Wednesday, October 24, 2007

1983 Ace

Back in 1983, every boy in my class wanted the Skystriker. It was the holy grail of the day. More than the Headquarters or the MOBAT, the Skystriker was the one toy everyone wanted. One of the few benefits to having a birthday 10 days before Christmas was that I always got at least one major present for the holiday season a week and half before everyone else. In 1983, that present was the Skystriker. I was the first in my class to have it and boy did it not disappoint! The jet was everything a just turned 10 year old could want: swing wings, retractable landing gear, missiles, bombs, big engines, removable seats and working parachutes. Coupled with all this was the pilot: Ace. Part fighter pilot, part astronaut, Ace had the look that we all imagined was the cutting edge of American military technology. With him behind the stick, Cobra Commander and Destro simply didn't stand a chance. Their puny FANGS were no match for the Skystiker's might.

Ace is the the Joe fighter pilot. Really, there isn't any argument regarding that. Sure, there are other pilots in the line, but Ace is the definitive character when it comes to piloting Joe's premier aircraft. The only real question regarding the character is which version to use. The 1992 mold is, in my opinion, the best pure fighter pilot figure released in the line. It is a perfect mold that matches the images of what a fighter jock should look like. However, it is Ace's original incarnation which is most associated with the character. To this day, when I use Ace, it is the original mold. The later mold figures, though superior, are nameless pilots who simply support Ace in his role as the leader of the Joe air wing.

The mold itself is solid, even if the coloring is unspectacular. Aside from the unique head piece that allows for the bubble helmet, Ace's body mold features tons of hidden details. There is a combat knife, breathing tubes and a pistol molded onto the figure's chest. The mold features puffy ridges on the arms and legs. They suggest insulation and protection that any high G-force fighter pilot would need. Alas, many of the details of the Ace mold are left unpainted. The figure features three basic colors: not counting the head. It's likely that Hasbro went soft on the paint applications on this figure as it was included with a high price point vehicle. The extra design money was better spent on details like the intricate stickers or working parachutes on the Skystriker itself. As a kid, things like this weren't that important. As an adult, it helps to show the mindset of the designers of the time. They had the money to create a great figure as an accompaniment to a great toy. They just didn't have quite enough design budget to finish painting the figure.

I opened my Skystriker on my birthday night. It was too hard to go to sleep with that great new toy sitting underneath my bed. That night, I took a flashlight to my room and after I was sent to bed, I got out the flashlight and played with my new Skystriker and Ace under the bed frame. In the darkness, I imagined Ace a spaceman landing on the moon or other far off planet. His bubble helmet and futuristic design simply took my mind in that direction. I stayed up far too late that night, but it was not enough to dull my excitement. The next day, I took Ace to school with me to show off on the playground. That morning, we had Mass prior to school starting. After church, I went to take my new Ace out of my backpack when I discovered a horror of horrors: Ace's helmet was missing! A quick check showed a hole in the compartment in my pack where I had stored the figure. Obviously, the helmet had fallen out. I searched my classroom in vain but the helmet was nowhere to be found. At recess, I searched the playground in earnest, but had no luck. I went home, crestfallen at my bad luck. I still had one glimmer of hope, though. The next morning, before school, I went into the church. I went to the pew where I had been sitting (we were seated by grade and had assigned seats so it was easy to remember where I'd been) and looked underneath it. Tucked between a few dust bunnies was my Ace's helmet! This was a tremendous relief for me. I secured the helmet into a plastic bag in my backpack (after checking to ensure no holes) and kept it safe the rest of the day. Later in the week, I brought the entire plane in for show and tell. While the females of the class were less than enthused with my new pride and joy, the boys met it with great interest. At lunch, they all took turns looking it over in anticipation of finding their own under the Christmas tree just a few days later....

