Wednesday, January 18, 2006

1989 Backblast

The Joe line is peppered with minor, obscure characters. Some of them were simply boring specialties and figures while others were characters or figures who seemed to be needlessly similar replacements for other, more popular characters. Such is the case with Backblast. While he is a decent figure in his own right, he forever suffers because he just seems to be a pale imitation of Zap. Beyond that, though, the figure features a solid mold, good colors, unique accessories and a blank characterization that allows for a diverse range of roles for the figure in anyone's collection.

1989 was the year where Hasbro brought back many old favorites. The Joe line was 7 years old and most of the kids who had grown up with the early Joe characters had grown up and moved on. To the new generation of kids playing with Joes, these old characters were new. Original Joes Rock and Roll, Stalker, and Snake Eyes all appeared with new molds while characters like Spirit, Mutt, Footloose and BBQ were all repainted for subsets. It has seemed to me for some time, though, that two other original Joes were slated for new molds in 1989 but were changed to new characters at some point in the design process. Both Downtown and Backblast are obvious homages to Short Fuze and Zap. Two characters who, in 1989, had not appeared in the toy line for over 6 years. Both Downtown and Backblast share more than specialties with their predecessors as their designs suggest they were heavily based upon the other characters. Perhaps this was just coincidence. Or, maybe Hasbro simply didn't want too many old characters re-appearing in the same year. But, the similarities are there.

Backblast's strong point is his accessories. His huge missile launcher is rather ridiculous looking from a realism standpoint, but is a cool piece to have as part of a display. It just looks so imposing that it fits with some of the more hyperbolic elements of the Joe line. He also includes a nicely detailed combat knife and a bright yellow bandoleer that is the one sore spot of his accessory complement. The thing about Backblast is that he looks cool when he is fully outfitted with his gear: regardless of how unrealistically heavy an actual missile launcher of that size of would be. He is a great example of how the proper accessories can accentuate even a less than stellar figure.

Backblast's mold is not terribly intricate. In fact, it is rather simple in some parts. However, what keeps the figure from being another Armadillo is that he does have some nice details that juxtapose nicely against the plainness of his basic design. His color scheme is basically black and army green. This, though, makes the little details stand out. Backblast features a knife holder molded onto his left arm. Really, it doesn't make much sense for this to be there, but it is a neat little feature: even if the knife falls out easily. He also features a scribbled notepad on his left leg. This is covered with mathematical equations designed to reflect the trigonometric nature of artillery warfare. (Though you will notice that one of the formulae on the sheet is actually the square root of a negative number. I'm not sure how imaginary numbers would fit into artillery calculations, but it is a note of interest nonetheless.) The final piece of interest on Backblast's mold is the sound mufflers molded onto his helmet. Most Joes would have gone deaf from some of the contraptions they were purported to use. As Backblast would have been launching missiles from right next to his head, it makes sense that he would have some hearing protection. It is a little detail, but one that grounds the figure in more realism.

In my collection, Backblast is a role player. As his weapons are so large and cumbersome, he is mostly relegated to bases or working out of large vehicles. He is, though, more mobile firepower for any Joe team that is within support range of a vehicle large enough to carry his equipment. In that regard, he is valuable as he can provide and anti-aircraft support for his team even if he is not physically with them. I also use Backblast as the gunner or co-pilot in a number of my tanks or heavily armoured vehicles. He looks like a tank driver and fits well with that element. As you can see, though, his roles aren't all that glamorous or high profile. Backblast is the perfect background character who looks good when supporting more prominent characters and is a great way to add some depth to any diorama.

After Backblast was discontinued in the U.S. in 1990, he was sent down to Brazil. There, between 1992 and 1993, he was released in colors similar to the American figure as Leontor. He was the least unique figure of the 4 member Forca Fera set. This was, though, the last time the Backblast arms were seen. In 1993, most of the figure was re-used for the V2 Backblast that was part of the Battle Corps series. That figure is also somewhat similar to this figure in terms of color and design. As such, there really aren't that many alternatives out there for Backblast fans. Each of his releases was similar enough that they are nearly indistinguishable.

