Thursday, October 27, 2005

2004 Cobra Squad Leader

At the 2003 G.I. Joe convention, Hasbro showed a six figure set that set the collecting world on fire. It was a pack of 4 Cobra Troopers and 2 Cobra Officers with new heads, colored in vintage colors who would be offered as a Toys R Us exclusive set. Never before and not since then has a single product shown at a convention grabbed the attention of the collecting world like this Infantry set did. When the set was released nearly 6 months later, the excitement and anticipation had yet to die down. Upon its release, stories abounded of people buying dozens and even hundreds of sets in their zeal to amass a quick, cheap and easy Cobra army. It lead to some ugly discussions in regards to scalping, hoarding and speculating but those who were able to acquire the sets found that the hype was not wrong. This set lived up to its billing in almost every way. It was not without a few minor flaws, but the figures were what collectors had been waiting for since the '80s.

The overall quality on the figures in the Infantry pack was near convention figure quality. Hasbro really created a showcase piece. The set featured tight, complex paint masks and a combination of parts that meshed perfectly into a new figure. The mold was highlighted in bright, vibrant colors that really showcased the detail on both the Trooper and Officer mold. Of the figures, the red Squad Leader is the most unique. While the troopers are only differentiated by hair and eye color, the squad leader features two unique color schemes. One has a brown mask and web gear while the one I am really profiling has red trappings. The red figure also features a facial scar. This was said to be an homage to the comic character Scarface. However, as the scars don't match up, it seems this was more of an off-hand attempt to tie a design decision into the Joe mythos. But, the scar does offer the figure some originality. (Of course, that is lost when you have 10 of the same figure with the same scar, but that's a less important issue.)

The mold itself if very well done. While the head is new and very different from the vintage head: I like it. If you poll collectors, though, you will find a pretty much even split among them in regards to which head they prefer. The chest is a near perfect reproduction of the vintage chest. The arms (originally used for Thunder) are bulky and detailed enough that that give the figure some depth. They are still thin enough, though, that they fit in with the overall look of the figure. The one thing the arms lack, though, is the piano wire from the vintage trooper. This is a rather ruthless little detail that does make these figures seem more like true soldiers and less like blood thirsty assassins and terrorists. One detail that is missing from the vintage mold, though, is the differentiation on the head from the Trooper to the Officer. The vintage Officer had a crest on his helmet that denoted him as being of a higher rank. As the Infantry figures all feature the same head, that differentiation is lost. The nice thing, though, is that if you want to mix up the ethnicity of your Officers, you can do it without sacrificing the head insignia.

The Infantry set had one fatal flaw: the accessories. Rather than equip the figures with logical choices like the Red Star AK-47, Hasbro chose to give them cheap, hollowed out versions of the SAW Viper backpack and a HUGE rifle from the Rock Viper. This meant that all the figures were pretty much weaponless as the included accessories were just horrid. The fortunate thing was that, in early '04, you could still purchase a few figures packs on clearance prices that had decent weapons for the Infantry figures. So, these sets helped clear out a lot of the $2 pegwarming Sure Fire/Slice and Tomahawk/Headman packs that were collecting dust at Family Dollar stores all around the country. The accessory choices made no sense, especially when the immediately previous Toys R Us exclusive pack had been the excellent Python Patrol which featured almost exclusively vintage accessories for each of its members. Had even a little thought been given to the weapon assortment, this set would be the greatest army builder set ever released. As the guns were so poor, though, that distinction must still lie with the 1998 Cobra Infantry Team as each of its members were fully equipped.

