Thursday, February 22, 2007

Risco - Argentine Exclusive Alpine

Alpine has long been one of my favorite obscure Joe figures. He was one of the first few figures I purchased in 1985 and, as such, I still have many fond memories of playing with the figure in my childhood home. As he was never re-released, though, my exposure to the figure has been diminished over time. Once I acquired a new version early in my collecting days, the figure simply hasn't been high on my use list. That has recently changed, though. The acquisition of a foreign version of Alpine has rejuvenated my interest in the character and brought that figure into a place of prominence in my collection. That foreign version is the subject of this week's profile: the Argentine exclusive Risco.

Risco is very similar to the US version of Alpine. He features slightly brighter green plastic on his upper body and lacks paint details on his upper arms. He is missing a few accessories that were included with Alpine, but is otherwise remarkably similar to his American counterpart. Hasbro was very careful with many of their Joe characters. As such, they controlled the look of those figures in releases the world over. It kept a consistent look across the brand and ensured that things like the comic or cartoon could be used in various countries as a cross sell for the figures since Hasbro could guarantee the toys would match the character's media appearances. As such, you find that the vast majority of foreign figures are nearly identical to their American counterparts. Of course, collectors have flocked to the figures that are more famously different than the toys offered in the US. I've grown to appreciate the subtle differences in figures like Risco, though. The slight nuances in color or paint applications really makes a figure stand out and helps to mature a collection overall.

Alpine's accessories are among the most fun pieces of equipment ever released in the line. Risco, though, did not include all of them. Risco only comes with 1 of the grappling hooks and does not include the rope that made Alpine so much fun. Oddly, the second hook and the rope appeared with the Brazilian Everest figure that was released subsequently to Risco. The other odd thing about Risco is that he features a unique file name. Instead of Albert M. Pine, Risco's real name is Arthur Gray. There is no explanation given, though I'm sure the pun of Alpine's real name would have been lost when translated to Spanish.

The character of the G.I. Joe Mountain Climber was originally intended to be a 1984 figure release. The production art that exists for this character shows a head very similar to Alpine's but using Scrap Iron's body. In fact, on the Scrap Iron figure, you still see the remnants of his origins as a mountain climber. On the figure's leg, he has climbing pitons that were part of the Joe Mountain Climber's original design. Why was this concept abandoned, though? There really is no evidence and we are left to conjecture. Perhaps Hasbro needed another Cobra for the 1984 assortment and quickly drew up Scrap Iron and just used the body parts they had already sculpted. Maybe Hasbro looked at Alpine's artwork and realized that the ball headed joint that was to debut in 1985 was a better fit for a mountain climbing character whose head would tend to be tilted up. As such, they put the design on hold and whipped up Scrap Iron's head very quickly (which would explain it's odd look) and threw it onto the previously sculpted body so they would not waste their work. Whatever the reason, it remains one of the many mysteries of the original Joe line.

Risco is also of very high quality. While the early Argentine figures suffered from poor quality at best, Plastirama had refined their production by the time of Risco's release and the figure has very tight paint masks and is made of higher quality materials. (The same can not be said of the card and bubble stock, though.) I was pleasantly surprised by Risco's quality as he is one of the few, later Argentine figures in my collection. He is not quite up to American standards, but will still fit in nicely with a collection of American figures.

Alpine holds many fond memories for me. I still remember cold, early March afternoons in 1985 when I took Alpine and my new Cobra Eel outside to play on the small hill in front of my parent's home. Alpine always used his ropes to escape the spears fired by Eels submerged in the sidewalk "river". The grappling hooks stuck nicely in the soft mud created by the early spring thaw. Later in the summer, the figure climbed the limestone walls that surrounded the front stairway of my Grandfather's Buffalo, NY home. He braved the gunfire hailed down on him by Scrap Iron and the Crimson Guards as he navigated the sheer incline. When the '85 Snake Eyes came home, Alpine joined Bazooka, Footloose and Airtight as the Joes who were chosen to accompany that figure's first mission. They sat atop the Bridge Layer as they rode to the Cobra outpost. By winter, the figure joined Frostbite in the Snow Cat as they chased Snow Serpents out of the forest of newly planted pine trees in wilds of my childhood backyard. He was a figure for whom I was always able to find a use. Every mission needed a guy who could climb up on top of something.

