Wednesday, August 31, 2005

1993 Battle Corps Law

In the history of the Joe line, Hasbro really produced some clunkers. While the line if chock full of some amazing figures, you can also find some examples that are just really, really bad. In some cases, the mold was just poorly sculpted. In other cases, the colors were horrendous. As the line progressed, some were just poor molds for the characters that they were chosen to represent. The subject of this profile, the 1993 Law, was a combination of the last two. This is a poor mold choice that has little to remind you of the classic character and it was poorly colored. However, he does still have some potential uses as I will outline below. My first encounter with this figure was when I found him hanging on a neglected clearance shelf at the Bloomington, Indiana K-Mart during Christmas break in 1995. At that time, I picked up any Joe figure I did not have, so I added this Law to my collection. However, I was stymied as to his purpose in my collection.

Even back then, I had multiple versions of V1 Law and used that figure as an army builder. The Law character was not someone who had ever really been developed in my Joe world and this figure just didn't lend himself to an important, named character. As such, I packed the figure away into a plastic bin where he would emerge every now and then in various meaningless capacities. One day, though, I put him on the crew of my Shark 9000. When I did this, I finally found a purpose for this figure.

Now, in my collection, 1993 Law's are nameless, faceless maritime vehicle operators and gunners. They are also full fledged combat divers, but only perform that duty in times of extreme duress. (Other figures like the '93 Payload and '94 Shipwreck better fill the full time role of combat diver.) Mostly, these figures can be found manning the guns on the Shark 9000 or even the Whale. They might be the helmsman on the Tiger Moray. Most times, though, they can be found as the sole pilots of the Devilfish. This figures colors actually kind of work with the bright orange Devilfish and I think the figure looks decent as its captain. (If you have the blue Devilfish from India, this figure matches it even better.) It's very much a bit role, but this isn't the type of figure who demands to be a major player in a collection. As such, I think that he works well in this capacity.

As was proven by the Shock Viper, Joe molds can be converted to successful Cobra army builders. One look at this mold and you could easily see how this figure colored in Cobra blue and dark grey and outfitted with air tanks, some flippers and a spear gun could easily be turned into a new version of the Cobra Eel. I think that would be the type of thing that would earn Hasbro raves as it would produce a cool figure of a character that needs to return in ARAH format as well as offer collectors something new and original. Hopefully, if we will get the opportunity to see something like this down the road. Hasbro's non-convention ARAH figures have been bland at best for some time now. While there is little to indicate that this will change: there is always the hope that a breakout figure will appear at some point down the road.

At first glance, this figure isn't that bad. His base color is a soft grey (that perfectly matches the color or Torpedo's backpack) surrounded by deep blue trim. Had the figure stopped there, he would be very useful. As he was released in 1993, though, he would not be complete without the requisite splash of neon. So you see his chest is now covered in a bright greenish-yellow that makes it harder to find a use for the figure. The mold itself, though, isn't that bad. The head is quite detailed, even though the detail are not painted. The body is bulky (probably as his intention was as an urban combat specialist) but has some minor trappings that give him more depth than it would, with a cursory perusal, appear. His accessories are terrible as they are neon versions of bad weapon molds. He does have a neat little feature on his spring loaded launcher, though. Law included a (neon!) shield that fit over the barrel of the spring loaded weapon. The idea behind it was neat, even though the execution was poor. If Hasbro were to revisit the idea today, I think they could make a very nice weapon/shield combo that would become one of the better accessories in the line. But, as it was '93, this version is only useful for the concept.

This mold had a short history. 1993 was supposed to have its own D.E.F. subset as a carry-over from 1992. After the '92 D.E.F. bombed at retail (It really had nothing to do with the figures. It was a matter of economics. Why would a parent buy a D.E.F. figure for $5 when a similar figure in the regular series sat next to it on the shelf for $2.79? The price point was the failure: not the concept or the figures.) Hasbro canned the '93 version and just threw the '93 D.E.F. figures into the regular Battle Corps assortment. These figures sat around, too, as the Joe line died around them and were easily found at clearance stores well into 1995 and 1996. In Australia, though, the figure was released on a D.E.F. card. There was no difference in the figure: just the card. Sometime around 1995, the mold was released in Brazil as Bolidus. The colors were slightly different, but still bright. As he was one of the final Brazilian releases, it is doubtful that Hasbro has access to this mold. If Hasbro had intentions of bringing this figure back as Law: then it is a good thing that the mold is likely gone. However, if they were going to bring it back in a faction-switching role as I mentioned above: then it is our loss that it the mold is in Brazil.

