sand Viper will end up as a specialized Cobra infantry trooper who will be above the rank and file Neo-Vipers but not quite to the elite levels that define the upper echelon of Cobra's organizational structure. I think he will be useful in that role and that type of scenario lends itself to smaller numbers of this figure as he is more elite than your typical infantryman.

This Sand Viper has (at this point at least!) only been released in a special 3-figure value pack. Not every retailer out there, though, ordered this set so some collectors, depending on their local source for toys, may not have adequate access to this item. The good news is that it is available online. As a set, the Value Pack is a great idea as you get three figures and a helicopter (though it's a crappy one!) for around $11. That's a great deal for three unique figures. The problem, though, is that the other 2 figures in the set, Recondo and Wild Bill, are both Joes who have about zero trade value on the second hand market. This, in effect, makes this version of the Sand Viper an $11 army building figure. In this case, that is a double edged sword. The high price point discourages ridiculous army building and helps keep this figure available, but it also is a stronger deterrent for the more casual army builder to acquire only a few extra Sand Vipers. At this point, Hasbro has yet to really figure out the best way to get collectors the army-building figures they want in a way that is equitable, affordable, and easy. My feeling is that the best way to sate this collector demand is to offer some army builders via mail order. That way, massive army builders will be able to stockpile their troops without adversely affecting those collectors whose army building ambitions are more modest. This approach would not endanger the retail validity of Hasbro's current offerings as the figure molds offered via mail order could be 18 to 24 months removed from their initial retail release. Collectors could not ignore retail army building figures as they would have no idea of the smaller subset of army building molds that would, eventually, end up being offered via mail order. In my opinion, this would be the best case scenario for giving collectors the army builders they want without resorting to scalper-friendly army building packs or other retail gimmicks that never seem to accomplish the intended result.

2004 Crimson Sand Viper, Viper, Venom Vs. Valor

2004 Crimson Sand Viper, Viper, Venom Vs. Valor, BAT, Snake Eyes

2004 Crimson Sand Viper, Viper, Venom Vs. Valor, BAT, Snake Eyes