Wednesday, June 29, 2005

1991 Sludge Viper

The hallmark of this site has always been obscure and often poorly colored figures who, were it not for their off the wall paint schemes, would be more appreciated by collectors. The Joe line is full of high quality figures who suffer from poor paint jobs that take away from what should be a cool mold. Many of these figures were released during the final years of the original retail run. The 1991 Sludge Viper is just the latest figure I've profiled who fits this description.

The Sludge Viper marks a dubious distinction in the history of the Joe line. While we had seen other subsets and teams marketed in the Joe line in prior years, those had all still been true to the main Joe theme. With the Eco Warriors in 1991, it marked the first time that Hasbro no longer lead innovation in the toy world: they followed it. Environmentalism was very hot during 1990 and 1991 and Hasbro used the Eco Warriors to cash in. At the same time, they began the downward slide of the Joe line into the fragmented neon final years. The thing that made Joe so powerful throughout the '80's was that it was true to itself and didn't follow the latest fads to try and gain market share. Perhaps Joe sales were already slagging by '91 and that lead to a change in philosophy. But, with the advent of the Eco Warriors, Joe suddenly became a toyline that mimicked current fads and lacked the distinct vision that had made it a powerhouse in the previous decade. It was a monumental change in the way Joes were developed. Yet, this new philosophy is the one that the modern Hasbro is closer to. They seemed to have lost their ability to innovate and lead with the 3 3/4 Joe brand and '91 can be pinpointed as the point where the slide really started.

The Eco Warriors seemed to have been a popular enough subset. The '91's were pretty much gone from retail by '93. Hasbro also produced a second series of them in 1992 with some new members. (The '92 Eco Warriors figures, though, are a bit tougher to find than the '91's.) A third Eco Warriors series was planned for 1993. However, it was scrapped at the last minute. It was ditched so late in the process that Hasbro had already put two of the figures (Outback and Snow Storm) into production. These figures were released anyways on Battle Corps cards in their Eco Warriors colors. The figures were "corrected" to non Eco colors (though I'm not sure how blue and orange on Snow Storm could be considered less "Eco" than the straight orange of the 1st version), though, rather quickly. Around 1993, the Eco Warriors concept was exported to Brazil as Forca Eco. This series featured 3 exclusive Joe frankensteined repaints, one exclusive Cobra and a repaint of Cesspool. After that, though, the Eco Warriors concept was pretty much finished.

The Sludge Viper was released by Hasbro in 1991. In subsequent years, Hasbro packaged the figure in various countries and the Sludge Viper saw a wide release. It was not until 2001, though, that a repaint was used. The 2001 Sub Viper was a straight repaint of the Sludge Viper. This time, though, it was in colors that really showcased the mold's depth and proved to collectors that the mold was not bad: just the original paint job. Since 2001, though, we have not seen the Sludge Viper mold. Frankly, I'm not sure why. While the same Cobra figures have been repainted over and over again, a figure who was used less than 5 years ago, is a solid mold and is versatile enough to have multiple uses has been left on the shelf. It's possible that the Sludge Viper mold went to India along with Law, Big Brawler, Ambush, Major Bludd, etc. and is no longer usable. But, if he is available, I think he would be an excellent figure to repaint and re-release. It's a shame that collectors have to wait for expensive convention exclusive figures to get decent repaints of many of the '90's molds. The few repaints of '90's figures that we have seen prove that many of the molds are just as good as those from '80's. They just suffer from bad color choices. If only Hasbro would realize this and put some effort into their future ARAH repaint offerings.

In my collection, Sludge Vipers serve the same purpose as Toxo Vipers. The only difference is that Toxo Vipers are more combative in their duties and serve in combat zones. Sludge Vipers are more of the support structure. They have experience working with dangerous elements, but do it in a more controlled environment. The tend to appear in labs or in controlled field settings like a pipeline on Cobra Island. This is a rather limited use, but the mold's colors force my hand on that. I'm not too taken with the combination of yellow and blue. While I like bright figures, I like complementing colors. To me, this figure lacks that. As such, they don't see much use.   That isn't to say this is a bad figure. The mold details are quite intricate. I think that with different colors, this figure would work great as a diver, pilot or even a new version of BAT. The armour covered with electronic gear and the futuristic helmet allow the figure a degree of diversity that could be exploited through different color schemes. The solid yellow armour hides many of the smaller details of the mold and gives the figure a bland appearance. Even one or two small extra paint applications could breathe immense amounts of new life into the mold and allow for its greater appreciation.

