Tuesday, December 12, 2006

2004 Urban Assault Night Creeper

It is known that Hasbro has a wealth of ARAH molds at their disposal. Unfortunately, they have chosen to ignore a large part of their library and focus on the same molds over and over again. Every now and then, though, they dust off one of the lesser used molds and accidentally create a figure for the ages. It has been a rare occurrence since 1997 but has happened enough to keep collectors around. When they do produce a gem, though, there are usually circumstances in the collecting world that cause the figure to be overlooked or quickly forgotten. Such is the case with the subject of this profile: the 2004 Urban Strike Night Creeper.

Night Creepers are an odd duck in the Joe world. They, technically, are not Cobras. Instead, they are independent contractors retained by Cobra Commander. As such, many collectors have fewer uses for Night Creepers than they do other, officially Cobra ninjas. From their first appearance in the comic, though, I was enthralled by the Night Creepers. I didn't, necessarily, like their origins and characterization. But, I did enjoy how they were used: ninjas who were also soldiers. They were not the ritualistic ninjas to which I had become numb from their overuse in the comics. They were more like ninja Major Bludds. That aspect I did like. The fact that the figure was really nice just helped them become more important in my collection.

The original Night Creeper figure is well done but very purple. The Snow Creeper is perfect for the arctic but the white color isn't that useful in other climates. This urban version is the best paint job released for the Night Creeper. The black, blue and white combined with the urban cammo paint job make this figure useful in many more environments than the previous releases. The dark colors are reminiscent of the traditional Cobra appearance but different enough that the figures don't blend into the multitude of Cobra blue figures who have been released. The judicious use of brown really brings out the small straps and details that hold the figure's chest armour in place. (The leather-brown is really well used on the Urban Firefly, too. The detail on that figure is near convention quality.) The overall look of the figure is dark and menacing and is more in line with the characterization of the Night Creepers that we saw in the comics.

In my collection, these Night Creepers are Cobra's initial strike force. They are the commando units who are sent into an area first to undertake "softening" missions like destroying power plants or damaging infrastructure. They may also be used for on the spot intelligence. They are not full blown combat troops. In fact, if they are caught in an all out fire fight, they call for backup or retreat. Their edged weapons are a function of their purpose. These Night Creepers are not supposed to be seen. Any unfortunate soul who does come across them is quickly...and quietly eliminated. The Night Creepers will perform their work and coordinate their explosions with the arrival of the Cobra combat forces. Their targets never knew the Night Creepers were there until something explodes and a target goes dark. By that time, the full Cobra combat force is arriving and the Night Creepers are never noticed as they slip away. This makes them the type of figure that does not get used for long stretches of time. (Which is how they dropped from my collecting radar.) but then start to appear as major parts of intricate story lines. I find myself using my Night Creeper team as a pre-cursor to Cobra's targets in South America and Africa. In this setting, a successful mission means a more deadly strike is coming while an unsuccessful mission means that a target is spared...for now. It is a nice niche for the Night Creeper as it allows me to use the figure enough to keep it interesting but not so much that I never want to see another version again.

This Night Creeper's accessories are passable. Unfortunately, the two most distinctive Night Creeper weapons (the crossbow and the pronged stick) are missing from this version. The signature curved sword is also MIA. However, the 2 included swords with the figure do work and are acceptable. Not distinctive, but ok when taken in light of most of the other, contemporary accessory choices Hasbro dropped into the Toys R Us 6 figure sets. The nice thing is that you can take the uzi from the urban Storm Shadow and give it to the Night Creeper to make him more of a commando than a swordsman. The Night Creeper mold has only been used for Hasbro based releases. After the original figure appeared in 1990, the mold did not show up again until the rather interesting Snow Creeper in 1998. Hasbro didn't use them mold again for 6 years, though, and this Urban Night Creeper remains only the 3rd time this mold has seen production. The unexplained gaps in release dates for this figure are an oddity for Hasbro who seems to like to repaint molds ad naseum. But, in this case, it works well as it leaves the Night Creeper mold as one that is nice to see from time to time but not...at least not yet...overused.

One thing of note in regards to the Urban set: there is a complete variant color scheme for the figures. They were not, officially, released. But, Asian Joe sellers offered a set of urban Cobras who featured different paint masks and red highlights. You can see the alternate Night Creeper in the photos below. The origin and purpose of these figures is unknown. It is likely, as some figures featured unused paint masks, that the figures were the original plan for the Urban Strike set. For whatever reason, the colors were not approved and the entire set was redesigned with the white highlights. The alternate urban figures are relatively cheap on the second hand market and are one of the more unique ways to expand your urban Cobra armies.

The Urban Strike set probably had a production run of ~20,000 units. Even with a run that low, it hung around at retail for a while. In most markets, it was mostly sold through by the late 4th Quarter with the Christmas season finally taking them off the pegs. Collectors really didn't warm to the set even though it featured two army builders (this Night Creeper and the Flak Viper mold) in their best ever color schemes, a high quality Alley Viper repaint (though the Alley Viper is a bit overdone), the first Scrap Iron figure in 20 years and offered what is still the most detailed paint job for a V1 Firefly that we have seen. (Until the '05 Comic Pack Firefly, the Urban version was probably the best overall Firefly Hasbro had ever released.) The Storm Shadow figure is a bad mold in acceptable colors with decent accessories. As such, it really made little sense why this set got such a bad rap among collectors when it was so well done. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that collectors were still on the high from the '04 Infantry Team and saw anything with less than 6 classic army builders as a complete let down. It was really an unfair comparison but one that has left these Urban figure affordable even while other, lesser figures have appreciated.

Urban Night Creepers are cheap. Mint and complete, you can get one for about 7 bucks. You can buy an entire Urban Strike set for about $30 if you want one right now and can get them cheaper if you have a little patience. The reality of the Joe world is that collectors do not reward ingenuity by Hasbo in terms of figure releases. We fawn over repaint after repaint of the Viper yet let high quality repaints of great, later molds go unsung. Since the Night Creeper is not the Cobra Trooper/Officer, Crimson Guard, Viper or BAT mold, collectors largely don't care about it. This is nice as this urban version remains incredibly cheap and available and is easy to aquire in multiples. For a figure of this quality, that is a rare combination. As the collecting world matures, we might see more figures like this become appreciated. Until then, I'll take advantage of hidden gems like this Night Creeper and quietly build my collection.

2004 Urban Strike Night Creeper, Toys R Us Exclusive, Unproduced Urban Night Creeper, Midnight Chinese, 1985 Tollbooth

2004 Urban Strike Night Creeper, Toys R Us Exclusive, Unproduced Urban Night Creeper, Midnight Chinese, 1985 Tollbooth

2004 Urban Strike Night Creeper, Toys R Us Exclusive, Unproduced Urban Night Creeper, Midnight Chinese, Comic Pack Cobra Commander, Funskool Law

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

1985 Keel Haul

In 1985 Hasbro released the flagship playset of the G.I. Joe line: the USS Flagg aircraft carrier. It remains an iconic piece and one that defines the Joe line by itself. One would have though, though, that Hasbro would have wanted to make the captain of this magnificent vessel a figure of magnitude equal to that of the Flagg. Instead, Hasbro offered a mold that is rather mundane and lacks the flair that should be associated with an undertaking like the Flagg. That isn't to say that Keel Haul is a bad figure, it's just that when taken against the backdrop of his release, it is easy to see why he's fallen by the collecting wayside.