The other memory I have of Alpine is more of an observation on the vintage Joe line as a whole. While all the Joe figures released had a military slant to them, it was figures like Alpine, Torpedo, Ace, Doc, Ripcord and many others that made the line much more than the simple group of green army men which were the line's beginnings. You see, with figures like those, I didn't need to go outside of the Joe world when I wanted a play pattern that moved away from strictly military themes. Ace could be an astronaut in any world. Rather than having to dust off some Fisher-Price diver family, I could have Torpedo and Wet-Suit combs the depths of the neighborhood pool where they could fight off plastic sharks and squid or search for buried treasure. Snow Job could be a world class downhill skier who was simply racing in the Alps. Barbeque could be a firefighter rescuing Sylvanian Families from any toy house. Alpine could climb any mountain to rescue an injured skydiver. The result was the Joe line became self contained. While it meshed with other toy lines of the day, it also stood on its own and gave kids figures that they could use in any storyline they could imagine. I think that, above all, was what created the brand loyalty to the Joe line and was an integral part of why the line had such an amazing retail run. Kids only had to buy G.I. Joe figures to be able to have any adventure they wanted. It's an idea that is unlikely to be repeated but shows the foresight and deep understanding the original Joe design had of their audience.

It is those memories that make this figure interesting to me. His great sculpt, solid colors and incredible accessories make the figure collectible, but the memories I hold of Alpine are why a figure like Risco holds such cachet for me. You see, I have several Alpine figures. With the acquisition of each, I failed to find the sense of excitement that had as a child. These were simply upgrades since I still had my childhood Alpine figures. (Yes, I had 2 Alpines as a kid. After I lost my original's gun, I purchased a second. It was great to have your own income as a kid since you could do things like that without your parents giving you grief over buying something you already owned.) Risco, though, is something new and exciting. It's like adding Alpine to my collection all over again. Maybe that's the reason why I like foreign Joes so much. They bring me back to those fond memories of childhood where I'd spend weeks dreaming up uses for figures I had yet to find for sale. While I would never go back to those days, it is fun to reminisce about them. Figures like Risco allow me a nice escape in my current world to stop and reflect on good times. It is a nice respite in an otherwise busy world.

The Alpine mold was released in the US in 1985 and 1986. After that, it appeared as Risco in the late '80's. From there, the mold went to Brazil where it was released as Everest. After that, the mold has disappeared. Everest's contemporaries featured 4 popular molds that have never reappeared and 2 that later surfaced in India: but only after Estrela had used them again to produce the Slaughters Marauders figures. As such, it is likely that Alpine mold is lost for good. My feelings on this are split. I'd love to see an Alpine figure that did away with the white t-shirt underneath his heavy coat and that better matched the unique rock formations in my geographical area. But, I would hate to see the mold dusted off and released with minimal paint applications and missing his trademark accessories. As that is the more likely way Alpine would return, I'm happy to see the mold remain lost for the time being.

A few years ago, Ebay was flooded with carded Riscos. He was part of the assortments of Plastirama figures that had been found in a warehouse in Argentina and heavily imported into the US. At the time, you could easily acquire the figure for under $10 shipped. Now, though, Riscos have largely dried up. You don't see them for sale nearly as often as you used to. However, that does not mean the price has increased. While some of the once common Argentine figures have experienced drastic price climbs when they disappeared, Risco is still very affordable and, when they do appear, they rarely sell for more than $15 shipped for a MOC figure. For that price, this figure is a no brainer. He's a great way to offer some variety for fans of the Alpine character and doubles as a conversation piece that makes for nice background filler. Cheap foreign exclusives are always of interest to me and the day will come when more collectors feel the same. The downside is that when that happens, it will become very difficult to find the foreign exclusives for cheap. So, now is the time to make figures like Risco a part of your collection.