With a vivid memory like this, you can be sure that Ace was one of my most used Joes. In time, I broke his crotch, his left thumb and wore out all his joints. But, I still had the helmet. Somewhere around 1986, I bought another Ace of a school friend who was outgrowing his Joes. This was a nicer conditioned figure, with helmet, that took the place of my worn original. (The original Ace figure was then taken apart and his head was used for one of my own characters that I created back then. Of course, this character was also a pilot, but had more ground combat experience than Ace.) By that time, though, my Skystriker had seen better days. A few crashes and emergency ejections had left the canopy destroyed and the body broken and battered. The plane simply wasn't an important part of my collection anymore. But, Ace was. Without a fighter for him to pilot, Ace found his way to the co-pilot chair of the Tomahawk helicopter. This was short lived, though, as I wasn't thrilled with the way Ace's colors meshed with the new chopper. Still, I found another use for the figure.

If you've read my profile of the 1993 Payload figure, you can see a glimpse of Ace's use. By late 1986 and early 1987, I was getting a bit old for Joe. This lead to changing play patters and an expanded view of what Joe was. Rather than just a bunch of unique characters, I created various army building type roles. This allowed Joe to better deal with a Cobra that was more an individual nation than the terrorist organization it was originally designed as. I created a few figures who were the basic grunts of the Joe army. One day, I had Cobra electrify the surface of a deep body of water. The Joes had to break the surface in order to stop the Cobra plot. I had the typical diver figures of the day, but their gear would not withstand the energy field that covered the water. Enter Ace. Ace's suit became an all-purpose "Special Missions" suit that allowed the wearer to breath for several hours under very deep water. It had the flexibility of a wetsuit, but the strength of a high pressure diving suit like Deep Six. I armed the figure with Torpedo's backpack and Sci-Fi's gun and my new unit of ultra elite Joe commandos was born. With this new duty, the Ace figure was given new life and was a vital part of my collection until I packed my Joes away in early 1988.

If you fast forward a few years, Ace was one of the first figures I reacquired in the mid-'90's. I found a nicely conditioned Ace figure in a $1 bin at Trader's World outside Dayton, Ohio in 1995. The seller promptly lectured me about how no figure that wasn't mint and complete with their filecard would ever be "worth" anything. Frankly, I didn't care. I bought the figure because Ace was an important part of my collection. When I started buying Joes in earnest in 1998, I slowly amassed about 6 Ace figures. But, by 2001, Ace was attracting decent sales prices and trade offers, so I liquidated about half of those. To this day, though, I have three complete Ace figures in my collection. While his role has been replaced by the Payload figures, I still have a soft spot for the original Ace that started it all.

Today, this Ace doesn't get much use in my collection. While his white and red coloring melded perfectly with the Skystriker, it is harder to find other jets that go with him as well. Plus, I don't have much use for large jets in my collection any more. They take up a lot of storage real estate and don't offer much in terms of displayability. Sure, the plane looks nice, but you can display a couple dozen figures and 2 small vehicles in the Skystriker's footprint. However, Ace marks an important turning point for me as a collector. In 1982, I bought a few Joes. In 1983, though, they were displaced by the just released Return of the Jedi figures. I went into Star Wars full bore. After the movie hype died down, though, I found myself drawn back to Joes. Airborne was the figure that brought me back and I vividly remember adding the Dragonfly to my collection in October of 1983. (Saved up lawn mowing money for that!) But, it was the Skystriker that cemented Joe as my toyline of choice. Ace offered a bit of diversity in his use. He could be a pilot, a diver or an astronaut. As such, I didn't need Star Wars figure when I wanted to play in space. Joe now allowed for that. Going into 1984, I exclusively collected Joe and Joe was the toyline that dominated my room for the next few years. The reason I collect today is the experience and joy I felt as a child when I first acquired a toy like the Skystriker. That pure, unadulterated joy is a feeling that is hard to replicate in adulthood. Looking back at childhood playthings that brought that feeling, though, is a great way to keep grounded: especially as life grows more and more hectic with marriage, mortgages, kids, car payments, utility bills, office politics, and the other trappings of adulthood. I wouldn't go back to 1983 for anything in the world. But, I do enjoy having the memories of that time as it allows me to relax and put some of the modern problems into perspective. Frankly, that alone is enough to keep me collecting for the rest of my life.