On the surface, Keel Haul is a good figure. He featured a detailed sculpt, solid, realistic colors and an overall appearance that shows the thought put into his mold. However, for me, the figure just isn't that great. Perhaps it's the oversized head. Maybe it's the awesome flight jacket that has the zipper pulled down just a bit too far. Maybe it's the slightly cocked hat that always made me think that Keel Haul was drunk. Whatever it was, this mold, to me, just doesn't live up to the standard that is expected of the captain of Joe's most famous vehicle. Instead, he is a background figure at best. I've never really felt that Keel Haul stood on equal footing with other '85 vehicle drivers like Frostbite, Crankcase or Lamprey and those shortcomings were magnified by the nature of the vehicle with which Keel Haul was originally included.

As a kid, I desperately wanted the USS Flagg. It was the only toy released in 1985 that I did not get. I distinctly remember working a deal with my parents where they would buy me one if I could find it for the whopping total of $50. Well, in early '86, the local Toys R Us put their vast overstock of Flaggs on sale for $69.99. I called the manager to see if I could talk him into going down to $50 but he would not budge. Neither would my father and, to this day, I do not own a Flagg.

In my collection, Keel Haul has always played a background role. As a kid, I remember watching Robotech on TV and being interested in the Captain Gloval character. He always reminded my of Keel Haul and I based my characterization of Keel Haul on my perceptions of Gloval's character. As such, my Keel Haul was a more reserved and even mysterious commander. His true loyalties were never certain, though he never faltered in his duty to the Joes. I never really explored his characterization much beyond that, though. And Keel Haul disappeared from collection rather quickly. In more modern days, Keel Haul is mostly used as an adviser to the Joe commander. I use him mostly in a base setting with Hawk, General Flagg and Joe Colton. They are my core leadership group of the Joes. It doesn't get the Keel Haul figure much use, but at least gives him a displayable role in a command center.

Where Keel Haul finally did get use, though, was as a Cobra Naval Commander. I always felt there was a gaping in Cobra's organizational structure as they did not have a Naval Commander. As I began to expand Cobra into my generation of younger generals, I felt a Naval Commander was a must. However, as I formulated how I wanted my Cobra hierarchy to work, I realized that while these younger generals could have attained their positions at their tender ages, it was unlikely that a position of importance to an Island nation like Naval Commander would fall to anyone so young. That forced Halifax (the name I granted the character) into an older age bracket. How, then, would he fit in with the younger crowd who were to become the backbone of my Joe universe? The answer was as a mentor. Ultimately, Halifax was the philosophical bedrock for all of the beliefs of these young generals. Of course, in order to preserve the character, the only option was to kill him off in a noble fashion. Halifax's death cemented the loyalties of my younger Cobra's and remains the driving force behind their unbridled ambition. Keel Haul fits into this two ways: as the Joe counterpart of Naval success, but also as the visual model for Keel Haul. I liked the idea of dark, brooding captain whose face hid more than it revealed. The mental picture of Halifax is always similar to Keel Haul and remains the reason why Halifax is the only one of my created Cobras who has yet to have a figure assigned to him. Keel Haul is too much of a Joe to be transformed into a Cobra. But, no Cobra figure has a look close enough to Keel Haul to properly represent the idea of Halifax I have in my head. Maybe if I were a better customizer this wouldn't be an issue....

Keel Haul did appear again later in my collection. Some time in 1995, I found the '93 Keel Haul at retail. I purchased it and he became the de facto 2nd officer on my Shark 9000. (It really didn't matter that Keel Haul was an Admiral and Cutter a much lower rank. It was Cutter's boat and no other than he would be in charge.) I grew to like this figure just because it was one of the few I had available to me in those days. As such, I still have a soft spot for the '93 version and actually use him more often than I do the '85. I didn't make this character Keel Haul, though. Instead, he was a naval officer well below Admiral who was learning about fast attack boat combat. He was a competent fighter and troop commander, but still acquiesced to Cutter on all matters in regards to actual naval maneuvers.

This original version of Keel Haul was released with the USS Flagg in 1985 and 1986. After that, the figure was released as a mail away offer for many years and in many different premium offers. (It should also be noted that there is a variation between some mail in Keel Hauls and the Flagg version. Some mail aways are missing the white patch on Keel Haul's left arm and do not have the stars on Keel Haul's collar painted.) In 1993, Hasbro repainted the entire mold and released an updated Keel Haul as a carded Battle Corps figure. That figure was not one of the '93's who were repainted in 1994 because Hasbro sent the mold down to Brazil where Estrela released the mold in colors similar to the '93 Keel Haul as Anjo De Guarda. It is not known what happened to Keel Haul's mold from there. None of the figures in Anjo De Guarda's released wave have reappeared since their use in Brazil so it is likely that Keel Haul's mold is lost and not available for re-use. That, though, isn't a terrible thing as the mold has it's limitations and was nicely colored in both of its releases. As such, I'd rather see a repaint of another mold that only has poorly colored releases than I would another take on Keel Haul.

Back in the early days of Joe collecting, Keel Hauls were considered to be somewhat rare. As the collecting world matured, though, it turned out that the figure was actually fairly common. As Keel Haul was a mail in for years and years, many collectors had the chance to acquire one and the figure started appearing with more frequency on the second hand market. However, the mail away Keel Hauls did not include his pistol and many did not include a filecard. While Keel Haul's unique silver gun is not as rare as Heavy Metal's microphone, it plays in the same league and is not an accessory that is easy to find. For a time, the gun had its moment in the spotlight as the accessory du jour and complete Keel Hauls sold in the $50 range. But, that star has faded and you can now get a mint, complete with filecard Keel Haul for 1/2 that price without too much trouble. If you just want the figure, they can be had in nice condition for as low as $5 or $6. That's a fair price to pay for a figure whose use is limited like Keel Haul's is. But, it is also nice as you can spend your money for a nice Flagg and you won't have to stretch yourself even more just to get the ship's admiral.

1985 Admiral Keel Haul, 1993 Cutter, 2005 General Hawk, Comic Pack, 2004 Night Force Flint, 1994 Star Brigade Duke

1985 Admiral Keel Haul, 2004 Night Force Flint, 1994 Shipwreck

1985 Admiral Keel Haul, 1985 Eel, 1994 Shipwreck, Dialtone, 1993 Shark 9000, Ice Cream Soldier, Wet Suit

Thursday, November 9, 2006

2006 Lady Jaye - Comic Pack

I have not purchased any newly released Joe toys in over a year. In that time, I have found Hasbro's offerings to be rather uninspired. They simply offered nothing new to my collection. Those that showed some thought in design were often relegated down the desirability scale by the fact that the actual figure construction wasn't all that interesting. There just hasn't been anything released that's been the type of thing that I had to add to my collection. Finally, a few weeks ago, I broke down and purchased the Lady Jaye comic pack. I really did this for the Gas Mask Troopers as they are similar to the Comic Pack Cobra Officer figure which I really liked and they include Red Star rifles. Once I opened the set, though, I found I was pleasantly surprised by the Lady Jaye figure and have thusly decided to make her the 300th figure I've profiled.

While I'm not a Lady Jaye fan, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this figure. The colors are a nice departure from other incarnations of Lady Jaye, the smaller body sculpt and new head make her appear more feminine and she actually fits in with figures from earlier in the line. As such, I think this is a good figure. But, that's all. The reality is that had this pack with Lady Jaye and 2 Gas Mask Troopers been released prior to 2001, it would be one of the highlights of the entire repaint ARAH style line. Instead, at this late release, it mostly more of the same and the entire pack just seems...tired. There is nothing really fresh, new or exciting about it since we've seen so many classic characters redone and redone in so many styles. While Lady Jaye doesn't have the overkill of a character like Duke or Cobra Commander, she has seen 4 unique releases in the past decade (plus her body was used for Daina) and none of them really offered a package that was so totally different from the previous releases that it stands on its own. This figure is no exception. It's nice to have a Lady Jaye without her hat. But, it isn't the type of earth shattering, risk taking figure that makes collectors take notice.