Risco, Plastirama, Alpine, 1985, Argentina, Funskool Flint, Mauler, Long Range, 1989

Risco, Plastirama, Alpine, 1985, Argentina, 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Zap

Risco, Plastirama, Alpine, 1985, Argentina, Relampago, Python Patrol Ripcord, Brazil, Estrela, Blades, Action Force, SAS, Palitoy, European Exclusive

Risco, Plastirama, Alpine, 1985, Argentina, 1990 Rock Viper

Risco, Plastirama, Alpine, 1985, Argentina, Sokerk, Fuego, Condor, Alado, Crazylegs, Ripcord, Airborne, 1986 Tomahawk

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poluicao - Brazilian Exclusive Cesspool

Few Joe collectors care about the Eco Warriors. For many collectors, they mark the definitive beginning of the downfall of the vintage line. For all the hatred spewed their way, though, the Eco Warriors line actually features some nicely detailed sculpts and solid ideas...even if they were horribly colored. Eco fans, though, have several ways to build their collections. There were Eco Warriors released in 1991 and 1992. In 1993, two other figures were to join the ranks and were released in Eco colors even though the subset had been cancelled. The most interesting Eco subset, though, comes from Brazil. There, Estrela released 5 unique Eco Warrior figures under the Forca Eco banner. There were three exclusive Joes and 1 exclusive Cobra. The fifth figure, and subject of this profile, was just a repaint of the American leader of the Cobra Eco Warriors: Cesspool.

Poluicao is just a straight up repainted Cesspool figure. While he appears similar to the American figure at first, he is, in all actuality, just as significant a repaint as is the more popular Corrosao with the exception of Corrosao's race change. But, no cares about Poluicao as most see him as Cesspool and will simply buy an American Cesspool should they want the character in their collection. Poluicao is cast in a lighter, baby blue and features maroon details. He is neither better nor worse than the American Cesspool, in my opinion. But, he is different. Depending upon the situation, I'll switch out the figures. Sometimes the darker uniform is nice, other times the lighter uniform just looks better. I somewhat like the baby blue version of the figure better as I think it fits the Cesspool character.

Due to the chemical damage done to his body, I've always figured Cesspool would be a little...odd. As such, wearing a powder blue uniform would fit his personality. It would lead to subordinates questioning his sanity and maybe even giggling behind his back. This would give Cesspool the chance to physically attack these men and prove his toughness. It would also sate his intense desire for violence. It is this personality that allows a man like Cesspool to so utterly destroy the earth. He simply cares about no one and nothing. As such, he enjoys his polluting binges as they may do irreparable harm to the planet. In his own twisted mind, this is what makes Cesspool immortal.

The reality of the Brazilian figures is that they are rare. In comparison to American figures produced at the same time, Estrela produced much smaller production runs. On top of that, most of those figures are still in Brazil. As such, there are really very few of these figures available to modern, American Joe collectors. However, I recently acquired this figure MOC for $1.00. Even after shipping, the figure was less than $6.00. Why? The answer is multi-faceted and gives much insight into the buying power and size of the Joe collecting world.

First off, Joe collectors are not like those of other lines where everyone is pretty much a completist. In fact, Joe is somewhat rare in that very few of even the hard core collectors would fit the definition of completist. As such, popular figures that are readily available continually sell for higher prices than rarer figures that don't have any following. These Brazilian figures are a prime example. While everyone wants a Flying Scorpion, Abutre Negro, Ar Puro, Marujo, Relampago or Gatilho, most collectors will pass over other, contemporary figures from these and ignore them all together. The result is that many hard to find Brazilian figures are actually cheaper to acquire than most of the more popular army builders that clutter online auction sites every day.

