Tuesday, December 11, 2007

1986 Lifeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1986 Lifeline, 1988 Ghostrider, Night Force Repeater

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

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

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

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

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