In retrospect, that really can be said about much of the line we've seen since 2000. This Lady Jaye figure represents the first Joes I've bought at retail in over a year. A full year. I haven't gone that long without buying Joes at retail since 1989-1992. That includes time like '95 to late '97 when Hasbro wasn't producing Joes. I was still finding old stock at retail. Same in '99 and early '00 when there weren't any new figures coming out. I always had toys to buy. This past year has been different, though. Even though there were a few new comic packs for me to seek out, I didn't. None of the offerings held any cachet for me. I looked at them and just felt a strong disinterest in the hobby. Really, Hasbro's treatment of Joe in the past year has left me burned out. I found little in the hobby to enjoy. The constant nonsense of the "deth of the line!!!" really got tiresome and killed off a lot of my interest. Judging by the activity you see in the Joe community, I was not alone. I would wager that Hasbro ran off a lot of casual fans in the past year with their handling of the Joe line. Truthfully, I'm not sure we'll ever see a resurgence in popularity for the 3 3/4 figures like we had from 2001-2003. But, when I look back at the figures we got in that time, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.

Lady Jaye has never had much of a role in my collection. Even as a kid, I ignored the figure. (Which was nice in the early days of collecting as Lady Jaye figures tended to run upwards of $20 and I had a perfect one from childhood.) I just never really had much use for the character. Now, little has changed. Lady Jaye just isn't a player in my Joe world and I don't see that changing. As this figure is nicely done, though, I can see it appearing in the background of various scenes. The unique helmet was a nice touch from Hasbro and makes this figure useful on the Silver Mirage. But, that's about as far as she'll ever be used. When the time comes to actually display my figures, I could see this version hiding among my other '85's instead of the original.   This Lady Jaye's accessories are decent for what they are. The new helmet is cool, but doesn't really fit on the figure's head and looks a bit awkward. It is definitely an accessory that you need to have the figure holding rather than wearing. The small pistol that is included with the figure is comic accurate, but so overused that it's pretty inconsequential. The upside is that Lady Jaye accessories have become much easier to get these days so it's not outside the realm of possibility that you could easily buy some vintage or '98 Volga accessories for cheap and outfit the figure with those. One note of caution, though. As this Lady Jaye has the new, smaller body mold, original versions of Lady Jaye's backpack will not fit into her back. So, you'll have to find a smaller pack should you want to fully accessorize your Lady Jaye figure.

Let's face facts: the Joe line is dead. There is no product planned for release aside from the promise of a 25th Anniversary line that is more than a year away from planned release. (And, that line will likely be a completely new, 3rd type of construction that will not be compatible with either of the existing incarnations of 3 3/4" Joes.) There is nothing else on the horizon. These final comic packs, Wave 4 of the single packed figures and the final 2 six packs are the end of the retail run that we have enjoyed since 2000. Sadly, these final offerings should have been the first. Had they appeared earlier in Joe's rebirth, I think they would be held in high esteem by collectors. Now, though, they seem tired and unimaginative and I suspect that these final pieces of the retail run will be largely forgotten by collectordom as we move further and further from their release. They simply lack the power to sustain their popularity over time.

Had this three pack been released in 1997 or 1998, it would be held as one of the greatest packs Hasbro ever produced. At that time, the notion of a hatless Lady Jaye and 2 new troop builders who were based on classic designs would have been a great seller and a pack that would have seen great secondary market activity. By 2006, though, that is not the case. At this point, we've seen the Lady Jaye mold used twice for Lady Jaye and again for Daina. This is the fourth use in under 2 1/2 years for the Cobra Officer mold. That overuse leads to apathy and collectors aren't fawning over these releases like they would have only a few short years ago. That doesn't detract from the what the figures, by themselves, actually are. They are useful parts of a collection. But they are not the integral parts that we should have seen from Hasbro at this stage in the evolution of the repaint line.

This mold is very interesting. It is not the Lady Jaye mold that was used in 1985, in India, in 1997 or even in 2003. Instead, it is a newly sculpted mold. It first appeared on Daina in 2005 and now appears here. As you can see from the 1st photo below, this mold is smaller and more feminine. It also lacks a few of the details from the original mold such as the buttons on the figure's chest pockets. I find this rather odd. Let's face it, this figure isn't going to be appreciably more popular or sellable due to this smaller mold. In fact, I doubt many collectors noticed. The original mold was available as recent as 2003 and had no issues. So, why would Hasbro go through the trouble of resculpting this mold when there are so many others (like the V2 Snake Eyes, V1 Cobra Commander, Headhunter, HH Stormtrooper, V1 Destro) that collectors would kill to see redone? It's an odd occurrence that is more common in the comic packs than it might first appear. We may, someday, get the info from Hasbro as to why this is. But, for now, it remains one of the little mysteries of the modern line.

Lady Jaye's availability is still uncertain. It is most likely that being in the last wave of retail comic packs, she was produced in smaller quantities than even the Oktober Guard comic pack wave. However, she was not nearly as anticipated as the Oktober Guard, she was available in collector oriented outlets and the collecting world is MUCH smaller now than it was even in early 2005. Plus, there were many collectors who bought this pack in multiples just to acquire the Gas Mask Troopers. So, I don't foresee this Lady Jaye figure ever being highly expensive on the second hand market in the current collecting atmosphere. Sadly, due to the current state of the collecting community, I find it likely that this Lady Jaye figure will end up rather forgotten as time goes on. She is neat, but not so great that collectors are going to go out of their way to seek her out.

2006 Lady Jaye Comic Pack, 1997 Lady Jaye

2006 Lady Jaye Comic Pack, 2004 Clutch, Anti Venom Mutt

2006 Lady Jaye Comic Pack, Funskool Flint, Barbeque, BBQ, Chuckles

2006 Lady Jaye Comic Pack, 1982 RAM, Funskool Flint, 2003 Swamp Viper, Convention Exclusive

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

1987 Maverick

As a kid, I made sure that every December I was a frequent visitor to the local toy stores. It started in 1984 when the Dreadnoks were early released before Christmas. I don't recall finding anything in 1985. In 1986, though, I found the new armored Cobra Commander and Falcon in late December. As such, in December of 1987, I was very happy to find some new figures hanging on the pegs of my local Toys R Us store. These new figures were all more sci-fi type toys who were members of a new subset named Battleforce 2000. They used more hi-tech weaponry and featured molds that were covered with technological trappings. But, they also featured solid, muted colors that kept them in line with many of their contemporary Joe releases. Upon finding those 6 new figures, I purchased a Blaster and Knockdown (Don't ask me why. To this day I have no explanation as to why Knockdown was my 2nd choice.). My younger brother purchased a Dodger and my youngest brother brought the subject of this profile into our household: the 1987 Maverick.

Maverick was Battleforce 2000's pilot. On that level, he is quite successful. The figure mold looks like a pilot, albeit a futuristic or experimental one. His colors make sense for a flight suit and his removable helmet easily fits the pilot motif. Honestly, this figure could very easily have just been a newer version of Ace and no one would have thought differently of the figure. The mold is well done, just detailed enough and featured sensical colors that mesh well with each other.