In my collection, I use the Squad Leader in the same manner that everyone else: as the backbone of my Cobra legions. One area where I differ slightly, though, is in how I view these figures in relation to Vipers. Many collectors consider the Cobra Soldier/Officer to be different from the Vipers. I view them as one and the same. The Viper outfit is heavy and bulky. It is layers of composite body armour and features a tightly closed helmet. As such, it would be uncomfortable to wear if a soldier were on light duty inside a base. So, I use the Viper uniform as the basic combat uniform of the Cobra legions while I use these uniforms as the preferred wardrobe of those same soldiers when they are not in the field. The wear the "basic blues" when they are manning computer terminals, sweeping floors, cleaning weapons, washing vehicles and any other manner of menial duties. From time to time, though, units may be called to action when they were not, technically, on duty. That's why you will see some of the masked troops in field combat situations. I also use the masked figures as urban saboteurs as they can more easily hide these uniforms under mufti than they can the full blown Viper uniform.

The Cobra Infantry set remains a collector favorite. The reasons for it are many and Hasbro has been unsuccessful at recapturing the magic that ensued when the Infantry set was released. While they've tried with items like the Ninja Set, the Crimson Guard pack, the Shadow Guard and the Night Watch, none of those sets have featured such basic infantry troops as the Infantry Set. None of those sets have also been the recipients of such attention to detail in design as the Infantry set. Each Infantry figure has rank insignias on their arm. Most have at least 4 and even 5 different colors featured on the figures. It is hard to believe that the same company that produced the Infantry set could degenerate so quickly into the banality that was the Night Watch and Shadow Guard sets. As such, the Infantry set remains the star of the Toys R Us exclusive releases. It is the one set that collectors look to almost unanimously as being the best 6 pack that Hasbro produced.

Supposedly, the mold for this figure was lost. Hasbro claims that the Night Watch set was "supposed" to use the new head and the arms from this Squad Leader. That did not happen, though, and the Hasbro designers claim they were "surprised" by this development. However, they also claimed that the sound attack weapons in the Night Watch set were because the non sound attack mold of that weapon was not available. Yet, the non sound attack version of the weapon appeared in the H.A.S. set that was produced near the same time. As such, I think this story was just a cover and these Infantry molds are probably out there. Hasbro was just too lazy to put the effort into finding them since they had comic pack figure molds with the old heads and crappy arms ready to go with no prep work. This lackadaisical approach is probably part of the reason that interest in the line really petered out in recent months: especially when you consider that the Infantry set was released less than 2 years ago.

This set apparently went through a few different versions before it was released. While the head mold is all new: it does not seem to have been the first choice. Some prototypes appeared that actually featured an all new Infantry head with a removable helmet. It seems that, at first, this set was going to include the released body mold with the removable helmet. At least 2 versions of this head were found: one with a long neck post and another with a shorter neck post. Why these heads were not used remains a mystery. But, as the prototypes that featured the removable helmet were nearly production level, it seems that Hasbro got pretty far along in the design process before the change was made. Were Hasbro to re-release this set at some point in the future, I would like to see it include at least a few figures with the removable helmet. It would add diversity and give those who got their fill of these figures the first time around an incentive to purchase additional sets.

The Cobra Infantry is a set that Hasbro could almost always reproduce at normal production levels and still have a hit. While collectors would probably react lukewarmly to a straight re-release of things like the Python Patrol or Urban set, I think they would still gobble up a re-released Infantry set with fervor near that of the original run. Even if it were rehashed every 18 to 24 months, I think there would always be demand for more of these sets. This is the type of set that collectors can always find more uses for. I have 10 of these sets and if I walked into a Toys R Us store today and found a set for full retail price: I'd buy it, take it home, open it and add those 6 new figures to my army. The reason is that this isn't a figure that gets old. Crimson Guards were supposed to be elite. Having more of them in your collection than you have of any other Cobra army builder is counter to the entire concept of the CG. Vipers are good, but the multitude of colors in which they've been released has left the mold stale. Plus, I don't see Vipers as the everyman type of figure. They are combat figures. These basic blue troopers can be used in combat, as technicians, as station operators, vehicle support crews and just about any other purpose you can find.