If you want a 1993 Law, you won't have to look very hard or spend very much. MOC, you can get them for under $3 at times. Dealers will sell complete versions for more: mostly because they can't justify handling a figure that they can only sell for a dollar or two. If you scour Ebay, though, you can get nice versions of this figure for nothing. Collectors simply don't care about him and never will. I've found that he's useful in a collection to a point. I have a few of them that I use to man various positions on my aquatic vehicles. Beyond that, though, his use is limited and I have little desire to add any more to my collection unless I get them for a ridiculously cheap price. Most collectors feel the same way and this figure is likely to forever remain one of the more obscure releases in Joe history.

1993 Battle Corps Law, DEF

1993 Battle Corps Law, DEF

1993 Battle Corps Law, DEF, 1985 Lamprey

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

1997 Scorch - Bronze Bomber Motor Viper

Some time around 1997 a small toy company called Olmec acquired some G.I. Joe molds from Hasbro and produce a set of figures called the Bronze Bombers. These figures were themed for an African-American audience and offered Joe collectors something different than they had previously seen. While the molds were mostly obscure vehicle drivers recolored with neon paint, the set was fairly well received by collectors. Now, it enjoys occasional outbursts of interest but remains, for the most part, a rather obscure footnote to Joe history. But, some of the figures were very well done and do fit with the notions of Joe that have taken hold of modern collectors. One such figure is the repainted Motor Viper.

The Bronze Bombers were released in a 12 figure pack that was sold exclusively at Toys R Us. The original price was $14.99 which really isn't bad for a 12 figure set that included a few accessories. The figures used Joe vehicle driver molds from the late '80's. (Interestingly enough, many of the contemporary vehicle driver molds to these figures were subsequently produced or scheduled for production in India. It seems that Hasbro needed to recoup some development cost for these molds and made them more widely available than their other, more mainstream molds.) The basic figure molds were: 1988 Skidmark, 1986 Strato Viper, 1988 Darklon, 1989 Track Viper, 1988 Secto Viper, 1989 Wild Boar and the 1986 Motor Viper. Darklon along with the Secto, Motor, and Strato Viper was released as a straight repaint. These figures comprised "Pyro's Band of Thugs" and were the "bad" guys of the set. Each was individually named with the Motor Viper called "Scorch". The 8 good guys all featured new African American head sculpts and were given various names. It is difficult at best to pinpoint exactly which figure is which, but all 8 were given code names. Many of the good guy figures are more sanely colored than their villainous counterparts (some are even in better colors than the original use of the mold by Hasbro!) and make excellent additions to any Joe team roster. The bad guys are a bit more oddly colored, but are still very useful in rounding out your Cobra army.

As the Bronze Bomber figures were not Hasbro produced, they are not Hasbro quality. I have found them to be most similar to Brazilian Joe figures in terms of plastic quality. This means that they are decent, but are prone to easy thumb and crotch breakage. So, you have to be a bit careful with them when you use them. The paint masks on the figures tend to be tight, though not really all that complex. Most figures are 2 or 3 colors which was done to reduce the manufacturing costs. Few of them have painted details and the paint applications remind me of many of the 1994 Hasbro Joe offerings in that respect. In many cases, though, these minimal applications work and provide Joe collectors with some attractive alternatives to popular and unpopular molds.

Scorch is actually colored quite well. His body is a deep, dark blue combined with powerful green highlights. His face mask and pistol handles are dark baby blue and are really the only downside to the figure. He is bright and striking, there is no denying that. But, in his context, the colors work for him. The dark blue and green complement each other very well and help minimize the effect of the baby blue. (Though, the baby blue is only a shade darker than the baby blue used on the original Hasbro figure!) It's not clear which accessories from the set would belong to Scorch, but that really doesn't matter since all of the accessories are fairly weak in terms of coloring and this is a vehicle driver so accessories are less important.

In my collection, the Bronze Bomber figures have simply been specialized sub-units of their Hasbro/Cobra counterparts. The Secto Viper is just a more specialized version of the standard bright yellow Bugg drivers. This Motor Viper is now just a regular Motor Viper who happens to pilot certain missions. For a long time, I really didn't have any particular vehicle in mind for this Motor Viper but the 2004 Convention changed that. This figure would fit perfectly with the Dreadnok Stun released at that Convention. While that Stun is rather pricey on the second hand market, that also kind of fits into the notion of this figure. It is much more difficult to find Bronze Bomber Motor Vipers than it is to find standard Motor Vipers. So, having them man one lone (expensive!) Stun makes them rather elite. While this is a jump from my previous vision of this figure, it does give him more importance in my collection and allow him to be used in a way that pays more homage to his non-Hasbro roots.