Secondly, the Joe market is so small that one single entity is capable of influencing the price of an entire group of figures. The Brazilian Eco Warriors are a case in point. In the late '90's and early '00's a dealer was able to acquire a huge quantity of the Forca Eco figures on the cheap from Argentina. These were imported to the US and then sold off very slowly for a few years. Complete sets of the Forca Eco figures were an Ebay staple for a long time. Slowly, though, the Corrosao figures disappeared. Then, the Biomassa figures followed. These were the more popular figures and they sold out first. But, the single dealer was able to bring so many of these figures over to the US that the demand for them was not just sated, it was quashed. The reality of that happening shows that the Joe world is rather small since a single collector can dictate the supply and price of specific figures. It's an interesting thing to consider: especially in light of how many collectors clamour for small runs of retailer exclusive products. With the numbers we seem to have, even a small run would likely end up a retail disaster.

You must be careful with Brazilian Forca Eco figures. When I opened my Poluicao, his water launcher was sweating in the bubble. This was not due to humidity. It was due to the degradation of the soft plastic used to construct the water launcher hose. Poluicao's helmet also exhibited some deterioration as well as it was tacky to the touch. Years ago, I experienced this problem with the helmets of Flying Scorpion and Biomassa figures. In the half a decade that's passed since then, the problem has only gotten worse. To paraphrase Adam Pawlus, "these things are toys that are not meant to last forever". Estrela produced these toys with cheap materials and we are now seeing the results. Estrela probably never foresaw that their Joes would still be written about in a worldwide forum 15 years after their release. As such, the money saved by the cheap plastic was probably a smart decision at the time. Now, though, this leaves collectors in a quandary.

The reality of the situation is that these are plastic toys and they are going to deteriorate in time. And, frankly, there is nothing that anyone can do about it. You might be able to slow it down, but you can't stop it forever. Some Star Wars figures produced in the late 70's and early 80's have this problem. It seems to be the softer plastics that go first. As such, we don't see it as much in the American Joe world...yet. These Brazilian figures are the harbringers of things to come. That nice AFA 85 Flying Scorpion you have stashed in a dry, cool, dark closet is not going to stay that way forever. At some point, you are going to pull it out and find a mass of black goo. It won't be through any fault of your own, it is simply what these materials were designed to do. It's likely that most of us won't live long enough to see this happen to most of our figures, but it is something to be aware of and on the lookout for as time passes.

If you want a Poluicao, they can be I've seen many sell for under $5 MOC in the past two years. But, they don't appear every day. In fact, it could take months before one appears for sale. But, when it does, no one cares and you can cheaply add this figure to your collection. That is not true of most other Brazilian figures. I've found that situations like this where you can greatly diversify your collection through cheap international figures are an opportunity that you can not pass by. The add depth to a collection, even when they are simply different takes on existing characters.

Poluicao, Brazil, Estrela, Cesspool, Eco Warriors, Forca Eco, 1998 Volga, Funskool Law, 2000 Dusty

Poluicao, Brazil, Estrela, Cesspool, Eco Warriors, Forca Eco, 1991, Corrosao, Eco Warriors Dee Jay, 2005 Gas Mask Trooper, 2001 Shadow Viper, 1993 Detonator

Poluicao, Brazil, Estrela, Cesspool, Eco Warriors, Forca Eco, 1991

Thursday, February 1, 2007

1998 Heavy Duty

In 1998, the inclusion of Heavy Duty in the repaint line was something of a shocker. He was a minor character at best who really didn't have any fan following to warrant inclusion in such a small Joe renaissance. In 2006, it's hard to remember that 8 years ago, this was only the third time we'd seen Heavy Duty at retail. Since then, the character has become something of a joke to collectors as he was so heavily featured over more prominent characters in the modern Joe releases. The likely reason for this, though, has a lot more to do with the designers having fun than it does any Hasbro conspiracy.

