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