Battleforce 2000 was one of Hasbro's early attempts at using a gimmick to sell figures. Each of the 6 original members of the team were intended as vehicle drivers for a series of futuristic vehicles. The selling point was that if you owned all 6 vehicles, you could transform them into a mobile fortress. My guess is that the idea was born in the popularity of Transformers and this was the best way to cross pollinate the lines without being too blatant about it. The execution was fairly poor, though, as I've always found the vehicles to be pretty much crap. They look clunky and fall apart easily. The figures, though, were a different story. While intended to be futuristic, they all featured solid color schemes that made the figures useful in venues outside of their intended focus. As such, the line has some use in the modern collection, even if it is only for the figures.

In this day and age of copyright infringement and lost names, it's pretty much unfathomable how Hasbro was able to produce a pilot figure named Maverick so soon on the heels of the Top Gun movie. But, they did it. The only way this guy would have been a more blatant rip off would have been if they included him in a re-release of the Skystriker at the same time. But, the name does work for a pilot, even though Maverick's filecard seems to paint him as more of a square rather than a bold, daring individual whose personality would fit his moniker. It does, though, help reinforce my personal notion that all of BattleForce 2000 was kind of a throw away gimmick. While the toys were cool upon their initial release, the who schtick got stale rather quickly and Larry Hama's summary elimination of almost all of BattleForce 2000 in the comic really reinforced my opinion that the entire subgroup really had little purpose beyond selling a few extra toys one holiday season.

In my collection, I don't have much use for the Maverick character. Instead, I have long used this figure as an army builder. He would be a nameless pilot or a firefighter. Where the figure truly found it's niche, though, was as a jet pack trooper. I never felt that Starduster's design really fit a jet pack soldier. He simply didn't have enough protective gear. The jet pack would produce burning hot exhaust that would require a flame suit. It would also generate gases that would be hazardous to breathe. Plus, anyone flying face first at a high speed would find it difficult to breathe. Thus, I found that Maverick's mold lent itself perfectly to the vision I had of a jet pack trooper. His thick uniform was fully insulated against errant jet plumes and his strategically placed body armor offered him some protection from debris in the air. His helmet locked in fresh air and also gave him a quiet environment from which he could communicate with his fellow jet pack troopers or the ground control. In sum, it was the perfect outfit for what I wanted my jet pack troopers to be.

Now, I use Maverick as the nameless jet pack troopers who soften up Cobra installations. They are a foolhardy, but brave crew who have a survival rate in the low 20% range. They are danger merchants who really don't understand that they are flying at low altitudes using a pack that is difficult to maneuver over a group of highly armed, ruthless villains who find humour in turning a jet pack trooper into a streaking ball of fire. They don't really fathom that one shot turns their liquid fuel jet packs into flying bombs. Nor do they really realize that their helmets will not protect them should they crash into the ground, a tree, a mountain, each other or just about anything else headfirst. What they do understand, though, is that they have a feeling of immense freedom as they come as close as is humanly possible to individualized flight. They relish in this and feel a great surge of superiority as they swoop over their enemies and rain automatic weapon fire upon them. This more than makes up for their remorse when less than half of their crew returns from any mission alive.

Maverick's mold saw release in the U.S. However, in Brazil, the mold took on new life as it was used multiple times in several Brazilian exclusive ways. The entire Battleforce 2000 squad was released in Brazil in colors very similar to their American counterparts. Blaster, Blocker and Dodger all then reappeared in India. Avalanche showed up in the US in 2005 when he was used in the Winter Operations set. Knockdown never appeared in his original form again even though his body was used on the Biologico figure. Maverick's mold was used for several Brazilian figures. His entire mold was repainted in the Forca Eco series as Biomassa (which you can see in the photos below). Maverick's chest and arms later appeared in the Patrulha Do Ar series as part of the Aguia Comando figure while his head and helmet were used on Albatroz. After that, the mold pretty much vanished. It is not known if this mold is available to Hasbro or has simply been written off. But, Maverick fans do have a nice variety of figures they can use to represent the character.

Surprisingly, Battleforce 2000 figures aren't all that common. While they are no where near as scarce as contemporary subsets like the Night Force or Mission to Brazil, they are also not as ubiquitous as their regular retail brethren. They likely had a truncated production run since the carded figures did not appear until late 1987 and the 1988 releases were lesser produced 2 packs. Of course, none of this translates to expensive figures. Back in 2001 and 2002, you might have paid $12 for a complete Blaster or for the variant Blocker. Now, though, all of the Battleforce 2000 figures can be had for half of that. At that price, I think Maverick is a good pick up. The figure is a solid pilot mold and looks good in most of the higher quality Joe aircraft. His colors make sense and his accessories are fun and useful. There's not much more you can ask out of a Joe themed figure.

1987 Maverick, Battle Force 2000, 1983 Hiss Tank, 2003 Python Patrol HEAT Viper, 1986 Viper

1987 Maverick, Battle Force 2000, 1983 Hiss Tank, 2003 Python Patrol HEAT Viper, 1986 Viper

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

1989 Alley Viper

1989 is pretty much the last year in which the "old guard" Joe collectors enjoyed their childhood. As such, it is seen as line of demarcation in the line that divides the generations of collectors. It is an unfair line as I maintain that 1990 was a better year for figures than 1989, but that is not the subject of this profile. That honor belongs to the highly popular Alley Viper. The Alley Viper is a long time favorite among the Joe collecting circuit. He is one of the few brightly colored figures that is pretty much universally enjoyed by collectors and he appears in most collection photos you see around. His release year forgives his odd colors and his specialty and accessories have made him the most popular neon Cobra army builder in the entire line.

Alley Vipers are a sentimental favorite of mine. Back in early 1997, I had just graduated from college and was living in Indiana awaiting that summer's move to Arizona. During that time, I really had nothing to do other than work. One boring Saturday, I went to the old comic shop in my neighborhood and found some Joes for sale. Among them were an Alley Viper and a Range Viper. I bought these two figures and took them home. In the ensuing boring weeks I formulated the basis for what is my Cobra army of today. As such, I consider Alley Vipers to be a fundamental keystone of my collection. As Hasbro has released better colored versions of the figure, I have constantly added them to my growing Cobra Urban forces and I have now specialized each coloration into specific purposes. But, more on that later....

The single area where this Alley Viper version succeeds over it's subsequent brethren is in the accessories. Hasbro was still really working hard on unique accessories for every figure in 1989 and it shows on the Alley Viper. Aside from the working visor on the helmet, the figure features an incredibly unique and remarkably cool gun. It is also of interest as it's design is such that the Alley Viper holds it better left handed. It is, as far as I can remember, the only left handed weapon in the line. Along with the gun, the Alley Viper also includes an greatly detailed backpack which features a grappling hook gun, rope and other urban accouterments. The hook on the top of the pack can also be removed and many enterprising kids and collectors have tied strings to the removable stems and wrapped the rope around the pack to make a functional version of the sculpted accessory. (It is also important to note that the 1993 Alley Viper includes different accessories. The '93 gun features a thick front handle rather than the thin '89 handle. The '93 pack also does not feature the removable hook on the backpack. Most collectors won't care one way or another about this when they are army building. But, it is something to look out for should you just be looking to add a complete '89 Alley Viper to your collection.) Finally, the figure includes a huge, menacing shield. It has sharp edges and could serve not only as protection but also a weapon in close quarters, urban combat. No subsequent version of the Alley Viper has had accessories quite as good as these and I think that had the '02-'04 releases featured the original gun and backpack, collectors would not be so quick to condemn them.