It seems that Hasbro put a lot of eggs in the Eco Warriors basket and produced a large number of them. While their original retail price point was higher than the basic figures, it seems that the Eco Warriors were popular among kids of the day. As such Sludge Vipers are now rather easy to find. Many of them exhibit play wear and the color changing paint tends to deteriorate over time and can become "stuck" in one shade or another. But, that still doesn't make mint Sludge Vipers hard to find. These days, though, figures from the final 5 years of the original retail run are a bit more desirable. (A dealer recently told me that he now sells more figures from '90-'94 than '82-'89.) This can be attributed to the double whammy effect of older collectors who grew up with the '82-'89 Joes having completed those early years and moving to the later years to finish their collections as well as the rise in younger collectors who came of age during the '90-'94 timeframe and who consider those years the epitome of Joe. Still, this doesn't mean that Sludge Vipers are expensive. You can usually get them mint and complete with filecard from various dealers for around $10. However, deals still abound. Many non-Joe dealers and comic/toy shops still see any neon figure as undesirable and price them as such. I've found multiple mint and complete Sludge Vipers in the past year for $3 each. So, a little patience and shopping around can pay off nicely. I feel the Sludge Viper has his uses, but isn't a figure of overwhelming importance to my collection. For cheap, I'll acquire more. However, they are not a figure that I will actively seek out. Most collectors seem to have this attitude towards this figure and others of similar color and style. It affords collectors a chance, though, to acquire a decent army builder for a fair price. These days, that is becoming harder and harder to do and I fully suggest taking advantage of these opportunities when they arise.

1991 Sludge Viper, Eco Warriors, Septic Tank, Corrosoa, Brazil, Forca Eco, Estrela, Eco Warriors Dee Jay

1991 Sludge Viper, Eco Warriors, Septic Tank, Corrosoa, Brazil, Forca Eco, Estrela, Eco Warriors Dee Jay

Friday, June 17, 2005

1991 Skymate

1991 was an odd Joe year. It really marked the end of the line that had existed from 1982-1990 and ushered in the rapidly approaching end. In prior years, Hasbro had mainly focused on their basic series of carded figures. This was the line's staple that was supplemented by vehicles, playsets and other related toys. In 1991, though, Hasbro really seemed to lose focus. While subsets had really started in 1987, they had still been primarily contained to either retailer exclusives or slight variations of the main carded line. In 1990, though, they started to waver a bit. Sky Patrol ushered in a wave of themed carded figures who were offered at a higher price point. 1991 took this idea to it ridiculous extremes as Hasbro brought out a number of alternative figure packages that were all more expensive than the basic carded figures. The result is that most figures from 1991 were only produced that one year before they were pulled from retail while Hasbro tried to regroup with their 1992 offerings. (It is interesting to note that just about all of the basic 1991 figures were released in many different countries shortly after their American release as Hasbro tried to recoup their development costs.) The nice thing about 1991, though, is that it is actually full of very nice figures who round out a collection. Not all of them are in the best colors, but the mold design is easily on par with any prior year. A perfect example of this is the 1991 Skymate figure.

On the surface, Skymate is an ok figure. He seems to have a good base color, but his details push him into a place where most collectors don't really care about him. A closer look, though, shows this mold's true value. Skymate is full of intricate detail and great sculpting. He has a number of small, easily overlooked features that make this mold stand out from many others. His wrist knife and the arrows on his legs all play into his specialty as well as his accessories. A complete figure makes sense when you see the small details that expand the overall figure. His neon paint details do detract from his overall appearance, but Skymate would be downright awesome in a new jungle or desert color scheme. His painted details would be a perfect example of the sculpting prowess that was still evident in the Joe line as it wound down.