Is this figure rare? Really, that's hard to say. Hasbro produced ~20,000 Cobra Infantry sets for Toys R Us. If you lived in an area that was not heavily populated by army builders or scalpers, this set wasn't too hard find from about the middle of January until the middle of April of 2004. received more than one shipment of the figures and many collectors were able to get their fill online. However, this was a set that has nearly insatiable demand. As such, even with the availability, these sets were quickly devoured by collectors and immediate secondary market demand set in. Considering how popular this set was, initially, it seemed like a good bet that these figures would get rather pricey. However, if you buy them loose now, you can usually get a Squad Leader for under $10. Even boxed Infantry Sets can still be purchased for under $40 if you are patient. I'm not sure why this is as these sets are well done and were hoarded by collectors. However, Hasbro's insistence on repainting molds over and over coupled with the ludicrous amount of army building figures they have released since this set first hit retail has kept collectors from solely focusing on these sets. They have enough other diversions to keep these figures more affordable than they probably would be had they been released in 1998 or even 2000. Long term, I don't know how this will go. If the line dies in the near future and this is the last time we see this infantry mold, then these figures might see a surge in popularity. But, it is more likely that this is a mold that will be dusted off from time to time (even if the new release features the vintage head) I would say that this figure and the set has probably peaked value wise. That doesn't much help you if you were not fortunate enough to acquire these figures at retail. But, it does give some solace while you save up and try to acquire one. I think these figures were great for what they were. I would welcome an update or even a straight re-release but can be content even if that never happens.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

1994 Techno Viper - Star Brigade

1987 was not the greatest year for Cobra in terms of figure releases. It offered collectors some of the worst Cobra characters ever created. The few high quality sculpts that were available were the almost exclusive domain of the vehicles. One of just two bright spots in the regular carded series figures was the Techno Viper. He brought a much needed specialty to Cobra though his mold suffered from some poor design choices. The figure faded into the Cobra hierarchy and was pretty much forgotten until 1994 when Hasbro dusted the mold off and threw it into one of the last G.I. Joe retail toy offerings of the original run. The result is one of the rarest figures in the entire line. It's just that no one really knows it.

The Techno Viper mold has never quite done it for me. While it is decent, the head has never been able to hold my attention. As such, I never really went out of my way to pick up spare Techno Vipers. I acquired them here and there as I built my collection of '87 figures, but never considered them to be an essential part of any figure lot that I was considering. The mold just seemed too...plain. It lacked the trappings I would expect to find on a field engineer and mechanic. While I like for some figures to have fewer details, I also think those figures should have specialties that dictate the design of their molds. The same holds true on the opposite side as I think that specialties like the Techno Viper should have more on their molds that suggests their role in the Cobra organization.

Now, the Techno Viper is simply a bit player in my collection. On rare occasion, I may pull one out and have in part of a convoy, but they rarely are the primary focus of any endeavor. I find them useful to have, but then never use them. It is an interesting paradox as I would not consider my collection complete without the Techno Viper but I still never find any great use for the figures. They just fit too far into the background of Cobra. Now, my Cobra is heavily geared towards fast, mobile strike forces. The Techno Vipers don't play a major role in the actual combat. It is when the equipment returns to the base that the Techno Vipers get involved. As this isn't exactly an exciting part of a story, it is something that rarely gets played out.

This version of the Techno Viper was only released with the Cobra Power Fighter at the very end of the Star Brigade line in 1994. It made a very brief appearance at retail and disappeared from there. Rumours put the total production numbers of the Power Fighters at around 10,000 units. However, as there are only supposed to be 10,000 of the Lunartix aliens and those are MUCH more common than this Techno Viper or the Gears figure who piloted the Joe Power Fighter, I would say that the production run for the Techno Viper is probably overstated. You just don't see Power Fighters or Techno Viper figures in numbers similar to other late run items who were underproduced.