Where the Alley Viper fails, though, is his glaring color scheme. The bright orange and baby blue would have created one of the most ridiculed figures in the entire line had it been released in 1993. As it was released in 1989, though, collectors tend to forgive the colors. Besides, the figure's mold more than makes up for colors. The other downside to V1 Alley Vipers is that they are brittle. The figure features two tabs on the head that are designed to hold the visor. These are easily broken. As are the figure's thumbs as his gun does have a larger handle as well as his crotch. The most maddening part, though, is the brittle elbow joints on the figure. For some reason, certain 1989 figures (most notably the Night Viper, the Night Force figures and the Alley Viper) have very brittle elbows that tend to crack. The worst part, though, is that they will break even if you don't use the figure. It is a flaw in the plastic. While it doesn't ruin the figure, it is something to look out for. It seems that excessive heat tends to exacerbate this problem so it is a good idea to store Alley Vipers in a cooler, drier climate to help prevent this defect from appearing. (Says the guy who has four of them stored in his 120+ degree garage....)

Where in the world is the V1 Alley Viper mold? This is the question collectors have been asking themselves for nearly a decade now. The mold was used in the U.S. in 1989 and 1990 but then never appeared in it's entirety again. (Just a note, on the back of the box for the 1997 Rage, there is a repainted V1 Alley Viper pictured. Some collectors have taken this to mean that Hasbro had the mold but didn't release it. This is not the case. The Alley Viper pictured on the box was a hand painted '89 release. Hasbro would have used that mold, but they could not find it back then and, apparently, still can't find it today.) The waist piece and legs were used on the '93 and '94 Alley Viper figures. The waist piece alone has been used on all subsequent versions of the Alley Viper as well as the Brazilian Mortifero.

In looking at the empirical evidence, it is still difficult to speculate as to this mold's whereabouts. Of his contemporaries, the Annihilator, HEAT Viper, Frag Viper, Copperhead, Crimson Guard and Cobra Trooper all appeared in Brazil. The Night Viper and TARGAT appeared in India. The bit of evidence we do have is that the Alley Viper's gun appears in Brazil some time around 1992 or 1993. This could be that the entire figure went down there and was never used or the gun mold was just shipped off. In all likelihood, the mold was broken up back in 1993 so that the legs could be used for the second Alley Viper version. Much like the case of the missing legs from the V1 Falcon after they were used on the 1993 Leatherneck, it is probable that the head, arm and torso molds for the Alley Viper were lost or rendered unusable after Hasbro separated the legs. As such, I don't hold out much hope for a straight repaint of the '89 Alley Viper unless Hasbro were to recreate the mold.

However, I really have to ask myself if this is a bad thing. While most collectors will pontificate about how great this V1 mold, I really don't think it's that great an upgrade over the version of Alley Viper that Hasbro has been releasing since 1997. While there are obvious differences, the later version of the figure features a more frightening face mask, equal detail on the chest and arms and a larger physique. Even the most lamented part of the later Alley Viper: the use of Duke's legs, isn't as bad as people make it out to be. If you look carefully at the legs of the '89 Alley Viper, they are rather undetailed and quite skinny. In fact, it appears that most Alley Vipers would probably suffer from frequent sprained ankles due to the bulk of their torso being supported only by small, fragile legs. The Duke legs also offer more details on the boots as well as a sidearm and an additional combat knife. My end opinion of the original and later molds is that they are pretty much a wash. While I would still love to see the original Alley Viper repainted in all his glory, I don't think that it is a gaping hole in my collection as the better painted later molds of the character are on equal footing in terms of mold to the original figure.

As I alluded to above, the Alley Viper is the cornerstone of my Cobra forces. For the past 12 years, my Cobras have been largely a more specialized group. They don't have the resources to partake in prolonged infantry sieges. Instead, they want to get in, complete their objective and get out as quickly as possible. This lead to the formation of the Urban Death Squads: highly trained, sickly ruthless teams of Cobras who simply kill everything and everyone that stands in their line of sight. They strike small, unaware towns and simply leave no survivors behind. This lead to the story of their gaudy colors. As these troops are trained to kill first and not ponder the consequences, they had an unacceptably high ratio of friendly fire killings during training. In order to prevent this from becoming a problem in actual field situations, a young Cobra general put the troops in orange so that they could quickly recognize each other. He reasoned that these soldiers would only be fighting in areas where they were unlikely to meet any organized resistance beyond some over matched and under trained yokel police. As such, the had no need for the standard urban camo patterns that would make them harder to find. They were then able to train the Alley Vipers to watch for flashes of orange that denoted their comrades.

As Alley Vipers completed more missions, though, certain members of the units were able to distinguish themselves. In time, these men were taken into more elite Alley Viper units that were denoted by the better, later color schemes. These units served more in real combat areas where their seek and destroy skills were needed but they also had to be cognizant of the other Cobra troops in the area. These more skilled fighters donned more traditionally colored uniforms and serve in more elite units. (Oddly, I have more V1 Alley Vipers than any other version in my collection.) They still have the hallmarks of the Alley Viper corps, but they also have the restraint that makes them valuable in more aspects of Cobra operations. In time, these are the soldiers who I see replacing the fallen Crimson Guard as the Cobra Elite Troops in my collection.

Back in 2001, the Alley Viper first broke $15 for a mint, complete figure. Over the next year and half, the price inched closer and closer to $20. Just as Joe exploded in popularity, though, Hasbro offered collectors nicely done repaints of the later Alley Viper mold. As such, army builders spent their time and money to acquire these figures (The Wave 1.5 blue Alley Viper is a member of the most overproduced wave Joes of the entire relaunch.) In the subsequent years, Hasbro offered a well painted Alley Viper in a number of different army building themed sets. As such, those who wanted to army build Alley Vipers no longer had to focus only on the vintage figure. The result is that the '89 Alley Viper is readily available these days and nicely conditioned complete versions will only set you back about the $15 you would have spent for this figure five years ago. I feel this isn't a bad price. I finished out my squad of 6 Alley Vipers many years ago. (I don't tend to army build more than 6 of any one figure otherwise a collection becomes too concentrated in one figure and is unbalanced. This is a great problem with collections that are heavily modern retail purchases.) However, in recent months I came across some cheap complete Alley Vipers and decided to augment my crew. I simply couldn't pass up a great figure like this at a bargain price. As this figure has remained popular even though Hasbro has probably over saturated the character, it seems that many collectors agree with me on the Alley Viper's quality.

1989 Alley Viper, Urzor, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Fera, Repeater

1989 Alley Viper,

1989 Alley Viper, Skeres, Midnight Chinese

1989 Alley Viper, 2002 Night Rhino, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, 2001 Big Brawler

Thursday, May 11, 2006

1992 Heli-Viper

The Heli-Viper is probably as forgotten a figure as you can find. He is a combination of bad colors and a late release date in an obscure vehicle that makes for a figure most collectors can not identify. However, it is also a figure that features one of the most interesting Frankenstein jobs that Hasbro ever created and, were it in better colors, would probably be among the most sought after army builders of the modern day. As it is a mish-mash of red and purple, though, the Heli-Viper has been doomed to a life of obscurity. As is the case with many figures like this, though, I have found at least a partial role in my collection for one of the greatest examples of good molds ruined by bad colors.

The Heli-Viper combines parts from 3 iconic Cobra figures. The main body and legs are made from the Night Viper mold. The arms are from the Techno Viper and the head is from the original Snow Serpent. Taken as they are, these parts should have combined into one of the best amalgamated figures of the entire line. However, this was not to be as the Heli-Viper was given a terrible purple and red color scheme the obscured the details of the mold and turned the figure into a nightmare. While I have found that the color is appealing somewhat by itself, it does not mix with anything else decent in the Cobra army and leaves this figure as an odd man out. Even his gun, a purple rendition of the Night Viper rifle, is too poorly colored to have any use.

