Friday, July 30, 2004

2001 Desert Striker

In the history of the Joe line, there are a few items that just stand out above all the rest. They are not always the best toys, the most fun to play with, or even the hardest to find. Instead, they are items that, for a multitude of reasons, have captured collectors' attentions and have been able to hold them to modern times. Many of the vehicles are the classics from the line's earliest years, though there are a few from later times. Mostly, though, they are the type of thing that is either completely original, amazing in scope, or versatile enough that they were able to function in a variety of environments. Such was the case with the original VAMP mold.

I have always viewed the Desert Striker as more of a utility vehicle than a combat jeep. The ammo boxes loaded on the front and the large drums on the back give this jeep a look of a support vehicle rather than a fast attack jeep. In a large collection, something like this can be a nice little addition as you may have need for a jeep that isn't as combative. However, for most collectors, this made the piece boring and of little use. Having a utility vehicles is not something that most collectors hold high on their lists. The original VAMP, though, remains the definitive combat jeep that was released in the Joe line. It's sleek design, cool gun and brash driver have kept it a classic to this day. That legacy only made this rendition of the jeep that much more disappointing. The original VAMP was daring and original. This Desert Striker seems clunky and dated. I think that mostly stems from the modifications to the mold. The roll bar is different, the back gun is gone and the front hood, while a cool little feature, takes away from the detail of the original. One thing I do like about this Desert Striker, though, is the mounted passenger gun. I always wanted mounted guns on my Joe vehicles. Early on, few vehicles had them. So, I often either glued or otherwise attached mounted weapons to my favorite vehicles. It gave them a play feature that I wanted. Having that little aspect has made the Desert Striker worth keeping around in my collection.

Mostly, I use the Striker as the utility type vehicle that I outlined above. Much of my Joeverse revolves around renegade criminals rather than a militarily strong Cobra. As such, many scenarios I play out involve those types of people attacking small units of Joes. In cases where Cobra is involved, they usually target smaller, less defended Joe units as a way to ensure success. In both of these cases, the Desert Striker works well. I also use it as part of my police forces. The Striker includes several little spiked balls. I use these as tire-poppers to stop fleeing criminals. The Striker can then also act as a fast pursuit vehicle that is capable of catching high speed motorcycles. It has the versatility that I usually look for in a vehicle, even if those purposes are somewhat mundane rather than specialized.

The Desert Striker really failed, though, in its choice of driver. Originally, the Desert Striker was shown with a '92 Dusty figure repainted in desert colors. At the time, this mold was still sitting on retail pegs, so releasing it again seemed like overkill. However, I think just about every collector would have taken that figure over the one we actually received. The Striker included Flint. However, instead of utilizing his classic '85 mold or even his underrated '94 mold or trying to amalgamate a new version of the figure, Hasbro chose to repaint the awful Eco Warriors mold in desert colors. To make matters worse, they failed to include any accessories with the figure. Thus, collectors are left with one of the worst conceived figures in the history of the line. The poor choice of driver helped squash much of the little interest that was left in this item and helped ensure its place in obscurity.

Desert Strikers aren't too hard to find. They weren't bit sellers and they sat on many retail shelves for long periods of time. Collectors simply didn't take to the combination of the modified VAMP mold and the poor figure selection. As such, they remain cheap acquisitions for those collectors who either passed them by or weren't around when they were first offered. For the price, they are decent. But, Hasbro is about to release a repaint of this jeep, along with a Whirlwind and 3 figures as a Toys R Us exclusive. So, anyone who missed out on it will have another chance at it in a paint scheme that is more versatile than the Desert theme. After that, if they are going to resurrect the VAMP, I would hope that it would be either as a Cobra vehicle or the original mold. I think those would be well received despite the fact that this new VAMP will likely end up as a pegwarmer in most of the nation.