Skymate also features a nice complement of accessories. While the bright yellow bow and hot pink boomerang don't have colors that are very useful, they are original, well designed accessories that accent the figure perfectly. The bow has the bonus feature of attaching to Skymate's chest. This enabled him to carry it while flying his glider. It is more compact than the bows included with other figures and has a nice, sturdy design that prevents it from breaking. The small, easily lost boomerang fits into a snug holster on the figure's waist. The weapons fit Skymate's background as an Australian soldier, even if they are cliched. The fact that they are so integrated to the figure mold, though, makes Skymate a unique figure in the line. Had he been released in 1986 instead of 1991, he would probably be one of the more popular figures among collectors. The accessories only enhance the overall figure. This is an art lost on the current crop of ARAH-style Joe figures. They include accessories that are there or that are common. Their weapons don't add to the figure's personality and leave them rather bland. Even a small accessory like a boomerang, though, gives a figure more character and makes it more memorable. It is a lesson that would be well learned by the current Hasbro.

Skymate was only released by Hasbro. While many of his contemporary 1991 figures globetrotted as Hasbro tried to recoup development costs, Skymate was left behind. None of the other three contemporary glider figures (Cloudburst, Sky Creeper and Night Vulture) were released outside the US, either. The gliders themselves went down to Brazil where they were released with different figures. At this point, it is not known if the figure molds followed them and were simply never produced by Estrela or if they remained under Hasbro control and have been forgotten. If these glider molds are available, though, they would make excellent candidates for re-release. All of them are nicely done molds who suffered from poor color choices. The fact that they all are rather difficult to find on the second hand market only makes them better choices for a repaint.

As a character, Skymate doesn't have much to offer. He's Australian. That's about it. The nice thing, though, is that this leaves Skymate as a character who is free for collectors to characterize however they want. I have yet to really find a niche for Skymate. I like the figure, but don't see him ever being an important player in my Joe world. He is too specialized and doesn't fit with the look of the figures who see the most use in my collection. He is, though, a solid background character who, were he re-released in slightly better colors, could find a place in a strong supporting role. For now, though, he remains a fun figure: one who is occasionally used as a diversion from the now melding-of-common-colors that the Joe line has become.

Skymates are very hard to find. He also has the double whammy of having a small, easily lost accessory. While his boomerang is bright pink and not as easy to lose as, say, Heavy Metal's mic, it is an item that is difficult to track down. The figure itself isn't often seen just due to his odd method of release. All of the 1991 glider figures are rather tough to find and can be difficult pieces to add to your collection. In recent months, I've seen complete Skymates sell for as cheap as $4 and as much as $40. The disparity is based on the marketplace. There are a many collectors who don't have this figure and complete specimens are few and far between. If just one collector is looking when one pops up, you see them go cheap. But, if even 2 are in competition, the $40 price tag becomes more likely. Truth be told, $20 or so is probably a good price for a complete version of this figure. He is hard to find and his accessories are among the most difficult post '87 pieces to track down. Plus, he is a good mold. At some point, more collectors will realize that and many will wish they had seized an earlier chance to acquire Skymate.

1991 Skymate, 2005 Winter Operations Snake Eyes, 1984 Duke

1991 Skymate, 2005 Winter Operations Snake Eyes, 1992 Skycreeper

1991 Skymate,

Friday, June 10, 2005

1989 Night Force Shockwave

When collectors talk about the figures they are missing from their collections, they often mention many of the same things: Starduster, a gold headed Steel Brigade, Create-A-Cobra, etc. Mostly, these are rare, one off items that were short lived mail aways or figures who were exclusively included with large, expensive vehicles. The one exception to this, though, is the entire subset of Night Force figures. While there are many collectors who do own a complete set and the acquisition of the entire 12 figure series is not terribly difficult to accomplish, there are many other collectors who either have very few Night Force figures or none at all. The reasons are many and are usually valid. Many collectors are simply waiting for their Night Force figure of choice to become available for a price with which they are comfortable. In the meantime, they are missing many well done figures (even if they are only repaints). Perhaps the best of them all, though, is the Night Force Shockwave.  

Shockwave is a rare post-'87 character who has caught on with the collecting community. His top notch mold, realistic colors, unique specialty and great accessories make him one of the few figures released after 1987 who most collectors want to have in their collection. His police blue uniform perfectly meshed with his specialty. His uniform was also the perfect melding of military and civilian police. His blue accessories were a bit suspect, but forgivable. The Night Force version simply takes everything great about the original figure and gives it a little more flexibility in terms of use. It is an example of a repaint done right. The Night Force figure is not, necessarily, better than the original, but it is does lend itself to uses that the original figure does not. It is a supplement to the original figure and expands the situations in which the Shockwave character can be used. This is how repaints should be approached: making a character more useful rather than creating multiple versions of a mold that all simply replace each other.  