The Heli-Viper was only released with a 1992 Battle Copter. These weren't terribly popular items and you don't see either the Heli-Viper nor his Joe counterpart, Ace, with great frequency on the second hand market. Hasbro Canada offered bagged samples of the Battle Copter figures, though, so you can find complete Heli-Vipers both loose and bagged. These have started to dry up, though, as more collectors have defined holes in their collections as being figures like the Heli-Viper and they have taken many of the existing figures out of the second hand market. Personally, I have never owned a loose version as I haven't wanted to open either of my bagged figs. After having these two for a bit, though, I may reconsider and open at least one of the figures as they are kind of neat filler to toss into a dio background.

In my collection, Heli-Vipers have a minor role. While the Heli-Viper design is cool, my ranks of Cobra helicopter pilots are comprised of the well done Gyro Viper. As such, I don't really need the Heli-Viper. (In fact, the figure's file card really makes me not like the character since it is just so over the top.) However, where he does fit in is as a Techno Viper in training. I've always viewed the Techno Vipers as more of an engineering corps. While they can fix things, their real value is working on Cobra's highest end equipment. As such, there is a level of grunt Techno Vipers who are more likely to see combat who work on the run of the mill Cobra technology. This is the role I've found for the Heli-Viper figure. His colors are similar to those of the Techno Viper but the mold design shows that this character could still appear in combat. As such, I see Heli-Vipers as the guys who get of the tank when a convoy is under fire to change a bogey wheel as Cobra doesn't want to risk a full Techno Viper for such a dangerous duty. They take fire, but long for the day when they are full Technos and are allowed to have safer duties.

These Techno Vipers aren't well respected by the Cobra foot troops as they are not yet fully qualified Technos and they tend to make mistakes. They also view themselves as non-combatants as that is what most Techno Vipers are qualified as. This leads to great animosity on the field as the infantry feel the Techno's in training should fight to make up for their lack of mechanical experience while the Techno's feel the Infantry should cut them some slack since they are the only ones out there capable of putting a damaged Parasite or Maggot back together. Needless to say, this limits the role of that the Heli-Viper plays as Cobra isn't keen on creating more tension on the battlefield between their own troops. As the Heli-Viper is fairly difficult figure to find, though, this dovetails nicely with its role in my collection.

The Heli-Viper is an interesting mix of molds. The Night Viper was used in the US in 1989 and 1990. It then appeared on this figure before it was sent off to India sometime around 1995 where it was used until 2003. Master Collector brought the mold back in 2005 on their Iron Grenadier after Hasbro re-acquired it and will use it again for a new Night Viper in 2006. The Techno Viper mold was used in 1987 and then again in 1994. It has not reappeared since. The V1 Snow Serpent has been MIA even longer as the head's inclusion on the Heli-Viper is the only appearance of any part of the mold since 1986. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing either the Techno Viper or the Snow Serpent reappear in the modern repaint line. Both are solid molds. But, as the Night Viper body will be used twice in about a year, I think that mold is fairly played out and shouldn't be used again for a while.

If you want a Heli-Viper, they currently have gotten quite expensive. Many complete figures are selling in the $15+ range. This is mainly due to the fact that there are many collectors who do not own this figure and, as he is fairly hard to find, they are willing to spend a fair amount to finally cross him off their lists. Long term, I don't know if this will hold up. The figure is certainly difficult to find, but there were also tons of bagged samples that were put into the collecting community with the Hasbro Canada find in 1999. As such, I don't really know if this figure is going to continue to be more expensive or if his popularity will be short lived and, as more and more collectors get a sample, the price will fall precipitously. Either way, this isn't a figure that I'd spend a lot of time tracking down. The mold is great and the colors are bad. As such, he's a guy that I can use when I want to but he's not someone I go out of my way to get into a dio or other scene.

1992 Heli Viper, 1989 Aero Viper, 2002 Convention Exclusive Baroness, 2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, Cobar Officer, Night Raven

1992 Heli Viper, 1989 Aero Viper, 2002 Convention Exclusive Baroness, 2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, Cobar Officer, Night Raven

1992 Heli Viper, 1989 Aero Viper, 2002 Convention Exclusive Baroness, 2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, Cobar Officer, Night Raven

1992 Heli Viper, 1989 Aero Viper, 2002 Convention Exclusive Baroness, 2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, Cobar Officer, Night Raven

2004 Night Force Tunnel Rat

In the first half of 2003, Hasbro managed to re-acquire 18 molds from Funskool in India. Rather than letting these molds mature a bit (they were all currently in production by Funskool and were readily available for about $4 each in the U.S.) Hasbro rushed these molds quickly into production. The results were a rather stale crop of figure molds that were both improvements and regressions from the mold's prior American releases. In the case of the Night Force Tunnel Rat, though, the paint job that was released was actually an improvement and is, arguably, the best paint job ever used on the V1 Tunnel Rat mold.

The Night Force set was bad, good and maddening all at once. The accessory complement was terrible. (It would, though, have been decent had it come with the Cobra Infantry Team.) The repainted V1 Roadblock figure was also a waste. The mold is antiquated, highly overused and simply did not look good in the Night Force color scheme. However, the Tunnel Rat, Flint and Beachhead figures were all well done. While they weren't strikingly different enough from their original releases to make them iconic or even useful as a means of diversifying their use, the colors were well done and all three figures are nice additions to a collection. The Short Fuze figure was nothing short of spectacular and is how all of the repaints should have been done. He featured an obscure mold that was poorly colored the first time that was finally repainted in a great color scheme. The maddening part, though, was Action Man.

I have no aversion to the character of Action Man being part of this set. I also have no specific aversion to having an orange clad figure as part of the set. In fact, the Action Man figure is rather cool. My issue, though, is that inclusion of Action Man cost us a chance at a Night Force Tracker figure. Tracker is a great mold that suffered from terrible colors the first time around. When Hasbro finally re-released the mold, instead of giving us the great color scheme every customizer had ever imaged on the Tracker mold, they gave us Action Man whose inclusion required the figure to have a bright orange shirt. Thus, collectors were robbed of the chance to finally get that perfect Tracker they had so long desired. This was made more maddening by the fact that the Tracker shown at the 2003 Convention was in the Night Force color scheme and that full production samples of Night Force Tracker figures showed up on the Asian market indicating that the inclusion of Action Man was a last minute decision. Of course, of the 6 molds in the set, Hasbro has since re-released 4 of them. The two they haven't are Short Fuze and, of course, Tracker. So, we're still waiting for the proper use of the Tracker mold almost 2 1/2 years later....

Tunnel Rat has the distinction of being the only 2 time member of Night Force. The original Night Force figure featured bright, neon details on the figure and, as such, this version is actually the more realistic color scheme. I think that's why the figure succeeds for me on a visual level. It features muted colors, but does not skimp on the painted details. You have shades of green, silver, brown, black, white and a dirty grey that make this figure perfect for use in Night and jungle theatres. The pants are one area where the figure could be better: especially if you removed the gaudy G.I. Joe logo. (Nothing like advertising that you are a member of a highly secretive covert unit right on your uniform.) This figure, though, has all the painted details of the vintage Tunnel Rat figure but has them painted in a darker, more layered color palette.

Lately, I've been very down on Joe in general. I find my interest in the line at an all time low. As such, I've really turned more towards Star Wars collecting in recent months and have found myself much more interested in that than I am in Joe. As I looked at the newer Star Wars figures, I wondered why they have replaced Joe among my toy collecting preferences. (I took a 5 year hiatus from Star Wars collecting and never thought I'd return.) The thing I noticed was that if you are currently buying Star Wars figures, you are able to buy some of the best figures ever made. While there are some gems from years past, the stuff that Hasbro is producing now is the best renditions of major characters, obscure aliens and just all round figures that they've ever done.