The Techno Viper was only ever released by Hasbro. It never appeared in any of the other countries who produced their own Joes. As Hasbro was able to resurrect the Barricade mold that was used for Gears in 1994, it is possible that the Techno Viper mold is still available for production. It is a figure that would benefit from a re-release as it is relatively popular and a different color could energize collectors to purchase them in multiples. The downside, though, is that even mint and complete, V1 Techno Vipers are very easy to find and cheap to acquire. So, many army builders already have large armies of Techno Vipers and might be hesitant to double or triple their already burgeoning numbers with the same figure in only a slightly different paint scheme.

The nice thing about the 1994 version of the Techno Viper is that his unique coloring allows him to stand apart from the rank and file Techno Vipers yet still fit in with them. His purple perfectly matches the darker purple parts of the '87 figure but the copper tunic makes him appear as a Techno Viper commander or some other advanced version of the basic trooper. That's good since his scarcity means that most collectors will have a much more difficult time tracking down multiple '94 Techno Vipers than they will '87's.

Some collectors don't like the purple colorings of the Techno Vipers in general. For me, I've always seen purple as key Cobra color. While basic blue usually denoted combat troops, purple denotes specialty and technical troopers. Entities like the Toxo Viper and Techno Viper use purple to show they are more specialized and not the type of troops who are involved in front line combat. So, I don't mind the coloring as much.

My first encounter with the Techno Viper mold was in 1987. On a late spring Saturday, my parents took me to Toys R Us. As it was lawn mowing season, I had a bit of money to spend on new Joe toys. I found an Outback, Fast Draw, Law & Order and the Road Toad. My younger brother chose the Techno Viper. When we got home, I took all our new toys out into the yard and spend the afternoon and early evening having Cobra attack my new Joe convoy. After dinner, I moved the play inside. I sat in the family room of my parents house with the windows wide open: enjoying the sounds of spring insects and the smells of fresh plants as I played and played. The evening ended when Saturday Night's Main Event came on around midnight. For some reason, the pure innocence of that night has come to embody the essence of my childhood and has left an impression that I will never forget. Whenever someone asks me why I still collect Joes, this is the real reason. But, finding a way to properly convey that to any inquisitor is usually a lost cause.

To be frank, this version of the Techno Viper is nearly impossible to find. Every now and then you can find some boxed Power Fighters that some dealer stashed away in the mid '90's. But, even those are tough to track down. However, this has not made the Techno Viper as expensive a figure as his rarity would suggest. You can still acquire the figure for around $20 or so if you are patient. Since this figure is pretty much under the collector radar you can still find them for fair prices. At this point, those collectors who know about this figure have acquired one. Most of the others, though, don't really care. It is the laissez-faire attitude towards this figure that has kept him from reaching the $40-$60 price point that would easily be justified were this figure a little more eye-catching. As always with figures like this, though, the time to act if you want one is now. Truly rare figures are tough to come by in the American Joe line. Eventually, the marketplace finds them and prices them accordingly. That hasn't happened to this version of the Techno Viper...yet. At some point, though, one will go for a king's ransom on Ebay and this figure will enjoy a few months as the toast of the Joe collecting world as collectors scramble to add him to their collections. I've found it's always better to be ahead of that curve. It's just anticipating which figures will be the next to go crazy that is the hard part.

1994 Star Brigade Techno Viper, 1984 Wild Weasel, Ratterl, 1986 Strato Viper, 1986 AVAC

1994 Star Brigade Techno Viper, 1987 Techno Viper, 2004 Unproduced Urban Assault Firefly, Midnight Chinese, 1995 Iron Panther Tank, Sgt. Savage

1994 Star Brigade Techno Viper, 1987 Techno Viper, 1994 Star Brigade Cobra Commander, 1994 Detonator, 1995 Iron Panther Tank, Sgt. Savage

1994 Star Brigade Techno Viper, 1987 Techno Viper, 1994 Star Brigade Cobra Commander, 1994 Detonator, 2005 Convention Iron Grenadier Destro, 1997 Stormshadow, 1994 Metal Head

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

1989 Annihilator - Redux

I originally profiled the Annihilator in December of 1999. In the nearly 6 years since I wrote that profile, little about my interest in the Annihilator has changed. I still consider him a great forgotten army builder from a year that is already full of great army builders. My re-examination of the figure stems from the fact that as one of my earliest profiles, my take on the Annihilator was not "finished". It felt lacking as the profile had no depth and did not fully cover the usefulness of this figure. Plus, the Annihilator's role in my collection has expanded as my Cobra now focuses its operations in manners that suit the Annihilator.