In 1988, I was at the end of my Joe collecting days. I purchased a few, select figures, but not many. My younger brothers, though, were still full bore into Joes and picked up nearly the entire 1988 line. This allowed me a chance to use Shockwave and grow to like the figure. I thought the mold was good. His increased bulk was easily explained away by the massive armour he would have to wear. His accessories were different and his wicked knife suggested a side to Shockwave that you didn't see in most other Joes. As such, when I returned to collecting, I sought out a few Shockwave figures. I picked up many blue ones, but now regret passing on all those extra complete NF Shockwaves that you used to see on Ebay simply because the princely sum of $15 was just WAY too much to spend on one Joe figure. But, I suppose that had I done that back then, I would have had to pass several other figures that are in my collection by. Perhaps the one I would have missed would have been the one that got me to start this site in the first place. So, I guess the regrets aren't too great.  

The Shockwave mold had a brief history. He was released in the U.S. in '88 and '89. After that, he does not appear again until 1993 when his legs were used on the 1993 Beach Head figure. (It is not clear if the 1993 mail away versions were simply overstock or a new production run.) This is noteworthy since the '93 Beachhead was then sent to Brazil: taking Shockwave's legs with him. In 2002, though, Hasbro had to hastily put together Wave 1.5 to fill the time gap while they retrofitted the Wave 2 figures with O-rings. This wave was meant to include not only the 1986 Hawk mold, but the V1 Shockwave mold as well. Since the wave was rushed, though, those molds could not be located. The result was the less than stellar use of the Tomahawk and Shockwave V2 molds. At this point, Shockwave could be anywhere. However, he is most certainly one of the few Joe affiliated figures that collectors would almost universally welcome back. I would like to see him in a comic pack with that issue of Special Missions where he encounters the man with the rictus. I think that would be a perfect way to bring this mold back to collectors and give the character the little due that canonical Joe media gave him.  

In my collection, Shockwave has always been a nameless, faceless law enforcement army builder. My collection is stocked with dozens of versions of Law and Dial Tone who fill law enforcement roles. Shockwave was just an addition to them. He was the specialized SWAT trooper who kicked the door down. (Much as the character was intended.) He was not, though, a named individual. He had a cool mold and I wanted to be able to use more than one of him at a time. This version, though, will probably become Shockwave. Frankly, the current burst of retail army builders has left me wanting for more characters. As such, I'm looking to bring many characters that I had simply abandoned back into my collection. I'm tired of every figure needing to be an army builder for collectors to get excited about it. The good thing, though, is that the current army building emphasis has brought me to appreciate many older, forgotten characters like Shockwave again.  

Night Force was released as a two part Toys R Us exclusive figure run. Sold in 2 packs, the figures were simply repaints of molds that were released the prior year. The first year, 1988, included repaints of Tunnel Rat, Falcon, Pysche Out, Outback, Crazy Legs and Sneek Peek. All six of the molds had been first released in 1987 and Hasbro used the Night Force paint scheme as a way to put the characters back into circulation. In 1989, they repainted Shockwave, Lightfoot, Spearhead, Charbroil, Muskrat and Repeater in the same fashion. The similar paint schemes spanning 2 years spoke to the success of the TRU exclusives. However, by their nature of being exclusives who were timed for release at the holidays, the window of availability for these figures was short. So short that many collectors did not know about these figures at all until well after their childhood. As such, we are left with one of the rarer subsets in the entire line. (The '89's are a bit harder to find than the '88's.)  

Shockwave was probably produced in greater numbers than any of the other '89 Night Force figures except for Repeater. The reason is that he was available as a mail in with the Night Force Repeater some time around 1993. Many of these mail away sets were unsold, though, and were later sold/given to various dealers who then slowly sifted the overstock into the Joe collecting community. However, this has done little to abate the price of Night Force Shockwaves. Mint, complete with his filecard, this figure can go as high as $70. Though, if you are willing to sacrifice completeness, you can get him substantially cheaper since the mail away did not include his accessories. The Night Force Shockwave is one of the more expensive American Joes. He has the perfect combination of being highly desirable and rather hard to find. That isn't to say that you can't still find deals. Many dealers who don't specialize in Joe will still offer Night Force figures for cheaper prices. You just have to find them. Personally, I find this figure to be a great addition to a collection, but not so much better than the original version as to justify his price tag. If I can get a deal on one, I'd pick him up. But, I'd be hesitant to spend large sums on one.