The Ace mold was only used in the US. Originally released from 1983 to at least 1985 at retail with the Skystriker, Ace was available as a mail away for years. To this day it is quite common to find bagged Ace figures with red backed filecards. Even as the Skystriker mold was exported around the world, Ace stayed behind. Hasbro dusted off the mold in 1998 and produced a high quality, darker repaint. But, the mold has been MIA since then. That's not a bad thing as the Ace mold is a bit skinny, is easy to find in its original form and isn't a figure that really needs another repaint. So, I'm not disappointed that Hasbro has steered clear of it with the few recent aircraft releases we've seen.

On the surface, Ace figures should be hard to find. He was released in 1983 with a higher price point vehicle. But, this is not the case. Besides the fact that the Skystriker was one of the more popular Joe toys in its day, Ace was also released as a mail away for many years. In fact, Ace was very much like the Hooded Cobra Commander in that he was pretty much continuously available from 1983 through at least 1993. As such, Ace figures aren't that hard to find today. Still, like many of his 1983 brethren, Ace is prone to discoloration and finding pristine white samples can take a bit of time. (You will notice that the Ace figure in my photos features spotty discoloration. My nice version is packed away and this was the version I had most handy.) Still, Ace isn't a figure that will set you back too much money. As a classic, Ace is a must have for any collection. But, if you only want one pilot for your entire Joe fleet, then I'd still go with one of the later Ace versions.

1983 Ace, Skystriker, 1984 Clutch, Thunder

1983 Ace, Skystriker, 1984 Blowtorch

1983 Ace, Skystriker, Airborne, 1984 Duke, Ripcord

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tiro Certo - Brazilian Exclusive Bulletproof

When I first got back into Joe collecting, one of the first figures I acquired at retail was a Bulletproof figure. I really liked his accessories, especially the helmet and gun. When I had only a few figures in my collection, Bulletproof got lots and lots of use. When I first discovered the online Joe community, I spent a lot of time looking over many of the unique international figures that were pictured in online archives. One of the figures that I remember the most was the Tiro Certo. It is a straight repaint of the Bulletproof mold, but with a uniquely racial head. As my collecting habits moved into the international realm, Tiro Certo was one of the figures on my short list of acquisition. But, there were many unique international figures who became available who slowly pushed Tiro Certo further and further down that list. In time, though, Tiro Certo became part of my collection. Now that I have him, though, I've found it difficult to use him in many situations. Usually, I like neon figures, but for some reason, Tiro Certo is a figure I have yet to fully integrate into my collection.

One of my collecting niches is race changing figures. Over the years, I have acquired several foreign figures that feature race changes. In the case of Tiro Certo, though, the race change is less obvious. While the figures is definitely lighter in complexion than Bulletproof, it is not as Caucasian as other Joes. Instead, Tiro Certo appears to be fully Brazilian. He is more a mix between white and black and remains unique in that complexion. It adds a dimension to the character as it gives him a look that is unique to the line regardless of the country of the figure's origin. It also allows the figure to stand out, even among those who don't otherwise pay much attention to neon figures from the line's later years.

In my collection, Bulletproof has long been a Joe army builder. I used him as the counterpart to Alley Vipers in urban environments. As the Alley Viper was one of my most used Cobras, Bulletproof got lots of use for a few years. Slowly, though, I grew a bit tired of the figure. I started acquiring many new figures and those pushed Bulletproof further and further into the background. In fact, it's been a long time since I've really used him in any capacity. Tiro Certo, though, is different enough from the Bulletproof figure that I can use the two in conjunction with each other. But, for the most part, I use Tiro Certo as a foreign security operative who works in conjunction with the Joe to help track down fugitives: whether they are Cobra or otherwise. I don't see Tiro Certo as a Joe, but as a Brazilian operative who works with the Joes since Cobra has placed so many operations in South America. At the end of the day, Tiro Certo is loyal to the Brazilian government first and foremost. Usually, I use Tiro Certo with Tigor. Tigor is the Brazilian equivalent of Flint and leads most of the special operations for the Brazilian military. Tiro Certo does not report to Tigor, but they work together, especially when it comes to Cobra operations being mounted in South America.

