Saturday, December 29, 2007

Top 10 Rarest Joe Figures

Most new collectors start in the hobby with the same questions. The one that is most often asked is, "what figure is the rarest?". There is no easy answer and just about every collector will respond differently. However, most seasoned veterans will be able to give at least a few common figures, if they are allowed some leeway. I put together this list based on the figures I have had the most trouble finding, listening to what other collectors are after, and how often I see a particular figure for sale. The results are unscientific at best. Of important note, though, is that I do not necessarily equate price to rarity. There are many, many figures that are expensive, but are very easy to find. There are also some figures that are nearly impossible to track down, but, when you find them, they are very cheap. G.I. Joe is not like other toy lines in that there is some "Holy Grail".

This list ranks mint and complete figures. As such, you might see some items that seem easy to find, but they have a hard to find accessory or are impossible to find in mint condition. This list incorporates both foreign and unreleased Joe figures that have been publically discussed. I'll be frank: there are several Joe figures that are rarer than just about anything on this list but they are not listed because those who own them have not yet made their findings public. If the owners give the rare figure a "coming-out" party, then they will make this list. Until then, they will not appear here.

I'm sure many will disagree with what is listed here and there really isn't any definitive list of the rarest figures. For all I know, tomorrow, someone will find a warehouse of 1000 blue Hawks from India. So, the list is fluid based on what's happening in the collecting world at the time. So, here it is. Feel free to argue away.


No. Year Figure Comments
1. 1986(est.) Venezuelan Exclusives This list includes the white Cobra Mortal and the other Venezuelan exclusive versions of his Argentine contemporaries. The white Mortal is the most distinctive Venezuelan figure and is the one that gets the most press. At this time, though, the White Mortal is also the most common of the figures. But, they are all lumped together here since there are only a few of each figure known in the US at this time.
2. 1998 Unproduced Desert HQ Figures These three figures: Outback, Dial Tone and Pathfinder were intended for release in 1998. There are less than half a dozen sets known to exist and Dial Tone is the rarest of the 3. These figures rarely appear for sale in even the highest markets.
3. 1992 (est.) Blue Hawk This Funskool figure is incredibly rare and only a few are currently known to exist. The Hawk was only available with a vehicle and few made it out of India.
4. 1995 Unproduced Battle Corps Rangers These figures only exist as resin prototypes, though a few are handpainted. This series includes: Baroness, Dr. Mindbender, Flint and Footloose. Around a half dozen of each are known to exist at this time.
5. 1992 (est.) 1st Series Funskool Repaints The first series of Funskool figures featured some unique repaints. Among them are the blue Major Bludd, blue Short Fuse, Red Stalker, Clutch and Emerald Zap. These figures are easier to find than the blue Hawk, but still appear very rarely. Some are easier to find than others and most of these have been found carded.
6. 1986 (est.) 2nd Series Argentine Figures This is the most well known rare figure subset. It includes: Cobra Mortal, Glenda, Manleh, Shimik, Topson and Redmack. A few years ago, these were pretty much impossible to find. But, a few Argentine collectors managed to bring several dozen of each of these figures to the US. Today, they are still pricey, but not as rare as they once were. Don't get fooled by the "Argen 7" nonsense that's out there. There are 6 figures in this series. Some are easier to find than others (Manleh is probably the toughest to find.) but they all get a special denotation as they are so intertwined.
8. 1995 Ninja Commandos There are 2 ways to get Ninja Commandos: either as resin prototypes or as full production figures. There are very few of each. As these are ninjas, they aren't as popular as some other unproduced concepts. But, they are very hard to find in either form.
9. 2004(est.) Unproduced Alternate Asian Figures In 2004, a slew of unproduced alternate color scheme figures started appearing out of Asia. Some of these (alternate white pants Night Force) are very easy to find. Others (Tiger Force Steel Brigade) are very difficult. This group that is rare includes the dark blue Anti-Venom figures, the aforementioned Steel Brigade, the alternate Desert Patrol figures, removable helmet Cobra Infanty, the Alternate Convention Dreadnoks, alternate Convention Gung Ho and Dragonsky and a few other new sculpt figures. Each of these has unique rarity, but the harder ones all tend to exist in about the same quantities.
10. 1997 Pimp Daddy Destro The most over-hyped figure of all time actually isn't that hard to find. Several dozen PDD's are known to exist in the collecting community and it is believed there are hundreds more still in Asia just waiting to be discovered.




Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bronze Bomber Darklon (Crazeblaze)

Darklon isn't a character most people care about. At worst, he is an oddity that was the prelude to the weirdness that affected the Joe line in the '90's. At best, he is an obscure villain colored in a way that renders him useless to most collectors. As a mold, though, Darklon does have promise. And, had he been colored more sanely, I think many more collectors would warm to the character. Alas, Darklon was only produced in the one color scheme by Hasbro and never appeared as a G.I. Joe figure anywhere else in the world. But, there is still hope. In 1997, Hasbro sold a group of old vehicle driver molds to the Olmec toy company. Among these molds was Darklon. Olmec put the molds into a set of figures named the Bronze Bombers. While the Darklon mold doesn't have a lot of detail, the base coloring redeems the figure mold and actually makes Darklon a character that can be relevant to the modern Joe collection.

In the Bronze Bomber set, this figure is actually named Crazeblaze. Not a bad name for the figure and no less humorous than Darklon. On the surface, this figure appears to be black. In actuality, the figure is a deep, dark purple color. As it is so dark, though, it's hard to identify it as purple. There really isn't another Joe figure I can think of that is similarly colored. The purple is offset by a nice dark beige. The contrast is stark and offsets some of the mold detail. But, as far as color goes, that's it. This is a 2 color figure. He has a base color and 1 paint application. Typically, even the blandest Joe figures from modern times have at least 4 colors on them. The best figures have 7 or 8. So, this isn't a highly detailed version that shows all of the trappings of the Darklon mold. Instead, it is a rather basic offering. But, it works. The simple colors are different enough that they appear more textured than they really are. Plus, the overall look of the figure is so different from the Hasbro version that you are drawn to the difference, not the lack of detail. As a stand alone example, this simplistic approach works. I wouldn't want a dozen different figures that only featured 2 colors. But, in rare cases, it can be effectively used to give us something different.

Ahh, what to do with Darklon? I've never been overly fond of Darklon's character in the comic. In fact, I had so little interest in the character that I only have 1 Darklon figure in my collection and it is in poor shape. I never had any interest to find a nice one since I really didn't care about the character. Now, though, this figure has given me a chance to add another Cobra leader to my mix. I don't really like him aligned with Destro since Destro already has some field generals. I have enough South American Cobras as well. As such, I see Darklon joining the ranks of those loyal to the new Cobra Commander. He will join with the characters portrayed by the Agent Faces figure. But, I see Darklon being more of a military commander. While I would like to have my new Commander be vulnerable, the reality is that he would never have risen to power without some military might behind him. The Crimson Guard provided some of that, but the Commander needs more rank and file troops, too. I foresee Darklon filling that role. A military commander of the masses who is young and ambitious. He has no sights on the Commander's job...yet. But is putting himself into positions where he can learn all he will need to know to someday take the Commander's job.