1989 Night Force Shockwave, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Unproduced Anti Venom Mutt, 2004 Cobra Trooper, Nullifier, Urban Assault, Flak Viper

1989 Night Force Shockwave, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Unproduced Anti Venom Mutt, 2004 Cobra Trooper, Nullifier, Urban Assault, Flak Viper, Tiro Certo, Brazil, Estrela, Bulletproof

1989 Night Force Shockwave, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Unproduced Anti Venom Mutt, 2004 Cobra Trooper, Nullifier, Urban Assault, Flak Viper, Tiro Certo, Brazil, Estrela, Bulletproof

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

2004 Zanzibar - Convention Exclusive

Since 2002 the annual G.I. Joe convention has offered collectors a multitude of exclusive figures. Most of them are molds that are not otherwise seen: but at a higher price. As such, the convention exclusives are still a source of much debate among the collecting community. However, for the most part, the figures that have been offered have been a nice change from the bland retail ARAH releases that we have seen. While some of the character selection has been suspect, the Convention figures have also brought back a wide variety of obscure molds that had never previously been repainted. Zanzibar is just such a figure.

Zanzibar has had a tough life in my collection. When I first got the original figure, he quickly became one of the most used characters in my collection. His unique look, solid colors and cool accessories made him an essential element of my enemy minions. Unfortunately, by the time Zanzibar came out in 1987, I was near the end of my Joe collecting childhood. So, one fall day, some friends of mine and I decided to torture a few Dreadnoks. My parents had a two-story garage. The top part was wood with a window. The bottom was solid cinder block. So, we got a long string and hung Monkey Wrench and Zanzibar out of the second story window and then threw ripe walnuts at them. Somehow, Zanzibar escaped relatively unscathed. Monkey Wrench was pretty much destroyed, though. However, to prove that escaping that fate wasn't enough to spare his life, that original Zanzibar also fell prey to my family's new puppy in the early '90's. While I still have the figure, he has a many broken parts and a hand that was gnawed off.   Usually, though, having a mauled childhood figure isn't too big a problem for me. In the years I've been collecting, I've managed to replace just about every figure I've ever wanted. However, for some reason, Zanzibar has been hard for me to acquire. I have never picked up another version of the original figure. He and the 1987 Mercer remain the 2 childhood figures that have simply eluded me in my adult Joe acquisitions. I'm not really sure why, but it has allowed me to remember Zanzibar for what he was in my childhood rather than what I did with the character as I got older.

This convention figure, though, really doesn't offer much that hasn't been done before. Sadly, the Dreadnoks are not molds that really lend themselves to repaints. Their tattered look is hard to disguise with color and most of the repaints fall flat due to that reason. It's not that the figures are bad, it's just that they don't really supplement the original versions. Instead, they offer a replacement. When I'm buying a repainted figure, I want it to be something that the original figure is not. In the case of Zanzibar, the only thing he offers beyond the original is the fact that I have a nice copy of this version. However, this Zanzibar is still a nice figure. He features an intricate paint mask with a full 8 different colors. He has sharp details painted all over the mold including a brown eyepatch string that surrounds his head. This is a detail that was even left unpainted on the original figure in 1987. It is in this detail that the convention exclusive figures succeed. Most of them feature these complex paint applications that simply make their contemporary retail release ARAH figures pale in comparison. Of course, this is problematic as collectors see the nice paint masks on convention figures and then see the skimpy coatings on retail figures. It does create a dichotomy among the series and perhaps shrouds a bit of resentment among those who are not able to acquire the convention sets as they feel they are financially distanced from quality figures.

