Thursday, May 11, 2006

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

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