Overall, I really like this figure. Sure, it could have more painted detail. But, the overall look is nice for a Cobra leader and it does show the potential of the Darklon mold. Plus, the figure is obscure enough that when people see it, they usually mistake it for a custom or foreign exclusive. I tend to like lesser known figures like this as they add great depth to a collection. You can put together a diorama and have a figure like this milling in the background and that will generate more discussion than the main action of the picture. As a whole, I think the collecting community likes to see figures that don't get the spotlight. They don't, necessarily, want to see them in starring roles. But, as background fodder or minor players, these figures are the type of thing that distinguishes a collection from its peers. While some might take that as arrogance or bragging, I see it only as a measure of individual preference. For me, having what everyone else does takes the fun out of it. Seeing something new that I hadn't previously paid attention to keeps the hobby interesting for me.

The Darklon mold was only used by Hasbro for the original figure and then by Olmec. So, there aren't a lot of options for Darklon fans. The nice thing was that the Bronze Bomber set actually used the Darklon mold twice. The second figure is a Bronze Bomber that features an Olmec exclusive head with a grey body accentuated by dark blue highlights. Frankly, this body would work with either the original Darklon head or the one from the Crazeblaze figure and give you yet another option for the Darklon character. Of course, if you can't find the Crazeblaze, it's not likely you'll find the other Bronze Bomber who uses the Darklon mold, either. The sad reality is that the molds used by Olmec are gone. Olmec had issues with the federal government and is defunct. The molds they were sold are gone and there is little hope we will ever see any of the molds from the set resurrected in any format. It's a shame as there are some great molds in the Bronze Bombers set. But, most of them have decent Hasbro figures and some that don't, like Darklon, were done well enough by the Bronze Bombers that collectors have a nice variety to add to their collections.

If you want this figure, it is not easy to find. When you do see them for sale, they will easily fetch $25-$30. But, there is hope. Most toy dealers who have a passing interest in Joe will occasionally find Bronze Bomber figures. Usually, they will not know what they are and will either mislabel them (often as Funskool figures) or toss them into bargain bins. If these dealers do know what the figures are, they rarely realize how much Joe collectors are willing to pay for individual figures: especially the Cobra molds. I found this figure in a bargain bin at a toy dealer for $3. In the past 2 years, I've found 2 Bronze Bomber figures like this. So, it can happen. It's not likely that it will happen to you tomorrow, but usually, in time, you can get just about anything for a fair price. This is the best version of Darklon. But, it's Darklon. If a Bronze Bomber were the best version of Stormshadow, Cobra Commander or Snake Eyes, then I've have no issue with paying the high price tag. But, my collection is complete without a Darklon. Granted, it's more complete with him. But most collectors wouldn't consider Darklon to be one of their essential characters. As such, for most collectors, it's worth waiting to find this guy on the cheap. This figure was well worth the price I paid for him, but I know that I wouldn't have paid much more just to get him.

1997 Bronze Bombers, Olmec Toys, Crazeblaze, Darklon, 1989 Python Patrol Viper, 1988 Iron Grenadiers, 1989 Wild Boar, 2002 Alley Viper, Viper, Tomahawk, Sgt. Stalker, Torpedo, Lifeline, Night Force Flint

1997 Bronze Bombers, Olmec Toys, Crazeblaze, Darklon, 1989 Python Patrol Viper, 1988 Iron Grenadiers, 1989 Wild Boar, 2002 Alley Viper, Viper, Tomahawk, Sgt. Stalker, Torpedo, Lifeline

1997 Bronze Bombers, Olmec Toys, Crazeblaze, Darklon, 1989 Python Patrol Viper, 1988 Iron Grenadiers, 1989 Wild Boar, 2002 Alley Viper, Viper, Tomahawk, Sgt. Stalker, Torpedo, Lifeline

1997 Bronze Bombers, Olmec Toys, Crazeblaze, Darklon, 1989 Python Patrol Viper, 1988 Iron Grenadiers, 1989 Wild Boar, 2002 Alley Viper, Viper

1997 Bronze Bombers, Olmec Toys, Crazeblaze, Darklon, 1989 Python Patrol Viper, 1988 Iron Grenadiers, 1989 Wild Boar, 2002 Alley Viper, Viper

1997 Bronze Bombers, Olmec Toys, Crazeblaze, Darklon, 1989 Python Patrol Viper, 1988 Iron Grenadiers, 1989 Wild Boar, 2002 Alley Viper, Viper

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2005 Oktober Guard Horrorshow

Simply put, the Oktober Guard were the figures most requested by collectors since...well...since they were introduced back in the first year of the comic. Hasbro attempted an Oktober Guard 3-pack in 1998, but it was met with lukewarm collector interest and went on to become a massive pegwarmer. That set, though, didn't feature any of the classic Oktober Guard characters. In 2005, Hasbro made another attempt and, this time, hit much closer to the mark with their products. Of the 5 members of the Oktober Guard who were immortalized in plastic at that time, it is Horrorshow who stands above all the others as an achievement worthy of collector expectations.

Of all the Oktober Guard characters, Horrorshow is probably the favorite among collectors. Daina has her fans. But, at the end of the day, there is simply no other character like Horrorshow in the rest of the Joe mythos. He had a distinctive look and an abundant characterization that combined to create one of the iconic characters in the original comic book run. When Larry Hama killed off the Oktober Guard in the comic, it was Horrorshow that I missed the most. The rest of the Oktober Guard characters could be replaced rather easily with new characters that were similar in style and personality. For Horrorshow, though, that would have been much harder since the character was so unique. His massive physique, out of control appetite, larger than life mustache and general buffoonery were an odd combination that simply clicked on every level. As a toy, though, Horrorshow posed some problems. The other Oktober Guard figures were easily cobbled together from various existing parts. Horrorshow's look, though, had no existing counterparts in the vintage line. It was a problem that had confounded customizers for years and was the one stumbling block to Hasbro releasing an adequate Horrorshow figure.

Fortunately, Hasbro had a solution. To create this figure, Hasbro sculpted a new head, chest, arms and waist. This is the first ARAH style figure in the modern line to feature any newly sculpted parts other than a head. (A few figures such as the Cobra Infantry, Crimson Guard, Anti Venom Mutt and Lady Jaye are actually new molds, but they were based on the original molds rather than all new sculpts.) The legs are from the remade Cobra Soldier and Scrap Iron figures. The overall look of the figure is nothing short of spectacular. It perfectly captures the design of Horrorshow as he appeared in the comics. The new parts give the figure an authenticity that is missing on the other 4 Oktober Guard figures. But, they are not without their drawbacks. First, Horrorshow is supposed to be HUGE. This figure isn't sculpted huge. Instead, he is actually smaller than the other Oktober Guard figures who use figure molds from the '90's. Among figures from '84 and earlier, Horrorshow fits better. But, as soon as he's showcased with molds from '85 or later, his lack of size becomes more apparent. More importantly, though, is an aesthetic decision that was made regarding the figure. Horrorshow wore a long, quilted coat. It extended below his waist. To capture this, Hasbro sculpted the waist piece to extend the coat from the torso. When the figure is standing up, this little detail adds remarkable depth to the Horrorshow figure and is really a key to what makes the figure special. Unfortunately, this aesthetic hinders the movement of the figure and Horrorshow simply can not sit down. In the grand scheme of things, this shouldn't be a big deal to most collectors who simply display figures. But, it is an annoyance when you try to pose the figure or take photos of him. Given the choice, though, I'll still take the sculpted coat on the waist over the normal movement. Were I a kid, though, I don't know if that would still be the case.

