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