Even with this characterization, though, Tiro Certo doesn't get as much use as I originally thought he would. The reality is that the figure is bright. Very bright. While the Cerebro figure is actually a more muted yellow than the American Mace and is a superior figure, Tiro Certo is the same bright neon yellow that was used on the 1993 Bulletproof. In many cases, neon paint doesn't bother me. In this case, though, it does make the figure more difficult to use. Maybe it's the green base that really offsets the yellow. But, this figure just seems overly bright to me and I have found it difficult to integrate him into my collection in much beyond an advisory capacity.

Tiro Certo was among the final figures released in Brazil. He was first released around 1995 as part of the Esquadrao de Elite. Tiro Certo's partner was Cerebro, a Mace repaint. They were matched against 2 Cobras: Mortifero (a 1993 Alley Viper repaint) and Armadilha (a 1993 Beach Head repaint). All 4 of the figures were distinct in some way from their American counterparts, but were still very similar. Of the four members of this subset, Tiro Certo is the most unique due to his race change. Aside from that, though, he is nearly identical to the 1993 Bulletproof. Tiro Certo roughly translates to "Certain Shot". Like the Abutre Negro, though, the Brazilian name of Tiro Certo has a much more distinctive ring to it and allows the figure to be identified by a name that is distinctive and not generic like "Certain Shot".

The Bulletproof mold was used twice in the US: once in 1992 and again in 1993. It was only used in these two releases. (It should be noted that the helmet mold was changed between the releases to make the communications device permanently attached to the helmet.) From there, the mold was sent to Brazil where Tiro Certo was released. Since then, we have seen no evidence of the mold's return...except for the fact that the Mace mold did return in 2004 and was used for the comic pack Clutch. It could be that only the Mace mold returned, but the fact that he appeared does give some hope that the Bulletproof mold could still be available. It should be noted that Tiro Certo did not include the helmet. The reason is that in 1995, Hasbro was using the helmet for the Night Fighter Guile figure. In fact, you can see the black Guile helmet in some of the photos below. The black helmet actually matches the backpack that is included with the figure as it is black as well. Other than that, the Tiro Certo includes the same gun, backpack, missile launcher and missiles as the American figure.

Quality-wise, Tiro Certo is fairly nice. He is more brittle like all Brazilian figures, but not too brittle to use like some of the earlier Brazilian exclusives. His paint is somewhat faint, though, and mine featured some slight paint scuffs straight out of the package. As his hands are painted, I'm loathe to put his gun into his hand too many times for fear of the paint all wearing away. That is why you see the awkward poses in some of the photos below as I'm simply too chicken to risk heavy paint wear or a broken thumb by forcing the gun into the figure's hand. (One other note on the photos below. You will see a 1993 HEAT Viper in the photos below. That figure is actually the Raio Verde. The reason he's with the Joes is because, in Brazil, the Raio Verde figure was released as a Joe. The Iceberg repaint named Pantano was released as a Cobra. So, the photo is correct in showing 3 Brazilian good guys all working together...even if it seems odd and out of place to American collectors.)

A few years ago, carded Tiro Certo figures were fairly easy to find. You could get them from Brazilian sellers for under $15. But, those seem to have dried up in recent times. Still, Tiro Certo isn't a figure that will set you back as much as others. Carded, you should be able to get him for around $25. If you can find a loose sample, they should run about 1/2 that amount. But, you will spend a lot more time looking for Tiro Certos these days as they don't appear with the frequency that they did just 3 years ago. For my money, this is a great conversation figure. As part of an everyday collection, though, it is a bit hard to use. The head color is great but the bright neon yellow really makes it hard for this figure to blend into a collection. Displayed with his Brazilian contemporaries, Tiro Certo works very well. Integrating him into a more traditional American Joe collection is a bit more problematic.