Horrorshow's accessories are adequate. While the rest of the Oktober Guard featured accessories that I found to be fairly mundane and out of sync with the figures, Horrowshow's weapons worked. He includes an RPG that is close to the one he used as his trademark weapon in the comic. It isn't 100% accurate, but what Joe accessory really is? This was really all he needed, though, for good measure, he also included a backpack. If you want to properly accessorize your Oktober Guard figures, though, head over to Marauder Inc. and buy one of his weapon sets. It's a lot easier than trying to find replacements for your other Oktober Guard figures and you get a more accurate weapon for Horrorshow to boot.

In my collection, Horrorshow is pretty much as advertised. There isn't much I could do with him that was out of character with how he was presented in the comic. But, as the character was killed in the comics, I do find that I don't really use him, or any of the other Oktober Guard figures. They will have a place when I finally get around to getting a nice display case for my Joe figures. In the meantime, then wait in their drawer: rarely seeing any attention beyond the rare profile like this one.

The one aspect of Horrorshow's character that I think is under-explored, though, is his relationship with Col. Brekhov. In the comics, it is implied that Brekhov and Horrorshow have the deepest ties of any Oktober Guard members. From the simple act in the second yearbook where the two are tossing a bottle of vodka back forth to Brekhov's final words to his dead friend's body in their final minutes, you can see the Horrorshow and Brekhov are the two closest members of the Oktober Guard. They seem to be the equivalent of Stalker and Snake Eyes on the Joes: great soldiers whose past experiences have bonded them in ways that most people can simply never comprehend. It is in this regard that I think the character of Horrorshow could be further utilized. How did he meet Brekhov? What sort of missions did they undertake prior to the formation of the Oktober Guard? What were Horrorshow's true political leanings? These are questions that could easily be explored at some point in the future.

It is that direction that I have taken the Horrorshow character. I see him in the past, serving the Soviet Union at the height of its power. Horrorshow and Brekhov were the ones sent on the worst missions into Afghanistan, the Soviet states and Siberia. They were sent after military rogues who had stolen nuclear warheads. Often times they would work with agents from Argentina, Brazil and Europe. In fact, one of the themes I have in my collection is that Brekhov only accepted Daina into the Oktober Guard because she reminded him of Quarrel. The truth is that the notion of the Oktober Guard is an anachronism in our post Cold War world. Keeping them in their own time seems the best way to utilize the characters.

Horrorshow is the single most expensive figure that was released in the comic packs. Today, you can purchase the entire comic pack still MOC for around $30. If you just want Horrorshow, though, mint and complete with filecard he will typically run between $16 and $19. That's pretty pricey for a modern figure. But, this is the only way to get the Horrorshow character in toy form and he was part of an underproduced wave of figures. On top of that, there are many collectors who had no interest in any of the modern Joes except for the Oktober Guard figures. So, there is a higher demand than there is for most other characters. For the effort that Hasbro put into this figure, that's not a price I'd have a problem paying if the figure were not part of my collection. I hold out hope that, at some point, Master Collector or another exclusive Joe seller will revisit the Horrorshow mold as a convention exclusive or that some enterprising retailer will realize the potential of high quality ARAH Joe figures and produce a repainted Horrorshow. But, even if one of those were to happen, it is unlikely that the new figure would be much cheaper to acquire than the original. So, what to do??? Personally, I'm happy to see this character in toy form...even if the figure has its flaws. If we waited for every figure to be perfect, the Joe line would have about two dozen figures that would pass muster. So, flaws and all, in the case of characters like Horrorshow, I'll take what I can get.

2005 Horrorshow, Oktober Guard, Comic Pack, 2006 Viper Pit

2005 Horrorshow, Oktober Guard, Comic Pack, Salvo, Unproduced Night Force Tracker

2005 Horrorshow, Oktober Guard, Comic Pack, Torpedo, VAMP, General Hawk

2005 Horrorshow, Oktober Guard, Comic Pack, Col. Brekhov, Schrage

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

1986 Lifeline

The Joe line's medical corps had an interesting evolution. Doc was the first edition, but he was a full fledged M.D. While his inclusion makes sense in an elite combat unit like the Joes, you would have thought that the first step to making the Joe self sufficient would have been a medic. As the unit expanded, you would have seen the budget set to include a full physician. But, the Joes took the opposite route and it was not until Doc was off the shelves in 1986 that Hasbro finally released a standard medic in the Joe line. But, what a medic it was! With a remarkably detailed mold, acceptable colors and legendary accessories, Lifeline proudly filled the void left by the Doc figure at retail.

For me, Lifeline is a solid mold and decent figure. But, he is made great by his accessories. The backpack and gun are decent enough but the opening medical case with attaching air mask are the pieces that make Lifeline a classic. From the moment I first found Lifeline hanging on the pegs at retail, it was those accessories that sold me on the figure. I was even able to excuse Lifeline's red color since I wanted to have a medic with those accessories with my Joes on every mission. While I have no real memories of using Lifeline as a character, I do vividly remember him valiantly saving wounded Joes in several situations.

My first memories of Lifeline were of him saving Joes who had been badly shot up by my new Viper. His airmask pumped up the lungs of the fallen Joe who had been perforated by Viper bullets. In time, the figure's role morphed to more of an army builder figure. I viewed Lifeline as a nameless, faceless medic under the command of Doc who was responsible for the Joes on various missions. Often times the red uniform would lead to the medic being shot and the Joes being left to fend for themselves. But, there were many missions where a rescue team with a medic had to fight hard to reach a stranded Joe team who were under heavy Cobra fire and had seriously wounded soldiers. In time, though, the figure became more useful to have than to use. I wanted a Lifeline in my Joe base to save anyone who was hurt, but dragging him along in a valuable slot in the WHALE, HAVOC or APC simply got boring. I didn't want other, more combat centric figures being left behind so I could have a medic. Though, when my friends came over, one of our "rules" of play was that if you didn't have a doctor on your team, any figure wounded in battle had to stay out of action for the entire play session and couldn't return until the next day. With a medic, the figure could return after only a few minutes. It's odd that we had to create guidelines for play. But, it kept fights down since no one person could decide to go rouge and have some figure on their team become invincible.

In later years, Lifeline's accessories found a second life in my Joe air corps. I was never satisfied with any of the Joe pilots of my youth. I always wanted a figure who featured a real, removable air mask. Ripcord was close and his mask was the default for a few pilot figures for a while. But, I liked more complex accessory pairings. In the late '80's I used the Silver Pads Grand Slam as my de facto pilot of choice. I outfitted him with his standard helmet and visor, but augmented him with Lifeline's mask. With that grouping of accessories, I had a pilot that featured everything I wanted: eye protection, air to breathe and a unique look that none of my other friends could match.

