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

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