In my collection, this Zanzibar is just Zanzibar. He no longer is the major player he once was, but is a useful character from time to time. I mostly use Zanzibar as a scavenger who sells scrap and other materials to Cobra. They melt them down and re-use them for projects on Cobra Island. Zanzibar still retains some affiliation to Zartan. But, since Zartan has moved more into the higher echelons of Cobra politics in my Joeverse, Zanzibar has little contact left with Zartan. While I still retain Buzzer as someone who participates in Cobra operations, I don't use Zanzibar in the same way. He is simply someone who might be found on Cobra Island at any given time. If he hears of some mission or objective that interests him while he is there, he might go along: if the price is right. Since this no longer really fits the aims of my Cobra, Zanzibar is mostly left as one of the fringe characters who might show up every now and then but is mostly a farce among the real combat troops who now comprise most of Cobra.

As far as availability goes, this figure is both somewhat rare and also somewhat common (as convention figures go!). At the 2003 Convention, Master Collector publicly brandished the production numbers for their Firefly packs. This year, though, there was no such hullabaloo. In fact, despite convention goers purchasing multiple packs for friends back home, Master Collector had some of these sets left over. (My guess is that the $40 price tag for repaints of easy to find and not highly sought after figures may have played into that.) As such, many collectors had their chance to add these figures to their collection without having to spend outrageous sums on the secondary market. In the long term, though, this Zanzibar (and the other Convention figures) will become harder to find. As their entire production run is concentrated in the existing collector base, though, I don't foresee a large price increase as the demand has already been met. That isn't to say that this guy will be able to be had for under $7, but it does mean that I don't see him ever running upwards of $25 or so.

2004 Zanzibar, Convention Exclusive, Dreadnok, 2001 Sure Fire

2004 Zanzibar, Convention Exclusive, Dreadnok, 2000 Lamprey, 2004 Slipstream

2004 Zanzibar, Convention Exclusive, Dreadnok, 1986 Thrasher, Thunder Machine

Monday, June 6, 2005

2005 Stormavik - Oktober Guard

Collectors have longed pined for the Oktober Guard. Ever since they first appeared in the comic in the early 80's, Joe collectors have clamoured for their favorite Russians to appear in plastic form. In 1998, Hasbro threw together a half-hearted attempt at the Oktober Guard. The result was a spectacular pegwarmer full of forgettable figures. In 2005, though, Hasbro released a new version of the original Oktober Guard in the collector favorite comic packs. They finally got it right...kind of.   I have always been a Stormavik fan. When I first read to the Oktober Guard issues of the comic, it was Stormavik who stayed with me. While Colonel Brekhov, Horrorshow and even Daina got the bulk of the story time, I was drawn to the Stormavik character. I'm really not sure why. It might have been his rough exterior or his cool weapons. But, I think it was his general appearance with the Russian t-shirt poking through underneath his collar and his name. Something about the name Stormavik stuck with me. It was a name that conveyed strength, but in a more circumlocutious manner. In looking back at the story, Stormavik didn't even really do anything in his initial appearance. But, he apparently did enough to leave an impression on me.

For me, the Oktober Guard were the type of element that made the original comic so memorable. They were strong characters that you wanted to see return. But, they were not critical to the overall story. Instead, they offered a diversion that allowed the main plotline to rest and catch it's breath. That is an important element of storytelling as it gives the main plotline time to build without drawing it out for too long. In the meantime, readers are left with a great sub-story that can be used to longer term plots. In my opinion, many of today's comics are too linear. They stay focused on one or two plotlines and telegraph upcoming changes. One of the strengths of the original comic was that plots were laid down over time and things didn't feel so rushed. It took the Joes over 4 years before they laid siege to Springfield. Yet, Springfield was introduced in the first year of the comic. That type of groundwork gave the comic its legs and has enabled it to remain relevant even though it is now over 20 years old.

I always liked the Oktober Guard. They had the rough edges on them that I often wished we could have seen in more Joes. As a child, I modeled many of my own characters on traits that I saw in the Oktober Guard. A few of those characters have survived to this day. In fact, the character who I have leading my Joes (In my Joeverse Hawk has long since retired to Silicon Valley success.) was heavily based on traits from Colonel Brekhov. So much so that I was somewhat relieved when the Oktober Guard died in the comics. That allowed me to avoid the inevitable time when my character and Col. Brekhov would meet. As a figure, though, Stormavik somewhat fails. It was great to see Hasbro attempt to create original Oktober Guard figures. In the case of Horrorshow, they made a figure who, with one slight design modification, would have been one of the all time greats. The rest of the figures, though, suffer from overused bodies that steal much of the identity away from the Oktober Guard. Stormavik is especially problematic as he shares a body with Col. Brekhov. Having two characters so closely tied in terms of background that look so much alike is not something I can easily gloss over. As such, I have found that Col. Brekhov has been pushed to the bottom of my collection while I use Stormavik. Still, though, this body is simply overused. It has been a part of every Russian figure ever offered by Hasbro and now seems cliched. Unfortunately, that is where the Oktober Guard figures in general and Stormavik in particular fail. They simply aren't unique enough for them to stand out among the 1000+ figures in the Joe line. That is truly a shame as they are characters that deserve more.