After Lifeline was done at retail, he was released in Tiger Force colors. This was a great way to give the figure a bit more use since the colors were more militaristic. After that figure was gone, the medical specialty in the Joe line was filled by Stretcher. Stretcher was less medic and more extraction specialist, but the intent was close enough for most kids to not know the difference. But, Stretcher never really caught on as a character and Lifeline remains most collectors' default medical figure. The upside is that, as a tandem, Lifeline and Stretcher are great complements to each other.

The Lifeline mold got decent usage. After this figure was done at retail in 1987, Hasbro recolored in the Tiger Force subset in 1988. In 1991, Hasbro used all the mold except for the legs as part of an exclusive cereal mail away figure. (The cereal company didn't want the mail away figure to have any weapons molded on it, so the original legs were ditched for some that did not have a sidearm.) From there, the mold went to Brazil where it was released in colors very similar to the American Tiger Force Lifeline. Once it was done there, the mold went on to India where Funskool produced the figure for many years in a color scheme that was reminiscent of Tiger Force, but was much brighter and bolder. (It seems the air mask mold did not make it to India, though, as the Funskool figure does not include that accessory.) As this figure was still in production in India up until 2003 or so, it is likely that the mold is available to Hasbro. However, they have yet to use it. Instead, they have resurrected the Lifeline character using the Stretcher mold in the Anti-Venom set and an amalgamation of molds in the Desert Patrol set. I'm somewhat torn on the Lifeline mold at this point. While I'd love to see it reappear in a new color scheme, I'm also satisfied with the versions of the Lifeline mold that are available. So, if we never see the mold again, the figures that do utilize it are not bastions of unrealized potential.

As a character, Lifeline was interestingly done. While the figure included a pistol and was molded with a sidearm, the character was represented as a pacifist. Lifeline did not want to fight: he wanted to help those who did. (Frankly, I still feel that is a fundamentally flawed character trait and one that would have kept Lifeline out of the military.) In the comic, Lifeline had a memorable debut alongside the Oktober Guard in Issue #4 of G.I. Joe Special Missions. But, this gimmick wore thin with me and it wasn't long after that issue appeared that Lifeline as a character disappeared from my Joe world. (Astute fans will note that in his debut, Doc mentioned that the Geneva Convention prevented him from using a firearm. This was easier to circumvent, though, as it was implied that Doc was willing to use weapons. He was just precluded from doing so by the confines of his specialty within international law.)

1986 proved to a turning point in my Joe collection for many reasons. As the year progressed, I was less interested in the characters that Hasbro was churning out. As '86 featured many recycled specialties held by earlier Joes, it seemed to me that many of the figures were somewhat redundant. In my personal collection, a figure's value was dependent upon the condition of the original figure who shared the new figure's specialty. As my Breaker was long broken, Dial Tone was a valued asset. But, since Stalker was still going strong, Beach Head had less value as a character. As such, I started to develop the notion of Joe army builders. In 1985, I had amalgamated a figure from spare parts that was a generic soldier for the Joes. But, as '86 wore on, these roles were filled more and more by the new figures who were released that year. The best example of this occurred with the release of the Mission to Brazil set. This was a set I really wanted and became an important part of my collection. But, the figures that I wanted from the set were all just repaints of characters who had caught on in my collection. As such, all of the Mission to Brazil figures became army builders who specialties followed that of their original figures. It was from these ranks that new Joe characters from '87 arose. Lifeline was a logical extension of this. Any figure whose comic characterizations failed to keep my interest was, instead, turned into a faceless automaton against whom Cobra was more evenly matched. It helped prolong my interest in Joe a bit too long into my adolescence, but does provide some of the more lasting memories of that time of my life.

Lifeline's can be tricky to find if you want them complete. Most of the cheap ones you see out there tend to have some paint wear on the white details and are often missing either the silver pistol or the air mask. Mint and complete with filecard, Lifelines tend to run between $9 and $15. That's a not a bad price to pay for a figure of this quality with all his accessories. For a long time, I army built this figure. Now, though, I'm content without the massive numbers and find the figure more meaningful as an individual. Most collectors feel the same. Lifeline is a valued member of most collections and remains the medic figure who most collectors associate with the specialty.

1986 Lifeline, 1988 Ghostrider, Night Force Repeater

1986 Lifeline, 1988 Hit and Run, 2004 Night Force Short Fuse, Hot Seat, Dial Tone

1986 Lifeline, 1988 Hit and Run, 2004 Night Force Short Fuse, Hot Seat, Dial Tone

1986 Lifeline, 1988 Hit and Run, 2004 Night Force Short Fuse, Hot Seat, Dial Tone

1986 Lifeline, 2004 Tiger Force Beach Head, Convention Exclusive, 1994 Shipwreck, Dee Jay, Wet Suit, 1985 Eel


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1989 Wild Boar

Quick, without looking, what does the Wild Boar figure look like? For most collectors, this isn't a question that's easily answered. As forgotten figures go, the Wild Boar is among the most unheralded figure releases ever offered by Hasbro. The reasons why are many, but they show how even a decent figure, released at the wrong time in less than stellar colors, can be overlooked by the collecting community at large. What do you do with a figure who is blandly colored, features incredibly fragile paint and is incredibly obscure? In many cases, the answer in my collection is something rather unique and different. However, in the case of the Wild Boar, I have yet to find a great niche for the figure. While the mold has its upside, it also is fairly boring. Plus, the gold paint is so fragile that even the slightest use can drop a mint figure down two or three condition grades. That type of fragility can be excused on a figure with a great design. But, for a figure that uses only 4 colors and is rather basic it is a death knell.

The Wild Boar was introduced in 1989 as the driver of the Razorback. He was part of Destro's Iron Grenadier army. The Razorback itself was a kooky design that had its charms. But, the gold coloring made it more than a little bizarre to look at. In that regard, the Wild Boar fits right in. The figure is uniquely designed and his coloring does not fit with the rest of the Iron Grenadier color scheme. The figure seems gangly to me. His design is such that it appears he is all limbs. It is likely that this is due to the way the figure was colored. The figure's torso is dark black and is set against bright red arms and legs. As such, the limbs stand out and appear longer than they really are. The figure's torso is left completely unpainted except for a fragile Destro logo on the right shoulder. This is unfortunate as the mold actually features some decent details that are lost in the darkness. Even one additional paint application on the torso would likely have given this figure much more life.   The Wild Boar included 2 accessories: a helmet and a hose. The hose plugged from the helmet to the figure's arm. The idea was that the targeting was directly linked the driver's sight. Neat idea. However, the result is that the hose is very bulky and the look of the figure when fully accessorized leaves something to be desired. The helmet is interesting. As a design, it looks good. But, why would the Wild Boar need a helmet with goggles when the driver himself is already wearing goggles? Much like the Viper, this redundancy doesn't make much sense. It is further exacerbated by the fact that the helmet doesn't fit quite right and the figure looks awkward when the helmet is properly affixed. Of course, by covering the golden goggles of the figure with the helmet, you risk rubbing away the golden paint that marks the figure's eyewear. You will find many a Wild Boar that no longer bears any hint of gold paint on the goggles, even when the rest of the figure lacks any noticeable wear. It is a flawed design at best.