It is likely that the molds used for the Bronze Bomber figures are gone. Olmec ran into some trouble with the government and the founder of the company went on the run. As such, any claim to these molds that Hasbro might have had will now be tied up in legal wrangling. As Hasbro wouldn't be able to recoup a ton of money from these molds, it's doubtful they would ever spend the time, money or effort to re-acquire these molds. That's not really a terrible thing since the Cobra molds in the set were mostly very well done the first time around and wouldn't greatly benefit from a repaint. Plus, it leaves these figures as more unique since we know we have probably seen the last of them.

While I would hesitate to call the Bronze Bomber figures outright rare, they are actually rather difficult to find. Original distribution on the set was spotty at best. Some Toys R Us stores had tons of stock while others never got any at all. (The distribution appears to have been heavily dependent upon the racial demographics of individual TRU stores.) Plus, the Internet was still in its infancy at the time and many Joe fans were simply not aware that this set existed at all. This means we are now left with a very nice set of figures that are difficult for the modern collector to acquire cheaply. However, it can be done. A properly titled sale for a Bronze Bomber Cobra will tend to draw lots of attention and many times the individual figures sell for over $15. But, many auctions that include Bronze Bombers are not properly labeled and you can still find bargains from time to time. Many dealers who come across the figures simply don't know what they are and tend to think of them as bootlegs or foreign variants. So, you can luck out there, too. I have found these figures to be a great addition to my collection. They are the type of thing that allows a collection to stand apart from others, if even only a little bit.

Bronze Bombers, Scorch, Pyro's Band of Thugs, Motor Viper, Olmec Toys, 2002 Convention Crimson Viper, Letal, Frag Viper, Brazil, Forca Electronica, Estrela

Bronze Bombers, Scorch, Pyro's Band of Thugs, Motor Viper, Olmec Toys, 2002 Convention Crimson Viper, Letal, Frag Viper, Brazil, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Sears Dreadnok Stinger

Bronze Bombers, Scorch, Pyro's Band of Thugs, Motor Viper, Olmec Toys, 2002 Convention Crimson Viper, Letal, Frag Viper, Brazil, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Sears Dreadnok Stinger

Bronze Bombers, Scorch, Pyro's Band of Thugs, Motor Viper, Olmec Toys, 2002 Convention Crimson Viper, Letal, Frag Viper, Brazil, Forca Electronica, Estrela, Sears Dreadnok Stinger

Friday, August 5, 2005

2005 Dragonsky (Convention Exclusive)

Every year at this time collectors get themselves up in arms over the Convention exclusive figures. Whether it is complaining about the prices, the shroud of secrecy or the fact that the retail release figures are so poor in comparison, just about everyone has a complaint in one way, shape or form. The one thing that can not be denied is that Master Collector does put a lot of thought and effort into their releases every year. With that effort, they have produced some figures of amazing quality and design. Dragonsky not only follows in that tradition, he, in my opinion, blazes a new trail in terms of ARAH-style releases.

Simply put, this figure is the very essence of how Hasbro should create all their ARAH style repaints. Dragonsky uses relatively benign and unknown parts that are combined with solid colors to create a figure that is instantly recognizable as Dragonsky while not treading on the reputations of the figures from which he was made. It is a rare figure who achieves this. Sadly, most of them who do have been the exclusive domain of the convention exclusive figures. The retail ARAH-style figures have failed not only in color but design and have fallen fairly flat. This figure proves that Hasbro is capable of producing high quality ARAH-style repaint figures that are still capable of astounding collectors with their ingenuity and design. For some reason, Hasbro simply chooses not to do so in their retail ARAH line. Perhaps if we are lucky enough for the comic packs to continue we will see more details and thought put into the design of ARAH-style figures.