The same, though, can not be said for Joe. If you look back at the past 5 years of Joedom, there are few, if any, iconic figures that have been created. For the most part, we've seen uninspired repaints of classic molds, terrible accessories, a constantly evolving new sculpt formula and never-ending themes that have been more important than the toy line itself. The bottom line is that there have been few must buy figures that are integral to every collection that were created between 2001 and 2006. Again, that isn't to say that all the figures are bad. Far from it. But, when you consider that Hasbro has released 559 figures since 2001 (and 586 between 1982 and 2000) there really should have been more great figures since they released about the same number as they had in the vintage run. As such, you really start to see why the vast multitude of modern releases that have been of lower quality has started to finally drain away my enthusiasm for the hobby. In time, this may ebb. But, history has shown that Hasbro isn't too interested in doing new, exciting things with the Joe line. As such, I expect more of the same these days rather than anything innovative.

The Tunnel Rat mold features a facial sculpt that was based on Larry Hama, the writer of the Joe comic book. After it's original run in the US, it was re-released again in 1988 as the Night Force exclusive and again in 1990 as part of the Super Sonic Fighters line. From there, it was then used in Europe around 1991 for the Euro exclusive Tiger Force Tunnel Rat. (Which has gotten quite popular and fairly expensive in recent months.) After that, the molds arms were used on the 1994 Dial Tone figure before the mold was shipped off to India. There, Funskool released a figure in colors reminiscent of the Super Sonic Fighters version for many years. (They also used the upper arms on some versions of their take on the 1994 Dial Tone.) Funksool returned the mold to Hasbro in early 2003 and Hasbro has since used it in the Night Force set, the Desert Strike set and a recent comic pack. As such, the mold has seen probably too many uses at this point as there really is a Tunnel Rat for every occasion...almost.

Night Force Tunnel Rats are cheap and easy to find. Lost in the hype of the Cobra Infantry Team, the Night Force sets languished on the pegs at Toys R Us stores for almost a year. They didn't disappear from most places until the holidays. Even today, boxed sets can be purchased on the second hand market for under the retail price of $20. Some individual figures may be priced a bit higher, but the multitude of subsequent Tunnel Rat releases really killed any demand for this figure and has left him readily acquirable for about $5. At that price, he's a good pick up. But, you will have to spend some decent money to add adequate vintage accessories to the figure, so what you save on the figure you'll more than make up for when you go to accessorize him. Personally, I like this figure, but he isn't a figure that I would miss were he never released. Really, that's the attitude I've taken with most of the modern ARAH style repaints. A few are great. But, most of them are just kind of there. They offer nothing new to a collection that wasn't offered by the original figure. Some aren't bad figures, but many are. I guess I just expected more from a modern take on vintage molds. Perhaps that's what I get for having too lofty of expectations.

2004 Night Force Tunnel Rat, Toys R Us Exclusive, 2003 Convention Exclusive Falcon, VAMP, Roadblock, Unproduced Big Brawler, Midnight Chinese

2004 Night Force Tunnel Rat, Toys R Us Exclusive, 2003 Convention Exclusive Falcon, VAMP, Roadblock, Unproduced Big Brawler, Midnight Chinese

2004 Night Force Tunnel Rat, Toys R Us Exclusive, 2002 Dial Tone, Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard

2004 Night Force Tunnel Rat, Toys R Us Exclusive, Unproduced Night Force Tracker

2004 Night Force Tunnel Rat, Toys R Us Exclusive, 1994 Stalker, 2001 Rock and Roll, Flint

2004 Night Force Tunnel Rat, Toys R Us Exclusive, 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Falcon, 1988 Night Force Crazylegs

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

1988 Tiger Force Dusty

Certain figures and characters have always been more popular among the collecting community than others. This is simply a given. In many cases, the collector favorites make sense. But, though the years, there have been instances where a rather lame figure gains prominence either through some new exposure or newly discovered rarity. These are nice as they give the community something to talk about for a while before the figure fades back into obscurity. The converse of this, though, is that collectors often neglect some very well done figures. Again, this makes sense in the case of a figure like Updraft who had no exposure and is a figure that is rare enough that many collectors don't have him as part of their collection. But, in other cases, it simply makes no sense. Many of these cases feature characters who were repainted in some way subsequent to their original release. While collectors may hold the original in high regard, the repaint is forgotten and neglected, even though it may be of high quality. Such is the case with the subject of today's profile: the 1988 Tiger Force Dusty.

1988 was the last year that I bought Joes as a kid. I picked up a few random figures early in the year and was pretty much out of the hobby by the summertime. Among the figures I did acquire, though, was the Tiger Force Roadblock. I didn't pick this figure up because he was such an improvement over the original. I bought him because it gave me a chance to get Roadblock's accessories as replacements for my long broken originals. I looked at Flint the same way, though I was never able to add him to my collection. My point is that for older collectors, the Tiger Force repaints didn't really offer them anything unless their earlier figures were broken or lost. This lead to misinterpretations of the Tiger Force figures' rarity early in the days of the collecting market. The guys who first got back into the hobby were kids who had the original Dusty, Flint, Roadblock, etc. As such, they had no need for the Tiger Force figures, didn't buy them and later extrapolated that out to say the figures were rarer than they really were. The reality was that for the generation of Joe fans who had come of age between 1986 and 1988, the Tiger Force figures were pretty much new figures that they had never had the chance to own. As such, they bought them and, years later, assimilated them back into the collecting market in more than ample supply.

The real question left is how to use this version of Dusty. The original figure is the consummate desert trooper with the mold and colors that have left him the pinnacle of that genre even when taken against the line as a whole. This figure shares the mold, but not the colors. However, unlike many of the more gaudy Tiger Force members, Dusty's cammo and colors can actually work. There are actually many deserts around the world that are full of vibrant plant life. In these environments, Dusty's greens and yellows blend into the natural background even though Dusty is still working in his field of specialty. As such, this figure offers a way to use Dusty in the same role as his original figure, but within different geographical and climatic variances of deserts. Plus, the greens also allow him to be used more effectively in non-desert settings. For me, the Dusty mold is an old favorite.

The character is strong and highly popular. Yet, Hasbro has been unable (or unwilling) to produce an adequate desert version of Dusty in ARAH form since they returned to Joes in 1997. There was, at one time, a desert repaint of the 1991 Dusty figure that appeared with the Desert Striker at various toy conventions. The figure also appeared in one of the Hasbro sponsored convention dioramas a few years ago. Yet, this figure was never released. In its place, Hasbro offered the truly terrible Desert Squad Dusty in 2004. As such, Dusty fans have been left with only new sculpt releases as an avenue to acquire a nicely done, non-vintage version of a desert Dusty.

Dusty's mold is probably gone. After it was used for this figure, the mold was shipped down to Brazil. There, the mold was used for a new character named Felino. This figure is obviously based on the Tiger Force Dusty color and paint scheme, though he is a little darker than the American version. Felino is also missing the trademark head cloth that was used on both American Dusty figures. Felino was released in the same series as both Marujo (Tiger Force Shipwreck) and Ar Puro (Tiger Force Airtight). As both of these molds subsequently appeared in India, it is possible that Dusty was, for a time at least, in the possession of Funskool. As he was not used there, though, it would stand to reason that the mold might have already been damaged by the time it arrived in India or it never got there at all. Unfortunately, it is pretty much impossible to track these down as the information collectors can glean is only superficial and isn't enough to firmly track any given mold.