After reading all this, I asked myself why, again, I profiled this figure. The answer was that the fragile gold paint made for a now hard to find mint figure and I wanted to showcase an example of how bad design can basically destroy a figure. This has also become more relevant in recent months as Hasbro seems to be repeating a few of these mistakes with their 25th Anniversary line. Already, silver paint on figures has proven fragile. Many of the army builders feature tight fitting helmets that are affixed over painted heads. Even for the hardened adult collector who is anal about the condition of his figures, design flaws like this can lead to many inadvertent damages to figures. The act of placing a figure's accessories onto the figure should not automatically deteriorate the figure with each use. It's one thing for standard play to rub paint away. That's normal and acceptable. But, placing a helmet into place the first time should not scrape away the brand new paint on any toy.

At its core, the Wild Boar could easily be mistaken for an updated Hiss Driver. The figure is mostly red, comes with an armored vehicle and has a very basic design: just like the vintage Hiss Driver. The difference, though, is that the Wild Boar is a testament to unfulfilled potential. The figure features a nice depth of detailing and design. But, most of this is unpainted and lost in the sea of dark red that comprises most of the figure's coloring. Still, in my collection, this is the figure's role. But, even that is limited. I prefer to have Track Vipers man my Hiss Tanks. Beyond that, there aren't many vehicles that I have in my collection that mesh well with the bright red of the Wild Boar. As most of my remaining Cobra vehicles are blue, black or crimson, the Wild Boar clashes with the Cobra vehicles that see the most use in my collection. The figure is a bit too bright for the Crimson ranks. Plus, Hasbro has made enough Crimson figures available in recent years that I am able to find adequate drivers for my Crimson Hiss Tanks.

Years ago, I was in the market for a Razorback. At the time, they weren't terribly expensive and they were relatively available. However, I discovered a site that sold Funskool vehicles. (This was before any American dealer was importing Funskool product.) They had a Funskool Razorback in stock so I ordered it. That took me out of the market for the vehicle. After a few weeks, I checked my credit card statement and found that I had not been charged for the vehicle. I then went back to the site to discover that they did not ship outside of India. By this time, my interest in the Razorback had waned and I did not pursue it again. To this day, the vehicle is one that I've never owned. But, as I'm not a big vehicle collector anymore, the Razorback isn't something that I think I will be adding to my collection at any point in the near future. Even though it would give a home to my cadre of Wild Boar figures.   The Wild Boar mold was used just this one time in any Joe line. Unfortunately, it was used again, though, by Olmec toys in their Bronze Bombers line. Here, you can find a few Bronze Bomber figures who utilize the Wild Boar mold in various colors. None of the figures reuses the Wild Boar head, though. As the Wild Boar appeared in the Bronze Bombers, the mold is likely gone forever. But, unlike the Secto Viper, Strato Viper or Motor Viper molds that also appeared in the set, I don't think collectors missed out on too much by this mold's absence. While I think the Wild Boar mold could be put to good use, the reality is that if Hasbro is going to spend money recreating a vintage style mold, the Wild Boar would probably be in my bottom 10% of figures I would like to see redone. As the figure is so obscure, I'd say it's unlikely that we'll ever see the Wild Boar appear again in any mold that is similar to this one.

If you want a Wild Boar figure, they aren't too terribly tough to find. However, if you want one that's in mint condition, that gets a lot harder. The gold paint on the figure's goggles and the Destro logo on the right shoulder is as fragile as any paint in the line. Pretty much, if the figure's helmet was ever put on the head, it is likely that the goggles will have some paint wear. The Destro logo rubs off with the slightest pressure and many people do not even realize that it should be there since it is possible to have an otherwise pristine figure that is missing all traces of the Destro logo. On top of that, the figure has a fragile nose and the flesh colored paint often rubs away, leaving a large black pox on the figure's face. All this adds up to a figure that is really difficult to find in mint condition. As such, you will see collectors pay a premium for a nicely conditioned specimen. In recent months, mint Wild Boars have sold for as much as $40. But, that is hardly the going rate. You see, no one really cares about the Wild Boar. So, unless two sticklers for condition are searching for a Wild Boar at the same time, the price for a mint, complete version tends to be closer to $18 or so. Price guides, though, haven't caught on to the figure's rarity. So, if you can find one in a second hand toy shop, they are often sold for under $10. (You just have to find them!) All this still adds up to a price that is a bit much for what the figure offers. Such a basic design with bright colors that has limited use really isn't worth that kind of money or trouble. For me, it's a figure that checks a box in my list of needed Joes. Beyond that, the figure sees little use. As this isn't a figure you see very much of in any Joe medium, it seems I'm not alone in that assessment.

1989 Wild Board, Iron Grenadier, 2004 Cobra Trooper

1989 Wild Board, Iron Grenadier, 2004 Cobra Trooper

1989 Wild Board, Iron Grenadier, 1988 Destro, Darklon, Bronze Bomber, Crazeblaze, Olmec Toys, Rage

1989 Wild Board, Iron Grenadier, 1988 Destro, Darklon, Bronze Bomber, Crazeblaze, Olmec Toys, Rage

1989 Wild Board, Iron Grenadier, 1988 Destro, Darklon, Bronze Bomber, Crazeblaze, Olmec Toys, Rage

Thursday, November 15, 2007

1987 Cobra Commander

In December of 1986, just a few days before Christmas, my mother took me to the local Toys R Us store. I was in for quite a surprise that day as I found that TRU had stocked a few of the 1987 Joes a few weeks early. Armed with birthday money to spend, I purchased a Falcon and a new version of one of the most important characters in Joe history: Cobra Commander.

This commander was unlike any that had been previously released, though, as the character was now encased in impregnable body armor. At long last I could have Cobra Commander at the forefront of any battle with his troops. And, now the Joes were going to have a very tough time stopping the Commander in any capacity. As soon as the new Commander arrived home, my beat up old Commanders were put away and this new figure assumed his role. He was quickly thrust into battle where the Joes simply couldn't deal with his near invulnerability. Predictably, though, this routine got stale rather quickly. It simply wasn't fun to have an unbeatable enemy. As such, I soon morphed the suit of armor into more of a protective shell for the Commander to wear in the presence of his associates. This kept him from being killed in an assassination attempt. I also modified the story of the armor so that it wasn't so strong that it was unbreakable. Instead, it would stop most bullets and prevent death if a vehicle were attacked. But, after it was hit a few times, it would lock up and trap an immobile Commander wherever he was at the time the shots first hit. So, while the Commander would be safe, he was still subject to kidnap by any group that could immobilize him.