On some levels, I wouldn't mind a return of the Backblast mold. It is decent enough. But, I would want to see it in a color scheme drastically different from the 2 previous American releases of the mold. But, at the same time, this mold really isn't all that compelling enough on its own to create an exciting repaint. As such, I think this mold would be better served as parts of a newly Frankenstiened figure. Backblast's head could easily be used to represent both Zap and Bazooka: two characters that have a much greater fan following. In that capacity, I think the return of Backblast would be much more interesting.   Backblast figures aren't too hard to find. Even with his range of accessories, it won't take you too long to track down a complete version. As it should only cost you about $6-$7, he is also affordable enough to warrant owning: even if he isn't a major player in your collection. I searched for a complete Backblast for a few years. He was always a figure that I meant to acquire, but could never just actually take the time to purchase. When I did finally get a nice sample, though, he was quickly shuffled off into the '89 drawer and forgotten until this profile. That is indicative of this figure's plight. He isn't a bad figure, but is one that no one remembers to use. There are just too many other more popular characters who are looked to when an artillery/anti-aircraft specialist is needed.

1989 Backbast, Rock and Roll, Recoil

1989 Backbast, Rock and Roll, Recoil, 1986 Viper

1989 Backbast, Rock and Roll, Recoil, 1986 Viper

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Funskool Streethawk - Spearhead Chest Variant

I have found it surprising that it has taken me this long to get to a Funskool figure on this new site. In the past, Funskool offerings have been one of the most innocently fun parts of Joe collecting. However, Funskool ceased producing new G.I. Joe figures in early 2004 and that has really lessened their overall impact on the hobby. Funskool Joes, though, remain one of the more interesting subsets in the Joe world. Their combination of bizarre colors, off-beat mold combinations and funky card art has made them both the toast and the laughingstock of the collecting community. I have long admired the Funskool line and enjoy the quirky offerings they have produced. Buried among the neon repaints, race changing figures and notorious mustaches, though, Funskool has also produced some really nice figures that are actually superior in design and color to their American counterparts. Some figures, though, have no American counterpart. Such is the case of the Funskool Streethawk figure.

The Streethawk figure has long been one of the most popular Funskool figures. He is, arguably, the best paint job of a quality Cobra mold and includes an awesome rendition of the RAM motorcycle in black. As such, many collectors have army built the Streethawk figure and he remains one of the few Funskool figures who have sold out from the larger dealers from time to time. It is not entirely clear what Streethawk's purpose was. Odd American television shows have found second lives in foreign countries. (I distinctly remember watching a Spanish dubbed version of the A-Team during prime time in Barcelona in 1993.) As such, it is likely that this figure was meant as a way to promote the newly launched G.I. Joe line in India by cross branding it with a popular TV show. Funskool had a few instances of this. Aside from the Streethawk, there is infamous Superhero figure. The package, though, is clearly labeled G.I. Joe, even though the figure has no other information that puts as part of the line. (You will also note the MRF on the tires on the Streethawk package. This is another cross sell with the co-owner of Funskool, the Madras Rubber Factory: a large tire maker in India.)

In my collection, the Streethawk figures has multiple roles. The version that has the TARGAT body has found a life as a generic Cobra pilot who is seen flying various Cobra aircraft. It is the Spearhead chest version, though, that has become a bit more interesting. I use this figure as a Cobra coyote. For unfamiliar with coyotes, it is the term for human smugglers in the Southwestern United States. These people (and I use that term loosely) smuggle desperate immigrants across the border in the worst conditions possible. They think nothing of leaving women, children and the elderly in the back of a tractor trailer in 110 degree heat with no water or ventilation while they stop for lunch. They are prone to incredible violence and have been known to get into gun battles right on a US highway. They are not good people in any sense of the word.