The figure does succeed, though, in the new head sculpt. This feature captures some of the gritty Russian background that I would have expected for this character. It is not perfect by any means, but is a strong representation of Stormavik and is enough to make the figure usable. The same can be said for his accessories. While the rifle that was included with the figure is cool, it was also designed for the new sculpt figures. As such, it still looks out of place to me when it is used with ARAH-style figures. Plus, Stormavik used such a unique weapon in the comic that it was a shame to see him packaged with a rifle that has appeared with nearly a dozen figures and was included with nearly all his contemporaries. The 1991 General Hawk gun that I have pictured with the figure below is closer to his weapon in the comic and, to me, better fits the character.

Stormaviks will not be hard to find. While comic packs 6, 7 and 8 seemed to have had a shorter production run than many of the others, they were still produced in ample amounts to sate collector demand. As such, I don't foresee any future availability problems with this figure. He will likely remain in the $5-$6 range and not see much movement. Nearly every collector who was waiting for the Oktober Guard took advantage of their brief window of availability and acquired a set. And, as they are all characters, there was not the hoarding that you would have seen with a short run army builder. So, that should keep this figure relatively available for some time. I think that is a good thing. It was high time Hasbro released a decent Oktober Guard set. While I don't think I could say that they nailed the designs spot on, they did do a good enough job to make these figures worth having if you are even a marginal Oktober Guard fan. With the lack of inspiration we've seen in ARAH-style Joes since 2001, I guess that's about as good as we could have expected.

2005 Oktober Guard, Stormavik, 2004 Urban Assault Alley Viper

2005 Oktober Guard, Stormavik

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

1990 Updraft

Over the years, I've profiled lots of figures. However, as the time has marched on, it has become harder and harder to find a figure who is truly forgotten. The nice thing is that the Joe line is so vast that there will always be figures who fall out of the collector conscious. It is rare, then, for an entire subset to disappear into obscurity. Such is the case with the vehicle drivers from 1990. Figures like Major Storm, Cold Front, Decimator, Vapor and (to an extent!) Overlord have remained below the collecting radar for many years. The 2003 Convention resurrected the Major Storm figure. This began a slight renaissance for some of these figures that lead to very high prices for Cold Front figures. The last of this forgotten group of figures, though, is the subject of this profile. A figure who is actually very well done, is a great addition to a collection and is hard to find complete: Updraft.

On the surface, the Updraft figure does not look like much. He is, basically, grey, tan and brown and lacks any distinguishing characteristics. However, upon closer examination, you realize that Updraft is actually a well-done mold full of rich detail. His uniform is adorned with a number of details that befit its place as a flight suit. From the shoulder pads to the air hose, the mold shows detail that fits Updraft's function. The real detail, though, is on his gloves. Here, Updraft has exposed knuckles. They are small, but each flesh colored knuckle sticks out from the half-glove and shows the little touches that were so prevalent in the line's original run. By 1994, this figure would have been two colors and the mold's potential would not have come through. Even as late as 1990, though, Hasbro was putting real effort not only into figure design, but their paint application and details as well. Were this figure to be re-released today, it is unlikely that the knuckles or exposed fingers would be colored differently than the rest of the gloves. It is the little details like that which have become lost over the years.

