Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Funskool Toxo Viper

As the Joe line progressed, Cobra slowly moved away from their traditional terrorist organization roots and morphed into a more technologically savvy foe. With this transition, though, the figure concepts slowly moved away from staid, uniform look of the original old blues and started to diversify into more defined specialties with corresponding uniforms. This metamorphoses produced a wide array of highly popular figure concepts and sculpts. But, as Hasbro took the idea to the more extreme edge of reality, the entire notion of Cobra was changed. While some of the ideas proffered forth were well thought out, others were really half-baked, even if the explanation was plausible enough for the idea to catch on among the kids of the day. In 1988 Cobra took a big step forward in the technological sense with the introduction of their own space troopers and the subject of this profile: the Toxo-Viper.

The Toxo-Viper is actually a rather chilling concept: especially in light of world events of the past several years. And, as such, the figure is worth another look. Toxo-Vipers are Cobra's hazardous materials troopers. It is implied they handle everything from toxic waste to radioactive materials to high tech nerve toxins to the trash in Cobra Commander's bathroom. It is also stated that the Toxo-Viper duty is considered the lowest of the low in the Cobra hierarchy because the suits that Cobra provided those unlucky enough to be demoted to Toxo-Viper status were made by the lowest bidder and "leaky". In some respects, this is an interesting idea. It makes the Toxo-Vipers more motivated since they don't want to stay in a unit where they will be exposed to toxic substances for very long.

In more modern times, though, I just can't see that being Cobra's stance. The notion of radioactive or germ warfare is just too great a potential threat for Cobra to waste their troops by giving them poor gear.  As such, I no longer see Toxo-Viper duty as lowly within Cobra. Instead, Toxo-Vipers are Cobra's front line scientists. They are the ones who push Cobra's nuclear technology, develop powerful new strains of virii for germ warfare and create new chemicals that are capable of incapacitating an entire geographical region. They are among the most dangerous Cobras as what they are working on could, potentially, destroy all of Cobra Island should they make just one mistake.

As such, Cobra Commander no longer allows the laboratories where Toxo-Vipers work to be placed on Cobra Island. While this gives him less direct control, it also insulates the Island against a mistake that would render all the land uninhabitable for thousands of generations. The figure gets use, though, when Cobra wants to test their new contaminants on the world. Toxo-Vipers are highly trained in the handling of volatile chemicals and they are given new, highly protective suits that save the wearer from the effects of their cargo. Often times, though, these tests are conducted in out of the way places (Usually somewhere in the midst of the Amazon jungle in Brazil. Thus, the importance of the South American operations to Cobra these days.) so it rare for the Joes to come into contact with actual Toxo-Vipers in combat situations. Once Cobra is able to reliably manufacture and sell condensed toxins, it is likely that Toxo-Vipers would become the only front line Cobra troops as they would simply appear in an area, spray it with whatever horrible creation their scientist brethren had developed and leave as the carnage unfolded. Fortunately, at this point, Cobra is not interested in leaving land unusable as Cobra's strategy is to take land for themselves. However, this isn't the goal of all of Cobra's customers and it is possible that the output of the Toxo-Vipers could one day be unleashed.

While the American version of the Toxo-Viper is the same mold, I feel that the Funskool version of the figure is actually a rare case of superior coloring on the foreign design. The Funskool figure uses a darker purple base and features a black helmet as opposed to the lighter purple of the American release. The figure's gloves are also a blood red that really jumps out. This gives the figure a more useful appearance as he isn't too bright, yet he still retains the design elements that allow for you to easily intersperse a few American Toxo-Vipers among the Funskool armies. As such, my personal Toxo-Viper army is mostly Funskool versions of the figure. Of course, the blue on the figure's chest still doesn't quite work and his backpack is bright green and that keeps this figure from being one of my most often used. But, when I need Toxo-Vipers, it is the Funskool version I seek.

The Toxo-Viper mold was released on 3 continents. After the American figure was released, the mold was sent down to Brazil where it was released as Maligno. From there, it went on to India where Funskool used it for many years producing this version. (Maligno is a much brighter shade of purple than the American figure while the Funskool version is substantially darker purple than the American version. So, you can acquire this mold in the whole spectrum of purple. If you don't like purple, well, then there isn't much to look for in this mold around the world.) Now, the mold is likely back in the hands of Hasbro. But, if I had to wager, I'd bet that the likelihood of Hasbro bringing this mold back are fairly slim. Not that it's a bad mold, its just that there are still so many other molds that Hasbro could use to fill their small slate of ARAH offerings that would be much more popular than a new Toxo-Viper. So, while I'd welcome a new Toxo-Viper version, I'm not going to anticipate one in the near future.