Even with this, Cobra Commander became a bit stale in my collection. Plus, as 1987 wore on, I was outgrowing Joes so I spent less and less time with them. The result was the Cobra Commander became more of a background player. He was not at the forefront of Cobra politics. Instead, he was more of a shadowy background figure who was in constant danger of losing his position to the ambitious Sea Slug character. Some of this malaise, though, was also a direct result of the comic book. While the creation of Serpentor had been cool, that character also quickly fizzled out. The resulting madness simply didn't do much for me. I didn't like Serpentor in charge of Cobra nor did I like Cobra Commander being replaced by a Crimson Guard mechanic. The story simply did nothing for me and was a big reason why I started my own Cobra factions. To me, they were more interesting and kept me engaged in characters that I otherwise would have lost interest in.

Today, this figure doesn't have much of a place in my collection. I have the various takes on the mold, but none of them are displayed or used. When I think of Cobra Commander, I don't think of this uniform design. Instead, it is the hooded or battle helmet versions that denote the Commander to me. As a footnote in the character's history, this mold suffices. Beyond that, though, I simply don't have much use for it in any day to day use capacity. For some younger collectors, though, that is not the case. For them, the Commander was first this armored version...not the classic versions from the original comics. And, as such, I think the mold retains its relevance. When I see this mold, I only think Cobra Commander. But, when I think of Cobra Commander, this mold does not come to mind.

This mold has an interesting history. After its use in the US, the mold was sent to Brazil. There, it was released in nearly identical colors to the US version. From there, the figure mold went on to India. There, it was also released in colors similar to the American version. In 1997, Hasbro recalled many molds from Funskool. In fact, most of the 1997 Joe line had been the Funskool Joe line right up until the time of the recall. With the mold back in its possession, Hasbro used it in 1997 (in a very dark Cobra blue), 2001, 2005 and again in 2005 as part of the Processional Trooper. Somewhere along the way, the original gun mold was separated from the figure. So, if you want the distinctive black pistol, it can only be acquired with the '87 American figure. At this point, the mold is probably done for. There's not much else that could be done with it and I think that most collectors would agree that they have ample choices when choosing a battle armor version of Cobra Commander.

There was a time when a mint, complete version of the '87 Cobra Commander would have cost you. Those days, fortunately, are now past. In recent years, Hasbro has produced this figure in colors similar to the original on two separate occasions: one with the comic pack Fred head and removable helmet. The 2001 release of this mold was packaged with the highly army built Laser Viper and is still available on the second hand market for peanuts today. As such, if you spend $10 for a mint, complete with filecard version of the '87 Cobra Commander, you've probably spent a bit too much. That's not a bad thing as it leaves a decent figure of a major character from the line's formative years at a price point that is accessible to new collectors.

1987 Cobra Commander, Worms, Maggot, 2006 convention exclusive Overlord, Viper Pit

1987 Cobra Commander, Worms, Maggot, 2006 convention exclusive Overlord, Viper Pit

1987 Cobra Commander, 1987 Techno Viper, 1993 Detonator, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1987 Cobra Commander, 1987 Techno Viper, 1993 Detonator, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1987 Cobra Commander, 1987 Techno Viper, 1993 Detonator, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1987 Cobra Commander, 2008 Headhunter BAT, Convention Exclusive

Thursday, November 8, 2007

2005 Tomax and Xamot

This is a first where I have profiled two distinct figures at the same time. However, the reality is that these two figures are not all that distinct and must always be considered together. Individually, they make little sense and are difficult to fathom. Together, Tomax and Xamot are an indelible part of the Joe mythos and characters who are difficult to forget. While there have been several versions of the Twins, most of them are simple repaints of their circus inspired outfits from 1985. Rather than focus upon the limitations of that mold, I have chosen the more subdued figures from the 2005 Crimson Guard set. They are a look that was oft requested by fans. Hasbro had little to work with to make the figures a reality, but the result is a version of the Twins that gives them the versatility that was always missing from their original incarnation.

Tomax and Xamot were introduced as Twins who were mirror images of each other. They had a near supernatural link that allowed them to share thoughts and physical sensations. Their characters were hinted as being part of the "Corsican Brotherhood". But, they're true claim to fame was as businessmen. They were the financiers who made the big arms deals for Cobra possible. From the early days, they were portrayed in business suits. This is also largely due to the fact that the Twins' outfit, though, looks like something a circus performer would wear. In their first comic appearance, they were at a circus and they performed some acrobatic moves. As such, it's possible that they were intended as Cobra acrobats. But, the longevity of that idea was realized and they were given deeper characterizations even though their look did not denote them. At least not until 2005 when Hasbro finally offered the Twins in suits colored a metallic Cobra blue. Rather than the outlandish sashes and medallions, the Twins finally had a look befitting their character.

The origin of the Twins and their odd portrayal of finishing each other's thoughts is not known. When recently reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterpiece "100 Years of Solitude" though, I discovered that he had two twins who displayed the characteristics of Tomax and Xamot. The could finish each other's thoughts, were mirror images of each other in their actions and were even able to sense physical sensations experienced by their sibling. Whether this was the inspiration for Tomax and Xamot is not known. But I find it interesting that an idea that seems so ludicrous to "normal" people was featured so prominently by a Nobel Prize winning author in his master work. It infuses a sense of culture in the idea of the Twins and makes their existence a bit more interesting to me. I always felt that Joe's longevity can be directly traced to its depth. Characters had issues. Heroes were not perfect. Villains had interesting backgrounds that spoke of a worldliness that seemed exotic to the 9-11 year olds of the day. Joe wasn't dumbed down at the beginning.   Finding a literary reference like this gives me more insight into why a toy line remains so large a part of my life more than two decades later. But, things like this show that it was much more than a toy line and that is why this hobby remains so dear to me: despite some of the rubbish that fandom brings with it. :)

In my collection, the role of the Twins has evolved quite a bit. As a kid, I was enthralled by issue #37 of the comic that Introduced the Twins. I distinctly remember the Friday night I came home after finding my first set of Twins at the local Toys R Us store. I spent a great deal of time opening the package so that I didn't damage it. The unique cardback was something that I saved for years and it remained intact in my collection until very late in 1987 when I finally decided it was time to purge the large stack of toy package trash that was in my room and I proceeded to cut out the filecards and threw away all the superfluous packaging. Once they were open, I pulled out my Ferret, Armadillo, Footloose, Flint and Alpine and tried to enact out the comic book plot. I've said before that due to circumstances surrounding their addition to my collection, certain figures are always linked together. In this case, those vehicles and those figures became a collection unto themselves and would always be used together. Flint, of course, was the ultimate enemy of the Twins and one who would always end up fighting them. However, I took the Twin's ability to feel each other's pain to a new level. I had them share the pain, but made them able to diminish the pain slightly with each passing. As such, even the most painful hit was quickly absorbed though the swapping done by the brothers. This made fighting them rather difficult for one man. Flint usually ended up fending the Twins off, but they always escaped to fight another day.