Updraft includes 2 accessories: a gun and helmet. His pistol was cool for the time, but was bastardized into a plethora of neon colors in 1993 and 1994 and has lost much of its originality in the process. In this dark grey, though, it is still a neat weapon and something interesting enough to add to Updraft's character. The helmet is OK. It covers Updraft's mouth and eyes, but leaves his nose exposed. In function, it makes sense. In form, though, it is not quite as impressive as other pilots with removable helmets. The nice thing, though, is that Updraft's head is well designed and rather unique looking. So, even without the helmet, the figure is useful in a variety of other ways.   One of the things I always felt that was missing from the Joe line was a good helicopter pilot. While Wild Bill is a great character, I always felt that his figures were not what I wanted out of a helicopter pilot figure. Lift Ticket was a bit better, but his head always left me wanting something more from the figure. As such, I tried a number of different figures as helicopter pilots: Airtight was one but the colors didn't match the choppers into which I placed him. The '92 Ace was another who did find a place as the pilot of the Razor Blade helicopters, but he did not really work for me in the Tomahawk or Dragonfly. Updraft works better, especially at the helm of the Tomahawk as his colors match and he looks more like the type of pilot who would be able to maneuver a Tomahawk in rescue, extraction, or combat missions.

From this, Updraft has become me de-facto helicopter pilot. I use him as the only pilot of the Tomahawk and he even sees some use in the Dragonfly. His look fits well with colors of those vehicles. As for characterization, I see Updraft as nothing more than a pilot. He might have some use in the field, but his real value is behind the stick of an attack chopper. From here, he is courageous and capable. He is the type of pilot who the Joes value, but who is not as integral a part of the team as someone like Wild Bill or Ace. So, even in my collection where figures like Updraft retain greater value, I don't use this figure as much more than filler when a Tomahawk is called for.

When I look at the ARAH-style Joe figures who have been re-released, I often wonder how certain figure choices are made. Originally, Hasbro focused on popular molds of popular characters. Over time, though, they have managed to release several of the more obscure molds in Joe history. However, we are now at a point where most of the major characters in the ARAH world have been re-done in some capacity. Hasbro is now starting to release the same mold but in multiple colors based upon the theme of the set in which the character is released. In some cases, I don't mind this. However, in other cases, molds are quickly becoming stale and the some of the most popular molds in the history of the line are starting to be thought of with contempt by collectors who have grown tired of seeing the same figure over and over. The reason I bring this up is because of figures like Updraft. I don't think anyone out there really wants to see the Updraft character return to the line. However, I do think that this figure mold is of sufficient quality to warrant re-use. Rather than release this figure as Updraft, though, Hasbro could easily re-name him into a more popular pilot character like Lift-Ticket. This could be done with a wide array of obscure figure molds. They could be re-painted and re-named into major characters. (A perfect example of this is the Night Force Short-Fuse figure which used the mold from the 1989 Downtown figure.) This way, Hasbro would have the major characters it feels are needed to sell a figure set while collectors get a more diverse pool of molds from which the figures are created. It would be a win-win situation and one that would not require a great amount of effort or creativity on Hasbro's part. Hopefully, as more ARAH-style figures are released over the next 12 months, we will see more of this approach taken. I think everyone would respond more favorably if it is done right.

Updraft has only appeared this one time with his original release. The mold should be available for another use and would make a great candidate for a convention release. The 1990 vehicle drivers have not appeared in any great capacity (the Decimator mold and Vapor have appeared in convention sets, though.) but should be available. However, this is a figure that many people simply will not remember and it is probably not too high on many people's list to see a re-release. However, done right, I think an updated Updraft as himself or another character would be a figure that would surprise a lot of a collectors and probably end up relatively well respected among the community.

Based on this figure's scarcity, year of issue and relative obscurity in the collector world, he is my top bet to pull a "Cold-Front" and become the next expensive vehicle driver from later in the line. Recently, some dealers have sold this figure for upwards of $30, and many of them feel they might have been able to get a bit more for the figure. Personally, I feel the lack of a small, easily lost accessory like a microphone will keep this figure from ever reaching a $40+ price point for a consistent period of time. But, I do think that as he is a hard to find figure that is actually rather useful, his price point is probably understated when valued at less than $20. So, if you can find him for less than that at this point, I would certainly take advantage. More and more collectors are starting to fill in the gaps in their collections. And, more often than not, those gaps are defined by obscure figures like Updraft.

1990 Updraft

1990 Updraft, Dial Tone, Gyro Viper, 1987, Aero Viper, 1989

1990 Updraft, 1986 Tomahawk, 1990 Sky Patrol Skydive