However, Cobra does have a use for people like this. The coyote is able to find the most desperate souls who are willing to sacrifice everything for a chance at a better life. These are the type of people that Cobra can use as they are easily malleable into the Cobra philosophy and create a dedicated base of loyal troops who will do the Commander's bidding under any circumstance. These people don't go on to become Vipers or Crimson Guardsmen. Instead, they are the cannon fodder for scientific experiments or the simple laborers who are the backbone of the Commander's most ambitious construction projects. (Like a tunnel from Cobra Island to the mainland US.) The Streethawk character can also serve as a means for Cobra officials to slip into and out of the U.S. across unsecured borders. The character is not really a part of Cobra (which is why he has no Cobra sigils on his uniforms) but is contracted with them and does lots of work for them.

This assigned role kind of fits the look of the figure. I see the bullet strap across his chest as a stereotypical homage to the Banditos of old. The helmet, though, offers protection both against the hard ground in case of an accident, but also against the powerful Southwestern sun. While the black may be a bit much in the desert heat, I see this character mostly driving across the deserted highways at night as he out maneuvers border patrol, Federales, local police, ranchers or civilian militant groups. Now, I just need to come up with a name for him....

There are several variants to the Streethawk figure. Page 55 of The International Action Figure Archive by Ron Conner and Derek Anderson lists 4 distinct versions of the Streethawk figure. The first, and most difficult to find, is a repaint of the V1 Snake Eyes figure. The third and fourth versions are basically TARGAT repaints. Version 3 features Spearhead's waist and legs while version 4 only features Spearhead's legs. The version 2 Streethawk figure, which is the subject of this profile is a completely repainted Spearhead body with only the TARGAT head and arms. (You can see a comparison photo at the bottom of this profile.) It is the second most difficult version of the Streethawk figure to find as it was discontinued just before Joe dealers began importing mass quantities of Funskool figures into the United States.

Much has been written about the quality of Funskool figures. They range in quality from nearly equal to American figures for the early Funskool stuff to really poor examples of workmanship with weak joints, cheap plastic and horridly applied paint. The key is knowing how to pick which figures are of the better quality. For some reason, certain Funskool figures are more prone to poor quality. Fortunately, it has been my experience that the Streethawk is not among these. All the Streethawks I have are well made. They feature tight paint masks and plastic that is more sturdy that many of the most recent Hasbro ARAH-style Joe releases. If you are still worried, though, there is another way to pick better quality Funskool figures. In April of 2003, Hasbro came down on Funskool for their quality. As such, any Funskool figure with a manufacture date subsequent to April of 2003 tends to be of much higher quality than those that were made prior to that date. As the Streethawk is a more popular figure, those that are still left at retail have a higher likelihood of being produced after April of 2003. So, even if you've had a bad experience with the quality of other Funskool figures, I would recommend giving them another chance with some of the later made figures. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

This version of Streethawk is somewhat tough to find. While he was not imported in the quantities of the later variations, though, he was one of the more popularly imported Funskool figures during the early days of foreign Joe collecting. As such, you can find them both loose and MOC with a little work. This version will probably run you over $20, though, if the sale is properly labeled. As many collectors, though, are unaware of the differences in price among some of the more significant Funskool variations, you can get good deals on this figure should you come across a sale with a blurry picture or poor description. However, unless you are a variation nut, I would highly recommend just spending $6 and buying one of the newer versions. It is much easier, the figure is high quality, and you would be able to quickly add this character to your collection.

I've found that the Streethawk figure in particular and Funskool figures in general are great ways to expand a collection. While Funskool figures are not as special as they once were, they still offer something distinctly different from many American releases and give any collection the diversity it needs to distinguish itself. Of all foreign releases, I count Funskool variants as the most common international figures in my collection. It is a distinction well earned and, if you have yet to take the Funskool plunge, is worth exploring.

Funskool Street Hawk, Variant, 2001 Major Bludd, 2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, 2004 Urban Strike Alley Viper, 1983 Hiss Tank, Fred

Funskool Street Hawk, Variant, Ryu, Scorpion, Mortal Combat Movie, Street Fighter

Funskool Street Hawk, Variant