Tiger Force Dusties are actually kind of hard to find. When I first joined the collecting community in the late '90's, repainted subsets like Tiger Force, Python Patrol and Night Force were considered to be somewhat rare. In time, that proved to not be the case with most of the figures as figures from Tiger Force and Python Patrol have proven to be more common that many early collectors originally thought. Of the Tiger Force figures, though, Dusty is one of the tougher one to find...especially if you want him mint and complete. Dusty features a design flaw that makes it very easy for his legs to break his crotch. As such, you will find many otherwise mint figures with broken crotches. Dusty's bi-pod can also be problematic to find. While not as rare or desirable as many other accessories, it is still tough to find and is most often missing from loose samples. These days, though, this figure still shouldn't set you back more than $10-$12 mint and complete. That's more than you'll pay for a lot of Joes, but is in line with the figure's character and desirability. I know that I've found more uses for this version of Dusty than I have for the original. I am probably in the minority in that, though. But, with a little exposure, perhaps more collectors will discover this figure and realize that it is a great way to enhance a collection.

1988 Tiger Force Dusty, 2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, Cobra Night Watch Trooper

1988 Tiger Force Dusty, 1993 Duke, Gung Ho, 2004 Desert Patrol Tunnel Rat

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

2001 Rock Viper

In late 2000, Hasbro released the 2nd wave of the A Real American Hero Collection figures. This wave had appeared in a toy rag prior to its release and many collectors were anxiously anticipating its arrival. When it appeared at retail, it did not disappoint...at first. Unfortunately, Hasbro vastly overproduced the 2nd wave and they became pegwarmers all over the U.S. The problem was even worse in Canada where the colossal failure of Wave 2 choked future Joe distribution that has caused availability problems that Canadian collectors are still dealing with. Lost in this, though, was the great thought in design that was placed into 5 of the 6 Wave 2 offerings. The figures were fresh and original and offered collectors new ways to enjoy previously obscure molds. While I still hold the Duke from this wave as the best figure of the series, it was the Rock Viper that most captured collector attention at the time.

First off, this figure really isn't a Rock Viper. While he has that name, the reality is that he is a straight repaint of the Range Viper figure. However, this figure really isn't a Range Viper, either. The Cobra colors don't lend themselves to a wilderness trooper and his gear isn't conducive for a Rock Viper. So, how to use him??? What I've found, though, is that this figure meshes well with many of the vintage color schemes of Vipers and other Cobra troopers. As such, he makes an excellent Cobra infantryman. He has some heavier weapons, but his overall look fits that profile. I see him as just a different type of Viper who patrols the Cobra compounds and fights alongside the traditional Vipers.

The Rock Viper does have some nice attributes. Aside from his large complement of accessories (a gun, an ammo clip for the gun, a large backpack, a hose, a grenade launcher, a plunger grenade and one of the coolest combat knives in the entire line) the figure also features an intricate paint mask. While the figure only features 5 colors, they are applied to the smallest details that hearken the mold back to the vintage era. It is amazing that only a year later Hasbro had taken to skimp so badly on paint applications that this figure would be a paragon of their modern retail achievement.

In my collection, the Rock Viper's importance changes. A few years ago when the figure was newer, I used them as the backbone of my Cobra Infantry forces. But, like most of my figures, I tired of them after a while and put them away. In subsequent years, I've used them as urban infantry soldiers as well as specialized hybrids of Vipers who are in training to become Range Vipers. Now, though, they are back to their generic role of infantry. The colors of the figure don't really lend themselves to woodland fighting, so I see these figures as the urban branch of the Range Vipers. They move into bombed out cityscapes and forage among the debris while keeping outsiders away. This utilizes their survival skills while not requiring them to be colored in an appropriate forest manner. It also gives me more chances to use the figure as his coloring and accessories are so far above most of what we've been offered in the years since his release that it seems a waste to leave the figures sitting, unused, in their drawer.

When the A Real American Hero Collection was first released, collectors were very divided over it. While most agreed that many of the repaints were fairly well done, they also were torn over some of the elements that were introduced with the new figures. Now, over 5 years later, though, the figures have taken on a new dimension. Subsequent to the cancellation of the ARAHC, all ARAH-style Joes took a turn for the worse. The began to only be released in multipacks and almost never included any of the mold's original accessories: things taken for granted in the ARAHC. As such, many collectors have grown nostalgic for those simpler days: not realizing how good we actually had it. In the grand scheme of things, the ARAHC only lasted for about 18 months and produced a scant 49 figures. Not much time when you consider it in relation to the line as a whole. While the line was far from perfect, it did produce many high quality figures who surpassed even their vintage versions. Had only that trend continued. Maybe we wouldn't be in the spot Joe collectordom now finds itself.

The Range Viper mold was used in 1990 and 1991. A few Range Vipers were also produced for Asian markets. (Some of these feature unique card art, too.) After that, the mold did not show up again until this Rock Viper release. Hasbro broke the mold out again in 2002 for the Skullbuster figure. In the nearly 4 years since that figure, though, the entire Range Viper mold has been MIA. (Parts including the head were used in 2005 in the Imperial Processional set.) As the mold is decent and we have yet to see a Range Viper repaint that is actually in wilderness colors, I think that the time has come where collectors would welcome another interpretation of the Range Viper mold.

One other item to be on the lookout for when you are in the market for the Rock Vipers is that the figure features slight differences in the paint wipes. The earliest Rock Vipers did not feature any paint wipes on the figure's face. Instead, the skull mask was left all white to showcase that feature. On later figures, though, the paint wipes started to appear all over the figure's face. This gives these a more dirty look. Of my 9 figures, only the first one which was purchased the day after the first reported US sighting back in December of 2000 has a totally clean face. The nature of the paint wipes and marbleized plastic used on the ARAHC releases makes it problematic to call one figure a variation over another who features a slightly different paint wipe or composition of plastic colors. But, as you search for more figures, you may find preferences and will have to ask questions accordingly to ensure you get figures that match the look you desire.

The other source of contention in regards to the Rock Viper is his official release year. The first ARAHC Joes were released in October of 2000. As such, it was difficult for the second wave to hit retail during the same year. I've already mentioned that I found my 1st Rock Viper in 2000. But, as it was in the last week of the year, that is more an anomaly than his actual release year. It was in 2001 that the Rock Viper was really shipped. As such, you will see various guides that list the Rock Viper as a 2000 release while others list him as a 2001 release. Solid arguments can be made on both sides. (The figure didn't really get out until 2001 yet it was shipped in cases that were, basically, carry overs from Wave 1.) Personally, I list the figure as a 2001 release as I consider the 1st wave of the ARAHC to be more of a preview wave with 2001 being the first full year that the line was actually pushed to retailers. (Which is why all but the largest retailers never carried Wave 1 of the ARAHC.) It doesn't really matter when you get down to it, but is another slight discrepancy you may notice when you are in the market for Rock Vipers.

These days, Rock Vipers aren't as easy to find as I would have thought back in 2001. While this figure warmed the pegs for a good long time and was available in sufficient quantities to satisfy even the most ambitious army builder, it has not appeared with my expected frequency on the second hand market. However, this has not translated into an expensive figure. You can still buy mint, complete Rock Vipers for ~$4 each with little trouble (though it is easier to find them in the $9 range!). While there aren't too many out there, not too many people are actually looking for the figures. So, the lack of demand trumps the sparse availability. This is not a bad thing, though, as the Rock Viper is a well done Cobra Trooper who meshes well with lots of vintage and many newer army builders. If you're looking for a cheap way to increase your Cobra forces, I'd highly recommend looking the Rock Viper's way.

2001 Rock Viper, Range Viper, ARAHC

2001 Rock Viper, Range Viper, ARAHC, 1992 Parasite

2001 Rock Viper, Range Viper, ARAHC, 1992 Parasite