The Annihilator is a very well done figure. His mold is sleek and streamlined: just as needed for a trooper whose primary duty is operating an individual helicopter pack. His accessories are amazing with the fully detailed and spinning chopper as well as one of the most distinctive guns in the original run of the line. He suffers, though, from poor color choices. The orange and purple simply don't allow this figure to be as popular as the mold and accessories would suggest. The side benefit to this, though, is that the figure is cheaper than many of his contemporary Cobra army builders. 1989 is generally considered one of the best years for Cobra army builders in the history of the line. It is so good that most people would not consider a figure like the Annihilator (who would be the class of several other figure years) to be even in the top 5 army builders released in his own year. That helps to further denigrate this figure and pushes him lower on the popularity scale than he probably deserves.

In my collection, Annihilators are not Destro's troops. They are a highly specialized branch of my Cobra Urban Death Squads. My Cobra learned a few years ago that the best way to terrorize the citizens of various countries was to show them how tenous their civil safety really was. To accomplish this, Cobra targeted several small but densely populated but still rural towns and cities. In a matter of minutes, Cobra dispatched highly trained Alley Vipers to basically run over a small geographical portion of the town: killing everyone and everything they came across. The raids simply underscored how easy it was for a terrorist organization to strike at anyone in the country at any time. No one was safe: not even in the small, almost off the map towns that have reputations as havens from urban crime.

The Urban Death Squads who carried out these macabre orders are comprised of highly trained Alley Vipers. They are trained to shoot first and kill everything. In order to cut down on their friendly fire fatalities, though, Cobra outfitted the brigades in bright orange. While this may seem like it would make them easy targets, the reality is that these troops descend quickly upon towns with small, undertrained and underarmed police forces and no military presence. So, they have little to worry about in terms of opposition soldiers shooting at their orange visages. Instead, they know that anything they see moving that is dressed in orange is one of them and they can sedate their killing tendencies for that one instance. It helped reduce friendly fire deaths but also allowed me a way to explain away the V1 Alley Viper's orange color.

The Annihilators came into play after the third Urban Death Squad attack. During that attack, the Joes had a covert operative in the town. As the Death Squad descended, the operative managed to signal a Tomahawk to come rescue him. The Alley Vipers watched in vain as the chopped picked up the operative and carried him to safety. (Actually, the chopper was hijacked on the roof as it picked up the operative but that's a story for another profile!) This lead to the first surviving witness to a Death Squad attack. Cobra could not afford that and they invented the Annihilators as means to patrol the skies and prevent any more helicopter rescues. While keeping opposing choppers away is part of the Annihilator duties, they are also the first line of offense in a Death Squad attack. When Alley Vipers burst out of their hiding places and come running through the town, the Annihilators appear over the horizon and start landing much as is described in their filecards. They are simply an extension of the Alley Vipers. While some stay airborne the entire time to act as spotters or to mop up any survivors who try to run through the attack line, Annihilators, typically, land on the rooftops of larger buildings to work their way down through the top floors to meet with the Alley Vipers coming through the bottom at some point in the middle. They also land in the center of the attack area and fan their way out to also meet up with the Alley Vipers who are closing in from the outside. It makes the attacks much more efficient and allows them to finish much more quickly. The hallmark of an Urban Death Squad attack is that it is over, everyone in the area who isn't a Cobra is dead and any Cobra fatalities or injuries are cleaned up in under 15 minutes. That way, by the time authorities arrive, there is simply no evidence of who perpetrated the attack but there is a devastating amount of civilian death and destruction left behind.