Tiro Certo, Certain Shot, Brazil, Estrela, Race Changing Figures, Bulletproof, Esquadrao de Elite, Raio Verde, HEAT Viper, Cerebro, Mace,

Tiro Certo, Certain Shot, Brazil, Estrela, Race Changing Figures, Bulletproof, Esquadrao de Elite, Mission to Brazil Dial Tone, HAS Duke

Tiro Certo, Certain Shot, Brazil, Estrela, Race Changing Figures, Bulletproof, Esquadrao de Elite, Mission to Brazil Dial Tone, HAS Duke, Daina, Schrage, Oktober Guard, 2005, Night FighterGuile

Tiro Certo, Certain Shot, Brazil, Estrela, Race Changing Figures, Bulletproof, Esquadrao de Elite, Raio Verde, HEAT Viper, Cerebro, Mace,

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

2007 Cobra Air Trooper

OK. I will admit it. I'm not a fan of the 25th Anniversary Joe figures. I've had no interest in them from the beginning. Not because they were, necissarily, bad toys. But, I am an ARAH Joe purist at heart. I have over 2000 ARAH style Joes in my collection. I do not find either the JvC style figures from 2002-2006 nor the 25th Anniversary style figures to be compatible with those originals. As such, I have no interest in starting what is, to me, an entirely new toy line. I have enough to do with ARAH style Joes.

That being said, I also thought that Hasbro's strategy of redoing the line with a more modern action figure was sound. I still don't think the line will last 18 months, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the toys and everything to do with the state of the marketplace for military toys. Largely, though, I simply avoided most discussions regarding the 25th Anniversary figures. When pictures of them first surfaced, I was underwhelmed. The figures looked OK, but they simply didn't wow me the way something that had 25 years of toy making advances should have. There were neat features to the figures. But, to me, they still looked far too animated and caricaturish for me to be interested. Still, they held some appeal as they took many of the complaints that collectors had about the most recent figures and worked to address them in some way.

As the figures began to appear in stores, I took a look at them. I will admit feeling a bit of nostalgia when I first saw the carded Wave 1 figures hanging on the pegs. Seeing the card art brought back memories. I picked up a Flint figure and thought about buying it as I'm a big fan of the character. But, after I looked at it, I still thought the head looked goofy, the obvious chest joint was too pronounced and that the figure was, overall, too gangly. Plus, I couldn't get past the fact that Hasbro edited out Flint's classic shotgun and replaced it with the inferior "modern" version that matched the toy. When Wave 2 made it out, I saw the Beach Head figure and was impressed by the level of detail in his accessories. But, the figure still did nothing for me. Finally, today, I broke down and purchased the Cobra Legions 5 pack of figures. Now, to be fair, I did this to sell off the army builders. But, the result was the first 25th Anniversary style figures that I've opened.

My first impressions of the figures in hand were dead on with my expectations from photos. Visually, they have their appeal. But, overall, they are still not Joes to me. The Cobra Air Trooper has one benefit that many Joes do not: his chest is covered with web gear that disguise the horrid chest joint. Granted, I know this allows for greater posability. But, to me, the added articulation is not enough to make up for the aesthetic crime that the joint poses. Supposedly, this is something that will be looked at in later waves. Plus, it is really only an issue on certain figure. On some figures, it can be disguised by web gear or simple figure design (like the armor joints on the Super Articulated Clone Trooper that features a similar chest joint) but, it still poses a problem for me on many of the figures I've seen.

As for the figure at hand: the Cobra Air Trooper, he is nicely designed. He features a blue Cobra jet pack and gun that is obviously based on the original JUMP. The pack has painted highlights and features a prominenty Cobra sigil on the back. The back peg has been modified to fit the new style of figures, so the accessory is useless for any vintage figures. The figure also features a removable helmet that is identical to the head used for the Gas Mask Troopers in 2006. It is so well done that I didn't know it was removable until I found the spare Cobra Trooper hat that was hidden in the battle stand packet underneath the packaging. So, this figure can be the Air Trooper or you can change his helmet, hang up the jetpack and you have a full fledged Cobra Trooper that is very similar to the standard Trooper included in the set. So, that's a bonus for army builders. (See the comparison photo at the bottom of the page.)