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

2001 Desert Striker, 1984 Clutch, 1990 Rampart, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper

Thursday, July 22, 2004

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn

Since 1982, Joe fans have been clamouring for a toy appearance of one of the original comic's most enduring characters. While the early days of the comic were marked with several individuals who were never immortalized in plastic, Kwinn was the one most-often asked for by collectors. Even after the original Joe line's demise, online fans have been pining for a release of the Eskimo in some fashion. When the Joe figures were reborn in the late '90's, Kwinn seemed like a natural selection for release. However, it is not until now that collectors' desire for a Kwinn figure has finally been realized.

Back in 1984, during the final days of the school year, a friend of mine brought his newest G.I. Joe comic book to school. It was #26 and was the first part of the origin of Snake Eyes. While I had read some Joe comics before, I had never been really compelled to follow the series full time. After reading #26, though, I was very interested to find out what happened next. During one of the following lazy summer days, I walked down to my local drug store for a candy bar. When I walked in, I happened to check out the comic book rack and found G.I. Joe #27, the continuation of the issue I had read a few weeks earlier. I quickly bought it and was hooked. That day, I cut out the subscription form in the back of the issue and sent it in to start my subscription to the comic. Two months later, I got my first issue in the mail. However, after reading #27, I wanted to go back and buy #26. However, the drug store was sold out. However, there was a comic book shop in my neighborhood. I went in there one day and found their selection of G.I. Joe back issues. Slowly, I filled in some gaps from the teen numbers. A character in this series, though, was very intriguing. The Eskimo Kwinn was a remarkable character to me and I wanted to find every issue in which he appeared. Alas, the comic shop's selection of Joe back issues was flimsy and I had many gaps. One day, though, I found an issue I had never seen before: G.I. Joe #2. I bought it, despite the whopping $3 price!!, and was surprised to find the very first appearance of Kwinn. In coming months, I would watch as G.I. Joe #2 rose steadily in price until it topped out around the $50 range. At that point, I was happy I had sucked up the $3 and bought it when I did. The introduction of Kwinn has become a classic story and still, to this day, reminds me of the magic I felt every time a new Joe comic appeared in my mailbox.

As a figure, this Kwinn works rather well. His body is made of the now-hated Big Ben body. However, as the colors and look match the drawings of Kwinn, it is hard to even place him as, basically, a Big Ben repaint. His head, though, is all new. The likeness and skin tone of Kwinn's head, is VERY well done. The designers did their homework on this look and pretty much nailed Kwinn's likeness. However, the head does have one major flaw. In an effort to "arctic" up the look of the figure, they added a collar to Kwinn's head. In photos, it looks like part of his torso, but is, actually, part of his head. This feature not only makes the head less useful for customizing purposes, but also detracts from the head's mobility. It is a minor point, but one that does take away from the figure, overall. Kwinn's accessories are also fairly well done. Again, the designers hit a home run with his weasel skull necklace. It is a great detail that was added and the figure would have been incomplete without it. Kwinn's guns, though, are less well done. Kwinn's filecard makes reference to his preference for a .30 caliber machine gun. Yet, the figure includes Roadblock's .50 caliber machine gun. In Hasbro's defense, there was not a weapon in the ARAH line that would adequately represent Kwinn's true weapon of choice so they went with another large machine gun in an effort to at least keep the theme true to the character. He also includes a black version of Dial Tone's gun that is better used for fodder. Finally, he includes a black version of Order that is supposed to be a sled dog. It is from a scene in the comic and is a nice little nod to Kwinn's origin.

These new comic 3-packs are a collector's dream come true. They contain classic characters who are designed to mimic their comic appearances. This has already given us new sculpts of Cobra Commander, Scarlett and the Baroness as well as new amalgamations of Snake Eyes. At the convention, Hasbro showed these packs up through issue number 9 and they contain many fan favorites, including the famed Oktober Guard. While this is all fine and good, I don't know if Hasbro's approach to these packs will allow for the concept to survive that long. While the first 2 packs are excellent, the are rampant with quality problems. Loose joints, sloppy and weak paint and general cheapness has already drawn some complaints on these figures. However, if you look at the next three packs that are to be released, I can foresee some problems. It is true that fans will gobble up the Cobra pack for the army building soldier and that they will go after this pack to get Kwinn, a new Snake Eyes and Scarlett.