As the concept of the Urban Death Squad is rather prominent in my Joe world, the Annihilators get used rather frequently. As my Death Squads have matured, they have begun to take on military installations and some Annihilators now fight against real armed foes rather than panicked, unarmed civilians. Here, they don't fare as well. But, the experience learned from the civilian attacks has given Cobra a much more experienced army: especially in South America. As my Cobra looks to expand its operations into Africa, I can see the Annihilators remaining an important part of Cobra's military strategy. The personalized choppers give Cobra a mighty force with the portability to retain the element of surprise against their quarry and a reliable means of extraction if something goes wrong. That is a good combination for them to have as it meshes with their planned style of guerrilla warfare.

After its use in the US, the Annihilator mold was sent to Brazil. There he was released with slight color variances and different accessories. The figure has not been seen since. The Brazilian Forca Electronica series of which the Annihilator was a part also included molds from the '89 HEAT Viper, '88 Muskrat, '87 Outback, '89 Frag Viper, '88 Toxo Viper, '88 Repeater and the '89 Scoop. These don't offer many useful clues as to the status of the Annihilator mold as 2 of the figure molds have been subsequently used in the US, 2 were used in India and the other three have yet to appear anywhere else. So, it's difficult to say whether or not this figure is available. The fact that he was not repainted as part of the 2005 Iron Grenadier themed convention set, though, leads me to believe that the Annihilator mold is gone and this is a figure forever doomed to his orange legacy.

Personally, I would like to see a repaint of the Annihilator. This is a mold that could be painted in a multitude of ways and all would be more useful than the original. The figure could be painted Cobra blue and integrated into Cobra or offered in black and gold as part of the Iron Grenadiers. Either way would work. Unfortunately, as we have yet to see this happen, I doubt it will ever come to pass. Even so, I don't mind that as much as it allows the Annihilator to remain one of the undiscovered gems of the vintage line. I think that some figure molds should be left alone and never repainted. Usually, though, those are only figures that were done right the first time. As the Annihilator was flawed in his original incarnation, though, he would be a perfect candidate for repaint and a figure I would have considered long before many of the repainted molds we have actually received.

Annihilators are actually rather easy to find. Mint versions can be tougher since he the gold paint on the chest does tend to fade easily. However, even a figure with slight paint rubs is still very useful in a collection and makes for a great army. Even complete, you can easily acquire Annihilators for around $10 each. If you want them with less than their full complement of accessories, you can get them even cheaper than that. The fact that this figure is not, technically, a Cobra and the multitude of other 1989 Cobras who outshine the Annihilator help keep him lower in price. He remains a vintage army builder with a great mold and awesome accessories that is still affordable. While his color might scare some away from spending too much time acquiring the figures: I have found it to be an integral part of his specialty. I doubt my use of the figure will change the perception at large in the collecting world about this figure. But, if he gets even just a little more respect, it's worth it to me.

1989 Annhilator, Iron Grenadier, Destro, 1988, 1992 Spirit, 1990 Salvo

1989 Annhilator, Iron Grenadier, Destro, 1988, 1992 Spirit, 1990 Salvo

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal

There has always been just one word that I've used to describe the Crimson Guard Immortal mold: mighty. It seems the only fitting adjective for a mold that radiates power not only in character of the man wearing the uniform but also the might of the weapons associated with it. I have long been fascinated by this mold and spend a lot of time in the late '90's trying to acquire many of them. Back then, though, it was rather difficult to find complete CGI's. But, in 2001, Funskool came through and released a very nicely done version that was made available to American collectors for cheap prices. Sometime in early 2003, though, Hasbro re-acquired this mold from Funskool and threw it into a craptacular KB Toys exclusive vehicle. The new color scheme didn't make much sense considering this is a CRIMSON Guard, but the result was a figure that is actually very nice and worth owning.