This figure is nicely accessoried with the web gear, knife, flight helmet, jet pack, hose, jet pack gun, standard battle helmet, standard rifle and figure stand. Frankly, that's a ton of stuff for a $5 figure. Plus, the accessories make sense. That alone was my single greatest gripe regarding the ARAH re-releases of the past few years. The accessories were not only poor, they didn't fit the figures with whom they were released. Not so, with the 25th figures. In fact, every figure in the 5 pack features accessories that fit the figure in both the modern and historical senses. That's huge progress right there and one of the things that shows that Hasbro finally did their homework on a Joe line. These accessories are all new and well done. The rifle is heads and shoulders above much of the new sculpt weapons released between 2002 and 2006. It harkens back to the vintage line in terms of quality.

As for the figure itself, it isn't bad. Aside from the chest joint, I've had issues trying to get the figure to hold his gun in any pose that isn't awkward. The design of the hands and arms just makes it difficult for the figure to be posed in many standard ways. Standing at attention, this guy would look good in multiples. But, for those who like to use their figures in more imaginative ways, the hand/arm setup is somewhat limiting. The huge diaper crotch also prevents the figure from sitting in any natural way. Supposedly, that is an issue that will be corrected in later waves though it is unknown if Hasbro will go back and repair the original molds that were affected. Truth be told, I don't miss the O-ring on the figure. The waist and leg joint is different, but it still works. Once the crotch pieces are fixed to allow the figure to sit, then I think all will be well.

The figure really harkens back to the classic look of the Cobra army. The blue and yellow is closer to the look of the comic pack figures than it is the vintage action figures, but it is still the look that many associate with Cobra. That's a good thing as it makes the figure instantly recognizable to any casual passerby who is within the age demographic to remember Joe. The figure also fits with the Cobra Trooper from the set so you can have some similarity within your army without it all being the same figure over and over again. The other nice thing is that Hasbro deviated a bit from its formula with the Joe line. So far, almost all the 25th figures have been based on their vintage counterparts. This is a great way to get fans back into the concept, but there needs to be something new for the line to last long term. The Air Trooper works because he integrates with the other army builders in terms of color and mold. But, he is still something new that we haven't seen before. It's not risky like a Venomous Maximous, but it keeps the line from becoming nothing more than a stale remake of decades old favorites.

In the end, I am still not a convert to this style of figure. I think they are decent toys. But they are not anything in which I will ever be able to generate interest. My main issue with these figures, though, is that had the level of thought and care been put into the design of the ARAHC back in 2000 and 2001 or even the JvC modern collection in 2002, I think we would be in a much better place overall. I think it's great that Hasbro finally paid some attention to the Joe line and the mythos that surrounds it. Honestly, had these figures been released in 2002, I would have been all over them. But, after the messy way the original new sculpt Joe line turned out, I am too burned on anything other than my classics. Unfortunately, that leaves little for me to collect these days. However, if the few outlets who still cater to ARAH style fans take notes from the 25th Annivesary and make figures like this Air Trooper available in ARAH form, then everyone wins in the end.

This figure is just shipping right now. Hasbro also announced at the convention that this figure would be available on a single card early next year. So, army builders will have plenty of time to stockpile all the Air Troopers they want. We've also seen a couple of trends in the 25th Anniversary line already that tell me collectors aren't going to have issues finding the figures they want. First, Hasbro is repacking figures from earlier waves into new cases. So, even if you miss a figure, you should have a shot at it again. Second, Hasbro is working with retailers to get exclusive army builders out to collectors en masse. Let's face it, we've already gotten the Cobra Officer and Trooper at retail. The Trooper in a 5 pack. The Trooper in another 5 with this figure and a grey officer modeled after the Stinger Driver. Plus, Hasbro showed at the convention that Toys R Us will have an exclusive 5 pack of Trooper and Officers and another store will have an exclusive Hiss with a recolored Trooper. So, in the first 50 figures or so, we'll have seen the Trooper and Officer at least 8 times. That's not too shabby when nearly 20% of the line is dedicated to 2 popular army builders.

2007 Cobra Air Trooper, Jet Pack, JUMP, 25th anniversary

2007 Cobra Air Trooper, Jet Pack, JUMP, 25th anniversary

2007 Cobra Air Trooper, Jet Pack, JUMP, 25th anniversary

2007 Cobra Air Trooper, Jet Pack, JUMP, 25th anniversary