In time, though, I downplayed that aspect of the Twins and, instead, made them out to be just military commanders. The Crimson Guard were my elite army as a kid since I had 3 CG figures and the Sears SMS. So, the Twins saw a lot of use at the forefront of their CG army. When Serpentor came along, the Twins sided with him. For some reason, I simply could not see the Crimson Guard loyal to Cobra Commander. So, they sided with Serpentor. Once Serpentor got played out, the Twins sided with my own character named Rector who had designs to take over Cobra. The Twins used the power of the CG's to put Rector in a position of power. In return, the CG's remained the elite power brokers on Cobra Island.

Now, the Twins have found themselves in trouble. After Ramen (Cobra's South American Commander) arranged for the original Cobra Commander to be killed by the Joes, Rector assumed the role of Cobra Commander and set about establishing his own hierarchy on Cobra Island. The Twins moved from field commanders to their true calling of politicians and financiers. They were responsible for wining and dining potential Cobra clients. The oversaw the vast Cobra casino empire and were responsible for the majority of Cobra's financial enterprises. Without the oversight of the Twins, though, the Crimson Guard became corpulent and corrupt. The CG's set about establishing their personal power at the expense of the traditional military establishment in Cobra. This lead to great resentment as the CG's were not shy in using their authority to belittle and betray the combat Cobra troops. This lead to severe unrest within Cobra. Rector felt his power base eroding and he could sense that the military was primarily loyal to Ramen. He feared an outright coup and had to act.

Thus was invented the Crimson Guard Rebellion. It's not known if the "conspirators" in the Rebellion really wanted to assassinate Rector, but the evidence sure made it look like a well orchestrated plot by the entire Crimson Guard. Rector immediately began rounding up the Crimson Guard and executed most by firing squad. Tomax and Xamot were made enemy number one. In an attempt to save their lives, the split up. But, Xamot was captured as he was about to board a Night Raven to freedom. Rector had him beheaded. Tomax, though, was never found and many of the best bounty hunters in the world are after the $10,000,000 bounty that Rector has put on Tomax's head. Shortly, the Crimson Guards were emasculated and those who re-pledged their loyalty to Rector were sent back to basic training for one year where they were at the total mercy of the combat troops they had so belittled. Meanwhile, Rector has yet to be seen in public without two members of his personal guard. It's been noted that both of these men have the same gait. And, despite the disruption at the top of the Cobra financial empire, things have been very stable and many of the deals that Tomax and Xamot were working on have gone through with the acumen that was often accredited to the Twins and their ability to get the impossible deal done.

As figures, though, Tomax and Xamot are a bit hard to use. They aren't the most exciting action figure and their appearance doesn't really lend itself to most combat roles. Most people don't build exciting boardroom dioramas where the Twins engineer a hostile corporate takeover. So, it is somewhat hard to use these figures beyond background dressing in Cobra hierarchy dioramas. But, that isn't a bad thing. As characters, Tomax and Xamot are indispensable to Cobra. It's important to have them around. As such, even a somewhat boring figure like this has value to any Joe collection. I know that my specimens pretty much stand around. But, were they not there, they would be conspicuous by their absence.

The Tomax and Xamot molds have only been used by Hasbro. After their release at retail in 1985 and 1986, Hasbro offered various production runs of the Twins as mail away premiums for several years. (These figures have slight variations in coloring and can be distinguished by hues of hair color and Xamot's scar.) The characters were not revisited until 2002, though, when Hasbro included them in the infamous Wave V. However, these figures were nearly identical to the original figures and didn't really offer collectors anything new. Master Collector, though, came through with the first version of the Twins in Crimson colors in the highly desirable 2002 convention set. (They also released fuchsia versions that are much easier to find, but not as well colored as the Crimson figures.) The heads were then used for these figures and that is the extent of the mold usage. There is a long running rumour in the Joe world that Tomax and Xamot were offered in Europe in exclusive color schemes. The most often mentioned is white and green. This rumours are false and the figures do not exist in any color scheme at this time beyond what was mentioned already. Every now and then, a custom Tomax and Xamot appears in a poorly photographed lot from Europe and this rumour comes back around. But, it is false and there are no foreign versions of Tomax and Xamot.

These figures use the body from Headman. It is pretty much the only body in the Joe line that is in anything resembling a suit. Unfortunately, that has meant that Hasbro got quite a bit of use out of it in the modern line. It was used for Headman in 2002, General Flagg in 2004 and these Twins in 2005. It isn't a bad mold and it works for the look Hasbro was trying to create. Each of the Twins includes a two pistols and a knife. They lack a briefcase which would have been a nice addition. But, at least the included pistols are not the buffoonish pistols released with the original figures and every modern version of the Alley Viper. Really, that's all they need. The Twins aren't used in traditional combat so having smaller weapons makes sense for them.

The Crimson Sets were somewhat well received when they were released, but not to the extent that one would have expected just a few months earlier. While the sets were very well done for what they were, they were also plagued by problems. First off, the set was conceived as an army builder. While Crimson Guards remain the second most expensive vintage Cobra army builder, the mold that Hasbro used for their modern take on the Crimson Guard had been rather easy for collectors to acquire in the months before this set's release. It had first been used on the mail away Agent Faces figures that collectors had purchases en masse. It was then used again on the KB Toys exclusive Operation Crimson sabotage. This was a set of 3 racially distinct Crimson Guards, a Hiss Tank and a red ASP that was sold for $20 and ended up on clearance in many markets. As such, when the Crimson Set was released in early 2005, collectors were somewhat Crimson Guarded out. This lead to decreased purchases by many as the sheer volume of Hasbro's army builders were finally starting to defeat even the most aggressive retail army building collectors. The set was also plagued with another issue. Originally, Hasbro split up Tomax and Xamot. This made sense since that allowed collectors to buy 2 packs for the Twins and not accumulate tons of superfluous Tomax and Xamot figures as they army built Crimson Guards. But, for some reason, Hasbro then included a red Firefly as the 6th figure in the set.

All of the reason for splitting up Tomax and Xamot was instantly rendered obsolete by the inclusion of Firefly. If you look at the box art, though, it seems that Firefly was the absolute last figure to be included in the set. Logically, it would have made sense for Hasbro to include a Crimson Guard Immortal figure in the set in lieu of Firefly. It seems likely to me, though, that this was the plan. However, the mold for the Crimson Guard Immortal was wanted by Master Collector for their convention exclusive Destro in 2005. As such, it seems the CGI mold was taken out of the Crimson Set and used for Destro and Hasbro threw the Firefly mold into the retail set since they knew that the mold was usable and that Firefly was a major character. This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that Master Collector had the 1988 Destro mold available to them and even ran test shots of it. But, they concluded that the '88 Destro was not that popular and they went with the CGI body Destro instead.

The result of all of this was the Crimson Set was readily available at Toys R Us stores around the country well through the summer of 2005. Toys R Us ordered a full run of 20,000 sets. However, it is not known if that was 20,000 of each set, or 20,000 total sets leaving 10,000 of each Twin figure. If it was 20,000 of each set, then they outsold all other Joe exclusives. But, once the set dried up it has taken a second life on the aftermarket. These days, a MOC set with either Tomax and Xamot will run anywhere between $30-$35. Some even go higher. The effect of Hasbro splitting up the Twins seems to have been a worthwhile gambit as collectors were not able to acquire huge quantities of duplicates like they did with the Firefly figures. As such, both Tomax and Xamot will easily fetch $6 or more on the second hand market. It's a price worth paying as the figures are probably the most useful editions of the Twins and it is doubtful that Hasbro will ever produce a superior version of them in ARAH form.