However, the next pack features three figures who are all done in '83 Joe style and look way too similar and bland to attract new people who are not already fans of the franchise. After that, packs 4 and 5 continue the same trend. These will not sell out on collector purchases alone and non-collectors are not going to be wowed by the figure line-ups in the next 3 sets. Collectors will get interested again when the Oktober Guard appears (the fact that those figures were newly sculpted tells me that if the comic packs are cancelled, those figs will show up in a TRU 6-pack so Hasbro can recoup the costs of the molds.) but the packs after that are similarly bland. Hasbro should have released the first 2 packs and then skipped around. Hitting issues like #11, #19, #21 or #25 would have allowed them to release more fan favorite characters without having every pack start to blend together. I can see their logic behind the sequential releases. But, Joe collectors are not Star Wars collectors. We are not as fanatical about having every character in every single outfit they ever appeared in. We are more character driven (due to a large number of characters) and I think would have preferred to have gotten a wider range of characters than those who appeared in the first nine issues of the series.

There is another problem with these. Every single time Hasbro has tried an alternate distribution method for figures, it has flopped. The Internet Bat Packs were a sales disappointment, the major retailers did not pick up the single carded figures (and rightly so!), the "Bonus" packs with the Crimson Sand Viper were widely clearanced. As such, the track record for new ideas like these is rather bleak. On top of that, Wal Mart has passed the first wave of these by and will not carry them. That has already lead one Hasbro exec to offer the telling remark that "collectors had better buy these up to keep the line going". The last time he uttered something like that, it was in reference to the BAT pack. That concept was cancelled almost as soon as he made the statement. So, if this concept is going to continue, collectors will have to step up and buy a few more of these packs than they may have otherwise wanted. I feel this is an unfair burden, especially when the figure and character choices have been stacked against the long term success of this concept. Personally, the comic figs are the most excited I've been over any Joe figures in a long time. However, the realist in my says that collectors will have to do a LOT more to ensure that these have a successful retail run.

That being said, the Kwinn figure is a great addition to any collection and should be widely available in the short term. In fact, I foresee him hanging around in a few places as he is scheduled to be shipped for a, relatively, long time. I think that collectors will desire this pack in the short term, but will have their fill after one or two packs. That doesn't spell a bright future for this figure's long term popularity. However, he is still the first Kwinn figure and is an excellent representation of the character. That will keep collectors interested for some time.

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, Snake Eyes

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, Cobra Trooper

2004 Comic Pack Kwinn, Snake Eyes

Thursday, July 1, 2004

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead

One of the very first figures I ever profiled in this site was the 1984 Copperhead. To this day, I view that figure as a unique character. However, in 1989, Hasbro released the same figure as a member of Python Patrol. While the other Python Patrol members were all army builders, Copperhead retained his vague individuality. However, I, and most other collectors, simply can't use the PP Copperhead as an individual. Despite their large-scale operations in the swamp, Cobra never had a real swamp trooper. With a little creative license, the Python Patrol Copperhead fills that void, nicely.

In my collection, this figure is an army-built swamp trooper. They are a specialized unit of Cobras who patrol the shallow canals, ditches and marshes of Cobra Island. They are trained not only in infantry techniques, but also in security, swamp warfare, tracking and survival. They are given the responsibility of sniffing out any intruders who manage to get past the Island's coastal defenses and attempt to infiltrate the Island itself. As my vision of Cobra Island has it now housing several high end casinos, the PP Copperheads are also responsible for ensuring that no drunken tourist wanders too far off the casino lots and ends up as alligator food. As such, this specialized unit reports directly to Croc Master.

