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

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