2005 Tomax and Xamot, Crimson Twins, Crimson Guard Commanders, TRU Exclusive, Crimson Guard, Crimson Guard Immortal, Operation Crimson Sabotage, SMS Sears Exlcusive

2005 Tomax and Xamot, Crimson Twins, Crimson Guard Commanders, TRU Exclusive, 2006 Convention Overlord, Coil Trooper

2005 Tomax and Xamot, Crimson Twins, Crimson Guard Commanders, TRU Exclusive, Crimson Guard, Night Watch Trooper, Officer, 2007 Convention Rock and Roll

2005 Tomax and Xamot, Crimson Twins, Crimson Guard Commanders, TRU Exclusive, Crimson Guard, Crimson Guard Immortal, Operation Crimson Sabotage, SMS Sears Exlcusive


2005 Tomax and Xamot, Crimson Hiss, Crimson Sabotage, Crimson Guard, Crimson Shadow Guard, Fred

Friday, November 2, 2007

2003 Mirage - Hoverstrike Driver

In 2003, Mirage was a dirty word in the Joe collecting world. Hasbro released 2 awesome versions of the character in 2002. Both versions were nicely recolored and showcased how great the original Mirage mold was. But, both of them were packed with a highly popular Viper figure. As such, collectors got their fill of Mirage right quick. When it was announced that yet a third version of Mirage (one that was eerily similar to the most recent previous version) was coming, collectors let out a collective moan. The upside was that this new version was not going to be included with a highly desirable army builder. Instead, it was packed with an all new vehicle. The Hoverstrike was supposed to be a working hovercraft. It was radio controlled. It was also a dud. With a high price point, uninteresting design and dubious workability, the vehicle was largely ignored by collectors and other retail shoppers. This has left us the version of Mirage that I consider the best being the most difficult version of the character to find.

You can see from the comparison photo below that this version of Mirage is distinctively different from the previous two releases.

2002 Mirage, 2003, Hoverstrike Driver, Mega Marines, Variants


The most obvious difference is the yellow goggles. But, a closer look shows this figure is more of an amalgamation of the two previous designs. It is darker and more muted that either of the previous versions and better blends with the more militaristic Joes that were his contemporaries. The not quite black pants mesh well with the olive torso. The brown and metallic highlight showcase the mold's detail. They also create a more realistic look than either of the previous versions. It is unfortunate that this version lacked any accessories beyond the goggles. However, anyone who was collecting in 2002 and 2003 probably has plenty of spare Mirage figures lying around so outfitting the Hoverstrike version with decent accessories is an easy task for most collectors.

As a character, Mirage is pretty much a blank slate. With no canonical characterization, collectors are free to develop his personality as they see fit. For me, though, Mirage remains a Joe army builder. In that capacity he works the best for me. This is the mold that I see as the backbone of the Joe reinforcements...not the terrible "greenshirt" figures we saw at retail. In that capacity, this figure gets a lot of use. But, now that I have a more distinctive version of Mirage, I've started to rework the character into my collection. The reality is that we now have lots of figures that can be used as Joe army builders. Many of whom become stale if for no other reason than you use them all the time. (I find that I also rotate through Cobra army builders. A figure who's hot today might end up in the box for years after I get tired of him. If you scroll through the pictures on this site, you can see some of the figures as they fall in and out of favor with me.) Bringing back the character of Mirage becomes a way to reinvigorate the figure in my collection.

Ahh, but what to do with him? I toyed with the idea of using the character as the Joe foil to Zartan. But, that idea didn't lend itself to great uses. As this figure is more militaristically colored, I see him taking on more of an infantry type role. Also, his colors do mesh well with the 2007 Star Duster and Grand Slam pack. So, I could also see Mirage as being teamed with them. Overall, though, I think the character will simply join in with figures like Hit and Run, Recoil, Repeater and a few others who comprise my Joe backup and support teams. They are not the main players in a display, but are there to complement the key figures who are represented. This version of Mirage fits in nicely with many of those classically colored figures and I think it is in that role that he will see the most use.

No one really knows why Hasbro got on such a Mirage and Big Ben kick in the early '00's. But, the overexposure left both molds, though high quality, rather tired. At this point, collectors have 5 versions of Mirage to choose from. Three are very well done, one is vintage and the other is gimmicky. So, there really isn't any valid reason for the character to return. The parts of Mirage fit together very well and it would be hard to see them used on another figure. (Oddly, there was a test shot figure from Asia cast in all black that was the Mirage body with a Flak Viper head. But, it's not likely that this was anything more than mold tests. Though, it did get some people interested at the time.) As such, I think Mirage is a mold and character that simply could be retired. What we have is great and there is no real reason to damage the legacy of these decent figures with more and more takes on a character that is obscure at best.

If you wanted a Mirage figure back in 2003 and 2004, they were pretty easy to find. The Hoverstrike was a retail dud and most Toys R Us stores around the country were knee deep in them well into 2004. At $30, the retail price of the Hoverstrike was well inflated beyond the value it provided to all but the most serious completists. In 2004, though, Toys R Us marked down the Hoverstrikes in an attempt to finally rid their shelves of them. Many collectors were able to pick up the vehicle and figure for under $15. Even at this price, many people balked. But, this clearance was the final straw that put a large amount of Mirages into the collecting community. However, not too many people bought extras. Once the clearance did its job and the Hoverstrikes were gone from retail, there weren't surplus Mirages on the market. In fact, it is rather rare to find one of these figures for sale...especially without the Hoverstrike. But, in one of those great ironies of Joe collecting, no one cares. You see, Mirage is a collector pariah. A figure and character of whom collectors were sick and tired when he was released again. This version isn't different enough from the widely available 2-pack figures for most collectors to care that it is missing from their collections. As such, even though this figure is very hard to find today, when you do find one, it is unlikely that you'll have to spend even $7 to acquire it. (Truth be told, if you buy a Hoverstrike with the figure, you'll probably pay more in shipping than you do for the actual toy.) To me, things like this make no sense. Joe collectors will pay through the nose for easy to find army builders. But, a high quality repaint of a great mold that is hard to find, but an unpopular Joe character, is scoffed into bargain bins. For the savvy collector, that's not a bad thing.

2002 Mirage, 2003, Hoverstrike Driver, Mega Marines, SOS, Medico, Doc, Argentina, Plastirama, 2002 leatherneck, 1988 Tiger Force Tripwire

2002 Mirage, 2003, Hoverstrike Driver, Mega Marines, 2002 Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty

2002 Mirage, 2003, Hoverstrike Driver, Mega Marines, 2002 Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, havoc, 1989 Python Viper, Heavy Metal

2002 Mirage, 2003, Hoverstrike Driver, Mega Marines, 2002 Big Ben