In my opinion, the PP Copperhead works better in his colors than most of the other Python Patrol figures since the combination of green, black, yellow and red actually work for a swamp trooper. He also comes with nice accessories (black versions of the pack and M-203 that originally came with the V1 Leatherneck) that work with him even though they were originally meant for a Joe. This isn't to say the figure isn't bright. However, he is the type of bright that actually works. You can see from the photos below that the figure works in a lush setting. That is one area where the Joe line failed as it progressed. After a while, figures were bright for the sake of brightness. There are instances where brightness is warranted. Fortunately, the new Joe releases seem to be more in line with may of the older Joe figures in that regard. However, we are starting to see some odd colors creep into the line. At this point, they are still forgivable. How they proceed will determine if that remains to be true.

The Copperhead mold hasn't lead the interesting life of some others, but it is well-traveled enough. The figure was first released in the US in 1984. That figure was then also available via mail order in 1989. (It stands to reason that Hasbro either used the mold to create some overstock figures for the mail away or already had them left over from 1984/1985 to create this mail away figure. Bagged Copperheads were actually available as late as 1999 from Hasbro Canada. So, Hasbro probably just produced a large quantity of them and left them in a warehouse for years as overstock.) Then, this figure was released in 1989. Around 1990, the Copperhead mold appeared in Brazil. There, he was released in colors similar to this Python Patrol figure as Pantano. (Just a note, there were actually 2 figures named Pantano released in Brazil. One is the PP Copperhead and the other is made from the 1993 Iceberg mold. They are not the same character, though they share the same name. As if this all isn't confusing enough!) That was the last time this mold was in production. That begs the question: where is the mold now? While it's impossible to determine, a quick look at Pantano's contemporary releases might give us some clues. The Brazilian Python Patrol featured Pantano, Tocaia (PP Crimson Guard), Gatilho (PP Airborne) and Relampago (PP Ripcord). None of these molds have appeared anywhere since their release in Brazil. Among Pantano's other contemporaries, though, are a number of figures who have also subsequently appeared in India. The Pantano cardback features 21 figures. Of these, 10 have since been released by Funskool. None of them, with the exception of the V1 Low-Light have appeared in the US without also appearing in India. So, it really is impossible to determine the whereabouts of this mold. Most likely, it is still locked away in some warehouse down in Brazil. Regardless of it's location, though, I don't think many collectors would be excited about a repainted Copperhead. New sculpt, maybe, but this old mold doesn't offer much that hasn't already been exploited by the various color schemes.

One other interesting note about this figure. The Brazilian exclusive figure Gatilho uses his exact color scheme. In the second photo, you can see how the two figures match up near perfectly. My guess is that this was by design. Estrela was looking for a unique way to color a mold they had available and found that the PP Copperhead scheme looked good on Airborne.

In the late '90's, Python Patrol Copperhead figures were kind of tough to track down. At the time, the entire Python Patrol set wasn't all that common. You could get them haphazardly, but even a focused effort rarely would yield large quantities of Python Patrol figures in a short time. Now, things have changed a bit. While figures like the Viper still tend to be less common than many collectors would like, guys like Copperhead are now fairly available for decent prices. Mint and complete, you can easily acquire a Copperhead for under $12 or so. That's really not too bad a price for a nifty repaint of an obscure character. As this figure can be used as an army builder as well, the price just gets more attractive. I know that I'm happy with a few PP Copperheads roaming the swamps and waterways of my collection.

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Muskrat

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Muskrat

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Mudbuster, Funskool Muskrate, 1993 Genreal Flagg, 1998 Ace, Night Force Flint, Unproduced Daina, Oktober Guard, Comic Pack, 2005, Mudbuster, Cerebro, Mace, Brazil, Estrela

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Croc Master

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Funskool Muskrat

1989 Python Patrol Copperhead, Python Officer, Trooper