The CGI mold remains my favorite appearance for any Crimson Guard. The armour plating, cool helmet and overall combat feel of the mold make one that just exudes power and might. The mold is intricately detailed with ammo pouches, knives and clips holding the armour in place that show an attention to design that was advanced even for the vintage Joe line. It is a shame that the most common version of the mold is actually the version that was intended to only be released in India. Armies of CGI's of any color look good, but are hard to find. Few collectors who have been able to amass large quantities of non-Funskool versions of this mold take the time to display them.

When I first got this figure, I didn't have much in the way of a story for him. At the time, he was just another figure I needed to complete my collection. However, as I looked at him, I wondered what I could do with him that would explain his odd uniform color. As I mentioned in my Cobra Commander profile, I don't think highly of the Crimson Guard concept any more. Mostly, they are corpulent slugs who have degraded into a disease festering on Cobra Island. However, even the most corrupt and vapid organizations have bright spots. Surely there would be a few decent members of the CG left. Shortly after I acquired this figure, I began to map out the plans for the next story arc in my Joe world. Cobra had spent the past decade in South America and was wrapping up their operations there. The next target had been selected and my South American commander, Ramen, was beginning his exploration of Africa.   Lead by Skeres, Operation Dark Cloud is Cobra's push into Africa. Their motives there are unclear to all but Ramen and his cabal, but their success in South America has given them the freedom to retain that type of secrecy. Skeres leads the 1st Afrikaaner Division in Africa. They are a cadre of Cobra's most battle hardened troops: most of whom earned their wares in South America. They are a close knit group who are skeptical of anyone who has yet to prove himself. But, are fiercly loyal once someone is welcomed into their group. They believe whole-heartedly in the Cobra cause and are willing to sacrifice their lives for the fulfillment of the aims of Ramen's Cobra.

This all leads to the origin of this figure. I use this figure as a man who was a newly appointed CG. As part of the initiation in the Crimson Guard, new recruits are left as Crimson Guard Immortals. Basically, this means they are still on combat duty and are often assigned to head up combat operations at small Cobra installations. It is a way for the new recruits to grow into their responsibilities as well as mature within the nepotistic system of the CG's that rewards politicking more than it does valor. This CGI was appointed to guard a remote Cobra research installation in South America. It was a mundane duty that became suddenly dangerous when a group of American commandos stormed the compound. The CGI had orders from the Crimson Guard hierarchy to save himself in the event of an attack, but his sense of duty lead him to personally fend off the attackers while the Toxo-Vipers in his charge successfully destroyed all evidence of their facilities' purpose and then escaped to a just arriving Cobra transport chopper. As the pilot prepared to take off, the head Toxo Viper ordered him to wait for the CGI. The CGI managed to escape, carrying the limp body of the lone Toxo-Viper who had been left behind.

These heroic actions caught the attention of both Skeres and Ramen. They invited the CGI to the South American headquarters and asked him if he was interested in joining with the Afrikaaners. The CGI tentatively accepted and then returned to Cobra Island. Here, he was accosted by the Crimson Guard hierarchy and pressured to join the Afrikaaners as a spy for the Crimson Guard. The CG were leery of Ramen's success since they were not part of any of it and they looked at this opportunity as a way to finally infiltrate Ramen's most trusted circle. The CGI agreed and promptly left Cobra Island to return to South America. Shortly thereafter, Afrikaaners had a confrontation with some Crimson Guards in a Cobra cafeteria. It escalated to a point where the CG's felt it was time to announce their plant within the Afrikaaner forces. When they called for this CGI to appear before them and Skeres, he came as requested. Only, instead of wearing the crimson uniform of his unit, he had changed his uniform color to this grey-blue as a symbolic break from his Crimson Guard past.  Disgusted that members of his organization were more concerned with political power than overall organizational success, he then fully joined the Afrikaaners and is now a trusted high ranking member of Ramen's most effective combat unit. (Shortly thereafter, the Crimson Guard Rebellion took place on Cobra Island. It is thought that the defection of this CGI was one of the last straws in the Commander's lack of patience with the CG's.)