Funskool Toxo-Vipers are fairly easy to find. They were readily available from American dealers in the $4 price range for more than half a decade. Now, they have started to sell through, so you might see secondary market prices climb as high as $7 or $8 for a MOC specimen. The reality, though, is that thousands upon thousands of Funskool Toxo-Vipers were imported to the US over the years, so this figure is unlikely to ever become hard to find or considerably appreciate in price on the second hand market. That's a good thing, though, as late-to-the-party collectors can still affordably army build this figure and have a low cost opportunity to enjoy the superior Funskool color scheme.

Funskool Toxo Viper, Tigor, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Fera Recoil

Funskool Toxo Viper, 1993 Beach Head, Gung Ho, Flint

Funskool Toxo Viper, 1993 Beach Head, Gung Ho, Flint

Funskool Toxo Viper, 2003 Inferno BAT, 1992 Toxo Zombie, Cyber Viper

Friday, June 1, 2007

2005 Heavy Assault Roadblock

2005 did not offer collectors much on the ARAH style figure front. While Hasbro did put out several TRU exclusive sets, the figures offered in them were not up to the standards of the 2004 figure offerings. As the year wore on and the line's cancellation became imminent, Hasbro got even lazier in their figure creations and produced some of the most boring figure sets in the history of the line. The TRU exclusive line ended with a whimper. But, in these tail end duds were a couple diamonds in the rough. A perfect example is the Heavy Artillery Set (HAS) Roadblock.

Personally, I think this is the best version of this Roadblock mold that has ever been released. The '92 figure is very good, but the dark blue pants offset the better torso coloring. The Anti-Venom figure is very well done. The tan pants are more visually distinctive, but could also be a detriment for using that figure in certain environments. The HAS figure is more darkly colored and works great for night, jungle or urban missions. I think that most collectors will have a different favorite among these molds (I do not own a '93 Roadblock with the neon highlights and can not comment on it.) but all will agree that each figure has its own merits and fits well in certain situations.

This mold is finely detailed. It benefited from 10 years of sculpting experience at the time of it's creation and that history shows. The ridged shirt, shoulder harness and belt are all full of details that give the figure a rich appearance. (Granted, none of these details were painted, so they are easy to lose, but that was also a trademark of the '92-'94 figures.) You will also notice 2 Easter Eggs on the figure. First is the obvious RB on Roadblock's belt buckle. A nice personalization that helps prevent this mold from being used on other, non-Roadblock figures. The second is the "H" buckle on his chest. It's just a little subtle reminder that Hasbro made the figure. (Most of the '82 figures feature a hidden "H" as well.) It shows a level of pride in the figure's design and indicates that the designers really understood the character they were attempting to re-envision.

At the 2005 Convention, Hasbro was ducking questions galore about the future of the line. The felt they were under pressure from fandom. The fact is, they were. Hasbro was not being forthright with the collector base at the time and Hasbro knew that collectors were largely dissatisfied with what was happening in the collecting world. In an effort to stave off more criticism, Hasbro went so far as to pull the Heavy Assault Set from the Convention showcase. They claimed the set "wasn't ready". Yet, when the set appeared at retail a few weeks after the Convention, it was the EXACT same set that had been captured the first day of the Convention before Hasbro pulled it. That was indicative of the crap that Hasbro was pulling at the time and only cemented this set's status as a dud. (To further comment on the lies told during that convention, Hasbro mentioned that the sound attack rifle that was included with the Night Watch was because they "couldn't find" the non sound attack version. Of course, the reason they couldn't "find it" was because it was used in the HAS set which was hidden away under their table: hiding their shame.)

One other black mark against the HAS set was that the figures in the set did not match the box or filecards. Mutt and Ace were supposed to be part of the set, but did not appear anywhere...except on the filecards that were included. In fact, this Roadblock does not even include a filecard as he was a late addition. The whole set was FUBAR from the get-go.