Dragonsky is basically 2 figures: the 1993 Blast Off and the 1994 Star Brigade Duke. Quick, how many of you knew what Blast Off looked like without looking him up when you first heard of his body being used for Dragonsky? Following that, how many of you use Blast Off as a major character in your Joeverse? My point is that Blast Off is pretty much as forgotten a figure as you can find. (So forgotten that not even I had profiled him!!!) As such, he is a perfect candidate to use as a character like Dragonsky. His head fits Dragonsky's specialty yet would not impede any future uses that collectors might have planned for Blast Off. The body also fits with theme of figure. The 1994 Star Brigade Duke torso is like Blast Off in the sense that it doesn't belong to a figure that sees a lot of use in most people's collections. Again, the obscure parts give this figure new life and make him seem almost like an entirely new mold. It gives us a figure that is true to the character and that leaves an impression upon the collector who owns one.

The colors are the next amazing part of this figure. The purple might not sound all that enticing at first, but it is actually pulled off with amazing results. The deep, royal purple perfectly meshes with the grey and black cammo to create a figure that is useful while being distinctive. As with most convention figures, Dragonsky features added paint details. His mold features a full 7 colors that are intricately dispersed around his entire body. The paint brings out the details that were left untouched on the Duke mold and that were simply painted over in bright oranges and reds on the Blast Off figure. Where the figure really distinguishes itself, though, is with the accessories. On the surface, they are not all that special: Blast Off's helmet with the Wave 6 Torch's flamethrower, pack and flame. However, Dragonsky's helmet and backpack both feature three unique colors. The painted accessories make them stand out among the unpainted fare collectors are used to seeing and give the figure an overall added depth.

As a character, Dragonsky is a bit problematic. When he was first introduced in the mid '80's, a reference was made to him throwing Molotov cocktails at German tanks as a 5 year old in Stalingrad. At that time, this reference worked as it would have put Dragonsky around the age of 45 or so. He was characterized as being older in the comic, so that was acceptable. (Especially when you consider that General Hawk made a comment that placed him around 52 years of age in 1982.) However, this comment was brought forth on to this figure's filecard. While it is a cool bit of characterization, it also makes Dragonsky about 65 years old. This is simply too old for the character to be taken seriously in his role of being active military. For some, things like this are easy to ignore. However, it puts a bit asterisk by the character for me and makes using him as the original Dragonsky difficult.

As a kid, though, I thought the concept of Dragonsky was really neat. The notion of Stalingrad was so intriguing to me that I spent hours at the library looking through encyclopedias and war books to learn more about the battle of Stalingrad and Soviet military history in general. This was one area where the original comic was so excellent. Larry Hama was able to take an obscure historical event (or not so obscure, but buried in American history texts) and weave it into a storyline. As a young impressionable reader, these tidbits (the reference to the Potemkin was another one that stands out) were the perfect impetus for me to go out and learn some things on my own. This is something that the modern comic lacks. It is more a pop culture type thing with no real depth and lacks the type of little detail that shows the writer has an understanding of the characters on a level beneath that of their social facade. Hama showed a respect for his kiddie audience that left an impression and lead me to learn more about world events on my own. This opened up a whole new world for me and lead to a lifetime of reading and learning that continues to this day.

Let's face it, Dragonsky was expensive. The cheapest anyone could acquire the figure was as part of a $60 3 figure set. At an even breakdown, that puts Dragonsky at $20 per figure right off the bat. Early indications are that Dragonsky will be the most popular of the 5 attendee exclusive figures, but things always change. (For example, Dragonsky is on the rumoured short list of future comic pack figures. The mold will almost certainly be different and the uncertainty clouding the future of the entire Joe line makes banking on a new "retail" figure a risky venture at best. But, his name was floated around and I'd say that it's likely that if the line continues we will see a Dragonsky figure in some shape or form in the next year or so.) Time has also proven that the attendee exclusive figures don't see huge appreciations in the aftermarket. It seems that most of the collectors who want them are able to acquire them during the convention time and the demand is lessened thereafter. (Plus, there is more and more evidence that suggests that Master Collector isn't entirely honest with their production numbers on these figures and, as such, they are more common than collectors are lead to believe.) However, in the past, we also haven't see attendee exclusive figures of Dragonsky's quality. So, much could happen with this figure in terms of future availability. If you can still acquire one for at or near the $20 price tag, though, I would surely take it as it is a pretty safe bet that this figure won't fall much below that threshold regardless of what the future holds.

2005 Dragonsky, Oktober Guard, Convention Exclusive, 2004 Desert Strike Stalker

2005 Dragonsky, Oktober Guard, Convention Exclusive,

2005 Dragonsky, Oktober Guard, Convention Exclusive,

2005 Dragonsky, Oktober Guard, Convention Exclusive, Unproduced Daina, Unreleased, Variant, 2004 Night Force Flint