As is the case with most figures for whom I have developed an intricate backstory, this figure is now an integral part of my collection. He is almost a named Cobra, but not quite. It is my expectation that at some point, he will become a named Cobra, but he is still learning and it will be a while before he sees another promotion. (Plus, I have to find a new figure to represent him. I have pretty much exhausted all the available Cobra molds from around the world that could be used as unique characters. Hopefully, Hasbro will put out a figure or two at some point that will be useful in this capacity.)

The CGI mold has a well traveled history. He was released by Hasbro in 1991. He was not carried over to 1992, though. He was released in Europe almost simultaneously, but a few of the European figures were released with the V1 Rock Viper's head in lieu of the CGI head. From there, the mold may have gone to Brazil where it was intended to be released as Flagelo. It is unlikely, though, that this figure ever saw production beyond the artwork in Brazilian catalogs and cardbacks. However, in 1993, Hasbro resurrected the head for use on the hot pink Create a Cobra mail away figure. In 2001, the mold appeared in India where Funskool used it for about 18 months before Hasbro re-acquired it. It was used by Hasbro for this figure in 2003 and then again for the convention exclusive Destro body in 2005. Most notable, though, is the mold's absence in the Operation Crimson Sabotage set, the Crimson Guard 6 pack Toys R Us exclusive set and the Crimson Shadow Guard. Hasbro passed by three prime opportunities to use the mold again. With the overall number of ARAH releases dwindling and the fact that the mold was used in a convention set, I would say that it is highly unlikely we will see this mold used in any sort of army building set in the near future. That is unfortunate as this mold isn't as stale as some of those that will certainly be used but also nice in the sense that the mold won't get overused like the Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer and newly sculpted Crimson Guard molds have.

This figure's availability was annoying at best. First off, the Crimson MOBAT was made a KB exclusive. This alone would have made it tough to find. However, KB ended up only offering this vehicle on their website. As such, it became a de facto online exclusive. This made it very expensive to acquire as the Crimson MOBAT was $20 and very expensive to ship. This deadly combination resulted in the tanks sitting on KB's website for some time. Finally, in 2004, KB began to clearance the tanks. First, they went down to $15. Then $10. Finally, they sold out at an $8 price tag. For that price, many dealers and collectors were buying them, tossing the tank and just selling or keeping the figures. The result is that this figure is now more widely available for decent prices than many might have originally anticipated. It doesn't hurt that many collectors have also done as I have and use these figures either as individuals or highly specialized army builders so they don't require more than 1 or 2 examples in their collection.

Now, you can usually get this figure for around $10 or so. Frankly, that isn't a bad price considering that Hasbro has now produced 3 subsequent Crimson themed sets and this mold has not appeared in any of them. The CGI mold is very high quality and would be hard to produce in a bad color scheme. This silverish blue version is a great way to use the mold outside of the ranks of the Crimson Guard and offers some diversity that most of the other Crimson themed molds have always lacked. I enjoy this figure for what he is and for what I have made him in my collection. It seems that many other collectors do, too.

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal, KB Toys Exclusive, 2005 Night Watch Trooper, 2003 Convention Exclusive Air Viper

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal, KB Toys Exclusive, Skeres, Cobra Trooper, Officer, 2004 TRU Exclusive

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal, KB Toys Exclusive, Skeres, Abutre Negro, Brazil, Estrela, Patrulha do Ar, Black Vulture, 1991, Tomax and Xamot

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal, KB Toys Exclusive, Cobra Trooper, 1983, Lt. Clay Moore, 2007 Convention Exclusive, Viper, Iron Panther, Sgt. Savage