In early 2003, Hasbro got this mold back from Funskool. Within a year, they used the mold to produce the high quality Anti-Venom Roadblock. That figure features the exact same upper body as this HAS figure but has tan pants. The paint masks on the pants are exact with the exception that the cammo patterns differ. The darker colors on the HAS figure, though, blend better with the dark torso. It gives the figure a near Night Force appearance and allows it to be used in many environments. It is a very versatile figure that is a great representation of the Roadblock character. The HAS accessories are poor, though, as they lack any of the distinctive weapons that are the hallmark of the Roadblock character. Fortunately, at this point, accessories are an easy problem to fix as Hasbro has offered us many chances with other figures to acquire fitting weapons for this Roadblock.

In my collection, Roadblock is exactly as advertised. He is a big, hulking machine gunner who provides the fire support for nearly every mission. He may be on the ground in an infantry role or operating a mounted gun on the Tomahawk, Whale or other vehicle. Regardless, he is one staple of my collection. Whenever a mission might require heavy firepower, Roadblock is included. As such, a figure like this one is a welcome addition as it offers me the ability to use the figure in a variety of environments. (I guess we still could use an arctic Roadblock, but I can wait a bit on that one.) I now have a more modern looking version of the character who shows the beefyness you expect when used among figures from later years in the line. (This isn't to say the original mold of Roadblock is bad. Far from it. It's just that this figure fits better with more of the line than the original. Though, the original Roadblock has held up better than most of his contemporaries.)

Roadblock remains one of the few characters whose place in my collection has remained relatively constant since my childhood. I think that is heavily a tribute to Larry Hama and the way he developed the character. Roadblock's first appearance in the comic was memorable and the character didn't get stale like so many others did. Roadblock was a guy you could count on. He was immensely strong, but also gentile and loyal. He was not a guy you wanted across from you in a fight, but someone who, when standing with you, made you feel invincible. He showed his loyalty to Hawk during the whole "Jugglers" fiasco and cemented himself as one Joe who could always be trusted to back his teammates.

This Roadblock mold has been used 4 times by Hasbro: in 1992, 1993, 2004 and 2005. In between the '90's and '00's, the mold was produced by Funskool in colors very similar to the 1992 figure. Beyond that, the mold did not appear anywhere else in the world. At this point, though, it has probably been used enough. Even in ARAH form, Roadblock has been done to death. Were we to be subjected to another ARAH style Roadblock release, I would want it to utilize the underappreciated 1986 mold. Properly colored, that would give us a new enough version of Roadblock to enjoy. But, this mold has pretty much been done right and I don't see much of a reason to continue to use it again and again at this point.

The HAS set probably had around 16,000 sets produced. Many collectors, though, passed on the set due to its horrid quality with the hope that they would get it on clearance. Many collectors were able to do so, but many more were not. As such, there are a lot of collectors out there who do not have this figure. But, as the set is pretty much worthless except for Roadblock and Snake Eyes, it is not too high on most people's want lists. The reality, though, is buying one of each of the loose, mint and complete versions of Roadblock and Snake Eyes will set you back about the same price as the entire set. So, you're really better off just buying a set and keeping the plethora of accessories and trading or selling off the surplus figures. I've found this Roadblock to be a welcome addition to my collection, but not one that I would seek out were I not a completist and had I not acquired one when it was available at retail. It's a strong figure, but not one whose absence leaves a collection lacking.

2005 HAS Roadblock, Heavy Assault, Toys R Us Exclusive, Funskool, Flint, Night Force, Tunnel Rat, Steeler, Clutch, 2004, Comic Pack

2005 HAS Roadblock, TRU Exclusive, 1985 Flint, Mauler, Rampart, Brazil, Estrela, Duke

2005 HAS Roadblock, TRU Exclusive, 1985 Flint, Mauler, Rampart, Brazil, Estrela, Duke

2005 HAS Roadblock, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Anti Venom Roadblock, 1992 Roackblock

2005 HAS Roadblock, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Anti Venom Roadblock, 1992 Roackblock, Unproduced Anti Venom Roadblock, Midnight Chinese

2005 HAS Roadblock, TRU Exclusive, 1986 Havoc, Ambush, Sidetrack, Beach Head

2005 HAS Roadblock, TRU Exclusive, Daina, Oktober Guard, Unproduced, Midnight Chinese