While the Heavy Duty is a solid figure when taken on his own, he is somewhat bland and is probably a step back for the original paint job on the mold. Sadly, this 1998 figure was a harbinger of things to come as Hasbro spent 2000 and 2001 largely repainting figures in color schemes that were inferior to their original paint jobs on the molds. In fact, when taken with most of the 2000 and 2001 figures, Heavy Duty really blends into the see of olive and brown that was the hallmark of that period in Joe history. But, if you look at the mold a bit more closely you can see that Hasbro put more effort into this figure than they did most of the post-ARAHC figures. The figure features a full 7 different paint colors. The only problem is that they are sparsely applied and it is easy to miss this amount of detail against the backdrop of the figure which is predominantly brown. The figure's belt buckle, grenades and chest knife are all painted to make them stand out. It is the paint on the little details that often differentiate a great figure from a mediocre one. Simply compare the post '02 convention figures against their retail counterparts. The differences are slight, but the manner in which they are applied is what separates the quality of the figure types.

The Heavy Duty mold was only released by Hasbro. After the 1991 figure disappeared from shelves, he was not seen again until 1998 and then again in 2000. (The mold was, along with most of the other '91 figures, released in China.) While the character of Heavy Duty was to become a mainstay of the modern Joe line, this mold was not. Instead, it has only seen moderate use since 2000 as parts amalgamations of a few high priced Master Collector figures. This isn't a terrible thing as both of these Heavy Duty versions are decent figures. But, I could stand to see a newly frankensteined ARAH style Heavy Duty that used the original head but gave him a newly put together body that would give the character more depth in ARAH form.

In my collection, Heavy Duty is mostly just a minor player. He appears as a gunner from time to time but spends most of his time as a standard infantryman. He looks good with Leatherneck's M-203 and Big Bear's backpack. His militaristic color scheme allows him to blend into the background and provide firepower when his team needs it. I also often use him as the gunner on my various vehicles that feature mounted weapons. As such, he really doesn't have much of a role. Really, I look at the character as largely a Roadblock rip off. There really is no use for Heavy Duty when I have Roadblock figures readily available. As a background player, though, he is nice picture filler.

I guess that's not much to say about a figure. But, one of the hallmarks of the Joe line was the strength of the supporting cast. While everyone had to have the major versions of major characters, it was the line's depth that kept it relevant for more than a decade. Every kid could have a different favorite and if someone else picked your favorite character first, it was likely that that were was another, lesser character that was similar enough to your favorite for you to salvage the play session. While collectors have become largely burned out on the major characters, the reality is that Hasbro has been very good at ensuring there was a steady supply of second and third tier characters available in their modern offerings. While I have enough Duke and Snake Eyes figures to last the rest of my life, I appreciate the fact that I was also able to acquire versions of Steeler, Barricade, Flak Viper, Mirage, Big Ben, and any number of other, more obscure characters that have helped diversify my collection. There is a Joe figure for any situation and that is one of the reasons why the line has been so enduring.

Like many Joe figures, this version of Heavy Duty was modeled after a real Hasbro employee: Lamont Morris. (As an interesting note, Hasbro also modeled the 2006 Endor Rebel Trooper after Lamont, making him, as far as I know, the only real person to appear in both the Star Wars and G.I. Joe 3 3/4 inch lines.) As such, it is likely that Heavy Duty's more prominent role in the modern Joe line is due to the designers at Hasbro having some fun and honoring one of their own. Heavy Duty is just one of many Easter Eggs hidden throughout the Joe line that are homages to the toy creators who made the line possible.

This Heavy Duty figure was released twice, though both times were with the high priced (for the time) and oft despised MOBAT. As such, you don't see this figure available like you would expect. Most collectors acquired their one version and moved on. So, if you're in the market for one, it may take a bit longer than you would otherwise think to find a nice version of the figure out there. When you do, though, he will not be high priced. Dealers will probably sell him in the $7 range while an online auction site might let you get one for half that. At that price, this is a good figure. He is a little dark, but offers something different enough from the first version that he's worth having. Given my preference, though, I'd spend about the same amount and just buy the original figure. He's got better colors and includes some interesting accessories. That way, you get the character in his best colors right away and can move past the other versions.

1998 Heavy Duty, TRU Exclusive, 1985 Heavy Metal

1998 Heavy Duty, TRU Exclusive, 1990 Pathfinder

1998 Heavy Duty, TRU Exclusive